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Archive for the ‘strategy’ Category

This isn’t brand new data, but I came across it last week and thought it would be cool to share here. No need for me to write a 30,000 word blog post or white paper on what it all means. I will give you the main bullets but the graphics kind of speak for themselves. You should be able to connect the dots all on your own.

Above: Global Media Consumption per week 1900-2020. What do you see?

1. The main line: Global media consumption doubles every 25 years or so. Bear in mind that there are only 24 hours in a day, so that curve eventually levels off (even with second and third screens… but we won’t get into that today).

2. The nature of media is changing: 5 years ago, 50% of media was digital. In 8 years, that ratio will be 80%. Think about that and what it means.

3. Individual performance of specific media:

Print is steadily shrinking and has been since the 1940s, contrary to popular lore about the internet killing print. This is not a new phenomenon. It’s accelerating, sure, but it isn’t new. TV started that trend long before most of us were born.

Analogue TV and radio formats have been replaced by digital formats. Radio has been relatively flat for a very long time. TV saw enormous growth from 1940 to 1980 but has been relatively flat ever since. Note that this graph doesn’t look at the growth of channels (channel proliferation and fragmentation, but consumption only. Adding 100 new TV and radio channels per day wouldn’t affect consumption).

Outdoor has been relatively flat for over a decade, as has been cinema.

So what’s growing? You already know: Internet, mobile (wireless) and games.

Speaking of mobile:

What this graph tells us:

Mobile cellular subscriptions are steadily increasing worldwide each year, as is the number of internet users. Active mobile broadband subscriptions are also growing quickly. That’s the black bar on the graph. It isn’t even there in 2006 but by 2010, it already reaches about 1 billion.

What’s flat (or close to flat?) Fixed broadband subscriptions and fixed telephone lines.

What does this graph show us?

1. Look at the relationship between internet users (green) vs. Fixed broadband subscriptions. What do you see? There are far more internet users than broadband subscriptions. Part of the reason for that is that one broadband subscription may serve an entire household or office, but there is more to it than that: Mobile broadband. More and more people now access the web through mobile devices. It isn’t to say that PCs are dead, but this indicates a pretty key shift in how people (it’s okay to call ourselves consumers) now access content and information.

2. Look at the relationship between fixed and mobile broadband (pink and black, respectively). In 2006, fixed broadband was it. By 2008, they were essentially tied. By 2011, mobile broadband was double the size of fixed broadband.

Bear in mind: Mobile broadband subscription = 1 user. Fixed broadband = several users. It’s simple math. Regardless of the apples to oranges comparison, growth is growth. Shift is shift. 75% of media will be digital in just 4 years. 80% of it will be digital in 8 years. Mobile devices are becoming the interfaces of choice for digital content. If you aren’t building your business processes and designing your content with this in mind, don’t blame “the economy” for what is about to happen to your market share.

Now let’s look at a quick graph on the relationship between age and internet use in developing economies vs. developed economies:

 Now look at this:

See the change in just 5 years?

Here’s another one that should make you think a bit, especially if your company has a global footprint:

Three things:

1. Globally, 45% of internet users (regardless of the interface) are under the age of 25. Though it may be obvious to most of you, don’t take for granted that every CEO and CMO has figured this out yet: It doesn’t matter if your typical customer is mostly over the age of 35. In 10 years, those 25-year-olds will be potential customers and they will expect you to do business the way they want you to do business. Better start working on them now. And while you’re at it, better start working on bringing every aspect of your business and its marketing/communications up to speed. You wouldn’t believe how many senior executives completely miss this.

2. Developing economies have some catching up to do when it comes to internet use, but they are quickly closing the gap.

3. Look at the growth of 3G penetration between 2009 and 2014: From 39% to 92% in Western Europe. From 9% to 40% in Eastern Europe. From 38% to 74% in North America. Japan hits 100% two years from now. 100%. (Japan is the model, by the way.) Even developing regions like Africa, the middle East and AsiaPac (minus Japan) are quadrupling 3G mobile penetration in the next two years. We are moving towards 80% of all media being digital. Mobile devices are increasingly becoming the digital interface of choice for consumers. Connect the dots.

Here’s a thought if you still don’t understand how this applies to your business: Follow the money. If it isn’t clear why any of this matters or even where things are going, look no further than shifts in advertising budgets in relation to digital and other media:

What do you see? Ad spend is flat in print (actually shrinking a bit) while digital ad spend is steadily growing. Every graph that compares online ad spend to other types of media ad spend look basically like this. If you don’t understand why this is happening, the graphs further up the page will help connect the dots.

Here’s another graph that ought to make you think about how your media planning strategy should already be shifting:

 What this graph shows is the point where online video wins the attention war and TV begins to recede. Same content but different interface, different medium, different level of user control. 2019 will be here before you know it. What are you doing today to prepare for the television set’s Waterloo? From media buying to content production and distribution, are you sitting on your hands talking to analysts about future trends or are you staffing up with people who understand this and know how to prepare you for it?

Let’s continue with today’s #graphfest. This ought to shed some light on what is happening on the interface front:

The 411: Desktop PCs are flat and mobile PCs (laptops) are growing. No surprise there. Also no surprise as to the growth of smart phones and tablets. But check this out:

Smart phones sales overtook desktop PC sales in 2008 and will take over mobile PC (laptop) sales in 2013. That’s next year.

Tablet sales will overtake desktop PC sales (that boxy thing taking up space in your employees’ cubicles) next year.

If you are an executive, go for a walk around your offices and ask yourself: What decade are you operating in? In fact… What century are you operating in? Look at your business processes, internal collaboration, media planning and productivity. Go spend a day at a media conference or tour your local coffee shops. Ask yourself if your business is operating in a bubble or if it is as technologically and strategically competitive as it could be. Be honest with yourself. Tip: If the average twenty-something hipster lounging around at Starbucks is better equipped than your average middle manager or business development team, the answer is no. Here’s another one: If your business isn’t creating apps or content specifically designed for these new devices (let alone social channels), the answer is also categorically no.

Every time I run into an executive working on a presentation on a plane, I look at what kind of tech they use. Nothing against Lenovo and IBM (great companies) but whenever I see one of those boxy black thinkpad laptops with the little red button in the middle of the keyboard, I cringe for that poor sap whose boss forces to work on outdated tools. It’s 2012. Shape up. You don’t see 20-year old tech winning on the racetrack, the field, the court or the links, right? Business is no different from sports in that regard: 20-year-old tech doesn’t give anyone an advantage. All it does is make you less competitive. Stop doing that to yourself. Move on. Look forward, see what’s coming and get unstuck.

Here’s a thought: When the world is changing faster than you are adapting to that change, it’s time to start a) worrying, and b) doing something about it. The idea isn’t even to eventually catch up, mind you. That’s a defensive position, a survival position. The idea is to actually get ahead of that change. That’s where the real competitive advantage is. Survival is a nice default position, sure; many businesses aren’t even there. But with only maybe 5% more thought and work than it would take to just play catch-up, you can shift from being just an “also in” company to becoming the leader in your industry or category inside of 5 years. That sort of surge in competitiveness doesn’t happen by accident. It takes will, foresight and initiative. That takes leadership. Real leadership. And sorry to have to tell you this, but real leaders make it a point to know their shit. “I don’t understand this new digital stuff” isn’t leadership. It’s an urgent call to action.

One last little media-related graphic to close today’s post and help you get your bearings:

Hopefully, this post will help you (or your boss) connect the dots between today and tomorrow a little bit. Something to think about: Becoming more “social” is only part of the shift that is taking place in media. It’s important, vital even, but without understanding how media as a whole is evolving, being “more social” probably won’t do most companies a whole lot of good. We’re seeing that already. There is a much bigger field, and the more of that field you and your senior leadership see, the better equipped you will be to not only survive the next decade but come out of it stronger and more competitive than ever. That’s the goal, right?

Plan beyond next quarter and/or year.

Get IT more involved in the day to day discussions that affect your business.

Revamp your HR’s hiring parameters.

You aren’t necessarily going to become a digital business, but your business does need to be as effective in the digital space as it is everywhere else. Welcome to the great reshuffling of the Fortune 5000 world.

Cheers,

Olivier

PS: I will be speaking about this in Brussels at the end of the month for Marketing Day Belgium. If you happen to be around and want to discuss this in greater detail during the Q&A or after the session, let me know. I look forward to it.

*          *          *

If the Brandbuilder blog isn’t enough, Social Media ROI provides a simple, carry-everywhere real-world framework with which businesses of all sizes can develop, build and manage social media programs in partnership with digital agencies or all on their own. Do yourself a favor and check it out at www.smroi.net. Now available at fine bookstores everywhere. Also available in German, Japanese and Korean.

Click here to read a free chapter.

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Several months ago, someone whose professional opinion I care about told me that after having pointedly gone after several outstandingly poor displays of misguided ‘practices’ on my blog, some “in the industry” (meaning the Social Media world) were wondering if I might not be a bit of a loose cannon. The comment took me by surprise – I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but fitting squarely in the  cool-headed, calculated corner rather than the impulsive corner,  “loose cannon” had never been one of them.

After trying to explain for the better part of a half hour that a) I wasn’t a loose cannon and b) that the handful of skirmishes I had begun and swiftly ended were both calculated and necessary, I finally moved on to topics of greater interest. But the notion that anyone – especially people I respect professionally – would misread me this way has been on my mind ever since. Had I in the last eighteen months been giving the wrong impression? If a handful of folks who mostly know me from my blog and Twitter were wondering about my being on the wrong side of being impulsive, how many more people might have gotten the wrong idea as well?

It wasn’t until this weekend,, while reading about the doomed Roman campaign led by Crassus against Partha in 53BC, that I realized that the difference between brawling and skirmishing was lost on a good number of people… and that the distinction between the two, now less commonly understood than it might have once been, may be at the root of this unexpected loose cannon question.

First, let’s quickly differentiate a brawler from a skirmisher: A brawler is indeed a loose cannon, a guy looking for a fight, any fight, just to satisfy a personal need for action, attention or control. A skirmisher, however, is tasked with a series of very specific  tactical objectives: testing an enemy’s responses, forcing an enemy to slow his advance, tire an enemy out, demoralize him, confuse him, take the initiative away from him, expose weaknesses, and so on. In war, skirmishing helps destabilize an enemy either during its advance on a position, and stresses its outer layers (scouts, patrols, etc) while it defends a position. The skirmisher’s job is to try to lure the enemy into pointless clashes, tire him out and/or force him into a defensive posture. A far cry from the odd loose cannon brawler at the local ale house.

Though neither a brawler nor a skirmisher, I understand the value of (and need for) the occasional skirmish if and when the situation calls for it. And in the last 18 months, a handful of situations relating to the Social Media space – especially in its vulnerable early stages – called for some emergency skirmishing: Opportunistic network marketers trying to pass themselves off as experts, horrendously inaccurate R.O.I. “equations” and calculators, snake oil by the gallon, and finally $3,000 Social Media certifications offered by made-up international organizations. Something needed to be done right there and then to make sure these types of things didn’t take hold. Not everyone agrees with me on this point – some prefer a more live and let live approach – but I don’t think I’m wrong. Here’s why:

“Experience teaches us that it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves than it is to dislodge them after they have got possession.” – George Washington

See where I am going with this?

When a particular type of opportunist knows they won’t be called out on their BS, there’s little reason for them to hold back: If they see easy money to be made from other people’s ignorance, they set up shop. And once they’re in business, in the age of search, it is much more difficult to undo the damage they have done than stop them in their tracks before they have a chance to get any traction.  While it is easy to be of the opinion that results and ensuing reputations will soon separate the real deal from the charlatans, I am of the more pragmatic opinion that Search is currently far more important than reputation in this space: Anyone with a little SEO savvy can tip-toe their way to prime Google real-estate and fake legitimacy long enough to make a killing before anyone realizes they had no idea what they were doing, and subsequently force legitimate professionals – who may seem no more and no less qualified to a 1.0 CMO – to defend the very notion of Social Media expertise for years to come. No thanks.

Snake oil pushers, charlatans and even misguided posers aren’t merely bad neighbors with questionable methods. For those of us who work in the Social media space, and for those whose companies work with it, they are the enemy. Plain and simple. Friendly smiles and good manners aside, they are the single greatest threat to the good name of Social Media program management/integration consulting.

George Washington isn’t wrong: Don’t let the weeds take root.

Those occasional little skirmishes you see me get into on this blog aren’t what the French would call “coups de tete.” They aren’t the result of impulsive behavior or a bad temper. Far from it. Next time you notice me poking at specific people who deliberately push bad practices, snake oil or other nonsense at the expense of unsuspecting clients just because they feel that making a buck justifies it, don’t mistake either my intentions or methods for a lack of self restraint. For better or for worse, there is calculated purpose in everything I say and do, especially when it comes to this topic. Every comma, every period, every word is carefully chosen to produce a specific outcome, which ranges from setting a topic straight (like R.O.I.) to publicly testing the validity of a potentially questionable social media certification program. (Remember ISMA?)

Sometimes, keeping the Social media space clean for newcomers and business execs forces those of us who can to ruffle a few feathers. I am in a unique position to do this because I don’t work for anyone. I don’t answer to a company who might not want to take sides on an issue like measurement, best practices or Social Media certification schemes. Until I decide to leave entrepreneurship behind and take a job with someone else’s company, nothing I say can rub off on anyone but me, and I take full (and careful) advantage of that rarest of freedoms – knowing full well that I may not always be able to do so.

Have a great week, everyone.

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“They were worried that I would get bogged down in wanting to do things, not just create strategy.”

David Polinchock / @lbbinc

One of the topics covered during the #LikeMinds Summit this past weekend was precisely this: The chasm between strategy and execution, especially as businesses struggle to understand how to leverage, integrate and operationalize Social Communications (what you do with social media platforms) in the coming 6-24 months.

Unfortunately, because the C-suite tends to look to itself when it comes to “strategic masterminding,” the focus too often shifts from execution at the customer level (the most important thing a business should be focusing on on) to… being the guy who came up with the game-changing strategy that will secure more funding and increase influence within the organization.

When this happens, strategy becomes a product, and that’s bad. Strategy isn’t a product. Strategy exists mostly in support of execution.

Any idiot with a powerpoint deck can deliver a “Social” strategy:

“We’ll create a facebook fan page, a twitter account, a LinkedIn Group, a YouTube channel, a blog, and a Flickr account too! We’ll convert all of our customers who participate in social networking into fans and followers, and we’ll engage them with content at regular intervals throughout the day. We’ll embed hyperlinks into our tweets and facebook updates so we can pull them to our website to increase traffic there. We’ll get lots of extra clicks. We’ll gain mindshare by being there with them on their favorite social platforms. When they talk to us, we’ll respond. We’ll monitor sentiment and mentions. Our social media strategy will be a success.”

Um… yeah, except… no.

Sometimes, companies focus so much on developing and implementing strategies that they forget to focus on what’s important: Focusing on the customers. That’s priority numero uno. As a consumer, I don’t give two shakes what a company’s latest strategy is. I really don’t care. You want to gain 4% market share in the next quarter? You want to dominate the tablet PC market? Okay. Great. What’s that to me? All I want is for you to improve my life. How are you planning on doing that? How does your strategy actually make anything happen on the ground? Have you thought about what happens when your theories actually touch the real world?

The gap between high level strategy and ground-level execution can usually be summed up this way: Do you understand the tactics and ground level dynamics enough to ensure that your strategy will turn into something more than just an inspiring powerpoint presentation? Yes = small or no gap. No = huge gap.

On the ground, in the real world, what does your grand strategy do to make me want to spend more time recommending you to my friends? Spend more time wishing I could fill my garage with more of your stuff? What’s your strategy to make my experiences with your brand outclass and outshine my experiences with every other company? What’s your strategy to be awesome?

Don’t just look at strategy from the top down and the inside out. Also look at it from the outside in. How does it play in terms of influencing customer perceptions and behavior? How does it differentiate you or increase preference?

Let me illustrate the difference between tactically-agnostic strategy and tactically-savvy strategy:

What could you do TODAY that would change the way customers feel about you?

a) Give them a 10% off rebate that may take 30-60 business days to process. (We’ll worry about eroding margins and loyalty later.)

b) Knock their socks off with incredible customer service. (Smiles are free and being helpful makes customers come back.)

– or another choice –

a) Try to nickle-and-dime a guest with a $10 bottle of water in their hotel room (hey, going after that incremental revenue looks genius on Excel. Let’s charge extra for everything! We’ll make billions off premium pillow mints.)

b) Slap a note on the bottle that says “It’s water. Of course it’s free.” (The repeat business, loyalty and recommendations are worth more than the odd begrudged transaction.)

Which hotel chain is more likely to get repeat business and earn recommendations?

Which of these options do you think a disconnected top-down strategy might have generated? a) or b)?

Strangely, few companies have an “awesomeness” strategy. They have growth strategies, sales strategies, reach strategies, campaign strategies, pull strategies… all of which include a lot of content creation, content distribution and push/pull schemes created and directed from the top echelons. Great stuff, don’t get me wrong. But also lots of wasted energy working its way down to customers through less than fluid “channels.” Lots of energy wasted encountering friction and resistance on their way to the customers. Encountering snags and problems.  That’s the execution gap. That’s the part of implementation that too much emphasis on strategy, coupled with an operational chasm between the “strategists” and the “doers” creates.

So, your company isn’t short on strategy. You have dozens if not hundreds of powerpoint presentations to prove it. The quarterly deluge of strategic plans and “bullet points” and budget proposals to prove it. Social Media-related or otherwise. How’s that been working out for you?

Social Media – as it relates to Brand Management, PR, Marketing, Business Development, Community Management, recruiting, internal collaboration, product innovation and crisis management – isn’t about developing the winning strategy. There’s no “win” in developing or delivering a strategy.  Any strategy. Ever. Anywhere. I mean, yes, you’re smart. We get it. Thank you. That’s wonderful. But now what?

The reality here, the nugget, is this: The emphasis on top-down strategy is completely wrong for Social Media and Social Communications. The way to truly make Social Media and Social Communications WORK for business requires a focus on enablement, not strategy. Strategies don’t generate revenue. Strategies don’t win market share. Strategies don’t make customers loyal. Strategies are bullets on a slide, ink on paper, words across a conference table. They’re essentially worthless until you can use them to move a needle.

The disproportionate investment in strategy vs. implementation and execution is at the heart of why “Social” works for so few companies right now.

1. What are we trying to improve? (What should we be trying to improve?) <– Start with customer experience. Always.

2. What will it take to make that happen?

3. Does Social fit in?

4. If so, how?

5. What can Social help us improve?

6. What will it take to make that happen?

That’s it. Those those 6 questions. Start there. Stop talking about it. Move towards something your customers will be able to grasp, enjoy, value and convey.

Next time someone wants to sell you on a strategy, tell them to come back when they can show you exactly how they plan to implement it. Always make the strategist responsible for the execution. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches, and things will get done a lot faster.

Cheers,

Olivier

PS: The upcoming Red Chair double-workshop in Portland, Oregon (PDX) on March 11 and March 12 focuses on precisely that: How to actually put all of this into action. How to make it work. One session is designed for enterprise space management and executives, and the other for account management and Social Media for small business. It would be lovely of you to help spread the word, even if you can’t attend this time around. 🙂 For registration and information, click here.

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You’re always in beta. Always. If you think you aren’t, you’re already falling behind and bleeding relevance.

What does being in Beta mean? It means being in perpetual test mode. It means constantly asking “how could I do this better,” even when this worked just fine. How can I listen better? How could I improve customer service? How can I make my billing process smoother? How could we improve the UI/UX of our websites? How can I engage my user community even better? How could this brochure have been better?

I know what you’re thinking: Poor kid. He’s terminally obsessive-compulsive. 😀 (Actually, I’m just compulsive, not obsessive, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The point is this: The moment you start thinking that you have found the perfect model, the second you start adopting a “let’s not change anything” mentality, you’re screwed. The “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” saying I hear a lot in the South is may have been pretty good advice a hundred years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Not if you want your company to stay competitive. Not if you want to see your company grow. Not if you want to see chronic improvement in everything you do.

Check out today’s video if you haven’t already. And if it doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here. (Thanks, Viddler!)

Interestingly, the “you’re always in Beta” mindset that I am talking about today seriously reminds me of the mindset athletes and coaches get into when it comes to improving performance. Say you’re currently a 24:00 5K runner, and you want to relive your college glory days by running an 18:00 5K a year from now. How do you do it? Simple: By stressing your system one little bit at a time. By challenging your comfort zone with every run. Going from 24:00 to 23:55, then 23:50, then 23:45 for the same distance, and so on. Turning up the heat and the intensity for a few weeks, then giving your body a chance to adapt. To plateau. And then starting over with a new cycle of stress and adaptation followed by a rest period. During that time, you are constantly testing your boundaries, monitoring success and failure, learning what works and what doesn’t. (And yes, measuring your progress to know what works and what doesn’t.) Pretty basic stuff.

The alternative would be to keep running the same 5K route every day at the exact same speed, in the exact same way. What would happen? Well, you would become pretty good at running a 5K  in 24:00. Comfortable? Sure. But whatever happened to improvement? See where I am going with this?

Okay, now let’s complicate things a little bit:

As a triathlete, training and competing in what essentially amounts to three sports (swimming, cycling and running) adds some pretty substantial layers of complexity. Not only do I have to figure out how to train for three specific sports, but I have to figure out how to combine and integrate all three in a way that doesn’t lead to injury or burnout. I also have to fit all three in my already busy schedule. Then I have to consider how to time my training cycles to coincide with specific races. In addition, I have to incorporate changes in nutrition and hydration based on my workouts, my training mode, outside temperatures, etc. And if I get into my head that I am going to train for a marathon, half Ironman or full-on mac-daddy Ironman, all of these variables take on a level of complexity I can’t even begin to explain in one blog post. How much Gatorade should I drink per hour in 94 degree temperatures at 80% of my maximum heart rate? How many energy gels can I absorb per hour without getting sick to my stomach? What cadence should I adopt to sustain an average speed of 21mph for 112 miles? Only one way to find out: Test it.

And I haven’t even talked about gear. Will the improved aerodynamics gained from dropping my aerobars down 2 millimeters shave 20 seconds off my 40K time? Maybe… but as a result, will my upper body’s new angle offset my hip angle enough to reduce my power output or stress my hip flexors enough that I will start cramping up 5 miles into the run? How will I find out? There’s only one way: Getting out there and testing that theory. It’s clipboard and stopwatch time for the next six weeks.

Should I go with a disc wheel or a deep dish rim for my next race? How will I know which works better for me on a moderately hilly course in 15mph crosswinds? Only one way: I have to go test each wheel configuration on a variety of courses in completely different wind conditions. Then I’ll know what works best in specific course conditions.

Rear-mounted bottle-cages or frame-mounted? Aero helmet or regular helmet? Motion control shoes or racing flats? Test test test test test. You get the picture.

Call it an occupational benefit or a pre-existing condition, but being a triathlete kind of trains you to be in a perpetual Beta mindset. And it isn’t a stretch to jump from the world of competitive endurance sports to the world of business performance. Different application, but same principles and same basic methodology: Ask, test, observe, validate, learn, repeat.

But before you do all this – the testing, the experimentation, the analysis and learning and adaptation – you have to make a choice. You have to pick a camp. You have to decide whether you are satisfied with your business performance as it is today (“good enough” is good enough for you and your customers), or hungry for improvement.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It doesn’t matter what camp you decide to align yourself with: The one happy with the way things are or the one looking to kick ass a little more each day. What matters is that your decision work for you. But let’s be clear about the impact that your choice will have on your business: Sticking with a “let’s not change anything” mindset will not earn you more customers, increase customer loyalty or generate more sales. Where you are today is exactly where you will be tomorrow. If you’re lucky. Eventually, perhaps not next week or next month or next year, but eventually, this mindset will seal your doom. A Beta mindset, however, will help you uncover ways to innovate, earn more customers, cut costs, increase customer and employee loyalty, improve product design and performance… You name it: Whatever the opportunity to improve, do do things better and smarter, may be, you will systematically uncover it in the same way that Apple, Nike, BMW, Cervelo, HBO, Michael Phelps, IDEO, Lance Armstrong, Comcast and Zappos have.

If you want your company to be best in class, to own a market or an industry, to be the trendsetter, the example to follow, the leader in a category, you must adopt a perpetual Beta mindset. You have to constantly stress your systems and processes. You have to turn every action into a test an look at every activity as an opportunity to experiment.You have to measure, analyze, learn, adapt and repeat the cycle over and over and over again.

Question everything.

Work harder than the next guy to build the best XYZ the world has ever seen, and then find ways to make it even better.

Perfection is a process, not a milestone.

Embrace a state of perpetual Beta.


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twitter-reality

It hadn’t occurred to me until late last week, but most major brands still haven’t figured out that Twitter is the fastest social media network (dare I say channel) in existence today. Not LinkedIn, not Facebook, not their own website or corporate blog, not anything else: Twitter is it. The conversations may start or end on blogs (corporate or not), but the conversations themselves, the dialogues, the real connections happen in real time on Twitter – which is to say that more and more of the discovery, recommendations and value-building that drive incremental transactions (basis points of growth for you MBAs out there) are taking place on Twitter.

Why are these conversations important? Why should brand managers care? Because the folks currently using twitter – the folks currently recruiting the next 100 million users – are the connectors, influencers and mavens of the social media world. They don’t have to be Social media superstars like Scoble, Brogan, Kawasaki or Lemeur. They don’t have to be high profile brand spokespersons like Ford’s Scott Monty. This is the long tail, we’re talking about. This is grassroots. The same grassroots web of networks that Barack Obama’s campaign leveraged to win the 2008 US Presidential election. And that is precisely the importance of the long tail: It’s about networks and relationships. It’s about dialog and trust. The long tail is simply the digital vehicle for word-of-mouth, the stickiest limb of the marketing world, where transactions are really born. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Twitter is quickly becoming the most effective long tail platform in history. More so than Facebook. More so than any other single digital Social Media tool.

To put the importance and effectiveness of Twitter in perspective for you, take a step back and stop thinking about it as an internet tool. In other words, stop thinking of Twitter as something people interface with on their laptops and PCs. Twitter is on people’s mobile devices as well. That’s right: The conversations and interactions continue outside of the office. They take place at the mall, in the car, at the coffee shop, on the sidewalk and at parties. Twitter isn’t just on a desk, it’s literally in people’s hands. 24/7/365.

The billboard, folks, is now in people’s pockets, on their belt, in their purse, and it gets to ask them questions and make suggestions all day long.

Yet, there still seems to be some discussion as to whether or not “brands” should start using Twitter at all.

Fascinating.

I find the question as elementary as “should soldiers be taught how to fire a rifle?” or “should lifeguards be required to be good swimmers?”

Read Mark Drapeau’s Do Brands belong on Twitter? and Jeremiah Owyang’s Why Brands Are Unsuccessful on Twitter.

The answer to Mark’s question is “of course.” The answer to Jeremiah’s rhetorical question is “because most brands aren’t even there yet,” although he seems to cover that quite well in his own post.

The thing is, some brand have embraced the Twitter “experiment” and are doing quite well. Several of them are listed below, and by clicking on their name, you will get a chance to see exactly how they are leveraging the tool. Will some make mistakes? Maybe. Probably. But that’s okay. Live and learn. At least, they are engaging us, their public, which has a dual effect: Broadening their reach, and deepening their connection with us – the consumers. As a Twitter user, just knowing that The North Face has a genuine Twitter presence makes the brand more appealing to me. Somehow, it seems to fit in with my lifestyle a little better than before, when I saw it simply as another drop in the brand name ocean. Same with Jet Blue. Same with Whole Foods. Same with Starbucks.

Locally, Liquid Highway has managed to market itself so well to Twitter users that they in turn used their influence to give their business a hefty boost outside of the twittersphere. The cost of recruiting the same amount of net new customers and then retaining them somehow through traditional media marketing and promotions would have been hefty and probably short in returns. Their Twitter strategy achieved in weeks and for almost no cost at all what a traditional media strategy would have taken months and tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps with less success.

Fact: Brands that tweet – large or small – have an advantage over brands that don’t. Period.

Even without the Twitter kinship element I just mentioned (The whole North Face thing), the very act of using Twitter as a channel to inform the public as to press releases, events, news stories and promotions would be better than not being there at all. Social media purists may shake their fists at CNN and WSJ for broadcasting rather than engaging, but in the end, Twitter can be used in a variety of ways. Not every brand needs to generate buzz of “engage”. I wish it were so, and in an ideal world, yes, all brands should strive to seek a deeper connection with their audience, but that isn’t always the priority.

In light of this basic realization, simply standing on the sidelines of a channel of Twitter’s potential magnitude without at least testing its waters seems completely absurd, especially when all data points to the fact that traditional advertising channels are losing their effectiveness.

And especially as marketing budgets are getting serious buzz cuts. (No pun intended.)

Twitter, along with other key social media platforms and channels, thus makes sense. Yet here we are, with only a small fraction of major brands actually getting involved. Curious. To illustrate the state of things, I have put together a quick list of some of the most obvious brands I could think of and went on Twitter to see if they were there. The results may surprise you. This is what I found:

Major Brands which have picked up on the importance of a) Twitter and/or b) customer engagement as a whole:

A sampling of major brands with a presence on Twitter:

Whole Foods

Starbucks

The North Face

IKEA (Not actually an IKEA-managed account. Evidently, this little project is 100% fan-created. Even more impressive on so many levels!)

Jet Blue

The Wall Street Journal

Trader Joe’s

Ford (Ironically, Ford is also in the highjacked category. Look for the “*”)

Correction: Ford’s Scott Monty explains how Ford is getting into the Twittersphere a little more formally in the comment section.

Triathlete Magazine

Fast Company

CNN

Dunkin Donuts

Zappos

The Home Depot

Kodak (Just added. @Kodak looks like it is occupied by a squatter but @kodakCB is live and rocking it. Also browse the comments section for more Kodak execs’ Twitter info. Thanks, Jenny!)

Southwest Airlines (Just added.)

WOMMA (also just added.)

Hertz (also just added.) This is not Hertz’ main brand connector though, but its new ‘Connect’ service. Pretty cool concept.

Microsoft’s Windows Mobile team in the US and in Australia, for starters.

Baskin Robbins (late add as well.)

GM Trucks (Brand new. Still has that new truck smell.)

Molson (the beer) has a whole team of Tweets: @Moffat, @MolsonFerg, @toniahammer, @molsonbryan.

These are the companies that get it. They tend to fall into two categories: The first (Whole Foods, IKEA, Jet Blue) actually engage with their followers/customers/fans on a personal level. These companies use Twitter as a true social platform. They talk, their audience listens. The audience talks, they listen. It’s nice and it works.. The second category (CNN and WSJ) use Twitter purely as a broadcast channel. While purists will frown at broadcast strategies being used in social media, it works for these types of outlets. (One more channel is one more channel.) What might get missed via overflowing RSS readers might not via an active channel like Twitter.)

Take some time to monitor the flow of conversations happening at The North Face, Ikea and Jet Blue. This is the model most companies should hope to adopt.

A very small sampling of major brands with a footprint on Twitter but not much activity:

Harley Davidson

Apple’s iPhone

GU

Air Canada (just added)

West Jet (just added)

Zellers (just added)

At least, some brands appear to see the value of claiming their Twitter footprint, even if they haven’t quite figured out what to do with Twitter yet. Not great, but still way ahead of the curve. You have to start somewhere.

Major Brands which, strangely, have yet to hop on the Twitter Train:

And now, the really scary part of this post. Below is a sampling of major brands with no active presence on twitter (or at least none that I could find as of Dec 14, 2008):

Coca Cola

Pepsi

NBC

Colgate

Chevrolet

Gatorade

Visa

Mastercard

Sears

3M

Kodak (See the ‘good’ list above for Kodak’s real Twitter info.)

Home Depot
Update: My bad – The Home Depot actually has a presence on Twitter. Look for them in the “good section of this post (above). 😉

Mitsubishi

Toyota

Audi

Microsoft (though some teams dohave twitter accounts – see “good” group above)

Lysol

Windex (Come on!!! No Windex? Didn’t you guys see “My Big Fat Greek Wedding?”)

Verizon

Jeep

Kenneth Cole

Adidas

Budweiser

Jiffy Lube

Crocs

Land-Rover

How many millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on marketing and advertising, on pull and push strategies, on websites and microsites and blogs, on promotions and coupons and direct marketing, on sports sponsorships, on the brightest and the best marketing minds money can buy, only to completely ignore Twitter? Really? What happened to customer engagement? What happened to connecting with your audience? What happened to Word of Mouth? What happened to common sense? You mean to tell me that no one at any of these companies thought it would be wise to at least take a look at Twitter? To – perhaps at the very least – claim their brand footprint and establish an official presence, if only to make sure that no one else will usurp their brand?

Speaking of which, below is a sampling of major brands whose Twitter footprints have already been hijacked (voluntarily or not) by individuals or companies which have nothing to do with them. This is a total and utter brand management FAIL. Disney, instead hiring an online community manager tasked with creating a Twitter presence for fans of its parks, cruises and other properties allowed an enterprising young lady by the name of Cheri Thomas to use the Twitter handle @disney to promote her website: cheridreams.com. (Great for Cheri, but not so great for the entertainment giant.) How things like this happen is beyond me. Some of the examples on this list are more entertaining than others:

Disney

Nike

Snickers

Sharpie

Levi’s

Crayola

Tropicana

Nivea

Hummer

Ford* (http://www.twitter.com/ford is obviously not Ford. Curious since @ScottMonty, head of Ford Social Media is one of the most followed accounts on Twitter. Oversight?) As mentioned above, check out the comment section for an update from Ford’s Scott Monty. Good stuff.

McDonald’s

Burger King

Evian

Casio

Wal-Mart

Kmart

Staples

American Express/Amex

Mattel

Nikon

Yamaha

Reebok

sony

DKNY

Nokia

Doritos

Vicks

Ironman (Triathlon)

All of these brands have had their name taken over by a person or other company on Twitter. Most probably don’t even realize it. Those that do probably have their lawyers scratching their heads trying to figure out how to deal with the problem, which probably won’t be cheap to resolve – and in turn won’t give these companies much incentive to enter the Twittersphere. Well played.

The damage being done to brands on Twitter via these “hijackings” may not ever overshadow the breadth of missed opportunities, but either way, being an absentee brand landlord on a wildly popular and exploding community platform like Twitter doesn’t look very good. “Asleep at the wheel” is the image that comes to mind, and that, my friends, is not the type of reputation I would like to build for myself as a brand manager.

Is it truly so difficult for major brands afford to pay at least one person to manage their digital presence? A community manager? An “online” community manager, even? A head of social media of some sort? If my realtor thought to do it, why not Pepsi? If the church down the street thought to do it, why not Nike? If my local news channel thought to do it, why not Nikon, Nokia or Canon?

The questions that I leave for all of you to ponder – and hopefully answer here today – are where do we go from here? How do we help major brands get into social media properly, meaning in a way that benefits us all (them and us alike)? And ultimately, should we even try? Many of us tend to focus on smaller, savvier, hungrier emerging brands because they move faster and truly embrace the potential of social media. If major brands can’t figure out for themselves that they should get into the game, is our time really best spent trying to talk them into it?

What do you think?

Have a great Monday, everyone. 🙂

Update: Check out this fantastic post by Erik Heels which outlines the problem of cybersquatting as it relates to Twitter, and also provides a further list of which of the world’s Top 100 brands are on Twitter as of 8 January 2009 (or rather which 93 haven’t yet caught on). Click here for the post.

Update: Check out this post outlining the same problem in Australia: Click here.

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Roger Waters crowd

Pete Quily just saved me a few hours of work by publishing a fantastic Presidential Election/social media scorecard that outlines how the Obama campaign took advantage of social media and the internet to supercharge his grassroots movement all the way to victory. Remember the jokes about his having been a “community organizer?” It appears that the ability to create, organize and engage communities is a pretty useful skill after all. Combine it with social media, and you can work some serious magic – both in the political world AND the business world. If the Obama campaign’s success with social media strategies don’t convince CEOs and CMOs across the US that this “search”, Facebook and Twitter stuff is serious business, I don’t know what will.

Here are the numbers:

Barack Obama Vs. John McCain Search Engine and Social Media Showdown

Internet Presence
Barack Obama
John McCain
% Difference
Leading
Google Pagerank
8
8
0
Pages in Google’s Index
1,820,000
30,700
5828
Obama
Links to Website
in Yahoo – Pages
643,416
513,665
25
Obama
Links to Website
in Yahoo – Inlinks
255,334
165,296
54
Obama

Search Engine Results for Candidates Names in Quotes & Social Media Presence

Google
56,200,000
42,800,000
31
Obama
Google News
136,000
371,620
173
McCain
Google Blog
4,633,997
3,094,453
50
Obama
Technorati
412,219
313,497
31
Obama
WordPress.com
19,692
14,468
36
Obama
Google Image
24,200,000
8,620,000
181
Obama
Flickr
73,076
15,168
382
Obama
Flickr Photostream* 50,218 No Profile 50,218
Obama
Flickr Contacts* 7,148 No Profile 7,148
Obama
Google Video
136,000
89,800
51
Obama
Youtube
358,000
191,000
87
Obama
Youtube Videos Posted*
1,819
330
451
Obama
Youtube Subscribers*
117,873
none listed
117,873
Obama
Youtube Friends*
25,226
none listed
25,226
Obama
Facebook
567,000
18,700
2932
Obama
Facebook Supporters*
2,444,384
627,459
290
Obama
Facebook Wall Posts*
495,320
132,802
273
Obama
Facebook Notes*
1,669
125
1235
Obama
MySpace
859,000
319,000
169
Obama
MySpace Friends*
844,781
219,463
285
Obama
MySpace Comments*
147,630
none listed
147,630
Obama
Twitter
506,000
44,800
1129
Obama
Twitter Followers*
121,314
4,911
2470
Obama
Twitter Updates*
262
25
1048
Obama
Friend Feed
34,300
27,400
25
Obama

The statistic that should sum it all up: John McCain’s social network page has only 3 suggested sites, Obama’s suggests 16. One side understood how to seed social media channels to foster grass roots movements while the other had absolutely no idea what to do with social media beyond the obvious (using YouTube as a broadcast channel, and probing the value of Facebook/MySpace communities).

The Twitter Factor

Take a look at the Twitter numbers (in blue): Only 25 updates for @JohnMcCain vs. 262 updates for @BarackObama.

Less than 5,000 followers for John McCain vs. 121,300 followers for Barack Obama.

Boiled down to the basics: 10x more updates for Obama = almost 25x more followers for Obama.

Note: John McCain’s social networking site sadly makes zero reference to Twitter. Missed opportunity? Probably: One of the most notable effects of the McCain campaigns lack of focus on Twitter was obvious during the final few weeks of the campaign: A significant pro-Obama bias which left many McCain supporters alienated on the exploding live micro-blogging service. Instead of feeding John McCain’s social-media savvy army of supporters on Twitter, his campaign left them with little to do but huddle together and stand fast against a deluge of pro-Obama chatter. Imagine what YOU could do with 5,000 organized followers/customer/fans rooting for you on Twitter. Not understanding the value of these channels most certainly cost the McCain campaign dearly in the final weeks of leading to the Nov. 4 elections.

Why should anyone care about Twitter? One word: Numbers. According to stats provided by compete.com last month, Twitter’s year-over-year growth clocked at 573% in September 2008 vs. Facebook’s very respectable 84% YoY growth and MySpace’s negative 15% YoY growth. (Yep, MySpace’s unique visits are apparently shrinking.) Twitter’s growth is staggering.

At this rate, it may take less than 3 years for Twitter’s estimated 2.5 million* visitors to reach Facebook’s current 100 million* mark. When you consider that presidential elections can be won or lost by just a few thousand votes, it doesn’t take a social media expert to understand the extent to which Twitter WILL play a vital role in the 2012 presidential race.

* Worldwide numbers. Not US numbers. It is estimated that approximately 40% of Twitter users are in the United States.

Below: Twitter demographics (usage by age and gender). If you’re a student looking for a cool project involving social media, overlay this data with voter demographics and see what you find out.

2510539719_6e0af78a8a

To understand the full extent of the Obama campaign’s digital and social media strategies in these historic elections click here: Blue State Digital’s case study on the Obama online campaign is pretty comprehensive. (Political science, communications and marketing students will be studying this for years to come.)

Read Pete’s full post here. Great stuff.

Have a great Friday, everyone! 🙂

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How smart businesses are learning to combine “traditional” media and new “social” Media Channels to grow their brands:

Interesting slideshow from Austrian-based Knallgrau in which the company outlines some of the social media strategies and tactics they used in helping BMW seed interest in new X1 concept and promote its launch. Not entirely crystal clear (not bad for non-native English speakers though) but still pretty helpful in outlining how to incorporate new media channels into a complete 360 communications plan – especially if you are still new to social media/new media. Essentially, here’s how to break it all down:

Traditional media channels: The first three bars on the graph (left to right). Television, Print and Radio. Some basic attributes:

  • High costs
  • Closed (Monologue)
  • Emphasis on quantity instead of quality in intended audience (reach-to-transaction conversion is <10%)

Social media channels: The long tail of the reach & depth curve, including Search, Blogs, Podcasts, YouTube, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, virtual worlds (like Second Life and even World of Warcraft), active communities and networks, etc. Note that new media channels are getting thicker (much broader reach) and also more more specific (deeper and well defined) – both good things if you care about who your target audience is. Basic attributes:

  • Fractional costs
  • Open (two-way conversation/dialogue)
  • Emphasis on quality AND quantity (reach-to-transaction conversion >10%)

It is important to note that new media/social media channels are not intended to replace traditional media channels. If anyone tells you that traditional media is dead, they’re hacks. Don’t listen to them. The reality of media channels is simple: All channels have value, all channels address specific needs, and all channels need to be used intelligently in order to get the best possible results. Turning your back on any channel for any reason is basically turning your back on an opportunity to grow your business. It’s just silly. Truth: If a channel hasn’t worked for you in the past, it probably isn’t the channel’s fault. It just means that you haven’t yet found a way to make it work for you and your business. There’s an easy fix to that: Try again… and ask for expert help if you have to.

Whether you are developing your own media strategy internally or looking to hire a social media consultant to help you tackle this new marketing toolkit, remember to always look for a healthy balance in all things: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket (traditional media or social media). If there is one concept that you need to take away from Knallgrau’s presentation, it is the concept of “seeding”, which is purely a breadth strategy: In order to maximize your reach (or even understand what channels work best for your company), you need to seed your brand across as many channels as possible. If you can take a step back for a second and look at every channel as an investment (which it is), what you have to do is use simple logic: Don’t put all of your eggs in just two or three baskets, especially when you know that the price of entry is high, and the dividends aren’t all that stellar. The smart strategy is simply to diversify your marketing channels portfolio.

Once you’ve identified which channels seem to be catching on (getting some sort of positive and quantifiable result), THEN start working on depth within those channels.

This takes a little bit of THINKING when it comes to mapping out how these channels will work for you. Hire someone who can help you make sense of this if you need to, but be cautious: With “social media” being the hottest marketing keyword right now, self-professed “social media experts” are popping up like a bad case of teenage acne. Unfortunately, most of them are anything but.

Nb: My bit of good karma for the day: If you are looking for a solid social media consultant/practitioner either in your area or your industry, shoot me an email and I will help you connect with the right person or company. The list of real practitioners is still pretty short, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get you properly hooked up. My email: olivier@f360photo.com

Making it all work: Traditional Media and Social Media require different languages and mindsets.

While we’re on the subject of keeping the hacks away, it is very important for me to point out that the type of communication between companies and customers (or rather brands and people… and more people… and even more people), that takes place across new media channels is fundamentally different from the type of communication that occurs within traditional media channels. In the latter, messaging is king, and messaging is essentially a monologue. Conversely, the type of communication that takes place across social media is instead a dialogue. A conversation. The two require distinctively different approaches, and therefore two completely different mindsets. The danger in relying on self-proclaimed “social media experts” is that most come in two very distinct and equally ineffective forms:

  1. The ad/PR agency who has finally hopped on the bandwagon about a year or so ago because everyone else was adding “social media” to their list of services. This breed will typically charge you hefty fees to set up a blog, create a community site or two, maybe even use Twitter as a means to send out press releases, but then nothing will come of it. They will get you into the right channels, but then use them the only way they know how, which is to treat them like traditional media channels. The result: Zero impact. Not only will you will have wasted valuable time and money on a poorly executed plan, you will also walk away convinced that social media is a worthless fad. This happens A LOT. It’s pretty much reached epidemic proportions right now. Way too many companies fall into this trap and I want to see it stop.
  2. The Social Media cultist who keeps proclaiming that traditional media is dead. (Not in the real world, it isn’t.) I fell for that line a few years back when I realized the cost-benefit of social media, but I’ve gained enough experience and insight since then to realize that we were a little premature in declaring advertising and PR dead. (Thank goodness too.) These guys might convince you not to spend one more penny on advertising or PR. They will quote a handful of great examples of very well known companies that have grown their brands without resorting to traditional media channels… but those are few and far between and probably don’t apply to you. Truth: The vast majority of businesses can’t survive on social media alone. Even Apple – arguably the most successful superlovebrand whose fans will line up for days to spend their mortgage payment on its latest i-gottahaveit bit of design genius – spends a small country’s GDP on advertising. Starbucks, which for years never bothered with any advertising whatsoever is spending money on billboards and TV ads now. In spite of what these folks will tell you, social media is not the second coming.

In either case, it isn’t that the professionals you are dealing with are dishonest or out to “get your money.” Not at all. Most of these folks are trying to make an honest buck and they do want to help you. It’s just that they don’t really know how because they only have a portion of the equation figured out. Unfortunately, without the whole thing, you’re kind of screwed. You could equate it to toeing the start line of a marathon with only one running shoe, or having only trained to run 13 miles instead of the full 26.2. Sure, you might survive, you might reach the finish line, but at what cost and in what shape? The objective here isn’t for you to survive and gut it out just to say you spent some time in the race. The objective is to get ahead. To win, even. You don’t stand a chance if you don’t really understand what you are getting yourself into right from the start.

Here’s a tip: True social media practitioners a) understand the value of both traditional and new media channels, b) know how to get the most out of both traditional and new media channels individually, and c) can help you blend traditional and new media channels in order to maximize results and achieve your business goals. In other words, look for someone who knows how to strike the right balance for you, and NOT someone who will steer you towards one extreme or the other.

Straight talk and common sense: What this discussion all boils down to.

Back to the point: If you own or manage a business, learning how to incorporate new media channels into your existing marketing strategy is absolutely vital to your business’ future.

Especially in this economy.

Having an intelligent, balanced and well executed growth strategy that leverages both traditional AND new media will save you money, improve your brand equity, grow your market share, boost customer loyalty and engagement, and provide you with countless opportunities to increase your overall sales numbers. Period.

All of this is actually pretty simple to incorporate into your business… as long as you have a trustworthy and knowledgeable friend on your side who can guide you through it.

If you commit to learning how to make your company or marketing department smarter and more efficient through a combination of old and new tools, surround yourself with the right people with the right mindset and experience, and truly commit to kicking some ass (in the right way), very good things will happen.

Trust me, just like every other company out there (big and small) that has figured this out already, your modest investment in expert assistance (either by partnering with an expert or adding one to your team) could pay off BIG in no time. The alternative is to do nothing, continue to invest in an incomplete marketing portfolio, and hope that business will magically get better. (Good luck with that!)

Shoot me an email, and I will hook you up.

Have a great Monday, everyone!

😉

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You would think that we wouldn’t need to bring this up anymore, but I have noticed recently that some folks still have a little trouble separating Vision from Strategy, and Strategy from Tactics. So for everyone’s benefit, let’s go over the differences between the three, this time courtesy of the very bright Christopher S. Penn:

Vision: If you don’t know why you’re in business, if you don’t know why you get up in the morning every day, you don’t have vision. You don’t have a reason, you can’t answer the question of why.

When the alarm rings at 4:55 AM every weekday, I get up and go to the Student Loan Network with the overarching reason of going to help someone get an education. I believe in education. I believe that education on the whole makes things better, makes society better, and in true enlightened self interest, makes my world better. Smarter people around me means better conversation, better ideas, better friends. Smarter coworkers and colleagues means higher paid colleagues and my share of the tax burden decreases proportionally the smarter and more talented everyone else is.

If you can’t answer why your company exists (besides make money), then you have no vision.

Strategy: Strategy is knowing the destination. Knowing where you want to go, knowing what the goal is. Strategy is having defined, achievable goals that are in alignment with your vision.

If my vision is to help someone get a better education, my strategy is to develop trusted relationships with that someone so that we mutually benefit. I vend products and services that I believe in, that will legitimately help my customer achieve a better education, and I am compensated in return. If I say I want to build one million trusted relationships with customers to help them afford an education, that’s a strategy. That’s where I’m going.

If you can’t answer where your company is going, then you have no strategy.

Tactics: Knowing how to get there, how to get to our destination, how to achieve on a turn by turn basis the mission of getting the van to the end point. I need a map.

If my strategy is to build one million trusted relationships with customers, then I need allies. I need to develop relationships with influencers and force multipliers who can help me share things like the Financial Aid Podcast. I need tools like Blue Sky Factory’s Publicaster email service, I need techniques like search engine optimization, I need great products and services that are worth talking about so that others are so inspired that they want to talk about them without my goading them to.

If you can’t answer how your company is going to actually get to the destination, then you have no tactics.

Let’s review:

Vision: Why are we even getting in the van?
Strategy: Where are we going?
Tactics: How are we going to get there?

Finally, a couple of key mistakes I’ve seen especially in social media.

“It’s all about the community!” Wrong. That’s like saying, “Put more people in the van!” So what? Now you have a van full of people. Do you know why they are there at all? Do you know where you’re going? Or are you just in a van with a bunch of people hoping someone else drives ahead of you and you can tag along?

“It’s all about driving traffic to our shiny 2.0 widgety trendsetting flexible scalable social media hub!” Wrong. That’s like saying, “Drive the van faster!” So what? You’re driving the van really fast. Do you have any idea where the van is actually going? Drive the van faster is both useless and dangerous, especially if faster means into a telephone pole.

“It’s all about being remarkable!” Wrong. You’ve got a nice van. A really nice van. A tricked out van. So what? The product is not the marketing. Yes, absolutely, taking a road trip in a nice luxury limo will be a lot more pleasant than taking a road trip in a beaten up Yugo. But if you don’t know where you’re going, you have no map, and you don’t know why, all you have is a nice van, and while it’s remarkable, you’re still not going anywhere.

Remember: why? where? how? and you’ll know vision, strategy, and tactics.

Simplicity at its best.

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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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From Change This:

John Spence: “There is no single strategy that will carry your company forever—just ask my buddy Tom Peters, who wrote the fantastic book In Search of Excellence back in 1982, only to watch more than half of the companies he highlighted go out of business! Markets shift, consumer preferences change, new competitors appear, technology advances—and so must you. Even though I can recommend which of today’s popular strategies I believe deserve your attention, there is no guarantee that these same strategies will still be as relevant in 20 years. I think they will, but no one can see that far ahead.

With all of that said, [these] are the six strategies on which all the great companies I studied were relentlessly focused.”

Go here and learn something.

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