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Archive for the ‘bureaucracy’ Category

Robert Killick on the need for intellectual curiosity and courage in the face of “unknowns” in today’s business leaders:

Risk was once seen as a catalyst for competitiveness, innovation and change in enterprise culture. Now it is seen as a negative barrier to be avoided with all sorts of precautionary measures. ‘Risk consciousness’ is the order of the day, but the preference to always dig up the dark side of humanity betrays a lack of faith in human reason. Curiosity and foolhardiness are often derided as irresponsible and egotistical traits, but the great heroes of the past have taken personal risks that benefit all of us.

Today, research and experimentation that does not have a measurable ‘positive effect’ is seen as irresponsible. Yet it is precisely through experimentation, risk – and, yes, mistakes – that some of the major scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions have come about. Without risky experimentation, and without individuals willing to take those risks in the pursuit of knowledge, we wouldn’t have aeroplanes, penicillin, MRI scans or X-rays.

The ability to handle risk – though technology, human ingenuity, reason and resilience – is a measure of modernity and it can only be achieved through more experimentation, not less. The hard won freedoms to creative expression, communication and to technological innovation should be treasured, and the twenty-first century should be when we take them even further.

Risk-adverse/risk-paralyzed leaders aren’t leaders at all. At best, they are followers promoted or appointed to positions they should have had enough common sense, integrity and professionalism to turn down.

Fact: Leaders “lead.” They take their companies in a specific direction and make sure that course corrections occur as needed along the way. Standing still, ignoring emerging market trends, rewarding business-as-usual strategies, waiting for competitors to make a move before testing the waters, or building protective walls around organizations are not examples of leadership.

No one is advocating making rash decisions of course, but in order for companies to be successful, their leaders must possess certain key personality traits – among them the essential combination of vision, courage and an unbreakable pioneering streak.

Bear this in mine when placing your bets on a company, new boss or potential candidates for an executive-level position.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Finally getting caught up on my blogroll reading, and found this gem of an interview with Tom Fishburne on Church of The Customer. Tom recently published “This One Time At Brand Camp,” and Ben McConnell had a few great questions for him about the state of the marketing world today. Here are some choice cuts from Ben’s post:

Q: What’s the biggest challenge in being a brand manager today?

Remarkable thinking. Then shepherding that thinking through the organizational gates.  Too often the edges of a great idea get sanded, eventually launching as a pale shadow of the original idea.

I love this quote from Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad: “Advertising is a tax you pay for unremarkable thinking.”

Q: What’s the biggest trap most brand managers stupidly fall into?

The mass market trap. Chasing market size. Trying to appeal to everyone and avoiding alienating anyone. By trying to appeal to everyone, no one gets excited.

In my past brand lives, we joked that our target was “a woman, age 25–39, with a pulse.”  Instead, if you cater to a passionate and vocal niche, you become more meaningful. Consumer loyalty follows. Niche marketing isn’t just for small brands.  General Mills does a great job of training marketers to find and truly understand your niche’s brand champions. You create your products and marketing just for them.  When you do, much of the mass market will follow, too.

Q: How serious is the disconnect when brand managers work 12-16 months on product then, because of the nature of the employment game, move on to a new one? How can you build customer loyalty with such a short timeframe?

It’s like that game of telephone we all played in kindergarten.  A departing brand manager whispers their insights and brand plan to the replacement, much of which gets lost in the transition.  Often the replacement brand manager starts from scratch with research and navel-gazing.  As soon as the replacement brand manager gets a feel for the job, they move on, and the telephone game continues.

Q: Who typically has the more insanely inflated ego: marketers or professional wrestlers?

Most of the marketers I’ve worked with have been down-to-earth. That’s why I think ego inflation comes from hierarchy.

For instance, when I was at General Mills, all of the executives worked in a separate wing that even had its own parking garage we called the Bat Cave (where all the Jaguars went to park).  They had a different dress code in the executive wing and there was very little mixing.  The hierarchy was reinforced at every turn.  As you progressed in marketing, you moved from a cubicle to something called an “officle” to eventually an office.  You could tell the seniority of someone with an office by counting the number of ceiling tiles. I remember an official memo that stated that marketers above a certain level were entitled to leather Filofax binders. Everyone else received pleather. I swear I’m not making this up.

All of this resulted in a medical condition I call Title-itis, where it was assumed that the more senior the marketer, the better their ideas.  It’s tempting to start breathing your own exhaust in an environment like that.

Q: Is branding dead and if so, where do we bury the body?

I don’t think branding is extinct. It’s evolved. I used the evolution metaphor to play with a couple stereotypes in the noble profession of marketing.

Doctors have Hippocrates. Lawyers have Atticus Finch. Ask most consumers what archetypes there are for marketers and the snakeoil salesman comes to mind. That’s because much of the history of marketing and branding has been about concocting a story consumers wanted to hear, even if the story was a wee bit phony. Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, famously quipped: “In our factories, we make cosmetics. In the store, we sell hope.”

Nowadays, consumers are often in the marketer’s seat.  Consumers have always been the best source for what your brand means.  The power used to be with the marketer to sculpt and shape that message.  The question to ask now is no longer how your consumers play back the message you told them.  It’s what message are they spreading to others.

The key is to tell an authentic brand story (but careful that you don’t overdo that like the authenticity hawker in the cartoon). Then find ways to help your consumers advocate on your behalf.

Instant fan. Just add water and stir.

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“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.”
– Laurence J. Peter

Overheard outside the wire today:

“Best is not good enough. You have to be better.”

Personally, I would be happy with being the best (it would be a good start)… but I guess I can respect the sentiment: Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t ever believe that just because you’re #1, you can chill and stop working as hard. There are always improvements to make – and if you feel that there are no improvements left to make, then you aren’t looking in all the right places.

If anything, I have more respect for “be better than the best” than “give it 200%”. (Hint: There’s only 100%. 100.000001%+ is a fallacy.)

It does kind of remind me of those detergent commercials in the 70’s and 80’s that advertised “whiter than white whites.” (No comment.) I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Even if you’re the best, there is always someone better, stronger, faster, smarter or hungrier than you just waiting for a chance to take over the top spot. Being the best is not good enough. You have to be better.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. 🙂

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“So I was wondering, what is that exact point where a company stops caring? Stops paying attention to their customers? Stops with the phenomenal customer service? Is it when they reach a certain sales figure? A certain number of employees?”


These were some of the pertinent questions posed by Brains On Fire’s resident firestarter Spike Jones some time ago.

This is too big a topic to try to cover in only one post, but the least I can do is to try and get the discussion started. Here is a short list of what you might call purple cow killers. These business diseases can strike a perfectly cool little company with quasi-infinite potential, and turn it into a bumbling corporate flunkie faster than you can say “I.P.O.”:

1) Routine

People lose their passion for things they love when those things become routine. Think about it. Your first day at a new job. Your first drive in a new car. The first time you see a good movie. A first kiss. Everything is exciting at first… but then you eventually get jaded. The excitement wanes. You lose some of your passion. Details become someone else’s problem. So do your products. So do your customers. Deny it all you want, it’s true… and it’s inevitable unless you do something about it.

The trick is to keep the fire burning by keeping things fresh. If routine is a passion-killer, then build a corporate ecosystem that actively fights routine. Easier said than done? Nope. Quite the contrary. (But that’s a topic for another day.)

2) Bureaucracy

The bigger you get, the more you start to rely on procedures. The more you start to say things like “no” and “can’t” and “we’ll have to charge you extra for that”. The harder it becomes for the people at the top of your organization to stay in direct contact with their customers. That’s bad. It shouldn’t take thirty minutes for a customer to get a return authorization. It shouldn’t take seven transfers to get a product manager on the phone. Nobody should ever get the runaround. Ever.

Bureaucracies slow things down and build walls between employees and between you and your customers. As you grow, take the time to develop systems that overcome this problem. Again, this isn’t hard, but you can’t let these things fall to chance. You have to be just as proactive in building your company’s structure as you are in building its markets.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that a company isn’t a building or a logo or a set of rules. A company is always, first and foremost, a group of people united to pursue a common interest. And while you may not think of it that way, this applies to your employees as well as your customers. As a business leader, one of your jobs is to make sure these people are all connected. If your organization disconnects them from one another, you are majorly shooting yourself in the foot.

3) Comfort

If you’ve only worked on the agency side of the business, chances are that you’ve never heard these dreaded words: “We’ve been doing things this way for ____ years, and we’ve been successful at it, so there’s no reason to change.”

(Nails on a chalkboard.)

Yeah, well, in the wise words of Jack Spade, “Never believe anything you’ve done is successful.” The minute you do, you’re dead. End of story. In business, getting comfortable = getting lazy.

Reality check: Markets change. Technologies and tastes change. People grow old and younger ones take their place. Renewal = relevance. Even old-school luxury houses like Bentley and Cartier have adapted to new markets. (If you don’t believe me, watch MTV sometime.)

If you don’t constantly question what you could do better or where you might go next, you’re done. Period.

4) Nepotism

It’s natural to want to surround yourself with people you know and trust. It’s another thing altogether to promote buddies and family members to positions they are neither qualified for, nor passionate about.

Furthermore, while surrounding yourself with people who won’t ever challenge you might be a nice ego boost, it is certainly no way to keep your company moving in any kind of direction.

If all your key managers are passionate about are their 401K plans and their annual retreats to Tahiti, then it’s no surprise that your company has lost its focus.

5) Fear

“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.” (Lou Brock)

Yep.

The older you get, the less chances you are likely to take with your career. The larger your company is, the less likely you are to risk screwing something up.

Too much to lose, you see.

So you stop taking chances. You start worrying about what your “competitors” are doing. Instead of leading them, you let them lead you. Next thing you know, you’ve exported all of your production power to China, your quality takes a dive, your customer service is anything but, every bit of talent you ever managed to hire has walked out on you, and you find yourself on the losing end of a price war. Other than just plain dishonesty, that’s how great companies fail.

Well, bollocks. Playing it “safe” is the fastest way to screw yourself over. (And your customers.)

If you don’t have the huevos to stretch the boundaries now and again, to be an innovator, a pioneer, and to sometimes be okay with making some people really hate your latest product, then you need to find another occupation. Being a leader isn’t about staying put. It’s about… well, leading.

6) Denial

Most companies who don’t get it think that they do get it. That’s the tragedy. Once your distribution channels are well-developed, once you have thousands of active accounts, once you’ve been a market leader for twenty, thirty, forty years, the sheer momentum of your growth can carry you into another decade or two. As long as your growth closely matches whatever opportune economic indicator you are following, things might look pretty decent.

You might be under the delusion that you have it all figured out.

So what if you haven’t actually spoken to a customer in twenty years? So what if you don’t even bother to use your own products anymore? So what if you’ve chased away companies that could have become your partners in a number of cool ventures, and they went to your competitors instead? So what if your best people are quitting, one after the other? So what if you have absolutely no idea what people are saying about your products, about your customer service, about your company, about your leadership?

No news is good news, right?

Right?

*sigh*

How do we end up in sad little places like this? Really. You’d think that by now, we’d ALL know better. Tsk.

Before I get back to work, I’ll leave you with another Jack Spade favorite:

“The bigger you get, the smaller you should act.”

Every C.E.O. on the planet should be required to recite that line a hundred times every morning before they even get to their desk. (Let me propose a UN resolution. Do I hear a yay?)

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

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