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Coffee Talk with Barista Media - Issue #5

Barista Media Newsletter

Issue #5

September 20, 2019



Barista Media sat down with Digital Transformation Expert Tony Fross to talk about creating opportunities growth through branding, re-branding, and outside-the-box thinking. Tony is a Partner in the New York Office at Prophet, a Management Consulting Firm, where he oversees the Organization & Culture practice, helping clients discover growth opportunities, designing winning strategies, and setting them up for success moving forward.

The key to creating a winning brand is relevance. Relentlessly relevant brands are brands that inspire us, that we depend on, that we think can't live without, and which reward us in part by continuing to innovate versus resting on their laurels. -- Tony Fross

Q: Tell us about the path that led you to your career at Prophet.

A: After 16 years in professional services, plus 8 years running internal services organizations in both technology and strategy inside of a Fortune 50 company, I recognized that my personal mission is to help others' achieve their goals. The key question was where I might best be able to complete my mission. I had worked in agencies, management consultancies and systems integrators. I had been in both wildly creative startups like THINK New Ideas and Scient as well as a pretty traditional firm 200,000 strong, Capgemini. Goldilocks for me was Prophet: it's got the creative and collaborative culture that makes my heart sing.

Q: You've mentioned in the past that you help build “relentlessly relevant brands”. Can you explain what it means to be “relentlessly relevant” and what you do to build relevance for your clients?

A: We believe that the key to creating a winning brand is relevance. Relentlessly relevant brands are brands that inspire us, that we depend on, that we think can't live without, and which reward us in part by continuing to innovate versus resting on their laurels. Every year, we publish our Brand Relevance Index which shows which brands are hitting that high bar. 

We help clients become - or maintain their status - as relentlessly relevant brands by helping them where to play and how to win with a series of cascading moves. Those moves include creating new experiences, launching wholly new products or new features to build brand strength.

Q: We agree wholeheartedly with your belief that employee engagement is extremely important – what are some of your go-to strategies to help engage and maximize the performance of employees?

A: This is an interesting question (although one hates to give away the keys to the kingdom). Here's what I'll say: one of the most interesting findings in our most recent transformation research was the importance of quickly communicating success in methods and approaches. It may seem pat, but communicating continuous realtime progress keeps people engaged in the journey.

The next obvious thing is improving leadership skills. Most studies indicate that the one of the largest determinants of employee satisfaction is the quality of their leadership.

Q: How do you help already ubiquitous brands when they look to you to build their market relevance even farther? 

A: We helped T-Mobile craft the Un-Carrier strategy, which helped position them as dominant, and which was far more relevant to the emerging generations of cellphone owners. That was how we defined where to play.


How to win consisted of a series of quarterly moves, unbundling and changing how they offered their services, which effectively kept their competition in the rear view mirror over several years.


Q: On a personal note, we understand that you travel a lot. Can you share a business travel story about something surprising, unusual, heart-warming, funny, or just really interesting?

A: I travel somewhat less than I used to, actually. Prophet is a management consultancy with an agency culture. When I was at Capgemini, I did the standard 4+1 schedule (4 days on-site and 1 back at the home office), whereas at Prophet we don't usually colocate with clients.

In terms of unusual stories, I've got three:

  • I became good friends with a woman I met on a flight from Europe to the US and we've managed to stay in touch for maybe 10 years now.

  • Once I ended up realizing I was *sitting next to* an old friend I hadn't seen in about 15 years (actually a fellow Vassar grad) on a flight from Osaka to San Francisco.

  • But here's one of the craziest. I was with two colleagues doing a one-day turnaround to Toronto for a client pitch. We get to the border and the agent asks why we're doing this trip. We explain we're consultants there to pitch Toronto Dominion Bank. He says then of course we must have a presentation. We say that we do. And then he makes us fire up a laptop to show it to him. So we are confused but do so. Then he says we should walk him through the pitch! So we look at each other and he's clearly not budging so we begin to do our pitch. After a few minutes, he asks, "Do you really think they're going to buy this?" We say we're feeling good about it. And he says, "Well, I don't think they will.' Sadly, he was right.

Q: Final question, since this is Coffee Talk, we have to ask… How do you take your coffee (if at all) and what do you like to pair it with? 

A: Generally, a flat white with almond milk.

You can learn more about Tony's work and insights on his company's website.

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