Monday, October 29, 2012

Marketing and the C-Suite

In October I facilitated a forum for the Seattle Marketing Executive Roundtable titled Marketing and the C-Suite. Here are some key take aways from the meeting:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where Do You Spend Your Creative Energy?

I've been embarrassed lately. My last blog post was four months ago, and I was starting to feel like a failure for not writing. In fact, as a person whose strength is in communications, I had started to doubt whether or not I should even have a blog if I wasn't going to keep it current.

However, after a lot of introspection, I realized that my blog isn't so much about me being a writer, and having something of utter importance to say. Rather, it was an outlet for my creative impulses. And, after looking back over my life, I realized that much of my life's journey is plotted with phases of creative expressions -- all good, but none defined to just one area.

I love to cook, and lately I've been doing a lot of it. I reorganized my recipes, created a customized cookbook, and have been working through some new culinary experiments (much to the demise of my waistline). In the recent past I found my greatest outlet for my creativity to be at work creating strategies and communication plans for my employer, before that it was writing, before that speaking, before that...and the list goes on (mostly in a circular motion as I tend to revolve around writing, cooking, speaking, working).

I also found that when my need for creative expression had been met that I defaulted to absorbing other content -- watching movies, listening to books, reading articles, playing games with my kids, or just letting another obsession take over for awhile (like cleaning my house, or organizing the basement, or some other lower-level, obsessive-compulsive behavior).

Okay, so what does all this mean. First, I've gotten over the guilt for not writing more frequently. Also, I've become very comfortable with the idea that whatever my outlet is -- the important thing is that I am expressing it. When I worked in higher education, the faculty operated under the saying, "Publish or perish." This drove the professors to always be writing something -- and it rubbed off on me a bit causing me to think that I had to produce something in all my creative outlets in order to be legitimate in any of them. Simply not true.

I see it this way -- we need to be true to our whole selves. We are not just butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. We are multi-talented, multi-faceted people with many possible expressions of our being. The important thing is to spend that creative energy, not bottle it up. And, most importantly, allow for that energy to change what it looks like over time.

So, in 2011, there will still be blog posts (I am still doing lots of author interviews and will be posting my backlog of them soon), but they will all be guilt-free. I'll write them when it makes sense, and not feel the least bit guilty about not writing.

How will you spend your creative energy in 2011? What areas (note the plural) will you cover?

-- David Kinard, PCM
(photo credit: AnaMaria Maestas-Wertz)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Deliver Some Happiness -- and some Shoes!

It might be easy to think that just because you sell shoes, you're nothing more than a shoe store. But that kind of limited thinking has never been a part of Tony Hsieh's world. He's a dreamer -- and a dangerous one because he has a significant dream he wants to share with other business leaders to not just make it a better place, but a happier one.

Tony is the CEO of Zappos -- the once online shoe store. Now, as a part of the umbrella, they're a full on retailer. But though they've been purchased by another dreamer (Jeff Bezos), Tony and his dedicated team are pushing boundaries others dare to even acknowledge.

Tony is one of today's most successful, young business leaders. In 1996 he co-founded LinkExchange which sold to Mcirosoft for $265 million, and in October of 2009 he sold Zappos to Amazon for $1.2 billion. But aside from these -- which I doubt Tony would put at the top of his list of accomplishments -- Tony has a belief that workplace morale has been sacrificed to the pressure cooker at most companies. He's going against the grain of today's cutthroat tactics by employing a more humane and simple approach. In one word, it's happiness. By creating a radically different culture committed to making employees and customers happy, Tony thinks that the world could become a better place.

At the core of Tony's happiness philosophy are elements such as perceived progress, control, connectedness, and being a part of something bigger than yourself. When combined, these create an environment where employees, and ultimately the customers, have a greater sense of pleasure, engagement, and meaningful contribution.

What I like about this approach is that it is not just lip service. Tony puts his money where his mouth is and actually works hard to get his new employees to quit, and to keep his long term employees engaged and progressing up the ladder. About midway through their new employee orientation, each participant is offered a cash reward to quit. Tony shared they're not getting as many takers as they used to, and are thinking about raising the amount -- again. The point is not to pay off short-timers, but to ensure that the people staying are there for the right reasons. "We need to hire more slowly, and fire more quickly," said Tony. Unfortunately, it's too often the other way around."

But the key take away here is not to financially incent your new employees to quit. Nor is it to focus only on the hiring, firing, and career track of your staff. Rather, it is about discovering the deep truth all of us share -- that we desperately want to be known, and to know. Combine this with a sense of purpose and an engaging environment and we thrive. Take away any of these and we start to wither and our worst comes out of us.

Tony is not the first person to have a happiness philosophy -- and let's hope he's not the last. And what is remarkable is that it isn't that hard to have one, either. As marketers we have the best opportunity to embark upon this type of journey with our companies and customers -- the trick is finding the right way to do it.

The book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose might just be one of the most important books you read this year. Take a listen to my interview with Tony and decide for yourself. But, whatever you do, don't walk away from this idea that the business world can operate with a different set of rules -- ones that value all people, all ideas, and purpose over profits.

-- David Kinard, PCM

Friday, July 23, 2010

C'mon, You can Trust Me!

"TRUST ME." How many times have you been asked to give someone your trust? Companies ask you for it all the time -- either implicitly or explicitly. And what is amazing is how often we grant that trust without considering what we're doing. But, things have been changing, and for awhile now the skeptic in each of us is beginning to wonder, "Is my trust misplaced?"

I recently had the chance to interview author Michael Maslansky of the new book
The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics. His book is based on a decade of quantitative and qualitative research with thousands of individuals. In it, the book illustrates why it is harder than ever to trust -- especially given recent examples in the media including Tiger Woods, Toyota, banks, politicians, BP, and countless CEOs. Maslansky states that whatever the message, the public assumes that there is an underlying agenda and that companies are regularly putting their own interests in front of the customer's.

Maslansky offers some new, contrarian rules to communications (e.g. the truth is NOT enough), and some new principles for credible communication (problems don't sell as much as solutions). But more than those lists, I think what I found the most interesting were why today's consumers were more skeptical than ever. The fundamental truth he offered was that we have been promised more than what has been delivered -- too many times. As more sophisticated consumers, we have more information available to us today and can easily see behind the curtain to how the magic really works -- and we're not impressed. And more than anything, we no longer have to trust what we're being told. We can source check anyone and anything.

The book offers some great advice and weaves into it a sense of accountability that I found refreshing. The podcast expands of some of the stories in the book and gives you a feel of the genuine nature of Maslansky's purpose for writing the book.

-- David Kinard, PCM

Monday, July 19, 2010

Measuring Social Media

Social media metrics are all the rage, but I still think people are asking the wrong questions. More often than not, I get asked how to measure the effectiveness of a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, or even a blog. The problem is not in measuring those tools, but in what to measure. Most of the time, we focus on the tool, and not the strategy or the thing that we're trying to effect.

For instance, the other day I was asked by one of our departments if our health plan could use Facebook. My response was "Sure, but why?" There is this overwhelming sense that we need to be using social media, but no real reason why. Without fully understanding the why a tool gets used, the measure of effectiveness is always going to fall short of usability.

I had the privilege of interviewing Jim Sterne, an international and seasoned veteran in the relationship between marketing and customer interactions. For 25 years he's been working with companies, helping them measure the value of the Internet as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. He's written six books, the latest being
Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing Investment. You can listen to my podcast interview here.

Sterne reinforces the need for having solid business objectives. If a marketer fails to start with a clearly defined problem they're trying to solve, or a quantifiable gain/achievement they're trying to make, then measuring social media tools as a means to achieve those objectives is going to be difficult at best, and likely less actionable than you want.

All that said, I did ask Sterne what he thought was the single most important thing to look at when evaluating social media as a tool. He offers three things: 1) Did the tool help you to earn more? 2) Did the tool help you to spend less? 3) Did the tool make your customers happier? Though this sounds pretty basic, I have to agree that this approach is fundamentally the best. Social media doesn't have to be complicated, and it can be measured -- we just need to start with clearer objectives so we know what we're trying to measure.

Lastly, I asked Sterne who should own social media in the organization. You'll appreciate his answer
in the podcast. But I'll hint at his response..."who owns the telephone?"

-- David Kinard, PCM

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Managing in an Era of Distrust

As always I so enjoy speaking with my friends at Maritz Research. Rick Garlick, senior director of consulting for Maritz Research, joined me again to talk about their annual study on the state of workplace engagement. This is the third or fourth year I've talked with Rick about the study, and this year some interesting changes were uncovered.

It's not surprising, given the recent history of corporate America, that a victim of the upheaval in the workplace has been trust, specifically trust in our senior leaders and direct managers. What was surprising this year was the addition of a lack of trust with co-workers. The study, now in it's 9th or 10th year (sorry Rick, I can't remember) showcases trends in workplace trust. Rick's expert advice is showing how that erosion of trust is impacting customers and customer service.

Maritz has done a lot of work on the relationship between employee and employer values. They've found that those companies which pay significant attention to values and building trust are regularly top performers. Their counterparts are those who try to win at all costs, typically losing at all levels.

In my interview with Rick I asked him what actions to take to improve trust in the workplace. His suggestions are:
  1. Open and transparent communications
  2. Follow through and keep promises
  3. Fix the disconnectedness and isolation; bring people together
  4. Use community service projects as a means to the greater end
This last suggestion struck me like a lightening bolt. I realized that many cause-related organizations are NOT creating opportunities for their corporate counterparts to support them via volunteerism. If they are, the approach is usually "we need your help." What if the pitch was changed around to: "Hey big business. Your trust and morale are at the lowest they've ever been. We have a solution. We are the solution. Bring your teams together, align around a common goal, get people talking and sharing. Get them over here for work projects and make a difference while you get your company back on track." Now that's a meaningful proposition!!

As always, Rick is a great source of information so be sure to listen to the podcast. And, check back next year for Rick's annual visit to talk about their latest study results.

-- David Kinard, PCM

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Can Non Profits Use Referrals?

I had a great time interviewing John Jantsch -- author of the book The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself. It was a great addition to the continuum of books I've read lately having to do with ways to market in this new landscape (see Gilbreath, or Halligan). But I'll admit, I was initially skeptical of the book as I worried it would be some multi-level scheme machine. It wasn't and it's something you should seriously consider reading if you're interested in growing your organization.

What was most refreshing about this book was Jantsch's solid marketing sensibility surrounded by a keen people-sense. I so appreciated his emphasis on being genuine and authentic and his emphasis on staying away from referral-mill style activities. In fact, his idea of creating an "authentic referral strategy" has nothing to do with you but everything to do with who your ideal, narrowly-defined customer. This outward-focus is what separates Jantsch's book from the chaff.

Trust and confidence reign supreme as the key ingredients of what makes a referrer good for your company. Thus, the way to get a good referral is to be trustworthy, and to engender confidence with each customer experience and interaction. And then, having delivered on your promise to the customer, with some education of what you need/want them to do for you, you're ready to have that customer introduce you to others.

But the question that was burning in my head the whole time I was chatting with Jantsch was "would this work with non profits or cause-related organizations?" I believe the answer is YES. By their very nature cause-related organizations and non profits are naturally social. They have an inherent talkable reason for being. The challenge, however, lies in the organization's ability to have a talkable difference for being -- that thing which separates them from every other good cause out there.

In the back of Jantsch's book are 12+ elements that can be mixed and matched to create a referral strategy. Non profits would be wise to spend time reviewing these elements to see which matched well with their capabilities. (And the referrals are not just for more "customers" but also for donor development, media relations, etc.) And if you need help getting started, the back of the book also offers several "snack-sized suggestions".

-- David Kinard, PCM