Tuesday, September 14

Overemphasizing External: Companies Still Neglect Employees

While a new survey from the CMO Club and Hill & Knowlton reveals 52 percent of companies have yet to align marketing and public relations efforts, the real story is that 70 percent of chief marketing officers (CMOs) do not have an active employee engagement program.

Perhaps worse, 58 percent of CMOs believe marketing spearheads efforts to galvanize employees. Seriously? Having sat in several meetings where advertising agencies have unveiled new logos by giving employees pens and paperweights, I can assure anyone that not only are employees the most important public, but many of them also wear more than one label.

Five Reasons That Employees Matter As A Public.

People are more productive when they enjoy what they are doing. Most entrepreneurs always advise that you have to love a business to make it successful. Employees feel the same. If they feel like their employer is making a difference in their lives, then they will work harder to make a difference in people's lives, especially customers.

People are drawn to building something. Sure, most people are content to let other people set their goals in exchange for security and stable conditions. But great companies empower people more than they employ them. They frequently crowd source from their employees to make improvements on every level.

People want to be proud of where they contribute. One of the most neglected areas of crisis communication is employee communication. Even while companies such as BP spend millions to ease the markets, they forget the residual impact of several thousand employees who are embarrassed to tell people where they work.

People don't wear just one hat. This is especially true for B2C companies, but B2B as well. Employees are frequently customers and shareholders too. And, with the exception of luxury brands, consumers feel comforted knowing that the bank teller keeps her account at the same bank and the car salesman drives the brand he sells. Likewise, employees who have some of their retirement wrapped up in a company are equally sensitive to stock fluctuations.

People don't like surveys all that much. If your only employee feedback is in the form of a survey, they're not engaged. In fact, most employees are afraid to provide honest feedback for fear of being fired. It's much more effective to establish communication through supervisors (whom employees tend to trust) and some direct contact with executives. If your employees aren't comfortable with sharing information direct, it's likely a symptom of bigger problems.

Who Should Lead The Employee Engagement Effort?

Interestingly enough, many companies struggle with the question as much as they struggle with who is best suited to lead social media. Given all companies are different, there seems to be only one right answer. True integrated communication is ongoing, not ad hoc, which leaves the person best suited to the task being the leader.

Right. Leaders are best suited to lead whether they come from the public relations, corporate communication, marketing, investor relations, or even human resources department. And in communication, the best leaders tend to be those who are the most experienced across a variety of disciplines. Or, in other words, if you are an entrepreneur making the decision, choose people over professions.

Monday, September 13

Remaining Competitive: Lessons From The U.S.

WEF Global Competitiveness ReportFor the first time in history, the United States fell two positions as a competitive nation, dropping from second to fourth place. This is according to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) competitiveness survey, which analyzes each country's ability to remain competitive in global business.

While the meaning may have political ramifications, I thought it might be more worthwhile to apply some of the broader lessons to organizational and individual success. Among the top ten problematic factors for doing business in the United States, access to financing (regulatory caused), inefficient government bureaucracy, tax rates and regulations, inflation, workforce education, and work ethic round out the top of the list. How do these apply to business?

Five Lessons To Remain Competitive.

1. Avoid Debt. While many small business owners and individuals sometimes take on debt to rapidly improve the scope and size of their financial position, the wrong reason to go into debt is an attempt to maintain operational levels or lifestyle. Not only will access to financing eventually run out, but the interest rates on that financing can overburden long-term goals.

The best bet for businesses attempting to remain competitive (and individuals) is to accept such risks only when there is a clear outcome. For example, when founding Copywrite, Ink. almost 20 years ago, I used credit to purchase my first computer, a monochrome Mac Classic. Increased productivity (over typed assignments) quickly paid for improvements. Avoid any financing that does not produce a higher yield.

2. Remove Restrictions. Too many policies and regulations can thwart proactive thinking. In business, almost every organization that has an excess of regulatory procedures tends to struggle (consider the airline industry). When employees are not allowed to think creatively or make judgement calls, they become demoralized and stifled. Likewise, it always pays to eliminate bureaucracy, which tends to create regulations without relaxing them.

For individuals, the same is true. Overcommitting on favors, plans, and other personal commitments can eventually erode spontaneous free time, which the mind needs to recharge. Learn to say no once in awhile and don't assume working harder or longer hours will increase your productivity. Often, it will not. It also pays to never assume you can't do something.

3. Focus On Innovation. There is an old saying in politics that if you're defending, then you are losing. There is some truth to that. Businesses that invest more into fending off competition as opposed to innovating will eventually collapse.

Likewise, only individuals who subscribe to complacency ever need to "worry" about younger workers rushing to take their places. It's not their youth that gives them an edge; it's their tenacious passion in lieu of time-in entitlement. If you are not willing to think out of the box, you can bet someone else will.

4. Emphasize Education. Persuasion might be valued in the workplace today, but information will win in the long run. Social media pros often advise businesses to listen, and on this point they are right. The person who knows the consumer better will win.

For individuals, not only will the most successful professionals continually learn inside their fields, but outside their fields as well. I've met and worked for dozens of companies that were not the most competitive firms in communication and marketing, but could be easily considered the best in specialized fields (e.g., medical, finance, emergency response, etc.). Never stop learning.

5. Set Your Own Path. Yesterday, I mentioned that there is no singular path through the forest to success. More correctly, there is a forest to success but most successful companies and individuals cut new paths to reach the other side.

In classes, I sometimes joke that Robert Frost was wrong. It is not the path less traveled, but carving out new paths that will make all the difference. It's how this country was founded. It's how most companies excel. And it's why there are so many different stories for individual success. It's not about implementing what everyone else is doing; it's about finding a better way.

Lessons From WEF And Back Again.

Just as individuals and organizations might learn something from how the WEF ranks countries, our government might learn something from those individual and business tips above. If the government wants to play a role in strengthening the economy, it would be prudent to stop overspending, remove restrictions (taxes and regulations), focus on immediate innovation, invest in education, and stop attempting to duplicate what Europe does.

On that last point, I have nothing against European ideas. On the contrary, they have great ideas for Europe. But transplanting those ideas have profound consequences here. Case in point: building a super department store in an urban setting is a good idea, but when that same store is built in a rural community, it kills the economy. One size does not fit all.

You can find the two-page report on the United States here. In addition to citing those problem areas, the survey ranks 15 indicators with subcategories. Some subcategories are surprising, including that we ranked 40th among property rights, 120th in national debt, and 89th in total tax rates.

Sunday, September 12

Being Different: Fresh Content Project

Fresh ContentWhile social media isn't the end all to communication, it did open a conversation that marketers had forgotten. There is no singular path through the forest to success. More correctly, there is a forest to success but it is your willingness to cut a new path that will take you where you want to go.

All fresh posts, three of which are by one author, touch on this fact. Communication is situational in its crafting and delivery. It's never the answer most people want to hear, but it is, without question, one of the most important lessons to learn. Ask any successful marketer and they'll tell you. While some experience can help you plot the course, the course is always different.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of August 30

Should You Be Pitching Me?.
"You give me way too much credit if you think your potential customers read my blog," begins a thoughtful post by Valeria Maltoni before going on to explain that new new media is not the same as traditional media. Many professionals have better luck doing something other than pitching something, she says. And she's right. The quantity of the pitch in social media is less than the quality of the pitch to a single blogger. Think about it. Who knows? Maybe you'd be better off talking to customers direct...

• Five Steps to Better Communication With Customers.
Anna Barcelos shares her wisdom with five tips that might help your organization communicate with customers. I'll share a few here. The first, she suggests, is finding out exactly what is going on within your organization. It might be of interest to someone (but perhaps not who you think). Another is to visualize them as real people. And finally, realize that there are no cookie cutter solutions in modern marketing. All of it requires that you test, measure, and adjust on an ongoing basis.

Four Challenges Facing Location-Based Services.
Almost everyone knows that the next step in communication is mobile, especially with continued advancements to location-based services. However, that doesn't mean that the transition is guaranteed. In this post, Mike Schaffer shares what he believes are the greatest challenges facing location-based services: fear, technology, urban-centric, and badge exhaustion. All of them are valid, with only technological penetration being the easiest to overcome.

• Set Your Own Rules.
When Valeria Maltoni writes a quick book review, she frequently lends as much to a conversation as she gets out of it. In this post, she runs down a list of 11 ways to be unremarkably average from The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau and applies it to her own life. At the same time, without asking her readers to do it, it's easy enough to infer that it might be a worthwhile experience. How about you? Are you stuck on rules that make you unremarkable?

See How They Did It: 104 Social Media Case Studies
There really are more than 104 case studies in Valeria Maltoni's notes, but she only shared 12 within the body of a single post. Even better than the case studies, she provides a four-step structure not all that dissimilar to strategic communication case studies: situation or challenge, timeline or complication, solution, and results. Showing how these four fit within a strategic communication outline would take a little longer than a couple of sentences so I'll highlight the best point here. If you understand the true situation or the challenge, you'll be that much more likely to develop a strategic solution as opposed to a tactical one.

Friday, September 10

Pressing Introverts: What Modern Engagement Misses

Extraverts In Communication
With social networks becoming a dominant form of communication, at least in terms of the attention they receive, one might wonder where that leaves introverts. People who respond quickly, comment frequently, and network more efficiently seem to have an upper hand at a glance, especially in communication-related fields.

I was reminded of this while reviewing the very odd Facebook game called poweRBrands developed by Reckitt Benckiser. The game is designed to mirror the real-life experience of being a marketing executive in a cutting-edge company such as RB. No, it's not much fun for people who are marketing executives (the demographics are ages 18-30), but this isn't a review.

What struck me about the game is how much emphasis is placed on creating the illusion of networking. If you receive a call to attend a party (even if there is a research project due), you go. If you're invited to lunch, you go. If something needs to be brainstormed, you call the team together.

The Elevation Of Extroverts In Communication.

The point is that the game, much like the field, is surprisingly extrovert driven (even at the expense of results). So much so it almost seems counter intuitive, doubly so after reading a Psychology Today article by Laurie Helgoe, author and psychologist.

In the article, Helgoe discusses the personality-culture clash that introverts experience in a society that rewards extroversion, and corrects misunderstandings about the 50 percent of the population who prefer an active inner life to a busy social calendar. But this idea also made me wonder. While Helgoe considers the extroverts and introverts in the workplace, I wondered about them in social networks and whether some social media experts consider this as part of their communication equation.

For example, there seems to be a great emphasis placed on verbalized engagement — comment counts, open dialogue, and everything that can be seen (and counted). But what if particular content attracts fewer introverts? And why do social media experts discount their quiet influence?

The Role Of The Introvert In Social Networks.

Last year, Anthony Vultaggio made an interesting observation that connecting online is less social and more solitary than we might think. Publishing content on social networks, he said, gives introverts an advantage because they don't have a need to receive feedback from others.

Like journalists, he said, they reach inward and let others connect to their messages. However, I'm not so sure this is the way it stacks up in terms of capturing greater numbers of followers (if that is the intent for whatever reason). On Twitter, for example, extroverts tend to ask many more questions and have many more conversations because they have generally skip reflection.

Ergo, interaction attracts more interest. And, as I've mentioned before, there is ample evidence that social bloggers — people who speak and attend gatherings — leverage their offline connections to drive traffic to their online content. But more importantly, this still doesn't consider whether the quieter portion of the population is somehow being missed.

They share less, but tend to have more to say about what they share. They come up with great ideas, but don't measure outputs. They tend to be uncounted by social media measures, but are counted when it comes to actual outcomes. They bookmark more, anticipating to revisit ports and articles when they have more time to process the information.

Meanwhile, a social media project manager might be missing the introvert's presence all together, or worse, chase them away by trying to draw them out. (I actually witnessed this on a few occasions on Facebook; introverts fled after a page manager tried to engage them on something they quietly liked.)

The Crazy Thing About Measurements And Labels.

Personally, I don't believe there are such a things as introverts and extroverts as much as I believe there are behavior styles. Then again, I'm about as anti-label as they come with the exception of temporarily adopting labels to keep conversations fluid.

But this conversation starter might also lend itself to different insights for social media managers or whatever they might call themselves. Social media monitoring isn't nearly enough in terms of listening. And, as far as the workplace, I might add that drawing introverts "out of their shells" might be less effective than aligning them to areas where they can be a benefit.

Maybe the truth about what customers think about your product or service cannot be ferreted out by the data that is so readily available. And, depending on the type of people you attract, loud data might even be driving you in the wrong direction.

Thursday, September 9

Advertising Tips: Two From Earnest Elmo Calkins

"Come to the point, and don't draw attention to the advertisement instead of to the goods." — Earnest Elmo Calkins

These two pieces of advice might surprise some, given that Calkins was one of the first advertisers to increase the quality of the art department at his agency. However, Calkins knew what many communicators have been forgetting in the last few decades.

Get To The Point.

Ideally, every advertisement has one point. Sometimes you can slip in up to three points. But any more than that and most people aren't likely to remember anything, let alone one thing that serves as a unique selling point or, preferably, product contrast. If you don't or rely on branding alone, you will eventually lose market share.

Nike provides a fine example. In 2009, most reports placed Nike at controlling 31 percent of the market share . It's clearly the market leader. However, the real story is that Nike controlled almost 50 percent of the market share in 1999. Ouch.

For all the fine advertisements that Nike has produced over the last decade, the company began focusing on branding alone, without any definitive reason to purchase the product. The point? It used to be associated with victory. What about today? Mostly, the company celebrates itself.

Draw Attention To The Product.

Nike isn't alone. Some advertisers have an ego, drawing more attention to the advertisements than the product. People might talk about the ads, but they never have a reason to buy.

Budweiser provides a good example. Bud Light dominates with 28 percent of the market share and Budweiser with 12 percent. In 2000, Budweiser controlled almost 50 percent of the market share collectively. What changed?

The advertising mix used to emphasize one of three creative threads: product quality, social responsibility, and contemporary humor. In the last decade, Budweiser seems to have invested more in contemporary humor, leaving the other two threads behind.

Social Media Presses The Shift.

These two brands are not alone. And part of the shift seems associated with social media. Most people propose social media solutions that do two things: never get to the point and always emphasize everything but the product. It's not sustainable.

There is one exception. Social media speakers can get away with this approach because they are their own product. So unlike goods, their ability to create relationships (indirect sales) and speak to people on their terms (reactive conversation) sells product. Goods and services are different.

People are mostly interested in the organization's ability to meet its core promise. And that is the reason an airline like Spirit Airlines can exist. Its promise is to get you to your destination cheap. All other factors — up-charges, service fees, relationships — are circumvented as long as they can deliver a $10 base fare. (Operationally, I'm not sure it's sustainable.)

Contrast this promise against most airlines that are attempting to sell competitive fares, friendly service, on-time arrivals, reward programs, and customer care for luggage. Multiple promise points tend to water down the message, and leave more room for error. Or, as we see with what could be happening with Nike and Budweiser recently, no point is equally disruptive.

Wednesday, September 8

Keeping House: How Good Housekeeping Connects

Good Housekeeping, the iconic women's service monthly originally founded in 1885, is looking for the next step in creating connections with consumers. According to Mediaweek, the magazine is transforming a 2,000- square-foot space at the Mall of America into an American home.

The home won't be static. It will include activities that include cooking demos, DYI projects, and design consultations by celebrity chefs, local personalities and experts from the Research Institute. With more than 100,000 people visiting Mall of America every day (on average), the concept could pay off, assuming Good Housekeeping can keep consumers it touches at the mall.

Touching Customers Beyond The Printed Page.

If there is an evolution for publications, especially niche publications like Good Housekeeping, it could very well be high touch. In order to relate to consumers and build connections, the magazine needs to redefine what makes it a relevant connection between brands and customers. Using its Research Institute as the reason, Good Housekeeping hopes to provide expert advice to build loyalty.

In recent years, social media has provided a platform that convinced many consumers to move away from publications, preferring advice from friends or people they like online. When not seeking advice from each other, it's easy enough to connect direct to companies for incentives and insights from inside sources. Publications helped pushed them away by insisting on an elitist position. The economic climate didn't help either. Subscriptions and monthly costs are often the first to be cut from budgets.

However, if Good Housekeeping can introduce itself by coordinating offline activities and then keep consumers engaged via social media, then there is a potential for success. Specifically, Good Housekeeping could transform itself into a destination.

What's Missing From The Marketing Mix?

The Mall of America is a good first step. However, Good Housekeeping only has a marginal social media presence (it doesn't even list its social media assets on its front page). Most of the communication consists of plugging articles, even those that are framed as questions. They are not questions as much as as cutlines. The dialogue between the publication and followers is limited.

Despite this, some of its online connections are readily engaged. On Facebook, most plugs average about six responses. It's a good start from the 6,500 or so people who follow along.

With the addition of the physical presence, Good Housekeeping has an opportunity to use the instructional workshops and celebrity visits as an introduction to its online platforms. Once people connect, it can engage them over the long term, even if the intent of the American home is to become mobile. There are plenty of other crossover media opportunities too, including the potential to film and share onsite demonstrations.

Much like Citizen Gulf or publishers and bookstores hosting author signings, the real future of communication points to online marketing that drives consumers to proximity-based events, demonstrations, and high touch opportunities that can be later shared as fresh content.

It's not all that dissimilar to what social media speakers already do. Speaking drives traffic, which can then be converted into sales (books, services, etc.). At the same time, the increased following then makes the speaker more attractive to the next host.

It's not rocket science. It's strategic. And if this is the direction Good Housekeeping goes, then it should be no surprise why Hearst Magazines has successfully adapted to changes in the marketplace with Good Housekeeping for almost 100 years. About the only thing it hasn't done is become more cross-gender friendly. However, looking at online followers, maybe it has.

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