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Is it better to be the market leader, innovating to stay ahead of competitors — and perhaps even the marketplace itself? Or, are those companies with follower strategies in a stronger position for success when the risk of an innovative new product or service introduction is largely borne by the leaders?

A recent business book review in TIME Magazine highlights two authors’ separate answers to this question and got me thinking about our own clients’ approaches. (Read the full TIME Magazine article.)

While I’ve never asked this question outright, in looking at our clients’ product and service portfolios, it appears that many employ a combination of innovation and imitation, and are successful, in part, because of such a strategy.

Sometimes, this innovation comes in the form of a truly “game changing” offering. Businesses with a disciplined approach to creating a new experience for their customers or answering a problem in a wholly unique way can enjoy real distinction in their marketplace — translating not only into a sound leadership position but better bottom lines.

Other times, companies introducing follow-up products and services have an opportunity to improve upon the innovator’s offering. While first-to-market is an enviable position, leveraging insights from a market leader’s success — or failure — can also deliver benefits within an existing marketplace or adjacent ones.

And, of course, there are often “me-too” products and services in a business’ portfolio that are offered to provide customers one stop to meet their needs. These “me-too” products, however, don’t dominate the offering for those companies who understand how important differentiation can be to long-term business success.

So, to innovate or imitate? The answer may lie in a balance of both for your business, too.

On June 10-11, I attended the 2010 Vocus Users Conference. Held in Washington, D.C., nearly 400 public relations professionals, all who use Vocus as a PR tool, gathered to learn, network and listen to some of the great thinkers in the industry.

This was my first time attending this conference, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that there were some very strong speakers lined up, however, and was excited to hear about the latest trends in communications. Among the speakers were: David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR; Brian Solis, author of Engage and his blog, BrianSolis.com; and Deirdre Breakenridge, author of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.

Here are a couple of takeaways, as applied to BtoB communications, from my time spent at the conference:

  • Have an online newsroom. Online newsrooms can be a great way to share information and make the reporter’s life much easier. Include executive bios, product or personnel photos, videos, blogs, and links to social networks. Instead of bogging down an email with several attachments, you can direct the journalist to the online newsroom to pull the information that they need.
  • The person within the company that is in charge of social media should be the person who cares about the customer. Beth Harte of Serengeti Communications made this point, and I completely agree. Often we can get caught up in who owns social media – public relations, marketing, sales, etc. It really comes down to communicating with your customer and who can best nurture that relationship.
  • Speak to buyers in their language, not yours. We must talk to our customer in a way that is meaningful to them. It may not be easy to hear, but the customer doesn’t care about your product. They do care, however, if you can provide them with a solution to their problem.
  • There are no set rules. When it comes to pitching the media, there isn’t a rule book that we can all go by. We must educate ourselves on how someone wants to be pitched. Developing a relationship is a key to success. Spamming irrelevant information will land you in a trash folder. Finally, we must respect their time and treat the media like the humans that they are. Content may open the door, but it’s the human relationship that will carry you much further in your pitch.

These are just a few takeaways from the conference. Every attendee had the opportunity to pick up a copy of World Wide Rave (Scott) and Engage (Solis). I look forward to reading these two books and I encourage you to check them out to learn more about the shift from traditional PR to new communication.

Take a close look at your company’s product and service portfolio.  Does your portfolio reflect your company’s business strategy, or is your portfolio loaded with a mismatch of products or services with little potential for growth?

New products and services set the future direction of your company.  If your portfolio does not support your company’s business strategy, then who is driving your organization?

A company without a new product/service strategy can easily be directed by its most vocal salesperson(s) or its largest customers.  Sure, we all have times when we have to add a small program to satisfy critical customers.  But if you do not have an innovation charter, these incremental projects can drain your development resources and alter the future direction of your company.

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Our family just returned from a 2-week trip of a number of national parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Mt. Rushmore, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Except for a couple of nights at the way-cool Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone, most of our lodging was in Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn hotels. Why? Well, for me it’s pretty simple: Read the rest of this entry »

If going green or becoming more sustainable is a goal at your company (or even in your home), it is important to pay attention to the leaders of the movement. At VantagePoint, many of our clients are focused on sustainable practices and/or manufacturing green products, so we turn to certain sources for up-to-date information. It can be hard to keep track of all of the changes, including legislation, technology and trends, but fortunately, there are resources out there to help you find your way.

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