Ken Tencer is a branding and innovation thought leader who helps organizations master better futures. He is co-developer of The 90% Rule, a success-tested innovation process that enables businesses of all sizes to identify new market and strategic opportunities, and map out relevant, high-potential growth plans.
Ken is a successful entrepreneur and business developer who has built international-scale companies spanning manufacturing, product development, distribution and professional services. As CEO of Spyder Works, Ken helps organizations with both branding and innovation strategy. That’s given him the experience needed to devise a better process for them to understand their true expertise and innovate more continuously and more competitively.
MO: Where does your passion for entrepreneurship come from?
Ken: As a teenager, I was amazed by two guys who, out of their garage, permanently changed the world works and communicates. It was inspiring to see how they recognized opportunities in the market and made something out of them, from nothing. From there, I started watching, studying, reading about other entrepreneurs and I knew that one day I would be an entrepreneur myself. The innate vision, passion, dedication and determination that I saw just drove me to want to do the same thing.
MO: Can you talk about Spyder Works’ Eight Steps to Brand Re(Invention)™? What inspired the concept and what kind of results could a business expect after implementing the Eight Steps?
Ken: Over the past 20 years since founding Spyder Works, Chief Creative Officer John Paulo Cardoso noted that many business leaders still see brand as a logo or a color choice — something that they can leave their marketing managers to define and drive. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A brand is holistic. It is the relationship that you build with your customer and everything that your company does impacts that relationship and, by extension, your brand. Understanding and defining your brand is a process of discovery that needs to be lead by the owner or CEO and ultimately be used to engage your entire team, supplier and stakeholder universe. Our Eight Steps enables and empowers leaders and their organizations to define, embrace and leverage brand to differentiate, simplify and build trust with their customers. It provides leaders the powerful understanding that they need to continuously engage their current customers and attract new ones — before their competitors do it for them!
MO: What is the 90% Rule? What inspired you and John to write a book about it?
Ken: The 90% Rule is a mindset that we have always used in building businesses. Understand what you are already 90% capable of and then ALWAYS be asking yourself what’s the next 10%; the next product, service or process innovation that I can introduce. Why write the book? The headlines about companies selling off non-core assets. I asked myself why did they buy non-core assets in the first place? Why didn’t they just focus on what they were already good at and build from there. Too great a focus on hyper growth and the need to swing for the fences. In business, you don’t have to swing for the fences to hit a home run.
MO: What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Ken: Beginning each of my entrepreneurial partnerships was an equally big risk. I think that it’s that way for every entrepreneur. It takes audacity and incredible self-belief and confidence to quit a job and put more trust in yourself than to remain with the big corporation that you have been collecting a pay check from. It’s your way of saying, I see something that you don’t or I can do something that you can’t. So far, it’s worked out pretty well.
MO: What are some ways that you help companies find the right growth track? What does that process look like?
Ken: Finding the right growth track means finding ways to engage your customers. To me engaging the customer begins by moving past this whole notion of selling the benefits. I am not saying that the benefits aren’t important, they are. But they are not the end game. Honestly, when was the last time that you sat down in a meeting across the table from a benefit? Never. When was the last time that a benefit walked into a store and picked your product off of a shelf? Again, never. You need to make benefits human and that process is called personification. Ask yourself what your company, product or service would look like if it walked through the door right now? What well-known person? What character in a film? What car? A couple of examples that my customers have come up with are the movie the Italian Job. They likened the way that those cars were driven to the delivery of their service, smooth and precise. A professional association that worked with C-Suite executives likened themselves to Roger Goddell, the commissioner of the NFL, because he was the strong guiding behind the professionals. With these images in their minds, their management teams could quite begin to see how they were going to impact their customers’ lives. Because they were now dealing with the animate, human images, emotions and images — benefits come to life, like their customers.
MO: What are some barriers to successful innovation and what are some strategies to avoid or overcome them?
Ken: The biggest barrier to innovation is that people see it as invention. It’s not. It’s much simpler. And our focus out of the gate is to strategically break down this number one barrier to innovation. In doing so, I will end with the quote that I began with, “If you can slice melon or make a right hand turn, you can be a breakthrough innovator.” The cutting of melon, of course, refers to the grocery industry. The fact that they recognized the growing desire for ready-to-serve items. One of those, cut melon; they put it into a plastic bowl and sell it at a much higher price. Brilliant. And I don’t say that tongue in cheek. The grocery industry recognized a customer need, understood that they could deliver on it and built a logical new revenue source — take-out meals for the individual or family. The right hand turn was a process innovation of UPS courier. UPS was pioneered the use GPS to select routes where their drivers can make right turns. Why? By making right turns, you cut down transit times to the customers all while lowering the risk of accidents (highest when making left turns through an intersection) and increasing revenue per truck.
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