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Archive for January, 2010

From Brand Building to Brand Rescue: What to do when things go very wrong.

Back in late 2008, Valeria Maltoni posed a great question on Conversation Agent: What happens when brands die? It was a fascinating question, and one that frankly doesn’t get enough coverage. Even now, in the middle of a global recession that may have already cost us several: Saturn, Circuit City, and perhaps even Saab, for starters.

As companies continue to bleed jobs, sales, profits, liquidity and funding, perhaps this is as good a time as any to start discussing the  topic of… well, the specter of brand death: It’s causes, dynamics, mechanism, and outcomes. How do you plan for the death of a brand? How do you manage all of its painful final stages? How do you and your customers cope with something like that? And… to give you guys a ray of hope, can a dying brand be saved? And if so, how?

I know this series will be a bit of a departure for many of you: Conversations on the BrandBuilder blog usually focus on helping businesses improve their position and reach the next level in their evolution. What we are talking about here is a bit different. We’re looking at discussing difficult moments for any company: Continuity planning. Contingency planning. Emergency care. And potentially, if nothing can be done, last rites. (Sure, I want to say that every brand CAN be saved. And I believe that. But not every brand WILL be saved.

So the question, for once, and for the duration of this series won’t be “how do I make sure my company doesn’t end up in this situation,” but “now that we’re in trouble, how do we keep our sick company or brand from actually dying?”

As with humans, companies finding themselves headed for the emergency room require two basic things in order to turn themselves around and survive: Proper diagnosis, and proper care. And as with humans, most of the time, self-diagnosis and self medicating aren’t necessarily the wisest choices – especially when you’re dealing with a life-threatening problem rather than annual sniffles. In other words, when things start to get really bad, guess what: You’re going to need to seek professional care.

You’re going to need to call for help. But let’s not jump too far ahead of ourselves here. Before a company can ask for help, it has to accept reality:

Step 1: Preliminary Diagnosis.

Typically, symptoms of a dying brand may come in the form of customer attrition, declines in sales frequency or (volume per customer), eroding market share, a negative brand image (as reported through consumer reports, customer feedback and market studies), or even decreasing investor confidence.

But before this type of rescue/turnaround partnership can take place, managers of distressed brands need to come to terms with reality: Accepting that their brand or company is in trouble. Most companies ultimately fail NOT because they couldn’t be saved, but because their leadership fails to admit that they are in trouble and need help. This is the first step in the process.

How do you know when your company or brand is in trouble? Simple: When a preponderance of symptoms from the following list start popping up in your monthly or quarterly executive meetings. The short list:

  • Pricing pressures are eroding your market share (and you can’t seem to reverse the trend without lowering your prices).
  • Consumer preference data indicates that you are no longer either a contender for the top 1 or 2 choices in your product category.
  • Your quarterly net new customer count is either decreasing or stalled.
  • You are seriously contemplating eliminating 5-20% of your workforce to reduce costs.
  • Customer complaints about your brand are increasing. (Quality, service, delivery, etc.)
  • You have lost several of your best (historical) customers in the last 12 months.
  • Your competitors’ products are getting a lot of great press and attention. Yours are not.
  • Your best talent is starting to walk away.
  • You are having a very tough time recruiting talent.
  • You have cut costs by moving your call centers overseas, but now your customer service department is broken.
  • Despite spending an obscene amount of money on marketing, advertising or PR campaigns, your business barely matches your industry’s growth rate. (If you’re lucky.)
  • At least two out of the three cardinal measurements of your sales health (Frequency of sales, Reach of sales and average sales yield) show a flat or decreasing trend YoY.*

* Corporate lingo for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of working on the client side: QoQ = Quarter over Quarter. YoY = Year over Year.

Assuming anyone in your company is actually keeping an eye on any of this. You would be surprised how many companies’ sales managers don’t measure F.R.Y. or monitor historical new customer trending, how many marketing managers have absolutely no idea what is being said about their brands or where, and how many HR managers have their hands tied even when they it becomes clear that they are not winning the talent war.

Some of this can be attributed to managerial denial, sure, but a lot of the blame can also be attributed to two other factors: a) a lack of training or sophistication when it comes to establishing adequate, actionable metrics, and/or b) a lack of resources when it comes to managing these metrics with an eye towards regular course correction.

In order to connect the dots, you have to know how to identify the dots to begin with.

Getting help isn’t about admitting defeat, it is about getting results.

In order to climb out of a hole, you have to realize that you are indeed in a hole to begin with… and that you probably need help getting out. If you can’t think of a solution on your own, it’s time to get someone who knows how to help you dig your way out.

This topic reminds me of the scene in the 1998 movie “The Edge” (“The Wild” for my European readers) in which Anthony Hopkins’ character gets stranded in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with two companions after a terrible plane crash. Alone in the wild, the three pampered city guys find themselves in an against-all-odds survival situation. The question the three characters keep asking each other – and themselves – is simple: How in the world are we going to survive out here? With no rations, no weapons or tools, no winter gear and chased by a relentless man-eating Grizzly, the three men have to rely on each other to make it back to civilization. About mid-way through the story, as their situation seems hopeless, Anthony Hopkins’ character explains to his lone surviving companion something that is absolutely relevant to today’s discussion of brand survival:

- You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.

- What?

- Yeah, see, they die of shame. “What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?” And so they sit there and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives.

- And what is that, Charles?

The answer in the movie is “Thinking.” The answer in the case of of rescuing a brand is the same: Thinking. The one difference being that brands don’t die because they get lost in the wilderness. They die because their stewards create an imaginary wilderness around themselves. If you’re a CEO or CMO who hasn’t figured out how to rescue yourself or your brand by now, it’s time to break out the emergency radio or start sending smoke signals. If someone doesn’t come help you get back on track soon, your brand will die, along with your career, and the only reason will have been that you were too ashamed to admit that you needed help.

Yes, brands can and do die of shame as well.

Reaching out for help is a tough sale for a lot of managers and business leaders. It requires them to admit two things they would rather not: 1. This brand is in serious trouble, and 2. I can’t fix this on my own.

The trick is to realize that asking for help is not the same thing as admitting failure. Quite the contrary. Hiring someone to help you fix something for you – or with you – is no different from hiring the best copywriter, salesperson or office manager you can find.

Here’s the thing: We are all too happy to turn to specialists when we need help in every other area of our lives: If we are sick, we go to a doctor. If we have a tooth ache, we go to a dentist. If we are out of shape, we hire a personal trainer. If we have emotional problems, we hire a therapist. If our dog misbehaves, we hire a dog trainer. We all hire people who can help us improve our lives or who can somehow help us do things we can’t do on our own. Landscapers. Attorneys. Consultants. Mechanics. Dry-cleaners. Interior decorators. Plumbers. Electricians. Life coaches. Nutritionists. Masons. Carpenters. Party planners. Accountants. Financial planners. Repairmen. Whatever. Specialists are there to fill our knowledge and skill gaps. Helping you fix a brand in crisis is no different. It’s just that there isn’t a section in the yellow pages for “brand interventionists”.

Hint: Looking for a brand specialist or marketing firm in the yellow pages is a lot like looking for a job in the wanted ads. Unless you happen to live in 1986, you are looking in the wrong place.

Likewise, looking for traditional marketing firms and ad agencies to fill your needs when it comes to the relatively new problem of brand erosion in today’s complex business world can be a risky endeavor. Old tactics don’t necessarily address new problems – at least not on their own. The toolkit has evolved. If your new advisor’s “ideas” sound awfully familiar, it’s okay to get a second opinion. Even a third. We’ll go into what to look for tomorrow.

Okay, so my brand is failing. I have to do “something.” What are my options?

While many marketing firms and departments are great at building strong brands, many fall short of expectations. It happens. Sometimes, they get too close to the company or the product and lose their ability to look at the big picture. Sometimes, they have been doing the same things for so long that they have lost touch with their customers, with new marketing tools at their disposal, or with consumer trends and tastes. These things happen. It’s just part of doing business. If – not when – this happens to your company and you find yourself in trouble, you basically have four options at your disposal:

  1. Fire your CMO or Marketing department (pretty drastic and rarely the right solution, but common).
  2. Spend more money on the same tactics that have failed, but pretend that you are doing something different (the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time). This may be the most common reaction of the four.
  3. Drastically cut your marketing budget. Marketing doesn’t work anyway, right? (You might as well update your resume while you’re at it. This is the worst possible thing you can do in times of crisis. Even worse than firing your CMO.)
  4. Seek professional help to assist your CMO. Not just from a firm or agency that will gladly take your money to take approach #2, but from a firm, agency or specialist who will actually focus on getting measurable and immediate results for you, AND educate you in the process. Rescuing a brand needs to be as much a learning experience for your organization as it is an intervention.

The correct answer, of course, is option #4.

I cannot stress this enough: Do not hire a specialist, firm or agency that will take option #2 to get you back on track. I have seen it happen too many times, and it is the easiest trap to fall into. This will solve nothing, and waste precious resources on your end. Don’t do it.

Tomorrow, we will go over the second step in your brand intervention: Hiring a practitioner or specialized firm, and letting them help you diagnose and clarify the problems facing your brand.

Part 3 of this series will focus on developing a treatment for your brand.

In Part 4, we will go over how to best administer the treatment, and we will wrap it all up in Part 5 with long term strategies to kill the possibility of a relapse.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2: Methods for diagnosing and understanding what is killing your brand.

Cheers.

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Jacob Morgan and I want to bring our wisdom and know-how to the #e2conf in Boston this spring, but we need your help.

To be clear, there’s really nothing in it for us: I speak at conferences pretty regularly, so I don’t need the exposure, and as far as I can tell, #e2conf doesn’t pay its session speakers, so Jacob and I aren’t looking for a payday. We want to be there because we feel that what we already teach companies behind closed doors is well worth sharing with the enterprise community at large, especially in the context of enterprise business planning. Not being there would be a missed opportunity for the conference, the business community, and everyone in attendance in Boston. We’re here, we’re eager to share this stuff, and this is one of the best ways for us to do so. Unfortunately, we need votes – LOTS of votes -  to make it happen.

You can view and vote for our session Enterprise Social Media: Best Practices in Development, Deployment and Integration here.

Social Media Program Development

Companies looking to get involved in social media need to start somewhere.  The first segment of our session will cover how companies need to look at developing their social media strategies while tying those strategies back to ROI or impact metrics.  We will cover everything from identifying how social media can support existing company initiatives to how new social media initiatives can be created to drive business objectives and impact the bottom line.

Social Media Program Deployment and Integration

Once the strategies are developed, the next steps is to roll them out.  This section will cover everything from how companies need to structure their teams to setting timelines and expectations for a full scale social media roll out.  This is an important topic because strategies are only as effective as their ability to be executed. Anything can look great on paper. Execution is key.

The relevance to #e2conf becomes clear when you consider the complexity of accomplishing this in an enterprise environment: Large companies are divided into a breadth of departments across various geographic locations, which presents layers of obstacles ranging from poor communications and rigid business cultures to imbalances in infrastructure and conflicting objectives across silos.  The biggest Social Media challenge of all in the enterprise space lies in properly integrating it into (and across) an entire company so that it becomes a PART of the way that company does business as opposed to becoming some short-lived external add-on.  Our session will touch on how companies in the enterprise space can (and should) properly integrate social media into existing and new business functions and processes.

Even if you aren’t planning to go to #e2conf, I would LOVE for you to take 30 seconds today to register and vote for our session. (Don’t worry, you won’t be actually registering for our session or for #e2conf. The conference just needs to be able to make sure the same person isn’t voting for the same session 500 times.) It’s out of my hands now. If we don’t get the votes, we don’t get to present. It’s that simple. I’m counting on you, my readers to help us bring some kickassery to Boston’s #e2conf this spring. Voting ends on 1/20, so don’t wait.

Cheers,

Olivier.

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Happy MLK day.

Beyond “I have a dream,” the fact that one man can help change so much just by standing up and speaking out tells you how much can be accomplished when we devote ourselves heart and soul to something we believe in.

Inspiring.

Be part of something greater than yourself.

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Will the world’s best Social Media and P2P case studies of 2009 please stand up? The time to claim your place in the pantheon of business case studies has come.

I hate to call them Social Media case studies, because – well, they’re more than just Social Media. They’re word-of-mouth (WOM) case studies too. They’re Marketing case studies. They’re community case studies. (Dare I call them business case studies?) Qualifying anything as being solely “Social Media” seems so limiting, doesn’t it? At the core though, they’re all P2P case studies, really.

(No, not P2P as in Peer-to-peer. Rather, P2P as in People-to-People.)

The idea behind P2P is simple: Fostering connections (human connections) with your customers. Whether you used social media to rebuild your customer support department, community management to significantly improve customer loyalty, a WOM program to increase your net transacting customers or a series of community feedback vehicles to generate conversations and participation in your brand, program or cause, that’s P2P.

But feel free to call them Social Media case studies. We don’t mind. Whatever makes the most sense to you, to your boss, to your employees, to your customers. We know better than to get hung up on words, especially this early in the social media game.

What’s important here is is that whether you used Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email, Ning, flickr, youtube, neighborhood canvassing, special events, phone calls, face-to-face interactions, sky-writing or any combination thereof to create human to human connections around a program, campaign, cause or brand in the last year – and it worked, we want to hear about it.

If you got people to talk to people, if you earned attention instead of paying for it, if you increased sales or marketshare or share of voice using Social Media or P2P tools, we want to hear about it.

PR, customer support, community management, online reputation management, internal collaboration, co-creation: if any or all of these terms drove your projects in 2009 and you have one or more case studies to back up all that work, we want to read it.

Why? Because we are looking for the best case studies in the world. Plain and simple. And you only have a couple of weeks to get them to us if you want to make the list – and be invited to attend a summit designed specifically to bring the best social media professionals on the planet together in one place for a couple of days and talk shop.

And by that, I mean seriously talk shop. Like you never have before.

Q: What is the LikeMinds Summit?

First things first – Likeminds 2010 is divided into two distinct events. A conference, and a Summit.

> Friday February 26 is the LikeMinds Conference – Open to all, (first come, first served, so get your tickets fast) interactive format with presenters, panels, Q&A, etc. The conference will be held in Exeter (Devon, UK) just like last time.Sa

> Saturday February 27 is the LikeMinds Summit at the spectacular (and Summit-friendly) Bovey Castle (just a short drive from Exeter). Unlike the conference, the Summit will be an invitation-only event. I repeat: Unlike the conference, the LikeMinds Summit will not be open to the general public. You must be invited to attend.

How do you get invited? I’ll get to that in a second. Let me tell you what the Summit is first:

1. An Open Dialogue and RoundTable about Social Media Best Practices

On Saturday February 27th, LikeMinds will welcome key CEOs, Directors, Trustees and global thought leaders to the first Like Minds Summit, where in the luxurious settings of Bovey Castle in the middle of Dartmoor National Park, we will be providing a roundtable platform for the worldʼs leading Social Media practitioners to enjoy an open dialogue about the future of social business innovation.

2. Strategic and Operational Training for Social Media Thought Leaders

In addition, the Summit will also include advanced executive Social Media program development training (strategy, integration, management and measurement) as well moderated collaborative sessions in which attending delegates will discuss successes, challenges, and lessons learned from their own experiences in developing and managing their programs.

3. The 2010 Global ‘Best In Class’ Report

Following the event, case studies selected for the summit will be outlined in a “Best in class” report, complete with lessons-learned, best practices, and a wealth of insights aimed at helping companies draw the best possible methodologies from the year’s most successful P2P and Social Media programs. For every company present at the LikeMinds Summit, the report will present an opportunity to have their hard work acknowledged globally. For anyone not invited to attend this time around, the report will present a unique reference guide from which to draw invaluable lessons for their own programs.

The LikeMinds Summit will convene every year in February to discuss, share and celebrate the previous year’s best P2P programs from around the world.

Q: Why a Summit? Isn’t the Friday LikeMinds Conference enough?

Define ‘enough.’ When is ‘enough’ ever enough? ;)

Two of the most frequent questions from LikeMinds 2009 attendees were “where can we go to find the best case studies,” and “where do we go to find social media best practices?” (This actually came up during the panel Q&A after my presentation on R.O.I., and again a number of times at the little social event held immediately after the close of the conference.) From the onset, the notion that no one seemed to be addressing these two questions properly bothered me. As far as I could tell, as much as case studies turned up at just about every conference from Los Angeles to Dubai, no one was really focusing on trying to a) collect the best Social Media case studies, b) evaluate them against less “solid” case studies, and c) make the best of them available – in a lessons learned format – to the scores of business and social media professionals asking for them.

All evening, I was distracted by this unanswered need. By the next morning, Trey Pennington, Drew Ellis, Scott Gould and I were already toying with the idea of creating some kind of mechanism through which that type of information might be organized and made available. Without formalizing anything, we started bouncing ideas off each other in passing… until we ended up in the spectacular hills of Dartmoor, which we wished we could have shared with all of our  peers in the Social Media world…

… And then at Bovey Castle for a bone-warming fire and proper afternoon tea (yes, with real scones – not the Starbucks stuff). It was there, at Bovey Castle, that the idea of going beyond the simple collection, evaluation and publishing of the best social media case studies first took hold. The venue was so perfect for the level of conversations necessary to properly create the framework for something like this that we started to discuss the possibility of putting on a Summit – a high level event that would bring the best minds in social media in one place to have the kinds of conversations about the space that no one had the opportunity to have:

Large conferences weren’t the ideal format because of the distractions, the noise, the constant flux of presentations, meetings, dinners, parties and running around.

Small conferences tended not to attract enough of the best minds to put more than five or six of them in the same room at the same time.

Conference calls, webinars, twitter and other remote options were nice, but hardly conducive to… well, getting anywhere.

But man, if we could get 15 or 20 of the world’s best in a place like Bovey Castle, especially after a full day at the LikeMinds Conference in Exeter, we could really get somewhere. We could spend an entire day sharing best practices, discussing what works and what doesn’t, talking about where to take Social Media and New Marketing next. We could conduct training sessions based on the attendees’ specific needs, have real Q&A discussions between people who do this better than anyone else on the planet, and focus on what matters. Not that I mind sifting through the junk to get to the gold at most conferences, but what if we eliminated the junk completely and replaced it with 100% gold? The value of that type of event – for everyone present – would be beyond measurement.

That was the idea behind the Summit.

The rest, as they say, is history. Within a few days, we had a concept. A few weeks later, we were planning the Conference, the Summit and the format of the report and other resources that would emerge from them both.

Q: Where is the 2010 LikeMinds Summit being held? (And why?)

At Bovey Castle. Yes, THE Bovey Castle we just talked about. In England. Don’t worry, it just looks extravagant. It’s really just an old English house with a lot of really cool meeting rooms, a big back yard, and a forest all around it.

Why here? Three reasons: Convenience, awesomeness and the fact that the idea for the Summit came to us there for a good reason: It’s perfect for it.

We could have decided to hold the Summit anywhere: A hotel conference room in London, an office suite in New York, a cool space in San Fransisco… The possibilities are endless.  (The content of the Summit, its relevance, its format and even the cost to attend would be exactly the same, regardless of the venue.) Since the LikeMinds conference is already taking place just a short drive from Bovey Castle, it would have been a shame not to take advantage of its proximity.  ;)

You can find out more about Bovey Castle here.

Q: If the Summit is by invitation only, how do I get invited?

Submit your case study.

Your submission can be in almost any format: a video, slide deck or document that is either emailed to the Summit staff, or even a simple hyperlink if your case study already exists online.

Invitation to the Summit will be based on the submission of that case study along with the following  qualifying elements. These elements are intended to prove the successful use of Social Media by documenting:

- Before and after overviews of the organization, with accurate measurement (Benchmarking)
- The research that backed the program
- The breakdown of strategy, integration, management and measurement
- How teamwork was guided, across departments, organizations and with the end user
- What were the most valuable lessons learned
- The frameworks that have been created from the experience

A jury will select the top 15-20 case studies from all received submissions and will send out invitations by the end of January.

Submissions for the Like Mind Summit may be sent to summit@wearelikeminds.com

Q: When are Summit submissions due?

Closing date for application submissions is Friday 22nd January.

Q: What is the cost of attending the Summit?

1. Getting to Exeter is up to you: Car, train, bicycle, horseback, steam ship, aeroplane, rocket, teleporter… If you’re in the UK already, it’s pretty simple. If you’re flying in, I suggest Heathrow or Gatwick airport, then either renting a car (don’t forget to stop at Stonehenge on your way to Exeter) or hopping on a train. Super simple. Once in Exeter, we’ll take care of shuttling you to Bovey on Saturday morning.

2. Hotels: The LikeMinds team is pretty well connected in Devon, so hooking you up with a hotel shouldn’t be a problem. (And yes, you can actually stay at Bovey Castle. We’ve negotiated a special rate of £150 per night – which is phenomenal.*)

* Last time I was in London, I found myself paying that much for horrible little economy hotels in the worst parts of town. £150 per night at Bovey is pretty mind-blowing.

3. The events: If you are invited to attend the summit, you’re automatically comped for the LikeMinds conference on Friday, including the V.I.P dinner Friday night. The Summit will also take care of your breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea on Saturday, as well as getting you back to Exeter once the Summit adjourns. You’ll be looking at two full days with some of the brightest, most forward thinking social media thought leaders and practitioners in the world. Not just in the same room, but at the same table. With a common purpose.

4. Inclusion in the ‘Best In Class’ report: If you get selected to attend the Summit, your case study will be featured in the LikeMinds report as one of the world’s best Social Media/P2P programs of 2009.  Those of you with a few Public Relations 101 credits in college might recognize the value of that kind of exposure. (Global exposure, I might add. This dog is going to have some pretty serious legs.)

Okay, enough with the pitch already: The price of admission is £1,500. (Sorry, the Gold Ticket isn’t free.)

I could make a joke about $2,995 social media certification programs right about now, but I won’t. Oh wait.. Doh!

Submitting your case study, however, is free. Just understand that if you are serious about attending the event upon being selected, the fee will be due fairly quickly. More details on that at a later date.

Q: Where can I get more information about the event?

You can download the PDF information kit here.

You can access the (Saturday) LikeMinds Summit website here.

You can check out the (Friday) LikeMinds Conference website here.

You can surf through the 2009 LikeMinds Conference archive here.

Q: What else is there?

I don’t know. You tell me.

If you’ve worked your tail off to develop, launch, manage and get the most out of a social media or P2P program in 2009, it would be silly to blow this off. Think of submitting your case study as that final 1% effort. Not even that. More like the final 0.01% effort.

If you end up being selected, yeah, there’s a bit of cost attached to it, especially if you aren’t based in Europe. I hear ya. Budgets are tight and £1,500 outside of travel expenses is nothing to sneeze at. But do the math:

1. You’ve probably thrown away more than that on conferences last year that didn’t really didn’t yield a whole lot of value, and for some strange reason, you may be contemplating doing it again this year, just in case they get it right this time (fat chance). Flying to Vegas, to Boston, to Orlando or New York or LA, going from session to session, wondering why you even bother attending half of the presentations? Hanging out at parties with your Twitter friends? Having dinner with a few “big names?” Hindsight being 20/20, if you could go back and skip those disappointments and trade them for something solid, something like this, wouldn’t that be a better use of your budget?

I can’t answer that for you.

2. The level of access you will have at the LikeMinds Summit – assuming you are selected to attend – is unheard of. You will spend a day (two if you attend the conference as well) with people whose individual consulting time is worth more than twice the price of admission. Multiply that by all 12 or 15 or 20 of them (depending on how many companies make the cut), and you atsrt to get the picture. These are people you will be engaging with, not just sitting next to in a conference room. Not to mention me, Trey Pennington, Drew Ellis, Scott Gould and a few other brainiacs yet to be announced.

3. Inclusion in the Summit’s report/master case study/white paper even without the summit’s value is worth ten times the £1,500 fee. From exposure to recognition, it’s a no-brainer. Your company probably spends that on branded pens and keychains at trade shows. On low tier print ads if you’re a small company. Heck, for most organizations with over 100 employees, you’re talking petty cash.

How much did you spend on PR last month? How much press did that get you? I rest my case.

4. Do you know why we set the price at £1,500 instead of, say, £800? (It would have been that even if we held this thing at the Holiday Inn, by the way. Not that we would.) It isn’t greed. It’s to weed out companies and individuals who aren’t serious about what they’re doing in this space. Some companies will choose to spend that on gimmicks.  Others will invest in the future of their social media programs. We’re only interested in the latter. The price of admission, quite simply, is commitment.  ;)

So if you feel that you belong in that second category:

If you’re an agency or firm, submit your case studies.

If you’re an organization with a story to tell, submit your case study.

If you’re a service provider, tell your clients to submit their case studies.

Spread the word. Give it your best shot. Big brands, small businesses, NGOs, Non-profits, Universities… All are welcome. This event and report only come once a year, so don’t let all of your hard work in 2009 go to waste.

You have until the 22nd of January to submit your case studies.

May the best and brightest win.

Cheers. :)

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Wow. That was fast. 2010 is here already? What happened to 2009?

Oh… I’m sorry, that’s right. 2009 kind of sucked. Most people are glad it’s over. Me, not so. Not that 2009 rocked my world or anything, but I am a bit sad that we couldn’t make it better. Know what I mean?Starting by giving all the people who lost their jobs since H2 2008 their jobs back – or better yet, whole new jobs. Jobs they like even better. That would have been good.

Another way we could have made 2009 better might have been to come together in time of crisis instead of polarizing ourselves around issues that shouldn’t be issues to begin with – Republican vs. Democrat, Conservative vs. Progressive, Social Media vs. Traditional Media, earned attention vs. bought attention…*sigh* Seriously? 10%+ unemployment and we’re debating ideology? Seriously?  So yeah, 2009 could have gone a little smoother for everyone if we had spent more time working TOGETHER instead of against each other, or – as it were – off on our own trying to score our own little slices of pie.

We can do better than this. Much better, in fact.

I’m sad to see 2009 go, not because I liked it that much, but because for all the talking and blogging and tweeting and arguing we managed to do, we didn’t get a whole lot done. The US is still bleeding jobs. Some of my friends have been out of work for over a year. In other words, though most of us managed to pay the bills, 2009 came and went, and we didn’t solve anything. We didn’t take 2009 anywhere.  We just… talked. And tweeted. And waited for things to get better, as if that would happen all on its own: The magic economy restoring itself through… divine intervention. Truth is, 2009 came and went, and we failed to fix much of anything. Not exactly the best way to end a decade now, is it?

When I was training to be a Fusilier Marin, much of the training I was put through was intended to boost individual performance: Obstacle and confidence courses, weapons training, PT, classroom instruction, etc. The basic stuff, essentially. But the real value of the training, especially as an officer, was the portion of it that emphasized teamwork rather than individual performance. And I am not talking about “team building exercises” here. We’re way beyond the “close your eyes and fall backwards so your office mates can catch you” stuff. I’m talking more about getting dropped inside an empty 15ft-deep WWII concrete fuel tank (more like a giant concrete crater with impossibly vertical walls, in case you’re trying to paint yourself a mental image) with 6 guys and no gear with a single mission: Get yourselves out.

How the hell do you do that? It’s dark, it’s cold, you’re hungry and sleep-deprived, no one on your team has ever done it before, and you have until dawn to figure it out or you’re all flunking out of the program.

Okay… now what?

Well, I’ll tell you now what: You start working together is what. You’re in a hole (literally) and you have to get yourself out. That’s the problem  – which isn’t unlike the problems that most companies face today. So what do you do? Do you start barking out orders? Do you assert yourself as the “project leader?” Do you build a plan based on ideology? Nope. Not if you want to get out. What you do is start by clarifying the problem as a team, then coming up with ideas – as a team, hen testing the ideas – as a team. Until you figure it out. And that starts by putting your ego aside and admitting to yourself that sometimes, you are more valuable as a sturdy cog than as an inadequate hub.

Playing Rambo (in the military world as in the business world) will get you nowhere fast. Survival and success both come a lot more easily when you rely on a team – a community, even. Sure, sometimes you have to do stuff on your own, but that should be the exception rather than the rule. If one supergenius is worth his/her weight in gold, then surely a team of supergeniuses is unstoppable. Right?

Right.

So the question then is, now what?

It’s 2010. We just wasted most of 2009 arguing over healthcare, Social Media R.O.I., traditional vs. social marketing. Are we going to do the same thing in 2010? Are we going to turn 2010 into 2009 Part 2? Let’s hope not. If that’s your plan, have at it. Me, I have other plans for 2010: I am not interested in being a solo operator. I have no ambition to be the next social media or business strategy or brand management guru. I have absolutely no want to keep doing this on my own. There’s no value in it for me. (As much as I dig the recognition from time to time, I don’t need the ego trip.) None of this is about me. It is 100% about doing things better.

How we bring social media and business together in the real world isn’t through thought leadership alone. It’s through collaboration. Through teamwork. Through PRACTICAL application. You don’t get yourself out of a hole by talking about it. You get it done by actually TRYING things and learning from what works and what doesn’t until you and your team are out of the hole. That’s how it works. There is no other way. Staring up at the ledge won’t help. Barking orders won’t help. Firing your teammates won’t help. Throwing money at the hole won’t help either. Everyone has to pitch in, roll up their sleeves, and do their part. It’s bloody, messy business. Real work is hard work. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary, even. It can be discouraging at times. But if you work as a team, eventually, you figure out how to get your teammates out, and then help them get you out as well. Everyone does. One of the things I learned about this particular exercise is that teams that can’t get themselves out were simply teams that couldn’t work together. Escaping  (Succeeding) had nothing to do with brains or talent. It was 100% about collaboration.

So instead of putting together a list of resolutions for 2010 (the list would be way too long anyway) let me instead devote myself to this: More collaboration. With you. With him. With her. Some of you might call it “engagement” and that’s fine. I find collaboration more specific: I don’t just want to “engage.” I want to work with you. I want you to work with each other. I want to see everyone working together to get ourselves out of this massive economic hole.

Our objective this year isn’t to write the ultimate white paper or publish a best-selling business book. It isn’t to properly spend the entirety of our marketing budget. It isn’t to be promoted to some cool sounding position at a Fortune 50. It’s simply this: To help create jobs. That’s it. Not to keep your own or upgrade it, but to help create jobs. Sales jobs. Manufacturing jobs. Design jobs. By helping our employers and clients become more successful. By helping them kick ass. By working with each other for each other. To hell with egos and the me me me attitude. We need results. Real results. Measurable results. Not BS.

The economy as a whole may take a while to recover, but nothing says our clients and employers can’t recover WAY ahead of the curve. And by that, I mean in the next six months. Hiring again. Expanding. Redefining their markets from the ground up. Breaking away from their “competitors”.

The keyword in 2010 won’t be “recovery.” It’ll be “landgrab.”

And the secret weapon won’t be mergers and acquisitions. It won’t be a new hot-shot CMO or CEO. It won’t be the next round of startup funding. It won’t even be the next great app (at least not for the majority of you). It will be collaboration. Teamwork. The opposite of bickering. The opposite of everyone doing their own thing in their safe little silo.

That collaboration piece, that’s where I’m putting my money in 2010. The consulting and teaching, it will be less and less solo. Expect to see me collaborate more with client project teams, with subject matter experts, with product vendors, with service providers, with peers and friends and colleagues. I can only do so much on my own.

Before I start sharing the 2010 roadmap with you guys, I wanted to at least take a day or two to emerge from my annual Christmas Holidays hibernation and get back to answering emails and voice mails, and of course wish you all a fantastic new year. (A whole new one, mind you. Not just a repeat of 2009.)

So please accept this virtual hug, handshake or kiss on the cheek, and let’s vow to make 2010 everything 2009 wasn’t, even if for many of you, 2009 was a pretty decent year. ;)

Cheers to you all, and let’s crank this one up to 12. (11′s already been done.)

Next up this week:

The LikeMinds 2010 Summit

Chess Media Group

The Marketing in 2010 e-book

Red Chair strategic and operational training for the C-suite.

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