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A CEO’s Most Powerful Tool is Communications

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Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Billee Howard, managing director of the brand innovation group and creative development officer at Allison + Partners. Howard has more than 15 years’ experience in brand development, strategic media relations, CEO brand building, corporate positioning, business-to-business strategy development and economic and investment promotion.

With experience emerging as the foil to technological innovation, communications continues to emerge as among the most powerful and potent tools in the CEO arsenal. As such, programs that influence outcomes and drive business performance trump those that merely illicit approved awareness. As the year unfolds we see all of these principles unfolding broadly across the business landscape. The commercialization of many leading brands is being driven by the notion of Art + Commerce = Innovation (and winning experiences).

In the recent months, we have seen a change in the business model from a product-centric notion to an experience-driven culture. Experience continues to emerge as the defining factor of competitive differentiation, and the new cornerstone of the supply chain, as the age of total experience management unfolds. We see this everywhere, with brands from McDonald’s (multibillion-dollar investment in complete re-design of restaurants) to eBay (pop-up stores aimed at demonstrating their role in overall next-gen retail) investing significantly in re-imagining winning experiences as much as innovating beloved products and services.

With experience at the forefront it is also important to acknowledge the growth on an innovation-centric corporate culture. The notion of specialization continues to sweep the landscape working to define more unique and memorable experiences in every way, from the proliferation of niche businesses to the emergence of specialty focused roles inside leading organizations.

Following the lead of Apple, and the success it has achieved in part due to head designer Jonathan Ives’ singular focus on design, more and more companies are building their executive teams and, consequently, their innovation prowess, around this model. Whether it is a Chief Culture Officer (Zappos), Chief Design Officer (Coca-Cola) or anthropology officer (Intel), organizations are increasingly moving toward business models centered around specialization as opposed to generalization. This reflects today’s imagination-centered economy.

The Steve Jobs notion of do one thing and do it better than anyone else rapaciously erodes the once untouchable Jack Welch legacy of do everything and do it as well as everyone. Today’s panacea to drive unsurpassed, market-leadership seems centered less around the ability to create uniform quality in mass and more around the genius of replicating one-of-a-kind artistry and creativity of scale.

With this in mind it would be thoughtless to not mention the CEO who understood the value of communication, Apple’s Steve Jobs. The bottom-up driven innovation models of the past pioneered by GE, Microsoft and Google are being shunned in lieu of Apple-esque top-down models driven by the CEO and senior leadership.

No longer is innovation development a siloed function of the R&D department. It is a guiding principle of business strategy and, as a result, stems from the upper echelons of leading organizations.

As Jobs famously said, “Consumers don’t know what they want. It’s our job to tell them.” Following the pervasion of the all-things-Jobsian sentiment that is ubiquitously coloring the global business and media landscape, that notion is increasingly showing its face and driving the success of leading companies across industry. (Case in point: groundbreaking new Old Spice ads that co-market multiple P&G brands simultaneously in ways that create never-before seen advertising experiences.)                                                                 

An exciting time, yet one rampant with sea changes that all leading brands must not only acknowledge, and respond to, but get ahead of. As such, communications, and it’s power to be an increasingly valuable tool to CEOs in not only broadcasting proactive responses and solutions to today’s emerging challenges, but in defining new innovations that create deeper experiences, drive more emotional connections, and facilitate bolder consumer engagement, on and offline, has never been greater.

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Billee Howard

1 Comment

  • It’s hard to tell if the thesis here is that customer experience is “emerging as the foil to technological innovation,” or if customer experience is the favorable result of that innovation. There is more jargon than original thinking in this piece (innovation, engagement and CEO communications are increasingly important, business performance trumps awareness, wow…), and it’s ironic that an article about communications as a CEO’s most powerful tool errs in its use of “illicit” vs. “elicit” and “it’s” vs. “its.” 

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