From my latest contribution to Harvard Business
If you are a pundit, or get paid to watch trends, then this message doesn't apply to you. It's your job to go out and find the next shiny object that could influence how we live and do business.
But if you're in the trenches of an organization, my advice is to stop acting like or listening to pundits. Stop looking for the next Twitter. Why? It's simple—because the odds are you already have plenty of projects and ideas with proven potential that you need to improve on without worrying about the next thing you'll start. Here are a few thought-starters based on observations I've made about all of "yesterday's Twitters" that need some care and feeding before you start looking for the next Twitter. Perhaps some may hit close to home for you.
Your Website(s): Websites haven't been bright and shiny for years now; they're more de rigeur. But is yours really as good as it could be? Do search engines find it effortlessly? Is it usable? Does it even serve a purpose (is it useful)? Can you rapidly re-design it without it causing major upheaval within the departments of your organization? After reading how American Airlines struggles with the all too common problem of "design by committee" (which exists within many large organizations), I have to conclude that getting your website to completely satisfy business, brand and user goals is still elusive for many companies.
Your Blog(s): Your company is blogging. Congratulations. Is anyone listening? Blogging was the bright and shiny object of 2006-2008 and many companies found out just how hard it is to do well. Good blogging provides value. It is interesting and generates a healthy amount of comments and conversation which in turn generates a good dose of Google juice. It's also terribly difficult to sustain. It requires cultural shifts within an organization, and has to be prioritized (read: made part of someone's job). Frankly, I rarely see outstanding examples of a good company blog. That doesn't mean it's not worth doing (if it makes sense strategically), but doing it well is another story.
Your Intranet(s): Wow. Where do I begin? Intranets were bright and shiny several years ago, now they're more often the butt of water cooler jokes. How old is your intranet? When was the last time it was updated? Do your employees use it or have they, like many, engaged in IT mutiny, instead, basically sidestepping your internal system for Web 2.0 cloud based systems that allow them to work and collaborate the way they want to? If employees don't use the systems you've put in place, why? Fixing this system will do a lot more good than expending energy on finding the next Twitter. After all, if your company isn't functioning well internally, it's probably exhibiting problems externally, too.
Your Facebook, Twitter, Community Initiatives etc.: I'm lumping these ecosystems together because what's really important about them is that they all require high levels of engagement and participation from company representatives (unless the company is fortunate enough to be a "badge brand"). But the reality for many organizations is that they just aren't ready to directly engage with customers on the customers' turf. Tweeting requires a certain confidence that it's okay for your conversations to be public and companies who are customer centric such as Jet Blue tend to do well here. There's a good deal of interaction that happens on the Whole Foods Facebook page in addition to the expected promotions. Communities are delicate ecosystems and companies that want to be relevant there have to have representatives who are comfortable, at ease, who can deftly work these ecosystems. This has proven to be easier said than done for many.
By no means is this a complete list. But in whatever previously shiny object you own, the common thread is that a lack of vision, strategy, and ability to execute well limits the potential of an organization to be truly valuable to all of their constituents (customers, employees and business partners). So my advice for the non trend-watcher? Forget finding the next Twitter and start buffing up those previously shiny objects, the ones where your constituents need you today.
Serendipity is underrated because it's fuzzy, intangible, and difficult to source our even put our finger on. It takes time. But we want results NOW. Faster. Cheaper. Better. Of course, there's nothing wrong with this—if you're in business, you're in it to profit. But profit can be obtained in a number of ways:
Mitch Joel shouldn't need an introduction, but in the event that you haven't heard of him, he founded a successful Canadian based agency called Twist Image ,is a well known participant at the intersection of business, social media and marketing and speaks on these topics often. When Mitch reached out to me, I promised no softballs, and his thoughtful replies make a great case for why you might want to investigate his new book, Six Pixels of Seperation.
1. The market is currently being flooded with books on business, marketing and social media. Why should someone read yours?
I think the market has always been flooded with books on business and marketing, but that’s another discussion. I know the books you are talking, and those books tend to be written by people giving their perspective of the new online channels either through the lens of a Marketer, Consultant or Technologist. I wrote this book as an Entrepreneur for businesspeople. Using real business language and case stories that really illustrate how business can grow (and yes, that includes making money). This book is the strategy, tools and tactics my business partners and I used to grow our business (as Entrepreneurs) from no employees in 2002 to nearly 85 full-time team members with multiple offices. Basically, by taking part and engaging in the many online channels, my company, Twist Image (with me as “the voice”), was able to build this multi-million dollar business. We continue to grow by still using the same channels. This book is much more about how to think strategically different and engage in a much more human way in this new world. It’s also not a book written by a pundit. It’s from one businessperson to another.
2. Which case studies mentioned in your book are the most relevant to business today, and why?
There are many business examples from people like Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post) to BlendTec (Will It Blend?) to Gary Vaynerchuck (WineLibrary.TV) and even some different ones like Christopher S. Penn (PodCamp and the Financial Aid Podcast), Hugh McGuire (Librivox) and the musician, David Usher. Again, this is not about how they used the Internet to create or further their celebrity… Six Pixels of Separation looks at the business side of it. Why did Huffington use the online channels and not publish a printed newspaper? How did she use the channels to market herself and spread her gospel? The amazing thing about all of these stories (and there are many more) is that the Internet was a platform, a marketing tool, a lead generation tool, a CRM backend, a focus group, a community and much more. We tend to look at the Internet at think, “how can I market my business online?” It’s the wrong question. The Internet can be the place to do business, play with innovation, deal with customer service issues and communicate. Basically, the book demonstrates that all businesses – B2B or B2C and those with low-cost impulse buys versus multi-million dollar ticket items that have a long sales cycle – need to better understand and use the Internet to connect their business. It can be as basic as research and as complex as trying to build your own online social network.
3. You and I were introduced in a way through Joseph Jaffe, you sent me an e-mail after hearing me on his podcast. Are we separated by less than six pixels, and if so how does this benefit people like ourselves?
Obviously the notion of Six Pixels of Separation is a play on an existing saying. We no longer live in a world where there are Six Degrees of Separation (where any one person is connected to anybody else through less than six degrees of separation). We are all intrinsically connected through technology, the Internet and our mobile devices. These digital channels break down the notion of, “it’s who you know,” because we all now live in a world where we can know everyone… and everyone can know us. And, we’re not connected by degrees anymore… we’re simply connected. I don’t need an introduction to you through someone else and you no longer need one to me. The trust of the matter is that I was following and commenting on Logic+Emotion long before that Jaffe intro. By just clicking on your “About Me” link or your Facebook profile would have done the trick. We are all a click (or pixel) away from one another. This means a change for business. This means a change in how you sell people your products and services. This means that building relationships and turning those relationships into a community is more powerful and more important than ever before.
These new online channels give you the full power to make this happen. It’s no longer about how much budget you dump into advertising and PR. These new online channels will work for you as long as you are working for them by adding value, your voice and the ability for your consumers to connect, engage and take part. This new economy is driven by your time vested and not your money invested.
The benefit comes in both social capital and self-actualization. We tend to be attracted to like-minded individuals, so instead of me needing to find people in
4. A reviewer on Amazon said the following after reading your book. What's your take on being compared to Seth Godin?
"One of the other reviewer headlines calls the content "snackable" and I completely agree--I read this book a few pages at a time over the course of several days. It's not a chore to read, it's not boring--the writing style somewhat reminds me of Seth Godin, and certainly the content is of that nature--accessible, trendy, and yet practical and applicable."
I don’t think there is much higher praise. I love and have been following Seth’s work from day one. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him many times over the years and have had him speak at events I was helping to organize. I have spoken at events where we were both being featured, and he was kind enough to provide a very nice testimonial for my book. We are even represented by the same talent bureau in the
If I’m being compared to that, I’ll take it with a smile on my face from ear-to-ear. The funny part about the book is that I did not write it the way the reviewer above explained it. It was actually written as traditional book chapters. Somewhere in layout/editing, my Publisher highlighted those headers and broke up the chapters into smaller bites. I didn’t like it at first, because I was worried that people might think it was just a bunch of Blog postings slapped together into a book (which it is not), but now that I have a final copy and after reading some of the other reviews, it seems like this format works for the businessperson in 2009.
Now, all I have to do is sell as many books as he does. I’ll take that comparison happily as well.
5. There's a feeling right now that social media has been hyped to the point of irrationality. How is your book relevant to those looking for some grounding in a space filled with opportunists?
Just yesterday, I wrote a Blog posting titled, Attention Radio DJs: There Is Still Hope. Basically, a local talk-show DJ lost his gig after doing his show for 20 years. I know the guy (his name is Peter Anthony Holder) and he is very talented. In his Blog post, he wrote: “broadcasters are like professional sports coaches - they are hired to be fired. And firing is all they can do. They can't kill you. About the only thing I've been surprised about, as this whole situation unfolded, is just how other people who are in the business seemed to be... surprised! You'd think after seeing this type of thing happen time and time again, they'd realize, it's just radio!"
The basic premise of my post was this: Peter does not need a radio station or any other mass media channel to give him permission to broadcast his talk-radio show to the world. We have this thing called, "Podcasting" and anyone can do it for free (or close to it).
I think people like you and I may think that Podcasting is very 2008. And, that’s the point. We may be over-hyping it, but we’re over-hyping it to one another. The average Entrepreneur or professional in an organization is still on the sidelines waiting to see who does what and how it will work.
The whole point of the book was to be pragmatic. Both in what these channels and platforms means to business and also in terms of speaking to those people in the media they are accustomed to (a hardcover business book). Also, writing the book as an Entrepreneur who used these exact channels to build my own business I think grounds it in reality from the outset.
Lastly, the more informed clients become, the harder it is for the opportunists to sell their snake-oil. The book brings them right up to speed.
6. What's the core business benefit to having everyone connected? How does a business benefit from friends talking to each other on Facebook etc.
In a world where everyone is connected an idea spreads because like-minded people share them, versus the world we’re used to where marketers place ads in various positions and places in hopes that those interested parties catch a glimpse. In a world where everyone is connected, products and services have to work (or exceed) expectations. In a world where everyone is connected, it’s hard to make false claims or try to screw one specific group of people. In a world where everyone is connected, people talking to one another about it on Facebook can make, break or help a product innovate.
Marketing and Communications professionals have been trained to listen to what a client wants, figure out a smart, clever and/or impacting way to deliver that message and then go forward, create the campaign and do everything within their power to get that message out there. When we apply this as the overarching strategic imperative, we are all missing one core point: no matter how targeted that messaging is, it's still going to hit a bunch of people who really don't care all that much about it.
Even the best of the best in advertising and communications doesn’t get 50% success rates on any of their campaigns (targeted or mass). This means that the majority of the people we are targeting are simply not all that interested in what we have to say.
Digital professionals need to demonstrate that we can get to that mass people by focusing on “who” those people are instead of “how many” people we pump a message in front of. It’s a big promise, but digital media can deliver on this.
I think these channels demonstrate real value for business today. Value is all about focusing on the small few who can really help your message spread. It's definitely not as fun or as sexy as a billboard in
Thanks Mitch for taking the time to answer these questions.
Published on Harvard Business Review
A recent survey conducted by Proofpoint found that 8% of companies had terminated employees due to social media usage (common causes including sharing sensitive information on a network). And while the statistic seems significant, it only underscores one of several upcoming challenges nearly every organization will face as changes in people, process and technology fueled by the collective movement we call social media begin to transform business. Here are a few challenges that every organization should be planning for right now. If you aren't you will be.
Many organizations now understand that anything that can and will be said about them on the internet will be. The good, the bad, the ugly. And this includes content produced not only from the general public, but also from internal constituents such as employees. Organizations will not only need to begin actively listening so that they are in the know, but they will need rules of engagement for how they deal with multiple types of scenarios from responding to a compliment to dealing with a detractor to following up with an employee who just posted something inappropriate or sensitive.
It's wrong to assume that ROI (Return On Investment) is only for big business. It's for individuals too. We're investing in things all the time. In people, relationships, time, etc. Sometimes we even invest in ourselves. That's especially the case with ABL (Always Be Learning). When we put ourselves in a situation with a substantial amount of ABL, we're basically investing in ourselves. We're putting faith in the fact that if we act now and invest in our own growth—that eventually there will be a return on that investment. Sometimes we see the ROI of ABL right away. Sometimes it takes a while. But we usually know it's coming, because the choice to invest in ourselves is a decision we all know we each have to make eventually. The choice to keep ourselves out of situations which would include ABL in spades, can be the equivalent of hiding our assets a mattress.
A tempting thought in today's economic climate.
But while a mattress may keep your dollars safe in the short term, it won't help you if the house burns down around you—and it's certainly not an investment. There's no "I" to have a return on. Have you recently put yourself in an ABL situation? Wait for the ROI—it's coming, even if it's not financial. If you've gone the mattress route, that's OK too. But keep a firehouse next to the bed. Just in case.
Aaron Brazell at Technosailor wrote a response shortly after this post. It occurred to me that writing this in a nuanced fashion, has possibly dilluted my intent. I personally feel that "networking" has taken priority over substance and that the balance needs to be restored. So in short, "who you know" has become more important that "what you know" and this isn't necessarily a good thing. Hopefully, this clarifies my intent.
When I first started this blog in February of 2006, I immediately sensed that things had changed forever. More specifically, as my early diagram shows, knowledge was being set free. Anyone could have a voice—participate and offer value. On the social web, value exchange is everything, you bring something of value to the table and everyone benefits—including yourself. In short, the social web empowers all of us to be amplified versions of ourselves. We can bypass the gatekeepers who once held control over who got to have a say, and who didn't.
Or can we?
If you look really closely at the small pond of folks who make their living in "social media" or "web 2.0" related practices, you'll notice something. You'll need the endorsement of a Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin or Tim O'Reilly to be taken very seriously. The events that pop up are frequented by most of the same people—all of who know each other, many who are friends. One person sponsors an event, invites friends to speak—and those friends return the favor. And of course when it comes to events, anyone can buy their way in. You just have to be a sponsor. None of this is bad, it's kind of how it's always been.
But is it really about what you know, or who you know?
I suspect that it's both actually, though at this moment in time—who you know is more important than ever. Since the web has gone social, it makes sense as advancements in technology have allowed us to put a face to people, and relate to them in a more human way. And that's actually how it's always been. Relationships led to sales, closed deals—we bought stuff from the people we trusted. In some ways, what's old is new again.
But I hope, it's not just about who you know.
Because there's something to be said for those out there, who perhaps aren't as adept at "networking"—but have a lot of insight to offer. They might not be uber visable, they might not have written book. They might not have have been responsible for the latest corporate case study. They may not even be founders of the next Twitter. But they could have something to offer. In that case, it's up to all of us to find them. Perhaps take a look at something like the Power 150 and start the list backwards (or maybe get out of the marketing echo chamber all together). If you yourself have become the new breed of "gatekeeper"—ask yourself "is it who I know, or what they know?". Ideally, its both—but up to us individually to strike the right balance.
I was wrong.
Ok, I wasn't totally wrong, but partially off base. Several years ago I spoke at a blogging conference and inevitably Seth Godin was invoked in a question from the audience. It went something like this:
"Seth Godin says you don't need a Website anymore if you have a blog—what do you think?"
My answer essentially defended a well designed Website. I made a logical case that blogs didn't do a good enough job of providing a great first time experience to a user. Keep in mind that this was over 3 years ago and a lot has happened since then. Fast forward to today and I'm eating my words. I just killed my personal Website (screenshot above), using a search engine friendly re-direct to simply point to my blog (you can now go to davidarmano.com and it will take you here).
On a personal level, it made no sense to keep a Website and blog up at the same time when the blog has all of my information, plus content and value and provides a reason for people to actually come back. Not to meniton I'm saving money on hosting fees etc. Also keep in mind that if were better and coding, and had a lot more time—my blog would look and function a whole lot better (I currently do it all myself). So, on a non personal level here's a couple of recommendations I'd make on evolving your Web presence if you are not an individual but an organization. Here are two of my favorite examples:
Whitehouse.gov is probably one of the most elegant and functional non transactional site experiences I've come across in quite some time. The site seamlessly blends it's blog right into the design, while it aggregates links and other content types from other social networks. Clicking on the blog link simply refreshes the page in the identical design template while the site does a great job of presenting the first time user with a very digestable set of options and starting points. Not to mention, it just feels dead on.
The barbarian group is probably my favorite agency Website to date. They recently overhauled their overproduced, low value site to something that is accessible, easy to navigate, filled with value added content and displays the thoughts of their people front and center. On the spectrum of Website to blog, it leans more heavily to the latter as it displays recent posts on the homepage, but you can still get around to all sections quite easily. Keep in mind that in the ad agency world fueld on "sizzle" this is a 180 departure from much of what's out there pure and simple. In my estimation it's a sneak preview of what we'll see others do more of.
So, if I were asked the same question today—I might answer it a bit differently. The short answer, assuming we are talking about personal or corporate type sites is this:
Your website should provide value to all of your users. If you can get them to participate, then do what ever it takes achieve that. In other words, it doesn't matter if your site looks more or less like a blog, what matters is if you're doing something to transform behavior from the passive to the active. Participatory behavior leads to better interactions between people, brands, businesses etc. So the real question is—are you designing for participation? Your answer should be, yes. If your Website doesn't do that, kill it. Then bring it back to life into something that does.
Paula Drum who was involved with many of H&R Block's social business initiatives recently announced her pursuit of a new opportunity. I've met Paula a few times and she's both smart and approachable—I wish her the best of luck in her new venture. She's also left us with a bit of wisdom called "10 Tips For Social Media Marketers" that I highly recommend reading and contemplating over. Stop what you are doing and just go read the entire write up. Below are a just a few of my favorite points. Good luck Paula!
This write-up has been a long time coming and recent article in The Economist finally motivated me to kicking it out. But before I get into referencing that article, let me tell you about my dad. Several months ago I took a family vacation to Florida and got to talking to my dad about the economy. He agreed that it was in really bad shape. But then I got to thinking about how differently my dad's spending habits were from most people. My dad lived nearly his entire life in a "pre-consumer" mindset. Skeptical to marketing and advertising campaigns, he usually bought what he needed not what he wanted and held on to things to what seemed like forever. In fact, he only recently bought a flat screen television after nearly 30 YEARS of having the same TV play in the family room I grew up in. The house I grew up in has been paid off for just as many years because he didn't believe in debt and I watched as my parents held on to cars like they were family members, not putting them to rest until their time had come. This is how my parents lived.
Many of use live very differently than this. Credit lines have ensured that we can purchase beyond our means and advertising has had years to perfect it's craft making us believe that we don't want the latest and greatest product—but that we actually NEED it. In fact, if we can't have it our lives will be empty—we will be missing out we won't be living life as it was meant to be lived.
This of course is a lie.
But it's worked for years. Bigger, better, faster, newer. Get it and get it now before your neighbor does. It's a myth that's stood the test of time and fueled a global economy because it could. When it's old, throw it out or give it away. Then one day, the housing market collapsed, the stock market collapsed and we woke up scratching our heads as to why. And some of us are re-thinking the economics of mass consumption. From The Economist:
"The trend towards thrift will not disappear when the economy picks up.
For one thing, those banks left standing after the bust will be far
more parsimonious with consumer credit. For another, many people will
still be intent on rebuilding their nest-eggs, which is reflected in
sharply rising rates of saving. Sociologists also detect a distinct
change in people’s behaviour. Until the downturn, folk had come to
assume that “affluence” was the norm, even if they had to go deeply
into debt to pay for gadgets and baubles. Now many people no longer
seem consumed by the desire to consume; instead, they are planning to
live within their means, and there has been a backlash against bling."
Marketing In An Era of Post-Consumerism
If the "backlash against bling" is real, then we really have to ask ourselves, what on earth is marketing going to look like to millions of people who don't want to buy like they used to—who are marketing weary? People just like my dad, only more digitally savvy. Not only that, but beyond marketing, what's the effect on companies who make their profits by continually producing new products? Bigger, better faster—guaranteed to make your life meaningful. Business and brands have a problem.
On the business side, corporations are going to have to figure out how to incorporate more services as part of their core offerings. Think about this, while new auto sales have taken a nose dive—repair shops have been profiting due to consumers opting to keep their cars longer vs. upgrading. What if Detroit could figure out a way to benefit from this? How about new car dealers? Most of them aren't known for the level of service they offer at the dealerships. The exceptions often get great word of mouth.
On the marketing front, there needs to be some recalibration. The holy grail of measuring a marketing initiative is being able to prove that more products have sold. But what if no one's buying? What if no one's listening for that matter? Do you stop marketing? Of course not. Marketing just needs to be more meaningful and relevant to a "consumer" who is looking for more relevance and meaning in their lives. They'll repay you with loyalty and positive word of mouth if you can offer them this—but here lies the rub.
Marketing Was Designed To Take, Not Give
Marketers are faced with a design problem. Marketing was invented to take, not give. It's meant to generate awareness and sell products not provide value. There's nothing wrong with selling products and the best marketing does this well. But bear with me—if the sociologists mentioned in The Economist are correct, than marketing may have to change it's stripes in order to be relevant to a consumer who is highly empowered, connected and asking themselves "do I really need more"? As far as I can tell, the most successful social initiatives look less like marketing and more like some type of service or value add. From Comcast providing customer service on Twitter, to Whole Foods engaging customers on Facebook to Hope Depot providing information during natural disasters, to Lego enlisting enthusiasts to help them develop products—"marketing" as we know it could already be evolving into something that it was not originally designed to be. Which would be a good thing becase as The Economist reports, the current economic climate may help fuel it's evolution:
"The downturn will also accelerate the use of social media, such as blogs and social-networking sites, by consumers looking for intelligence on firms and their products. As trust in brands is eroded, people will place more value on recommendations from friends. Social media make it harder for brands to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes, but they also offer canny companies a powerful new channel through which to promote their wares and test new products and pricing strategies."
Recommendations From Trusted Sources
As my diagram illustrates, marketing can not longer be a 360 degree "blitz" that assaults consumers with reasons to buy. The future of business will be simple. Providing better products, better experiences and providing indisputable value through things like services will get the right people saying the right things about you. This means there's going to be a Dawrinism effect at play here. Inferior brands, services and marketing strategies are going to fall on deaf ears and wither away while superior brands with more relevant and meaningful ways of connecting with their customers will prevail. We must remember that the social web DOES NOT create recommendations (or criticisms), it only amplifies them and accelerates the speed at which they spread.
These are a few thoughts I've had running around in my mind about what business might look like in a post-consumer era, and I'm fairly certain that we're already seeing the face of marketing gradually change in real time. As the Economist article suggests, I feel like the shift in consumer behavior may be more long term vs. a temporary blip, People really do seem to be re-thinking there lifestyles and asking themselves "do I really need more?". If that's the case, the way business works will need to adapt along with the new attitudes. What do you think?
Couple of days ago, I pointed you to a product I believe in and bought with my own money. Roger Von Oech's iPhone version of his Creative Whack Pack. I've been using the real world version of the cards for years and it's only natural that I have it on my iPhone. It's actually a very practical app and I'm looking forward to flipping through them on my flight to France. What I didn't tell you was that Roger who I consider a friend approached me as his first and only "marketing vehicle". Prior sales of his new product were completely organic and he had not yet started marketing the iPhone application. This blog was the first mention. Here's what Roger had to say in his own words about the results over 2 days.
"I had been expecting Apple to take six weeks to approve my Creative Whack Pack App. When they okay'ed it in two days, I was excited, but I was also caught flat-footed because I was in Argentina — and my marketing wasn't in place.
But this created a big opportunity: to test the power of a single blog (Logic + Emotion) to get the word out about my new App. With no marketing (or product announcements) at all, the Creative Whack Pack was selling at an okay level.
When your post went up, sales have gone up by 260% over the past two days. And that's not all. Almost all of my previous sales were only in the US and Canada. Now, they are world-wide (see chart, courtesy of Apple). This — at least in my mind — shows the efficacy of social marketing."
A 260% increase in sales in two days is nothing to sneeze at (especially in a market where many iPhone apps are free—Roger's app charges a premium). So I thought I'd share some of this with you since there is so much discussion around "measuring social media"—one of the first things a business professional will ask in this area is "will it help us sell more products"? Well, the answer depends on the product, the delivery and distribution of that product and how you can measure the impact of your marketing initiatives. In Roger's case, the application and the way we chose to "test" this was very simple and easy to gauge.
Now imagine if this wasn't an individual, but a brand who developed a useful application and developed relationships with people who believed in their products enough to both use them and help market for them. Imagine if instead of just me, this was a planned and coordinated effort with others that could be sustained over time. The results would be impressive in my estimation. Roger reminded me that today's "Whack of the Day" is "slay a sacred cow". I think he did that by marketing his product in a different way than he had in the past. Or at least starting it this way. So, "social media" can actually be measured. Go Figure. :-)
This morning a couple of things came together for me. The first, was that I unfollowed a company/individual on Twitter because the volume they were producing felt automated and not human even if there were college interns manually updating it (or maybe just a script). It just didn't feel right. The second was reviewing a deck where it talked about the need for "being human" on the social web. But it didn't get into how exactly, and that's where my gears started turning. Right now the biggest challenge to being successful on the social web is through high quality micro-interactions with high quality human beings. But organizations will find this difficult to embrace. The industrial revolution has taught us to mass produce and move away from human dependency. ATM's have replaced the need for that local bank teller in most places and call centers are known as cost centers, so companies face a bit of a problem here. But if they can figure out a way to make the numbers work, organizations who put a human face to themselves stand to become the industry leaders in a space that's still in it's early phases. Here's a few ways to be "more human".
Automated interactions are done by machines and people know it. Right now, we're flocking to the social web because we can get a personal touch that cannot be gotten elsewhere. While the "masses" deal with terrible automated phone services etc, we feel privileged to be able to interact with the real people behind an organization. This presents scaling issues to the organization, but the the average customer we just like it and will come back for more.
Don't Strive For Perfection
People aren't perfect, and that's expected in the social web. In fact, the more perfectly something is written, produced, or executed—the more suspicious it becomes. Communication and interactions on the social web should be similar to those in real life. Imperfect, messy, spontaneous, and occasionally personal. Zappos understands this well. After a conversation with one of their representatives from their call center, we received a handwritten note that referenced something personal that was discussed during the call. You don't get more human than that.
In a scene from "I Am Legend" Will Smith talks to a mannequin to try to emulate human contact. Of course this falls short and it's exactly the same dynamic that exists on the Web when organizations refuse to talk back to the people who they want to talk to. The substitute doesn't work and all that's left is something that looks alive from a distant, but really isn't.
Talk Like A Human
People can spot robots, artificial intelligence and a fake a mile away. Talking like your legal team, your PR agency or a computer will get you unfollowed, unfriended or ignored. If we wanted to hear from machines, robots or legal eagles, we'd watch more advertising or interact with your organizations mainstream touch points. We're on the social web because we want to connect with other human beings and we want them to act like them. Being human means talking like a human. Conversational style trumps dictation because human beings only dictate when we're in very specific situations. If people walked around all day dictating as opposed to being engaged in human conversations, it would come across as very odd. Interestingly enough, many organizations don't have people who know how to communicate like this. In the coming years, you may have to find some.
Avoid Artificial Additives & Preservatives
Until someone invents the perfect android, there's not much that's artificial about being a human being—we make mistakes, are fragile and the good ones know when to say "sorry" and try harder. Anything else comes across as artificial and less than human. Being more human on the social web means doing all of these things because it's likely that you'll make mistakes and that's part of the process. It's OK, because you'll be interacting with other humans who also make them. An artificial presence is unlikely to succeed because it will feel too much like the way your organization presents itself traditionally, and again—that;s not why your customers are engaging on networks. They want a more human approach.
So these a few thoughts on how to be more human. What are your own? What would you add? I'd love to know.
What was my strategy when launching this blog? How about when I started using Twitter over two years ago when most people dismissed it as a fad, trend, and a tool for narcissistic individuals who wanted to tell the world what they had for lunch? My strategy?
I wanted to learn by doing.
I made mistakes, I also got some things right. I got a crash course in web metrics seeing spikes in blog referrals or comments when I would publish a particularly helpful visual, and less activity when I wasn't adding enough value. I'd see additional followers on Twitter built over time and even some growth spurts when someone with influence recommended me. Same goes for blogging. I've learned almost everything I know about this space by doing it. I've always learned by doing. It's instinctual for me—I have problems learning other ways, you can ask the nuns who tried teaching me in grade school. Which is why I'm perplexed that now that we're seeing brands actually do what I've been doing for years (learning by doing), we're all up in arms. Whether it be P&G, Skittles, or examples of brands that most of us applaud such as Zappos, I hope you see the writing on the wall here. Brands will actively engage on the social web by doing—and learn in the process. They can't sit on the sidelines anymore. The social web only kicks in AFTER something is put into the space. Just like I launched this blog in 2006. All of the effort came AFTER the launch. Listen. Learn. Adapt. This is what I believe in.
I recently came across a Forrester blog post which provided some actionable insights on P&G's "Digital Hack Night". I recommend you read the entire post. I also recommend you read Brian Morrissey's reaction to P&G's effort and the comments in the thread. Read both, you will be better for it. Digest, analyze and sit on it for a bit. But whatever conclusions you come to, you can be sure that the days of inactivity on the part of large brands, companies and organizations are behind us. Learning by doing may become the new ROI. Watch and see.
Brands, companies, businesses and individuals are going to learn by doing. If you want to make money building your consulting business around their efforts—help them. Or get the hell out of the way.
Today as I watched a video of Peter Arnell describe the rationale behind Tropicana's rejected package design, I had a bit of an epiphany. Many companies, brands and organizations are inadvertently building walls between themselves and their customers. It's unintentional, happened over time—but ultimately in this age of empowerment, customers feel more connected to each other than they do to your business or brand. Maybe it's always been this way—but it seems to me that it's getting worse, not better. How else can you explain things like this? Somehow, some (not all) brands seem to be increasingly "out of touch" with their own customers. Here's some food for thought around what I think might be some of the walls that are separating customers from your business.
Legal Mumbo Jumbo
Most large organizations have dealt with lawsuits and ugly legal situations, so understandably they've put large legal teams in place for their own safety. This is a smart business practice. But it also has a side effect. When legal restrictions prevent you from talking openly and honestly with your customers, there is bound to be a disconnect somewhere. In a recent conversation with Ford's Scott Monty, he said "somewhere along the way, we forgot how to talk to each other". So while companies have to protect themselves, I'm wondering if there are opportunities to take a second look at this barrier. Can it be better?
Profit At All Cost
As cliche as it sounds, if selling "stuff" to "consumers" is all your business cares about—I have to conclude that it will eventually become a barrier. I believe that this economy is pushing us toward a "post consumer era" (more on that later). Which means that if your business is only in the business of making money and everything else comes second, you'll be in trouble with consumers who are examining what they really need to be happy. Profit at all cost can become a barrier especially in this down economy because as people look deeper into themselves, it'll seem odd that all you want to do is sell to them.
I believe in the power of brands. I also believe in "brand sorcerers". These are the folks who invent emotion and meaning around your brand that is completely out of touch with how your customers feel about it. Brand sorcery creates hype and applies purpose to every nuance it touches around your brand or the "re-branding" of it. It's not based on any good research or instinct. Often times it's based in personal preference and self preservation. That said, good brand efforts can do the exact opposite and remove barriers. Pick your brand partners carefully—enough missteps here can alienate customers.
In this economy, ROI is king and it's understandable. I can't stress that enough. But infatuation with it also kills risk taking which means that you could be in a perpetual cycle of risk aversion to the point of losing the spark that started your business in the first place. Your customers may be passionate—they could be willing to support you. But barriers can rise up if you never take chances with them and only focus on the desire to see a monetary "return" on all of your initiatives.
Ivory Tower Syndrome
This one is a biggie. If your business has become so inward looking as to forget about where your customers spend their time, then you may never be able to relate to them again. Ivory Tower Syndrome means you've forgotten how your customers live, what they do with their friends and families and what they value, Or worse, you've created artificial representations and don't send your employees out to experience it first hand. This can become the ultimate barrier often formed as a result of others.
If you've lost the ability to connect and empathize with your customers, then you've become tone deaf. This means you can look at the data, the demographics and the numbers but never really understand, relate or "get" them in any meaningful way. So it's natural that your preference of communication will be one way vs. a dialogue. It's easier to maintain. Tone deafness becomes a barrier when you can see your customers, but can't figure out how to touch them anymore.
Your customers have a culture, your company has a corporate culture. Sometimes they are aligned like in the case of Harley-Davidson who understands that people who park cars at there HQ need to do so in the back lot. The front is reserved for bikers—as it should be. Corporate disconnect means that the culture if your company has become incompatible with the culture of your customers. Once this happens, yet another barrier is formed.
So off the top of my head—at a gut level I'm thinking some of these things could be challenges. What are your thoughts? How can we do better? How can the "walls of separation" (if the indeed exist) be torn down?
A while back, I wrote a white paper called "The Collective Is The Focus Group". A version of it was printed in BusinessWeek as well. The general point? Consumers can get feedback to any brand in real time—networks amplify what they have to say and sentiment spreads at light speed. Companies need now have to listen, learn, and adapt at all phases of an initiative.
So today as I'm flipping through the New York Times, I come a across an article describing how a micro-groundswell began against Tropicana's package re-design. As it turns out, Tropicana consumers not only care about it—their most loyal consumers do.
"It was not the volume of the outcries that led to the corporate change of heart, Mr. Campbell said, because “it was a fraction of a percent of the people who buy the product.”
the criticism is being heeded because it came, Mr. Campbell said in a
telephone interview on Friday, from some of “our most loyal consumers.”
The article spcifies that most feedback came in through fairly traditional means including e-mail and phonecalls—but one specific thought in the article caught my attention:
"Twitter is the ultimate focus group,” Mr. Shankman said. “I can post something and in a minute get feedback from 700 people around the world, giving me their real opinions.”
What I think is worth calling out here is that hindsight is always 20/20 and you shouldn't confuse consumer/user input with doing exactly what people tell you to do. If Tropicana had a problem in packaging, they are ultimately the ones who need to solve it. But the consumer reaction tells us that there may not have been a problem in the first place. Forget Twitter, what if Tropicana scrapped focus groups for something that could give them access to people who like the ones who sent e-mail were super loyal? What if they could iterate designs without ever having to go to production? Or what if they simply found out sooner that their opportunities lay not in package design, but elsewhere? Could their consumers outside of focus groups have helped them figure it out sooner, better? Perhaps the same ones that called and wrote e-mails.
One thing I've learned from blogging is that I always have to make the final call when designing a visual or putting out rough ideas. But the feedback I get here and across other networks is critical to my process. It's not really about focus groups any more. It's the insights you get from continual feedback. It's iterative development, input and cycles—whether it's for your product or the way you market it.
Listen, learn, adapt—repeat as needed. If I were a brand manager at Tropicana, I'd seize on the insight that there are people out there who actually care about the brand. There might be an opportunity to engage those same people who revolted against the re-design.
Earlier this year I gave a talk on something I believe is an emerging trend whether we like it or not. The idea of everyday people spending countless hours building and managing their reputations online. I made the comparison of this equity generating behavior to that of brand building. Ordinary people, having micro influence in this macro medium we call the internet.
Since I only had 20 minutes for the talk, I missed out on very important part of this phenomenon. The potential risks and downside of of this activity as it can relate to your full time profession—especially if you are not self employed. Take Scott Monty, who currently heads up social media initiatives at Ford. If you go to Scott's Twitter page, you'll immediately notice a dichotomy between Scott Monty, the individual and Ford the company he works for. Ford's logo is evident all over the page and even hovers over Scott's "avatar" which shows up in thousands of Twitter streams globally. Scott has over 12,000 followers on that social network alone.
Scott was well known in the social media space prior to his employment at Ford (which probably helped him get the job) and uses his network to talk about work and personal related issues. The lines which separate the two are blurry. Recently, Scott's been receiving some criticism over how he handles this delicate balance between his brand and the brand he works for. To pull a recent quote from one of the blogs:
"... if Scott Monty wanted to show that he was really doing this for Ford, he'd open up a Ford Twitter account — an idea seconded by another social media site — to use daily for his work rather than his current ScottMonty twitter account. Because right now it seems like he's set up more for ScottMoCo promotion than for FoMoCo promotion."
This post is not meant to defend Scott, though I do know him and have spoken on several occasions, but I think there is something much bigger worth thinking about which goes well beyond the surface accusation that Scott is promoting himself at Ford's expense. And for the record, based what I've seen, I think Scott is being rather generous levering his personal network to help jump start Ford's initiatives (which includes several Ford Twitter accounts and outreach programs).
Powered By People
Here's the simple truth. If you are going to have your company play on the social Web, then you have to be ready to play a full contact sport which includes unpredictable scenarios. The latest evolution of the Web and the ways business tap into this are enabled by technology, but fueled by real live people. This means that hiring people like Scott means bringing his existing network into your organization and your organization into his network. On the flip side, individuals like Frank from Comcast, Lionel or Richard from Dell or Tony from Zappos have put their company first in their profiles thereby building equity through their jobs.
In either scenario there is still common ground. The social Web is personal, and dependent on people and when a person leaves your company, at the end of the day no matter if their persona had JohnatBrandX attached to them, the people they interacted with in all that time will remember the person behind the brand. That person takes their equity with them while leaving the infrastructure they have put in place at the company they worked for. If it sounds messy it's because it is and will be. It's powered by people and people are messy. People also tend to be more loyal to other people than they are to faceless organizations.
If your company, or you as in individual doesn't like this—don't even bother investing seriously in social initiatives, because they aren't automated, easy or quick solutions.
Some will say that separation of church and state is the way to go. Always lead with the brand. I'm not sure it's that simple. Take a look at Frank Eliason's (@comcastcares) personal blog. Frank talks about life, his family and yes—his work. While @comcastcares on Twitter leads with the service that Frank and his team provides, Frank has swapped the company logo for a picture of himself. It's not always business on the social Web, often times it's personal, and this is what makes it work. In my humble opinion, while we can try to compartmentalize our "personal brands" with the brands we work for—the more we try to separate them, the less human it becomes. The social Web thrives on personality, mixing a "personal touch" with a professional service. When Frank talks about life and business on his blog, it makes him not only a person, but an employee like many of us. And vice-versa on Twitter, which is why I assume he ditched the Comcast logo for a photo of himself instead.
At the end of the day, the social Web blurs the line between individuals and brands. It's not exactly clear what the rules of engagement are in these scenarios. But they will undoubtedly emerge as more companies put their people on the front lines of communication & interaction.
More Human Than Human
I've had some interesting conversations about this topic with people who have invested time developing and nurturing their own networks. Though they may not have the notoriety of a Monty, a Eliason, a Menchaca or a Hsieh, they may be unaware that they represent the organizations they work for more than they know. Using social networks on company time can help you do your job better or can be viewed as unproductive time. Either way, it brings up questions about how clear the line is between our work, our social networking and where they overlap.
And what about when social networking is your job? That's when we need to remember that at this point, it becomes about human contact regardless of who you work for.
The Road To Co-branding
Recently I talked about the idea of "brandividuals" (my hobby is making up words). For some, the idea is scary—the melding of our personalities with the companies and brands we work for. Call it whatever you want, I believe we'll see more of it—not less which means we'll need to figure out how the balance works. In it's simplest form, the phenomenon will look like "co-branding", two brands coming together toward a common goal. As someone who spends intimate time in this space (I am an full time employee for Critical Mass) the dance is delicate. It requires an understanding that the arrangement can be mutually beneficial along with a comfort level of the space. If your company is dipping it's toes in the the social Web, then you're going to attract employees who are active participants across multiple networks. Some, like Scott—may bring that network to your job.
There will be risks for both sides. But in the end, the switch from automated to manual means being powered by people. People with real faces, lives, families and potentially fans (not to mention critics).
Lastly, let's not forget to keep our eye on the prize. As Scott says himself in his video interview:
"We're not interested in advertising on social networks—we're interested in getting in there and interacting with people"
Mary says that she did the "Thinking Visually" logo used on this piece posted publicly on Craigslist. She told me this personally, after I called her expressing that it was something I produced. This kind of thing is bound to happen to individuals and brands everywhere. If your stuff shows up in a Web browser, it's likely to get used in ways you didn't intend. That's just a reality of the space.
So I'm putting my faith in the buddy system vs. the legal system on this one. Let's give Mary the benefit of the doubt and assume she created the logo and it's a sheer coincidence. I originally posted the logo here over a year ago. The date is there and everything. If she wanted to clear her reputation, she could do the same thing on her Website. After all, it says "please don't steal" right on it.
In case you're wondering, the visuals I produce here and aggregate here are for you to use in your presentations, sideshows and blog posts. They are meant to be a resource for you. A reference is always appreciated. But if you're going to say you did it yourself. I'd ask you to prove it.
Trader Joe's has to be one of my favorite business stories and brands today. I personally love to shop there (and I hate shopping). It's an example I often use of a great customer experience, but also one that validates the strategy of finding an under serviced niche that exists and servicing it better than anyone else (kind of like what's going on on the Web with all this 2.0 nonsense). So when this video surfaced, filmed using a Palm Treo presumably by a Trader Joe's cuatomer—I practically squealed with delight (on the inside of course). Trader Joe's doesn't support people taking videos in their stores, so in theory they could threaten some kind of action. But being a "TJ" fan, here's what I would recommend they do instead (assuming this is an authentic video produced by an actual customer).
There are close to 100 comments on the video and over 33,000 views of the video. Track all mentions and embeds of the video and listen to how people are responding to it. If Trader Joe's isn't using a conversation monitering service, go with the the tools available out there such as social mention.
The video is mostly complimentary but shows Trader Joe's warts and all. Once input has been gathered from across the Web, put together a report with some qualitative findings that can be discussed internally within the organization. Remember, a brand isn't what you say it is—it's what they say it is. What can Trader Joe's Learn if anything?
Use the video as fodder to figure out how your orginzation will respond to these types of inevitable situations (similar to the volume content generated by scores unofficial Trader Joe blogs). Maybe it's time for TraderJoes.com to embrace some of these fan blogs/videos? There's some great stuff out there.
Engage your customers in the comments. Talk to them—but only after you've taken the other steps. Use it as an opportunity to get into why they love your brand and what could be better about it. Then go back to listening—lather, rinse and repeat.
I heart Trader Joe's. And this video. It's catchy as hell and one of the best advertisements they never made.
I'm not one of those people that believes the world is being totally upside down with how we get the word out about our products and services, but I do believe there needs to some acknowledgment of several models that need to work together (and right now I am only focusing on digital—that's big enough). So I'm in the process of sketching out a very high level model of 2 approaches which in my opinion will need to work in tandem in the not so distant future. The paid and earned models.
Buying Digital Media
The business of buying media has been around as long as marketing and in the digital space, while it may be measured differently, the principles are similar. You determine where you'll get the most bang for your buck and purchase media placements in digital environments that are deemed appropriate. In many cases, agencies are used to broker the deals. The latest wrinkle to this model is to partner with specialized firms who deal in niche media such as communities, networks, forums and blogs. These firms will take payment and make arrangements for your communications to exist in these alternative areas. While as an advertiser you may not have control over the communications (for example, bloggers in this model still say what they want) but the "placement" remains paid for or purchased.
Earning Digital Media
Earning digital media doesn't mean it's free. It's not. It's just that instead of paying directly for a placement or making arrangements with a partner—you are paying for the time and resources of people who will investigate what's being said about your brand and engage on your behalf. These can be employees, contractors, agencies etc. but it requires manpower and effort. However, the reason the "media" (apologize for lack of a better term) is earned is because you can never actually buy it. The people talking about your products and services are never compensated by an agency or network—however they can be set into action by triggers you've put in place. This could mean establishing a relationship, sharing news, seeding content, talking to, and in general interacting with the people who actually care about your product or even better the topics associated around them. Earned media is tricky, and no one has figured this out exactly yet, however it's real and the search engines pick up on it. The trick is figuring out how to meaningfully participate in the spaces where your brands, products and services are relevant.
It's a pretty big enchilada here that I'm trying to capture and I know I'm not covering all the basis. But trying to get my head wrapped around making the two models work better together. So what do you think. What are the differences? Where do the lines blur? How do they work together better?
As Steve Jobs takes time of to deal with health issues (Steve, you are in our thoughts). I can't help but think about his influence over the years and probably decades to come. But wait, talking about influence can get us talking in circles—and we already know how Apple has produced game changing products and services such as iTunes.
But there's another way to look at this in even more simpler terms. Steve Jobs has changed my behavior. There are so many examples I can cite, from how I digest media, to watching movies on the small screen during travel to using a mobile device in ways most of us would have never predicted.
But one thing I noticed about my own personal behavior over the past year or so—is how I treat my "phone". Before iPhone (BI), I was constantly dropping whatever smart phone I had. They were usually too big and cumbersome to keep in my pocket and so they were often times misplaced, dropped, forgotten about and sometimes even lost. Once I got an iPhone, I immediately noticed a change in my behavior (besides all the different ways I use it), I began to care for a device like I had never cared for one before. I babied it, kept it by me at all times and cleaned its screen regularly. Steve Jobs and his merry band of desingers, engineers and marketers had given me not only a product, but practically a new member of the family. In fact, I have only dropped my iPhone once and I still feel badly about it.
That's a serious shift in behavior (at least for me). That's significant.
Right now, we are all in the same boat. Trying to get people to listen to us, to use our products—to talk about them, to evangelize on our behalf. Whether it's the organizations we work for, our own personal brands or businesses or the services we sell. We are trying to compete as best we know how. We're al after the next "game changer", but in reality it's behaviors that we are trying to influence. It's a good time to think about this from another perspective. Ask yourself "can I change someone's behavior"? Even if it were only one person? That one person could tell ten. And they could tell 20 and before you know it, thousands of people are doing things a little differently.
I never thought I'd stop dropping or losing my phone. Turns out, Steve Jobs and Apple got me to change my ways.
BusinessWeek has put together a not so short-list of voices in social media and they want you to help them decide who they should do a profile on. Being active on multiple networks—I've heard some complaints about who's on it. What do you think? If you think it's fair representation, go tell BusinessWeek who they should profile. If you think it's lame, who should be on the list that isn't? I'd like to know. (full disclosure, I am on the list and am sufficienltly lame).
Peter Shankman (aka Skydiver)
Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus
Chico the Dog
Honey Bee network
A top-10 list
Tristan Harris, Apture
B. L. Ochman
Chris Bruzzo (MyStarbucksIdea)
Derek is a "hotdogger" for Oscar Mayer. He believes in the brand—so much so, that he got it tattooed on his arm. Derek is a passionate employee. Would you hire him?
There are actually few organizations that can support passionate employees—even if they say they want them. That's because the original industrial revolution was designed to support productivity. Productivity means you produce. That's how you're measured. Passion is difficult to quantify, and yet if you ever talk to teams who have produced break through products and innovative solutions—you know it was there. Passionate employees believe in something bigger than themselves. They're not interested in punching the clock, and sometimes they bend the rules.
Managers want passionate employees, but don't always know how to manage them. Passionate employees question things, probe and push. Who's got the time to deal with that? Productive employees get things done. No questions asked.
Deep down inside we know we need both—the question is do you have the right balance, and if you've got a few passionate employees on your hands, do you know how to motivate them? If Derek had the gumption to tattoo your brand on his arm, what else is he capable of doing? If you hire someone who lives and breathes the internet, they might be social networking on your dime. If you hire a sports fanatic, they might sneak in a game on the computer you provided them.
And if you align someone's passion with their job description—you just might boost your department's productivity. And that's where it gets interesting.
I've been called an expert. An expert blogger, an expert "social media" person—whatever that is. An expert in user/consumer/customer experience or "Web 2.0". If the "expert" label gets thrown my way, I don't give it much thought. It's just a label that helps people wrap their heads around something abstract to make it more concrete. Sometimes we need to categorize in order to make sense of things.
The thing is, I'll never see myself as an expert.
You might think that's humbling. I only wish I were that humble. I'll never see myself as an expert, because once you've convinced yourself that you are one—that's the moment your ability to see the world differently begins to decline. Expert eyes know what to look for. They can also be the eyes that miss the most obvious insights which lead to the most elegant of solutions.
I've embraced Forrest Gump as one of my heroes. An expert in nothing—with expertise in several things. Someone who did more than most of us dream, because he never saw himself as an expert.
He just did things.
There really isn't a problem with having experts around. They make us feel better. But I'd rather be an expert in nothing, with expertise in something. The next time you consult with an expert, ask them if they see themselves as one. The answers can tell you something about what they really know.
This post was inspired by a "novice".
Heather, our head of business development walked into my office with a problem. She wanted to show two types of marketing strategies visually, and so we took to the white board and came up with this. Looking at it I knew right away that I was biased toward one of these approaches—the sustainable type. Think Nike + vs. the Dove Real Beauty video. But taking a step back, I wonder if both are needed—strategies that result in the quick hits combined with initiatives that have a much longer shelf life. Advantages to the "shotgun" bursts is that you get pull that trigger pretty quickly and see what gets hit. Disadvantages are each on of those "hits" if you are fortunate enough to get one, is short-lived. So you have to keep loading up that shotgun.
Sustainable strategies take a bit more planning to target and grow over time. Think applications which evolve and grow over time. Users, consumers, and customers build affinity for that service through the interactions they have with it. These become both interaction and feedback "loops" which over time can be sustained if designed right. Thing about iGoogle.
I suppose the lines can completely blur between the two. As I think about my experience in the world famous Oscar Mayer Wiener Mobile I would have probably thought that would have been a shotgun strategy if I was around back when it was first conceived. Over 50 years later, turns out it's pretty sustainable and even scalable (going from 1 to 7 vehicles).
I guess what's left is determining if your organization is doing both. Maybe it doesn't start with strategy either. I'm approaching year 3 of blogging and truth be told—I can't stop. I can't stop the writing, the visuals and the thinking. Maybe it's sustainable after all—though if you read my first 10 posts, you can detect a shotgun somewhere in there. Which one are you doing more of these days?
(Frank Eliason of Comcast speaking at WOMMA Summit 2008)
"So forget social, forget networks, forget mobile—it’s all about the end customer/user experience. Think like a real person. We don’t draw the line between them. In the end, out interactions with people, brands, and companies will either be either extraordinary, good, ok, terrible, offensive or not worth talking about at all. Social or no social. The line is dissolving and in the end it’s how we feel about what we just experienced that matters. Creating a rapid response culture will be critical to organizations because if they can’t respond at the same pace that their consumers can, it starts the interaction loop off on the wrong foot."
Read the full post at Experience Matters
At last year's Forrester Forum, we gave a raw, live and unedited look at what goes on behind the scenes at an event like this. This year we'll be doing the same as our "beta cam" has transformed into a "guerrilla cam". Starting Monday afternoon, we'll be live broadcasting from the Critical Mass booth as well as wherever else there is a wireless internet connection. If you want to tune in and chat, just point your browser here.
The updated mash-up also plugs in some of our POV's and CM's Twitter feed. One fun little feature that we added is a new Flickr set where we will be uploading photos of anyone willing to join our revolution. All you have to do is place your face in a little cutout that we'll have a the booth and you'll be part of movement.
So why the whole revolution/evolution theme in the first place? Simple. The theme of this year's forum is staying ahead of evolving consumers. We believe that in order to do this, many large organizations will have to experience an internal cultural revolution themselves—breaking down departmental silos, re-thinking the internal enterprise and evolving their own marketing machines to adapt to a more nimble, environment which can react in real time. We believe that these internal and external initiatives will provide new insights into the minds and hearts of consumers, but that in order to gain these insights, we'll all have to get used to taking some risks and moving outside of the sterile safety of business as usual. In other words, we'll have to engage consumers on their turf as well as ours.
That's it in a nutshell. If it sounds like something you are interested in, pay us a visit. The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will be live.
This is an updated to my original post since Chris Anderson added a "4th Free". Actually, the ironic thing about number 4 is that it perfectly captures why I'm doing these visuals in the first place. If Chris uses them, he gets better quality representations of his ideas while my reputation benefits from additional exposure. This is a new kind of currency that we're seeing being used and what fuels it is the accessibility we have to each others through more of an open source way of working. If Chris chose to write his book in more of a traditional way—people like me wouldn't have known about his need for help or his desire to improve the rough visuals he created. So, this post is a testament to the "gift economy" which Chris recently added.
Chris Anderson, author of the Long Tail, put out a call for help to visualize his "3 Kinds of Free" model. The above visual is what I've come up with. If you know Chris, can you give him a heads up? Of course, if the Long Tail is valid, he should be able to find this himself. :-)
From his post:
1. Here's the first, which dates back more than a century. It's the razors-and-blades model, as well as loss leaders of all sorts, from "free gift inside" to "free toaster for opening an account":
2. The second is the media business model, ranging from free-to-air broadcast radio and television to all ad-supported content online today:
3. The third is the new one, enabled by digital markets where the marginal cost of production and distribution is close to zero. This is the one that allows the "freemium" business model, where 90% of the users get the basic product for free and 10% chose to pay for a premium version. In economics this is called "versioning"...
OK, let's get this straight. For the past couple of years we've had a great time talking about the merits of conversation, transparency, authenticity, facilitation, participation, and blah blah blah. Having talked about "The Conversation Economy" myself—I'm no exception to the "BLAH". So, we get it—and now it's time to get down to business. From my vantage point there are a few things going on at once, so here's a few thoughts rolling around in my noggin.
1. Social Networks
I won't go too deep here, we know what the deal is. Many of us are spending countless hours managing our profiles, uploading our videos and photos, creating personal brands and generally yakking our heads off. Oh, and we're also using social technologies to collaborate remotely/more effectively and yadda, yadda, yadda. It's not going away, it's not a fad, and yes it changes how people want to interact with both individuals and in some (but not all) cases, organizations.
2. Internal Properties
Some organizations have invested in creating internal communities to either help break down silos or bring in external viewpoints that they can enjoy from the safety of their secure environments. Much of the interactions here mimic many of the things we see on social networks. People have profiles—wikis can be used for collaborative editing, discussions can ignite around relevant topics and of course information can be shared. The internal part is important because it keeps the interactions within the business, which aligns with most corporate cultures. But the benefits are similar to participation in social networks—the operative word here is participation (Sorry, I couldn't resist).
3. External Properties
The third leg here in the stool may actually be the most critical and difficult to manage. Most organizations are moving toward an external presence that consists of multiple sites, microsites, banners, blogs—you name it. Anything that gets "launched" ends up in the digital ether and is either maintained or neglected. Many of these properties interconnect and depend on one another. Some come and go and some just litter the Web.
I'd say there are probably more ways to slice this—but for me these are the three biggies and I'm starting to think about a few questions, such as:
1. How will these initiatives relate to one another?
2. Will they be able to scale at the same rate or will some pull ahead of others?
3. How much redundancy will occur between them?
4. Will new tools need to be developed to coordinate internal/external and social activities?
5. What platforms will best be served for research vs. communication?
6. Which systems will demonstrate the most flexibility to adapt?
Right now, I'm mostly in question mode. Just seems to me that as all of these wonderful changes take place, there is going to be some type of maturation process which requires a bit of orchestration that moves beyond evangelizing the need for "conversation".
Would love to get your thoughts on this one.
Tomorrow, I'm giving a talk to a global group of executives from Citi, one of our clients. I've revised "Micro-Interactions" and really feel good about the direction it's moving in. Inspired by Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture) which I've talked about, I'm taking this concept down to it's core. Much of our discussions in the industry (and outside) are focused on the social phenomena. There's good reason for that—but we have to remember that the real power in "social" is the quality of interactions we have with companies and brands.
The quality of these interactions is more important than ever, because the changes allow everyone to have a voice. Randy Pausch wrote about his positive experience in his book. Millions of people will be be influenced by that story in the years to come. But social networks empower everyday people to be our own "authors". We may not influence millions, but we can influence dozens and maybe even hundreds.
I've talked about this concept in influence ripples. But what's worth noting is that the little things matter. Perhaps now, more than ever. Randy's $100,000 salt and pepper shaker may just be the poster child for why companies need to start putting the people they serve first. If they do, we'll here about it. If they don't, we'll hear about it. Time to treat everyone like an influencer.
This morning we had the distinct pleasure of giving BusinessWeek's Innovatiion Editor Bruce Nussbaum a tour of our Chicago office. I showed him what we actually do for some of our clients and then we ended up recording this LIVE interview using CM's Always In Beta site. We discussed the changes in the business climate, learning from the OLPC effort, sociology and design democracy among other things.
The video is still for the first minute only and will then kick in. Sound quality is good overall. Enjoy watching it, I think it will be worth your time.
The above video is a presentation given by a couple of staffers from the small experience design consultancy Adaptive Path to employees at Google. It's a compilation of thoughts that has been synthesized into a book titled "Subject To Change". The reason why I'm saying marketers should watch this video is because I'm convinced that many marketers still don't understand the basics of customer experience and how this integrates with marketing efforts (which it does). And the reason why is because I've noticed lots of perspectives floating around the marketing industry positioning customer experience as if it's a "new form of marketing", when in reality it's always been the oldest and most effective. Adweek's Brian Morrissey reports that brands like Google and Craigslist have become successful icons because of their investments in user experience. Havas media lab calls Google's strategy "revolutionary":
"Yet Google obviously invests heavily in its brand. Its home page may have nothing but a search box and links to Google's services -- which means the company is forgoing tens of millions of dollars in advertising -- but it's doing something more important: putting its customers first. Untargeted ads, even simple text links, goes the rationale, would put too steep a cost on its users.
This decision is "revolutionary," wrote Havas Media Lab director and London economist Umair Haque on Harvard Business Online in February. "By choosing to invest in consumers over advertising, Google is a living example of a deeper truth: The future of communications as advantage lies in talking less and listening more."
The biggest challenge that today's marketers face is understanding HOW to overcome the obstacles that get in the way from creating user/customer/consumer experiences that people want to make part of their everyday lives. Everything has changed. Years ago, Starbucks was celebrated as a brand that understood this—today, it's customers are less loyal and it's stock price is reflecting this. Blockbuster promised to transform our living rooms into home theaters—today, media consumption including movies is fragmented. Marketers today are faced with a choice. As Seth Godin points out, we can choose to become liars—spinning fabrications around inferior products and services who depend on traditional marketing to make themselves appear more appealing. Or we can be honest, and figure out how to actually make the product, service, and brand better—so marketing initiatives will become a natural extension of the experience a customer has with that brand.
Is this the job of the company, the consultant, the agency, the brand? If you want to thrive in an age where basically we're all spoiled and demanding—then the reality is, it's all of our jobs. So watch the video and think about which side you choose to be on.
PS, if there are any Adaptive Path peeps reading—you should give this presentation to marketers in addition to companies like Google who do a pretty decent job of doing the things you talk about.
It's been quite some time since Advertising Age acknowledged the existence of industry blogs by acquiring Todd Andrlik's Power 150 list and making it their own. Since then, the mainstream media outlet has taken criticism from active participants in social networks (I.E. bloggers) who weren't very impressed that Ad Age hadn't engaged them beyond expanding a ranking system on their site. Mack Collier, a marketing blogger who has advised companies like Dell on their own blogging efforts boldly stated that Ad Age had "hoodwinked bloggers":
"Ad Age would now have a vested interest in promoting Ad/PR/Marketing bloggers. The publication could now use these bloggers as sources for articles, or even interview some of them.
...But now 4 months later, the only thing that I can see that Ad Age has done to leverage the Power 150, is to create a nifty 'badge' that any member of the Power 150 can add to their blog. And yes, this badge links back to Ad Age's site."
Fast forward 6 months later and I find myself in a round table meeting at the Advertising Age office in NYC. I wasn't alone. Respected industry voices such as Rohit Bhargava, Matt Dickman, Ann Handley, Geoff Livingston and others were there as well. And at the head of the table, sat Jonah Bloom—Ad Age's editor for all things digital. I won't go into the conversation as you can read about it here, but I wanted to point our some other items of interest.
In addition to the round table, many of us were recently sourced for a story about having a "Chief Blogger", this was in response to the news of Kodak appointing one. If you read that article, you will notice that Ad Age is using pictures that they took from that round table session. And one last thing. I am participating in a new group blog on Ad Age titled "Digital Next". I join other industry voices such as Troy Young, Colleen DeCourcy and Ian Schafer.
And this brings me to what I think is the real story here. I was really tempted to title this post, "Ad Age Engages New Voices" as I don't think this is about bloggers as much as I think it's about broadening the editorial net to include alternative sources of information. Right now, traditional media is facing intense competition for people's time and attention. Why?
Even the highest level CEO, CMO or executive knows how to use their favorite search engine to find relevant content on the Web. This means that in addition to the industry publications they trust, it's likely that they will come across very relevant content that isn't produced by the "professionals". In the long tail—what gets the most traffic comes up higher in the search engines. While much of the content produced by the "non professionals" isn't high quality—some of it is, and search engine rankings confirm that opening the gates to niche information and additional perspectives.
So I'm validating the new Advertising Age strategy to engage "bloggers" through this post itself. They knew I would write it—they knew I would link to them. But that's not why they are doing this (though I think it's a positive perk). My guess is that Ad Age has come to realize that the practitioners in this space—the active participants who are speaking from actual experience vs. theory have something of value to bring to the table. And they may just be coming to terms that their audience is ready to hear some new voices. At least that's my opinion. But that's why you come here right?
A couple of weeks ago I was on a panel for the Ad Age Digital Marketing conference and slightly frustrated with the tone of the discussions, I said this:
Social Networks are all about facilitating human connections, and instead of talking about how we can do this—I hear marketers asking "how do we monetize" and "how do we advertise" on them.
To illustrate my point, I recalled a recent interaction I had with Southwest airlines on Twitter. They had found a comment I made about how much I enjoyed using one of their kiosks and responded to it. The last time I flew Southwest, I shot out a "tweet" right before takeoff saying "thanks for being on time". Of course, by the time I landed, they had responded.
Now along comes Zappos. Specifically their CEO. A couple of weeks ago I am notified that Zappos is following me on Twitter. I watch the brand in their new environment. Observe how they behave. Notice that they begin conversations with other people on Twitter and yesterday it all came together as Zappos spontaneously gave away 10 pairs of shoes randomly to Twitter followers. (Above is a direct message from the CEO explaining to me how he got the idea to do the give-away.)
The fact that Zappos and Southwest are finding success in a social network like Twittter is not surprising. These are companies that get both business and the customer experience. At the Ad Age conference, the Zappos speaker talked about how the two organizations will get together to share their techniques about serving customers. Zappos prides themselves on limiting the amount of advertising they do—instead focusing on their customer experience which they know will generate natural word of mouth.
Which brings us back to how they are using Twitter. If there is one thing you need to remember about this space—keep in mind that it's never about the tools. it's about how people use them. It's about the interactions. Zappos had figured out how to add value, create buzz, and initiate a dialouge directly with some of their customers online. Heck, they've even started their first online promotion. No microsite needed.
Marketers. Are you listening? Because your clients are.
It's been nearly one year since I wrote "It's The Conversation Economy, Stupid" for BusinessWeek. Thought it might be fun to pull a few thoughts and see if they are still relevant today. What do you think—is it still the conversation economy, or have we moved on?
On Advertising to "Consumers"
"Once upon a time, we were consumers. We consumed things. We took in the messages that were communicated to us. We didn't really get to talk back. If we had a good or bad experience with a product or service—we told a friend. Maybe that friend told a friend. Maybe, just like the shampoo commercial from advertising's golden age, "They'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…." Marketers are finding themselves in an increasingly frantic race to get people talking about their brands. The desire to produce something "viral" is nearly ubiquitous in the marketing world. But it's unclear who exactly "consumers" are these days."...
"But great experiences aren't enough. It's entirely possible to design and develop a rich, immersive, experiential Web site, only to have light traffic and little return on investment. Bud.TV, for example, is falling short of its goal of 2 million to 3 million monthly visits. Many fault the registration process. In spite of a slick interface and highly produced video, Anheuser-Busch (BUD) doesn't seem to be reaping what was sown. Why?"
"But why is Twitter so hyped? Why all the fuss? I believe it's because Twitter has evolved from a simple service that initially allowed users to express mundane thoughts into a robust "conversation ecosystem."
On Traditional Marketing
"Conversation architects move marketing beyond the idea of one-way messaging. Traditional marketing efforts were founded on this tried-and-true format and are still prevalent within the industry. Consider the example of a typical creative brief template, which usually says something like, "What are we trying to communicate?" Can you see the old-world residue in the word "communicate"? It lacks the dimensions of experiencing something and having an ongoing two-way dialogue."
"I've personally witnessed Dell's change of heart in the form of an unsolicited comment on my blog from a Dell employee in regard to a post I had written about my experience talking at Loyola University. I had asked the graduate students there whether they had heard of Dell Hell (approximately 90% of them had not). But that didn't stop Dell from hearing what I said."
"My background is in design, and I like to think that at the core, design is about facilitation. We designers should stop talking and start designing conversations. We should convert from marketers and information architects to conversation architects. Information is a one-way street, conversation isn't".
"The issue of “the cobblers children” is a very real one for any organization, especially those who make money by aligning talent to client work. How can we service clients to the best of our abilities while making sure we don’t neglect our own development? There are a few examples that I always like to use whenever I get into discussion of this topic. Like many of you I’m sure, I am a big fan of IDEO’s method cards. Not only are they helpful and convenient, but in fact they are a brilliant marketing tactic. Yes, marketing.
The best marketing is when
it doesn’t feel like it—which is why IDEO’s cards are so remarkable.
They provide value while positioning the company as a thought leader.
In my mind, this was the equivalent of the cobbler saying—”it’s time to make some shoes for myself“. And everyone including themselves benefits in the process."
Read the full post at Experience Matters
" I just wrapped up two days at the Ad Age Digital Marketing conference in NYC ...The panel I took part in was the official “social media” discussion. It was a great conversation, and the conference itself conducted polls from the audience in real time.
"...Social Media” aside, I really have to wonder if what I do is actually advertising. Having led teams on complex transactional sites and even things like ATM designs—I wonder…is that advertising? During my turn to speak on the panel, I told a very simple and true tale on my way to the conference..."
Over at the Experience Matters blog, one of our "best sellers" is a post titled "10 Ways Digital Can Help You Thrive in a Recession." Now it's more than just a post. You can view and download the presentation here (PDF). If you are an event planner and interested in hearing me talk about these ideas, drop me a line.
The Application Economy | The 3 U's | Yes, There Will Be Blood | "Un-agency"
"Last week I had the opportunity to Speak at Microsoft’s premiere event, MIX 08 (you can see my talk here, and watch a video interview here). But the real star of MIX 08 was Guy Kawasaki. Guy spent a considerable part of his career with Apple, but is currently most known for his adventures as a serial entrepreneur and blogger. But Guy is something much bigger. He’s a master at the art of improvisation among other things.
Contrast Guy’s performance with that of BusinessWeek’s Sarah Lacy
whose highly publicized fiasco at geek conference SXSW will go down in
conference history. While Guy remained relaxed, conversational and
quick on his feet even as Ballmer unexpectedly tossed Guy’s Mac Air
around like a play toy—Lacy was unable to successfully adapt to her
situation when the SXSW audience began to turn on her."
Read the full post at Experience Matters
Kip clarifies that he's not a Microsoft employee (Sorry!). But it's still worth noting that many MS employees do embrace "Blue Monster", while others don't. Thanks for the clarification Kip. And now I know your name. :-)
Symbols and icons are extremely important and meaningful. All you have to do is look back at the great propaganda movements or just look around at how companies represent themselves visually and how consumers embrace them (Harley-Davidson). If you look closely at this
Microsoft employee's notebook—you will notice two stickers. One for LiveSide and the other for Blue Monster (below).
Now here's the thing. I didn't have a long conversation with the
Microsoft employee in this photo—but his "badges" told me everything I needed to know about him. He believes in two things. LiveSide, and organizational evolution.
Why do I say that? Because everyone at Mix 08 who worked for Microsoft and handed me either a "Blue Monster" business card or had the sticker, seemed different. It was hard to put a finger on, but although they were believers in Microsoft, they also seemed to believe in an external vision that challenged Microsoft to make a meaningful impact in the world. It's a non corporate honest opinion, and some at Microsoft embrace it publicly.
What's to be learned? Blue Monster shows us that no matter how big or small the company that the world is a bigger place. And external influences can become internal influences. And it teaches us that if we are interested in the evolution of corporate culture, that symbols are important. If we don't find our own—someone will find them for us.
I'm updating some thinking on the "3 U's". The word and idea of "Unity" doesn't quite work even though there is some overlap in my thinking. So here's another take swapping the idea of "ubiquity" for "unity". Seems more appropriate. Let me know what you think.
Any experience is useful when it's meaningful and serves a purpose. Currently much of marketing still breaks down into self-serving gimmicks and interruptions that offer little value. Much of what's offered in digital is no exception. While the majority of criticism is of traditional advertising, the fact of the matter is that interruptive based traditional digital advertising is not much better. These are the digital gimmicks that work to get your attention but are usually done so poorly that they offer no value whatsoever. Usefulness is the exact opposite.
Utility = interaction that delights us in some way. But hold the iPhone. The industry has hijacked the word delight and brainwashed us to think that only companies like Apple and Disney are capable of serving it up. Let me tell you a story about the "no-frills" Craigslist, which just happened this morning. My wife took pictures of a large playset we wanted to sell. She uploaded them at 10:00 A.M. By noon, she had several people interested and she sold the set in time for a late lunch. We had the set dismantled, picked up and were $100.00 richer that evening. That's delight in the application economy.
We are living in a fragmented world with what seems like infinite touch points available to us. Brands and businesses who can distribute value across these endless touch points in effective ways will tap into new markets and solidify existing ones. Even though some of us are interacting through multiple social channels—we can now find people just like ourselves who we trust and see what they like/dislike. This influences our decisions from the stuff we buy to the things we recommend to each other. The best marketing in the world tries to simulate this, but usually ends up coming off as contrived. Meaningful interactions through multiple networks and channels leads to authentic word of mouth references and ultimately affinity.
"But social applications are about consideration, not awareness.
Blogs, word of mouth, social networks . . . they're about people connecting with other people. You may resist advertising if your finances are tight, but if your bud tells you that new movie is really worth seeing or that the Gap has the cutest new tops, that's more persuasive than advertising. Basically, in a recession, the consideration phase is more important than awareness -- and that's where advertising flops and social applications succeed."
~Josh Bernoff - Forrester
I recently did a Q+A for a publication that's going to be included at this year's IIT Institute of Design Conference (you should go). The question got me thinking about Motorola and the RAZR. It used to be my de-facto story to communicate the power of design. But as I began answering the question—I quickly realized how the story highlights both the power and limitations of design. Anyway—thought you might enjoy a preview. And definitely consider going to the conference which will include esteemed individuals such as Bill Buxton, A.G. Lafley, Claudia Kotchcka, Roger Martin, and Bruce Nussbaum to name a few.
Q: Give me your favorite example of a company or project that used design to figure out "where to play" or "how to win".
A: Interesting timing on this question. I used to reference the Motorola RAZR as a textbook example of the power of design. The story had all of the right ingredients: A brand that needed a breakthrough product, a prototype that pushed the idea forward, an end product that had reflective emotional appeal and influenced the design of other products. But it’s worth taking a look at Motorola today which is currently having difficulties finding a buyer for their handset division. Somehow along the way, they could not disseminate the success of the RAZR and the story ironically becomes a case study for the limitations of design. I still believe design can be transformational, but it cannot be divorced from the corporate culture or values that a company believes in.
My favorite current examples tend to highlight the ecosystem of experience a brand or company can provide. I like to talk about examples such as Trader Joe's, SouthWest Airlines and even digital cousins such as Flickr and YouTube as examples of not only design—but the total experience. What once started out as the poster child for design—the RAZR may actually become the poster child which demonstrates that form and function is simply not enough. It was good design which ultimately became a low-priced commodity. Sustainability is a hot topic in the design world right now and the RAZR illustrates that we need to think about sustainability beyond the “green” sense—Motorola was simply not able to sustain the momentum of the RAZR. I recently read an article where the author said that the Apple Air is the “RAZR for notebooks”. With hindsight being 20/20, this may not be the compliment it was intended to be.
It's a simple exercise really. Take a brand, and next to it—write the first word that pops into your head.
Harley-Davidson > Freedom
Coke > Nostalgia
Southwest > Folksy
Marlboro > Cowboys
Apple > Design
Marvel > Heroes
IDEO > Innovation
Nike > Style
Volvo > Safe
Google > Search (and possibly the internet)
Now—let's take a few brands that perhaps have seen better days behind them:
Motorola > ?
Krispy Kreme > ?
K-Mart > ?
Burger King > ?
Kodak > ?
American Airlines > ?
Ford > ?
AOL > ?
Yahoo! > ?
I'm leaving the question mark because several words come to mind for each but none really stand out—when you compare the lists, they speak for themselves.
Back in 1996 I got seriously infected by the internet—to me, companies like Yahoo! and Netscape were the internet. I associated them with the Web and all the possibilities that came with it, and so I made the move to work full time in the industry. Back then, Yahoo! was a great brand. It represented the opposite of slow moving non-digital companies. The name Yahoo! itself was a perfect choice—it felt like a maverick, an anomaly. Back in 1996, if you worked in the Web—you could relate to feeling this way. We were mavericks. Most businesses were struggling with what the Web meant for them—we looked to companies such as Yahoo! to help pave the way for the rest of us. Today—we look to companies like Google.
Something happened. If you asked people what Yahoo!'s business model actually was you'd get several different answers—some might say online content, others, applications and others yet—search. But that may have been the first warning sign that something wasn't right at the core.
When brands—whether they be corporate or personal begin to lose meaning—when it becomes difficult to do the one word association exercise, then it's a sign that there may be trouble. Even Microsoft—as much as most brand professionals are are quick to criticize has a definitive association:
Microsoft > big
In the end, Microsoft's move is consistent with the both the companies' business model and brand. For Yahoo! it seems like if you compared the brand from the 90s to the current version—you would see a disconnect in associations. This particular application of "the law of association" isn't real. I'm just borrowing the phrase to illustrate a point—great brands always seem to stand for something definitive don't they?
I should be talking about the Hotel's decor. The flat screen television. The modern furniture, hip fireplace and a service staff that looked like they came out of a modeling agency. But instead—I'm talking about the unusable sink. Here's how it works:
1. Fill it up with water
3. Spend nearly 10 minutes trying to figure out how to drain it.
4. Get frustrated, beat yourself up for being an idiot and finally give up.
Whenever the subject of hotels comes up—I'll probably share my experience with the unusable sink. I can see the story becoming an instant classic with other travelers who will share their own horror stories. But it underscores a simple and profound message. People don't just share good experiences—we share bad ones too. In fact, we're even more inclined to talk about the bad ones. There's something therapeutic about it. Experiences are like apples—and it only takes a single bad one to taint the rest of the batch. Every business wants to be talked about—they just don't want it to be about their unusable sinks.
Bruce Tempkin of Forrester and the Customer Experience Matters blog has gift-wrapped a nice little stocking stuffer in the form of "Customer Experience Resolutions". They are:
It's a great list. I would add one:
That's the foundation of it all. Great experiences that are customer/people-centric are extremely hard to achieve. If you are working for a company that doesn't have a culture of customer-centricity baked into it, then it will be difficult to achieve any of these goals. If your company never had it—you will have to figure out how to build that culture. If you had it and lost it—you'll need to "revive" it.
You can hire all of the customer-centric consultants that money can buy. But at the end of the day, the best results come from a culture focused on serving people. In this case, the people just happen to be customers.
The big news in the Design world is that John Maeda, author of the "Laws of Simplicity" has left the MIT media lab to become president of RISD (video) (Rhode Island School of Design). What a great move. RISD, which is a excellent school will be lucky to have him. In an Interview at BusinessWeek's NEXT blog, John says:
"I know that a great deal of my start up phase will be spent learning and listening about RISD’s unique strengths and using that base knowledge to figure where it could possibly go. Where can it go? Really the sky is the limit because it RISD is perfectly grounded in the perfect traditions of the past."
Right on. John, if you're listening—I have a thought:
Would you ever consider opening up the RISD blog to the outside world? How cool would it be to have academic discussions that transcend the halls of RISD and include perspectives from all over the place? I dunno. I could be wrong. Maybe it's a dumb idea. As a Pratt graduate, one of the things I loved about that school was that it's location in Brooklyn was the best of both worlds. It felt like a private Oasis in the middle of an urban jungle—but on the other hand, you could get to NYC in minutes and expose yourself to a universe of experiences. It provided an interesting mix of seclusion and exposure.
Design school was one of my favorite times in life. But I often reflect back upon it, and realize how many new skills I needed to learn once I joined the business world. I hope that 2008 promises more interaction between the worlds of academia, business and even design. What a great year it will be!
Tip 'O the hat: Bruce Nussbaum