The right connection

This month, Hasbro?s former head of Europe takes us through how to connect customers, competition, company and consumers with his latest seven point plan for success?.
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The classic game of Connect 4 is all about making the right connections, finding the right alignment and outwitting your competition by getting all your pieces to come together at once.

Perhaps a familiar set of goals for us to win in the toy business?

This month we consider four critical pieces of our endeavour (the four Cs) that have to connect up if we are to be successful in the toy business:

* Being in touch with the consumer
* Engaging with the customer
* Knowing your competition
* Getting the best from your company

I have often found that the single biggest challenge in business is not so much the strategy, but the alignment. It’s not about needing some great vision of your firm’s development, but more about getting all the moving parts to work cohesively and moving in the same direction at the same pace. Let’s take a look at what I mean by each of these four connections.

1) Being in touch with the consumer

­­­There is an old adage in the toy business – product is king. Personally I think that this is the wrong place to start. Great product has to connect with great insight and a fundamental understanding of our consumer.

I don’t know how many times I have reviewed new products or inventor items where I have had to conclude, ‘It’s a nice bit of technology, but it is looking for a home’ or ‘It’s a great feature, but what is the play value?’ Not enough people in our industry really start with a true understanding of the consumer or have a real passion to put the consumer first in their thinking.

2) Engaging with the customer

It is great to see that in the UK we have to a large extent moved on from the old ‘buyer versus seller’ relationship. This is not the case across Europe and other parts of the world where this old model often still exists.

But how much further could we go? How often have we set up ‘alignment’ meetings where we have been very honest with one another and sought to gain a more fundamental understanding of one another’s strategies, motivations and issues, and out of that understanding have been more able to devise bigger and better win/win solutions?

3) Knowing your competition

It may be the case that as an industry we are very good at knowing our competition, but unfortunately too often this knowledge is used more to copy than to differentiate. I’m always amazed at how much ‘me too’ product there is in our industry and think we could take some real learning out of a book recently published called Rising Tide, Lessons from 165 years of branding building at Procter & Gamble by Davis Dyer, Frederick Dalzell and Rowena Olegario.

Here they articulate P&G’s insistence on knowing the competition but only so they might differentiate themselves and find ways to spring-board into superior performance and advantage rather than simply taking the easy road of the ‘copycat’.

4) Getting the best from your company

To get the best out of our company we need to have two fundamentals in place. Firstly, we need to have a team of informed employees – that puts a real responsibility on leadership to constantly and consistently spend time to communicate what the company is trying to do, why it is doing it, and what are the key steps it is taking to make it happen.

Secondly, we need to build an environment of creativity, interaction, and involvement. Some of the greatest ideas can emerge from the least expected places, but only if we are listening.

Here are seven more winning ways to up your game in the toy business:

A) Why not take some new and practical steps to get you and your team closer to the consumer?

Have you considered:
* Inviting kids into the company for a ‘play day’
* Running a design a toy competition in a local school
* Establishing a hunter/gather culture – send everybody out to retail for a morning to purchase something that inspired them or has taught them something new about the consumer or the retail environment and then get them to present and explain it
* Create a ‘kids board’ whereby local kids come in regularly to the company to give their input
* Establish a ‘cool wall’ in the company where employees can stick up articles/pictures and thoughts on today’s consumer and what’s happening
* Utilise the children and/or mums and dads of your employees in research programs

It doesn’t really matter what you are doing as long as you are constantly seeking ways to encourage your team to connect more with the consumer.

B) Have a ‘Google hour’. Run a competition in a lunch hour as to who can find the most insightful idea about your consumer by searching out new thoughts online.

C) Set up an away day with a customer. Not to talk about the immediate business, but to talk about the possibilities that your separate strategies and objectives could lead you to.

D) Break through the normal relationships with customers by establishing joint social gatherings and ‘mix up’ meetings where you encourage many of the functions beyond the sales team to connect with the customers.

E) Undertake a competitive analysis – pick three or four competitors and spend an hour on each to consider how you can develop superior and demonstrable differentiation from them. Brainstorm using the following model developed by Kevin Keller from Tuck School of Management:

- Points of parity, i.e. the attributes of your business or product that matches up to, or can be legitimately compared to your competitors.

- Points of difference, i.e. the attributes of your business or product that can be legitimately differentiated from or demonstrated to have advantages or disadvantages.

F) Ask four to six different people within your company (in different roles/levels) to write down on a piece of paper what they believe; the company is trying to do, why it is doing it, and what are the key steps it is taking to make it happen.
Then compare and contrast their responses. From this you can easily judge how well your employees are connected to what you are really trying to do. It will also tell you what sort of communication task you have ahead of you.

G) Run a monthly or annual staff awards scheme – and make it fun. Have prizes and awards for both the most crazy ridiculous things, and the most inventive suggestions or cost efficient improvements that have happened in the period.
Make it a celebration of creativity and efficiency.

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