This Week in Business and Brands: Love Letters, Less-Human Learning, and More

writing love letter

(Well Worth) The Long Read: 20 Years Later, It’s Still Day 1

Ever wish you could hear the current insights from one of the most successful companies of the day, straight from the horse’s mouth? Wish granted: with Jeff Bezos’s letter to Amazon shareholders (in full) sent out this week, it looks like the solid strategy behind the company’s growth hasn’t actually changed so much since the first missive back in 1997. First, stay customer-obsessed, since they are always “beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied” – even when they say they’re happy. Then, resist proxies like too much market research, since “a remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.” And then stay future-proof by keeping up with the trends – like today’s artificial intelligence and machine learning – and making high-quality decisions with high-velocity urgency. Sounds simple enough, no? Perhaps Alexa really does have all the answers…

Science of Strategy: Diff’rent Folks, Diff’rent Strokes

Another tip found in the letter above: there is no one-size-fits-all for the decision-making process – and that’s certainly true for the four main approaches to strategy-setting used by firms of all kinds. In case you missed last week’s breakdown in HBR, here’s the crux: while long-term strategy can be easy to reference, it’s not quite so easy to change it with conviction and confidence. Do you go the ad-hoc route, with high employee input and low decision-making time? Or do you keep it administrative, with longer processes and less collaboration? The answer can be both (and then some), depending on your firm’s needs and the situation at hand. While each has its benefits, there are some key factors to maintain regardless of strategic style: considering alternatives, detailed implementation, learning from both success and failure, and more. Be sure to take a look at the above for a full rundown on the upside of having a second “strategy for your strategy” itself.

Facing the Future: AI as Creator & Critic

Remember when the biggest concern about artificial intelligence was just what jobs it would take away from humans? Well now the greater worry (or hope, depending on your perspective) is: how much (or little) will humans be needed to develop AI itself? At Google’s Brain lab, the answer is “less and less,” as a technique called generative adversarial networks (GANs) allows one AI to create from its own imagination – and another to critique its work. The two-way, humanless conversation is helping our cyber companions get smarter, faster, until arriving at totally “unsupervised learning.” Relying on neural networks – big math systems harnessing big data analyses – the programs are developing their own images from scratch, and then compared (by their AI peers) against “real” versions for authenticity and improvement. Then this same technique can be applied to learning about industries like healthcare, affording incredible improvement in data collection and sharing. But then again, who knows how many human patients will still be around by then…

Talking Tactics, Tête-à-Tête: Pedals, Professors, & Podcasts

person in red pants riding black bicycle during daytime

Want to make sure your own strategy isn’t just spinning in place? Then be sure to take a tip or two from Peloton’s head of brand marketing, Cheryl Tisch Blodgett, as she tells CMO’s podcast what it really takes to be a disruptor of multiple categories:

  • “We’re a hardware company, a software company, and, really more than anything, a media company.”
  • “Really having a voice behind the brand and a personality so that people can connect to it…I think that’s what really matters.”

Then go back to school with Professor Jan-Benedict Steenkamp, chair of marketing at UNC, as he pulls no punches about the truths of the industry:

  • “Marketing is the interface between the company and the customers. And I’m interested in activities that span boundaries…and marketing is such a boundary-spanning industry.”
  • “Frank Zappa got it right – we’re only in it for the money.”

Video Victory: Gold Star for Golden Arches

That’s all for this week! We’ll leave you with this bold move from a big-name brand: going front and center and staying out of the spotlight.