Showing posts with label small business. Show all posts
Showing posts with label small business. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 19

Marketing Integration: Times Are Changing; So Is Education

Integrated Marketing Communications
Total global advertising placement is projected to exceed $716 billion next year, with as much as 70 percent of that total (exclusive of production) is being spent in North America. Marketers are investing more than 25 percent of this mix in digital advertising and social networks, and almost half invested in websites, branding, and strategy. 

These were the same kinds of numbers I considered a few years ago as enrollment in the Public Relations Certificate Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) began to evaporate. Fewer and fewer working professionals were interested in a certificate program that seemed to exist within a vacuum, especially as public relations worked overtime to "own social" and thereby became owned by the strategic arms of marketing and communications.

While some saw the decline as waning interest in communications, I saw it as an inevitable shift away from public relations and toward integrated marketing communications‚ a field of study that was better equipped to address the challenges presented by digital advertising, social networks, shifting media patterns, and divided consumer attention. Yes, public relations in its purest form can still be invaluable, but continuing education students need to consider something more practical.

Retooling Integrated Marketing Communications at UNLV

For the better part of a year, several respected communicators in the field have been working with UNLV to develop what the next generation of integrated marketing communications might need. The resulting pinpointed four core classes and a variety of electives that could introduce or upgrade new skillsets for working professionals and small business owners.

Fundamentals of Integrated Marketing. Examine the core elements of integrated communications, including marketing research, segmentation, positioning, branding, analytics, and promotions.

Digital and Social Media Marketing. Learn key concepts of on- and offsite SEO, paid search marketing, online advertising, web analytics, email marketing, social media marketing, and online reputation management.

Consumer Behavior & Market Research. Examine why consumers behave the way they do and understand the practical marketing implications of that behavior. Use advanced market research methods to inform decisions.

Writing & Content Creation for Marketing. Communicate effectively by mastering the varied skills necessary to write for departments, businesses, and organizations across a variety of media.

While there about a dozen electives to support these core classes, these four provide enough of a foundation for those hoping to enter the field, those keeping up with trends, or those attempting to define their marketing budget. (The average successful company, by the way, invests 6-12 percent of their revenue into marketing.) And it's my hope anyone who enters the program will learn how precise, consistent, and persuasive messages to the right audience at the right time.

Once they have a foundation, professionals are always in a better position to discuss where technology intersects marketing and communication. In fact, just by looking at the twelve skill sets that are now in high demand for 2020, it becomes crystal clear where the brightest minds want to take communications  — a place where analytics reimagines messaging and technology reimagines message delivery. It's an exciting time. Goodnight and good luck.

Wednesday, August 19

Everything Can Scale, Especially Mediocrity.

When marketers talk about automation, they don't always see the danger in it. Maybe it's because select benefits — lead generation, response counts, data tracking — outweigh most shortcomings.  But then when you move the principles of automation to something even more personal, like health care, it begins to feel frightening.

Health care professional Andy De Lao knows it. He warns that what we're scaling in health care isn't efficiency as much at it is mediocrity. Where care used to be extraordinary, he says, systems are making it "extra ordinary." You can even hear it in the vernacular. Terms like lean, defects, efficiency, output, capacity, scale, workflow, and productivity were all borrowed from industrial manufacturing.

Health care isn't alone. Those words creep up into almost everything nowadays — marketing, culinary arts, education. They seem to be everywhere. And sometimes, not every time, mediocrity follows.

Somewhere along the way, scalability becomes a setback. 

The last time I ate something from McDonald's (several years ago), I was keenly aware that it wasn't the restaurant that Ray Kroc built around the original quick service concept of Dick and Mac McDonald. Sure, phrase like quality, service, cleanliness, and value still exist, but with very different meanings than the original model.

Quality is now couched in comparison, the service is slower, the cleanliness sterile, and the concept of value somehow out of whack with the reality of the product. Half of the menu feels overpriced. Half of the menu feels cheap. What's worse is that the executive team can't seem to pinpoint the problem.

The problem isn't one thing that prevents McDonald's from getting its mojo back. It's everything. What we're witnessing almost every day at the chain is nothing less than a brand hemorrhage.

And the culprit? Scalability and mediocrity finally caught up with the clown. The systems that once made it a brilliant brand have crashed as it traded in a little on the phrases that made it famous.

Isn't this the same problem we're seeing with health care, where planning target volumes, designing intake forms, and timing medical consultations overtake the core function of patient care? Isn't this the same issue with education, where process is starting to beat out innovation? Isn't this the same challenge marketers have when attempting to understand the difference between automation and absenteeism in social media and content marketing?

I think Andy De Lao is right. There is some optimal point where art and efficiency can coexist. He applied it to his field of health care, but see it fits almost everywhere. Nothing great can scale forever.

The answer is simple: Automate the mundane, but not the art. 

Geoff Livingston gets it. He recently traded in writing columns for articles on his blog, noting that it helps set it apart from the more common opinion/posturing pieces that make up most blogs. And while that might seem like an odd analogy for health care, education, and culinary arts, it still fits.

There is nothing wrong with automation that schedules when you share articles, includes a stable of authors you really respect, or even makes you more efficient. But when you begin to phone in whatever if you are offering — blog post, patient care, or college class — mediocrity takes hold.

You see, there are some things that a restaurant kiosk or social scheduling or online class cannot replace. While all of them have merit, the real magic still happens with the human connection — spontaneous sparks that lead us light years away from whatever some mediocre outline prescribed.

Wednesday, July 8

Emerging Markets And Wealth Are Changing Consumer Behavior

While some luxury brands continue to express interest in courting Generation Y, a demographic loosely defined as those born between 1977 and 1994 in the United States, other brands are setting their sights on another segment all together. They see the next surge in luxury consumers not confined to American Millennials but driven by emerging markets such as India and South Africa.

One new study, Wealth X, sees India producing as many as 437,000 millionaires by 2018 (and doubling again by 2023).The nation also has a young, well-educated population with high levels of entrepreneurship and business ownership, underpinned by a well-developed legal system.

Wealth growth in Africa — especially markets such as South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya — continues to be driven by a naturally entrepreneurial population at an annual rate of over 10 percent. Not only are those markets rich in natural resources, but they also have a new foundation for technological innovation.

In addition, the study predicts Iran, Turkey, and Mexico will become economic bright spots among global markets. These markets will continue to be influenced by western European and North American definitions of luxury (including a shift from physical luxury to experiential luxury.)

Five behavioral shifts expected from emerging markets. 

Hyper-Localization. Although the world is shrinking, wealthy consumers are identifying with the cities where they work and live (and not necessarily their countries). As a result, brands need to prepare for an increasingly nonlinear development of economies and wealth creation as well as the important role proximity advertising and marketing will play in reaching those new millionaires.

New Frontiers. An increase in new wealth will continue to drive a growing early adopter segment hungry for new experiences. In addition to new frontier experiences such as space tourism and global investment opportunities cited in the study, pay attention to augmented and virtual reality space.

Luxury Experiences. Millennials are not the only population segment that is more interested in experience over products. The rich in emerging markets are increasingly shifting luxury consumption away from product purchases to lavish experiences like extreme locations and underwater holidays.

Hyper-Personalization. As well as fundamental rarity, personalization is expected to become the second major driver of exclusivity in the next decade. This will continue to manifest in tailored and unique products as well as one-off experiences.

Privacy and Intimacy. There will be an increasing desire for privacy among the wealthy in the future, yet at the same time a desire for greater intimacy among the select providers they trust. As a brand is truly defined by the relationship between itself and its customers, the newly rich will look for near flawless experiences from a shrinking pool of brands they trust.

These behavioral shifts will have a profound effect on brands. 

These are not the only shifts expected in the attitudes and psychology of the emerging wealthy. The study predicts those joining the ranks of the wealthy will become increasingly concerned about the economy, geopolitics, wealth preservation, privacy, and health care options.

With the recent financial crisis still fresh in their minds, they will be keenly sensitive to issues such as wealth preservation and the return on investment in every area of their lives from financial holdings to how they spend family holidays. At the same time, as wealth continues to become globalized, there will be an increased demand for personalization with design eclipsing technology and exclusivity defined by something other than price point alone.

The Wealth-X Part II study, which covers the next 10 years of wealth and luxury, is currently available without a registration barrier. In review, many of the concepts presented in the study are not confined to having an impact on luxury brands alone. As an emerging class of globalized rich continues to emerge, their behaviors will have a significant influence over consumer expectation on all organizations — especially in hyper-localized minded cities with increasingly unique identities.

Marketers hoping to find opportunities in behavioral shifts ahead need to begin focusing on proximity, flexibility, exclusivity, and improving the customer experience. Entrepreneurs need to look toward new frontiers that create entirely new markets — space travel, oceanic exploration, virtual reality, near-invisible energy production, and biotechnology among them.

Wednesday, April 15

The Problem With Chasing Profits For Most Companies

A long-time colleague of mine used to make every prospect he met chuckle over his quip that he wasn't in the "advertising business." He was in the "check cashing business." The more money his marketing strategies generated for his clients, the more often they would write him checks.

His delivery was something of a marvel too. He said it with such smug confidence that you wanted to sign up with his firm. "Yes, yes! I want to be in the check cashing business too." Who doesn't?

The notion of making money is a powerful one. It has been baked in the balance sheet for some companies — enough so that their culture permeates it. Every incentive is built around growth, awareness, profits, and sales. And there doesn't seem to be any problem with it, until this thinking begins to create gaps between the business and its customers.

How profit margins are maligning the airline industry.

On one hand, the airline industry is enjoying record-setting profits. But on the other hand, the customer experience continues to crash as airlines charge for every luxury, convenience, and necessity while stripping away customer comfort and service.

Higher fares, hidden fees, and fewer employees contribute to a growing problem, exacerbated by the additional hurdles created by airport security. There is no question about it. Flying is worse. There are problems: more lost bags, more oversold flights, more flight disruptions, and more lapses in customer service than ever before. And most analysts are predicting it will get worse before it gets better. Even reward miles are a bit of a shell game on some carriers. You can earn them, but not redeem them.

Even when USA Today called flying something to be endured rather than enjoyed last year, nothing changed. The airlines simply doubled down and let things slip a little further. They might again too.

With 87 percent of all air travel dominated by four carriers, being travel unhappy is the new normal unless you happen to be a shareholder. Airlines profits have soared as airlines limit seats to make themselves look like attractive incentives. It's no longer about cost recovery, but inflated demand.

So what is really happening? Airlines are simply operating with a profit mindset, banking on the drop in oil prices and their ability to hold fares at their current level. It's a short-term boon to be sure. With the roomiest today really the tightest seats of ten years ago, it's becoming ripe for disruption.

Nobody really knows what that form of disruption might be. Maybe it will be a high speed rail system that relies less on fuel prices or the future proliferation of automated cars that make road trips less taxing. And while some people still equate such solutions with science fiction, either seem more likely than the emergence of more JetBlues (that won't succumb to investor pressures).

The bottom line is that the airline industry is leaving itself open for competition much in the same way taxi cab companies created the ride sharing disruption, the music industry forced the digital disruption, and the reference material market killed its print. Others are ripe for disruption too.

Almost all of them had the same thing in common. They tried to consolidate or regulate rather than diversify or communicate. They sacrificed customer service for cost containment. They placed profits ahead of their value propositions. They considered themselves invulnerable to disruption.

Profits are a by-product of innovation, attitude, and cohesiveness.

The best businesses never place profits first. They value all of their constituents — customers, employees, shareholders — equally. In fact, according to What America Does Right by Robert H. Waterman, Jr., companies that do are four times better in revenue growth, eight times better in job creation, 12 times better in stock prices, and 756 times better in new income growth.

So why do some people say put profits first? Most of them believe that revenue and expenses are somehow opposing forces. But they really aren't. They often work together, provided you can demonstrate a value proposition that justifies a slightly higher premium. Make it worth it.

Sure, some people can argue that no one will notice one missing olive. But eventually, someone will notice that the entire salad has gone missing, along with the peanuts, pretzels, blankets and pillows.

It's also why CEO Doug Parker seems to be struggling to meet his goal of "restoring American to the greatest airline in the world." To do it, he will have to reverse engineer profit-first thinking that has dominated the carrier since "olive" accounting was instituted years ago. In its place, the airline will have to remember that sometimes an olive is an expense, but sometimes it's an investment. Ergo, great reputations aren't built on scarcity principles. They are built on meeting elevated expectations.

It's a lesson that long-time colleague of mine eventually learned. His "check cashing business" was shuttered. It turns out that the prospects he won over were quick to miss the "advertising business."

Wednesday, June 25

Having Engagement Problems? Make Your Audience The Content

It doesn't matter what study you look up. Marketers always struggle with the same measurements — engagement, lead generation, and sales. They aren't the only ones. Americans feel miffed too.

According to a recent Gallop poll, a clear majority of Americans say social media has no effect at all on their purchasing decisions. A whopping 62 percent say social has no influence over them.

Even when respondents were broken out by age, not much changed. Forty-eight percent of Millennials said that social media had no influence over them (43 percent said it had some).

Consumers are influenced by social media, but it has to be good.

The good news is that the consumer survey by Gallop doesn't prove much. Americans have said much the same about advertising for years. It's not a lie per se, but they are genuinely mistaken.

We don't always know which bits of information are from friends or pass through marketing messages. The same can be said for social and cultural shifts too. You would be surprised how many come from outside of the country before they are shared by Americans inside the country.

On the other hand, most marketers are still only marginally adept at social media because they tend to start out with the wrong intent. They are too "sales" focused, which generally produces a social media campaign akin to celebrating itself online. Nobody wants to visit a social page for push messages.

"How are you? Let's talk about me." It's true. Marketers don't use those words verbatim, but that is what most of the messages become. It's common for many social media experts to let you leave a page but not without pounding you to subscribe to an e-newsletter first. Never mind the risk associated with more studies that are veiled attempts for lead generation a.k.a. permission to spam lists.

The problem with all of it is pretty clear. If the intent is all about sales, then you can't expect the method to magically produce engagement. It's mostly the other way around. If the method produces engagement, then it is very likely the organization will experience incremental sales growth.

If you want better engagement, make your audience the content. 

This simple answer is only slightly deceiving in that the execution is complex. It's complex because every audience or public or group of people or whatever you call them have very different needs.

If you simply run from one organization to the next organization with a cookie cutter solution (or one stolen from a best practices SlideShare deck), people won't care about your content. The reason they won't care is because content creation that aims for engagement is not the same as content created for an editorial calendar. The content people want to read has to be about them, directly or indirectly.

What does that mean? Sometimes the answer can be exceptionally direct — a professional membership organization that focuses on its members and upcoming events (where members meet up) has a great opportunity to develop a vibrant community. Sometimes the answer is less direct — an organization that wants to establish itself on the cutting edge of an industry will seek out innovation (even if it is not their own). And sometimes the answer is in between — an event that brings together hundreds of authors and book enthusiasts makes it easier for the two to connect.

"How are you? Let's talk about you." It's the message that really matters. People mostly don't want to know about your organization, but they may want to know who attends your events. People mostly don't want to know about your program, but they may be fascinated by the advancements being made in the industry. People mostly don't want to know about your product, but they might want to know how to fix a problem or make their lives easier. If it happens to include your product, service or position, then it's win-win. Sales tend to be a by[product of doing everything else right.

In other words, maybe it's time to throw out your elevator speech and work on a deliverable instead. How can you better bring a concept, conversation, or community to your customers that they can actually be part of and care about? Good. Go do that. And once you do, never put it on autopilot.

What do you think? Isn't engagement what made the earliest forms of social media fly? People wanted to connect and the medium helped make it possible. The comments are yours.

Wednesday, January 8

Whatever Your Vision, It's Probably Right.

If there is one common thread being spun in the first few weeks of 2014, we can sum it up to stories about vision. Everybody wants it. Few people have it. Nobody really knows what it means.

Let's start there. Inc. ties it to jotting down 3-, 5-, and 10-year goals. Harvard Business Review says it is all about a core ideology and a "big, hairy, audacious" goal. Fast Company calls it a future state. It's a fair summation from those articles at least. All three magazines have published dozens of ideas.

I don't really see visions like that anymore. I've come to see it as an achievable state of being without a definitive conclusion, not just for organizations and nations but also for individuals. It's conceptual and complete, non-comparative and never confined by time (even if we need time to move toward it).

Do you know who was great visionary? Gene Roddenberry. 

He didn't settle on an individual, organization, or nation. He peered into the future to find an ideal outcome for humankind. He envisioned a future for his fiction that centered squarely on hope, achievement, and understanding so humankind could reach for, explore, and master the stars.

The vision was so comprehensive that it has an "optimism effect" on its viewers. It's a phenomenon that isn't confined to fiction either. It's the same kind of optimism that keeps the hope for a Maslow Window alive. It's also why I'm supportive of any space program, public or private. The nation that sparks the next international space race and wins will likely dictate the ideology of our future.

Regardless, the point is made. People feel good when they think about Star Trek, doubly so when they start counting up how many of those innovations came true — everything from cell phones to tractor beams. Some of these technologies might not be mainstream, but iPhone isn't even a decade old.

The optimism effect can radiate from people too, vision pending. 

This is the reason successful people are successful. They always seem to find a way and other people gravitate toward them. Even if something doesn't work out, they quickly find something else to engage in.

It comes from their ability to objectively assess where they are and then move toward a better state of being in every aspect of their life, not just a goal or a singular objective. They consider the entire life — career, finance, health, family/friends, romance/intimacy, personal growth/education/spiritual, fun/recreation, and physical environment/home/community.

Don't get me wrong. I don't subscribe to the notion that all of these need to be balanced all the time. They don't. As long as someone makes progress in each area of their life, other areas can receive more attention. It isn't until someone starts to make long-term concessions or sacrifices (or short-term cheats) that things will start to break down and even whatever dominated their life is compromised.

The same holds true for organizations. They have to consider their mission, values, and culture just as much as market share, revenue, or stock price. All too often, organizations forget themselves and set singular objectives ahead of their vision like increasing a profit margin or cutting a budget.

But what happens over the long run? Much like marketers have found deep discounts can increase conversion rates but cheapen a brand, companies can lose everything by chasing one thing. Case in point, frozen foods have suffered from a sales slump that they hope marketing can fix.

The truth is that once premium frozen food brands like Marie Callender's frozen dinners aren't as good as they used to be. ConAgra thinks it's a perception issue, but it's a quality control issue. The meals they made ten years ago are not the meals they make today. The meals they make today aren't even as good as the ones they made last year. The sales decline matches recipe cutbacks, not consumer moods.

Think of a few companies that have been shuttered. Borders shrugged off an earlier vision to embrace merchandising and so chose a mission to change people (outside of its control) instead of seeing its place within that environment (inside its control). Circuit City adopted a vision that saw its team working together but never really outlined what they were working toward. Blockbuster had a mission and vision that defended its value proposition even when it no longer had value.

Barnes & Noble has an odd mission/vision too. One wonders how long it can compete without recognizing the critical need to better integrate the physical-online-mobile landscape (among other things). I can see a vision for them, but wonder if it will see it before it is missed as a company.

Whatever your vision, it's probably right. 

If you really want to develop a successful vision for the new year, start with assessing where you are and then dream up some ideal outcomes. Develop your vision from there by shifting away from the outcomes and more toward the qualities that epitomize them because it's the verb that gets you there and not the noun.

Once you have it down, it all becomes a matter of making personal progress. Organizations and nations aren't much different either. As long as the people who make it up can agree or believe in the vision enough to take action toward it, it will be infinitely more likely to realize than if it never had one.

Wednesday, November 13

We're Not Ready For The Future Of Education, Are We?

what's next for education
Have you ever heard of Sam Duncan? He is the chief executive officer of OfficeMax, a position he managed to earn without the benefit of a college degree. Instead, Duncan leaned on his military experience and a lifetime of hard work that began as a bag boy at a local Albertson's supermarket.

He worked hard at it. He worked so hard that his store manager once told him that if he kept up with the same work ethic, then one day he might be president of a company. He never forgot the advice.

"If you are trying to work on today’s or tomorrow’s problems, you are too late,” Duncan said in a recent interview with Success. “You have to read and anticipate trends.” 

That seems to be what Jack Andraka did last year. He is the teenager who developed a fast, non-intrusive, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer. He was 15.

Some people call him a prodigy for his discovery. Others just consider him tenacious for thinking it through and then requesting laboratory space from more than 200 professors at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health. He was rejected 199 times.

"You don't have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued," Andraka said during his guest appearance on TED. "Regardless of your gender, age, or ethnicity, your ideas can count."

He reminded of me of Eden Full. She was the 19-year-old student at Princeton who designed a motor-free tracker for solar panels that improved efficiency by 40 percent. Incidentally, she didn't come up with the idea at Princeton. She invented the technology while still in high school.

Like Andraka, who made low cost part of his criteria, Full improved solar efficiency without electricity. She initially used temperature sensitive bimetallic strips that cost $10 to $20 each. And then, after testing, improved her design by using gravity power generated by water displacement.

And then there is Austin Gutwein from Arizona. While he didn't necessarily have the same medical or scientific prowess that Andraka or Full had, he fulfilled his sense of purpose by starting a free throw fundraiser when he was only nine years old. Today, Hoops of Hope is an international effort.

And then there is Oren Rosenbaum. He was only 17 years old when he dreamed up what would become P'Tones Records. It's a record label that helps youth explore their musical, professional, and artistic talents in ways no one else thought possible. Today, his educational label is strategically aligned with Warner Music Group.

How are these kids managing to change the world without a full education?

Teach imagination?Every now and again, I have to remind people that not all students are failing at the same pace as public expectation. There are plenty of exceptions out there. There might even be more if we looked to lift these exceptions up instead of proving community fears that lead to Common Core standards.

While I'm not going to debate Common Core standards today, there does seem to be an emphasis on holding all students to a certain standard of knowledge. On the surface, that seems fine. But in reality, someone forgot that measuring knowledge is not a measure of intelligence. Why is that important?

As Albert Einstein once put it, "the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." 

And when you look at any of the students I mentioned above, all of them seem to bear this out. Their successes weren't based on what they knew but instead on their tenacity in finding out what nobody else knew.

Who's going to teach them that? Based on some feedback from early adopters in education, it won't be taught by Common Core. While problem solving is claimed to be a criteria, creativity and imagination   cannot be accurately measured — as they tend to manifest themselves in the least likely ways.

Andraka in medicine. Full in engineering. Gutwein in charity. Rosenbaum in music. Before any of them, Sam Duncan, the clerk who would become a chief operating officer. How do we test for this?

We can't test for it because there is no benchmark for innovation, which requires thinking, creativity, tenacity, and self-motivation. It's precisely the kind of stuff that employers have found to be lacking in recent college graduates. And it's precisely the reason that Mark Cuban might have a point.

Save education?
Cuban thinks that we are overdue for a meltdown in college education (hat tip: Ruthie). His reasoning feels right as the return on investment for tuition increases has become unmanageable. Ergo, the student-debt ratio has outpaced graduate earning potential. And without the infusion of easy money in the form of government grants and loans, the university system as we know it will likely face a collapse.

He might be right. The university system has adopted economics that aren't sustainable (with fewer and fewer full-time professors in exchange for underpaid ad hoc instructors) without a considerable infusion of easy money. At the same time, there is a segment of students that are becoming less empowered and more entitled — people who expect a free education in the field of their choice with guaranteed employment to do the status quo work that they learned was permissible in middle school.

This is never going to work. And worse, trying to fix what exists now harkens back to the opening of the article. It's always too late to fix today's problems; and online classrooms are tomorrow's problem.

The classroom of the future won't be "online" exclusively. 

If we really want to develop an education system for the future, we need to start with a blank slate and establish a vision and values that are important such as a program that is affordable, flexible, applicable, and with post-program opportunities. And then we need to ask how those qualities might be realized in programs across a variety of fields.

This kind of thinking doesn't necessarily have to preclude the liberal education experience, which can prove useful when combined for a maximum effect. But before we even consider what might be worth salvaging, we might establish a new format — taught partly online, partly in person (as workshops to augment online instruction), partly on independent projects/study, and partly on group projects/labs with peers that produce something with a tangible value like any of the outcomes developed by the aforementioned students.

Classroom futures.
Who wouldn't want to hire them in their related fields? And if they aren't hired on by someone else, then perhaps they can start their own companies or organizations instead. Three out of the four I mentioned above started something. So why not expect undergraduates to do the same?

Even in my 10-week truncated Writing for Public Relations class, I offer students the same opportunity. One of several optional assignments asks them to develop a physical media kit for the nonprofit organization of their choice (with the permission of the organization). They can create an online version too, but the physical model helps them produce something tangible.

Naturally, my example is small scale for anything students might do in pursuit of a bachelor's degree. Much like master's and doctorate programs sometimes require a thesis, students deserve more hands-on opportunities that carry real world consequences. At least, that is what I think. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 4

Thinking Still Beats Searching When You Need Four Gallons.

Thinking
My wife had a question the other day, but it wasn't her question. The question belonged to my son and he didn't want to ask me. He thought he knew what I would say. He was wrong, but close enough.

The question was a puzzler of sorts. It was a problem from his math teacher. And any student who turns in the answer Tuesday (today) will receive extra credit. The reason my wife asked me wasn't a puzzler. She wanted him to receive the extra credit. (What parent wouldn't? Besides me, I mean.)

Maybe I should clarify that point. I don't want him to receive extra credit. I want him to learn it. And given that he had the whole weekend to figure it out and it was only the Friday before the long Labor Day weekend, there was no rush on my part. 

How can you make four gallons if you only have a three gallon bucket and a five gallon bucket?

I told him to wait until I had finished my part of the shopping list, groceries for the meals I would cook for the week ahead. Even then, I said, expect some help but not the answer. He didn't want that. 

A few minutes later, I looked over at him. He had moved on to another problem. Specifically, he was trying to figure out which route to take as he transported his stolen loot from a bank to an escape vehicle.  Right. He was playing PayDay 2 on the Xbox. 

"Why aren't you working on the problem?" I asked.

"I already spent 20 minutes working on it in class," he said.

"Well, obviously that isn't enough," I suggested. 

"It's all right," he said. "I already looked it up." 

"You did what?"

"I did what you were probably going to tell me to do," he said.

"You did what?" 

"I looked it up. Done."

"You looked it up, where?" 

"Google."

Ah, Google. If there has ever been a company of smart people responsible for the dumbing down of America, it has to be Google. All students have to do is drop in a few key words from their math problems and poof — they can find an answer while unceremoniously learning nothing in the process.

"I didn't tell you to look it up," I said. "I was going to give you a hint."

The reason I wanted to give him a hint was because the puzzler is not the real problem. Although the question suggests you need to measure four gallons of water using a three gallon bucket and a five gallon bucket, the real problem is something else. It's what stops most people after 20 minutes of class.

In order to solve the problem, you really need to establish what X might be. And in this case, X is really whatever it takes to make gallon of water. I wouldn't have told him that, but intended to point him in that direction by asking what stopped him from answering the question. Except, I couldn't anymore. 

Google beat me to it. And today, all across the country, Google is going to beat other teachers and parents too. It's not the company's fault, but it is creating a problem. Sometimes it pays to look something up. Other times, it is much more rewarding to figure it out. Figuring teaches you to think and rethink. 

The most creative (and possibly efficient solutions) aren't online. 

EducationOne of my favorite authors of all time never wrote any fiction. His name is Richard Feynman. He was a scientist and winner of a Nobel Prize in physics. The reason he won it is punctuated by his affliction for figuring things out as opposed to looking them up. By thinking, he often debunked popular theories. 

It had been that way all his life. Even when he was 11, Feynman started to think his way around radios. Eventually, he moved on to fixing burglar alarms, amplifiers and other gadgets too. It was in his nature. He seldom looked anything up. Reinventing the wheel, for him, often made the wheel better. 

There are dozens of stories that underscore his point in his books and books about him. He said it over and over and over again. Even when the New York Times wrote an article about his legacy in 1992, it recounted how Murray Gell-Mann described The Feynman Algorithm to solve everything. 

What is the algorithm? It's simple enough. You write down the problem. You think very hard. And then you write down an answer. For many years, this phenomenon called thinking is what set American students apart from students in the rest of the world despite those international tests that suggested otherwise.

Most students, he observed when teaching abroad, are taught to memorize the answers. But he preferred to teach students to think through problems rather than always assuming the experts were right. Not only did that inspire new ways to think about things, but it also gave students the ability to apply what they've learned to a completely new set of paradigms and problems. Right. They get good at it.

There are some days that I'm not sure Feynman would feel American students are set apart anymore. Many of our students have been taught to resist the urge to think nowadays. And they are not alone. 

People ask questions online all the time or turn to key word searches to ask things like "how do I get more traffic to my site?" or "how do I get more Twitter followers?" or "who are the influencers in this field and that field?" as if those people can think better than they. There is nothing wrong with that, but I wonder if any of them know that one set of solutions doesn't fit a different set of problems.

Sure, seeing how other people solve their problems can be useful at times. But almost every communication problem is patently unique. You have to think very hard. Besides, just as I told my son, you have to try thinking in order to become a great thinker. It requires practice, just like anything. 

How about you? What do you think? And by that, I mean about anything? The comments are yours. Let's talk.

Wednesday, October 17

Sticking With Tactics: Do Marketers Know Strategy?

A recent study by Econsultancy tells the story. Marketers believe in content marketing. Ninety percent of those surveyed say that content marketing will become more important in the next 12 months.

It's not a surprise for anyone working in social media. But what is even more telling about the survey is something else. Only 38 percent have defined a content strategy. It's also likely most don't know how.

What happens when you work without a content strategy? 

The entire communication process becomes tactical, relying on the tips of the trade but never really reaching business objectives, campaign goals or even brand reinforcement. Remember Bud TV?

But perhaps even more disturbing, even those that are in the process of planning a strategy demonstrate thin objectives. The top three goals: increase engagement, increase site traffic, and raise brand awareness.

Seriously? While some of these might be considered outcomes, none of them are well-defined objectives on their. Rewritten, marketers might consider increasing brand loyalty, positioning themselves as source experts, or improving positive brand recall (e.g., not only increasing awareness but also ensuring people get it right and have a positive impression of it).

Even some of the lower scoring answers — improving SEO links, generating leads, influencing stakeholders — represent a tendency to focus on tasks that lead to something but seldom define what those tasks are likely to lead to. Ergo, marketers are becoming too reliant on "doing" something but many of them don't know to what end while others plug in "increase sales," which ought to be a given. (Businesses are in business to sell things, hopefully in such a way that they actually benefit people.)

Establishing objectives always starts with a situation analysis.

Many companies do not start their planning process with an understanding of organizational purpose (preferably one underserved in the market), their long-term achievable position in that market, or a handle on their most pressing issues within the company that are holding them back. If they did, it would likely change the fundamental nature of their organization and establish different objectives.

To give you an example, I worked with a company that developed an environmental solution for the construction industry to meet certain environmental protection regulations. They could have picked any path to do it, but the shortest path made the most sense — prove to the construction industry that they have the most cost-effective solution (lower cost and fewer fines) and prove to the environmental policy makers that they had the best available technology (in order to be recommended or even mandated).

The communication plan was built around this understanding because if the company could prove its value to general contractors and necessity to policy enforcers — everything else would fall into place. Sales would increase. Brand awareness would increase. Their reputation as innovators would increase.

There were many ways to accomplish this, including partnering with regulators, cooperating with environmental organizations (shifting them from aggressors to educators), and targeted educational communication to companies that would purchase their technology among them. I'm not going to list all the details today.

I mention it merely to illustrate the point. Without a strategy, they would be chasing likes, follows, SEO links, web traffic, and lead generation like many marketers. So the question becomes ... to what end?

This is why a communication strategy is the most important part of a campaign. If it isn't, then your company can waste money chasing the wrong numbers for very little results beyond a short-term spike. At the end of the day, especially in this economic climate, you most assuredly can't afford it.

Friday, October 12

Seeing The Future: The Active Office Space

One of the more interesting research projects coming out of Australia is a pilot intervention study being conducted by the University of Queensland. The study, which employs Ergotron WorkFit Sit-Stand Workstations, is designed to reduce the amount of time employees sit.

Mostly, the study is confined to seeing how long employees choose to stand as opposed to sit at their work stations. The initial report found that when workers were given the choice, they would reduce on-the-job sitting time by more than 27 percent. The company that makes the stations links excessive sitting with an increased risk of certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions. 

Highlights from the sit-stand workstation study. 

The researchers conducted the tests right, with two groups of office workers who were predominantly of the same demographic (women in their 30s). One group of 18 workers were given sit-stand workstations. The other, 14 workers, retained their non-adjustable desks.

In the sit-stand group, sitting time was reduced by more than two hours and standing time increased by more than two hours after both one week and three months of workstation use, compared with the group that did not receive the desks. Overall sitting time during a 16-hour weekday was reduced by about 80 minutes and standing time increased by up to 90 minutes in the sit-stand group, though no significant changes were found in walking time, researchers said.

"The pilot study provides evidence that a sit-stand workstation (approximate U.S. $399) can reduce sitting time in office workers," said Genevieve Healy, Ph.D., University of Queensland. "Furthermore, epidemiologic evidence suggests that the reductions in sitting at the workplace could potentially have considerable impact on cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes prevention."

What sit-stand workstations need to do next. 

While Dr. Healy and her team are currently extending this research into multiple workplaces to examine the most feasible and acceptable ways to reduce prolonged sitting, these studies need to be expanded to consider other areas that corporations and small businesses will notice.

For example, if the study were expanded to measure productivity, employee morale, customer service, or even space economy, businesses would be that much more likely to adopt the idea. In addition, the manufacturers wold probably benefit from stations that could be pre-programmed to match the sitting and standing height of employees without any effort on their part to adjust for ergonomics.

Currently, the the company has been mostly focused on the more apparent health-related aspects of sitting vs. standing. However, it does have an interesting set of calculators designed to guesstimate a return on investment that alludes to the 12 percent increase in productivity related to ergonomics and 20 percent increase in productivity with dual displays.

In such a scenario, the company claims that 100 employees could realize an estimated savings and productivity gain of $1.5 million, which is pretty substantial. This means the payback occurs in about 5 working days. But what interests me about the innovation is even broader.

By merging these simple low-tech solutions with modern technology, it would be that much more possible to increase the ability for people to present while standing at their workstation (e.g. Skype, Google Hangout, etc.), which always delivers better results than sitting in front of a desktop camera. Likewise, for companies that still use cubicles, planning for elevated workstations would give workers a greater sense of privacy instead of always feeling like they have to sit down to feel it.

Monday, September 24

Thinking Different: New Ideas For Solar

Sometimes watching the various communication gaffes and tit-for-tat soundbite stalking during campaign season is almost unnerving. It makes for a case study example of all the most basic public relations rules (e.g., there is no such thing as private communication) and sometimes entertainment, but it really doesn't move much forward. It's an exercise in attempting to drive up negatives. That's about it.

But what the nation really needs are solutions, and I don't mean some of the solutions that are typically presented as contrasts during the political season. I mean the kind of solutions that don't subscribe to red-blue ideas. Here's one example of what we ought to be hearing from a presidential candidate.

How to make alternative energy work without the nonsense. 

There have been many schemes cooked up around solar energy. The worst of them, probably, was Solyndra. It received at least $70 million from a Department of Energy loan guarantee without much of a business model, proving why government is best left out of corporate investments based on preferred policy and not profitability. Government could have created the market instead of the company.

What might have worked is a government program that gave distressed homeowners (and then later expanded to other homeowners) guaranteed loans to have solar panels installed on their homes. They could make the purchases from any U.S. owned and operated solar panel company, creating jobs fueled not by government directly but by consumer choices in the new market.

The loans would be paid back, plus a modest interest rate, from any excess energy sold back to power companies (not the already distressed homeowners). The immediate benefit for the homeowner would be a reduced power bill, thereby either increasing their disposable income or stretching any benefits from local, state and federal programs. The immediate benefit for the power company is that it can sell any excess back on the open market. And then it gets better.

Once the solar panels are paid off, the distressed homeowner could collect excess income from the power the solar panels generate. If they are on a federal program, half of the energy sold could be deducted from what they normally receive in government aid (giving them a modest boost and freeing up government program money) and move them closer to independence, not further away from it.

It would also reduce the environmental impact of solar farm schemes that aim to turn large parcels of land into solar wastelands (and displacing whatever ecosystem that exists there). Instead, it moves solar panels where they belong — on real estate already wasted (e.g., roofs). At the same time, the guaranteed increase in demand would eventually lead to cheaper solar panels, opening the market to people who can purchase them outright without having to wait 25-35 years to see a return on investment or seek government assistance.

This kind of program wouldn't necessarily work everywhere, but it would in Nevada and many other states with a similar climate. It would have been especially worthwhile to Nevada because the state doesn't currently export any significant energy (fossil or otherwise). Indirectly, however, it would benefit every state because this idea would lead to energy independence and possibly rein in volatile energy prices.

Diatribe is dangerous because it depresses new ideas. 

What does this have to do with communication? Everything. As long as people are polarized between moving toward alternative energy (without a clear understanding of it or its economics) and tapping traditional energy solutions, everybody is too busy trying to sell their plan without looking for new ideas. How can they? They are too busy selling whatever is on the table.

While I am certain that my little idea isn't perfect and would probably need some fine tuning (thousands of pages if it is a government job), it's an illustration of what might be possible if people invested their time in solutions rather than whose idea and ideology it might be or what they can get out it.

Instead of politics, it produces a win for every stakeholder, while stimulating the economy, protecting the environment, and nurturing energy independence. It helps people in need, opens a new market, lifts the economy, and brings in private enterprise (without looking like a payoff to past campaign donors). It is absolutely ridiculous these things need to be at odds. At least, I think so. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 19

Interesting Opinions: Wi-Fi Is Not Enough?

When I read the article with Glenn Lurie, an AT&T executive who sees every new consumer device before they are released, I was surprised. Although it is not his call alone, he has taken the position that Wi-Fi is not enough.

"We try to look for all the opportunities in the world to get the OEMs to understand that they shouldn’t be building two devices," he said in the All Things D interview. "They should be building one device with Wi-Fi and 4G. It’s more efficient for them than having two [product] lines."

He believes it is a simple matter of education. Consumers must learn that they need always-on connectivity, he said. Naturally, eliminating Wi-Fi only would serve AT&T too. More connections means more subscribers and more subscribers means a better revenue model if they choose AT&T.

I appreciate his candor, but the comments immediately following the story tell another story. Even with the best of intentions, Lurie is out of touch with the customer. People see subscriptions as traps.

Understanding the consumer mindset and product usage. 

It really isn't that hard to understand. People opt for Wi-Fi only iPads and tablets so they don't have to pay for another cellular subscription. Many of them believe the phone subscription is enough.

From the consumer perspective, it makes sense. It even has an historic context. The number one reason that newspaper and magazine subscriptions dwindled is because people are genuinely tired of subscriptions that eventually begin to feel like utilities — fees you have to pay for the basic services.

Among monthly fees, publications are frequently the first to go. Especially if your income is unstable (tip workers, etc.), elective subscriptions go twice as fast. So you have to pick and choose from a long list of fundamental and elective expenses.

For most people, mandatories include: electric, gas, water, municipal services, mortgage payments, car leases or payments, car insurance, telecommunications, mobile telecommunications, cable or satellite, and taxes. Now add health insurance (especially with new government requirements) and life insurance. Immediately following those payments are the electives, ranging from gamer accounts and clubs to gym memberships and lawn care. All of them cause a dwindling supply of disposable income.

Where do iPads and tablets fit? For many but not all consumers, it's closer to the bottom because those who opt for Wi-Fi only are satisfied with using their smart phones when they are on the go and Wi-Fi only when they have access at home, work, the hotel, and a growing number of other venues (both public and private hot spots). In fact, given how many places are adding Wi-Fi and AT&T's support of such hot spots to cut down on system overload, it seems more likely Wi-Fi is preferred (doubly so because some functions require Wi-Fi access to work). All things considered, why pay more?

Obviously, some people do have a need. The split between the products is generally 60 percent Wi-Fi only and 40 percent 4G. The slight advantage Wi-Fi has is a lower model price and no subscription fee after you purchase the product. But there is even more to the story.

AT&T and other providers have contributed to Wi-Fi only sales with usage throttling, data usage caps, service issues, roaming charges, high overage changes, etc. Maybe it's not the consumer who needs to be educated. AT&T could learn something about consumers and make 4G more tempting.

Making a better future to marry Wi-Fi and 4G. 

I'm not one of the many people who equate AT&T with the evil empire. I genuinely prefer them as my phone provider, think they have better customer service, and they recently did us right by offering advice on how to handle our phone service (for three phones) while traveling in a foreign country.

So how do carriers sell always-on connectivity? For starters, they could break away from device subscription models and replace them with account subscriptions instead. If you already have an iPhone, your iPad subscription is, gasp, inclusive because you're less likely to use both at the same time.

Or, they could implement lifetime plans built into the product price much like they did for Amazon Kindle (with a better fallback for usage overages). Or, they could give people the option of buying 4G-ready devices without a subscription, allowing them to add it (or drop it) at their leisure.

Of course, they could improve their system so it isn't affected by high-usage customers (thereby killing the throttle concept). And, if they are among those who want to regulate Internet traffic and bandwidths, they could give it up and stay focused on their core service to provide a better experience.

Simply put, it's not education that consumers need. They need an incentive, especially those who get along fine without 4G connectivity, using their iPad mostly around their already Wi-Fi friendly home.

Remember. AT&T is pushing "Think Possible." And right now, people think Wi-Fi everywhere, which is a better fit with Steve Jobs's old vision to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind. Something like that makes subscriptions optional.

Monday, September 17

Making Social Physical: Social Media In Restaurants

Every time I read a story that pits high touch against high tech, digital against physical, or the Internet against brick and mortar, it annoys me. These articles are worthless. The advice is nonsense. The agenda is forcing small business owners to pick one thing or the other because the future is coexistence.

I was reminded of this recently when a mutual group member (David Lopez) of mine posted an article about Mobile Point-of-Sale (POS) technology in restaurants. This article doesn't pit high tech and high touch against each other. It marries it. And this technology is only the tip of the iceberg.

The customer perspective of handheld devices.

When I was traveling in Vancouver a few weeks ago, two restaurants had already adopted mobile point-of-sale handheld devices. Specifically, the server asked us if we needed anything else and we said no, so she pulled out a handheld device. Right there, she swiped the card, allowed me to review the charge, and we were done. The handheld even listed tip options, automatic tip percentages (5-20 percent) or hard dollar amount.

Contrast this to the traditional method practiced by most restaurants. You finish your meal and the server eventually brings out the check. Most people let it sit there awhile, finishing up any remaining edibles and conversations. Eventually you slip in a charge card and it sits around until the server has time. They pick it up, take it back to the register, and then bring it back to you to sign (and calculate the tip in your head).

The traditional method means something as a simple as paying a bill can take five to 20 minutes or more. The tech-savvy solution clocks in around two minutes. The customer wins because several points of contact become one point of contact (and you can leave when you want) and the restaurant wins because everyone who has spent time in restaurant knows that table turns impacts the bottom line.

The only semi-odd thing about it, from my perspective, was having the server stand by while writing the tip. I generally tip 20 percent anyway (a old good habit from my days as a reviewer), but it felt awkward. But I imagine this feeling would pass pretty quick if it was considered a norm.

POS technology is only the beginning: iPad menus rock.

One of the restaurants that adopted POS technology went one step further. At LIFT, the menus are iPads (and better than their website). It is the most amazing experience. The menu is divided into sections — appetizers, lunch, dinner, dessert, wines, etc. You pick a section, scan the list, and then pull up a picture and description of the dish you are interested in before placing your order.

I can't remember the last time comparing and picking a dish was so easy. There were no guesses or surprises. It also helped establish one of the best first pre-meal impressions of a restaurant ever.

The iPad menus really made my creative wheels spin too. There are so many remarkable things a restaurant can do with social technology and take it to the next step. What if customers...

• could tap their smart phones to the menu and receive the menu app?
• could tap their smart phones and subscribe to a content rich blog attached to it?
• could tap their smart phones to enter a contest to win a free lunch?
• could order their meals or request specific seats before they arrived?
• could receive a survey the next day instead of trying to do it at the table?
• were invited to an upcoming special event or special menu sampling?

After just completing a two-year social media contract with a restaurant in Las Vegas, I can attest to the fact that although social media can deliver a return on investment (30-80 check-ins a month, noting that only about 10 percent of all people actually check-in), traditional social media models don't go far enough for restaurants. The primary reason is that they are too focused on impressions and captures (local searches, of all things) and not focused enough on the customers at the table.

Specifically, most restaurants are so comfortable with the old media model — impressions in magazines, phone books, etc. — they have been conditioned to think that applying old media rules to new media is all that can be done. Sure, some of them receive a lift if they implement a social media program, but the real magic of a successful restaurant in the future will not be social media as another marketing silo.

Restaurants that look at technology as an extension of their physical location rather than a means to attract people to a physical location will be the ones with the best bottom line. And those that do it in the United States now (while the recession still makes people think twice about eating out) will be light years ahead of their competitors in the future. This post only scratches the surface.

By the way, I would like to add something about LIFT, given they helped inspire the story. Hands down it was the best meal, best service, and best experience of every restaurant we visited while in Vancouver. And as someone who once wrote dining reviews of some of the finest establishments in Las Vegas, I would have given them five stars, perfection. And yes, the harbor view helped too.

Monday, August 27

Dropping Confidence: Marketers Need To Adjust Expectations

One recent survey by an online coupon site doesn't see the holidays shaping up to be as strong as last year. In researching shopping attitudes and behaviors, its results revealed more than 7 in 10 consumers (71 percent) have a dismal view of the economy. One in four are worried about being able to make all the necessary purchases. Only three percent felt the economy was in "good shape."

The survey from RetailMeNot.com coincides with deeper studies, including one published by Bloomberg. The latest decline marks the longest series of declines since 2008. Part of the problem is that gasoline and grocery prices have risen, but there is no real job growth.

The first study mentioned was designed to look at how consumers plan to shop for the remainder of the year. And RetailMeNot concluded that the lackluster economy has helped to create a demand for discount shopping (namely coupons). We have another tip for marketers following study highlights.

Highlights from the RetailMeNot consumer sentiment study. 

• Women (46 percent) are more likely than men (31 percent) to start shopping earlier than November.
• Most (23 percent) will start shopping in early November; Some (12 percent) on Black Friday/Cyber Monday.
• An increasing amount of people (15 percent) plan to wait until after Cyber Monday to begin shopping.
• 54 percent of respondents will finish between Black Friday and their gift-giving holiday.
• 31 percent said that they will be done with their holiday shopping by the end of Cyber Monday.
• Women (58 percent) are more likely than men (50 percent) to finish shopping after Cyber Monday.
• Nearly a third of respondents (31 percent) intend to do their holiday shopping online.
• More than 70 percent of consumers (71 percent) think the economy is in "bad" or "terrible" shape.
• A quarter (25 percent) believe the economy is "okay;" fewer than 1 in 20 think that it is "good" (3 percent).

One of the most compelling statistics is that 4 in 10 respondents (40 percent) say that they should be able to get most of what they want, but cannot afford it all. Only about a third of respondents (36 percent) are not worried about being able to buy all the things they need in the coming months. Nearly 1 in 4 feel it will be difficult to purchase things they need over the next several months, let alone what they want.

Marketers might have to try something new if sentiment doesn't shift. 

What is most concerning about consumer confidence is that what was once called the "new normal" is beginning to erode into a self-fulfilling acceptance that things might get worse. There is little faith that the existing administration can do anything.

Marketers might be able to help consumers (and themselves) three-fold. Market first (people will be making shopping decisions earlier), market online (people are making decisions online even if they are planning to shop offline), and market fair (offer discounts that might help stretch the budget). All three might seem like common sense, which is why there are two more worth consideration.

Marketers could make a lasting impression by making purchases more experienced based. Shopping for experiences is one of the few types of purchases that hasn't slowed down (e.g., travel is up). The reason is pretty simple. People are looking for distractions that give them a chance to breathe.

Second, although this might sound like contrarian advice, is to ease up on push and plus marketing. If there has ever been a time to help consumers find exactly what they need as opposed to padding sales, this might be it. The trade off is an exchange of short-term gain for long-term loyalty.

When consumers are in a slump, customer satisfaction becomes too important in establishing long-term relationships. Given how many marketers claim they want long-term relationships online, it only makes sense that they adjust their objectives accordingly. Too much urgency or attempting to plus sell the transaction could pressure consumers into making an unexpected decision — buy nothing at all.

Wednesday, August 22

Being Steve Jobs: Where The Open Forum Got It Wrong

Barry Moltz is a pretty smart guy. But he really blew it when writing up why business owners don't want to be like Steve Jobs for the Open Forum by American Express. Sure, with a broad brush stroke, we can call Moltz right — it's one thing to be influenced by someone, it's another to mimic them.

So he's right in saying that small business owners don't need to learn how to be "just like Steve Jobs," but not for any of the reasons included on his list. The real takeaway from Jobs is that you never want to compromise being yourself. And Jobs, if he was good at anything, was being himself.

Rehashing the list: Where it's on and where it's off.

Demand More From Your Employees. Moltz took exception to the fact that Jobs frequently told employees that they could never do anything right. Some of them were even afraid to take an elevator ride with him for fear of losing their job by the time they reached their floor. Moltz says it's better to be just be blunt (but not lambasting them or embarrassing them in meetings).

But there is another dynamic here that is missing. Jobs operated from an position that no matter how good something was, it could always be better. He was right. The challenge that many small business owners have is that they are always trying to reach some place of complacency where they can just go with the flow. That place doesn't exist. Maybe Jobs was too harsh for some tastes, but people knew where they stood. Those who excelled also developed a knack for fearlessness, which is critical for creativity.

Tell Customers They Are Wrong. Jobs also had a knack for telling customers that they were wrong, sometimes firing off emails in the middle of the night saying so. Moltz says the lesson is to cool off before firing away an email. The advice is mostly right. I tell people the same thing all the time, except when they are passionate. In those cases, I tell them to draft it up exactly what they are thinking as long as they don't hit the send button until they can read it fresh in the morning.

Still, I think the bigger lesson here is that sometimes you have to tell customers they are wrong. The quickest way to lose a customer is do exactly what they want when it's the wrong way and watch it fail. Communication people, in particular, do this all the time. They think they are preserving an account by doing what customers tells them to do (even if they know its wrong). Then they lose the account anyway because the customer holds them accountable to the outcomes. The grief isn't worth it.

Claim Your Employee Ideas. Moltz relates how Jobs frequently reviewed employee ideas and presented them on as his own. Moltz says it is always better to share credit when credit is due.

Jobs was hardly the only person to do it. Andy Warhol and Charles Eames most immediately come to mind, which is why I have mixed feelings about placing idea ownership in the black and white column.

While Jobs' style is not mine own, many small business owners could use a dash of it. It isn't necessarily appropriate to steal ownership, but neither is it appropriate that small business owners undervalue themselves. They create the environment, fund the work, inspire the direction, etc.

Never Settle For Less Than You Want. Moltz sets up the lesson by showing Jobs as uncompromising on two points — both in business and smallest details. He wasn't afraid to break bad contracts and cared about the inane (even if it what kind of flowers are in a hotel room). Moltz partly agrees, saying that you ought to never stick to a contract that doesn't meet your needs and ought to push people past their limits. But he wants to negotiate resolution and leans light on the details.

I've met a few self-made millionaires and billionaires. All of them sweat detail. I know one who won't eat an orange unless it measures out to perfect circumference. I often wonder if maybe they are right. Maybe those inane details matter. Or maybe you need to decide if they matter to you.

More importantly, small business owners sometimes get mixed up anytime the word "negotiation"  comes up in a conversation. It's because many small business owners have their words mixed up. "Negotiate" and "compromise" are not the same thing. You can negotiate a win-win contract. But "negotiating resolution" smacks of compromise, which is a settlement of mutual concessions.

The last point is probably the biggest takeaway of all. Compromises are often lose-lose propositions, with both parties losing, even if one party thinks they are winning. Small business owners can't afford to play that game. If you can't negotiate a win-win with someone but you can with someone else (assuming quality, price, etc. are all equal), you have to move forward. If you compromise or force someone else to compromise, then you're likely headed in the wrong direction. Never settle, but never ask someone else to settle either.

Friday, August 17

Marketing Research: Listening For You Or To Them?

Last year, American Express must have been pretty happy. It had the most dramatic increase of voice and positive sentiment across social networks among banks. This implies it was doing something right. But was it really? Maybe all the other banks were doing something wrong.

The real evidence of an outcome came later. In April 2011, the company reported a first quarter net income of $1.2 million, up 33 percent from $885 million the year prior. The baseline analysis alludes to the idea that sentiment may be predictive. In this case, maybe. American Express had just moved aggressively into online commerce.

But there were several other factors in play for the company. It had settled litigation with MasterCard and Visa. It had launched several premium products. Cardmember spending was up 17 percent.

One year later, the story was much the same but not nearly as strong. Cardmember spending was only up 12 percent and net income only grew 10 percent (without the benefit of settlement payments). And according to Digital: MR, it was still the most talked about bank on social networks.

It also carries a great introductory APR, but its regular APR is not nearly as competitive. And its stock performance, which is among the top ten, does not reflect the same exuberance as its conversation points.

Sentiment analysis can be useful, provided it is not a distraction.

Personally, I'm a big fan of sentiment analysis. It can be used as a benchmark for communication efforts. But marketers ought not mistake sentiment as the end all in marketing measurement, making decisions that upturns mean "do more of the same" or downturns mean "do less."

In fact, in digging deeper into the American Express sentiment, we found that much of the buzz comes from a smaller group of passionate advocates than, let's say, Citibank, which has considerably more reach from a broader base of people. My only point is that not everything is as it appears to be.

My second point is that if your marketing team is only using sentiment analysis as a means to track positive impressions and share of voice, then the research time is probably being wasted. There is a big difference between listening "for you" or listening "for an industry" and really hearing consumers.

In reality, only about 20 percent of research investment ought to be tracking impressions or attempting to snuff out complaints or improving positive:negative sentiment ratios. There is something much more important to consider: who are these people anyway?

The more you hear from consumers about everything else, the better your communication.

Instead of dropping every dollar on sentiment analysis, there are much more interesting things to learn about any particular segment of the population you might identify as customers or prospects. And none of it really has to do with your company.

What kind of music do they like? What were the last three movies they saw in theaters (and liked)? What were the underlying messages, if any? What kinds of books are they reading? Are they rigid in these tastes or more eclectic? Would they rather go to a fancy restaurant or buy new clothes? Is there a difference between what they buy and what they like? What kind of political leanings do they have? Are they aggressive about it or not? Do they cook? Are they struggling or secure? So on and so forth.

While you always have to keep in mind people feel this level of marketing research seems creepy, the takeaway is that marketers have a better chance of building a relationship if they hear what people are saying instead of listening for the latest mention. Or, in other words, marketing insight might be more powerful than marketing research.

It's a valuable lesson from old school copywriting — you communicate to a person, not an audience.

Wednesday, June 27

Reading Reviews: Do You Trust The Data?

Most marketers know that more and more people are influenced by product reviews, but did you ever wonder who is responsible for setting any downward trends? According to one study, it could be millennials.

Millennials (defined by the study as ages 18 to 34) give more 1-star and 2-star reviews than any other generation, with those in Ireland being among the most critical. Gen Y contributes the most 3-star reviews.

The study also reveals a little more than that. Incidentally, however, boomers (defined by the study as ages 47-65) still contribute the majority of opinions — 45 percent of them online. Boomers are also slightly more positive. And so are parents, regardless of which generation they belong to.

Can generational disposition or other factors alter perception?

Maybe. And if it does, it might explain why some restaurant owners I know have asked me about Yelp. They say Yelp tends to be the most critical. According to Quantcast, the site also happens to skew toward millennials. Is there a correlation? Or are the stiffer reviews the result of the community?

It's a good question that marketers will have to take into account. In general, review communities tend to be all over the map in how they share opinions. If you visit iTunes, for example, you might notice movies have very little middle ground. Most ratings come in at 1 or 5.

Music is different. It generally skews positive. App ratings are also different. Among paid apps, 5-star reviews and 1-star reviews are generally written by people who still haven't learned to reset their iPads if the app keeps crashing. App reviews are largely unreliable.

Even more telling is that iTunes book reviews are frequently rated lower than those on Amazon, but without as much explanation. Goodreads tends to stack up more 5-star reviews than other book review sites.

This isn't necessarily new. Entertainment Weekly frequently publishes roundups of critics' movie reviews, along with online sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Even though it pulls from the same sources, Rotten Tomatoes tends to be more critical.

But what stands out for me even more is that there are always one or two reviewers who separate themselves from the pack. Sometimes it makes you wonder if they watched the same movie as the rest of them. And other times you realize that even professional reviewers have no comparable standard for measurement; a bias for particular studios, actors, and genres; and sometimes a desire to be noticed that affects their commentaries.

All reviews need to be vetted before they become meaningful measures. 

Along with the study that suggests millennials are more critical, another bazaarvoice study suggests millennials are more likely to trust the opinions of strangers. In fact, more than half of them trust user-generated content and reviews more than friends and family and many won't complete a transaction before reading reviews.

For business, this means positive customer engagement is even more important. It means establishing better protocols to address erroneous criticism while vetting valid points and making changes. And it means that being a social business is more critical than most think.

 

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