Archive for June, 2010
Some of you may know, we have happily finished authoring 85,000+ words of customer engagement magic entitled "Wikibrands – Reinventing Your Business in a Customer-Controlled Marketplace (McGraw-Hill)" . It's due out in the late Fall – just in time for your holiday business stockings. Of course I'm biased, but it really is good, almost gift worthy.
The shorthand I've been using to describe it is: Wikinomics, just written four years later and deeper inside business. Of course, another distinction is that we're more about providing a roadmap for engaged business and a recipe for reinvention than an academic study. In truth, as a post-modern author, the toughest work has now just begun.
For a heads up, on our central arguments, content, business cases and where we go from here, have a glimpse.
Debuting as an author with a just finished manuscript, many
revelations appear and crystallize just now after the long period spent
interviewing, researching and writing. Perhaps grizzled veteran writers know the vicissitudes of publishing but you've caught me fresh. In the wake of writing over late
nights, during short flights and between bites, clarity has eventually come.
One of my favourite authors Hemingway once mused, "if a writer knows enough about what he is writing
about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an
iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."
If that's true, my fellow writer Mike Dover and myself have left a virtual Northwest Passage of insight below the surface and left out of the finished book. Look forward to a "chockful of content" on our associated Wikibrands blog and wiki later this summer.
We not only have in-depth learnings about our study of interest – customer participation, online community, brand collaboration, social influence, word of mouth and grassroots marketing, but also about the process of publishing itself. When you spend three years thinking seriously about a book, studying over 200 individual subjects of interest and interviewing just as many experts, patterns emerge and insights, perhaps after a short period of confusion and dissonance, become entrenched.
Take advantage of my literary-induced sleep deprivation, here are the top sixteen things I learned about the process of putting my soul into this publishing exercise, hopefully you can apply them to your own efforts:
1) You're never more informed about your subject of interest than the day you hand in your manuscript. Like training for a marathon, your peak performance happens right before the race. Celebrate now and prepare yourself for the long slow decline out of the giddy discovery phase and deep content sifting phase and enter the "career and life getting in the way" phase.
2) Most of your interviews will provide some level of new insight or validation – ten percent will provide gold, know which one is which wherever it comes, from and make sure they get in the book.
3) Thinking up a concept is so much easier than writing about it; the actual seed idea or kernel thought takes twenty times less time than validating, supporting, writing and providing evidence for it.
4) Continue to ask yourself – is what I'm writing here valuable to readers? will it make them think differently? will it broaden perspectives? will it help them change their environments? will it provide practicality to their day jobs? In a connected content-driven world, to earn $20 plus dollars out of someone's pocket, you need to provide utility against what is generally already available.
5) Genuinely stretching new ideas are tough to find – most new ideas have subtlety and nuance; finding different lenses into existing ideas is a majority of what good books do.
6) When you invite people to contribute – some will be important for advancing your argument, some will be important for connecting to others, some will be important for being your advocates when the book eventually comes out. Keep all those relationships going and provide reciprocal benefits
7) Positioning is key – try to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, but no broader. In our case, marketers are traditionally "book resistors" – we've taken the idea of "brand" as a key business value driver and thus, we're intending to appeal to the broader business audience, from entrepreneurs to the C-suite.
8) Supporting point #7, people do judge books by their covers – do not compromise on merely an acceptable cover, hold out for something that is iconic that explains your concept perfectly and achieves shelf impact (note: cover on Amazon and in this post are draft cover versions).
9) Involve and ask your audience – it's amazing what they know and how they can steer you away from publishing potholes. It also supports our central argument that when you get people involved at even a basic level, when listened to and treated well, they will over time become referral engines, advocates and evangelists.
10) Practitioners provide credibility and stories; experts provide sophisticated understanding and quotable quote. Include both. One of our peer books had absolutely no endnotes, it was merely personal opinion and not surprisingly, read unbelievably shallow and pompous. People want to hear the truth well told rather than just your expert musings.
11) Be prepared for long waits on interviews – the larger the company and the more senior you get, the longer you wait. Some will pleasantly surprise based on their speed of getting back to you and candour, others will massively disappoint.
12) Twitter may be a great way to get in touch with people you don't know but horrible for setting up meetings (Twitter are you listening?); on balance, good old fashioned email and LinkedIn provide much better traction for connecting with people important to your content.
13) Never underestimate the selflessness of people who love their jobs, embrace your thesis and want to help you out (thank you all that provided your valuable time with us).
14) It's an emotional rollercoaster. There will be moments in time that you won't want to finish, there will be other times when you're ready for a second book.
15) For a business book, you need to balance substance with style. Too much of the former, makes it boring; too much of the latter, makes it puffery.
16) As alluded to, most modern authors understand that actual writing is less than half the battle - the pre-writing pitch effort and the post-writing promotion effort is just as time consuming and requires a different and much more extroverted skillset. Relish your role as a personal brand brandishing your self-made arguments.
If you're thinking about writing a book,go into it with eyes open. It requires a lot of effort but at some point you need to get off the couch and just do it. The windfall in reputation, connections and speaker fees can be large; the money made on the book itself may be one of your lesser revenue lines. We are fortunate to have such great editorial and publicity staff at McGraw-Hill but plenty of self-publishing sites exist, Lulu.com and Blurb are popular faves to do-it-yourself.
Look forward to seeing you on our road trip of pre-promotion in the Fall. To be sure, Wikibrands will be jam-packed with promotion, speaking, recruiting a universe of ambassadors, creating extended content, building an awards program and involving our readers. Join our advance Facebook group and Twitter page. I'm looking forward to the outreach, critique and exposing what we think is a valuable addition to the fabric of the conversation about engaged business. We hope you'll join us too.
A recent survey conducted by OfficeTeam found that 21% of job seekers were no longer considered for a position by the hiring manager at the reference check stage of the interview process. I have been conducting reference checks for over 13 years and know that not all references are created equal. Some companies can only provide the basics (dates of employment, job title, and salary). Others will go into detail to discuss job duties, responsibilities, strengths, weaknesses etc. It is a misconception that employers are only allowed to give positive references. Providing a bad reference is not illegal as long as it is accurate.
- Ask the reference for permission to be contacted by your potential employers. You do not want them to be caught unaware and say, “John Smith who?”
- Former managers, co-workers or clients typically provide references. If you are new to the work place, then providing personal references from professors is appropriate. (Do not provide your parents as references.) I typically request at least three references of which two are managers and one a colleague or client.
- Keep in touch with your references so that they know what is going on with you. It is important not burn bridges with your employer since a glowing reference can help you land your next job.
Potential employers typically do not contact current employers for references without your permission. I always ask the candidates for permission before I contact references. This will give them time to notify their references to expect a call from me.
“As we return to the realties of our day jobs at the end of a brainstorm, we run into road blocks, inertia, committees and other hazards that can water down ideas or shut them down entirely. That’s what organizations do well. They are designed to minimize risk. Bringing an idea to life can feel like making it through a circuitous maze. So much emphasis with innovation is placed on the up-front brainstorm, yet the real acid test is in the day-to-day shepherding of the idea through the organization…”
At first blush, a complaining customer is not something we have on our wish list of awesome things in the world.
But this type of customer contact provides a great opportunity to do something remarkable that will build loyalty and word of mouth. Research shows this to be true. Customer experience research firm TARP finds that customers who complain and are satisfied are up to 8% more loyal than if they had no problem at all (PDF).
My experience with Adagio Teas is a great example of this principle. I recently lost the little plastic disk that sits under its IngenuiTEA pot. (Seriously, this teapot for loose leaf tea is super cool. Check out this video.) I couldn’t find a replacement disk on their site and emailed them asking why I couldn’t buy one. They said there was no way to buy one and that the disk was a nice to have but optional piece of the teapot. I pressed again saying that I prefer to have the disk and how could I get one of them. They offered to send me one for free. Nice! When I received their package, there were two disks plus a sample set of teas and a nice handwritten note.
This was my first interaction with the company as I had received the teapot as a gift. What started out as a complaint about not being able to buy the disk turned out to be an experience worth blogging about. Adagio went above and beyond sending the one disk, and created a more loyal customer who is impressed with their service. That’s worth talking about.
BONUS READING: For more on this topic, see Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller’s book “A Complaint is a Gift: Recovering Customer Loyalty When Things Go Wrong“
Many brands have been twittering, facebooking and blogging for a few years now, with 32% of the top 1000 brands having a Facebook page and 24% chatting on Twitter. However, out of over 13,000 banks around the world, only 5% are regaling their facebook fans with interesting bank stories and only 3% have something to say on Twitter.
Technology is about expansion. And when new technology is introduced, it doesn’t go away. It stays. Some tech is meaningful for huge amounts of people. Some for just a few. All new technology finds it’s way along that spectrum.
It’s pretty easy to spot tech that will be widespread vs specialized. A hammer is immediately big. A Doctor’s hammer, immediately small. Both are really valuable.
Unless you’ve lived it, it’s hard for most people to imagine just how desperate Enterprises are for something that saves them from cliche. It’s universally shitty being employee number 46,193. You quickly don’t care and you certainly don’t think you can change anything any more than you believe you can fix the government. It’s a globally understood, generalized pain that’s the very engine that drives Dilbert, The Office, and countless satire everywhere. The truth is, worker bees, managers and execs are bored reaching for the same tools the last 15 years. They’re sick of waking up and going into a real-world scenario filled with TPS Reports and the guy with the red Swingline stapler. They’re sick of being productivity integrators in the same way that as consumers we were sick of being system integrators during the reign of PC Economics. It’s not too funny when 80% of your day is spent in the Dilbert pool.
Given the enormity of this problem, enterprises are subconsciously kicking and screaming for the next big thing that gives some relief from all this and comes closer to making their work-life contemporary, as powerful and as fluid as the high-velocity consumer web they love at home. Do I think Social Business Software will flush Dilbert out of business? No way. Do I think it’s the next big thing Businesses will have on their desks everyday? Absolutely. Unlike consumer tech that iterates so unbelievably quickly that it doesn’t even have a chance to Cross the Chasm wave, Enterprise tech won’t skip generations (from blogging to microblogging) because Social Business Software is a big enough macro-category that solves a big enough pain that it can host all sorts of innovation that lives within it.
To say that Enterprises won’t embrace this change, is ridiculously short-sighted. To say Enterprises will change as fast (or the way we want them to) is insanely selfish. A lot of pivoting and stalling occurs along the road to discovering how to chiropractically align people and product. But once that vibration is achieved everything seems like a foregone conclusion. Do you need CRM? It’s “duh” now, and was “maybe” ten years ago.
For some of you, this future feels like it will never come. If that’s you, look at how the world has responded to Apple, Wikipedia, and Google the last 10 years. Do you really think we’re talking about a long time? The toothpaste is out of the tube.
“What’s it for?” The Social Business Sinkhole says it’s Pivot Time.
The bigger question at the heart of all this is: What’s Social Business Software for? The industry has been aptly struggling to clearly answer this for years now. When early majority businesses outside of Silicon Valley look at this space, they see a lot of stuff that screams “don’t buy” because none of it clearly fits into their world and/or urgently solves the big problems that matter. And don’t forget, they’re still trying to learn the basics while a ton of us are already burnt out on the same old stories. We make it hard on ourselves.
The longer it takes for us to communicate “what it’s for,” the longer it will take for Social Business to be on everyone’s desk. The longer we don’t match the pragmatism of the workplace– from what and how we sell, to the way customers want to buy, to the way they want to try it– the longer it will take for the required herds to form that pull the rest of the market forward. And, most importantly, this is a category that REQUIRES enterprises to understand and embrace an extremely significant change in their behavior (“so, how I DO Social Business?).”
We’re are deep in the sinkhole and it’s time to re-aim our efforts from geeks to golfers. It’s pivot time. Time to climb the ladder: From targets, to messaging, to offerings, to pricing now is the time to re-focus, simplify and solve, solve, solve. There’s a big smelly delta between the sinkhole and a big, voracious market of customers. And there’s not much time.
Off the bat, here are some things that need to change:
- Language: No matter how much we love it, the word “social” does not mean business. And what’s with the focus on “conversations?” It sounds like a self-help group.
- Specific Targets: Pick some and understand how what you’re doing changes their everyday work life in a meaningful and measurable way.
- Actions: Stop focusing on building destination silos and start focusing on building actions that match people’s jobs. Answer the question, “what do I do with it?” in a meaningful way that maps to department’s existing budgets.
- Evangelism: This is your customer’s job now, not yours. Invest heavily in getting customer advocates. No one listens to you.
- Radical Simplicity: If I see another vendor’s website trying to hit me over their head with their feature stick, I’m going to ralph. Can you imagine Apple spilling out a datasheet on the iPhone4? Get your engineers out of the way. I don’t want to hear what ingredients you have.
- Elegance: When is the last time you tested your product to see how crazy-simple it was to use? To see how much people used the word LOVE when they used it? You have to be 10 times better than what they have today. Be immediately loved and immediately available or don’t be.
- Envy: Create it.
- Education: Who’s out there teaching Old School Companies how to be Social Businesses? Get granular.
I am out of the country for Enterprise 2.0 this year but I hope that this is the year that the industry pivots and quickly gets a playbook in place to go from geeks to golfers.
We started second annual Capital Factory program which I co-founded with Joshua Baer and Bryan Menell last year. I'm excited about this year's companies, some are further along than others, but I'm most impressed with the entrepreneurs themselves.
Here are the companies:
- Hurricane Party (Austin, TX) – a location-based social networking application that helps users create, manage and discover events that are relevant to them.
- Simpz (Boston, MA) – helps event organizers reach critical mass and sell unused spots through word-of-mouth marketing via Twitter, Facebook, and other existing social networks.
- Smackages (Dallas, TX) – a beauty community that connects members with cosmetics brands and helps them make more valuable cosmetics purchases by allowing them to try products before they buy them online.
- RecycleMatch (Houston, TX) – an online marketplace that transforms waste into value by connecting companies that have waste with companies that can use the materials.
- Corkshare (Cleveland, OH) – a simple, visual way to share and discuss collections of web content like photos, videos, links, and more through virtual CorkBoards.
We had the welcome kickoff a few weeks ago and a couple meetings since. Already some of the ideas are evolving, which is expected. 70% of startups end up doing something different than what they first ventured.
There are 20 mentors as part of this program, with heavy experience in fundraising, SEO, engineering, branding, and industry connections. I spend my time with the entrepreneurs discussing product direction and design, business model and marketing. I also make introductions to folks in the industry who can help them.
Capital Factory is an accelerator, not necessarily an incubator. Our job is not to 'nest' the startup until it's ready to jump out…it's to accelerate them to their next point. They should solidify the product direction, business model solid, and accelerate distribution or revenue.
I'm proud of what Capital Factory is doing. It's a piece of a larger puzzle to make Austin even greater than it is today (Kiplinger named Austin #1 city of the decade!). And for me, along the way, I'm enjoying the collaboration with entrepreneurs, and learning from other entrepreneurs and mentors. It's community, enjoyment and professional development…trifecta!
If you're a developer/engineer thinking about an idea and applying next year, feel free to drop me a note at blog [at] deckermarketing.com
Next week I am heading out to Austin to work with Dell on a project (Disc – Dell’s a client, here’s more info on the project). But while I am in town, we wanted to have a tweetup! So next Weds nite at the North by Northwest restaurant and brewery, we’ll all get together for a nite of merriment, laughs, and probably a social media conversation or three. Most if not all of Dell’s social media team will be there (Including @LionelatDell and @RichardatDell), along with some of Austin’s finest social media leaders such as Connie Reece and Simon Salt. And of course I’ll be there. Rumor has it that a few rockstar out-of-towners will be crashing the event, but that remains to be seen
The festivities will start at 5:30, and if you are interested in coming, please RSVP as there are already 16 people confirmed, and a few others have said they will show up. Here’s all the info on the event.
BTW, if you’re in Austin and would like to meet up, shoot me an email. I am going to be super-busy, but will be in town for most of next week, so maybe we can work out a quick handshake, at least. Sound good?
Forget tech-induced social isolation and loneliness: technology is driving people to connect and meet-up en masse with others, in the ‘real world’. It makes for an interesting, easily-digested trend to turn into new services for your customers…