Friday, June 26, 2009

citizen reporting

i wish i could take credit for the term "citizen reporting," but i actually saw it in this youtube blog post. a pretty interesting thing, this bit about apple's 3g iphone intro causing youtube mobile vid posts to increase so dramatically literally overnight.

there've been numerous examples of cr, mostly i think having to do with twitter and the tweets that people sent following the bombings in mumbai, the usair landing in the hudson and of course the
recent tweets on the unrest following elections in iran. the implications for crisis communications, i think, are unbelievably important.

what does "citizen reporting" mean for communications professionals?

1) your job is 24/7. i know, a big "duh." this was always the case, but now even moreso because "news" is going to be transmitted from the initial moments of an event, quite possibly even before your comms people in the location know what's happening. is it possible for twitter to send an actual alarm bell to your blackberry to wake you up in the middle of the night when something happens to your company in europe or asia? (tell all your developer friends there's srlsy big $ in an app for this).

2) your involvement is critical. maybe another big "duh" ... but i wonder how many comms folks have yet to incorporate social media into their formerly-well-designed crisis plans? if not you, someone needs to be designated to tweet into the stream with credible info. a situation where individuals are writing "there are hundreds of dead bodies here!" when in fact casualties may not yet have been confirmed can be incredibly damaging and work at cross-purposes to your crisis comms efforts. you need a private channel and a public channel, and need to ensure that you transfer the right info from one to the other as the situation unfolds.

3) your brand is on the line. companies' reputations -- and often their stock prices -- can sink dramatically with poor handling of a crisis. pre-social media, it was easier to manage the coverage, either by making phone calls to reporters in advance of bad news, or avoiding their calls when they checked to confirm. that's no longer an option. there are likely to be numerous sources, all of whom have an up-close-and-personal view of the situation, who may speak as experts simply because they're there and will write what they see. but as we all know, proximity is not the only (nor necessarily the most important) factor in determining the truth. a person who's unconscious may appear to be a fatality to someone who's not a medical professional...yet, i think the tweeter still is unlikely to rephrase as "there are hundreds of unconscious people here!"

some pr folks are looking down their noses at twitter, saying "it's a fad, it won't last, i don't need to worry about it"... but i wish they'd think again. if we could learn how to use this technology to get a step ahead of crisis situations and other similar events, it could be a real boon to our companies, and the public, both of whom deserve the best info and our best efforts to get it to them quickly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

sustainability marketing for sustainable business

so last week was pretty hectic, as i spent the last 3 days in chicago at the Business Marketing Association's (BMA) national conference. drawing a sold-out crowd of about 400 people, the conference included presentations by a number of renowned speakers, including ralph oliva, david meerman scott, al and laura ries, google's sam sebastian, andy sernovitz, .... and yes, yours truly.

i was there to speak about sustainability marketing, a subject on which i've become a bit conversant, having spent 4 years digging into it at johnson controls, and earlier experience in the energy distribution and control business at square d (now groupe schneider). with the obama administration's focus on climate change and the need for an enlightened clean energy policy that advances the u.s. out of the dark ages (pun intended), it's clear that companies are going to have to take action in this space and that, at some point, they're going to be called upon to talk about what they're doing (or not doing) and why.

many are already taking advantage of the opportunities -- GE and IBM, particularly -- by focusing on smart grid, energy-efficient equipment, and energy-saving solutions for companies and communities. IBM's Matt Preschern delivered an excellent presentation describing the company's work -- it's an agenda, not a campaign -- designed to draw cities, corporations, ngos, academia and other stakeholder groups into the mix of figuring out how to solve large and complex challenges. the agenda isn't about selling stuff, but rather about thought leadership and establishing the company as a go-to resource for problem-solving assistance, no matter what the problems are. and oh, by the way, when they solve your problems they'll be doing it with IBM products and services. it's altruistic capitalism at its finest.

my presentation provided some info on the regulatory landscape, which will change dramatically with the passage in whatever form of the ACES (american clean energy and security act) bill, as well as some brief case studies of what some companies are doing to market their sustainability-related efforts. you can get the presentation here, and the audio narrative (soon to come) here.

the other thing about the BMA conference that was great was the enormous amount of content on social media, and its importance and impact. i personally wouldn't be comfortable betting on the life expectancy of facebook or twitter, per se, but i do believe that the utility -- the immediate info, connectedness, linkages -- these applications provide is not going away. now that we have it, we're not gonna want to be without it -- even though it is a giant time-suck. personally, i think the company that figures out how we get all that utility in just 10 minutes a day will be a giant winner. (if that's you working on it, pls let me know so i can invest now).

in my view, sustainability marketing and social media will coalesce, somehow, into a giant fireball of activity. though this is not a straight demographic thing, we do know that younger people, in general, are more attuned to sustainability, and also more attuned to social media. they're skeptical of traditional marketing and more willing to find the facts for themselves. they're interested in sharing their opinions and their stories, their muses and their values. so i think the company that figures out how to get that right will also be a giant winner (again, if that's you, call now for $).

one thing i learned from the fest is that blog comments matter. i have not been particularly concerned about the fact that my readers aren't commenting much on this blog, believing that either you're simply in agreement with everything i've been saying, or that you think i'm an idiot but don't want to embarrass me publicly. even if that's true, i encourage you now to cease lurking and become engaged in some type of dialogue -- with me, or with each other -- or ideally, both!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

these pants are made for standing

These boots are made for walking
and that's just what they'll do
one of these days these boots
are gonna walk all over you.
- Nancy Sinatra

i have not been able to get that stupid song out of my head for the last couple of days. here's why.

it all started when i purchased a pair of Issey Miyake pleated pants. i was planning a trip that involved a 3-hour plane ride from austin to new jersey, and the pants (if not the wearer) had to look good at the end of the ride. i figured they'd be comfortable, too.

now, i didn't know that issey miyake was into apparel. call me fashion-backward ... i guess somehow i'd missed that issue of instyle. but i've worn the cologne for years and love it, so i was willing to give the guy some brand largesse in an adjacent category. plus, they were on sale, which was good 'coz they're typically not ... shall we say... value-priced.

the pants are pleated in hundreds (i'm guessing) of tiny, 1/16" pleats, which is what gives them their unique look. pleats reportedly have been with us since the time of the egyptians, who apparently had enough free time on their hands to do this sort of thing when they weren't trying to get the philistines to look the other way. but i wasn't really thinking about this when i bought them. i needed a good-looking, good quality, comfortable, well-wearing pair of pants, and that's what i thought i was getting.

so i wore them on the trip, and it was all good. the pants held up fabulously well, even when my return flight was cancelled and forced me to go through cleveland to get to milwaukee. i have nothing in particular against cleveland, but suffice it to say that 5pm on a day that started at 4am, i was more interested in my pants coming off and being replaced by pajamas as quickly as possible.

it was only later, when i was assembling clothing for a trip to the dry cleaner, that i actually got a look at the pants' labels. ordinarily, i check the care instructions when i buy a garment, just to see whether or not i'll be putting my dry cleaners' kids through post-doc studies (their undergraduate work has already been well covered). but i was in a hurry at purchase time and didn't see this -- because i guarantee you, if i had, the pants would still be on a hanger in the store and i would be in the hospital recovering from whatever injury you get when you can't stop laughing hysterically.

here is what the tag says (and i could not make this up if i tried):

minimum machine wash
do not bleach
do not iron
do not dry clean
do not tumble dry

so i'm thinking ... well, ok, i have some hand-washing ahead of me. not the worst thing in the world. but wait, there's more!

in order to preserve the shape, please observe the following. pleats are easily marred by heat and pressure. avoid sitting and applying other types of pressure for long periods of time.

avoid sitting? they're pants! i can't tell you how much my sensibilities as a marketer are offended by this type of total disregard for product-in-use. it reminds me of when motorola in its early days made a cell phone where you had to press the "on" button to turn the phone off, or the kind of phone voicemail systems that are supposed to get you to a relevant contact more easily but have exactly the opposite effect. it's just plain silly... and annoying.

good product design, in my view, starts with ethnographic research so you can actually understand in a very specific way how your customer behaves and how the product is, or is not, likely to meet his/her needs and expectations. in an ideal world, you uncover some bit of something that enables you to create a product that offers surprise and delight, or at least one that doesn't work to offend your target.

i still can't get the tune out of my head, except now it goes:

These pants are made for standing
and that's just what they'll do
one of these days these pants
are gonna go to Goodwill, too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

When did "sales" become "business development?"

when did "sales" become "business development?"

this was the question i asked a buddy recently (while i was clearly engrossed with other tasks besides working on this blog), and he had an interesting perspective, which is that these things are in fact not the same.

in his view, "business development" is a function which is responsible for garnering truly new, never-before-dealt-with, contacts for the organization. these contacts could be in an existing account, but they have never had anything to do with your company. they may not even know who your company is or what you do. but they may be excellent targets that could give you an order, if only they knew how great you are. "business development," therefore, is characterized by a significantly proactive approach, involving lots of research, networking, and potentially even cold-calling these prospects.

"sales," on the other hand, from his perspective is the function that deals with existing customers and being responsive to their needs. there can certainly be a proactive element to this work, as the very best salespeople know that the way to their customers' hearts is through helping them solve their problems, especially those problems that have nothing to do with buying the salesperson's product.

i follow the rationale, but i'm not sure i agree with it.

to me, it seems "business development" was a term invented by salespeople who somehow felt that there was no longer any honor -- or perhaps compensation -- in being a salesperson. i can't say i remember any "business development" managers in the first several companies i worked for in the 1980s. they were sales managers, account representatives, and the like (funny, i can't think of any title that actually had the word "customer" in it, although later i do think these folks started to put their customers' companies names in their titles, e.g., "Ford Account Representative," or "IBM Relationship Manager). and that, to me, made a great deal of sense ... or more sense, anyway, than does "business development."

why? because the emphasis in the former is on the customer ... when i carry my customer's name on my card, it's pretty clear where my focus is, or should be. but when my title suggests that i'm just about building my own business with my customer's money, everything else that my brand does, or tries to do, will have to overcome this hurdle.

i'm sure there are excellent BDMs who are such good relationship builders and preservers that the title doesn't get in the way, but i also believe there are plenty of good ol' salespeople who have managed to build their account revenues by reaching out to others whom they hadn't previously served.

anyway ... the important thing is that, whether you're a business development manager or a sales person, if you'd like to have a strong brand you need to be 110% focused on your customers...and generally, the rest will take care of itself. this should be obvious, but if you've ever been on the wrong end of a bad transaction, you know that it's one of the things that's simple, but not necessarily easy.