Category Archives: Leadership

Actions speak louder then words

A person, company, organization community can be judged on its actions and behaviours not its intents. Especially when the shit hits the fan. Its easy to be nice when the world is all good. Behaviours, the culture under stress shows the real capacity of the leadership.

Becoming a leader of an organization

So recently someone I respect has being promoted to become a leader of an organization.  I want them to be successful, so I thought long and hard if I had some good advice that I could share. Was there a good book I could recommend? Or a video?

I own about 60 books on leadership excluding the MBA stuff.  There was one that I kept coming back to me, it was a book I first read when I had just being elected to office and became the cabinet member for Cornwall County Council (UK) as Community & Culture “Minister”. This role was a real step up for me in terms of budget (71 million) and staff (over 440 spread out over many locations), where there was often upto 4 leaders between me and the frontline staff.

Eric Brooke newly elected to the cabinet of Cornwall County Council 2005

Eric Brooke newly elected to the cabinet of Cornwall County Council 2005

The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell by Oren Harari

This book not only had a lot of wisdom in it, that we often take for granted and thus forget.  I think the best kind of leadership book is one you walk away from and think/feel I want to be led by this person.  And to make it even better I know now how I can ‘upgrade’ myself to replicate this over time.

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them”

In the end the leaders behaviour will create a culture, so the book and video I recommended were as much about context (i.e. of this new leaders organisation, and its culture).

Another choice was the video by Simon Sinek, Start with the Why

This video ties into the need to inspire and effective leadership is about inspiration not overt control.

The book The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, had a number of factors I needed, it is written by a women who is also Canadian and the stories come from other industry sectors. Context is everything.

“Permission to dream is also permission to fail”

A book I found useful early in my career was The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman (he also wrote Emotional Intelligence).  It was this book that showed me on reflection, the different leadership styles you will apply e.g. command and control has its place, depending on the context.  It was also the book that helped to delegate with trust when moving into middle management.

Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion an inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through emotions..

The last book is produced by CEO of the company with probably the best customer service on the planet.Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh journeys through time and a mans’ growth in understanding importance of leadership behaviours and their impact on the staff and thus the organisations’ culture.

Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded

My last couple thoughts come from experience:

  • That leadership is as much about vulnerability, as it is about confidence
  • That followers choose who inspires and leads them rather then manages and controls them
  • That women leaders are often better coaches then males, but the often to do not “give” territory for their coachees to succeed in.
  • That “rebels” can often be bright people who are bored, give them something to do, they could become your greatest innovators

Finally leadership is a skill that you will never master, so expect to fail, maybe even plan for it, that said we often “love” rather just just respect the leaders more who have failed and have come back to succeed.

Good books to read if you want to create a web startup

These are books that have made a difference to my thinking.  I have read them all.  They are not all perfect but sometimes we learn lessons from imperfection as well.  Overtime I will keep adding to this list.

Getting Real -> Rework
Getting real was a good book to getting started, really from the perspective that you have all the skills and people already, it felt practical.  Rework was a updated version and it felt more abstract, more about the business then the product.

Top Lesson – get on with it and start simple

Four Steps to Epiphany -> The Startup Manual

This book really helped me do proper market research and how to do it. It is really a step by step guide in how to build a business around an idea.The updated book was much better designed and easier to read.

Top Lesson – don’t pitch but listen to the customer pains

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development

There is also a “cheat sheet” by Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovites, I liked it because it was visually pleasing and gets to the point faster then four-steps and The lean startup.

Business Model Generation
Need to work how your business could make money, but not sure of which way to go. This book is an amazing and essential resource in establishing possible pathways. It also challenges you to stay flexible with business opportunities. It has some excellent real case studies in how to use this technique.

Top Lesson – Your business model should be a part of your daily thinking not lost in a 50 page MBA document.

Do more faster
This book was like having lots of friendly practical tips. The chapters are short and it’s useful as a reference for early stage Startups.

Top Lesson – Founders earn equality too

Web 2.0: A strategy Guide
This book was full of case studies of web businesses that we all know, it shows their journey and their strategies. It is helpful in helping you think through the big picture in terms in how you handle the market, competition and evolving customers.

Top Lesson – Stay flexible and be ready to adapt but do have a long term vision with game plan, in your head.

Start Small, Stay Small: A developers guide to launching a startup
This is a really practical guide to how to turn your website into a business. What are your first few steps.

Top Lesson – There are many paths to the same goal.

Managing Startups: Best Blog Posts

This book pulls together some of the best blog posts on well everything startup.

For the founder who concentrates on the business, money side, culture

Startup CEO: How to Build a Company to Success

Great book for first time CEO and how to survive growth.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

War stories

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less

Finding and addressing management and leadership weaknesses in organizations. It’s more relevant to large organizations but had plenty for small teams to incorporate as well.

Presentation Zen
You need to be good a telling your story, in a really simple fashion that all ages can understand. It helps you move away from bullet points to visual explanations.

Top Lesson – can you make this simplier?

Start with Why
This is an interesting book with a great TEDx video. It will encourage better pitches and storytelling and improve the marketing of your business and products.

Top Lesson – Those who start with WHY never manipulate, they inspire.  And people follow them not because they have to; they follow because they want to.

Delivering Happiness

This is told from the perspective of one person and his journey to learn the importance of organization culture. Every behavior or interaction you have will set the foundations for your Organisation. If you bully your people will copy you and bully to. What are values and principles? This book will help you start this journey.

Top Lesson – Happiness never decreases by being shared.

For the founder is more technology focused:

Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup

An awesome book how to bootstrap, written by a developer for developers.

The Art of Agile Development
A most excellent book with practical tips in how you can truly move in applying agile. This book uses xp programming as its pathway.

Top Lesson -Your software only begins to have real value when it reaches users.

Clean Code

This book gives a good description of clean code and how to achieve it in your own projects.It is based above some very clear principles and will help you think through the code your currently create.

Top Lesson – always commit better code then you have checked out.

Clean Coder
How good is your code? How professional are you really? Can you say no. Do you pass the buck? Are you accountable for your code.  This author puts the prefect model out there, which is a good start for a dialogue for what is possible.

Top lesson – You need to say no when you need to say no

For the founder who is design focused, UX inclined:

The Smashing Mag Books 1,2,3
Both the books and the website are an excellent for both designers and developers alike. A smart collection on web design principles. It’s a high-level view of user interaction information and has useful takeaways in each chapter.

A Project Guide to UX Design: For user experience designers in the field or in the making
A step-by-step guide to web development from proposal through wire framing to testing and launch.

Final Thoughts

Now go and build, create and show us your vision.

You want more -> If you want to see all the books I have read on startups have a look at my goodreads profile and my startup shelf

Your recruitment system maybe losing you paying customers and damaging your brand

Your brand is the COMPLETE experience, every interaction, anything that can change motivation and/or attitudes, with your company.  This can  include the consuming of your product and service, repair, suppliers and yes your recruitment process. The good modern brands are human and often concrete, you can trust them.

SYMPTOMS

You are only worth an automated response..

If a person spend hour’s, maybe days writing a letter of introduction, adapting their resume/CV, maybe even pulling a slideshow or video together for you. And than they receive a notification that you will not even bother contacting them, because you have so many applicants.  You know this type of letter:

“Hello Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in XXXX Company and for sending us your resume link and supporting information. We’re always looking for the best and brightest new candidates who are interested in joining our fast-growing team.

Please note, due to the vast number of enthusiastic applicants, we are only able to contact those we select for interviews.  We will however take the time to review your resume, cover letter and all related materials you’ve sent through, and will contact you if you are selected as a shortlisted candidate.

We frequently add new positions to the Careers Page so keep an eye out for more opportunities to work at XXXX company.

Sincerely,

Automated response”

I wonder who in an organisation is so naïve that they feel that this experience will encourage the ‘recruit’ into buying any of your products let alone a service. Many organizations don’t mash together their HR and marketing talent.  When the applicant started the process the applicant was a keen advocate, which you have turned into something else.

No closure for the applicant

The typical scenario is where the applicant is not even told when you have been thrown out of the process, or when the process is complete and they have not got an interview. The applicant then does not even get a chance for closure. The first they may hear is through a press release on your website or indeed nothing. That’s just plain mean and very common.

As an applicant we only care if you have the capability

Most employers will not look at a candidates’ application if they have not even taken the time to write a relevant cover letter that covers off the person spec.  So they expect you to spend time on them but they are not always willing to do the same. Aren’t good relationships formed on equality?

You are just a transaction..

It seems most Applicant Tracking Systems have being built from the aspect that you are just another process to deal with.  They do not see you as a human that or you should be treated with dignity or respect. In fact the more they ‘take over’ the process the less human you are treated. People are not simple nor are the ways you should interact with them.

We are often more protective of our friends than ourselves

The applicant may not be alone during this journey through your recruitment system, as they may share it with their friends e.g. can you check the letter please, especially if they are woman.  Friends don’t take it kindly if you reject, ignore or attack their friends. You haven’t just pissed off one person; congratulations you just gained two pissed off people for the price of one – who now thanks to online social media have the ability to share globally. They may not indeed talk about the job application process, they just may look at all your marketing as another ‘poke in the eye and respond negatively.

Motivation..

Your worse case scenario is that you have just given them the motivation (see this TED video) for the job applicant and their friends to dislike your products and services and look to your competitors.

Bottom line – the buying power of every rejected applicant is?

In the end this will affect you financially. The chances are that you will reject more applicants than you will take on board.  You will, probably still want them as a consumer? Who will pay a company that has just rejected them? or even taken the time to communicate, er, anything after the initial application.

Not just B2C

In the B2B sector relationships are even more important and in the end B2B purchases come down to a very human emotion e.g. Trust.

Evidence

StartWire, recently completed a survey of 2,000+ job seekers, asking how a company’s application process affected their view of the brand. This is what we heard:

  • 77% said they think less of companies that don’t respond to job applicants,
  • 72% would be deterred from recommending or speaking positively online of your company
  • 58% said they’d even think twice about buying your products or services if they don’t ever hear from you after they submit their application.

CAUSE

Outsourcing to save money

I wonder who missed the lessons from out sourcing call-centres to another country where the understanding of both culture and language was insufficient to handle the customer care in an appropriate manner. Now its automated on a computer (and they are really known for their customer care!), you are not even worth a human response.

Good ‘customer service’

If your customer service system treats your customers as just a transaction you deserve to go out of business.  Humans want to be treated with respect and dignity.  Even politicians know this hence why some of the most sophisticated marketing happening on the planet is happening in election campaigns.  But some of the best sustained examples I have seen in customer service are from Zappos (http://www.zappos.com/) or Freshbooks (http://www.freshbooks.com/)  They essentially treat you with respect and appreciate your time is as valuable as theirs.

Who is accountable for this?

Maybe the CEO for not paying attention or CFO for cost cutting, or the HR leader being squeezed or even the CMO for not considering the brand impact.  In the end HR needs people to ensure a good experience.

The days of unaccountable recruitment and HR process are coming to an end if you are consumer-facing provider.

ON-COMING TRENDS

On-line accountability

On-line systems are rating well everything. For example http://www.ratemyemployer.ca/ it’s only a matter of time when people start rating recruitment systems and HR.  We already have individual rating systems for people such as http://blog.ratemyprofessors.com/

It will not get easier to find talent, just more competitive

The economist wrote two pieces about how hard it is in get the right talent:

The Search for Talent – http://www.economist.com/node/8000879

The battle for brainpower – http://www.economist.com/node/7961894

Another article of interest – Canadian tech CEOs see shortage in talent. – http://www.pwc.com/ca/en/emerging-company/connecting-vision-to-reality/ceo-report-emerging-companies.jhtml

In these circumstances, is it wise to give job applicants a good experience? They may return and have grown since they last applied, if you gave feedback last time, they may have responded to it and exceed your expectations on the next attempt.

Gen Y

Now add Generation Y behaviour to this and you have an interesting power cake just around the corner.

WINDING UP

Is your recruitment system losing you customers and damaging your brand? How many job applicants did you reject last year?  How much social influence did they each have?

Corporate/Organisation culture

It seems to me that corporate culture is on a journey from repression to expression from viewing human beings as number, resources, sales figures to, surprise, human beings. It can be seen in the HR titles e.g. VP Personnel -> VP Human resource -> VP People.  I think the organisations that have the lead HR person reporting into finance or corporate or operations are worse off.  There is one person, that a lead HR person should report into i.e. CEO.  In terms of political power HR are generally one of the weakest on a board (if they are even on it), I think in part because so many of their process orientated capabilities are being outsourced, maybe because people are too complex or too emotional compared to finances/sales/operations. Or maybe its because in some organizations leaders are taking on the role of HR for their teams (about time).

Reward, if possible give feedback and say thank you

The job applicant, was a person who wanted to help your organization grow, for a moment in time were probably your most passionate advocate.  Yet they are often treated like robots, resources or costs.  How would you like to be treated?  If someone has invested more time in your company than the average, why not say thank you.  Tell them what they are missing in terms of capability or fit and prove you mean it. I think the best companies employ on ‘fit’ before capability.  Who is to say that this person maybe a future employee? Consider it another form of relationship marketing.

Leadership accountability – Don’t pass the buck!

If a candidate gets through a number of stages, it should not be HR having to give the bad news, the leader should do what they are paid for and give the bad or good news. I believe leadership is taking on the responsibility of your decisions both the easy and tough ones.

Suggestions

  1. Tell the applicant when they have been removed from the process.
  2. Give some useful feedback; the chances are that you have spent some time human processing anyways; at least give the biggest single reason why they were knocked out.  You may find that there are a lot of standard reasons e.g. you do not have enough relevant experience or the average interview applicant will have 5 years more experience.
  3. Say thank you in some meaningful way.
  4. For those who you think culturally match, consider other posts or put on a watch list.  But be careful no one believes “we will file it and if something comes up we will contact you.”
  5. The deeper the experience (number of interviews) the more likely rejection will be felt.  But also they are more likely to be match for your organization and thus the more likely they may be a future employee.
  6. For all candidates that have being interviewed by the manager, should be given the news by the manager.

FINAL THOUGHT

You are nothing without your people.  The ones you have now and the ones you have yet to work with.

Why should I be your next CMO/VP Marketing

Dear CEO,

There are Marketers who are marketers… then there are Marketers that are techies, entrepreneurs, educators, leaders, community-builders… and marketers. I’m not your average Marketing VP: I’m a Marketing VP with benefits and I’d love to help you take your company to the next level.

To cover off on the traditional stuff first, I’ve chalked up about 19 years total in marketing, communications and campaigns. My experience in every sector from government and non-profit to private corporations, and in several markets, reflects a breadth that mirrors your client base. There are few-to-no delivery channels I have not explored, and I have a habit of driving organisations to get a ahead of the wave in using the latest and greatest, with social media no exception. I’ll leave my resume to provide the details of my engagements and achievements.

Now onto the bonus material…

You’ll find I have zero distance to travel when it comes to creating marketing strategy around a SaaS model. Spending the last two years creating a tech start-up has honed my product management, development and business model know-how to a fine point. In fact, technology is and was my first love: I have computer science degree, an IT consultancy to my name, led 110 people IT department and more recently refreshed my hands-on experience with a web dev qualification.

In addition, my career here in Canada began as VP Marketing for a Vancouver SaaS success story, Vision Critical, where I led a major re-branding initiative, a new website launch and contributed to sustained growth throughout the recession despite major marketing spend curtailments. Speaking of which, you can’t get away with working at a market research company without great data to inform and back-up your efforts: whilst there, I initiated the first customer satisfaction system. In all marketing I do, I expect to deliver ROI metrics.

I have a passion for people: I love them. I just can’t help it.

This has taken me down a number of roads, including serving, developing and communicating to communities (and the multiple groups, agencies, businesses and services therein) as a politician.  What this brings to my marketing (aside from experience of managing budgets of £71 million and approximately 400 staff) is getting the balance between a results-driven and value-driven approach. All great brands are built around emotions and values.

My bordering obsession with human psychology helps me to both understand client needs, both in product features, but also in terms of the complete customer experience and the messages they want to hear. It also makes me a great leader. I’m the guy that puts out a lot of positive energy and gets to know everyone. I also relish the opportunity to grow those around me: you’ll see that education and training forms a major theme throughout my career. Right now, I teach Marketing, Public Relations and Advertising part-time for BCIT.

CEO, I hope this provides a sense of what I can bring to the table. Successful marketing requires a great CEO – Marketing relationship, so I believe fit is as important as capability and I would love the opportunity to see if we get on. :-)

Kind Regards

Eric Brooke

P.S. Here are a couple of opinions about me:

“Eric is a prolific thinker and one of the most well read individuals I know. While he is skilled in Marketing and Communications, he is a strategist at heart, looking for greenfield to take companies and pushing organizations to consider bold new directions. While visionary in his thinking, Eric is equally tactful in his negotiation. He is one of the few people I’ve met who can succinctly articulate and communicate multiple sides of an issue without offending anyone in the room. He knows when and how to move around roadblocks, invite debate, and get things done. Eric is someone who can really make a difference in organizations large or small if given the runway to do so.” Jason Smith, President, Vision Critical

“Eric Brooke is a professional, thoughtful, inventive and provocative marketer and communicator. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Eric on a number of projects, most recently and most deeply on a task force charged with rebranding Vision Critical and Angus Reid Strategies. In this role, Eric brought a tremendous amount of energy, branding experience and resourcefulness to the task. He did an excellent job balancing the need for being a team player with being willing to challenge conventional thinking and the status quo – a role we needed him to play.

In addition to understanding marketing, Eric also has a deep knowledge of communication, change management and organization development – in our case bringing a company brand/vision to life for staff and customers. This is something that sets him apart from those who have only had experience with traditional marketing and will be truly valued by those who require successful transformation.” Andrew Grenville, Chief Research Officer, Angus Reid Strategies

What does the future of post secondary education look like?

I was recently asked by a organization leader of an local education institute what my view is. Here are my thoughts along with some possible solutions in red.  The green boxes are what my startup Professional You is working on.

Why do I teach?

Its not the money, no I don’t get free courses or any discount on other courses.  Here are 15 reasons why I teach:

It turns skill into knowledge

I have always found the act of refining and teaching what you think you know, turns it into something more refined, more useful even.  It can make you think very deeply on a topic and for me; it makes me question the foundations of what I think I know.  It encourages me to seek alternative answers, sometimes before I have formed a question.  It allows me to reflect on some of the decisions I made in the ‘field’ and explore other options of a possible future from that decision point.  Whilst you can copy someone’s skill you cannot copy his or her knowledge, as I believe knowledge comes from a journey, which you have to travel and reflect upon.

 “Knowledge is the inoculation of information” Anon

I learn & and grow as much as my students

Helping others learn, if you listen to the students questions, can challenge your own thoughts and feelings on a matter.  The ‘tired’ teacher just forces the student to learn what the ‘agenda’ tells them, whilst an ‘awake’ teacher will explore with the student the path of understanding and together they can grow. Occasionally I will meet a student who does not receive my materials or teaching in the way that works for us, this keeps my thinking and rethinking of different styles, materials, activities I need to use to involve and engage the students mind.

Staying ahead and preparing for the future

To teach keeps me up-to-date with my domain expertise and it pushes me to understand the likely trends for that domain. I than have to translate that into my lessons and it explain to my students and prepare them for it. Of course at the same time I am preparing myself for the future.

Hubris does not take over

Some teachers think they know it all, not only is this naive in terms of knowledge but also in terms of communication/engagement. They are idiots. I need to remind myself that I am not an idiot! ;-)

I test my assumptions

Working with people from different generations and history is really useful as your assumptions are constantly challenged not every Gen Y acts like a Gen Y or every baby boomer like baby boomer.  We often get surround by ‘shortcut labels’ or brands and start to believe that every women thinks’ shopping is fun or every teenage boy only thinks about sex. As you teach you get to see the next upcoming generation, how they think/feel, learn and make sense of the world.  On the counter side you get to see the older generations re-training themselves.

Prevention is better than cure

Effective education can prevent many problems in our lives, communities and society. Unfortunately we as a human race spend more time fixing problems after they have occurred, rather than preventing them with education.  If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.

It helps me understand humans to a greater level

I am thirsty for works on memory, learning, processing, communication, interaction and risk.  All of this curiosity helps me explore, test and understand. Hopefully over time it improves my lessons and the students retention and ability to use the knowledge.

I believe in meritocracy

I am strong believer that our society has too much cronyism and nepotism and this needs to be balanced with meritocracy. Note I said balanced not replaced.  There are days when I would suggest that meritocracy should be then dominant force, but not completely replace.

I like partnership

For me I have a contract with each of my students.  They do their part and I will do mine.  Sometimes life intervenes and does not allow the student to put the work in.  I don’t have that choice.

I like accountability

In the end you get to see how successful you are as a teacher by the students work.  When did you teach well and when you communicated a concept that was unrefined or too fluffy. For me this holds me accountable.

The global need to share

Like most human beings I have the need for acknowledgement, to belong and be part of something.  Teaching satisfies part of that need.

It reminds me to be patient, understanding and compassionate

The most effective teacher will take their time and not hurry a student.  They will allow ideas and thoughts to grow in the student and I greenhouse them until they are ready to be challenged.  I don’t believe the Socratic method is always helpful, especially in early stages of knowledge development; it can force people down a path of believing in what they can defend.  It can be very aggressive which not all humans appreciate. Nature often reminds us that to allow something to grow, you have to wait. Don’t get me wrong, there comes a time for testing where the Socratic method is very helpful.

It improves my ability to explain and communicate

For every lesson I have to think of a number of ways to explain the same concept, so that students with different learning styles can understand the concept well and grow beyond it. Very helpful in business.

It improves my leadership & mentoring

My simply philosophy for my employed teams, is to help them out grow you and the organisation, so they move on.  I don’t expect anything to be forever.  If you want to keep people in your life you have to work at it and try not to take each other for granted.  Even so I think those people who work or play together for long periods have found a way to evolve and grow together. I have and do coach/ mentor a number of business leaders and politicians, I will cover this in another blog.

Teaching is not just in the classroom.

Mentor, Coach, friend, lover, colleague, leader, follower, we are all teachers.

“Those that cannot do, teach” Anon

Whilst I don’t agree with this statement, for many of reasons above.  For me teaching is part of my life not the whole of it, hence why I prefer to do it part-time.

Branding for Tech Startups

A lot of people seem to believe that a brand is about advertising. That it is merely corporate identity, the name, and the logo, the colours used.

So here is what after 19 years of marketing I uses a definition for my start-up and my marketing students.

  1. Its starts with the founder(s) vision,
  2. It shifts according to the team they have built and their values plus behaviour
  3. Its is limited by the technology used
  4. Its expressed and reflected in the product built
  5. And finally it is decided on by users and their experience both with the product and customer/support team

Whilst it starts with the founder(s) it is decided and defined by your users.

I believe good strategy and brand can support each other.  It’s not about spending lots of money on an icon, name or colours.  It is about the sum expression of what you are already doing.

For me a good strategy and brand go together through having a vision, mission and values.  These will evolve but they will help guide your decisions – what space am I in (Vision – some call this Brand promise), How will I change it (mission) and how will I make decisions (Values).

Here is ours http://www.professionalyou.com/vision.html once we had done this, it was easy to develop a corporate identity as our prime value is Growth, hence the tree and colours.  This value set has/is helping me make a large number of decisions about what we are and what we are NOT.

Once I wrote the vision, mission and values name came to me i.e. Professional You. Not in a sudden flash admittedly. Personally I prefer names that are concrete and that mean something.  If you take no time I believe it shows your users that you do not care, that you are only temporally, why should they invest in you if you can not get the basics right.  Sometimes sharing this journey (of choosing your name) can also be powerful when users want to know who you are.

It is both my strategy and brand; my pitches are cleaner for it, my messages cleaner and my decisions easier. People tend to trust clarity, if you are clear people find it an easier journey to trust you, branding can help you with this.

So far I have spent nothing on advertising, on creative agencies and a local (Vancouver) designer helped with the logo for free.

Occasionally I tweak the vision and mission as I form better ways to describe what we are up to.

It will continuing evolve but in the end users decide, so do not forget the importance of your customer/user facing staff if they are happy your customers are more likely to be also :-)

P.S. Do tell your users who you are and what you are about.  It is always disappointing if you go to the About Us on a web page, to see that you don’t care to make an effort or even bother to introduce yourselves and its not polite ;-)

Transparency & Consistency

The world is becoming far more transparent for those who are curious enough and the ability to scrutinise anything is becoming easier.  Some think it is limited to politics and government, they need to wake up and google their own name and get past the first few pages (unless of course you are famous or infamous).  This scrutiny is not just being carried out by journalists, but by bloggers, customers, staff, friends and families. Even potential friends and lovers are checking you out, obviously literally, but also online.

In the past companies felt they could get away with ‘discrepancies’ between what their marketing says and what they do and/or have created.  I am not talking about the ‘disasters’ but the translation of marketing/sales promises into actual customer and user experience. (Or the promise of HR and managers to new employees.. or the promise of employee to company.)

Who does marketing?

There are some that believe marketing is done in marketing departments. Most intelligent people know this is bollocks: it’s done in every department of your business.  Every person goes home and talks or leaves an impression (even through what they dont say) about your boss, their boss, the products and services.  Every person the company fires goes out and tells people if not with words, with body language what they thought of that company. The sales people, leaders and strategy people are the ones who usually over promise to get you through the door.  Once through the door its up to the account managers, customer service people, the technical support who – in most cases are the people that define the actual brand (customer experience) for the company. Yet they are often the ones who are not as well paid or given respect. And of course there are the people who actually make what you sell, whether they be software developers, factory staff, production artists, they all leave their imprint on the user experience.  How consistent do you think they are in telling the whole world what the company is about? In the old days (before Web 2.0) it was easy to cover up ‘discrepancies’ and pretend companies are wholly wonderful places to work, but the reality is that most humans are flawed in some fashion as are the communities and organisations we create.  I believe the best option in this world is to be honest and transparent.  (Just to be clear, I am not advocating transparency with your new hot sauce: we do after all live in a competitive world.)

Lessons from political campaigning

There is one kind of marketing / campaigning / communication in which you cannot afford ‘discrepancies’ and that is political campaigning. Everyone has to be ‘on board’ and saying the same thing, or else the competition or journalists will pick it up and shove it in your face (if you are lucky).  This does not mean people working on political campaigns do not have differences of opinions – they most certainly do – and in most cases they have strongly held beliefs (except the consultants <– joking.. sort of).  I think they have a couple things that help them survive their differences of opinion, including:

  1. Shared values and principles and possibly vision.
  2. A clear end to the campaign
  3. Competition or an ‘enemy’ to blame for all the ill in the world
  4. Directly connected with ‘consumers’ i.e. electorate. Has your politician crashed today? Please ring technical support..
  5. Newspaper and journalists who make their money by finding your ‘discrepancies’
  6. Bloggers and activists who find ‘discrepancies’ for fun, for belief or for hate.
  7. Limited funds, often transparent sources.

Lessons from the technology world

The technology sector is constantly striving for faster and more efficient ways to communicate, examples include rumour sites (www.macrumors.com), Blogs (Tech crunch), linkedin updates, facebook updates, twitter etc.  Technology people  are often the first bunch of people onto new technology, curious to see how it works.  They have little fear to try out technology often will talk about technology and the people that create it. Also technologist form strong online communities to support each other in acquiring new knowledge. For example, if someone leaves a job in the technology market you will ‘hear’ about it or easily find it out, whether they be from a large company or just a startup. During the recession (2008 -2010) there were even sites counting the number of jobs been lost by tech staff. Information travels fast e.g. status update or job change, and often before the marketing or communication department is in the know.  Most good communicators know that the absence of information will give space for rumours to build and/or for anticipation to build.

Some companies do very well because of the 24 information need for speedy communications, others through the notable absence of information i.e. Apple

  1. Put the information out first
  2. Remember to back your statements up, with depth and evidence. Remember before the days of twitter and click polls?

Transparency and extra free data is adding to depth of conversation..

Some corporate websites try to hide the numbers of staff that work for the company, especially startups.  Be warned that people can use linkedIn or Jigsaw to see who actually works for a company.  Other tools have ‘encouraged’ transparency LinkedIN Company profiles allow you to see how many VPs does a business have, you can see who has joined and who has left.  This is useful to see how high up the chain you have actually got.

Your resumes are in multiple places, are they consistent?

How many places is your resume? A word doc right, a pdf, LinkedIN, Facebook, and couple recruitment websites, what about the ones recruiters have got, what about the organisations you have worked for in the past?  Consistency of what you say about yourself is important to gain trust but can be difficult when you multi-talented and can sell yourself to different markets or into different roles.

Relationships

I wonder sometimes what the real impact of showing our ‘relationship status’ is on Facebook or other social networking tool.  For a secure relationship, it’s not  a problem, but new ones? Hmmm – it is only ‘official’ when it says so on facebook?! It goes without saying (but I am going to say it) that inconsistency in personal and professional relationships can cause problems.

Archive sites or cached info

It’s worth noting that if you make a mistake online it will be archived or cached somewhere on the web, if left for any period of time. I think most cultures are forgiving of making a mistake, many are not forgiving of covering up mistakes, however.

What can you do?

  1. Have clear vision, values and principles for the organisation
  2. Be transparent where possible, dont hide..
  3. Consistency with brand values, organisation values and leadership behaviour e.g. If your leader bullies, senior managers will copy as will middle managers and staff will be bullied.  Is that the culture you want?
  4. Honesty from leaders and sales, rather than leaving accounts/customer or technical support to clear up the mess
  5. HR and Management appraisal and review mechanisms reflect the values and principles
  6. Encourage lateral communications and breakdown silos
  7. Not see technical support or account managers or customer service as an afterthought

The end for propaganda marketing and the era of dialogue marketing

There are many who will claim that social marketing is the future, some will claim it is the now. I believe that being social is part of the human condition and we have being ‘doing’ social marketing since we could communicate.  Just as some people claim that communities have just appeared, idiots.. There are a lot of frauds who call themselves social media specialists and few really good ones.. I do not claim to be either.

The real change that, is/has happened in the online environment, is the movement from propaganda marketing i.e. one way, to dialogue marketing i.e. two way.

This did not start online with facebook or other ‘social networking tools’ but with chatrooms and forums in universities, where conversations have been going on, since the early days of computers.  I feel that it was geeks and nerds (like myself) who wanted to talk about a particular topic e.g. Unix or shell coding who started this online journey.  Years later, instantaneous and global communications has fed the human addiction need for fast, quick and scannable information. And I personally hope one day we care about quality and depth again…

Really two way communication..

Marketing Communications has taken the long journey from one way ‘preaching’ of the religious leader to two way conversations or dialogue of a Townhall. Consumer rights groups and Bloggers were the leaders that eventually broke into the general public consciousness and encouraged ‘consumers to state their opinions’ and than web 2.0 gave us the tools to do this easily.

Political Marketing/Campaigning has probably been at the forefront of dialogue marketing for sometime.  Obamas’ campaign was certainly not the first to combine both ‘real world’ and online dialogue marketing, but clearly is the most famous (well at least for North America’s).  The Liberal Democrats in the UK have been doing for the last 5 years, and examples can be found in other areas of high internet penetration and large numbers of technology people.

From a corporate perspective Facebook and LinkedIN company pages followed, which gave us even more access to information and conversation, beyond the corporate website.

The same journey can be seen in market research (MR).  With MR in the online environment, first we had survey tools and then ‘Panels’. Online research panels is where the business asked the questions to specially selected consumers and consumers answered.  Now we have ‘Online Communities’ in which consumers can talk to each other, ask questions and answer them.  This is, of course is more than just dialogue marketing but moves from one to one conversations to many to many conversations adding an addition dimension (*I will cover this in another post – Townhall dialogue).

Is dialogue marketing expensive?

It definitely costs money, both in terms of content producers and responders to ‘consumer posts’.  People often underestimate the amount of time so called social marketing content production takes.  Writing a good blog post is not just based on time but inspiration and good writing.  Next time, you hear it will only take 30 to 40 minutes per post, I would suggest you give them THE look or a ‘verbal’ slap. Good writing is not always that predictable.  And lets not forget people may respond (if you write interesting and engaging copy), and you should respond to their response. Its worth pointing out they may respond in another environment or platform e.g. their blog not yours.  The point that I am making, is not that it is bad, but there is a real cost in staff time.  I personally think good writers are rare (I count myself in the category – who has the imagination to write but yet not the writing skills to go with it).  Of course blog posts are not the only way to go, there are webinars, podcasts, videoinars (I have yet to have seen this done well yet), whitepapers, etc. All great stuff for honey pot (inbound marketing) e.g. bring customers to your website to sell shit. In all cases you still need good content producers.  Often they are not in the marketing department, they are the specialists in your business whose bottom line is often driven by short term goals (cash now), thus they are not rewarded by the business in the short term to take time out of their ‘real job’. So there is some political or bureaucratic work to be done here. If you want regular quality content you need to create a good content strategy. This has be done in partnership with senior leadership, marketing and the content producers.

Is the leadership ready for it?

Some yes, some NO. However, if I was to give you a segment that I am cynical about ,it would be the old guard of baby boomer CEOs. I believe that  a vast majority are still in the era of propaganda marketing. In some cases their chief marketing officer (CMO) will be out on a limb, trying to prove its worth. Than again the CMO may not understand this form of marketing and may delegate it to the youngest member of the marketing team (Gen Y) because they live and breathe it in their personal life. But portraying a company is very different from a person, so I would suggest that the CMO should ensure that training/development is given to help this team member and the marketing channel succeed.

So what do I do?

  1. Allocate people and time
  2. Build a strong content strategy – who will your providers of content be – what do they gain from this?
  3. Ensure strong relationships with other parts of customer facing departments/people.
  4. Choose the right tools for you.
  5. Be ready for abuse, challenge, the occasion thanks and good ideas.
  6. Prepare your senior leadership.
  7. Open up the channels .
  8. Respond to your customers/clients and ensure the comments get passed to the right people in the organisation. Follow up.
  9. Learn and evaluate – Show how you are learning, to your customers – Its after all a two way dialogue.


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