Book Review: Connected by Design

Stephen DeAngelis

June 18, 2015

I became interested in Barry Wacksman’s (@wacksman) and Chris Stutzman’s (@cjstutzman) book Connected by Design when I learned that it contained an excellent chapter on the FlavorPrint® platform that Enterra Solutions® helped McCormick and Company develop. FlavorPrint is now the centerpiece of a company called Vivanda, Inc., which was spun off from McCormick last December. Vivanda’s mission is to inspire “you to discover the foods and flavors you love.” Wacksman and Stutzman both work for R/GA. Wacksman is an Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Office and Stutzman is a Vice President and Managing Director of Business Consulting. They wrote their book to answer this question, “How can companies drive consumer preferences and secure sustainable growth in this digital, social, and mobile age?” To answer that question, Wacksman and Stutzman discuss how functional integration can help companies create a competitive edge and discover new revenue streams. In the book, they focus on seven principles of functional integration, and they highlight specific R/GA case studies — one of which is McCormick’s FlavorPrint initiative.

 

Wacksman and Stutzman assert that in the digital age successful companies will be part of a digital ecosystem. “Each of these digital ecosystems,” they write, “is defined and supported by a distinctive online platform that functions both as a hub for the brand’s digital services and as an invaluable portal to the brand’s e-commerce offerings.” They go on to explain how these digital ecosystems “represent a comprehensive new business model for the digital age.” They elaborate:

“We call this business model Functional Integration because it relies on interdependent dimensions of functionality and integration within ecosystems in order to deliver growth and profits. … Growing a functionally integrated ecosystem requires continual innovation in [both functionality and integration]. Adding or upgrading functional pieces provides new entry points for customers to join the ecosystem. Improving integration among the interdependent parts of the ecosystem sustains the interest and participation of those customers inside the ecosystem — and encourages them to buy still more functional pieces.”

It’s clear from their description that they believe the digital path to purchase is going to play an increasingly significant role in the decades ahead. Wacksman and Stutzman note that there is no single blueprint that companies can follow to achieve functional integration. “Every company follows a distinctive path toward Functional Integration,” they write, “but we have found that certain principles apply to all who have proven to be most successful at it.” In the book, they discuss seven principles which they divide into two parts. In the first part of the book, they discuss what they describe as the “three fundamental underlying principles” of functional integration: delivering utility, engaging multiple contexts, and creating ecosystem synergies. In the second part of the book, they discuss the four remaining principles that they believe are necessary “for putting Functional Integration into action.” Those principles are: reimagining value creation; redesigning value delivery; redirecting toward value capture; and leading like the world depends on it.

 

The first case study they relate involves McCormick’s creation of FlavorPrint. They begin with the FlavorPrint story because it highlights their first principle — delivering utility. They begin their story by noting that the taste for spicier foods has been on the upswing and that younger generations (i.e., Generations X and Y) “are expected to sustain an increasing preference for spicier, more adventurous cooking and dining.” The authors note, “All these trends should register as great news for Maryland-based McCormick and Company.” Seeing a trend and being able to take advantage of that trend are two different things. McCormick wanted to find a way to deal more directly with consumers because, as Wacksman and Stutzman note, “The consumer’s relationship with spices and seasonings … is fairly indirect.” McCormick wanted to find a way to play a significant role in what it calls the “flavor lifecycle” (i.e., “deciding to cook, choosing a recipe, [and] assembling ingredients”). Anyone interested in food knows, however, that there are myriad ways of finding recipes (web sites, cook books, your mother) but not many ways to know if you’ll like what you find. As Wacksman and Stutzman write, “Whenever you face a bewildering number of choices — or even a half-dozen choices — the natural questions that arise are, ‘Which of these choices are any good?’ and ‘Which one would I like best?’ … A digital tool might offer a solution.” In other words, helping consumers answer those questions would provide utility and connect McCormick more directly with consumers. The digital tool they decided upon was FlavorPrint. Wacksman and Stutzman explain:

“What if you knew enough about your flavor preferences (or the preferences of the family’s pickiest eater) that you could identify a new and different recipe that promised a 95 chance of success? With the risk of failure reduced, you might be tempted to try something that looks a little strange or exotic, perhaps even a dish you always assumed you wouldn’t like. That’s the goal of the McCormick digital service called FlavorPrint. Similar to your fingerprint, your FlavorPrint is your unique identifying marker. It is a handy profile of the flavors you like best and ones you’d rather avoid. When matched in an automated search with recipes on McCormick’s various websites, FlavorPrint gives you more than just new ideas. Its recommendations give you confidence that taking a risk on a new recipe will be rewarded.”

The magic behind the curtain involves a combination of McCormick’s knowledge about flavors and Enterra’s cognitive computing capabilities. Wacksman and Stutzman write, “The FlavorPrint team pursued a process similar to that of the Music Genome Project, the type of digital engine that powers the music site Pandora. … It turns out that the mélange of sounds that make up a piece of recorded music is not so different from the mélange of flavors that produce a delicious and satisfying dish. … The more you tell FlavorPrint about yourself, the more accurately it will predict your flavor preferences and the recipes most likely to satisfy them.” Needless to say, FlavorPrint was hit and the initiative has earned numerous prestigious awards. More importantly, it helped McCormick’s bottom line. As Wacksman and Stutzman note, “By offering a highly personalized service that outshines the predictive capabilities of all other online recipe sites, FlavorPrint has positioned McCormick to become a uniquely trusted and indispensable partner to the home cook, and to all the related companies and industries with a stake in home cooking.”

 

The other case studies discussed by Wacksman and Stutzman are just as insightful. If you want to understand the importance of becoming a digital enterprise, the book should definitely be placed on your reading list. Wacksman and Stutzman conclude, “The burgeoning Functional Integration economy is distinguished by its ethos of openness and collaboration. Organizational traps can be avoided and department ‘not invented here’ suspicions can be quelled through APIs and venture funds that help contribute to ecosystem growth and value and eventually deliver a share of growth and brand distinction to the entire enterprise.”