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Archive for the ‘competitive edge’ Category

olivier alain blanchard

Fact: Even after you’ve talked to them at length about it, most of the decision-makers you are talking to still have no idea how Social Media can help their business.

Heck, they may not even completely understand how developing relationships with customers, building a great brand or taking the time to help communities grow around their products or company philosophy can positively (and pretty significantly) impact their P&L.

Now… don’t get me wrong: I am not a huge fan of spending a whole lot of time attaching every single thing a company does to the almighty P&L. That’s a lot like putting a $$$ value on every hand you shake at a party or every business card you hand out. Pretty self-serving and sort-sighted, right?)

BUT I also understand that when sitting across the room from a decision-maker who gets pitched every day, you have two choices: 1. Sell something they don’t care about, or 2. Solve a problem for them that no one else can.

It doesn’t matter that what you’re selling will absolutely catapult them to the #1 spot in their market or boost their sales by 5,000% in just 12 months. (As if the actual value of an idea had anything to do with management decisions. 😀 I mean really: Look around you.) If they don’t get it, if you aren’t handing them a solution to a problem they are struggling with, you are wasting your time.

Worse yet, the opportunity cost to you and the honcho you just wasted your time speaking with is this:

1. Someone else with a lesser idea but better presentation skills will get that business.

2. The company who went for the lesser solution will suffer from not having signed with you. Market share and profits will continue to erode. Layoffs will ensue. The world as they know it will end. (Do you really want that on your conscience?)

So what’s the answer? Simple: Be prepared to address their specific need. Understand what their hot-button issue is. And more importantly, get good at clearly and smoothly connecting the dots between what you have to offer and the result your interlocutor is looking for. Is it more sales? Is it loyalty? Okay, how does your solution impact either or both?

But wait… define sales. Are we talking about creating new customers? Increasing how much existing customers spend? Shifting customer spending from one product to another?

If trying to impact loyalty, how does loyalty look to that manager? Does it look like increased frequency in purchases? Does it look like an increase in new customers through referral programs? Do they even know? Do you know?

Look, if you don’t know this stuff, if you can’t tie it all together, if you can’t at the very least speak that language, it’s back to the drawing board for you.

Sure, you may get lucky with 5% of the company execs you sit down with, but even then, it’s a matter of time before their boss looks at your program and asks for a slightly better answer to the ROI question than “increased social mention,” “really positive online conversations” and “almost 3,000 followers on Twitter”. Whether you like it or not, whether you care about it or not, this is a piece of the puzzle that you have to address. Period.

If you’re scratching your heads right now, no worries: Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be helping you with that little problem. Stay tuned. I have something special brewing for you guys. 😉

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BRAND DOOM GAME

Design For Users‘ Kristi Colvin (@kriscolvin on Twitter) had some pretty powerful brand management advice recently that is well worth sharing here. Check this out:

The heart of a brand, like that of an individual, is vulnerable. It must be both soft enough to prove genuine caring, and strong enough to withstand scrutiny and adversity. But it is your core offering – not your products and services – and if you aren’t in touch with and know what’s in the heart, establishing lasting relationships with customers will be difficult or hit and miss. Do you want a shallow relationship with the people that interact with your brand, or a sympathetic bond that can withstand conflicts?

The connection between brand loyalty and a healthy bottom-line being what it is, I can’t really think of a better question to ask a CEO or brand manager every time they come to a strategic crossroads.

In other words… This type of introspection isn’t just something company execs should go through once a year or at the start of every new business cycle, but rather every single time a decision needs to be made within the company.

(I am already hearing the question germinating in your brains: What if hundreds of decisions have to be made every day? My answer to you is simple: Once a day or a thousand times per day, there is no difference.)

If you’re looking to save time, feel free to distill the question down to its core: “What would our customers want us to do?”

You just can’t go wrong with that kind of mindset.

Look at it this way: There is absolutely no decision anyone can make within a company that this question cannot be applied to. None. Why? Because every decision you make impacts your relationship with your customers. The software you use. The way you answer the phone. The speed with which you respond to complaints. The way you design your website. The way your product is packaged. The way you treat your vendors and partners. The people you hire. The people you promote. How clean your bathrooms are.

Everything.

Every time you are considering a new hire, ask yourself: “What would our customers want us to do?”

Every time you are considering cutting cost out of your model, ask yourself: “What would our customers want us to do?”

Every time you are about to respond to a crisis, ask yourself: “What would our customers want us to do?”

(Ideally, you want to be able to ask them directly, but that will have to be the topic of another post.)

Once you get into the habit of addressing every question, every problem, every crisis in this way, life gets a whole lot easier. Suddenly, you find yourself not needing to set up so many meetings. You find your reaction time greatly enhanced. You find that taking your ideas to market takes a whole lot less time.

You also find that you don’t have to work quite so hard to earn more business (new and repeat business).

Again, from Kristi:

“Engaging people from the heart of your brand, being vulnerable and forging true and lasting customer relationships are what will keep companies alive and thriving through good times and bad times.”

This isn’t touchy-feely rhetoric. This is as real as it gets. It’s how Starbucks used to do it. It’s how Zappos does it. It’s how the next generation of firebrands will do it.

And if you still aren’t convinced that what you read here today makes good business sense, here’s another question you might want to ponder: If you don’t do what’s best for your customers today, what will your customers do?

Everything you do either gives your customers a reason to do business with you or do business with someone else. There are no neutral-impact decisions.

Don’t give the other guy a chance to eat your lunch.

Don’t give the other guy a chance to earn a better reputation than you.

Don’t give the other a guy a chance to write your eulogy when you finally find yourself circling the drain in what used to be your market.

Even if you don’t buy the whole “higher calling” thing we’ve been talking about lately, understand that your customers are constantly judging you and THEY care. Being better, friendlier, easier to do business with is just good business. Treating your customers like cattle when so many other choices exist for them now will get you nowhere fast.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 😉

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Firemen

The topic came up in conversation yesterday: What grouping of skills and experience should a company look for in a Social Media manager or director? I have to confess that my answer sounded more like a list than anything: Marketing communications, PR, community management, blogging, account planning, business development, reputation management, brand management, brand insights and market research, web savvy, etc. And while I was going through my little skill mapping exercise, I suddenly remembered that we had touched on this topic about a year ago – not in terms of social media, but more along the lines of new marketing. Let’s run through it again:

You probably remember Tim (IDEO) Brown’s Strategy By Design article in Fast Company back in June of 2005. (You know, the one that mentioned T-Shaped people.) The article shed some light of the fact that innovative companies – or rather, companies who have shown an ability to innovate regularly – tend to favor hiring T-shaped people and fostering the types of cultures that work best for them, over hiring and managing employees the way our grandfathers did, which essentially consists of assigning specific linear jobs to people who were trained to perform the specific functions of these jobs – no more, no less. (The good old nose to the grindstone mentality.)

It went a little like this:

“We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they’re willing to try to do what you do. We call them “T-shaped people.” They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T — they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need. That’s what you’re after at this point — patterns that yield ideas.”


Good stuff. Since IDEO pretty much pioneered the innovation by design business model, Tim knows what he’s talking about. And having suffered the rigidity and lack of flexibility of forethought commonly found in many corporate environments, I have been a BIG fan of the T-Shaped thinking concept ever since I first read about it. It has been my experience that when putting a project team together, opting for one composed of people with diverse backgrounds yields much better results than one composed of specialists in a specific field. Especially if the project involves solving a problem or improving a design or process.

But last year, Dave Armano, from the Logic & Emotion blog, gave us this, which proposed an exciting next step in T-shaped thinking evolution:

“Lately I’ve been wondering—is there another way to look at this? What if we took a more basic human truth. Most of us have some kind of passion in a specific area. For some—it’s a hobby or interest. For others, it’s directly related to their work. I fall into the latter category. If you were to ask me what my “passion is”—I would probably say that at the core, it’s creative problem solving. This is pretty broad and incorporates a lot of disciplines that can relate to it. But that’s the point. What if we start with our passions regardless of discipline, and look at the skills which radiate out from it the same way we think about how rays from the sun radiate warmth?”


Excellent point. The radial pattern is definitely an improvement on the theme of the T-shaped individual. We’re adding new dimensions here and painting a more realistic, accurate picture of the breadth and depth of talent required in today’s much more complex workplace.

Assuming of course, that the said workplace a) recognizes the value of this type of individual, b) is able to foster an environment which takes full advantage of this potential pool of talent and innovation, and c) incites these types of people to want to keep working there.

Sadly, this still seems to be the rub in far too many offices across the US… Which is where smart marketing firms, think tanks, ad agencies and professional services firms can gain a definite edge over just about everyone else.

Here’s more from Dave:

“The majority of those reaching out to embrace this trend have their roots in the UI industry rather than industrial design. While traditional product and graphic design practitioners enter the field with a foundation based on design history, emphasis on form, method and process, those in the UI field come from myriad backgrounds such as software engineering, marketing, and brand strategy. Without a common heritage and education, these designers are more comfortable working with disparate client groups and in interdisciplinary teams.”

Food for thought.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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J.T. O'Donnell speaking in Greenville, SC

J.T. O'Donnell speaking in Greenville, SC

Greenville, SC got a big treat today: Career expert JT O’Donnell was in town to speak at Linking The Upstate‘s inaugural event at the historic Westin Poinsett Hotel. Two words for you: Awe and some. I knew JT was pretty savvy when it comes to career advice, but I had no idea just how smart, engaging and approachable she was. If you guys aren’t familiar with her work yet, check out her website, her Careerealism blog, buy her book, and go ahead and start following Careerealism on twitter. And if you ever find yourself unhappy with your career or uncertain about your professional direction, do yourself a favor and reach out to her. You will look back on that email, tweet or phone call someday and realize it was one of the smartest things you ever did. Trust me on this.

By the way, if you missed it, you can check out some of the event’s coverage via Twitter hashtag #careerealism. Look for my avatar (ahem).

And as an aside, I have to give BIG kudos to Thomas Parry for launching Linking The Upstate so quickly… and so well. What a way to kick it off. Very well done. The group’s objective is to connect all of the 864’s business groups together (chambers of commerce, technology, HR, creative, networking, business groups, etc.) to leverage their collective economic, innovative and intellectual potential. A lofty and timely goal that I will definitely help support in the coming months.

Here are a few pictures from what turned out to be a pretty social day (even for me):

 

The pommes frites I ate

The pommes frites I ate

 

 

Thomas Parry, J.T. O'Donnell, Trey Pennington and Doug Cone at The Lazy Goat restaurant

Thomas Parry, J.T. O'Donnell, Trey Pennington and Doug Cone at The Lazy Goat restaurant

 

 

Yes, I take pictures of stuff I eat

Yes, I take pictures of stuff I eat

Thomas Parry at the Westin Poinsett Hotel introducing Linking The Upstate

Thomas Parry at the Westin Poinsett Hotel introducing Linking The Upstate

J.T. O'Donnell presenting at Greenville, SC's historic Westin Poinsett Hotel

J.T. O'Donnell presenting at Greenville, SC's historic Westin Poinsett Hotel

I don’t want to leave you guys with just photos and no takeways, so here are a few nuggets of information I grabbed from JT’s fantastic presentation:

 

 

4 out of 5 HR professionals will google an applicant BEFORE inviting them to interview. What will they find? (Hint: Have you googled yourself lately?)

The two worst things that can happen when a prospective employer googles you: 1. They find something embarrassing or not particularly positive (that may make them reconsider your application). 2. They find nothing at all. Lesson: Start managing your online presence better. Create a positive, professional, consistent and factual footprint for yourself online.

College students graduating this year will have an average of 9 different careers before they retire.

The average duration of a job in the US today  is only 18 months. (We are all glorified temps.)

Currently, 1 out of 12 Americans is either unemployed or underemployed.

Job boards are 60% down right now: The demand for jobs is so high that the volume of job applications via job boards is overwhelming HR departments. Result, they are turning to other sourcing methods to find quality applicants.

80% of open positions in the US are filled via referrals.

Whatever you may hear or believe, in this day and age, not having a blog and a presence on LinkedIn, FaceBook and Twitter can and will absolutely stall your career. (Management level folks.)

Tip: Don’t wait until you are unemployed to start building your networks. The sooner you start and the more you nurture them, the easier it will be for you to find your next gig when the axe finally falls. (Better yet, if you do this right, you will probably be recruited right out of your current job.)

Again: The easiest way to stand out from the crowd of people competing against you for your dream job is to have a well designed and solidly crafted blog. If you don’t have one yet, start. If you have one but it needs help, get help. (Incidentally, if you are in Greenville next week, we are putting together a WordPress Workshop specifically geared towards this. Check out www.wpgreenville.com to sign up.)

For more great advice, go check out the Careerealism blog and be sure to drop JT a note.

Have a great Friday, everyone. 😉

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giant snowball, by olivier blanchard 2009

Today’s bit of Marketing, Customer Experience, Design & Product Development advice comes from Kathy Sierra‘s awesome old blog:

“Your job is to anticipate… To give them what they want and/or what they need just before they have to “ask” for it – to be surprising yet self-evident at the same time. If you are too far behind, or too far ahead of them, you create problems, but if you are right with them, leading them ever so slightly, the flow of events feels natural and exciting at the same time.”

Walter Murch

iPod wasn’t designed by users. It was designed for users. No… wait… it was designed to be loved by users.

This seems really basic and simple, right? Just plain old common sense… Yet how many companies do it? Very few. So until every single company figures this out, it is worth repeating, even if it seems like a no-brainer.

If your job deals with customer experience design, (product, web, retail, customer service, touchpoint ideation, advertising, etc.) print either the sentence that came just before this paragraph or Walter Murch’s bit of wisdom, and pin it to your office wall. Either one can (and probably should) become your new mantra.

Technorati Thingamajingies: , , , .

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Via the SwampFox Insights blog:

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

The man has a point.

Check out this brilliant website.

A lot of people don’t think of “design” as being all that important, because our daily interactions with “design” are limited to gadgets like the iPod or the latest pair of Oakley sunglasses, or maybe a faucet or something. Maybe we think of design when it comes to cars and clothes and furniture. But smart design can also save thousands of lives every day. Yes, something as seemingly superfluous as “design” can change the world. (Starting with the first tool, taking a detour via the wheel, and fast-forwarding to the millions of things we now take for granted, like the plasma TV, the hybrid automobile, the artificial heart, and even the ubiquitous bottle of Coca Cola.

If you aren’t the humanitarian type and couldn’t care less about saving lives, bear in mind that design can also create entirely new markets. (We just talked about getting there before the herd, so your ears should be perking up just about now.)

How can smart design can create new markets? According to this article in the New York Times entitled “Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor” (annoying subscription required):

“A billion customers in the world, are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house.”

For starters.

That’s something to think about. Not in terms of exploitation, but in terms of wealth and opportunity creation. (The development of the easy-to-use, virtually crunch-proof windup $100 laptop – specifically designed to introduce computers and the internet to 3rd world children – is probably among the most ambitious of these types of endeavors, but also a great example of how we can start to create opportunity in regions of the world in which mere survival is still the order of the day.)

While everyone else is trying to appeal to the richest 10%, maybe, just maybe, the real opportunities are elsewhere. Maybe the time to get into these markets is before they even exist. The seeds are being planted now. The herd is starting to gather. Maybe by the time the market exists and the pastures are green and lush, you’ll find yourself in the back again. Maybe you’ll kick yourself in the butt for not having made a move sooner. (History repeats itself.)

What if you could create one of the most lucrative companies of the 21st century AND save tens of thousands of lives at the same time? What if you really could be enormously successful AND help save the world all in one fell swoop? What if you could have your cake and eat it too?

In this economy, perhaps these are questions worth asking yourself – especially if you are a US or Western European manufacturing company looking for a reason to go on.

Don’t even approach the problem from a humanitarian standpoint if you don’t want to. Approach it from a business standpoint. Here’s the problem you need to solve: 90% of the planet’s population wants something that they probably can’t get very easily. All you have to do is figure out what that is, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and how to get it to them. It could be a mode of transportation. It could be a light source. It could be a sanitary product. It could be food. It could be a garment. It could be knowledge. It could be something as simple as a tougher bicycle wheel. It could be anything.

There is no single answer. There are probably thousands upon thousands. And that’s exciting.

Whatever it is, it could also have applications right here, where the richest 10% of the world population lives and eats and shops 24/7/365.

It might even be a better option than trying to become the next Google.

Food for thought.

So… what are you working on right now?

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engagement by the brandbuilder

Above and below: Some revamped slides from Monday’s presentation. These two companion messages (Engagement and P2P) seem to have resonated with the audience, so I thought I would elaborate on that topic a little.

First: Should companies continue to launch and drive  marketing, advertising, promotional and other types of business development and awareness campaigns?

Yes. Absolutely. No question.

Traditional media “push” strategies and tactics, when developed by the right people and used properly, can be extremely effective. I am a big fan of great campaigns, so keep creating GREAT push campaigns.

But “engagement” – and by that I mean customer engagement (even if those customers are not technically customers yet) – is not a campaign. It isn’t even a strategy. It is a commitment to a being the kind of business that people will want to be a part of and whose products and community people will want to share with friends and family. The kind of business that people  will naturally want to support proactively for years and years.

What we are talking about here has its basis in culture. Call it company culture, corporate culture, management culture… it doesn’t matter. The point is that if your company still refers to itself as a B2B (biz to biz) or a B2C (biz to consumer) company, you are missing the boat. Thin about every great experience you’ve had with a business: Fantastic service at a hotel – where the folks at the desk (and the rest of the staff) makes a point to remember your name. Think of the same kind of service at a restaurant or retail outlet. Think about how you feel about a physician with fantastic bedside vs. a physician who acts like spending any time with you is the chore from hell. Now ask yourself which you would rather be: The business that makes people WANT to come back and recommend you to their friends, or the business that will either fail to be memorable – or worse, give people a reason to find a better option than you next time.

It doesn’t matter if you are a hair salon, car rental company, commercial lender, real estate agent, architectural firm, coffee shop or IT distribution company: Create great experiences based on building relationships with your customers (and your community) and your brand will quickly find itself on the rise.

Fail to do so, and your situation will NEVER improve. No matter how much you lower your prices, no matter how much money you spend on advertising, public relations, call campaigns and promotional incentives, you will still be struggling to get past 5% annual growth (once the economy recovers, that is).

You must learn to become a P2P (people to people) company. Period. There is no other option for you. Not anymore.

Starting with the way you treat your employees – from the way in which you hire, train, mentor and manage them and the words you choose to use around the office (do you refer to your team members as “headcount”?), to the type of relationship you build with the people you do business with.

You are a P2P company, by the brandbuilder

Have a great Weekend, everyone. 😉

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SMC Greenville, Olivier Blanchard

Hey look, it’s me! And a fully stocked bar! (Thanks to Jim O’Donnell for the awesome photo.) More photos from Richard Peck here and here. Awesome.

So… A quick recap: This presentation took place at Greenville, SC’s 2nd monthly Social Media Club meeting early Monday morning.  About 150 people from the Greenville-Anderson-Spartanburg area showed up to enjoy a great breakfast provided by our host (Soby’s Restaurant/Table 301) and hear me talk a little bit about what social media is and isn’t. (Probably more the breakfast, but that’s okay.)

I will be posting the presentation soon, but for now, here are some of the main takeways fom my little show:

It is easy to get bogged down with tools and platforms and technologies when it comes to Social Media. Relax and take a big step back: All we are really talking about here is people talking with people. Remember that.

If we dig a little deeper, we don’t have to go far to see that people are using Social Media to (re)connect with one another, create communities on their own terms, and share what they are passionate about.

Social Media as we define them today may be new, but people have been connecting, creating communities and sharing their interests for thousands of years. We are deeply social creatures. We love to share experiences – food, entertainment, art, stories, etc.

But the complexity of our lives have forced us to disconnect from one another. Greater distances separate us. Our busy schedules make it difficult for us to connect with each other regularly through traditional means.

But we NEED human interactions. We crave them.

Social media help us reconnect in spite of our busy lives.

The relationships people want are meaningful. They are based on affection and trust, from parents at an early age to friends and extended family as we grow into adulthood, and eventually outward still to our community.

Compare these meaningful relationships with the relationship you have with an outsourced cstomer service rep or a disengaged salesperson. Sharp contrast, right? Question: Can meaningful relationships be created through outsourced labor?

Question: If – as a business – you understand the importance/value of creating meaningful relationships with your customers, why shove your customers away to call centers and disengaged employees? How does that work?

What if you could turn angry customers into your greatest advocates? What if you made it your mission?

What if you invited these customers to call you back regularly to let you know how things are going?  (Start a conversation with them. Engage with them. Foster a relationship. Twitter is good for that.)

As a company, ask yourself what role you play in your customers’ lives today:Are you their partner in crime (in a good way) or are you just selling them stuff?

Communities: Knowing where we belong is as important as knowing how we belong.

Individuals are hard to hear. Communities are much louder.

People want their opinions to matter. They want to be heard. When companies refuse to listen, they build walls between themselves and the communities around them.

Not listening (to your customers) is expensive. It makes you ignorant and isolated.

How can you know what people are saying about you outside your walls if you aren’t out there listening?

How are you monitoring you reputation?

Listening makes you relevant.

Listening makes you part of a community. (So listen!)

Not Listening = Disconnected. Listening = feedback, insight and metrics (use tools like Radian6).

As people grow increasingly connected (via social media), companies are losing their ability to influence behaviors via traditional means and media channels.

The era of the monologue is dead.

In the US alone, people are exposed to 500-3000 commercial messages per day. PER DAY!!!

And the ROI of the most obvious advertising channel (TV) is estimated to be 1-4%. (Not exactly stellar.)

Meanwhile, recommendations by family members, loved ones and peers are extremely sticky. People turn to people they trust to help them discover products and make purchasing decisions. In other words:

People are increasingly tuning companies out, and tuning in to each other instead.

Traditional Media alone increasingly expensive and less and less effective. Social media can complement traditional media: Add relevance, authenticity and stickiness.

Q: What is the most important thing a business can do for itself? A: Create happy, loyal customers.

Engagement is not a campaign.

This conversation is not about Social Media adoption. It is about transforming the way you think about your business: You are not a B2B or a B2C company. You are a P2P company (people to people).

You must create ways to enhance or improve your customers’ experience in a way that matters. One way to put this into action is to ask yourself how do I get my customers to want to recommend us to their mother or child or best friend?

Ask yourself: How would you do business if your CEO suddenly decided that you could no longer advertise? What would you do? How would you engage with your customers?

More notes from the presentation tomorrow. 😉

You can also follow some of the Twitter threads at #smcgville and #smcgreenville.

smc-greenville

Thanks again to SMC Greenville for having asked me to speak at their event this month. It was truly an honor.

I want to send out a very special thanks to Richard Peck, Table 301 and the awesome staff of Soby’s restaurant for being such gracious hosts.

Kind thanks also to Business Black Box for covering the event with their video crew.

And most of all, HUGE THANKS to everyone who got up at the crack of way too early on a Monday to come listen to me speak. I was truly overwhelmed by the interest, kindness and enthusiasm you all brought with you. Pretty unreal. I’m glad to have met even more incredible folks this week, as well as seeing so many familiar faces. Orange Coat’s Bear Gautsch was there (did I also see Jimmy C?), Brains on Fire’s Robbin Phillips, Geno Church and Spike Jones were there along with Bounce’s John McDermott… Bobby Rettew, Doug Cone, Jon Evans, Amy Wood, Trey Pennington of course… And I hear that someone even drove all the way from Columbia! (Whomever you are, shoot me a note. I definitely want to meet you next time you’re in Greenville.) The list is waaaaaaaaaaaaay too long for me to go on, so I’ll stop here. Thanks for coming, everyone. 🙂

What a great way to start the week!

Greenville Social Media Club - Olivier Blanchardphoto by Doug Cone (@nullvariable)

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pho4me-desert

The story of your relationship with your customers should read like what’s going on in Pho’s photo (above):

You found each other in the wilderness.

You connected in some way.

You liked where things went from there.

You made music together.

You had a great time.

You became part of each other’s worlds.

If you and your customers aren’t dancing, if you aren’t making music together, if you aren’t truly part of each other’s worlds, you should probably be asking yourself why.

Fact: You may be selling to customers, but you are still not connecting with people.

Reinvent the way you do business.

Get back to basics.

Get back to handshakes, smiles and conversations.

Get back to knowing your customers, not just knowing about them.

If your business isn’t touching people’s lives in a meaningful, memorable, deeply human way, your resources are being wasted on ineffective “business processes” – and the only thing you are developing is your own expensive demise.

Banks. Hospitals. Grocery stores. Software companies. Equipment manufacturers. Airlines. Retail spaces. Taxi cabs. Wireless providers. Repair shops. Restaurants. Hotels. PR firms. Universities. Manufacturers. Distributors. It doesn’t matter what industry or type of business you are. This applies to each and every one of you.

Tear down the walls, walk out into the world, and dance.

That is all. 😉

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Seattle, by Olivier Blanchard - 2008

Check out these great bits of advice from Dave Lorenzo’s Career Intensity blog:

“Deciding: ‘Familiarize yourself with common decision-making errors—such as going along with a group choice to maintain cohesion. Watch for tendencies within yourself to commit such errors.’

Leaders make bold decisions. They see them through, and if they aren’t working out, they make new decisions. The worst thing you can do for your career is make no choices or let your choices be made for you. Taking a passive approach to your goals is unlikely to result in success. Even if you make a bad decision, it’s better to mess up and learn from it than to remain stagnant. Failures are great opportunities to learn more about yourself and the world. Move ahead by choosing wisely and boldly.”

(If you’re asking yourself… yeah, cool career advice, but… what does this have to do with branding, hold on. I’m getting to it.)

“It takes someone who believes in herself and her ideas to challenge the status quo. These are the people who shake things up and change them for the better. You don’t have to be contentious to challenge. The best way to suggest changes is not to bash the old ways, but to offer new and positive ideas.

If you are part of a team working on a project that you believe could be going more smoothly, step up and present your ideas. Most likely, everyone will be excited to approach the work from a new angle. And you will begin to earn a reputation for innovation.”

Still not catching on? Okay… Let’s try one more:

“In the famous words of Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

What separates the dazzling winners from everyone else is that they are able to envision a grand future. What turns them into winners is that they are able to leap into that future and do the hard work necessary to make it great.

Particularly for die-hard realists and people who have been trained (by parents, friends, or spouse) to be ‘responsible’ and ‘stable’, indulging in imagination can be difficult. For every idea that’s even mildly revolutionary, a little voice chimes in, ‘Impossible. You can’t do that. That’s stupid. It’ll never work.’ Quiet that voice and spend some time ruminating on your wild, far-out, fanciful ideas. Great leader do things that no one before them has done.”

Still no? Tsssk… Okay. I’ll give you a hint: Substitute “brand” for “career”. Everything that Dave so brilliantly recommends is exactly the kind of advice that you can put to good use in building strong brands – from ‘brand you’ to the next retail darling, iconic consumer good or dazzling web application.

Brands aren’t built in a vacuum. They aren’t built by functionaries. They do not thrive in stagnant bureaucracies. Brands are built by empowered visionaries. Brands are built on enthusiasm, conviction, and courage… Or they are doomed from the start.

You are the heart and soul of the brand you represent and serve. If you want your brand to be a market leader, you must be a leader in your job as well. Your qualities are your brand’s attributes. Your weaknesses are its flaws. Everything you are, everything you do, affects its success and future.

So… don’t ever let anyone turn you into a tool. Challenge everything. Question every assumption. Wage war on routine and bureaucracy. Accept no compromise…

… and read Dave’s blog. It’s a good one.

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Lance Armstrong, by Olivier Blanchard - 2005

Lance Armstrong, by Olivier Blanchard - 2005

Sometime this year, chances are that you will get a chance to hire one or several individuals to come join your team. On his blog some time ago, Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art Of Recruiting” post gave us some pretty crucial pointers that are worth printing and pinning to our respective office walls.

The first of these is this:

“The art of recruiting is the purest form of evangelism because you’re not simply asking people to try your product, buy your product, or partner with you. Instead, you are asking them to bet their lives on your organization.”

Bingo.

But it goes well beyond that. Some companies hire for skills or talent. Others, on the other hand, hire for vision and attitude. The difference is this: Companies that hire for skills and talent tend to attract relatively talented, ambitious folks who do a terrific job… for a while. Until they get bored. Until their work grows stale. Until they start looking for greener pastures. They do great work, and then they leave. The process gets repeated. The process gets repeated. The process gets repeated. Other than adding neat pages to their employers’ portfolios (and their own), nothing much happens.

Companies that hire for vision and attitude, however, kick ass. They always do. The people they hire are agents of change. They’re evangelists. They’re contextual commandos. They’re dreamers and groundbreakers. They’re risk takers. They take the companies they work for further than they were when they first landed there. They attract more people like them and build cultures around their companies.

A good friend of mine, Randy McDougald, hires for vision and attitude, and the results are unbelievable. His business is booming. His customer base is growing. His customers are actually creating a community – a culture – even, around his stores.

Resumes are a good first step. Skills are a nice foundation… But attitude, passion and enthusiasm are the traits that Randy considers when hiring new folks. Believe me, I know every one of his employees, and I can tell you this: I would hire them all in a heartbeat.

Okay, okay, we’ll come back to Randy’s golden touch later this week. Right now, here are Guy’s ten bits of advice when it comes to hiring your next team member:

1. Hire better than yourself.
2. Hire infected people.
3. Ignore the irrelevant.
4. Double check your intuition.
5. Check independent references.
6. Apply the Shopping Center Test.
7. Use all your weapons.
8. Sell all the decision makers.
9. Wait to compensate.
10. Don’t assume you’re done.

(You can check out the full version here.)

What Guy hints at but doesn’t get into is the fact that sometimes, you’ll run into enigmas. Multi-talented folks who don’t quite fit any of the profiles that you’re used to running into, like accountants, copywriters, account executives, product managers or media Planners. Sometimes, you meet people who transcend traditional professional roles. People whose impact on their industry or communities could be felt for years. Decades, even. Some of us would call them game-changers, but I guess “change agent” is a little more subtle. David Armano sometimes calls them “T-shaped” and “sun-shaped” people and I kind of like that.

Only when you run into them, they still haven’t had a chance to break out their superpowers, but they’re just about to. All they need is that little extra push. That little extra help and encouragement. Just a sprinkle of faith on your part.

Among the brightest stars in this group are people like Peter Drucker, Lance Armstrong, Sir Richard Branson and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Mahatma Gandhi. Steve Jobs. The list is long. To a lesser extent, folks like John Winsor, John Moore, Michele Miller, David Wolfe, Kevin Farnham, Valeria Maltoni, Loic Lemeur and William Gordon also belong on the much longer list of kids who didn’t quite fit the mold and grew up to re-invent (or expand the boundaries of) their respective industries and communities.

Consider that they were all kids once. They all applied for that first job. I’d be willing to bet that a great deal of people on that list were turned down by well-meaning managers more concerned with hiring what they knew and understood than taking a chance on something that didn’t quite fit between the lines.

Shame on them.

Why do you think so many of them end up branching off on their own? It isn’t necessarily because they want to spend years working their butts off to be able to say “hey, I did it my way!” No. It’s because they didn’t have a choice. It’s because the people who could have chosen to take a chance on them didn’t.

You would be amazed at how many companies that sell “different” don’t actually have the huevos to actually practice what they preach.

Trust me, there’s nothing more tragic than to see passionate, talented, groundbreaking kids get turned away again and again and again by hiring managers because they didn’t quit match the position’s profile.

“We’re looking for someone with more experience.”

“We’re looking for someone who’s worked in this specific industry.”

“We’re looking for a carbon-copy of the last guy who sat in that chair… only in a different flavor. Because we like to talk about being different and better and more innovative, but we don’t really have the courage to put our money where our mouth is.”

If your company is guilty of this, it’s time to stop. Right now.

One, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by turning away what could very possibly be the most crucial strategic investment your company will ever make.

Two, unfortunately for you, maybe your fiercest competitor won’t be as blind as you were.

Three, you’re breaking spirits. You probably don’t realize it, but you are, and for that, there is no excuse. None. And the karma on this isn’t something you ever want to even ponder.

So here’s a tip: When a dreamer – one of the crazy ones – comes rapping at your door, don’t turn them away because they don’t quite fit the profile that you had in mind. Skilled is necessary. Different is good. Prolific is great. Passionate is even better. Enthusiastic is magical. Unique is genius.

Always consider the pros and cons carefully, but don’t be afraid to take a chance on the occasional wild card.

If you’re willing to ask your new hires to bet their lives on your organization, shouldn’t you also be willing to bet your organization on them?

This isn’t a rhetorical question.

While you ponder the finer points of your answer, here’s one last thing to think about: Exceptional doesn’t mean “really good”. Exceptional means “unique”. It means “the exception to the norm.”

It means different.

Don’t lose sight of that. That tiny little bit of insight could make the difference between your company becoming everything it could be, or just being… well, what it is.

Remember that your company’s mojo doesn’t come from your products or your logo or your tagline. It comes from your people. So if you haven’t done so already, get out of the skills market mentality and hire like your life depends on it. Hire the best that money can buy. Hire the exceptional. Hire the extraordinary. Invest in your own future.
You owe it to yourselves and to your customers. And in this economy, the difference between survival and failure may very well depend on rethinking what types of people you want working for you.
Related reads: H.R. 2.0 and Innovation Starts Here

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illustration by Tom Fishburne

illustration by Tom Fishburne

The value of being ordinary is exactly zero.  Here’s what Tom Fishburne has to say about it:

“Blending into the herd” feels like one of the most common responses to the recession.  2009 is full of so much risk on its own, businesses are becoming even more risk adverse than usual to compensate.  The first projects to get cut are the speculative ones.  Many companies are pulling back on innovation as a way to batten the hatches.

This defense is illusory though.  If anything, retailers are facing even greater pressure to rationalize their shelves.  Redundant products are in danger of getting cut.  Consumers are shifting to cheaper private label if there’s no compelling reason to buy branded products. Differentiation is more important than ever.

I think this climate creates a lot of opportunity for brands that are willing to try something new.  The ones that can adapt the quickest and offer something truly unique have the potential to not only survive, but thrive.

Amen.

Not that there isn’t value in commodity products. (Check out the crowds at Wal-Mart and Costco.) But not every brand is a commodity brand. Not every company’s model meshes with the 99-cent value meal. And for those millions of companies – big and small – for whom being in business is about more than offering the cheapest product on the market, differentiation matters. If grabbing wallet-share was a struggle before, it has now become a knuckle fight to the death. Being better, smarter, faster has now become a matter of survival.

And kids, being better, faster, smarter takes a lot of work. And deliberate focus. It doesn’t happen by accident. Likewise, it sure doesn’t happen by “blending in” or “Playing it safe.” In this economy, value isn’t just your competitive edge, it’s your lifeline. The more unique you are, the more outstanding your value, the greater your opportunity to thrive in any economy – perhaps particularly a distressed one, when clients and customers are particularly careful when it comes to how they choose to spend their money.

Standing out has its advantages: When you stand out, you stand for something. When you don’t, you stand for nothing – and there isn’t much value in that.

Think of innovation and differentiation as your double-sided ticket out of this economic mess. Companies that will create unique value, unique products and unique experiences will lurch ahead, while companies that focus on trying to survive by contracting and blending in with the masses will be lucky to last the year.

After all, then the going gets tough, the tough don’t wuss out and blend with the herd.

Have a great Monday, everyone.  😉

(Hat tip to John Moore for hooking us up with this via Twitter.)

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Before you get all wrapped up in social media strategy talk, stop what you’re doing and take a deep breath. That’s right. Chill. SocMed will still be there when you’re done with our little minute of zen. Go ahead. Close your eyes. Breathe. Breathe deeper. Let the air fillllllll your lungs. Yesssss. Good. Now let it out slowly. Rock on. Do this for as long as you like, then read on.

First, let me just state the obvious: You’re probably over-thinking this whole social media thing. If you’ve hired an “expert” social media consultant, chances are that he or she is making a big deal out of what should otherwise be a very simple thing. (So simple that most American teenagers are at the wheel of personal social media portfolios that would make most Fortune 100 companies grit their teeth with envy. More on that in Monday’s juicy follow-up post.)

Don’t fall for the hype and the weird lingo and the hip factor. You are getting waaaaay ahead of yourself already, and that is completely unnecessary. Relax. Social media is simple. You just need to slow things down a little. Take a step back. Don’t think of it as something new. Don’t think of it in terms of Twitter and Facebook and Plurk. Don’t confuse tools with strategy. Don’t confuse objectives with human connections. Don’t confuse tactics with simple dialogue.

That’s right, breathe.

Before you start posting on Twitter, before you start creating online communities on Ning and building fan pages on Facebook, go back to the basics. Understand who you are as a company. As a brand. As a collection of people united by a common cause. Understand what you stand for, and stand for it. Loudly. THAT is the essence of a brand. YOUR brand. Some might call it “the elevator pitch.” That 30-second explanation of who you are. Nike. Apple. Volkswagen. Whole Foods. You.

“We make the fastest, baddest, loudest motorcycles in the world.”

“We have the best coffee on the East Coast AND we donate 100% of our post-tax profits to charity.”

“We make dictionaries for the blind.”

“We’re the best design firm in history.”

Reconnect with yourself before you even try to reconnect with your audience. Reconnect with your employees. With your staff. Articulate your sense of purpose clearly. Get them onboard. Get them jazzed about what you – what they – stand for. (Hint: Find something more relevant and engaging than your promises to Wall Street or your tired old mission statement.) Make something happen. Create an internal movement. A cause your staff can rally behind.

Then, in everything you do, from website design and press releases to product launches customer service training, take a page from Tom Asacker‘s book of wisdom:

Be passionate about your story.

Be obsessed with the details.

Experience the real world of your audience.

And make a difference in people’s lives.

William James wrote:

I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or the capillary oozing water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride.

This is the process that will prepare you for the world of social media. Meetings in board rooms with social media “experts” won’t alone do it. Droning conference calls with consultants won’t either. Hiring the COO’s nephew to create a blog and post stuff to Twitter also won’t get you very far if you aren’t truly ready.

Before you even come knocking on social media’s doorstep, you need to have your house in order and your head on straight. You need to come prepared. Your identity has to be crystal clear to you and everyone around you. Your objectives have to be clear. Your business processes have to be in synch with the vision you have for yourself. Once you’ve reached this point, then and only then are you ready to effectively tackle a social media strategy.

Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton used to say, “Whenever you get confused, go to the store. The customer has all the answers.” Like most guys of his generation, Sam understood that common sense trumped almost everything else in business. All the fancy tools and the technology and the fads. All noise if you aren’t grounded in reality. If you can’t focus on what matters: relationships.

How many CEOs and other business leaders today actually spend time personally listening to their customers? (Isn’t it much easier to pay market research firms instead? They’ll do phone and email surveys and whatnot. They’ll set up elaborate focus groups. They’ll hand you a 40-page report! Yay!)  Fact: The more layers you put between users/customers and a company’s leadership, the more detached decision-makers are from the insights they need to make good business decisions… and the worse their companies perform. Look at Wall Street. Look at Detroit. Look at the businesses across the street.

Another thing to consider: More often than not, market research firms end up asking the same wrong questions to an increasingly jaded audience. Talk about laws of diminishing returns.

The reality of today’s world/marketplace is this: Your questions are irrelevant. Your questionnaire’s format is irrelevant. Your canned dialogue isn’t sticking. As a result, your market research metrics are wrong. You are making decisions based on irrelevant data and erroneous assumptions.

Sam Walton had the right idea: Just go to the store. Watch your customers. Listen to them. Mingle with them. Chat them up. Before you know it, they’ll open up. They’ll tell you everything you want to know. You won’t even have to cook up questions for them. By virtue of being there, inside their own brand experience with them, what needs to be done next will naturally come to you.

If you want to physically do this, bravo. Leave the suit and the ass-kissers at the office, throw on some jeans, and go mingle. It will pay off, I promise.

If you can’t (too many things on your plate) then consider social media as the next best option. (Even if you can, SocMed strategies can help you be in more than one place at once, so use them.) Should you start a blog? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on who you have onboard who can really drive that project, what you want to accomplish, how open you are willing to be, etc. Over 80% of the public has a negative opinion of corporate blogs, so you may be better off not having one at all than having a bad one. (If you want a blog, you have to commit to being one of the rare companies who does blogging right.)  With or without a blog, should you have someone monitor what is being said about your company on other blogs? Absolutely. This is probably the most important element of social media: Listening.  Before you start talking, before you start responding or having conversations, LISTEN.  (It isn’t spying, don’t worry.) Find out what people are saying an writing about you. Find out what you are doing well, and not so well. SEARCH is your friend, so use it. Start taking notes. Learn how to truly see your company through the public’s eye, without the filter of a firm or agency whose retainer depends on not upsetting you, no matter what they find out.

Once you’re ready to engage the public, your public, then start getting involved with platforms like Ning, Twitter, Facebook, etc. If you find that communities have already formed around your brand, introduce yourself to them and offer to give them support. DO NOT SUE THEM for using your logo without permission (as Ford tried to do this month), and don’t ever interfere with their affairs. Be polite. Be responsive. Be friendly. Be respectful. Be helpful. Always. No exceptions.

Understanding what Social Media tools and platforms to use and how is important, don’t get me wrong, but don’t put all of your focus into the vehicle without first understanding both the road and the destination – if indeed there is a destination, as you may find yourself on a very long and fascinating journey once you get behind the wheel.

Social Media involvement, in a nutshell, can and should be seen simply as an extension of your relationship with your customers and the public at large. Either you want true engagement or you don’t. If you don’t, then ignore this post and go back to doing what you have been doing for the last decade. If it works for you, great.  If you do, however, if you crave that feedback, that flux, that love, that relationship, then welcome to a whole new era of communications, collaboration, public relations and brand relevance.

Do the inner work first though. Read this post again if you need to. And if you have any comments or questions, as usual, you can either drop me a note in the comment section or reach me directly via email, Twitter, facebook or whatever other means of communications are at your disposal. (I still remember some Morse code.)

Have a great weekend, everyone. And seriously… Relax! 😀

Photo by Christopher Wray-McCann

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