43 posts categorized "Business"

October 21, 2009

All change please

We have moved

Picture by M. Bibelot

A Bit Visceral has moved. If you're looking for it please check out and bookmark this page, which is right alongside our shiny new website courtesy of the fabulous Fabi.

Thanks for visiting, reading and connecting. Let's make something visceral happen.

October 02, 2009

What is leadership?

Yesterday FutureGov held an event in London and I gave a talk in which I asked whether in public services and social business we can raise the game of social involvement. (big thanks are due to the excellent Dominic Campbell at FutureGov for the invitation.)

At the end there were a couple of questions about leadership. A much-bandied word, maybe it's time again to look at what it means.

Since the formative experiences of Seth Godin’s triiibes.com community began over a year ago I've come to agree with Seth that the ingredient that’s being easily missed in social communities, and the one that’s maybe being ducked in connection with the idea of social business, is how we develop concepts of leadership.

@RobertBrook's tweet in the #socorg feed yesterday ‘leadership is a word that makes me nervous’ got me thinking. It's easy to understand why it makes a lot of people nervous. When someone else has too much of it and when we don’t have enough it’s a threatening experience, sufficiently threatening to activate a fundamental sense of insecurity. Social organizations are meant to be egalitarian, so what gives? And what does talking about 'new leadership skills' say about the ones we have now?

One the one hand, social organizations play to our idealistic drives for a better world and offer freedom. On the other they represent a primal fear of loss of control.

Social business design needs to address both these twin drivers together in order to prevent the kind of attrition that comes from creating a negative feedback loop and adoption failure, reinforcing old patterns.

Existing organizations cannot become social overnight. Social organizations are intrinsically organic, defined by new levels and degrees of involvement and their success comes from how well they express themselves as shared entities.

Loic tweet 10m followers

And the glue in the truly collaborative experience is identity, purpose and task. There's no internal and external in the social organization, its validity of purpose comes from those who simply want to be a part of it.

With affinity and the desire to connect driving the viral nature of networked communications, the tectonic economic plates may have shifted a little. Spending cuts require that we look for and measure value in new ways, like the Klondike trail did. It's leading us to involvement in events and ideas that are compelling and credible. An adjustment in emphasis around less factory, more affinity, is a big part of the power intrinsic in social organizations and social business.

In order to realize it, we must choose creativity as part of the developmental path. Technology is enabling art and science to act together as counterpoints on a heightened scale, but it’s easy to lose sight of the art.

Leadership with art is creative vision, and one can argue that leadership with only science is control. The internet disperses power, the consequence of which is that, as long as we have free will, intrinsic inspiration will trump external control.

That is why I think we must recognize that the progress of the social revolution involves freedom of expression, an increased emphasis on creative expression, and on talent development. In this way we can have better experiences.

Cultural DNA is a unique intangible asset, the lifeblood of any organization and especially the social organization, and culture comes from the generative experience of sourcing self and purpose. More than an algorithmic or an outsourced approach, the creative vision of leadership is what is going to encourage community involvement and is the key to developing consequent value.

The social age requires association, rather than disassociation. I think that means we mustn't forget leadership, we must reframe it. Leadership as talent development and creative vision can go a long way.

September 16, 2009

What species development can teach social business design


From the Australian National Botanic Gardens website:

‘The Bottlebrush is a plant native to Australia and is found all over Australia, from its tropical north to its temperate south.

The flower spikes of bottlebrushes form in the spring and in summer and are made up of hundreds of individual flowers. The flowers can be spectacular and they are irresistible to nectar-feeding birds and insects.

Most species are frost tolerant. Many species can tolerate or thrive in damp conditions. They grow well in a wide variety of soils, except those that are highly alkaline. Plants grown in full sun produce the best flowers.’

The Bottlebrush is one of a kind, one of the things that makes 'down under' a place unlike any other. Culture is often all about coherent differences. Species of distinction are the things that make a place, a person, an organization, an experience, unique and irreplaceable.

Species differentiation is at the heart of the health and wealth we enjoy by having a diversity of life. There’s a similar value in encouraging species differentiation in terms of social business.

Social business design may very well spell the end of the ‘me-too’ brand.

In a social environment, culture becomes a very important point of distinction. As new marketplaces evolve to become ecosystems, the unique DNA of each organization is what sits at the core of its ability to sustain itself as a successful, distinctive, and sustainable life form because when marketplaces act as ecosystems, there’s an inherent value in being different.

Social business design is far less about tools and channels than it is about behaviours and relationships. Within the social sphere where consumers are not ‘mass’ anymore, what matters are durable, strong relationships, relationships that are trusted, and are discreet and niche. Business must engage authentically at a community level as a consequence.

Just as the Bottlebrush’s value has come from how it has adapted to its environment, organizations that have strong definition and strength of purpose can achieve the same.

This is especially the case in a marketplace that’s increasingly being powered by attention and ideas. If attention’s a commercial currency, there is a value in being remarkable, in one way or another, if you can connect to an ecosystem that can support you.

September 03, 2009

Re-tuning the returns

Reputation Statement of Account small

In the last week Social Business Design has been firmly put on the map and legitimized. Social Business Design emerges as a commercial sector in its own right as a couple of key practices reach critical mass, the highly respected Altimeter Group and Headshift/Dachis Group, with a merger announced yesterday between two of the space’s most talented consultancy teams.

Stepping up like this, they represent a venerable array of talent and a commercial sector that’s 'go' for launch.

Social business design sits at the intersection of organizational development and marketing, and can loosely be described as the practice of developing communities of engagement to generate ideas, activities and outputs for commercial and social benefit.

As organizations adopt the principles of social business design, intangible, soft assets like brand value, purpose, human resources, processes and capabilities come to the fore. Social business design is about engendering involvement and it's inbound.

Slightly differently, marketing services and ‘broadcast’ media operate on the basis the message and transaction are the means to the end. Marketing services communicate primarily outbound.

It's interesting to compare the two in the light of the IPA effectiveness awards season that's currently underway. Geoff Russell of the IPA has written about the dangers of ‘hammering costs from suppliers whose "product" is intellectually and creatively based’.

That the marketing communications industry is currently shoring itself up against the imperative of working smarter and reducing costs whilst it's looking at the next best thing in performance effectiveness is interesting. And in the context of social business design, how effective that can be, on a long term sustainable basis, is coming under the hammer.

What makes social business design a ‘must-have’, is that digital technology is ushering totally new states of commercial play. Social business design that involves taking into account trust networks, relationships and behaviours as much as it does tools, channels and transactions, has implications for traditional marketing and media management, which tends to operate much more at arm's length. How will 'broadcast' and outbound marketing effectiveness compare against social business design effectiveness when, in social business design, performance effectiveness has built-in conduits?

Social business design dynamics are that affinity is stronger than structure, the net worth is in the network and the power and potential of network communications increasingly makes much marketing communications activity a tax paid for being unremarkable.

In both social business design and traditional marketing communications, being worthy of attention is the point of power. But if attention and ideas are emerging as commercial currencies, what happens when organizations and people aren't trusted and we’re inclined to give them less attention? There are significant implications for marketing services in there.

The transactional value of digital is that it offers ease and convenience as well as significant opportunities to streamline, but the transactional value of digital is one that it's easy to overplay whilst relationship angles can be neglected and not be fully taken into account.

Over the years, the marketing communications’ industry relationships with clients have frequently been downgraded from partner to supplier. The irony is the transactional use of broadcast media as a tool to deliver commercial growth is being more and more highly scrutinized, something the industry itself says is a barrier to the development of effective ideas.

In contrast with ‘broadcast’ media, social business design harnesses collaboration and involvement. It can create, track and measure dynamic business pulses of activity and momentum and has that as an embedded advantage. The significant stepchange in social marketing this week is that it's getting real; it's moved from being less about media to more about business.

And with that, a crucial part of social business design that will come to the fore is going to be business model design. Businesses, how they're positioned and the propositions they offer will need to be redrawn in the light of the emerging social dimension to business design. Organizational purpose and how to create sustainable social as well as commercial benefit becomes a key requirement. The focus will shift to being about organizing consumers, leading and managing in totally new ways.

So maybe we're on the brink of re-tuning the returns measured and valued as part of social business design. The next time you think about how and where your business value is coming from, you may like to consider how much potential there is in developing collaborations to focus on creative problem-solving, as much as the value that may come from doing more for with less.

The two are utterly inter-linked, and it's a fair bet that the creative potential of inter-relationships in social business will be at the heart of a new organizational effectiveness and a new commercial return.

August 31, 2009

Has paid for media had its chips?

Fish and chips James Murdoch, heir apparent of the mighty News International, blew open simmering hostilities between the old and new worlds of media on Friday. It took a significance of timing and location - the 20th anniversary of his father’s audacious MacTaggart speech at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival - for people to sit up and take notice, otherwise the slide towards 'free' might have driven over him completely. It was a swingeing attack, designed to be provocative. The erosion of his father’s corporate model is potentially so great that to halt the tide of it involved James Murdoch attempting to mount a perception turnaround of pretty much Evil Kneivil proportions. This vaulted ambition involved labeling the BBC, one of the most trusted brands in media worldwide, as ‘chillingly’ ambitious, and denouncing a much-loved public service and world class national institution as state sponsored journalism, all because the profit party at News International is ending. The concept of public service is one that News International barely understands. Their fight for a monopoly domain over satellite broadcasting, for example, was pretty much a textbook example of the ethos of winner takes all. The clarion cry for fair play sounded pretty lame in that context, coming as it did from the lips of one of the standard-bearers of the ruthless competitive corporation. No matter how thuggish the attack though, its content was feeble. In a hyper-connected society, public service is a sensemaker. In times of disturbance it’s a glue, it is public service that has the capability to underpin seismic shifts with common sense, giving them a meaningful foundation that people can buy into. News International doesn’t see its purpose as this, it only computes the profit motive, and in days like these that is an issue. Nor does it get the fact that the emergent economy will be built on attention and ideas and in a hyperconnected world ideas that spread, win, something unlikely to be helped by a paywall. In ‘the good enough’ economy, ease and convenience triumphs, meaning making content hard to access doesn’t work there either. In both these contexts ‘paid’ becomes a barrier to, not a measure of, success. Robert Peston pointed to a fatal flaw of the ‘paid’ model from would-be providers like News International, that the ‘high priests’ of opinion have failed us and have been failing for some time. With the evidence of ruling class failure apparent in practically every sector, is it any wonder then that peer care is coming across as a quicker and more benign alternative to the posturing of experts. There’s more trust emerging in local communities of interest than in the oligarchies of opinion, and when local and arguably more reliable opinion can come from grass roots without having to pay a premium for it, the adage of scarcity equals value no longer applies. We’re at a crossroads currently. One choice is to open up the doors of information to as many as possible, to go with real-time open source information as the means of developing the learnings needed to find the creative avenues to economic renewal and the seeds of renaissance. Alternatively, we can fall into a dark age driven by an anachronistic profit imperative that continues to serve the needs of the few at the expense of the many. The writing on the wall for James Murdoch is that the News International brand does seem to be out of step with where things are headed. Media has always been transient in value and 'all that’s fit to print' all too easily discarded. Rupert Murdoch famously once quipped that ‘nobody ever went broke by underestimating the taste of the great British public’. That held true for a transactional business model but it doesn’t hold good for a relationship one, and that’s the shift that digital brings. Digital, social media and ‘free’ are not in favour because they're about tools and channels but because they're about behaviours and relationships. The BBC is largely speaking a trusted and accountable organization, whilst News International’s profit motive has never been seen as equaling the common good. The answer to News International’s woes may lie more in a rethink about its positioning and what it stands for and less about its pricing model. The real challenge for News International it seems is to think about having a purpose that’s bigger than its product. The hyperconnectivity of the social web obliterates the saliency of the transactional model that Rupert Murdoch’s thinking was based upon when it comes to news and entertainment, but it is possible under a banner of purpose to connect people who want to be connected, to involve them in where the story is, to offer traction as the natural alternative to thrust, the unrelenting thrust of push media that’s been at the root of News International's gradual decline. Online communication is enabling more literacy and empowerment by choice, consumers are relishing this new found ability and the newly levelled playing field of the democratized web. Brands now have to offer both compelling entertainment and a credible purpose, those are the table stakes. They must be able to arouse intellectual understanding and emotional commitment to their purpose over and above their product, and this is where News International comes up wanting. News International has chosen to play the hostage-taker in its relationships with consumers in the past, social brands work instead by garnering permission and consent. The consumer as consenting adult looks for community and democracy as part of the social contract it makes with brands and submitting to corporate deference is a thing of the past. The social revolution asks for brands with blatant integrity, brands capable of being trusted, because they possess a purpose beyond product and can appeal to hearts and heads well before wallets. That’s the brand challenge for News International. It’s also a strength of the BBC. It’s something that James Murdoch may well find very difficult to displace.

August 04, 2009

It's business Jim but not as we know it

Genetic Code Pic Blank 2 small

Captain Kirk might well have said this, to paraphrase, if he were at the helm of the Starship Enterprise as he steered it to new frontiers, across a commercial galaxy.

Business is spawning new forms of life, and it's business Jim, but not as we know it. This is a time for revolution, of turning things upside down, new frontiers, time for change and transformation.

Things have been a quiet on this blog lately because I've been away in Sydney, the antipodes to life in the UK, diametrically opposite on the globe and for me it's brought thinking about things upside down to the fore and the value of being counter-intuitive.

At the same time, Seth Godin's www.triiibes is one year old. As a founding member of triiibes.com there since the beginning, Seth's work on tribes demonstrates that great places teeming with commercial life can exist but not as we know them and that collaborative possibilities are available in new ways. Being a leader in www.triiibes.com over the last year's been a highly stimulating, iterative experience and a fascinating journey.

Social media's been riding this wave in general too, but don't be deceived. Visceral businesses that move people, that create connections that have the capacity to enhance operational capability and performance ask for more than just another media overlay. What's being asked for are changes of habit (and habitat), doing the unthinkable, a deep desire to will the new into being and the courage and passion to put everything into trying.

In the last few weeks Changethis.com have published a manifesto I've written about this, called 'Cracking The Genetic Code' and a new way forward for corporations. It's time to view business more organically and create new business cultures and if you'd like to download it just follow the link.

And what's a Visceral Business in a nutshell? Here's the summary

What Visceral Business Means3small

Got anything to add? I'll welcome all your thoughts and comments. It'll be great to build a body of opinion on this.

July 07, 2009

A bit of cognitive behavioural therapy is needed

Reboot Britain pic
(Pic courtesy of NESTA)

Yesterday was Reboot Britain day facilitated by NESTA amongst others, a day containing wide-ranging perspectives and a spectrum of opinion about how to address regeneration in depressing times.

Martha Lane-Fox talked about the enormous disadvantage that’s creeping into UK society with the disenfranchisement of the 17 million people who are not online.

In some powerful rhetoric, Matthew Taylor reflected on whether the finger-pointing for the demise of UK plc should be at the doors of those stubbornly entrenched in old power plays, the system itself or the unwillingness of the majority to do something about it. As he put it, ‘wallowing is nicer than having to deal with something you don’t agree with’.

Lee Bryant put down a challenge and asked for a shift from linear and binary conversations to networked and nuanced ones, and Howard Rheingold developed the point by commenting that just participating isn’t enough: We need a reboot that will mean something to others.

The message of the day for me was that being well-meaning isn’t good enough. The crucial step now in many ways is not to go ‘from competent to relevant’, as Emer Coleman summarized in the very good session on local government, but 'from relevant to competent’.

Because for social media and the voice of the many to show what it can do, for it to be a driver of substantive change, means crossing the threshold of it being a ‘nice to have’ to an indispensible, instructional tool, a bio feedback mechanism truly capable of generating a shift in power via a bit of collective cognitive behavioural therapy. That’s what will get the synapses going.

Social media is a participative medium and social networking is, in essence, a contact sport. Yet years of deference, a society untrained in articulation, the need to develop a collective social intelligence based on shared values and new protocols, and a human preference for inertia all prevail.

We also have a ‘data sensitivity’ issue. Lee Bryant mentioned government has to be open and transparent with data, and we do too. With privacy concerns at the core of the issue it's nevertheless the case that taking comfort from data is a vital part of using bio-feedback as a route to collective learning, growth and development. We have to be prepared to deal with the complexities and the nuances that networked information can generate. This is all part of how we learn to manage our ecosystem.

There are some substantial social and cultural challenges to overcome in rebooting Britain as a socially inclusive and self-determinant state of substance and opportunity. I left Reboot Britain yesterday feeling we are still numb to much of the potential.

Euan Semple talks about there being ‘no conscripts only volunteers’ in social media. So, the vision has to be able to be visceral enough to move people. What a reboot has to do is nurture the kind of visionary, committed and inspiring social leadership that can open up pathways for participation, make the most of always being in beta and enable giving and receiving feedback as the kind of tool we need to save ourselves.

We all need a bit of cognitive behavioural therapy, nation state, system and citizen together. It's part of developing the kind of social intelligence and awareness that collectively means we can make stuff happen.

June 26, 2009

Business transformation in 3 easy parts on SOMESSO

Somesso logo

Arjen and Mary at Somesso have posted a three-part article with me on the subject of business transformation, if you have a moment head on over and have a peek, it's here.

It contains a few ideas and I'd love your feedback. How big is our appetite for transformation towards a better organizational ideal?

June 25, 2009

Moving to a task-based focus for organizations

Marketers often talk about the brand as being an experience. Brands are experiences because they’re based on a set of perceptions that live in the minds of others, and experiences that are worth paying for because they capture the stuff of life, those special moments that make life worth living.

But with that concept comes some ethical issues and questions. Can marketers actually make credible promises about the kind of experience they’ll be delivering? And does an ‘experience provider’ have a genuine interest in an experiential outcome over and above being paid for it?

The brand as an experience is at least to some extent behind the shortfall in trust that many brands are experiencing, the drop in attention that people are being prepared to give them, the overall economic constriction and increasing cynicism that many organizations are grappling with. After all, in a depression the experience can be something that often isn’t up to much.

We are in the midst of an experiential burnout that’s manifest in the financial, economic and occupational health of many companies.

According to Aviva Risk Management Solutions, in 2007/08, a total of 13.5 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression and anxiety and nearly 60% of workers think that the current climate is making both them and their colleagues feel stressed and under pressure. The Trade Union Congress says half of employers (59%) do not associate long hours with productivity and nine out of 10 G.P.s believe that stress-related illness will increase due to the recession and be the biggest occupational health issue of 2009.

As organizations evolve I think what we’re seeing is a more sentient kind of organization that's more conscious of its creative capabilities. We’re getting a sense of the emerging opportunities of co-ordination via social media. Initiatives like Reboot Britain, for example, are crowdsourcing progressive, innovative and creative ways around entrenched problems.

With these factors in mind, and with a sense of consumption at all costs having had its day, the future success for organizations and their evolution may be dependent on them recalibrating their sense of purpose to revolve around tasks.

A task-based organization, the next stage of organizational growth, means shifting from the delivery of products and services and of using consumption as the primary propellant of economic exchange, to the creation of ideas and inventions that focus more on engendering achievement and efficiency.

Task-based perceptions of organization are less about a controlled brand promise pushed out from the centre, and more about a co-opted brand promise that collaboratively people focus towards being a part of.

So, if you’re the Tate Modern, for example, the focus is on how can all those who are part of the Tate Modern community create the best and most exciting home for modern art in London? It’s about who else is going to be there, it's about cause and about belonging.

If you’re Tate and Lyle, the focus is on what’s going to be the most replenishing route to sweetening and owning that. It’s about being a player in an ecosystem that people believe in, harnessing the ideas and activities of the many as part of developing a valued resource. Ideas become dialogues and communities form around shared values. Cafe Direct's a good example of an FMCG organization that's doing this.

It is what we do that matters, not what we say we will do. Marketing as I see it is simply that vision delivered as a service and corporate worth is what collectively we’re able to achieve collaboratively, as opposed to taking, competitively, from one another. Tasks, big meaningful and important tasks, make sense of that. They give people something to engage in.


The picture of Amish house builders is courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. The article touches on some elements of task-based organizations this way: 'Amish builders trim costs by using family members as workers and keeping their overhead low. Many don't buy insurance, since their communities often have insurance pools to help pay hospital and other medical bills if a member gets sick or injured. Unlike many general contractors who use subcontractors, Amish builders tend to do all the construction themselves. That cuts out middlemen and allows them to immediately correct any problems on a job.'

June 12, 2009

How we can recalibrate the notion of organization

Organizations come in all shapes and sizes, and ever since Charles Handy wrote 'The Gods of Management' in 1995 I've been fascinated by them.

Downturns are a good time to do a bit of stock-taking and to shake out issues we have with the status quo. Is there a case for commercial reform driven by the need to make more with less? I think so.

And, as corporate opacity goes out of favour, the declining value of established business models, together with corporate governance issues, prompt a fundamental reappraisal of the core purpose of organizations as well as a look at how they can work better.

It's time I think to go beyond the generation of shareholder ROI as we know it. In particular, it's time to look at what organizations collectively can achieve, in ways that benefit the entire ecosystem they operate within, for the many and not just for an elite management few.

As Alva Noë has said, we are not our brains and I believe the paradox is that technology affords us this understanding.

Business really has to be an organic, humane process to be sustainable and it has to have soul to be beneficial as a social activity. Together with the rapidfire awareness that technical diagnostics can provide it is these elements combined that give organizations a pulse.

This is my take on effective and self-propelling principles for management and operational development in the 21st century. You'll need half and hour and I hope you enjoy it.

May 03, 2009

Social connectivity is the new management rock n’ roll

Let's Dance small pic
Pics © BBC Blues Britannia: Can Blue Men Sing The Whites?

‘It was bad man, we didn’t have any sweets’.

So it went for Keith Richards as part of his propulsion into the Hall of Fame of Rock and Roll as one of the greats. It took a depression to bring on a new vibrant sound. So it is with social connectivity, the new management rock n’ roll.

Music before then was gutless music, the big band attempting to play on as a sop to post-war austerity.

Like the blues, social connectivity bypasses existing traditional cultural understanding, and it bypasses management. As Paul Jones, the lead singer of Manfred Mann and one of the main figures of the early British rock scene described it, ‘you didn’t need any previous information, it just got to you’.

The early fans of the blues and rock and roll scene gathered in my local neighbourhood, what was known in those circles as ‘the Thames Delta’, Britain’s distant echo of the American South, in Colliers Wood, and Merton, Tooting and Ealing. They turned up at each other's houses to swap records. It was a scene of fans, similar to the Twitter brethren of today where @ is the equivalent to coming round to play 45’s.

Then and now, once you get the bug, it’s hard to get rid of it. That’s what rock n’ roll was about as the essence of a vital scene.

Management is often seen today as being in direct conflict with this. Like the big band, it has a lot to lose from the jive, and from tuning into the blues. The specialist shops selling imported recordings in the old days are the boutique social media specialists of today.

They have the same conundrum on their hands, how to break through and go mainstream, how to get to the top of the Board, the top of the charts, and sell records.

To management echalons, social connectivity is a threat to the way things've traditionally been done, but to quote the song, ‘it ain’t necessarily so’. They haven’t learned to riff, to find the truer voice that social connectivity demands but it’s in them, and like the Beatles did in that seminal moment, they can learn how to cross the road.

The brands that have to advertise in the commercial break are missing something, especially online. They’re playing either side of the music, and their media spend’s a tax for being unremarkable.

In the early days of rock and roll, if someone had a harmonica, you were there, and word of a Muddy Waters album in Tooting would be enough to get on a bus and go to have a listen. It’s like that now; the socially connected will go to anywhere they’ve been turned on to.

The drab grey world of austerity management is not a million miles away from the cold grey skies of the unreconstructured 1950‘s, and that media spend sound is being replaced with a new music - the sound of vital, visceral connections that make feet misbehave and make an audience just want to get up and party.

The Rolling Stones were formed when Keith Richards hit on Brian Jones because he was a big record collector. They became one of the greats of a new era. Meanwhile, the bowler hatted brigade carried on for a while, still getting up and taking the 7:45am train to Waterloo. But it was with the Stones that the fruitful change lay. They were the future.

Management can gain a great deal from learning new leadership skills, loosening up and listening to the band, that’s where the fans are. As David Bowie would say, let’s dance.

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.

March 31, 2009

The age of expression

In 1968, at the height of the hippie movement and free love, the musical Hair sang it out: ‘This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius’.

Age of Aquarius small
Picture by anela. ©anela. All rights reserved.

I think that time reflects the first sensory stirrings of something that social communities are now bringing to fruition. The age of aquarius has paved the way for the age of expression.

The age of expression goes beyond having a conversation; what counts is the moment when people actually want to get onboard with your brand. Social marketing that’s really sticky is about putting yourself out there as a corporate or personal offer. Disintermediation, after all, can be harsh to take. Tacit judgements become a overt part of the equation in the social relationship, which calls for authenticity, blatant integrity, and new ways of behaving.

Social platforms and applications across the spectrum, from Facebook to Twitter to Skype, they all nudge people towards various forms of self-expression and elicit different preferences and, in the information age, they are not a management tool or form of information exchange that plays to everyone’s strengths in the same way.

Some of the current tensions we're experiencing now, commercially and socially, and some of the resistance to social marketing that exists within established management structures, comes from this.

A look at the variously described Keirsey Temperament Sorter will tell you, for example, that expressive communication is an anathema to analytical types and not everyone is comfortable with people over data, or the extraversion of putting it out there over the introversion of keeping it to oneself. Even for those who do, a little judicious judgement may be necessary. Getting social can be a bumpy road.

Having said that, as one of my favourite paradoxes of all time, the analytical type that will prefer to avoid socially oriented contact and extroverted expression, has become perhaps the greatest architect of the new social age.

In that regard, all points of the social compass point towards a coming together of data and community dynamics, where finding and articulating one’s voice becomes a value we can define and measure.

Keirsey Temperament Sorter small
Analytical temperaments work differently online compared to in real life. Online, process management is automated but in organizations a huge amount of human resource is spent on analytical transactions which can detract from the more useful activity of communicating. Corporates are having to work out what happens with the multiple, or multiplied, voices within their business, as are governments, in the age of self-expression.

Corporates can’t all talk with the same voice, and that’s a challenge, but a visceral business, that’s in tune with itself, is able to sing with the same voice. That’s the opportunity.

And beyond the need for conversation is the need for a new economic substance and a shared wealth to come from it. How people, businesses and brands develop in these times will depend on their capability to express themselves and generate the kind of formative ties that bind.

Buying In Benchmark small  

The age of expression is calling out for the kind of leaders than can be accepted by networks as well as hierarchies, and that can channel self expression positively into creating champions for their businesses to exist alongside them.

More than conversation, the power of the expressive age really peaks where it encourages and engenders commitment and contribution. That’s where we have to go to create the greatest potential we have available, and that’s how, I think, the age of aquarius can be converted into a fully realized prize in this new age of self expression.

March 30, 2009

It's about getting a grip or not

Grip Picture by RightEye. © RightEye. All rights reserved

As the G20 debate bears down on London, many are doing a bit of speculating: Will the marches be peaceful? Will we be breathing more easily by the time it’s over? Will anything concrete come of it, or will global indecision send us into an abyss?

It’s very tempting in times of uncertainty to tighten one’s grip, and the almost innate human reaction is to tighten the sphincter. When markets dry up, we’re supposed to sell harder, and when anarchy threatens to break out, the almost automatic response is more policing.

But this is potentially a very creative time. Consider the counter-intuitive reaction of less grip, not more. Psychological studies suggest that being in grip is neurotically playing to the opposite side of one’s best self. The laws of physics tell us that real change is not a violent swing from one side to the other, but the synthesis of thesis and antithesis combined. This is what creates direction instead of reaction, and possible, progressive ways forward.

There are lots of ways to get to grips with a situation. At his EdgeEconomy blog, Umair Haque is talking about a financial cold war and coup d'etat, calling
the Geithner plan 'a weapon of social, political, and economic mass destruction'. On youtube, Michael Hudson is talking about a kleptocracy, and both amount to the same thing - that the economic issue that the G20 must address is how to unloosen this unhealthy financial grip, the stranglehold of capitalism in the hands of the few that’s managed to drive sustainable business management into the buffers at the expense of the many.

How do we evolve from here? My own personal message to the G20 is it's time to profit with, and not profit from, the people, and what change demands is that we tune into new global psyche. Governments are not the natural home nor the harbingers of the creativity and innovation that’s now required to liberate and drive us out of depression; instead it’s the social voice that must now hold sway.

We have to drop our deference and, as people congregrate online, realize that the value of the trusted network is in a great ascendancy as the seedbed that can help to chart a creative and co-created economically sustainable future.

Howard Bloom puts this very eloquently in an article Reinventing Capitalism: Putting Soul in the Machine that should be required reading for all the attendees of the G20 summit, because whenever there have been times of great uncertainty economically, it’s grip that’s traditionally moved into place. Whilst leadership is needed, what's needed most of all are big ideas, the kind of leadership that can inspire as opposed to control. It's that which moves us. It’s leadership that requires blatant integrity. Going from Business to Usiness means dropping the ‘B’.

Uncertainty gave raise to dictatorship in history after the 1848 French revolutions, after the Russian Revolution and after the Weimar Republic, to name just three incidences in the last century of a fairly common and unfortunate social tendency. Then, in each instance, moderation gave way to authority and tyranny in the face of fear. The mass market of the day didn't have the tools to do much else either.

By comparison, now we do, and we need uncertainty to give rise to democracy as never before. There's a great challenge and an opportunity in this. Hierachies have their place and social order has to harmonize with the fluidity of network. But, as was the prize of the American revolution as a managment alternative to an outmoded sovereignty of the time, the social voice now needs to organize itself into a homestead for new value. That means collaboration not control and generosity of spirit instead of greed.

Less grip, not more.

March 12, 2009

What are we going to do with this sharing thing?

Breaking bread2
Picture courtesy of kmf221

When Tim Berners-Lee created the worldwide web at CERN, his working model was that of a free-market economy, unrestricted by the boundaries of geography.

The priority was to make technology accessible to everyone, not to create a product for financial gain.

The reasoning was that if he had a commercial interest, it would be hard to remain neutral about developments on the web and true to his original vision.

This was a moment that began a change in the course of our commercial history that is perhaps only now just beginning to fully unfold.

Up until this epoch-making shift we lived in a world of ‘give and take’ and ‘keep’. In that moment, it changed to beginning to be about ‘share’.

And now, thanks to the ubiquity of the web, ‘share’ is everywhere.

When Twitter, for example, defaults feeds as public and shared instead of private, we’re encouraged to live in a world characterized by ‘share’.

‘Share this’ is more than a widget, it’s an invitation to the group mind to become active, it’s an encouragement, it’s a way of life, a clarion call to participate in a new kind of collaborative economy.

As we change our behaviour, so we change our world, with profound implications for economists, marketeers and social media experts everywhere.

At the Social Networking World Forum in London this week, one thing that was noticeable was how much the economic agenda has already shifted towards what Julie Meyer, CEO of Ariadne Capital described as ‘financial systems that serve the ecosystem’ as an imperative.

Alongside this, planted front and centre, there was also the conventional agenda, the big question that loomed large, how do we monetize for profit, where 'share' was barely there.

It seems we’re currently stuck in the middle between these two conversations. It also seems inevitable that the impact of ‘share’ is not going to go away anytime soon.

Personally, I’ve never really liked selling, but I do like sharing. When financial systems serve the whole ecosystem, brands blend into communities by having permission to exist instead of being pushed into place. This is a cheaper and more durable way to go. It can create communities populated with a sufficient diversity of interest to create a thriving marketplace. Working with a collective mind can serve a common good and share the spoils, collaboratively, non-exploitatively.

It's a world where egos get left at the door, and it implies a different set of values to the ones we've had as long held assumptions. Conventional values, the ones that have underpinned competitive gain and commercial profit, the ‘I win: you lose’, dog eat dog, winner takes all, and ‘profit from’ as opposed to ‘profit with’ mentality, they don’t really resonate in the world of share.

‘Share’ is where the consumer must be credited, and paid attention to. Share asks businesses to embrace their duties and obligations of corporate responsibility fully, moving towards the creation of social capital in tandem with their audiences as part of a collective whole, where the traditional roles of consumption and production are redefined and redistributed.

Are we toying with the idea of share as a token gesture instead of looking at what it may turn out to mean? ‘Share’ is an idea who’s time has come but how many businesses are countenancing ‘share’ fully, at either a strategic or a practical level?

Whether we’re looking at the G20 and global financial regulation, the distribution of our energy or how to credit the participation of advocates in our brands as followers at a micro-level, the issues are the same. From here on in, it may not be possible to create a sustainable business model for the future without explaining what we’re really going to do with ‘share’.

February 10, 2009

Champagne economics

Photo courtesy of ori2uru

Technology creates affordances within organizations that are making it possible for commerce to experience a shift from process to people.

With technology creating transparency, we don’t need the apparatchik. Management layers of old can be stripped away as true talent claims the right to emerge, blinking, into a new world.

The new world is about more than strength in numbers or the factory. It's where quality and quantity balance and where the strength of the individual is the key to the strength of the collective.

This is an intriging dynamic. And, in recession, it has the possibility to create a ‘champagne effect’.

Quality and equity both boil down to the strength of the individuals that support and follow something. In that kind of situation, every impression, every experience, every touchpoint matters and the richness of experiences is what holds sway. This is a phenomenon of social connectivity.

Technology means what now matters is all about the company we keep. This new world brings with it huge potential for those prepared to live outside bureaucratic protection because freedom beckons for strong individuals.

Network effects are crucial to consider, and it's impossible to ignore the implications of the long tail - both good and bad - and that an infinite supply of crumbs can exist in the tail, while the big players in the juicy head grow bigger.

Whatever the case it’s clear that the simple irrefutable equation is that leadership creates success.

One essential characteristic of tribes is that the strength of a tribe is inherently connected to the strength of its leadership. You get to have a tribe by having the courage to lead. Where push marketing is thrust and permission marketing is traction, it’s the pulling power of the leadership from which all else follows.

So when a leader is ‘full up’ and their cup overfloweth in a tribe there are opportunities to go round, opportunities gained by developing leadership in each and every member within their tribe, each doing their own thing, each going their own way, each with a specialization, each being remarkable.

These aren’t the days of the factory anymore where people are assigned. In tribes leaders choose and are chosen. I wonder whether the way to make profitable relationships in a tribe is less about tails and heads it’s more about leadership and individual excellence.

The commune was fair, but flat. Imagine a notional 30%:70% value split cascaded all the way down a champagne tower and you get a lot more fizz, and a lot more leadership. But it also takes strong leadership to stir up the bubbly in the first place.

The champagne effect is what makes social communities exciting. It encourages leaders with fizz and the chance for us all to pop our corks.

The blindsiding of bankers

This is the age of social activism. It’s an age that was brought to life by the good - by the fun and exhilaration of youtube and grown by the bad - by disasterous earthquakes and desperate meltdowns.

Whilst we first came to know about networks via video and new kicks with pictures, we’ve got organized around events like China, bank charges and bonuses and the need for hope.

Social community is, at its core, about human connections and emotional bonds. It’s an age that supports self expression.

This doesn’t sit well with everyone. Rational, analytical types on the Keirsey Temperament Scale, for example, may view social communities as unattractive. One attribute of social communities is their random volatility, they are not all code. There’s also the question of how to measure the value of social communities, problematic in a risk averse and credit crunched marketplace.

Technology and goodwill, however, have the combined power to create seismic shifts in this.

The Treasury Select Committee is questioning the highly numerate Fred Goodwin  of RBS, Andy Hornby  of HBOS, Lord Stevenson and Tom McKillop to a packed crowd today at Westminster.


Picture courtesy BBC

And within this investigation of what went wrong with the banks, what’s transpiring is the extent of a tragic mismatch – between what was required to manage in changing circumstances and what we actually had.

The ground was shifting and there was no way to recognize it until it was too late.

Andy Hornby, ex head of HBOS has proudly stated how 5 members of the HBOS Executive Team had 150 years of experience between them. Experience in looking backward. They were blindsided.

They were blindsided too by an abject lack of consumer dialogue and a culture lacking conscience. As John Prescott and myself and others find potential for action in facebook, there’s clear and tangible evidence that the gulf between public opinion and Board perspective has hardly been wider.

A universal uproar at the dual principles that have been applied is in motion, the disparity between what expectations are handed down to the public around risk and reward and the management of credit and debit, compared what banks are claiming as principles for themselves.

Those protected by a bubble of assets, highly numerate and secure, are failing to grasp the emotional content that real life hardship is releasing. This is the kind of content that’s going back to the more primal connections and real life values that social networking fosters and allows.

Despite the fact that these bankers have gambled away huge sums of capital built up by shareholders and customers, with RBS losing £28 billion in the last year, Fred Goodwin walked away with £4.3m in bonuses.

That’s the paradox. The failure to grasp how it feels to hear that when others go broke for far less means that communities and trusted places are becoming places of some refuge, stimulating new ways of trade. Time for organization 2.0.

February 05, 2009

Seth Godin explains why we need a tribe

In a nutshell... Thanks to Loic Le Meur for filming this at TED yesterday. People will forget what you said and they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel and what you inspired them to do. If you're a marketeer, make something that matters and that's worth talking about. Nice little story about Seth's name, too.

February 04, 2009

Chill... part two

Keep calm and carry on 

A message from the past very similar to yesterday's 'chill' sentiment is published today in this article by the BBC - reassuring memories from times of similar adversity.

The thing is, we know markets need more than stoicism, they need confidence.

We maybe need new ideas, and we're used to a certain degree more autonomy compared to how this paternalist advice was dispensed in the past.

Interesting to think how we might rephrase these words of wisdom in that context.

February 03, 2009


It wasn’t absolute zero yesterday, but it was a colder day than most, and ten inches of snow brought London practically to a standstill.

On Wimbledon Common the snowman building tribe came out, for one day only, to do their thing, a temporary tribe.

People were engaged in a shared experience and the community spirit was not only alive and well it was thriving, creating a life affirming energy in the depths of winter. That’s what communities do.

Chilling out has long been associated with having a plus side, it suggests moderation, it attracts rathers than repels. As Lucy Kellaway writes about the recession’s web of fear and how we manage an emerging global collective psyche, arguably the best thing we can do right now amidst the panic of potential meltdown, is chill.

The interesting thing absolute zero as a temperature is it’s when matter exhibits quantum effects such as superconductivity and superfluidity, so as far as getting things going is concerned, it’s a pretty good place to be.

Apply that to economics and no growth may be a good thing for a while, a time to take stock in lateral ways.

When we take time to survey the economic scene it’s just as much in the depths of a bleak midwinter as my local snowscene. It looks like the repetitive rush to profit and productivity has driven us at a reckless pace into the buffers like a runaway train that’s facing derailment on snowy tracks.

Compare that to the strongest social community I know, Seth Godin’s www.triiibes.com community where, on an entirely voluntary basis, in six months 3,942 members have created 353 groups, 3,163 discussions, 2,075 blog posts and uploaded 437 videos.

It’s the laissez faire approach coupled with a strong leadership ethos of ‘lead and get out of the way’ that’s generated an excellent signal-to-noise ratio, such remarkable productivity and a whole wave of active participants as the antidote to 'single-think'.

The internet lowers the cost of failure and has the ability, in social communities, to create safe places to land, thus spawning entirely different cultural possibilities compared to more rigid management structures.

These cultures are more relaxed, committed to the need for collaboration as the way to get things done, and capable of rapidly accelerating group capabilities because of the cumulative effects of learning iteratively together in real time.

Strong community cultures accept and encourage everyone involved to express themselves, to feel valued for having a point of view, metaphorically speaking, to build their own snowmen.

They recognize that consumption and production and new forms of credit can often be generated better as a group, for and with one another, than by seeking that fix from outside, especially when a common purpose can bind people together like glue.

These things are beginning to emerge as new imperatives for productivity and growth. Being chilled about that probably isn’t a bad way to start.

January 27, 2009

How to support an organization with social media

Social media is incendiary stuff. For many organizations it's a direct challenge to existing norms and the way things get done, the sort of direct challenge that spells potentially profound consequences to the basic shape and fabric of existing business practices as we know them.

People like Gary Hamel, who've written about best practice management for years, are saying that management must be reinvented. It's a voice that can turn into a clamour when social media becomes part of the equation. Change from without is a challenge, but it's also well established that change is rarely well effected entirely from within.

So when David Gelles at the FT writes about 'firefighting' as the point of social media within corporates, I must confess that I get ever so slightly sceptical. When 'companies are using Twitter to douse public relations fires before they erupt' it's worth asking how much emollient can be dispensed at the same time as facilitating the real opportunities that businesses need to reinvent themselves?

I'm part of Seth's tribe. We recognize the quite heretical element in many of the conversations that social media is starting and because of that we often talk more about starting fires than fighting them.

Tribes casebook

This is a picture of firefighters who start fires, record the moment, then put them out as part of their training. That's what well trained firefighters do. The casebook's a free download for your viewing pleasure full of stories where communities have been set alight because of the spark of imagination that being social allowed them to generate.  Download TheTribesCasebook

And as the established world view of many businesses comes pressingly and perilously close to the white heat of customers who care through social media, the challenge becomes how to deliver the best interests of organizations in terms of how they engage with it.

With the opportunity to integrate social media into business practices opening up, real conversations can start to influence strategy. Cost effective transformation can happen to replace the tedium of the monologue that the diet of traditional media has been serving up for some time. Beyond that there lies the question of how to 'operationalize' a tribe. As Bob Pearson of Dell puts it in the same article, "social media is much more than getting out there and having conversations, it transforms a business if you use it correctly."

Socialwash is an unfortunate and emergent reality, more CRM 2.0 than a new management opportunity for a radically different era. The question worth asking is what are the responsibilities and opportunities that belong to the new corporate masters of social media and what will their paymasters let them be, a point of PR or agent of potentially profound change?

January 22, 2009


Last night I headed over to NESTA who hosted the first webank event in London. The focus was on social lending, the key question whether people can replace institutions. Many thanks to Rohan Gunatillake for hosting such a stimulating evening.

It showcased Zopa, Kuberamoney and Midpoint & Transfer, all as examples of a new wave of social lending platforms and alternatives to traditional financial services.

And they’re interesting not least because they listen and replay how their audience describes them – an ‘anti-bank’ was one description, ‘like ebay for money’ was another that have both been used as descriptions for Zopa. And it listens to that, it’s a business that knows its identity is located to a great degree in the minds of its audience.

New social lending platforms tend to welcome the ways in which consumers choose to engage with them far more than established financial services do; they’re set up to be fluid social networks as a fundamental and maybe that’s where the rub is.

Nesta webank 210109

In a lively panel debate, James Gardner represented the conventional banks well when he speculated on whether or not the 'people-replacing-institutions-model' can scale and, as long as the focus is on functional transactions rather than on social contracts, he may well be right to have his doubts about this.

Open source economics tends to turn somewhat around things that people can believe in. It turns on soft intangible attributes like confidence and trust, the lack of which has hit the markets so harshly. ‘Beware the moneylender’ has been a call handed down through the ages; it’s hard to believe in money for money’s sake and this is where many financial service providers are arguably becoming vulnerable to new platforms and competitors.

As brand trust for financial institutions is on the floor we have to ask where did it all go wrong? As the economic downturn has garrotted profits we’ve seen banks retract from the consumer rather than embrace them, and sweat over transactional value as opposed to relationship value, creating a real sense of alienation. In this regard, no amount of socialwash can save them.

There’s a need for the personal investment and lending markets to switch sides if they are to be resuscitated. There’s an opportunity for banks and financial service providers to re-examine the core of their purpose and brand essence to find the philanthrophic idea that can form the bridge to new markets and opportunities.

In his Inaugural address Barack Obama referred to alienation in society as being one of the single most divisive issues we face today. The philanthropic ideal is real and pressing. It’s this that powers businesses like Zopa.

If asked in that context whether people can replace institutions, it’s not a matter of scale and it’s not a matter of margin. The question becomes whether a social contract or a functional contract is paramount and to what degree they can sit together as part of a viable business plan.

Given the choice, the pre-existing trust network is a far more attractive platform for any kind of business than the factory. Given the choice between retracting back to transaction or connecting because of the social contract the answer here too is very probably, ‘yes we can’.

January 13, 2009

About the company we keep

On the day when industry figures released have been labeled as no less than ‘frightening’, and as we wait for a continuing rollcall of businesses to fall by the wayside, this is a thought about what’s going to get many out of the ditch and how we view the company we keep.

Honest face

No matter how seismic this current redefinition of commercial drivers seems to be, one thing that remains the same is that the platform for growth and change has always been people.

The singular piece of IP, the unique process, the first mover advantage, the heritage and culture behind a unique offer, none of these build or sustain a business without the people who are behind them. They’re the ones who have the ideas, the vision to open minds to new ideas, the ability to be inspiring, that helps businesses turn corners.

McKinsey are talking about and highlighting the upside of investor and operational transparency. It’s becoming clearer by the day that the people who build blatant integrity and transparency back into businesses and the way they work, and that can encourage that most precious of commodities, investor and consumer confidence, back into their businesses, are the ones that will win. This is not management land, it’s about real and honest relationships.

As the brand is being marked down as a bygone buzzword, with compelling stats telling the narrative of their sorry decline, what’s becoming the most credible story for tomorrow is that if you don’t have a social brand it’s likely you may not have a sustainable business.

Acording to this article, 'a Mediaedge:cia study found that 76 percent of people rely on what other people say versus 15 percent on advertising, and 92 percent of people now cite word-of-mouth as the best source for brand information. Universal McCann found that 74 percent of global Internet users write reviews online, while 75 percent of people consult blogs before they buy, according to Bazazarvoice. Brands have nowhere to hide.'

And as organizations wipe the slate a bit and redefine many of the numbers that add up to their corporate reputation and what it’s worth, now’s the time to start supplementing it with new value.

The value that’s set to increase is the personal reputation of the people that are associated with a business. What's beginning to matter more and more are the leaders that have a voice, who blog, who twitter, who bring a position and a point of view, a platform for action and a following to a business proposition because they believe in it.

There’s lot of talk right now about how to monetize, or not, these relationships. What that boils down to ultimately is the same thing that has been the make or break of many a business for some time - how well it’s overall DNA is aligned to deliver its vision, how well the synapses actually do work as a connected entity. This is the hallmark of visceral businesses.

This is the time for many businesses to be doing a lot more to encourage the talent that’s already in their business to rise up to the surface and find a voice, and it's something that can happen from within and without to the point where both become seamless. That way businesses and organizations can constellate themselves into social brands that are open, transparent and able to command a following.

It all boils down to the company we keep. And the type of company management we leave behind.

January 09, 2009


Synchronicity facebook pic

Today I thought I'd join the Synchronicity group on facebook and various events happened synchronistically that led me to doing it.

As soon as I joined the group, the fact that I had came up as an entry on my facebook feed.

That moment was an act of synchronicity too. 

Synchronicity and facebook

The point is there’s an instantaneousness to how we're getting things done now. It's becoming very powerful, suggesting that the net worth is in the network.

I’m a big fan of Chris Brogan, and Chris is writing about how social media has enabled him to scoop the best journos at CES09 by communicating news and ideas fast, directly, to an online audience, and to get a dialogue going using twitter.

As with the facebook story the ingredients are part human and part technical. It's how we engage today. The really big story both these things illustrate is that affinity is stronger than structure, which has profound consequences for every marketer and managing director.

Crowdsourcing and flash mobs are often thought of as going hand in hand as what happens when an unruly random mob flock to either an idea or a venue. The dynamic is seen as the same, unruly. Now though we can pick our friends, build networks of our own and attract people who are interested, committed, enabled, or who’d like to be.

The thrill from the random meet works for a while but sometimes one needs a little more. People connect rapidly in times of distress. That’s when they need to connect, and connect well, with things that matter to them.

One of the most important predictions about 2009 I've heard is that people are going to get a bit choosier and more selective when it comes to thinking about who they connect with online. It’s going to happen because people haven't got much time, and as Stefan Stern has mentioned recently, they have very little attention.

Networks matter because they tell you where the other people who care about something that matters are going to be.  The strong networks will be the ones that can build that interest, sustain the energy and lead and transform. Put it like that and networks become the 2.0 version of what used to be called organizations.

Brands need attention to thrive, so why are so many not working with the laws of natural attraction? And why are they not working in real-time connected to social media environments that can engage their audiences and support them by allowing them to contribute? It’s the storytelling, in conjunction with others, that engages.

This is a difficult time for many organizations, they’re desperate to raise interest and get their share of attention before the money runs out. It’s easy to ignore what the step change of social networks offer, and what community management provides when what you’re used to is media management, not people management.

Read Seth Godin’s latest blog and you'll read about ‘the kneejerk rejection’. It’s an easy slide to consider getting back to the way things used to be done, fear promotes that kind of visceral reaction, but the real twitch for brands is coming from the synchronicity of interests, from affinity trumping structure because that’s where the attention lies.

That’s where the synchronicity of the network makes everything happen, a little bit more easily and a little bit quicker.


December 11, 2008

The end of edifice

spelled pronunciation [ed-uh-fis]
1.     a building, esp. one of large size or imposing appearance.
2.     any large, complex system or organization.

It’s nearly the end of the year, maybe it’s nearly the end of an era.

Old edifices are giving way, economically and organizationally. What were previously very well established systems are now looking very hollow.

It’s fascinating to see how, in various quarters, people respond to this. Some prefer ‘bail out’ others go with ‘belly-up’, we resist the dip, or we embrace the dip.

What’s clear is that, socially connected as we now are, for those that are engaged in change what lies ahead is going to be one massive collective learning experience and it’s time to get iterative.

Many resist the end of edifice or structure, quickly seeking to rebuild. But it’s exploration skills that are needed now in order to take us to new places we haven’t gone before, not building skills.


Helen Fisher at Le Web on Tuesday this week talked about different types of personalities - explorers, builders, negotiators and directors - and how they interact, shape and develop their relationships in the world, all of which has significant impacts for those interested in the development of viable social communities.

Similarly, in an age of some potential anarchy, unpredictability and improvisation are becoming the flavours of a new day.

Times like this can make us twitchy. We sense loss and desperation. In circumstances like this it’s only a brave new dawn can sometimes give sufficient hope. Then again, success is not too often to be found by throwing out all else that has gone before. There’s edifice in that too.

Whatever happens, we’ll cope better if we create adaptive fits with one another. That's why social communities now offer so much promise.

That willingness to flex is going to be what gets the synapses going.

New growth from organizations of old is entirely possible that way.

November 02, 2008

Techology makes us more human

Twitter's fail whale is a hero for modern times.

Twitter fail whale

It's become an icon for those who appreciate and understand that modesty can be charming, engaging.  What it's also done is drawn fans into twitter in their thousands and as such it's a superb piece of brand communication. Alongside the charm there are guts and integrity.

Technology and the speed of change presents significant challenges to humans and the irony here is when we understand that perfection is for the Gods, then we understand how to fail.

It's important to know how to fail because when new is exciting, we don't always want stable. Stable is not remarkable or a thrill, it doesn't move people on a visceral level.

The online environment offers an opportunity for a golden age of entrepreneurship, where this play between technology and humanity is in motion and where networks that engage build reputations, intellectual capital assets and in turn generate value.

The potential of technology to reach out and build rich communications with constituencies around the world is significant, not least because it also asks us to be more human.

November 01, 2008

Credit where credit's due

It's amazing how many people have a flutter on the lottery.

It's notable how much money has been made on a hedge on the stock market.

It's worth remembering the value of stocks and shares can go down as well as up.

It's a predicament that there's now not enough credit to go around.

What's completely remarkable is markets have had so much propulsion - because of risk not despite it. So it's ironic that, because of these risk games that have gone wrong, now there's too much risk for people to take a chance on credit the way they used to.

We should have been betting on a sure fire thing.

So now we have a chance. New forms of credit are emerging that are far better than the old ones and it's turning out that the kind of credit that can make a difference are the ones that are a little more homespun.

They're the kind of credits you give to your friends, your tribe members, to people that are close to you. Affinity and proximity have substantial value essentially because it's trustworthy when the chips are down.

It's reputation that matters, that's a better bet than most. And reputation is the kind of value that's generated when people give credit where credit's due.

People all over the world are reviewing the credit crunch and they're asking what we could do better. Are they thinking about the kind of credit fix we can all generate when someone does something remarkable and makes a difference and we credit them?

What would that do to world markets do you think in terms of growth potentials and value generation?

What wealth do we generate together when we are able to credit the unique contributions that someone did because they cared, because they used their skill, their talent and their voice to make a difference?

And why is it do we believe for one moment we're not capable of using all our unique gifts to create remarkable things rather than to pass something off 'as is', which is so often the case in marketing?

As Marianne Williamson says, 'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us'.

We need - urgently - to give credit where credit's due, to each other. When people step up and do things and when they make a difference. Building your brand helps, finding your voice, knowing that you'll get credit from fair-minded people that allow you to step up and building your reputation not appropriate or exploit it. This encourages contexts in which possibilities and potential become valuable.

By working in a tight community or a tribe, the possibility to create fair-minded credit becomes possible. Because the thing is, it's all traceable, technology makes it so. It's safe.

So why not keep the credit we give to those we trust going and build reputations in this way? Let's do it because by association when they win, we win. We want to credit something therefore when it's good.

This is the way our economy becomes headed in ways that are most rewarding, spontaneously. And it's a lot less risky than where we've been going.

October 28, 2008

About doubt, leadership and blatant Integrity

Doubt is a curious thing. Doubt puts barriers to relationships in place. It's doubt that stops the wheels from turning in an economy.

We live in a culture that's ladled with cynicism. Most people today tend to disbelieve each other and they tend to disbelieve the organizations they deal with. Doubt can be pernicious, eating away at new shoots of growth. And when doubt sets in it can easily become chronic, hard to shift. Doubt can create disease.

It's only blatant integrity that can assuage doubt. Ellen has asked how we recognize it and when is blatant integrity at work?

Blatant integrity is present when people and organizations are comfortable with being held up to scrutiny. It's at work when these people under scrutiny welcome the opportunity to cushion and overcome objections because they're more interested in creating a moment of truth with you than making an expedient sale.

It's at work when the strength of a business comes from being open instead of being closed. It's at work when a business can take a strong position, clearly and definitively, when it can stand proud and still, when it can be trusted and when it's clear it listens. When it's not going anywhere other than to build an adaptive fit with you.

Blatant integrity recognizes that marketing is about connecting with people and that marketing and business development is about delivering vision as a service.

Companies with blatant integrity are those that put customer empowerment at their heart and recognize that when their customers win, they win. They have business cases behind them that enable this to be a plausible mantra. It's when the success of others figures as prominently in our minds as does our own that the purpose of an organization has blatant integrity as its foundation.

Many companies lack integrity simply because their reason for being isn't big or ambitious enough. The good news is that this is an easy fix, thinking bigger. It just needs imagination, creativity and initiative.

As a strategy for recessionary times this is a good one. R&D has always been a way out of a tight corner. Thinking big and developing blatant integrity are constructive ways out of the impasses and the doubt-ridden economics that are stunting the opportunities that exist for business growth today.

Unique talents are intellectual capital and unique experiences are emotional capital. We're living in an ideas economy and in an age where influence is a new currency in a post-consumer world. Leadership today can generate value by being authentic and transparent, by being 'we' focused as opposed to 'me' focused.

Blatant integrity delivers brand experiences and continuous commercial improvement in ways where everyone benefits, in a way where trust can begin to happen again.

October 23, 2008

Why we need 'blatant integrity'

As we shift into greater connectedness, as our paths become more transparent, as networks become more important, we need blatant integrity.

When the noise of advertising and promotional drown-out is so large and all around, sometimes all we can do is connect with the small voice within. It becomes a place of sanctuary.

In a networked world, there's paradox in that we can't truly connect with others until we've connected with ourselves.

In making these connections, blatant integrity is what matters.

Blatant integrity is the voice that you have to lean in to listen to, it's the voice that doesn't strain to raise itself above the din, it's the voice that's waiting to be found. It doesn't seek out where to advertise itself. It's the voice that will endure and stay standing even when there are challenges.

And you know the amazing thing? At the same time, blatant integrity is also the kind of integrity that rings out loud and true, that's a clarion call. It's the clearest of clear bells, and it's the kind of sound that people want to follow because it can be trusted.

Reputation has never been a more important intangible asset in our world than it is today. This is true both for groups and people.

Loyalty and building strong ties with an audience, powerful reputations that can influence better than advertise, they all come from having blatant integrity. That's why we need more of it.

October 15, 2008

Brand your skill

Everyone has a unique way of doing things.

Organizations, on the other hand, cannot function this way. They need process.

It's very easy for too much process to have a limiting effect, especially when the ability to react to market-driven opportunity is as crucial as it is today.

The best organizations have both of these things - individual skill and process. They recognize that their capacity for wealth generation comes primarily from the quality of the people who are associated with it.

It's never been the case more than today that it's the network that drives net worth.

The strength of a network is the compound effect of individual talent and a range of unique perspectives to bring to bear upon a situation and a smooth way of doing things. This is what creates a 'more than the sum of the parts' scenario and it's this that makes an organization able to challenge the market and thrive.

So instead of building a bigger brand, brand your skill.

As individuals in a corporate marketplace, your skill is your brand.

Think of that as a multiplier effect within a networked organization - it's powerful stuff.

October 13, 2008

Push vs fetch

Never underestimate the power of the exacting customer.

The exacting customer has high standards. There's also a chance the exacting customer is exacting because he knows your product almost better than you do. He knows the difference between what it is and what it could be and is prepared to think about it and talk about it. That's what makes him exactlng.

Those people who want something more and are committed to high standards and know your product are the best possible allies to have for business development.

Those businesses that don't have the wherewithal to harness this force are at a commercial disadvantage compared to those that do. It's a principle of judo that strength comes from working with an approaching force and not resisting it.

The companies whose customer service departments feel the need to shore up the way things are done in the face of such challenge are on a losing ticket if resistance to the exacting customer turns those people away from the brand.

Fulfilling business experiences are all about creating an adaptive fit. When the opportunity for generating one with an exactlng customer is thwarted, a brand has created exactly the opposite of what it intended. It has done nothing to fetch new customer opportunities, and done everything to push them away.

And being the informed folks they are, it is with some authority the exacting customer will tell their other exacting friends. Exacting people form opinions and exacting customers that are thwarted make pretty powerful opinion formers.

I'd like to thank O2 for being such a brand. The immovable inflexibility that emanated from their customer service department this morning created this post. Exacting energy always gets put to good use, for or against.

October 10, 2008

Revolution and resurrection

Very few structures stay standing indefinitely. Even fewer stay standing intact in their original form.

As European stock markets plunge markets are in a state of panic selling, with many a UK Council facing the fact their cash is trapped in foreign banks.

What's being spelt out is uncertainty, even for our closest communities.

This brings with it a new awareness - an awareness that affinities are stronger than structure, but affinities have to some extent been eroded by too much orchestration in a quest for management opportunity.

One could argue that, at the most basic level, it's over-engineering that has been at the heart of these troubled times.

In any case the net effect is that trust is on the ropes. Instinctively, we feel a need to stay close to the things that matter to us. What comes to the fore in difficulty is the need to protect and feel protected.

This week sees the launch in the US of Seth Godin's new book Tribes. It offers stories of revolution and hope of resurrection.


Tribes are primal structures. They're bonded by creed and choice, not by management imperatives.

Corned beef gave way to a return to scratch cooking once the thrill of being able to manufacture food subsided a few decades ago, and so it is with business today.

We're learning in this economic collapse that wealth generation needs to become a lot more personal to achieve a re-balanced economy. It needs traction and not just thrust.

My good fortune of the last two months has come from having been able to be an active participant in Seth's online tribal experiment - Triiibes - a learning community launched online (by invitation only at the moment) back in July. Next week I'll be at the US book launch in New York with many a tale to tell from my tribal compadres. Even though we come from all around the world, as a tribe, we're close. In marketing terms, Tribes marks a shift of revolutionary proportions.

We are seeing seismic shifts in markets and marketers need to respond. Tribes offers tales of a new kind of leadership, a safe haven and firmer ground for the future.

And as a ticket out of near-death economic experiences and market upheaval, it's a safe bet being tribal is going to be a better way forward than many others.

October 07, 2008

When profit is a brand

Gordon Brown has been making the point that markets need morals.  This is something brand people have been espousing for years, that enterprises work better when they have shared values.

It's never been truer in fact. Today shared values work for brands, for markets, for countries and for whole economies.

The day is dawning for of the kind of intangible value that might offset the decline in tangible value being seen around the world.

In the world of Economics 2.0 profit is a brand, a marker of how much is being taken out of communities and how much is being put in.

The world is increasingly transparent. Stakeholders today give an organization a mandate to operate, permission to market, and not just the liquidity to operate.

When profit is being used to fund marketing campaigns that are only a tax paid for being unremarkable, profit is a big part of the brand and it's likely to create negative equity.

Too much profiteering may very well break a brand, not just finance it.

August 16, 2008

It's 'Integrity' that creates 'Integral fit'

One the biggest compliments two people can say about one another is 'we're tight'.

Tightness is a good thing.

Tightness means there's an ongoing and continuing benefit in being together.

Tightness means everything works together because it's conjoined and contained.

Tightness is harder to achieve, the bigger the group.

But I think some of the answer about how to do this lies in what happens when businesses think about how to be better aligned and more effective as organizations. They're talking about wanting to create an 'integral fit'. They're talking about having Integrity.

Integrity is defined as: 'Soundness of moral character; honesty; the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished'.

I'd like to suggest that the biggie, as far as building a network is concerned, is Integrity. It builds trust and it creates the feeling of 'being tight'.

The success of the networked whole, as people are coming to realize, is largely dependent on having a good reputation. It's a brand footprint.

But a good brand footprint is about more than having 'a reputation', we've all got a reputation. The real question is, does this reputation have integrity? Is there a genuine warmth and a visceral connection to something in it with which we want to fit in?

Is it a reputation that has blatant integrity? Integrity so fine that it rings out like the clearest of clear bells. Because in the networked world this is what we need. This is the call we make when we want to find, and be found, throughout our new world of networks.

It is with integrity that the long term process of belonging and building a tribe begins because integrity creates integral fit.

Integrity is akin to a precious metal in a networked context, in that it can forge relationships very quickly, but it's also easy to wreck.

Integrity is a must-have, not a nice-to-have, Tim Sanders has written ''Your network is your net worth'. Integrity is a very valuable personal and organizational asset because without it, today, nothing else happens.

August 03, 2008

Brand contractions

Brands are energetic entities, at their most essential level, they’re pulses of attraction.

Peristalsis is ‘the rhythmic contraction of smooth muscles to propel contents through the digestive tract. The word is derived from New Latin and comes from the Greek peristaltikos, peristaltic, from peristellein, "to wrap around," and stellein, "to place’, according to Wikipedia.

The rhythmic contractions of brands are a big part of the way brands stay relevant. Brands are quite naturally a response, like peristalsis, to the elements in place in any given society; they wrap around raw ingredients to form entities that can create a following.

What’s happened to this flexing and adapting over time is very interesting, and it will become even more interesting in the near future.

The whole idea of branding was at the very beginning to create ownership, but as this recent study
confirms, we’re moving closer to collective ownership being the driver of wealth then ever before. Forget communism, hello tribe.

A brand was initially a wrapper of raw ingredients, a container of tangible assets, that promoted itself through the creation of a badge of quality. Through the use of these simple signifiers - logos - brands were able to communicate at speed, harnessing mass-market channels of communication to reach huge audiences.

Then brand segmentation kicked in, and it became possible to replicate the brand model, to create a multiplicity of products and services. Competition came into it.

Next step was the fragmentation of communication channels, and the targeting of audience-specific needs and wants. We got brands by the bucketload.

Now, no-one really feels the need quite as much to define themselves by their tangible consumption and we’ve learnt not to believe the hype. We’re living in the age of the intelligence economy, we’re co-creating in fluid groups.

So any self-respecting brand consultant has to ask themselves this: ‘Does the brand have a place today? Does it work as a label of assigned ownership and a ticket of entry to value in such a context? What’s the role for ownership in a fluid society, where we are all, at any time, part of one thing or another depending on what focuses our attention?

The emerging phenomenon of folkonomies, of the new world tribes, that many are seeing and participating in as creators of value, mean it’s time for a brand contraction. We still need definitions, yes, but what’s needed is definition based on a singular awareness of what each individual can provide within the tribe.
Then we need to understand that how the tribe that controls itself realises its worth and generates value.

We will always need definitions because we need ease of access. Branding enables that essential distillation to continue as societies become more complex but everyone finds their place and they way they can contribute to it. Branding allows us to value the individual elements fully too, as part of the connectedness that is now beginning to power society, well as the shape of the whole.


This is the difference between the community of old and the new world tribe, the tribe generates defined value, as much as shares it.

July 30, 2008

What does government mean to you?

Today, the nature of government is changing profoundly. It used to be we all had one Government each - that of the land we live in.

Now, potentially, we have several. As the world becomes more complex, made up of the real and the virtual, the mass market and the niche, as we each take control of our own existences rather than having them managed for us, and as we deal with and respond to challenges and change in real-time, there is a need to look at government in a new way.

Apple, for example, is very often the government of my existence online. I use Apple’s Macs, Apple’s iPod, Apple’s iPhone, Apple’s software to create my website (though Typepad do the blog bit because of various Apple shortcomings there, don’t ask) and I get co-ordinated online services through Apple's Mobile Me. I couldn’t exist online at the moment without Apple. They enable and, to a reasonable extent, govern me.

All the music I buy I hear online and purchase via Apple’s iTunes store; Apple looks after my calendar and it manages all my emails. In fact, I’m not sure that the good old traditional government that looks after my physical citizenship in London does as much  for me, and I pay them taxes!

I pay Apple too of course, and this week Apple has created a blog specifically to manage the poor experiences that many of their consumers, the citizens of the world of Apple, are feeling a little let down about at the moment, namely the simultaneous introduction of the 3G iPhone and MobileMe that didn’t quite go according to plan.

But Apple communicates, it’s open to dialogue about itself from others and it listens and that’s a good thing. It responds in near-time as much as it’s capable of doing and it has reasonable levels of brand trust, and that’s not something many political parties or governments of state can lay claim to.

In the days now when real-time representation, as Robert Scoble reports, is gaining ground particularly in the US thanks to the technological opportunities offered by the likes of the iPhone, Twitter and Qik, you’ve got to thank Apple as a brand that takes communication a little more seriously than most.

What’s worth recognizing though is that as the nature of government is arguably in flux, so too is the nature of the social contract that comes with it and, here, darker overtones are emerging as part of change.

The scale of the mortgage defaulting crisis in the US for example is so large that the number of people walking away from their homes is at 'tsunami level'. As one person is reported as putting it, ‘Is the bank going to pay for my retirement because I was a good girl and paid my mortgage?’ and another observes, ‘It's a business decision for their family that the smartest thing they can do is walk away from their home’.

This is a landscape where there is very little to keep people loyal to their job when they lack job security themselves, very little in terms of a quid pro quo that the consumer can expect from either the state or the commercial sector in terms of welfare and very little in terms of the social relationship contracts that exists between many individuals in society on a day to day basis.

People have in many ways simply stopped caring about the notion of a social contract at all. What applies to them, as instilled by national and commercial governments of all shapes and sizes, is that the individual is on its own. It’s the kind of behaviour that means people don’t return calls, that communication stops flowing, that people are defended instead of open and collaborative and there's generally a lot more cynicism.

One reason for this is that caring doesn’t necessarily comes with a particularly good business case attached to it. Capitalism has long since stepped away from being able to deliver a sense of common good. Brand promises, perhaps the epitome of that, have very little currency in the minds of many.

As share prices dive, creditors default and wealth generation in the West is on the ropes however, we need to re-examine this sense of what government is all about and find another way. We need to create, find and invest in social contracts that can be built to last in an emergent world built on productive social exchange.

There’s always the spoiler, the person who’s more saboteur than honest participator or who’s looking for the next free deal. Governments have traditionally had means in place to circumvent this in that, firstly, you have to show up and be prepared to be identified and, secondly, you have to pay your dues – you get to be part of the community by participating and paying taxes.

The unfolding months and years that are ahead will be an exercise in whether we can find effective ways to manage the mass interest of collaborative societies online. A new approach to brand marketing will be at the heart of that. It offers the possibility of harnessing a new kind of wealth. It’s worth doing and the prize is great.

Blatant integrity is key and at the core of this challenge, as is managing your brand, making promises you can keep, being productive, building brand reputation and staying true to the values that underpin a reputation in order to guarantee specific behaviour that's more capable of being trusted, even when things don't quite go according to plan. In this way people can be prepared to re-invest and that's what, both economically as well as socially, is very much what's required now.

As an antidote to the dog-eat-dog death throes of the status quo, that’s a better way of creating wealth than the unproductive cul de sac many businesses are going down at the moment. It’s also a better way to govern pretty much anything.

July 20, 2008

Listen to your body

There’s an interesting thing about passion. When it’s stifled or thwarted by circumstance, it just gets stronger.

Do passionate people give up when things get harder? No. It’s an essential characteristic of being passionate, in fact, that they don’t.

The curious thing that happens is, after a period of being stifled, when one finds oneself in tune with one's passion again it can create a real surge of very dynamic productivity. With passion, it really is a case of absence making the heart grow fonder.

Passion comes from listening to the body and the soul. It comes from respectfully tuning in to what really matters. It takes time. And whether that body is political, corporate or personal, this is what 'listening to one's body', means.

Firework hearts

In toughening circumstances it’s easy to lose sight of where and what our real passions are and just survive. It’s easy also to get caught up in a rush of frenzied activity, of ‘doing’ without ‘thinking’, without the calm reflection that listening to one’s body entails.

In a commercial context, in fact, 'doing' too much can obliterate any opportunity to do some really useful ‘thinking’. Thinking can be seen at times as a commercial risk when the name of the game is just delivery, pure and simple.

Trying to develop new ideas and capture them on paper whilst catching a train, for example, is not that easy. Rushing from one meeting to another doesn’t allow for scope to sit back and collect some objectivity. No, thinking and doing are often not all that compatible except when they come together as part of an iterative process or a cognitive experience.

For many, corporate life is increasingly tending to mean being dead behind the eyes in the quest for continuing productivity within the same paradigm at any price.

Traditionally, commercial acceleration has been driven by the investor and the consequent need for a year on year return. Is this sustainable long term? What happens when the system's got nothing left to give?

Steve Jobs, when talking about managing through and economic downturn, relates to the issue of passion. “When the dot-com bubble burst”, he said, “what I told our company was that we were just going to invest our way through the downturn, that we weren't going to lay off people, that we'd taken a tremendous amount of effort to get them into Apple in the first place -- the last thing we were going to do is lay them off. And we were going to keep funding. In fact we were going to up our R&D budget so that we would be ahead of our competitors when the downturn was over. And that's exactly what we did. And it worked. And that's exactly what we'll do this time."

The ability to see beyond the darker horizons of a situation is fuelled by passion. Being in tune with one’s body, in Steve’s case, Apple, makes it easier to achieve. It makes a priority out of finding what ways will release a surge of far more meaningful activity when the struggle is on. It makes success much easier to realize.

There’s a lot of talk about social networks being a route to future value. Social networks constelate around spontaneous, unbridled interest that doesn’t have to be contrived and is therefore very efficient. Reports are that to date the majority of corporate businesses are failing to harness this opportunity.  It’s questionable also whether social networks can affect the change we need in isolation from the investor perspective.

For corporate businesses to continue to have a good chance of generating future wealth for their investors, investors need to allow the corporates to seek an approach to wealth management that centers value around the social network and that liberates the passion of their people. They need to listen to the body.

Knowledge, worth and reputation

The level of consumer disassociation with brand marketing present today suggests that collaborative, responsive relationships need to be at the core now of the way brands do business.

In the information age, opinion matters, reputations count and 'being liked' is a new currency within wealth management. So when reputation is everything... and in the information age it is everything... it pays not to be too heavy-handed.

This seems to be escaping Martin Sorrell at the moment. In his attempted purchase of TNS, it seems the message is that there are some things that money just can't buy. The Beatles called it love. In corporate take-over terms it's the ability to be a preferred partner.

The operating ethos that's built the WPP Group is pretty well known. A strident and doggedly persistent focus on its goals is one trademark that has possibly been what's behind having its bid snubbed three times to date.

The strange thing is that WPP is well-versed in the value of intangible assets as well as tangible ones. The value of brand management is predicated on this, but it seems that the value of reputation and of being preferred only now seems to be coming home to roost for Martin Sorrell as a decisive factor to take into account.

An irony exists in that, by following WPP's takeover battle for TNS, it's possible to glean from the fastest growing communications group in the last 30 years, just how much the communications landscape itself has changed over that period. One could argue it's this change that's at the root of Martin Sorrell's thwarted ambition.

It used to be that in building a consumer brand, 'first base' was to build awareness and an 'opportunity to see' via mainstream communications channels. An 'opportunity to see' (or OTS value) of 8 or 9 would usually be a sufficient amount of exposure to from any kind of recognition or recall and establish a sense spontaneous brand awareness. All that had to be done was to spray some interesting creative content with a pack shot and/or logo down a mainstream channel for that number of times or more and eventually your audience would get the message and get to know you.

After that, if the price-point fitted and customers could get hold of the product, an advertiser would have its first wave of sales. With a catchy call to action in place, a percentage of viewers would be tempted to go out and buy the product so the next step would be to focus on building repeat purchase. For that advertisers would need testimony, a couple of housewives, perhaps, discussing the virtues of said product. There was a name for those ads and it wasn't pretty, but they usually worked. And of course if you could get a celebrity endorsement, well then, how influential would that be.


A focus group or two, a bit of tweaking with the product and a few 'New, Improved!' campaigns later, everyone could get on with the business of keeping up the media spend, doing creative and charming campaigns, focus on building long-term customer loyalty and consider a bit of diversification or line extension. The best agencies of the age did that very well. Martin Sorrell bought quite a few of them.

Move forward to today and interesting conversations are being had between WPP, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. There are some new kids on the block and new ideas. It's interesting to watch these worlds of established and emergent communications collide, and building testimony still has a very great part to play.

Now the lines are blurred however between client, partner and consumer and the communications landscape is no longer a place where anyone exists in the context of 'us' and 'them'. Martin Sorrell talks about the relationship as being one of 'frenemies', lately he has talked more darkly of 'froes'.

As Digitas CEO David Kenny said as part of the debate however, 'treating Google as a threat is counterproductive'. We've been living in a world coloured by threat and some would say of terror, for quite a while now. It isn't very appealing. But a large corporate has to protect itself by remaining large in order to survive.

This is possibly why, to WPP, the acquisition of TNS is so important. The 'kiss and punch' of the WPP model, as Martin Sorrell has described it, is built on the assumption that scale is the only way it can protect margin, and margin is derived from control.

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt suggested in 2000 that capitalism is just another fad in a long line to have gripped society and then slid from grace throughout the development of the civilized world every 200-300 years.

Capitalist growth, certainly, demands ever more profit derived from ever greater consumption and streamlined production and distribution to succeed, yet capitalism has assumed a world of infinite resources. Advertising and marketing have depended on that assumption too.

From the beginning of the marketing age several decades ago, when communication traveled through a few primary channels and fed many simultaneously, we've moved through targeted, then tailored, then on-to-one marketing, then viral marketing, in the pursuit of more sales to feed a consumptive appetite as part of the capitalist ideal.

We have reached the point of audience fatigue and we may have reached the point where there simply isn't enough economic wealth in the system to generate an infinite supply of wants or ever increasing profit without something new in the mix.

Marketeers today are beginning to appreciate just to what degree controlled communication pushed out to consumers has little traction. Instead, as Yochai Benklerâs work on open-source economics suggests, a new model of 'radical distribution' has to drive us, one capable of generating new forms of economic wealth as well as new ways of realizing that wealth.


Some things are hard to retain or convert in the pursuit of progress - the switch from VHS to digital was one such example. The requirement for a radical shift in marketing now might similarly mean we shift to a new platform.

It's a shift that involves us moving from being primarily consumers to being primarily producers, a shift that's the result of moving from muscle to intellect as a primary means of production alongside the emergence of the information economy.

On the internet and in real life, given our scant attention on a number of subjects, we surf. Our attention tends to gather around people, groups and businesses that interest, inspire and lead the way. In the past that's been governments, large corporates or celebrities, but today it can mean any kind of group, such is the democratized beauty of online communications. As producers our interest is focused and generates attention.

Moving on from surfing, closer contact and deeper awareness with subjects, issues and interests as producers, means there is willingness to follow and track subjects in our sphere of interest. When promises are authentic, they generate fans, willing to be counted, then followers.

As followers, interest is invested over time, we touch, feel, generally interact as in the traditional heartland of consumption, but as producers, once we consume, we stay invested. We have ideas about the product based on a deep knowledge of how it engages us, and how it it could be developed to be better.

By contributing those ideas, involvement and participation takes place. Friendships are created, supporters bring goodwill and a vested interest in future success. We create shared truths and shared space. We build trust and develop the ability to influence.

Then as we become influencers an affinity of values, an economic fitness of use and purpose becomes manifest. And once we have gone that far, we become partners where co-production and collaborative relationships can generate future development and efficient income production.

This is a landscape of multiple currencies, all as valuable as one another, based on mutual interest in the pursuit of spontaneous and cost-effective growth where there is no one locus of control.  We all need to watch how we do business.

When companies and individuals take this to heart in their interactions to generate wealth, we have the antidote to the consumer disassociation that's become a blight to growth, not just for corporates and economies as a whole, but also to every one of us as individuals.

Claiming your own - a guide to brand loyalty

Isn’t it time that companies ‘claim’ their valued employees more overtly to build corporate confidence and the quality of individual contribution?

Attempting to join the Technorati crowd and claim this blog got me thinking about a couple of things.
Firstly, how is activity in large corporates merging with that of those in the more fluid blogosphere? There seems to be a commercial schism opening up between thinking and doing, where speed of competitive commercial activity is not necessarily aligned with the opportunity to pause for thought to get new perspectives. How can these two things mesh most successfully to create an improved sense of commercial purpose?

Secondly, isn’t it time that companies ‘claim’ their valued employees, metaphorically, just in the same way a blogger claims intellectual property in the socially networked commercial sphere? It could be argued doing so paints a rather different picture than the employment contract that’s based primarily on command and control and corporate objectives and deliverables. How many employees feel wanted, claimed, and valued at the moment as bottom lines slide all over the place? What does that do for corporate confidence and the quality of individual contribution? What kind of difference to HR practices, employee engagement thinking and business models would such an approach make?

When Marks & Spencer’s trading announcement yesterday included mention of the departure of Steven Easom, Food Trading Director after just a year having come in as ex-MD of their arch rivals Waitrose, the share price slid back to 2002/3 levels and the company lost approximately 25% of its market capitalization in one day. In one day. Jeremy Warner in The Independent has an excellent piece on it here. I don’t know how much Seven Easom was earning, but it was without any doubt many, many times less than the amount that fell off the share price yesterday, and that in that context it was probably worth keeping him on for a while rather than promote the implication that the senior management within the business weren’t quite on the case by letting him go.

The Marks & Spencer story is a measure of the high fragility within the state of the corporate psyche currently. We could all do well by claiming and holding onto what matters to us commercially amongst the people we work with and the ideas that drive us.

A reputable profession

Seth’s post about the differences and the similarities between statesmen, lawyers, and marketeers is really, really worth reading. What it’s tripped in me is just how full an economic revolution is potentially underway, and how a fantastically seismic shift it is that needs to support it in marketing.

Like many industries, marketing is dominated by big companies, brilliantly constructed machines, that have gathered talent, built networks, generated ideas, refined processes, invested in tools and put out fantastic strategies and campaigns. Success has been predicated on scale and the might of the media spend.  And the whole edifice is crumbling. It is crumbling because it has been too rigid, and marketing has come to mean that, more often than not, might is what’s right.

That’s stressful. It’s stressful for those people who are churning it out, generating an ever-accelerating cycle of activity amongst competitors, and it’s stressful for the consumers that are having to eat it. And it’s stressful for our planet.

Marketing can only function well as an essentially responsive profession. To succeed we must work with what the market tells us, and then employ a degree of leadership in order to do so plausibly and compellingly and that's what sells products.

A large degree of the perceived failure of marketing and of present economic circumstances may just be because a great number of business leaders with marketing functions on their payroll have lost sight of this. In the interests of their shareholders, they have looked to circumvent what insights consumer responsiveness might have led them to and instead employed snakeoil for sales. The net effect is that there exists a fundamental lack of belief, tiring, in the long run, on both the producer and consumer and perhaps one reason for the sense of commercial slump we’re currently experiencing.

Seth Godin has talked about how brand advocacy has perhaps led marketeers to act like lawyers, and in brand marketing a certain amount of advocacy has to be employed, yes; we all need to have a degree of self belief to survive.

But the rigidity of the marketeers’ position of their brand as being always right does tend to mean people are despising marketeers in the same way they tend to despise lawyers. Both are apparently in the business of convincing people to decide in the moment as a definitive decision, not whenever and if it likes, to make one choice over another.

This may be necessary for lawyers, but it’s crap for marketing. Consumers want something that is a whole lot more fluid than that. Who knows any who aren’t tired and broke or rich and couldn’t-care-less? It seems one should wonder, does anyone these days give a damn about what marketeers want us to think? The might of the marketeer isn't the way people want to do things anymore.

So now we turn the tables and introduce the small man. Online, social marketing works completely differently and it takes small men to do it. You come across someone, you like them, you become a fan. Your interest in them on a regular basis means you become a follower. Your personal, genuine, spontaneous and uniquely creative appreciation makes you become a friend. Eventually, you might become a partner, one of several, that reflect our own polygamous and multi-faceted sense of self. Things work symbiotically to elevate one another through mutual support.

That means, in marketing terms, a set of relationships with no centre of control, because how each of us relate to one another is completely different from one another. How is marketing responding to this challenge? My own guess is that it begins to do so by blatantly making integrity more important than selling products.

Ultimately that means only true partnership will get through and, for many, that’s possibly a sobering thought. Conversely, those businesses that get this have the potential to lead the direction and generation of future economic wealth.