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Perspectives on competitive strategy, brand development, and innovation.

Musings from an MBA: Part II

Editor's Note: frog Senior Strategist Tanya Khakbaz authored this as a continuation to an earlier postIn her last post, she described how she entered the design industry as an MBA, having been exposed to the fanfare and excitement of design thinking that is dominant in business schools today.  As a strategist working on teams with designers, Tanya has learned several lessons about what it takes to make the business-design partnership work, which she continues to share in this post.

PROBLEM-SOLVING: Top-down thinking has its limits

As a former management consultant, I was conditioned to think “top-down.”  We generated hypotheses at the start of the project that we adjusted depending on the results of the analysis.  Though we were creative within a framework, we relied heavily on these frameworks to ensure that we were thinking about the problem in a systematic and exhaustive way.

From the Trenches: Musings from an MBA at an Innovation Firm

Editor's Note: frog Senior Strategist Tanya Khakbaz authored this post to share her own experience transitioning from being an MBA to life in the trenches at an innovation firm. At frog, Tanya works with design teams to incorporate the business and market perspective into the design process. She has worked on a diverse set of frog projects, from ATM redesign for a large bank to digital media strategy for a media conglomerate. Before joining frog, Tanya worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company.  She received her MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School and her undergraduate degree in Economics with distinction from Stanford University.

(Part Two here)


When I was an MBA student at Harvard Business School (HBS), there were several companies that drew crowds of over-eager students to their recruiting presentations.  Students would claw their way into classrooms to snatch a seat, and after the presentation, stay late to elbow their way to speak to the presenters.  These sought-after potential employers were the usual suspects: venture capital and private equity firms, hedge funds, top-tier management consulting companies. However, there was one industry whose companies only started to participate in recruiting, but nonetheless generated Justin Bieber-like fanfare: design consulting. 


I was recently asked by a co-worker how I define a 'touchpoint'. In pondering a bit more about this, I realized that in brand and marketing we often talk of touchpoints, but we might not get beyond the more common applications / definition. If we go a little deeper, touchpoints are actually often more holistic and sensory than at first blush.

Stepping Back: Social Media + Your Brand

These days, it seems every company has (or is planning) a person or division focused on “reaching out to the community” or “being part of the conversation” through tools such as Twitter and Facebook. Countless books, experts, and even entirely new agencies have sprung up around “social media” to help companies understand – and take advantage of – this new movement towards thinking about and doing marketing (and business) differently.

Yet despite the shining successes out there, what’s discussed less often is determining if and when leveraging social media makes sense for your brand, and more importantly, what the underlying POV should be to help craft an initial approach.

Microsoft Office: Redesigning an Icon

What can we say about Microsoft’s Office that hasn’t been said before? Most computers, in every corner of the globe, have Office installed. From book reports to earnings reports, pitches to presentations, novellas to grocery lists, billions of people are using Office to take care of the business of their lives. It's a big story.

When we partnered with Microsoft to create a brand story for the launch of Office for Mac 2011 we quickly realized the product went way beyond productivity for the 75 percent of Mac owners that use the product. These students, entrepreneurs, and families use Office for Mac to create, mold, and share their ideas with each other and millions of Windows Office users. The brand we wanted to create needed to reflect how users turn to Office for Mac to bring their ideas into reality—how they connect their work to the world.

Brands and Brand Loyalty

It goes without saying that true customer loyalty is one of the most rare yet rewarding goals a company can achieve. In today’s highly competitive, ultra-connected world, instant gratification is often not fast enough. Consumers have more choices and options than ever.

Picturing Engagement: The Flickr Brand Test

Several years ago I stumbled onto Flickr, and since then like millions of others I’ve been a huge fan and regular visitor. (Tip: for those of you looking to get a digital camera, this is a great resource to see real-world examples of what various cameras can do – you’d be amazed at results people get.)

But Flickr is surprisingly good for another purpose: gauging your brand. I call it the Flickr brand test, which is pretty much exactly what it suggests – searching on a brand in Flickr, and checking out the results that pop up.

Will the Real Brand Owner Please Stand Up?

In recent years, the increasing proliferation of the web as a social medium has led many to believe you can no longer control your brand. Customers today have countless, powerful outlets to shape, edit, criticize, and even completely hijack your brand, so it is no wonder why this can cause great concern for companies large or small.

Tasting the Interweb Rainbow:

I recently stumbled upon, the official website for those brightly colored ‘taste the rainbow’ candies I’m sure almost all of us have tasted at some point.

The most interesting, perhaps groundbreaking,  aspect about this site is Skittle’s decision to almost totally relinquish and hand content ownership over to its customers, by leveraging third-party, social media –driven websites. I’ve never seen anyone else embrace “turning the brand over to the customers” so deeply.

The homepage loads the product’s Wiki entry (update: the site no longer does this, and instead loads their YouTube page), with a Skittles-branded floating window. Clicking on Media (Video or Pics) brings up the respective YouTube or Flickr pages, and Chatter takes you to their Twitter site. In all of these examples, the only Skittles brand indicator that ties these together is a floating navigation menu that sits on top of everything.

The only content branded in the traditional sense is the Product and Contact areas, as well as a bit of customization on the YouTube page, which incorporates the Skittles visual brand identity.

So – from a brand and user perspective, is this a good or bad thing? And more importantly, does it even matter?