Michael Fruhling

Michael Fruhling

Monday, 23 May 2011 06:30

R&D Gatekeepers as Product Champions

Beyond demonstrating technical competency, I assert that open innovation R&D gatekeepers also should act as product champions. They should be empowered to recognize, build a case for, and advocate select external submissions as fledgling new business opportunities. The following example dramatizes my point, applying a real-world technology.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011 06:30

LinkedIn Learnings


Including Revealing Info You Might Not Want Others To Know!

With over 100 million registered users (according to Wikipedia) LinkedIn allows us to develop and maintain a robust contact network as well as to explore shared professional interests with others. Of course, as we use LinkedIn we consciously share information about ourselves with others. What most of us don't realize is that we also unintentionally reveal information that we might not want others to see...and for that reason, we should demonstrate some caution.

Anyone with an extensive LinkedIn professional network, some time to spend, and a curious nature can concoct some potentially "juicy" hypotheses about others (which of course, may or may not be valid). This can include making assumptions regarding professional activities and interests. This isn't necessarily damaging in and of itself. After all, few eyebrows would be raised by a corporate beauty care product developer connecting with some new skincare ingredient suppliers. Or, if he was to join a LinkedIn Group named "New Product Development" or "Beauty Care Professionals".

However, what might someone assume about him if he began adding a disconcerting number of executive recruiters to his LinkedIn network? Or, if he recently joined a LinkedIn Groups called "Product Development Jobs"? What might someone assume if a professional colleague within a Food Consumer Products business began rapidly accumulating professional contacts with nanotechnology and/or microencapsulation expertise? I trust you get my point.

I didn't write this in order to promote paranoia, or even to suggest that others begin spending time assessing others' LinkedIn contact networks to divine their motivations. However, I do wish to sensitize my colleagues to the fact that when we use LinkedIn, our activities are often visible to others in our network. And for that reason, we should be sensitive to the signals that we may inadvertently be sending.

Tuesday, 07 June 2011 06:50

Brands Must Continually Innovate

It is increasingly challenging to be a vital branded consumer product these days. As always, brands must remain meaningfully differentiated from their national and regional competition in order to win and maintain market share. However, with dramatically enhanced quality and improved product and packaging features (often mirroring national brands), store brands are now regularly part of the consumers product "mix" when making purchase decisions. Quite simply, store brands have become highly acceptable, less costly alternatives to nationally branded options.

I am literally delighted by some store brands. (When is the last time you could say that about a store brand?) Target's Archer Farms breakfast cereals are among the best I've ever had. I brag about them to almost anyone who'll listen...and quite a few who really don't want to! Kroger's Private Selection stir-fry skillet meals are a terrific, easy-to-prepare meal option at an appealing (though not inexpensive) price.

Consider Costco's superb Kirkland brand. Costco identifies market segments in which branded goods generate strong business, and then develops a Kirkland product to rival, if not outright outdo the national offering, at a signficant discount. The product quality is typically outstanding. Costco also takes great pride in promoting their heightened price:value relationship versus national brands. In many instances, they offer larger container contents at lower cost than the national brands. Costco's clout has become so great, that they can even create custom co-branded products (e.g. Kirkland - Campbells soups).

Where does this leave national brands? I believe that more than ever, the onus is on them to continually innovate their products, demonstrate and promote their advantages to assert their relevance and to justify their pricing in consumer's minds (and pocketbooks). Telecommunications products and electronic entertainment products have been able to successfully accomplish this (e.g. Apple, Droid). P&G's Regenerist performance skin care products do as well, as does General Mills with its Romano's Macaroni Grill and Good Earth meal kits.

Which other brands have demonstrated leadership of this sort in their respective product categories? I'm interested in learning your thoughts.

If your company engages in external innovation, technology scouting is a necessary and important activity. In some important respects, it's a lot like cutting your lawn. How so? It's got to be done. It should be done regularly. Very few people LOVE doing it.If you put it off, the need won't go away.

Monday, 20 June 2011 06:30

Lessons From the Inventor Expo

Last week, I traveled to Pittsburgh to walk the INPEX Inventor Expo. It provided energizing inspiration. It also reminded me that a lot of clever, industrious, motivated (and friendly!) people are seeking their big opportunity.INPEX provides a highly visible show place for inventors.

Monday, 27 June 2011 06:30

The Definition of Madness

If your business involves servicing customers, then you'll want to read this. (If it doesn't, then you don't have a business!)Do your company's customer contact personnel respond promptly to unsolicited inquiries?

E-mail is a tremendous tool that enables people to communicate anytime, anywhere a wireless/internet connection exists. Its convenience can often cause us to choose it as a preferred means of communicating, in place of traditional interactions. That's where problems can occur, researchers find.

Four months ago, I spoke with a senior executive from a global consumer products company. They had decided to extract value from several non-commercialized intellectual properties (IP) by outlicensing them. The striking aspect of this decision was that the company chose to outlicense cutting edge technologies they themselves had originally intented to practice, but after painful deliberation had decided not to, for strategic reasons.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011 06:30

Discern Your Customers' Unmet Needs

While it may seem hard to believe because of the oppressive heat many of us are currently experiencing, another Fall youth sports season is almost upon us. A veteran of many seasons of youth sports spectatorship, my wife Lee and I have proudly watched our children's athletic skills develop as they have matured. We've also noticed that there are a heck of a lot of other parents who transport their kids from one sports activity to another, and then stay to cheer them on. This has translated to a huge market for sports spectator gear for amateur athletics.

Monday, 25 July 2011 06:30

Are You as Good as Your Word?

At various times during my consultancy's existence, I've been fortunate to receive some generous client testimonials. Among the comments of which I'm proudest is from Jim Kelly, my CMO client at Prestige Brands: "(Michael) does what he says he's going to do, consistently."

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