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4 posts from April 2009

April 21, 2009

Money and meaning

Lux small  

Do we spend money because we want meaning?

Does the one cancel out the other?

When is spending time and money a good investment?

Chris Brogan and Bono have asking some big meaty questions. They're questions to be asked and answered.

When we spend for functionality, how exactly does that help in the long term? Organizations, brands, us - we're part of a bigger and more connected network now.

Everything's transparent. It's time to reconcile money and meaning, and to do so overtly in the way we manage ourselves.

April 16, 2009

The single biggest reason why your marketing isn’t working

Neon pathway

The answer is reciprocity, or more especially the lack of it. Reciprocity isn’t baked into marketing which, in this market, is a problem.

Marketing fails now when it doesn’t offer the chance for customers to have a voice and it fails when it doesn’t acknowledge, in a meaningful way, the attention that someone is paying to it.

The economic axis has tilted. With that tilt, the commercial ratios of consumption and production that equal success have altered.

The big consequence is it’s becoming a brand requirement to provide easy steps to the door for comsumers, and the most powerful of these is reciprocity. Reciprocity is a sign that says ‘you’re valued’, ‘you belong here’, ‘we hear you’.

No-one has much attention to splash around these days, let alone disposable income and it is increasingly a false assumption that either are given freely.

So when I want to ask my favourite fmcg brand a quick question, something that may help them shine a light on a possible business opportunity, how does that happen? When we want to show our support for a cause, what do we get back? The ‘what’s in it for me’ now looms way beyond the product.

Any business may be in the pursuit of margin or volume above all else, but the bottom line depends on how well a brand can create and maintain a sustainable following. The 1000 true fans, the sneezers who will recommend a brand can be, and are being, influenced in a remarkably creative number of ways.

Astroturfing and Socialwash are two of the more colourful and ultimately doomed ideas in the field. The bottom line though, is that in this commercial environment, and with social connectivity becoming an emergent form of currency, nothing beats the power of reciprocity.

That’s what Tom Peters called attentiveness when he said ‘The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity'. It’s the kind of attentiveness that can engage and delight and make a brand remarkable.

It’s a ‘thank you for your comment’ on a blog, thank you for the retweet or the Twitter follow, ‘thanks for your ideas’ on a discussion on a Ning site. Those thanks have got to be authentic and heartfelt to make a connection that counts. People don’t fool easy, they’re media literate. Trust is the gold dust of the 21st century.

Reciprocity also means your website has to have easy ways for people to comment and contribute and your business has to have a community management strategy. If your business isn’t baking in reciprocity into the way it does things, it’s simply not making the most of its potential consumer contribution. Marketing like that is a tax that’s paid for being unremarkable - too much media spend without the return.

An imperative of commercial leadership is that business plans make room for reciprocity. Without it overheads are higher, companies are spending too much and are likely to be living off the low margins that come from transactions not relationships. Businesses need new leaders threaded throughout a business that can put reciprocity at the heart of the way they do things.

We’re learning all the time that increasingly there’s no such option as no contact. Fortunately branding, as they say, is a contact sport, and everything is a footprint. That being the case then, why not rethink your marketing to get some synapses going and harness the contributions on offer? Make it real and make it reciprocal.

April 08, 2009

Do we spend enough time with our authentic feelings?

Nic Askew Bravery

Don't seem able to embed the video so thanks to Nic Askew and Sir John Whitmore for this movie.

I can’t help thinking that this is what it all comes down to is this: Recession, depression, trauma, is a way of putting us in touch with ourselves. The creative soul understands this, it is in tune with this. From within it finds passion, it finds soul. It is sometimes tortured by it, it is sometimes elated.

Our inner soul contains the same stuff mirrored in our external reality, the same peaks and troughs.

Depression is, some say, a suppressed anger, the kind of anger that comes from knowing a part of ourselves has been living in denial and is helplessly disconnected and detached from the world around.

Is this what happens when companies are in trouble, when markets shift and when transformation calls? Is this in any way the depression global markets are experiencing now? Is it, as many people may recognize as a familiar feeling, an ennui, a boredom, a vacuous lack of meaning that comes when the material surround doesn’t or cannot offer sustenance anymore?

Through depression we heed the call to answer our new needs, as long as we spend enough time with authentic feelings.

Two recent friendships have helped illuminate this. Zhaawano Giizhik reminds me of this truth when he talks about the Native Indians, and potent power native ways we’ve lost but that still resonate, and that can now, through technology, re-connect to this as global roamers.

Scott Crawford makes a powerful call for the same when he looks at it from the brand perspective and asks in his blog, 'You’ve got to serve somebody, but who’?

Communities and brands fuse at this point, at the juncture of authentic feelings. As visceral businesses, they can recognise the native within themselves, the cultural heritage and communal vision that can allow for, and support, effective organic business modelling compared to more bureaucratic methods.

As Apple and Rim competing with 30:70 and 20:80% revenue structures between themselves and their application software developers demonstrates, we’re in the age of the servant leader. The group mind can be understood but not controlled. Seeking to overlay times of change with mechanical structure is an exercise that’s either doomed or destined to operate at great social, if not to say capital, cost.

Leaders are being asked to reach out to their communities for answers. Those that lead well will be in touch with authentic feelings, and they will recognize the value of relationships over transactions, because quite simply that’s the stuff that moves us. We need to be around brands we can trust.

At times of disassociation, one refuge that’s often taken is self-attack. Self attack is present in the form of cutting off from feelings, as a way of staying away from pain, where ego dominates in the place of self. As an alternative to closing down, leaning in as a point of creative self-discovery is a very generative experience and creates a letting go where new ways of being are able to emerge.

Authentic feelings allow us to move towards things to which we are much more suited. Smart businesses will be preoccupied with saving what they have perhaps right now, and some may be confident, but in the midst of staying upright, might they also remember that we have nothing if not a regenerative ecosystem we can respectfully live within as natives.

Our ability to create profitable inter-relationships depends on this and the levels of trust that we can imbue within communities. Do we spend enough time with our authentic feelings in pursuit of that?

April 06, 2009

Not fooling anyone

Over the weekend, some important stories have zeroed in on how the hand-in-glove relationships that exist on both side of the Atlantic between governments and the banks are not in the public interest.

The Bill Moyers Journal has a compelling interview with William K. Black about the financial regulatory framework of the last ten years in the U.S. and the significant bearing it's had on the current financial crisis.

Glenn Greenwald has covered off Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Wall Street's ownership of government and The Raw Story has a good summary on both of these.

Switching sectors, over in Pharma Marketing, we’ve got the ‘faux community’ of My Crohen’s & Me, created by UCB for its Crohn's disease drug Cimzia to look like a community, but without the option of any interaction from consumers.

Pharma Blog pic

These governmental and commercial initiatives are attempts to live in false, walled-garden environments, with all the benefits and none of the risks of real conversational dialogue, and both miss a massive trick.

A critical question is the one asked by the Pharma Marketing blog: Why are the concepts of these "faux" communities and social frameworks preferred when perfectly "real" communities with all the benefits of enhanced dialogue can be created?

It’s not just a matter of integrity, leadership and values, though they help. It’s about how much more effective and sustainable it is to bridge reality gaps instead of the effort of creating diversions to go around them, and how much more easily managed and better are the advantages of ‘real’ as an approach as compared to denial as a strategy.

On April Fool’s Day, this year renamed Financial Fool’s Day, city bankers attempted to escape the attention of protesters against the banks by donning the camouflage of the casual dresser. Who they were kidding isn’t clear. A lot of effort goes in and the damage of distrust remains.

Banker's pic small

As an allergic reaction to the radical transparency, blatant integrity and the call for authenticity that the digital environment asks for from governments, businesses and brands alike, a rash of affrontery has been breaking out in established circles. It claims the right to maintain the status quo, even when the voices of change that challenge it are all around.

Leadership of connected communities goes beyond putting out a message. Brands promises can be monitored, marketing becomes vision delivered as a service and leadership has to act responsibly. One KPI of digital leadership is having ideas that are sufficiently big to lead; One way towards achieving this is via the acceptance of communal dialogue as a means of generating value.

Everything else is playing politics. Politics, as we know, can be a petty path, a place of partisan opinion and an inhibiter of innovation. It's tempting for management executives to choose a stranglehold of social communication as an alternative strategy to the innovation and leadership challenges of social community management, and this is often the attempt they choose when they play politics. No matter how subtly it's done, it's a strategy that can’t help but be short-lived.

Authenticity is an increasingly valuable commodity because, as we become more sophisticated in our tastes, anyone with any kind of socially-intelligent radar can sniff out fakery out at a hundred paces; any business that isn’t reflecting its inherent strengths and making real connections with consumers is scoring less and less as socially astute demands for enagagement come to the fore from audiences.

It’s increasingly unlikely that any of these initiatives, or ones like them, are fooling anyone. The biggest news from the April Fool’s Day season this year is, as far as that goes, the rules of the game are changing.