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Archive for the ‘customer communities’ Category

Okay, so while the Dow hangs out at around 10,000 points, here’s some advice on how to give your business a serious boost without increasing your marketing expenditures (and maybe even reducing them): “Perkonomics: Why perks and privileges are the new currency” over at TrendWatching.com (hat tip to AdPulp) is a pretty interesting take on how to increase customer loyalty and create a buzz for your brand even in tough economic times.

“What in blue blazes is perkanomics,” I hear you cry? Hold your horses there Tonto. We’re getting there. According to the folks at TrendWatching.com, perkonomics can be explained thus:

“A new breed of perks and privileges, added to brands’ regular offerings, [which satisfies] consumers’ ever-growing desire for novel forms of status and/or convenience, across all industries. The benefits for brands are equally promising: from escaping commoditization, to showing empathy in turbulent times. One to have firmly on your radar in 2009.”

Did you catch that part about escaping commoditization (not falling into the BOGO trap)? Good. Let’s continue.

TW continues with this:

“Consumer infatuation with perks and privileges isn’t new. For years, airlines, hotels, credit card companies and private banks have been cleverly rewarding their most valuable customers with surprises, status symbols and convenience.

But as we move towards a consumer society that’s based more on experiences, on status stories, on the ephemeral—and in which, for many, time is now the only true scarcity—expect perks and privileges to become an integral part of every B2C industry and sector.”

Perks you might already be familiar with: Frequent flier miles, preferred customer clubs, discount cards, special pricing, express delivery, concierge service, complementary XYZ, free upgrades, shorter checkout lines, convenient parking, etc. Essentially, the perkonomics idea takes the simple concept of “loyalty rewards” to the next step: Brand-related social elevation (however ephemeral it may be). The dot-connect end-to-end: “My loyalty to Brand ABC makes me more special than people who don’t share the same relationship with the brand.”

The result (if done right):

  • Perks bring much-needed love (if not FREE LOVE), in upturns and downturns, potentially leading to more ‘brand love’. (I hate to call it brand loyalty, but at the very least, it encourages a very strong brand preference.)
  • Perks help commodity-like industries stand out by conferring a (renewed) sense of uniqueness. Adding perks often requires the ability to partner with other products or services, so brands with the best partnering skills—and therefore access to the best exclusive offers—will win.
  • Perks can give you the leading edge when it comes to attracting first-time customers.
  • Perks can make for great if not invaluable PR [and positive WOM]; customers will tell others—perks are excellent conversation starters—while the media (trend watchers included) love a good perk story.
  • Perks can help make boring companies interesting again, and thus more desirable.
  • Perks can help cultivate more desirable brand perceptions and associations—think anything from showing you actually care about your customers (gasp!) to showing you care about the environment, offering eco-perks.

From a business opportunity standpoint, focusing on perks can absolutely give you an edge when it comes to differentiating your brand from others even if your products are not superior, and by doing so may be the only way to elevate a brand without actually making improvements outside of “delighting” loyal customers. The trick is to do it in such a way that doesn’t come across either as a ploy to get more information out of them, and two, in a way that doesn’t require them to jump through hoops. Perks are perks. If perks start to become hassles, they stop being perks. A “delight the customer” mentality and focus across all touch points is absolutely vital to the success of such a program. The second a customer expecting a perk gets the runaround from a disgruntled or less-than-ready-to-serve company brand ambassador, you’re done for. (Managing human touch points well is one of the trickiest aspects of delivering on the promise of perkonomics.)

Additionally:

PERKONOMICS is an aspirational trend; i.e. a trend that generously offers you—marketer, entrepreneur, brand manager—the chance to be a trendsetter, especially if you work in a sector or industry not yet big on perks.

And as perks are about delighting and surprising consumers, you should have no trouble coming up with a few quick ideas that can be implemented immediately and cost-efficiently. Talking about costs: as perks are an integral part of your marketing strategy, shifting a part of your mass-advertising budget to get some PERKONOMICS innovations off the ground is more than justified.

Check out the entire report here. And please, please, please, when you start looking into ways to incorporate some of these ideas into your marketing plan, don’t end up settling for 5% discount coupons and dime-store “prizes” with your logo printed on them. (Trade show giveaway pens, decals and buttons don’t even come close to perks.) Take this as seriously as you take the success of your brand.

If you need help figuring out how to do this, give me a call or shoot me an email. I’ll be happy to help or hook you up with someone who can.

Have a great Tuesday!

Photo by Chris Wray-McCann

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Great post yesterday on Infuse about brand and campaign alignment and influencers:

Influencer engagement is ALL to do with alignment. It’s about finding out what influencers do, when and how they influence, and what their agenda and motivations are. Once you know this you can (and should) align your outreach activities with your influencers on an individual (or at most clustered) basis.

So what? There are two traps to fall into when considering alignment with influencers:

The first is that it’s actually quite hard to align yourself with a host of differing types of people. In fact, it’s hard enough aligning with different types of journalist or analyst. What about academics, community leaders, customers, regulators and the other numerous influencer types? Some discipline and structure is required..

The second trap is perhaps less obvious, but it is more commonly encountered. It is that alignment requires you to align with the influencers, not the other way around. Most vendors want to get influencers to agree with them. You should be looking for ways to agree with influencers, even if this means changing fundamental things about your business.

They are the influencers, after all.

Read the post here.

Additional reading: Super-Influencers

Note: Adding Infuse to the blogroll. Influencer50 has some pretty solid content on that little blog.

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Via community Strategist Connie Bensen comes this great little list from Tish Grier that outlines the seven core traits of a great community manager:

  1. Commitment to “the cause”. It’s very important for your community manager to believe in your cause. Their communications need to be transparent & authentic. The job has many challenges so they need to inherently believe in their work & the brand.
  2. Love people. The position is about connecting & communicating. There is interaction with all types, so a community manager needs to enjoy it. (This is why it’s a great position under marketing).
  3. Must enjoy technology. It’s a web 2.0 job. Technology is changing quickly. The tools are constantly shifting & evolving. One has to thoroughly enjoy being immersed. And if your product/brand is technology oriented then it’s natural to be involved in product development & providing feedback.
  4. Must understand online culture. Did I mention this a web 2.0 job? Working online is a bit different than face-to-face. A person needs to maintain a sense of humor & not take things personally. Working online requires a level of perceptiveness so that you can interact with all types of people.
  5. Powers of Observation. I just mentioned being perceptive but it’s more than that. Providing feedback on trends, monitoring brand & being ever present require one to be ever watchful. As a metacustomer the community manager is the eyes & ears for the company – all teams – and responsible for providing feedback from the customers.
  6. Flexibility. Community work is 7 days a week. Checking in on my communities & responding to their needs isn’t a 9 – 5 job. (I do sleep though). But I’m cognizant of the time zones when I add people to teams. It’s nice to have people providing assistance from around the world (so I can sleep! 🙂 ).
  7. Life experience trumps youthful energy. Tish’s point is to not entrust this important job to an intern or someone who is a short-timer. The more life experiences a person has, the more they have to offer the community.

I like that “commitment to the cause” was #1 on the list. If I could add a few more, they would be:

8. Coupled with #2 (love of people) is the need to be a solid communicator. Even a great one. In any type of management – especially community management – understanding the value of communications (and being a natural communicator) can have a tremendous impact on the success of that community. (Note that the description of #2 is 100% about communication.)

9. Connectedness. Natural community managers tend to be active in a number of communities already. Look for a diverse socio-professional network on their LinkedIn and Myspace accounts. Also look for telltale signs that they are social media power-users (Blog activity, Twitter, Plurk, Seesmic, etc.) The ability to mesh social media tools with their propensity to be an active member within their chosen communities is a sign of good things to come. Also in the connectedness vein, great community managers tend to be natural connectors: They see the synergies between communities, organizations and individuals. They are often the folks who will provide the types of introductions that will strengthen bonds within communities and organically recruit new members.

Also picked up from Tish’s original piece:

“Your potential community manager should be open, congenial, and can handle difficult situations with tact and diplomacy (not like a cop or Marine sergeant).”

“Don’t confuse liking technology with loving it beyond everything else.”

Remember (per Tish) that “a lot will be riding on this person – more so than which tools are used. Your community manager should understand people well and be good at creating and maintaining relationships and ability to create relationships, regardless of which tools are available.”

With so many companies turning to user/customer community engagement to strengthen their brands, this little primer is worth its weight in gold.

Incidentally, Connie will be speaking at the Social Media Strategies Conference in San Francisco (October 29-30) with fellow Marketing 2.0 contributor and social media expert Francois Gossieaux, Jive Software CMO Sam Lawrence, and a very solid panel of other (hopefully) familiar names. Check your calendars.

Cheers.

Image source: TID

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Social Media blogger extraordinaire Shel Israel interviewed my friend and Marketing 2.0 co-blogger Francois Gossieaux earier this month about the Tribalization of Business study he and Beeline Labs conducted earlier this year that looked into the way that companies incorporate communities into their business model.

The basis of the Tribalization of Business study:

We wanted to understand how companies leverage communities as part of their business processes and how they measure the progress and success of those efforts.

We quickly realized that for those companies who were doing it right we were looking at something that was transformational. We were tapping into an age-old human behavior, which we came to recognize as “tribalism.” Halfway through the project, we changed the title because of that observation.

The interview is fantastic, but I find these portions particularly important to the discussion:

What do you think makes us tribal by nature and why should a business strategist care?

People want to hang out with like-minded people and want to help and be helped by people who care. By providing a massive platform for participation, social media has allowed that tribal behavior to return to the forefront. Whether you like it or not, there is probably a good chance that your consumer tribe already hangs out in some corner of the online world. While at times a bit dense, you can find a collection on the most recent research Consumer Tribes.

Your survey showed the five most frequent goals of a corporate online community were close to tied: (1)insight, (2)idea generation, (3)loyalty, (4)word-of-mouth and (5)marketing. Did you find communities do better when they serve multiple purposes or a single purpose?

Communities can start out with a single purpose, but inevitably, they will end up serving multiple purposes. You need to prepare for that. If you start a customer support community, for example, people will eventually give you new product ideas. If you are not set up to execute against those product or service suggestions that the community finds important, they will lose interest and leave – it’s as if you are not listening to them. They don’t care what your internal goals are for the community. They care about having a better complete life-cycle experience with your product.

Your study seems to indicate that engagement is a more valid goal of an online community than say, revenue per customer. How would you measure either?

I am not sure that we found engagement to be a more valid goal of an online community, but it is what many companies try to measure. I assume that much of the reason why companies are looking at engagement as a success metric is because many of them are building their communities in partnership with their agencies.

What we did find is that those companies who were most satisfied with their community efforts were those who measured the effectiveness of their communities in the same way as they would measure the effectiveness of the business processes that the community was intended to support. For example, if you measure the success of your customer support call center in a certain way, then measure the impact of your online community-based support program in the same way.

The same is true for new product innovation-focused communities or co-marketing communities. Whether the original measurement framework is the right one or not, it is one that the department heads understands and which tends to be institutionalized across the company.

It was amazing to see companies, who normally measure all their marketing programs based on increased sales, all of sudden measure community efforts based on page views and time spent on the site – even when the community interactions were happening mostly through email and text messages. These are all clearly signs of an early market with lots of customer confusion.

Read the entire interview here.

Additional reading:

ROI and the scalability of social media.

Online Tribalism + The Future of Social Media.

photo credit: ecowordly.com

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A reading from the book of Brian:

As we’ve learned over the last several years, markets are defined by conversations and those discussions reveal everything about perception and awareness. We must, at some level, continually listen to, and identify, and join relevant discussions, even at the risk of creating less original content on our host platforms. Yes, that’s right. Participation isn’t only defined by producing content. It’s also about supporting and responding to the thoughts and work of others.

Through participation, we earn relationships and hopefully build authority by contributing helpful advice, information and insight. We also learn more about the subjects in which we’re interested, creating a deeper understanding of the dynamics associated with not only the subject matter, but also the community view and reaction to it. In the process, we establish and cultivate our online brand, reputation, and associated expertise that is only fortified through every new piece of content we publish and every comment we share.

If you aren’t already familiar with Brian Solis and his Pr 2.0 blog, go check it out. Subscribe to the RSS and add it PR 2.0 to your blogroll. Fantastic insights in every post.

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That the always brilliant David Armano recently wrote yet another thought provoking post on his Logic + Emotion blog isn’t exactly front page news. He has a habit of doing so pretty much weekly… but what is particularly cool about this post is the fact that one of his graphic looks identical to a community engagement model I sketched out almost a year ago for some colleagues (who, back then, looked at me like I was speaking Chinese).

Check this out:

The first graphic shows a typical brand-as-a-broadcaster model, in which a company essentially fashions a messaging strategy and then uses various channels to broadcast it down to its buckets of potential customers and existing users (market segments or the more cynically named demos).

Note how the second graphic takes a much more organic, communal, non-directional approach to customer/user community engagement. In this model, the brand isn’t an external entity connect with individuals and communities through rigid vertical channels. In this model, the brand exists in conjunction with the communities. It’s hard to see where the brand ends and the communities begin. Marketing communications cease to exist as a product to be distributed, and become instead a living, breathing dialogue. This is exactly the model of community engagement that I sketched out, right down to the influencer/friends tags (though Dave’s version is much prettier than my improvised chicken-scratch). This is the community engagement model for brands whose products are important enough to scale in this way AND create users so passionate that they would give up valuable time to be active in these communities. Examples: World of Warcraft, Harley Davidson, the Microsoft Partner Community, Fiskateers, Comicon, Star Trek, BMW, WOMMA and the New York Yankees, for starters.

Note: Best in class companies typically manage to juggle both models simultaneously. Ideally, you should strive towards that balance as well.

Good to see Dave Armano come to the same conclusions I have. (I feel 100% validated right now, and I like it.)

Nb: Community engagement and brand building aside, it isn’t every day that I run into a graphic that is so precisely like mine that it makes my jaw drop. If we were talking about prehistoric cave paintings instead of marketing sketches, anthropologists would have a serious mystery on their hands. But this being the internet age, I’ll just chalk it up to Dave and I being in synch about a topic we both write (and sketch) about a lot. Still, I think it’s pretty cool that without having ever met, Dave and I have managed to tap into the exact same visual interpretation of two different concepts born of a single root idea.

Check out Dave’s otherwise not-weird-at-all post here.

Have a great, completely normal Tuesday!

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“Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product.”

– Jennifer Van der Meer –Former Wall Street Analyst, green activist and innovation strategist.

Fantastic piece on Core77 by Jennifer Van der Meer on the convergence of design, (customer) movements, product adoption and innovation against the backdrop of “green” product growth.

Here are some tidbits:

Recently, I was invited to participate as a Speaker at the Greener by Design conference in Alexandria, VA, with innovation culture and systems guru, Robert Shelton. Our talk focused on the encouraging shift towards more open models of innovation, where knowledge is shared both inside and outside a company’s walls to solve for the complex and daunting challenges that we face. This praise for the widening of knowledge networks emerged as a theme in many different conversations throughout the rest of the conference. More and more companies have begun to shift sustainability from public relations statements and corporate social responsibility promises to actual product development and marketing activity–a way to create real value. Facing up to climate change will require a major redesign in the way we bring things to market.

The caveat? Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product: consumers do not want tradeoffs. Clorox’s Green Works is one company that embraced this gap. How did the Green Works team aim to get past the 5%? When choosing household cleaners, green-leaning consumers are looking for proven efficacy, broad availability, comparable price, and a brand they know and trust. They’re not willing to settle for a product that performs less than a more eco-unfriendly alternative. Clorox Green Works accepted these constraints and delivered a natural product that passed blind performance tests–in partnership with the Sierra Club. Despite initial external skepticism that a brand like Clorox could succeed with a natural product offering, the good word got out and sales results have “far exceeded expectations,” according to Kohler.

The “no tradeoffs, no compromise” approach has served as a mantra in many companies and across industries when challenged with comprehensive green innovation. But there’s something missing in this stark consumer win-it-all equation: Consumers are not part of the conversation and they know it.

I have spent a good deal of time sitting down with these emerging green consumers and many themes come into to focus. When asked to take the time to give their real opinion about their lifestyle, they reveal an untapped desire to participate in the process to be more than just a stat about consumption and purchase behavior. When you move the conversation beyond price and performance benefits to engage people in the challenge of designing a green future, they want to do so much more than just vote with their wallet.

Unleashing the Innovator in Everyone
In fact, I found that once on the topic I could not get these consumers to stop thinking about innovation and the role they should play in the design process. One-on-one interviews, blog studies, and focus groups all inevitably turn into green therapy sessions. People wanted to dissect how they chose to eat their food, build their home, rely on transportation, raise their children, and create meaning in their lives. When the conversation shifted to how we could live more sustainably, the real ideas would begin to flow.

While it was personally gratifying to be a part of these discussions, I found that my role as a strategist and researcher had major limitations. It was costly to send someone like me around the world, burning jet fuel, to have deep conversations only to fold these insights into traditional briefs on brand and product development. At the same time, every industry started getting green religion and claiming a green message. But the old compartmentalize structure was still in place, which resulted in confusion all along the chain, the initial pleasure and fascination with the complexity of the problem devolved into fatigue amongst the newly green converts at the consumer and corporate level.

The roles of designers, product development specialists, and marketers should never have been as segmented and will never be again. Participation is the key to innovation…

I realized that the nature of this challenge requires constant, ongoing conversation between all the elements. Even a successful human-centered approach to the fuzzy front end completely drops off when we hit the conveyor belt process for product development. Ideas once sensibly vetted are suddenly forced to move lock step through the phases required for launch, and often get watered down in the process. This is in fact where the activity of greenwashing occurs–good intentions turn into skepticism, compromises, and incidental innovation. How do we create a system that provides more interaction, iteration and a feedback loop?

Read the rest of Jennifer’s piece here. It’s well worth the detour.

Have a great Monday everyone. 😉

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Those of us who have been using Vista pretty much since the start already knew this, but there has been so much bad publicity around it that it’s hard to separate myth from reality anymore. Well, Microsoft recently decided to try a little experiment to see if Vista haters and skeptics really, truly didn’t like Vista, or if they were just being dragged along by the anti-Vista bandwagon. (Thanks in great part to Apple’s brilliantly executed Mac vs. PC ad campaign.)

The experiment was simple: Invite a group of Vista skeptics to test drive a new OS code-named “mojave,” without telling them that mojave was actually… you guessed it: Vista.

As it turns out, over 90% of the testers (who thought Vista sucked before coming in for their mojave sneak peek) LOVED Mojave. You can check out their reactions when they are told that Mojave was in fact Vista.

Wow! Vista actually rocks! Who knew.  ;D

The blind test is nothing new in marketing circles, but what sets this apart from the old Coke vs. Pepsi blind test ad campaigns is that the question here isn’t one of preference. Coke isn’t better than Pepsi, and Pepsi isn’t better than Coke. People prefer one over the other because of their taste buds, mostly. As powerful an ad campaign as it may be, you might as well have folks do blind tests comparing Methodist and Presbyterian doctrine. Which do you LIKE better? Which do you PREFER? The “Mojave” experiment doesn’t address preference or taste: It addresses perception vs. reality. Vista had (and to some extent still has) a pretty poor image in the marketplace because very few . This is in part due to a) driver incompatibility issues early on in the OS’ release, b) the fact that many “legacy” PCs aren’t powerful enough to run the OS, and c) a very aggressive campaign to discredit microsoft by its longtime rival Apple.

Fact: The driver compatibility issue is pretty-much ancient history.

Fact: Computers are pretty cheap these days, so while some businesses may not want to allocate the funds to upgrade their hardware or consider virtualizing their PCs, consumers should be able to upgrade their laptops and home PCs to a Vista system without too much trouble.

Fact: The Mac vs. PC campaign may have been fresh and cool and based in truth a year ago, but it has now slipped into the realm of disinformation. In addition, many of the so-called “crapware” that bogs down new computers has nothing to do with Microsoft or Vista. (If your new Vista PC is loaded with stuff you don’t want, the system builder installed it on your machine, not Microsoft.) Sony recently released a crapware-free PC that actually allows users to enjoy a pure vista experience right out of the box, and it pretty much rocks.

Anyhoo. The Mojave experiment is clever, honest, simple and effective. It is what it is: A series of videos showing real people being blown away with how great Vista actually is, after having so brainwashed by 21 months of negative messaging.

Kudos to Microsoft for having taken this approach to bringing the reality of Vista forward with people like you and me rather than an expensive round of corporate messaging. Very clever. You can check it out for yourself here. Hat tip to Steve Clayton for the link. Other articles on the subject at Microsoft Sherpa here, here and here.

have a great Tuesday, everyone. 😉

 

Transparency: I manage US Microsoft distribution for SYNNEX, a global distributor of IT and Business processes. Though the job doesn’t skew my opinion of Vista one bit, it’s worth mentioning.

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Beeline Labs, Deloitte LLC and The Society For New Communications Research recently partnered to conduct a first-of-its-kind study of how more than 140 organizations are employing online communities dubbed “Tribalization Of Business.”

Francois Gossieaux (Marketing 2.0 and Beeline Labs honcho) sent me this pretty killer summary of the report last week, and I am just now getting to it. Fantastic stats and insights for any company, large or small, looking to incorporate community interactions into their business model. (Customer communities, user communities, thought leadership communities, etc.) You really owe it to yourself to click on the links and read up on this. It won’t take a lot of your time, and you will learn some pretty interesting (dare I say actionable ?) stuff in the process.

The report and summary also include some pretty killer best practices, so take note.

The summary: http://www.beelinelabs.com/files/TribalizationStudyrelease.pdf

The Tribalization report’s web page: http://www.beelinelabs.com/tribalization/

Additional reading:

Have a great Tuesday, everyone!

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(Corporate leaps of faith rock my world.) photo by toimaginetoo

I like to go back to the archives every once in a while – partly because I’m a little crunched for time these days, but mostly because the vault contains some pretty solid posts that you guys might never had the opportunity to read. I originally wrote this post for the Corante Marketing Hub, back when I was its online editor.

Back then, Grant McCracken had pointed us to Coca Cola’s apparent then-new shift to the long tail:

“Given its pending portfolio of coffee soda, gourmet teas and Godiva drinks, Coca-Cola is expected to expend more time and energy on low-volume, high-margin categories than ever. (…)

Rather than look at beverages on a category by category basis, Mary Minnick, head of marketing, innovation and strategic growth, has said Coke is looking at how beverages fit into consumers lives. She has described the need states as, “Enjoyment today,” “feel good today,” and “be well tomorrow.”

– Kenneth Hein, from Strategy: Coke Seeks Relief (Again) By Scratching The Niche. (Adweek. March 06, 2006.)

And that seemed fine and good and all, but… whatever happened to… just… great taste?

When I order a latte from my favorite coffee shop or buy a bottle of Orangina or and IBC cream soda, it isn’t because of “enjoyment today,” “feel good today,” and “be well tomorrow.” It isn’t because of clever packaging or image or transference or projection. It’s because I’m in the mood for a particular flavor. This is about mood and palates and lifestyles, not “feeling good” and “being well”.

Oh, I know… I don’t have TCCC’s millions of dollars of research at my fingertips… but you know what? I’m wired just like everyone else, and I know why I buy drinks. I know why my friends and colleagues buy drinks. They like the taste. They look for context. Catch-phrases have nothing to do with it.

You can make any study and any set of numbers and statistics and results say anything you want. Especially when you have a whole lot of time and money invested in new products whose development needs to be justified to a board of directors.

Could this be a case of the tail wagging the dog? (TCCC’s need for some kind of ROI from its product development programs?) Is TCCC’s real strategy just a numbers’ game? Is it to throw as many products at us and see if anything sticks? Where ten years ago, none of these new drinks might have ever seen the light of day, now they’ve found a chance at life in “the long tail.” Could this just be a front? I guess the question is worth asking, even though I’ll assume – for the sake of this discussion – that this isn’t the case.

TCCC, here’s a tip: Drop the gimmicks. Focus on taste. Whether you love wines, beers bubble teas or kefirs, it always comes down to flavor. Most people who choose to drink Coca Cola do so because they prefer it over the taste of Pepsi. It isn’t because the cans are red or because Coca Cola makes them feel happy or look cool. (The glass bottles might be the exception.) The taste, before anything else, is at the core of the Coca Cola experience.

Whether you’re The Coca Cola Company or a startup with a great idea for a product, before you spend millions overthinking your strategy, just focus on making a really great product. One that people will love to discover and use and talk about. If you love it, chances are that lots of people out there will love it too. If you really want to grab hold of the long tail, you have to start with you. The game isn’t about pleasing everyone – or the majority of “the market” (which has been TCCC’s strategy for decades). It’s about creating a product for a very specific core of rabid fans/customers.

The trick though, is this: You can’t do it by trying to fill a need based on market research (American women between the ages of 32 and 46 with a median annual income of $68-97K responded favorably to XYZ… yadayadaya…). It’s what TCCC has been doing for years, without much success. It’s what everybody’s been doing too. It’s what you do if you want to be an “also in”. Your only recourse once you’ve greenlighted a new product launch is to outspend your competitors in everything from advertising to POP displays to licensing rights, and then try to hang on as long as you can. It’s ridiculous.

The right way to do this is to do the work. The real work: Instead of quantifying a culture, penetrate it. The supertool here isn’t statistics, it’s anthropology. Here’s another tip: the moment you start quantifying tastes, you’ve lost your focus and drifted back to the lukewarm center, just like everyone else. This is the easiest mistake to make, and also the most common.

The way you develop a chocolate-flavored drink isn’t by talking to 10,000 people on the street. It’s by talking to 10,000 chocoholics. These might even be people who love chocolate but hate chocolate drinks. (How cool would it be to have 10,000 people with such specific tastes tell you why they love chocolate but hate chocolate drinks? Tell me you wouldn’t crack that code with that level of feedback.)

The point is: Do your research at the extreme edge of the bell curve.

The way you develop a new endurance drink is by talking to rabid cyclists and triathletes and marathoners. The way you develop a new game console is by talking to avid gamers (not casual gamers). The way you develop a new Pop Tart flavor is by talking to people for whom Pop Tarts is a major food group. This isn’t about talking to 0.3% of American shoppers who are representative of the 60% of shoppers who place Pop Tarts in their Top 10 likeliest breakfast foods. It’s about talking to the fraction of a percent of people who live and breathe the stuff that is at the core of your new product’s identity and raison d’etre and will buy your new flavor of Pop Tarts every other week.

Not just talking to them, but understanding what makes them tick and embracing them completely.

The long tail, after all, isn’t about markets. It’s about cultures. Subcultures, even. The more specific, the better. Think skateboarders. Think triathletes. Think online gamers. Think photography hobbyists. You either become a central part of those cultures, or you go home packing.

(Incidentally, the Pop Tart team absolutely gets it.)

If TCCC wants to grab hold of the long tail and make its new strategy work, it needs to un-Coke itself. It needs to shed the TCCC formula where these offshoot brands are concerned. It needs to create truly independent subsidiaries staffed by people who live inside the cultures they are trying to cater to, and completely outside the reach of the Coca Cola culture.

Think of it as United Artists trying to produce “independent” films with $100,000 budgets. The only way they could do it well would be to create a smaller studio managed and staffed by people who live, eat and breathe the indy culture… and let them do their thing without corporate interference, bureaucracy and big business politics. Anything short of that would result in total and utter failure.

Remember Coca Cola Blak? That was the type of product Mary Minnick was talking about: Low volume, high margin (wishful thinking if your product is perceived merely as water, natural and artificial flavoring, food coloring and high fructose corn syrup… and doesn’t taste so unbelievably good that it will make people want to trade their current favorite flavor for it). TCCC going after the Starbucks crowd with Blak may have seemed like a good idea on paper, and I guess it was worth the shot (no pun intended). It might even have worked had the price point matched the perceived value of a Coca Cola retail product.

Blak launched in 2006, when his piece was written… and finally died a few months ago after a long painful battle with dismal sales and lack of interest. (Most likely due to its very high pricepoint – holding true to Mary’s strategy – than its missing the boat on taste. Red Bull doesn’t exactly taste delicious, yet it has found its market. Draw your own conclusions.)

Beware business plans that look great on paper and are based on top-down (wishful) thinking. Successful entrepreneurs (and their projects) usually do a whole lot better when their ideas come from the bottom of the distribution tree: See a need, fill a need. (That includes understanding the pricepoint-value perception feedback loop.)

Truly understanding your customers, your users, your future fans (your market), heck, actually getting back to becoming one of them is the only way to discover your next great game changing idea. The rest, as they say, is up to you.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.

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Ever noticed how positive attitudes are infectious? You walk into a store, and everyone who works there is jazzed and happy to be there and energetic… and by the time you leave, you have completely adopted their mood?

Ever noticed that the opposite is also true: Walk into a business where everyone is negative or apathetic, and you find yourself feeling the same dread and negativity?

Sitting in Houston’s Toyota arena with thousands of the world’s most innovative Microsoft partners, I was reminded of the power that other people’s attitudes and moods have over our own – and remembered a post that Kathy Sierra shared many moons ago on her brilliant but now sadly defunct “Passionate Users” blog. It talked about happy vs. angry people, emotional contagion, and the role mirror neurons play in our involuntary tendency to be drawn into other people’s positive or negative attitudes. Very cool stuff, and particularly relevant to some of the discussions I have been involved with in the last few days with some of my international peers. I did some quick digging to find it so I could share it with you. Here are some of the highlights:

Mirror neurons and our innate tendency to pick up other people’s behaviors, good and bad.

There is now strong evidence to suggest that humans have the same type of “mirror neurons” found in monkeys. It’s what these neurons do that’s amazing–they activate in the same way when you’re watching someone else do something as they do when you’re doing it yourself! This mirroring process/capability is thought to be behind our ability to empathize, but you can imagine the role these neurons have played in keeping us alive as a species. We learn from watching others. We learn from imitating (mirroring) others. The potential problem, though, is that these neurons go happily about their business of imitating others without our conscious intention.

Think about that…

Although the neuroscientific findings are new, your sports coach and your parents didn’t need to know the cause to recognize the effects:

“Choose your role models carefully.”
“Watching Michael Jordan will help you get better.”
“You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd; they’re a bad influence.”
“Don’t watch people doing it wrong… watch the experts!”

We’ve all experienced it. How often have you found yourself sliding into the accent of those around you? Spend a month in England and even a California valley girl sounds different. Spend a week in Texas and even a native New Yorker starts slowing down his speech. How often have you found yourself laughing, dressing, skiing like your closest friend? Has someone ever observed that you and a close friend or significant other had similar mannerisms? When I was in junior high school, it was tough for people to tell my best friends and I apart on the phone–we all sounded so much alike that we could fool even our parents.

But the effect of our innate ability and need to imitate goes way past teenage phone tricks. Spend time with a nervous, anxious person and physiological monitoring would most likely show you mimicking the anxiety and nervousness, in ways that affect your brain and body in a concrete, measurable way. Find yourself in a room full of pissed off people and feel the smile slide right off your face. Listen to people complaining endlessly about work, and you’ll find yourself starting to do the same. How many of us have been horrified to suddenly realize that we’ve spent the last half-hour caught up in a gossip session–despite our strong aversion to gossip? The behavior of others we’re around is nearly irresistible.

Why choosing who you work, play and hang out with matters.

When we’re consciously aware and diligent, we can fight this. But the stress of maintaining that conscious struggle against an unconscious, ancient process is a non-stop stressful drain on our mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth. And no, I’m not suggesting that we can’t or should’nt spend time with people who are angry, negative, critical, depressed, gossiping, whatever. Some (including my sister and father) chose professions (nurse practitioner and cop, respectively) that demand it. And some (like my daughter) volunteer to help those who are suffering (in her case, the homeless). Some people don’t want to avoid their more hostile family members. But in those situations–where we choose to be with people who we do not want to mirror–we have to be extremely careful! Nurses, cops, mental health workers, EMTs, social workers, red cross volunteers, fire fighters, psychiatrists, oncologists, etc. are often at a higher risk (in some cases, WAY higher) for burnout, alcoholism, divorce, stress, or depression unless they take specific steps to avoid getting too sucked in to be effective.

So, when Robert says he wants to spend time hanging around “happy people” and keeping his distance from “deeply unhappy” people, he’s keeping his brain from making–over the long term–negative structural and chemical changes. Regarding the effect of mirror neurons and emotional contagion on personal performance, neurologist Richard Restak offers this advice:

“If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion.”

This sounds harsh, and it is, but it’s his recommendation based on the facts as the neuroscientists interpret them today. This is not new age self-help–it’s simply the way brains work.

Emotional Contagion explained.

Steven Stosny, an expert on road rage, is quoted in Restak’s book:

“Anger and resentment are thet most contagious of emotions,” according to Stonsy. “If you are near a resentful or angry person, you are more prone to become resentful or angry yourself. If one driver engages in angry gestures and takes on the facial expressions of hostility, surrounding drivers will unconsciously imitate the behavior–resulting in an escalation of anger and resentment in all of the drivers. Added to this, the drivers are now more easily startled as a result of the outpouring of adrenaline accompanying their anger. The result is a temper tantrum that can easily escalate into road rage.”

From a paper on Memetics and Social Contagion,

“…social scientific research has largely confirmed the thesis that affect, attitudes, beliefs and behavior can indeed spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious. Simple exposure sometimes appears to be a sufficient condition for social transmission to occur. This is the social contagion thesis; that sociocultural phenomena can spread through, and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measles or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.”

Emotional contagion is considered one of the primary drivers of group/mob behavior, and the recent work on “mirror neurons” helps explain the underlying cause. But it’s not just about groups. From a Cambridge University Press book:

“When we are talking to someone who is depressed it may make us feel depressed, whereas if we talk to someone who is feeling self-confident and buoyant we are likely to feel good about ourselves. This phenomenon, known as emotional contagion, is identified here, and compelling evidence for its affect is offered from a variety of disciplines – social and developmental psychology, history, cross-cultural psychology, experimental psychology, and psychopathology.”

[For a business management perspective, see the Yale School of Management paper titled The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion In Groups]

Can any of us honestly say we haven’t experienced emotional contagion? Even if we ourselves haven’t felt our energy drain from being around a perpetually negative person, we’ve watched it happen to someone we care about. We’ve noticed a change in ourselves or our loved ones based on who we/they spend time with. We’ve all known at least one person who really did seem able to “light up the room with their smile,” or another who could “kill the mood” without saying a word. We’ve all found ourselves drawn to some people and not others, based on how we felt around them, in ways we weren’t able to articulate.

Happy People are better able to think logically

Neuroscience has made a long, intense study of the brain’s fear system–one of the oldest, most primitive parts of our brain. Anger and negativity usually stem from the anxiety and/or fear response in the brain, and one thing we know for sure–when the brain thinks its about to be eaten or smashed by a giant boulder, there’s no time to stop and think! In many ways, fear/anger and the ability to think rationally and logically are almost mutually exclusive. Those who stopped to weigh the pros and cons of a flight-or-fight decision were eaten, and didn’t pass on their afraid-yet-thoughtful genes.

Happines is associated most heavily with the left (i.e. logical) side of the brain, while anger is associated with the right (emotional, non-logical) side of the brain. From a Society for Neuroscience article on Bliss and the Brain:

“Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people’s ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts. “

In other words, happy people are better able to think logically.

And apparently happier = healthier:

“Evidence suggests that the left-siders may better handle stressful events on a biological level. For example, studies show that they have a higher function of cells that help defend the body, known as natural killer cells, compared with individuals who have greater right side activity. Left-sided students who face a stressful exam have a smaller drop in their killer cells than right-siders. Other research indicates that generally left-siders may have lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.”

And while we’re dispelling the Happy=Vacuous myth, let’s look at a couple more misperceptions:

“Happy people aren’t critical.”
“Happy people don’t get angry.”
“Happy people are obedient.”
“Happy people can’t be a disruptive force for change.”

So can Happy and criticism live happily together?

One of the world’s leading experts in the art of happiness is the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Just about everyone who hears him speak is struck by how, well, happy he is. How he can describe–with laughter–some of the most traumatizing events of his past. Talk about perspective

But he is quite outspoken with his criticism of China. The thing is, he doesn’t believe that criticism requires anger, or that being happy means you can’t be a disruptive influence for good. On happiness, he has this to say:

“The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope.”

And among the “happy people”, there’s Mahatma Gandhi, a force for change that included non-violent but oh-most-definitely-disobedient behavior. A few of my favorite Gandhi quotes:

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.

The argument for and against anger

But then there’s the argument that says “anger” is morally (and intellectually) superior to “happy”. The American Psychological Association has this to say on anger:

“People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can’t take things in stride, and they’re particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.”

Of course it’s still a myth that “happy people” don’t get angry. Of course they do. Anger is often an appropriate response. But there’s a Grand Canyon between a happy-person-who-gets-angry and an unhappy-angry-person. So yes, we get angry. Happiness is not our only emotion, it is simply the outlook we have chosen to cultivate because it is usually the most effective, thoughtful, healthy, and productive.

And there’s this one we hear most often, especially in reference to comment moderation–“if you can’t say whatever the hell you want to express your anger, you can’t be authentic and honest.” While that may be true, here’s what the psychologists say:

“Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation.

It’s best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.”

And finally, another Ghandi quote:

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

If the scientists are right, I might also add,

Be around the change you want to see in the world.

Strong organizations and communities are able to harness the power of emotional contagion to create engaging, productive and extremely effective collaborative ecosystems. The truly exceptional among them also manage to extend this collective positivity to their human/customer touchpoints (retail outlets, salespeople, CSRs, etc.). Obvious examples of this are Starbucks (except in airports), Mac Stores, and Whole Foods grocery outlets.

This week, a very large scale example of this (and the trigger for this post) was Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, TX.

The complete opposite of this might be, say, the checkout at Walmart, Home Depot or Taco Bell, a prison ward, or an Vietnamese sweat shop.

Success breeds success. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Professionalism breeds professionalism.

Likewise, mediocrity breeds mediocrity. Apathy breeds apathy. Negative attitudes breed negative attitudes.

Now you know. What you do with this knowledge is up to you. For me, the choice is pretty simple. Always has been.

Have a great Friday. 😉

photo credit: Christopher Wray McCann

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“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

– William Pollard.

That’s worth framing and hanging in every meeting room from Portland to Tahiti (via Paris).

Also, via Tom Asacker:

“Over time, unchanging relationships can turn into shackles that limit an organization’s flexibility and lock it into active inertia. Established relationships with customers can prevent firms from responding effectively to changes in technology, regulations, or consumer preferences.”

– Donald Sull (Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad an How Great Managers Remake Them.)

Do you see where I’m going with this?

So… your new mission every day is to keep things fresh. That’s it. Whether you’re in the business of designing ads, repairing engines, selling shoes or answering calls from angry customers, don’t ever, ever, ever let routine set in. Try different things. Learn something new from every customer. From every sale. From every design challenge. From every product launch. From every commercial you hear on the radio. From every movie you catch on cable. From the games your kids play. From magazines you’ve never picked up.

Keep things fresh.

And go read Tom Asacker’s post on that very topic. It’s very good.

Have a great Monday, everyone.

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Excellent post by Mack Collier over at Viral Garden (via Customers Rock):

1 – View your customers as a community, and join them. If there is a ‘big secret’ to how musicians create fans, this is it. Let’s go back to the above photo. It was taken at a recent concert by The Donnas. But if you look closer, you’ll notice that the singer on stage is just as excited and a fan of the music she is singing, as the people that are hearing it. Everyone, the audience, and the singer on stage, has their arms up, and they are cheering. Everyone belongs to the same community of fans.

But it’s just as easy to join your community of customers in other industries. Willie Davidson explains that ‘market research’ to Harley-Davidson means spending a weekend on the open road with other Harley owners. Davidson is a fellow Harley owner, and as a result, is part of the same culture as his company’s customers. The line between Harley-Davidson’s customers, and the company itself, is very hazy. Since the company is participating in the customer’s community, they better understand their customers, and as a result market to them more effectively. All of this makes it easier for Harley owners to be excited about the brand and proud to be a member of a very loyal and unique culture.

2 – Make sure you view your company and its products as your customers do. Hugh MacLeod had a great point once about making sure that your company is having the same conversation that your customers are. Apple thinks its products are cool, and so do its customers. Remember when the iPhone was introduced? Remember seeing customers proudly camping out for days outside Apple retail stores prior to the iPhone going on sale? Did you realize that in almost every case, there was a Cingular store close by selling the same iPhone, with no one waiting in line? But it was ‘cool’ to stand in line to wait for an iPhone, at the Apple store. Apple thinks the iPhone is cool, and Apple’s customers agree, AND think that THEY are by extension cool because they have an iPhone!

3 – Empower your existing fans to market for you. Another secret to marketing like a rockstar is this: Evangelist=Fan. If you have evangelists, then you have fans. So obviously, you want to find your existing evangelists, and make it as easy as possible for them to tell others about you. Remember this post from last year about how Maker’s Mark created their Brand Ambassador program? All the distillery did was organize its existing evangelists and empower them to better market for Maker’s Mark. IOW, they made it easier for their evangelists to engage in pre-existing activities. These customers were passionate for the Maker’s Mark brand, so the distillery empowered them to market for them. And remember, customers are far more likely to listen to other customers who endorse a product, than they are the company selling the product!

4 – Give customers input into your marketing. Dell’s Ideastorm is a great example of this. The company has created a place for customers to not only submit their ideas on how Dell’s products can be improved, but they then let other customers vote on which ideas are their favorites. Dell can look and see which ideas are the most popular, and then have a great idea of which improvements/changes customers want to see happen. And when the company acts on the changes that are suggested, it lets Dell’s customers know that their input is valued and appreciated. It lets them know that they have some ownership over Dell’s marketing. So naturally that leads to more customers giving more input and suggestions on what they want to see, which results in even MORE efficient marketing from Dell!

5 – Have FUN with your marketing! So how is Warner Bros. promoting next summer’s hopeful blockbuster movie The Dark Knight? With posters and trailers online, right? Yes they are doing that, but they are also creating websites that must be decoded. If the lucky visitor can do so, they will receive an address of a nearby bakery, where a real cake is awaiting them, with a phone number to call written in icing, and containing a cell phone that receives both calls and text messages from ‘Rent a Clown’. This is supposedly a company set up by one of the movie’s main characters, The Joker! This is marketing, but it’s also a great way to get people talking about, and excited about a movie that won’t come out for seven months.

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