Category: Business

From engaging to capturing – rethinking business models that stick

As a strategist, I’m frequently looking over the horizon to see what’s next. At other times, you’ll see me scanning side-to-side looking for forces that may be coming together in new or unexpected ways.

Sometimes hindsight puts much of it into perspective.

Looking back at 2008 it occurs me that I was well ahead of the curve when I designed Corona’s Synergistic Business Model. At the time I noticed that nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver and companies like New Belgium Brewery – both former Corona clients I may add – had integrated engagement deep into their respective business models. Each realized that fostering loyalty, connection and contribution required a long-lasting approach to relationships.

They were smartly ahead of the curve.

Since then engagement has become top-of-mind for organizations. The old transactional approaches simply don’t hit the mark when people are searching for meaningful relationships and ways to make a difference.

Perhaps engagement isn’t enough.

We need to enmesh relationships into our business models.

  • How are we using online communication channels to fully engage donors before, during and after a fundraising event? What is the immediate call-to-action waiting for them when they get home? Have we thanked them (enough)?
  • What will define the patron experience from the first email message to the thank you note?
  • How will volunteer love for us be returned in 3 months? 5 months? 1 year?
  • Have we thought about the ways that a board member could entrap that new neighbor or business colleague into adopting our cause as their own?

Maybe it’s time to:




Hold onto

We need to activate our language if we want to activate our relationships.


Is yesterday’s intermediary ready to become the platform of tomorrow?

Living in America’s “it” city in a year of disruptions across the political spectrum nationally and internationally have led me to contemplate evolution in the nonprofit sector. I’m struck by what I’ve observed recently as an emerging trend – the slow decline of the intermediary organization. This may be a heretical statement, I’ll admit, but it is a shift worth watching.

It may be easiest to observe in healthcare as classic intermediary models born in the 1970s and 1980s discover that they cannot withstand disruptive changes in their marketplaces. Healthcare may be the canary in the coalmine of the nonprofit sector given the pace and scale of change. Executives and board members are learning the hard way that forces of this magnitude cannot be overcome by single organizations. They are finding themselves caught off-guard as the strategy they set in 2015 is already obsolete.

Let’s explore an example. The U.S. model of community-based engagement in cancer clinical trials is in the midst of two game-changing trends. One, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain people in clinical trials. Second, healthcare providers are shifting away from collaborative models run by the federal government to in-house options that can adapt more quickly.

Health fairs are another example. Long the staple of communities large and small in states from California to Ohio, these programs were born at a time when people would stand in line to be seen by volunteer health providers after not eating for 12 hours. Today, more people are monitoring their health on a wrist device as technological advances are leapfrogging old screening methods. Add onto that the demographic differences between the oldest Boomers and the oldest Millennials and you’ve realize that OSFA (one-size-fits-all) doesn’t fit most any more.

The emergence of platform-based models such as Uber have changed the competitive landscape for many industries. As entrepreneurs adapt the model to other industries, it’s only a matter of time before platforms are the new normal in the nonprofit sector too. Of course we’ve seen the rise of platforms in fundraising, with crowd-sourced funding and giving days as examples. I’m intrigued by the possibilities of platform-based service delivery.

As described in the April 2016 Harvard Business Review, “a platform provides the infrastructure and rules for a marketplace that brings together producers and consumers.” (Pipelines, Platforms, and the New Rules of Strategy by Marshall W. Van Alstyne, Geoffrey G. Parker, and Sangeet Paul Choudary.)

So, I’m wondering when the definitive nonprofit intermediaries of the 1970s and 1980s – the nonprofit technical assistance provider and trade association – will evolve into the platform model for 2020.

Agility and relevancy are the name of the game. I’ll be watching to see who figures that out the soonest.

Reluctance: the antithesis of leadership

All too often strategic success is stymied by reluctant leadership. Reluctance can be seen in behaviors small and large. In essence it’s a failure to act. That action may be as simple as stepping up to fill a gap. Those small misses create a culture of excuses, shrugged shoulders, and not heeding the call for help. It leads to a false sense of comfort.

At the strategic level, reluctance is manifest in the inability to make decisions or its opposite – going along with a poor decision rather than speaking up and calling the question. Flip sides of the same coin, both result in missteps, poor investments, missed opportunities and a culture of excuses. But hey, we still feel comfy don’t we?

There’s the old saying that if you want something bad enough you’ll stare fear in the face to achieve it. Leadership requires both courage and the ability to face discomfort for the larger good. This is especially true when facing hard truths and ensuring decisions are truly strategic.

As you prepare for 2016, ask yourself, “If not me, then who?”

Let your answer be “yes.”

The Challenging In-Between: Bridging the gap among visionaries and operational experts

Over the years I’ve discovered that nonprofit executives and board members typically fall into two main categories: those who are boldly aspirational and those who are decidedly tactical. The first focuses on the big idea and its power to move people. They are lofty, passionate and effervescent. To the operationally-focused person they appear to dodge the important nuts and bolts. On the other hand, the executive whose natural talents lie in operations and the ability to get things done (often in spite of their visionary peers), are naturally challenged to let go and dream big. They seek the known. Their tendency to quickly dive into the weedy details is off-putting to the visionary.

Unfortunately there can be little in common between these divergent thinking styles and they often frustrate the heck out of each other. They use different language, or interpret a common term in opposite ways, and don’t know how to create the connective tissue that binds the two important orientations together.

BridgeWhat is the bridge? Strategy. The essence of strategy lies in charting the unknowns – where the industry is going to be, what customers will need (and demand) in the future, what donors will expect, and how the community will be doing. It also rests in a clear articulation of how the organization uniquely meets its customers’ needs in ways that rivals can’t or don’t. The strategist navigates unknowns and uncertainties. S/he keeps her eye on the 3-5 year horizon as she leads the development of a clear strategy – an articulation of what the organization will focus on over the next 3-5 years based upon well-founded decisions about the objective to be achieved, the scope within which it will work, and the competitive advantage to be leveraged.

I’m a big believer in the power of a strategy statement as described in the classic Harvard Business Review article from 2008 – Can you say what your strategy is? – by David J. Collis and Michael G. Rukstad. It is my go-to resource in this work and cannot recommend it strongly enough.

As a consultant I’m often the bridge builder – the strategy seeker – bringing together the operationally- and aspirationally-oriented executives. This bridge building is iterative. It takes time to spark a ha’s, establish common language, and build a team of executives focused on the same thing – future strategy.

Hey honey, wanna help me with a big project?

Facilitating success over 15 years of love and consulting.

In my mind, the question with milestones is this, which one is significant enough to celebrate? First year, 10, 20 or 50 – no brainer. What about 15? Sometimes the mid-decade mark is an important one. That’s the case for me this year as I celebrate 15 years with my company, Corona Insights. Oh, lots has changed over those years. I’m no longer officing out of the spare bedroom with the double bed that was great for holding files and for taking naps. Today I can catnap in my comfy office chair. Oh, and then there is air conditioning instead of a swamp cooler. Plus I have more colleagues than the one who is forever first for me, Kevin Raines.

We don’t do payroll in-house anymore off the 1st Bank checkbook. Now we have a payroll service and a super talented office manager to handle all of that stuff. Like many a start-up there was no salary for the first six months.

Those first six months of 2000 were a bit like the austerity period when Kevin and I were saving to become homeowners in 1994. No frills, no fluff. Our old house would just have to wait a bit as we saved for future remodels, especially since Raines Manor also served as Corona world headquarters. Who knew that the habits we’d built as first-time home buyers, and later remodelers, would serve us well as we had to chart the financial course for our company?

I’ve had the joy and Now, Future, Pastpleasure of building my consulting practice from scratch since 2000. I’ve also had the joy and pleasure of helping to build a small business too. Of course, if I’m honest, there has been some pain too, maybe quite a bit depending on the day, month or year. 2010, in the depths of the recession, many a painful moment. Certain challenging consulting gigs required many hours of free therapy from fellow consultants and colleagues. But I get ahead of myself once again.

Over the next several blogs I will reflect on my early years as a Jane of all trades, back in the day when I staffed research projects. (Some of you will recall the observational seat belt research we conducted on Denver street corners.) Then I’ll focus on the clients and projects that served as the crucible for my consulting practice. Finally, I’ll touch on what keeps me fresh and motivated today.

In the meantime it is interesting to note how much 2015 is like 2000. The nonprofit strategic consulting market is as fragmented today as it was then, possibly even more so. It remains largely populated by individual practitioners and smaller firms, many of which are still going today, although a few of my consultant peers have left the field to pursue other dreams and new folks have come into the market.

Business is still largely derived from repeat and referral sources. Friends and colleagues mattered then and matter now. What also matters is deep passion and love for my craft and the people who have helped me master it. There are too many of you to mention by name – and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Like they did in 2000, 2005 and 2010, prospective clients often begin their call or email with “I’d like to speak with you about facilitating our strategic planning process.”

Fortunately, some things never change.

I remain deeply indebted to my beloved who said, “Hey, I won a big project. Do you wanna help?” Who knew love and consulting would go so well together?


Of anchors, sails and strategic plans

I’ve been struck recently by my clients’ desires to simultaneously sail and drop anchor. By sailing I’m referring to the opportunity to advance, grow and change, strategically of course. To move towards the horizon. Counterbalancing that vision is an anchoring in the past – where we’ve been – as well as the here and now – both who we are and what we believe in.

In some cases this desire for change and continuity is required to achieve consensus on future direction. Whether organizations are still reeling from the recession’s perma-shifts (e.g., declining market demand, slow economic growth, and downsized operations trying to do more with less) or reminding themselves that they really, truly have been successful, there is a shift to what I call the pragmatic visionary.

Old Way or New Way

It is more difficult to navigate changing currents when too firmly anchored. Pragmatic visionaries understand the realities of today – and embrace them – while making a case for what is possible three to five years from now. We can hoist the anchor a bit more readily when we remind ourselves that our planning horizon is longer than 12-18 months. A three- to five-year plan provides span – a larger sail of sorts – to carry us forward.

Point your sails pragmatic visionaries. Team Corona is here to lend its compass and binoculars.

Brand Tracking for Sustained Growth

Surveys can be used to guide a plethora of business decisions.  If you’re considering launching a new product or service, a survey can help you get feedback on not only the product or service itself, but your messaging and collaterals as well.  If you’re looking to grow into a new market, a survey can help you understand the lay of the land so that you can maximize the return on your marketing investments.   Or maybe you just haven’t checked in with your customers in a while and want to know how they feel; a survey can be an effective tool for that as well.

However, as any good strategic planner will tell you, businesses looking to grow and develop long-term sustainability need to set their sights higher and focus on the long-term goals of their organizations, as well as the strategies and tactics that it will take to get there.  In these situations, an ongoing brand tracking survey can be a very effective tool to help guide an organization’s decisions as it grows.

Brand Tracking for Sustained Growth

Brand tracking studies are typically conducted on a regular basis.  (Once a year is common, but an individual organization’s needs could suggest that either more frequent surveys or less frequent surveys would be most effective.)  Brand tracking studies focus on measuring an individual brand in terms of a variety of key performance indicators, such as:

  • Brand awareness
  • Past purchase
  • Current ownership or use
  • Brand favorability
  • Future purchase intent
  • Likelihood of recommending (Net Promoter Score)
  • Brand association with desired brand imagery

Using a one-time survey, you can effectively quantify how your brand is perming in all of these measures and, if necessary, take actions to improve your brand’s position.  For example, if awareness is low but other metrics are high, you may want to focus your marketing efforts on just getting your name out there.  If awareness is high, but favorability is low, it may be worth looking at your product and making sure it’s living up to your brand promise.  And if you’re missing the mark on key aspects of your brand that you are trying to convey in your marketing messages, it may be worth re-evaluating your advertising and collaterals to make sure they are as effective as you’d like them to be.

A one-time survey can also be effective at understanding how your brand’s performance measures up against some of your key competitors.  By using these competitors as benchmarks, you can understand where you’re ahead of the pack and where you could look to improve.

The real power in brand tracking surveys, however, lies in plotting how your key performance indicators change over time.  If you set a goal of increasing awareness of your brand by 10% after seeing it is low in your initial survey, a tracking survey can serve to see if your efforts are paying off.  Over the years, you can develop a deep understanding of how your brand’s position in the marketplace has changed over time and not only identify areas for ongoing improvement, but areas to celebrate your successes as well.

So the next time you’re wondering if you need a survey to help you understand what your customers think of your organization, consider making a long-term commitment to tracking your brand’s performance.  You may be surprised at the power brand tracking can give you while plotting and monitoring future growth.

New Case Study: 1920’s Era Town

We always enjoy our successful engagements with our clients, but too often we can’t share our work.  So we get even more excited when we have the opportunity to share our work, along with how it benefited a client.

Our latest case study is about a market feasibility study Corona conducted for a 1920’s Era Town concept.  View the case study here, including more on the concept, how Corona helped the founder analyze the feasibility, and the results.

Be sure to check out our other case studies and testimonials too.

Refer a client to Corona, receive an iPad

Win an iPad

For the months of July and August, 2014, Corona is thanking our existing clients who refer work to us.  Simply refer a new client to us, and if they initiate work with Corona Insights before December 31, 2014, you’ll receive an iPad as a thank you from us.  There is no limit on how many iPads you can earn.

Be sure to either let us know that you referred someone, or make sure they notify us when they contact us, so we can give proper credit.

Some not-so-fine-print: Only one iPad will be awarded per new client.  If more than one referral was received for a new client, only the first referral will be honored.  Open to all current and past clients of Corona Insights. A “new” client is an organization that Corona Insights has not previously done work with.  Initiated work is defined as signing a contract.  The actual iPad awarded will be determined at the time of award.  Corona Insights reserves the right to change or cancel the promotion at any time.

Data-driven strategy, oh yeah.

Make a strategic break through using data.
Make a strategic break through using data.

My Corona colleagues know the ins and outs of data – the good, the bad and the better not to have at all. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years. In my world as a strategic consultant, I’ve seen first-hand what the right data at the right time can do when setting strategy. Whether you are an executive running:

  • A classical music festival committed to serving a broader audience … so we can make a time honored art form relevant to younger audiences
  • A cancer-fighting nonprofit committed to increasing clinical trial participation … so we can find tomorrow’s cure today
  • A workers compensation insurance company aligning with new health care models … so we can help injured workers and employers

Data can truly drive strategy. How you ask?

  • By bringing timely market opinion and perspective
  • By integrating relevant specialty expertise to advance your own thinking, and getting you to fresh insights faster
  • By serving as a springboard for fresh insights
  • By reality checking a beloved concept before more time or money is invested in it
  • By creating a common platform of information available to the entire team

The results? Focus, clarity, energy and a greater commitment to success.

What are you waiting for….