Archive for November, 2008

Humility and Leadership

November 22, 2008

As I contemplate leadership and what it means to me, humility emerges as the number one underrated trait. Why is that? Perhaps because our society rewards the outgoing / powerful / know-it-all personalities? Perhaps… Or is it because we look at our business leaders as the complete authority, and are taught in school to think “inside the box” and accept whatever corporate policy there is as the end-all-be-all? Which is a funny concept, because for such a me-me-me culture, we are certainly taught to follow and not question status quo. In school, there is always one right answer, whereas in life, that is rarely the case (well, it’s actually almost never the case).

My personal view on life is that learning is really the only mission we are tasked with carrying out. Our job is to leave this planet wiser than we came to it, while using our wisdom to effect change. However, we can’t learn if we aren’t humble, because at the core of learning is the realization that no matter how much we learn and know, we will never know everything. We will forever strive for the ultimate truth, but will never reach it. Each adversity that each person or business unit faces, each failure, must be taken as an opportunity for learning. Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t reward failure, and most corporate cultures don’t want to take risks, for the fear of failure. Taking calculated risks for the purpose of learning and getting better, so that you may eventually win, is key.  You must extract all the value that you can from each unpleasant situation. One of my favorite quotes is: “If you are hurting, you are growing” (no idea where it came from, so I can’t credit the source, although I am fairly certain it came from a motivational book).

What makes winners winners is the ability to get up quickly after falling, extract the learning aggressively and apply the lessons right away. But to do that, you  must be humble. If you aren’t, then you will likely pretend that you didn’t really fall, will issue a press conference saying that everything is OK, perhaps even muddy up the financials to disguise the problem. Humility is NOT synonymous with being a pushover or a doormat. It is simply the ability to step outside of your own mind, recognize that a mistake is being made, before it gets too late, gain input, collaborate and figure out a way  out of the situation. If you thinnk hard enough, and involve the right resources, there is always some kind of a way out. It may not solve the problem 100%, but action always beats inaction.

Bottom line is, if “The Big 3” of Detroit spent a little more time listening to the market, its customers and other inputs, they wouldn’t be in such a predicament. And yes, the auto industry malaise is mainly brough on by the credit crunch, no doubt. However, they weren’t exactly doing well before the whole crash started. On the flipside, Toyota and Honda aren’t asking for bailouts, even though they are facing the same credit issues. I am only using the auto industry as an example of an old-school, unbending, know-it-all attitude that really plagues most of Big Corporate America. I am simply using them as an example because the Big 3 have the mindshare right now. If our business leaders dropped the know-it-all ‘tude, opened themselves up to criticism, took the time to understand the needs of the market and competitive threats (come on! any MBA can do the SWAT analysis in less than 30 minutes!), then perhaps they could win. The speed with which business progresses these days, spurred by the ever-increasing pace of innovation and proliferation of information via the Web, forces companies to become nimble in order to survive. If they don’t adapt, they will eventually die. Which is why I believe the auto industry bailout is a mistake.  The current shakeup in our financial markets, which has caused a shakeup of the entire world economy, is actually a disguised opportunity to learn, adapt quickly, and separate the winners from the losers. Unfortunatley for the losers (and fortunately for the world at large), this is survival of the fittest. This is the way it should be. You must learn and adapt in order to survive. Let free markets rule. Let leadership lead with humility.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Customer Service is Dead. Long Live Customer Service!

November 20, 2008

An unsavory customer experience today has prompted me to think of customer service. Here is what happened. I am totally swamped, and didn’t have time to run down to the neighborhood deli to grab a sandwich or to cook my own lunch. So I opted for a delivery of a salad from a nearby restaurant. As a co-founder of HomeShopr, I tend to frown upon takeout, but desperate times call for desperate measures (i.e. too busy and no time for grocery store right now). At least the salad is a healthy option; I get steamed calamari, not fried. I call over there, only to find out that my salad option is not available, as they didn’t order enough calamari. They did offer me fried calalmari instead (yuck!). I inquired about alternative steamed / grilled seafoods, and they told me that the shrimp salad was an option, but it cost $2 more. I asked to speak to the manager, explaining to him that I would like to have the shrimp salad for the price of the calamari salad. The manager wouldn’t budge. I explained that I really want the calamari, and not the shrimp, but I would settle for shrimp, if it was the same price (it certainly is not my fault that I can’t get my preferred choice). He said no again. I reminded him politely that I had been ordering from there for months (I don’t order all the time, once a week maybe, and it’s the only takeout I really order). I also asked him if he thought it was worth it to potentially lose a loyal client over $2. To which he quickly retorted, in a very rude tone: “I don’t care. I have enough business.” After which, I told him that he lost a customer for life, and he told me to go F myself.  He could still reject my plea, but his tone and cursewords were completely uncalled for.

Hmmm!!! He gets more than enough business? Really? If and when this recession gets deeper, I wonder if he would sing the same tune. If another joint with excellent salads opened up in his neighborhood, taking all of his clients, would he sing the same tune still? Does he realize the power of word of mouth, and especially negative word of mouth? He probably doesn’t know that I can quickly ruin his reputation via virality of Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, blogging, etc. Personally, I am not going to stoop to his level and slander his establishment. I am sure another slighted consumer will do that. The point I do want to amplify is that in this day and age of social media, word of mouth can spread like wildfire (just look at what happened with the Motrin ads). The social web is making everything so transparent, and as more and more people go to the web as a resource (especially listening to other users’ feedback), companies can no longer take the lackadaisical approach to managing their reputation. Even though this restaurant is an old-fashioned establishment, and I really doubt that the manager uses too many social tools, and thus not managing the restaurant’s reputation proactively, he should at least be aware of the damage that negative word of mouth / bad will can bring.

Before, bad word of mouth could spread through the neighborhood. Today, bad (and good) word of mouth can spread virally through the whole world in a matter of minutes. If you don’t know what your users are saying about you, please make it your business to find out. And even better, take steps to proactively change it for the better. Reach out to your most local haters and try to make them whole. Most likely, they will stop bashing you. Above all, listen and be authentic in your response. Problem-solve and reach out. Most likely, your haters are just hurt and need to know you care. In this age of social media and rapid communication, every company needs to be a service company. No matter what you produce.

For great examples of companies that do this extremely well, check out Zappos. Even though they sell shoes, they consider themselves a service company. Internally, they say: “We are a service company that happens to sell ________” Service is so deeply part of their culture that their social media approach reflects those values. The channels of communication with customers via Twitter is wide open (click here for all Zappos-related conversations, or chat with the CEO directly here).

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Will Twitter Moms Ever Buy Motrin Again?

November 18, 2008

Any blog talking about social media and traditional marketing in consumer products companies would be remiss if it didn’t address the recent fiasco of the Motrin “babywearing commercial”. By now, the ad has been taken down, so I am not going to link to it on YouTube. If you missed it, it basically was a throwback to Babywearing Week, which is happening right now. Babywearing week celebrates wearing your baby in a sling or a similar device vs. in a carriage or stroller. Motrin created a web ad, which I believe was put on their own website, as well as YouTube (not sure about other web video sites). This ad, while meant to commiserate with the physical pain in women caused by babywearing, in an “I feel your pain” kind of way, didn’t stay on message. The goodness of the original intent was paved over by a condenscending tone, delivered in a “valleygirl” fashion, as well as by an almost mocking first sentence that referred to babywearing as nothing short of a fad. Now, I personally didn’t think it was the most offensive commercial in the world, albeit somewhat insensitive (judging by the voluminous outcry on Twitter, one would have thought that Freddy / Fannie failed again. It IS only a commercial) . However, it doesn’t really matter what I thought, as I am not part of the target demographic (babywearing mom). Which brings me to my next point.

Oftentimes, marketers, despite their best efforts, have a hard time getting “outside of themselves” to really “walk a mile” in their customers’ shoes. I saw it all the time during my career with CPG brands. Oftentimes, focus groups get conducted within geographic proximity to the market research office. Hmmm… That is bound to produce muddled results. You know, birds of a feather…. Just because everyone in your high school, college, workplace, city, etc. thinks a certain way, does NOT mean that all of America thinks this way. I fall into that trap myself all the time, and forget that the whole country is not using Twitter and is not on Facebook. What? You are not on Twitter? That’s preposterous! In short, Motrin should have done a better job of testing this ad with social media moms.

The great thing about tools like Twitter is that advertisers / brands have an almost-immediate feedback loop about their product / ad / PR effort, etc.  Smart marketers will figure out how to utilize it. Tools like Twitter Search (you can search for a term and watch the conversation in real time) or Tweet Beep (like Google Alerts for Twitter – it emails you each time a keyword is mentioned), can be used to understand what the users are saying about your brand / effort. Even though Twitter is not mainstream by any stretch of imagination, it can at times serve as a proxy for understanding a certain demographic. Twitter users tend to skew towards the more sophisticated / cutting edge / educated of the population. The moms on Twitter felt offended by the Motrin commercial talking down to them. These are thoughful, educated women, and they don’t need to be “talked at” in a condenscending tone. You can see their angry responses in the video below.  My understanding from following these conversation threads, is that Motrin didn’t respond fast enough to the Twitter backlash, and when they did respond, the angry Twitter Moms didn’t consider it a sincere apology written by a real executive.

If the insensitivity of the Motrin commercial may have gone unnoticed among some moms, the highly-educated social-media-consuming Twitter Mom demographic was certainly going to recoil in horror. This is classic segmentation gone bad. You have to talk to your consumer segments via different channels, while adjusting your message and voice  to that particular segment. You simply can’t carry over the same commercials from one channel to another. The web allows for much more granular targeting and segmentation vs. TV and print. So it’s up to the advertiser to change the message for each segment and subsegment.

As far as the impact that this snaffu will have on Motrin, it is hard to predict. I have no idea if anyone outside of Twitter Moms and YouTube Moms was as enraged. But I do know, that there are a lot of “influencers” who hang out on Twitter, so making them unhappy is not a good thing. Myself and other marketers will certainly be watching how this story develops, and if Motrin can figure out how to use social media to be authentic in their apology.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Online vs. Offline

November 11, 2008

As I have been pondering the evolution of technologies from “web 1.0” to “web 2.0”, one thing struck me. At first, the web served to provide a one-way communication from the computer screen to the user. In this day and age, with all the social networks and tools, the web is increasingly bringing people together, and sometimes even offline. Meetup is a great example of such.

At Meetup, each person can become a “community organizer” and create a group that meets offline, around any topic or interest. Of course, online conversations can also start among group members, enhancing the offline events. Personally, I organize the Real Estate 2.0 Meetup, where I bring together tech-savvy (or interested in tech) real estate investors and professionals, for the purpose of meeting and discussing how technology can help us in the world of real estate investing.

Twitter also has a huge offline component to it. As you start to follow more people on  Twitter, you will learn of “tweetups”, regular meetings of like-minded twitterers, around a particular topic, or just over some coffee / beers. There are even “bots” that are created to track and retweet when someone mentions that they are going to a particular restaurant / establishment. Anyone who subscribes to this bot, gets the relevant updates. A good example of that is the Shake Shack FlashMob bot, which was created by a fellow twitterer to help NYC twitterers monitor the size of the line via other twitterers’ observations (Shake Shack is very popular among NYC Entrepreneur community and lines tend to get crazy). Or if a twitterer wants to get a group together, he /she announces it, the bot picks it up, retweets it, and the bot’s subscribers all get the note. Voila! Lunch date is set!

One of my favorite uses of twitter has been communicating with from within a conference with other conference attendees. Someone (typically the conference organizer, but can be any popular twitterer headed there), announces a hashtag, which serves as a code to that conference. While at the conference, twitterers retweet salient points made by speakers / panelists, as well as share their thoughts on anything from the subject matter, to the conference food. If they add the hashtag to the end (#hashtag), then other conference-goers can see the tweets, respond to them, and a rich conversation is born. This also benefits those twitterers who couldn’t attend for one reason or another, but want to follow along in real time. Several times my in-conference tweets prompted responses from other conference-goers, a conversation started and then we recognized each other in the crowd based on our avatars. A new relationship was born.

Since I started using Twitter and meeting people in cyberspace via Twitter, many of these “Twitter Friends” became real-life contacts and even friends. We were brought together by a topic / a hashtag / a common Twitter Friend, started an online conversation and finished it offline, in person. I find this extremely fascinating! Bottom line: as web tools get more social, we will keep organizing ourselves around a common idea online, while driving ourselves to enhance these relationships offline. No matter how much twittering, emailing, facebooking we do, we still yearn for face-to-face contact.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]