God forbid we should actually talk to each other

“How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live (in 140 characters or less)” by Steven Johnson (Time Magazine, 15 June 2009). If you’re still trying to get your head around the latest mainstream media hype that is known as Twitter then Time has prepared a few thousand character expose that should get you up to speed — or dummied down depending on how you look at it. As one would expect from Time, Mr. Johnson is thorough as well as entertaining. However, the ball gets dropped in the last 30 or so tweets.

But what actually happened to American innovation during that period? We came up with America Online, Netscape, Amazon, Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, Craigslist, TiVo, Netflix, eBay, the iPod and iPhone, Xbox, Facebook and Twitter itself. Sure, we didn’t build the Prius or the Wii, but if you measure global innovation in terms of actual lifestyle-changing hit products and not just grad students, the U.S. has been lapping the field for the past 20 years.

The first discrepancy is  that at this point Mr. Johnson is off topic. What started as an overview of Twitter suddenly takes a sharp turn into cheerleading. Equating Twitter to the superiority of USA ingenuity is a bit of a stretch. The next discrepancy Mr. Johnson fails to recognize is that the if he mentions (i.e., “but if you measure…”) is a big if. Twitter is not the cure for cancer. Mr. Johnson then nose dives in the final paragraph.

This is what I ultimately find most inspiring about the Twitter phenomenon. We are living through the worst economic crisis in generations, with apocalyptic headlines threatening the end of capitalism as we know it, and yet in the middle of this chaos, the engineers at Twitter headquarters are scrambling to keep the servers up, application developers are releasing their latest builds, and ordinary users are figuring out all the ingenious ways to put these tools to use. There’s a kind of resilience here that is worth savoring. The weather reports keep announcing that the sky is falling, but here we are — millions of us — sitting around trying to invent new ways to talk to one another.

Read another way, Rome is burning and we just keep tweeting. And that’s a good thing? Are there benefits to Twitter? Of course there are. AU is certainly not anti-technology or anti-progress. We use Twitter, too. What we are is anti-hype. Bring together 17 million people, let them throw enough tweets around and eventually there are bound to be a couple success stories. The question is, how much time and effort was wasted to get to those one or two miracles?

Twitter is  a great tool and it can be fun but it’s hardly sliced bread.

Getting (NPO) guests to buy the passion

“Hello? Arkansas? Yeah, It’s Facebook” by Mark Hrywna (The NonProfit Times, 15 June 2009). Great and inspiring article but for the moment try not to be distracted by the social network hype. Using social networks is a tool, not a panacea. It still takes time and resources to use that tool . What’s nice is that when the work is done well then the fruits of that labor can scale rather well (i.e., the pool of guests / donors is large).  It should be noted that Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation (ACHF) “recently hired someone to take over direct marketing efforts and social networking.” In other words, to reap the fruits an investment must be made, managed, maximized, etc.

In addition, Ben Tanzer, senior director of strategic communication at Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA), makes an essential point when he says:

The goal is to create as many platforms and portals as possible, providing people with different opportunities that the organization eventually will cross-link, and as Tanzer describes it, cross-pollinate. PCAA is focused less on fundraising and more on “helping to refine the message so when people learn about the organization they get what we do,” he said.

Being available is half the battle. It is still important for the brand to clarify their message, a message that needs to resonate with their perspective guests. The NPO has to figure out what it is that their guests are willing to buy. Simply asking for money is probably not going to be enough.

Finally, with success stories such as this one the clutter factor is going to come into play fairly quick. Soc-nets are where the guests are so they are certainly not a channel to be ignored. On the other hand, that channels’ ability to deliver “get rich quick” results will in all likelihood diminish as the level of noise and competition increases.

As we at AU like to say, “The internet… You can figure it out now. Or you can figure it out later. But you will have to figure it out.” No pain, no gain, eh?

Profiling for dollars

“LinkedIn Bible: Everything You Need to Know About the Social Network for Professionals” By C.G. Lynch (CIO Mag, 16 June 2009). A head to toe round up that will help you give you the professional profile markover you’ve been talking about. Yes, we confess, we’ll been doing the same. This post is as much about sharing with you as it is about reminding us.

Gettin’ better all the time

“Project Management: 8 Steps to On-Time, On-Budget Delivery” by Ron Ponce (CIO Mag, 15 June 2009). CIO delivers the helpful good once again. We certainly believe in our 6 Universal Truths of Project Management, but Mr. Ponce’s recommendations are  not going to fall on deaf ears here. In fact, his #8 is Improvement and we couldn’t agree with him more.

Coke adds choice to life – Another perspective

“Global CIO: Six Lessons CIOs Must Learn From Coke’s Dazzling Innovation” by Bob Evans (Information Week, 22 June 2009). A couple weeks ago we did a  post about Coke’s new drink dispenser called Freestyle. Mr. Evans celebrates Coke’s innovation but approaches it from a different perspective, that of the CIO.

The bottom line is that this effort took management commitment, getting the right team together, and then teamwork within that group. Very simple. Very effective. And a great lesson for the rest of us.

Honesty is the best policy

“Opinion: When things go wrong, the truth shall set you free” by John D. Halamka (ComputerWorld Mag, 15 June 2009). It’s never easy when things collapse. What makes it even more difficult is that as emotions increase rational thoughts get shoved aside. In short, being human isn’t easy. Lucky for the rest of us Mr. Halamka isn’t ready to give up yet. Here he offers five steps to take out some of the sting. We recommend commiting these five to memory. They will come in handy no matter what your role / profession. The bonus is, they have value off the clock as well. If necessary, look in the mirror and practice them. Because as we all agree, practice makes perfect.

Changing the game

“Customer Loyalty Program Goes Beyond Discounts and Coupons” By Jarina D’Auria (CIO Mag, 15 June 2009). This is brilliant! Stop whatever you’re doing and read it now. Read it twice, it’s short. As a teaser here’s a pull quote from Haggen’s Chief Information Officer Harrison Lewis:

“We wanted to redefine the game because we believe this is a competitive advantage for us and we wanted things that really would benefit our guests,” Lewis says. By creating an experience different and easier than that of other supermarkets, Lewis believes customers will bring in more business for the company.

and another bit from the last paragraph:

Members of the Haggen staff took the time to hear the opinions of customers before implementing the program by holding a panel to discuss their preferences about supermarket shopping. “We wanted [the program] to make the experience easier for them to shop in our stores,” says Lewis. “We respect our guests and their time.”

Makes you want to pick up and move to Bellingham, Wash.

Preaching practice

“Why Even Successful Speakers Need To Practice” by Maryfran Johnson (CIO Mag, 15 June 2009) The funny thing is, this applies to everything. If you want to get better at something, you have to do it. Over and over and over. And if you want to stop getting better at something (i.e., a bad habit) you have to stop doing it. There are times the brain can be a pretty simple machine. Either way, winging it is not the way to go.

A semi-related article you should fine helpful is “5 Ways to Ruin Your Next Presentation” By Thomas Wailgum (CIO Mag,19 May 2009) Use these tips to make sure what you’re practicing is the right stuff.

Three little goodies

“How to: Handle Negative Online Comments, Hold a Concise Meeting and Decline an After-work Invite” by By Kristin Burnham (CIO Mag, 10 June 2009). What’s great about CIO is that it’s targeted to executives so the articles get right to the meat of the matter. What’s even better is that the majority of their execu-think applies to everyone else as well.

Let’s just break these three down really quick:

“Negative Online Comment” – This approach applies offline as well. One of the key phrases to use is, “I understand”. The key personality trait to have is empathy.

“Concise Meeting” – A good set of rules to follow.

“Decline” – And if you can’t tell the truth then ask for rain cheque, or suggest you’d like to “postpone until next time”. Do your best to avoid saying, “No”.

Is Bing bingo?

“Microsoft Bing Livens Up Search” by Jim Rapoza (eWeek Mag, 15 June 2009). The adverts have been on TV for more than a couple weeks now. But the question remains, “Bing? Microsoft? Big deal. Why should I care?” Well, if anyone can answer that question it’s Jim Rapoza. His conclusion? So far, so good.

5 more CRM-isms from CIO

“5 ‘Zero Cost” CRM Strategies’ By Thomas Wailgum (CIO Mag, 26 May 2009) Another to the point article in CIO’s “5” series. It will only take you a couple minutes to read but the odds of a useful takeway look good.

The pen is mightier than the mountain

“Reaching New Heights: Leadership Lessons I Learned Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro” by Yacov Wrocherinsky (The New York Enterprise Report, June 2009) Entertaining, interesting and most of all insightful, Mr. Wrocherinsky relates his climb up the mighty Kilimanjaro to his experience as founded and CEO of Infinity Info Systems (www.InfinityInfo.com). Spend a few moment to soak in what he has to share.

Two glues are better than none

“Corner Office: On Will Wright’s Team, Would You Be a Solvent, or the Glue?” Video game designer Will Wright is interviewed by Adam Bryant (New York Times, Sunday 14 June 2009). Quite a few nice pearls in this exchange. Here are two that should get you to want to inhale the rest of the article to get the full effect.

When I’m managing creative people, the way they relate to failure is very important. Because there are certain types of failure that you really want to celebrate. I personally learned a lot more from my failures than from my successes. And if you look at it that way, then all my failures, you know, in some sense brought me to my larger successes, because I recognized why I failed, and I learned from it. And so, at that point, you can even argue that it’s not a failure. It’s part of your learning process.

I would first of all talk about the value of failure, because I think everybody’s leaving school kind of with a mind-set that, “Oh, I’m going out and I have to succeed. You have to succeed.” And if they hit a failure it has the potential to, you know, de-motivate them, and push them in a bad direction. But, if they can embrace and celebrate their failure, it kind of gives them a totally different outlook on what they are doing.

I think also the way the world is changing today, particularly when somebody leaves with a degree and they then go look for a work spot where they can really, you know, fit in: “This situation fits me very well.” And I think I would encourage them — rather than try to fit in somewhere — to find someplace where they can craft the environment, the job and the situation — basically, make it fit you.

Googlezilla verses the Twitter Monster

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon so let’s just keep it simple.

“The Tweet Smell of Success” by Noam Cohen and Brian Stelter (New York Times, Sunday 14 June 2009)

One has to assume that Twitter is looking not just at followers but also the followers of the followers, as well as the click rate of the links in the actual tweets. In other words, it’s not just about quantity but also trying to assess quality.

“Hey, Just a Minute (or Why Google Isn’t Twitter)” by Randall Stross (New York Times, Sunday 14 June 2009)

With that said, one has to wonder if Google isn’t missing the point. Immediate is important in ER but it’s rarely life or death in day to day business. McDonalds can serve faster but it’s still McDonalds. The latest answer doesn’t matter as much as the best answer.

Even free has a price

“Levin’s Law On Cheap and Easy Marketing Mediums” by Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Robert Levin (The New York Enterprise Report, June 2009). Once again Mr. Levin uses his From The Editor address to deliver an optimal amount of wisdom in less than a full printed page. No one is too busy to consume such an amount of valuable information.

The one thought that is missing is the idea of not only having a compelling message but also having a compelling business behind it. Getting guest to your party is half-the battle. The other half is deliving on the promise of an experience worth staying for. Word of mouth is still the most cost effective form of marketing. Tweet that!

Coke adds choice to life

“Coke’s RFID-Based Dispensers Redefine Business Intelligence” by Mary Hayes Weier (Information Week, 8 June 2009) Don’t let the geeky title scare you. Put yourself in the shoes of a Coke guest and read between the lines. This a perfect example of the shift in expectations that’s being driven by the empowerment guest now enjoy as a result of “technology”. Offline or online is not important. What is important is the experience. As much we hate to tip our hats to high frutose corn syrup & water, Kudos to Coke for this effort.

Our guess is that eventually Coke will link all the machines so that instead of having to reenter your custom flavour everytime you’ll be able to enter your own code and the Freestyle machine / network will take care of the rest. There’s also the possiblity of integrating the machines with a web site (or social network widget) and letting people share their custom flavours. Similar to Abobe’s Kuler (http://kular.adobe.com) but slightly  different.

Ask a realtor, staging matters (and other late night thoughts) – Part 2

“Fortune Small Business Small Business Makeover: Cloz – Dress for Success” by Patricia B. Gray (Fortune Small Business, May 2009).  This post is a follow up to a post a couple weeks back. Full disclosure: It is also shameless self-promotion. The news… FSB  decided to print (on their Letters page) an edited version of the AU feedback submitted. YES!

After reading the recent Makeover of Cloz, the Chicago-based school uniform supplier (“Dress for Success,” May), I have a few ideas to share. Instead of launching a second garment business for the slow season, what if Cloz used that time to become a vendor for other manufactures in of outsourcing? The firm might also consider an airline pricing model, with price breaks for early (or even late) ordering. Maybe try offering other types of uniforms or consider exporting to countries in the Southern Hemisphere? I would imagine that once Cloz has gained a parent’s trust, there are other items the company could cross-sell to its base. In addition, the website needs an update. With all due respect, the site does not say to potential customer, “We will take care of you,” and it is hardly search engine friendly. It gives no indication of Cohen’s pedigree in dressing “scions of America’s wealthiest families for almost two decades.”

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton, NJ

One additional caveat: The original letter that went to was also submitted to Cloz via their web site. There was no reply, not even an autoreply. Maybe Cloz should also pursue a makeover of their guest services as well?

Btw, this was the second published letter to the edit this week. Feels good, right?

Two of the sides to the CRM story

Whether your CRM aspirations are for 1 or 1,000, these two views will provide some valuable insights:

“CRM on the Cheap: Five Strategies That Really Work” By David Taber (CIO Magazine, May 2009)

“CRM On The Cheap: 5 Strategies That Backfire ” By David Taber (CIO Magazine, May 2009)

The best way to win the game is to change the game

“Beyond Detroit: On the Road to Recovery, Let the Little Guys Drive” by Charles C. Mann (Wired Magazine, June 2008). Another articles from Wired’s latest issue that focuses on The New Economy. Here is a must read paragraph. If you’ve tasted victory in the past then chances are good that it will have even more meaning to you.

The only escape from this conundrum is to pursue what Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has called disruptive innovation—the kind of change that alters the trajectory of an industry. As Christensen argued in his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, successful companies in mature industries rarely embrace disruptive innovation because, by definition, it threatens their business models. Loath to revamp factories at high cost to make products that will compete with their own goods, companies drag their feet; perversely, financial markets often reward them for their shortsightedness. Good as they are, the European and Japanese automakers are established companies. At this point, they are as unlikely to pursue disruptive innovation as Detroit has been. That gives the US auto industry an opening. To take that opportunity, it will have to behave differently—it will have to step far outside the walls of the Rouge.

There it is again, success isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. From time to time it is possible to arrive but sooner or later the sands will shift and the quest will have to continue. When it does, be sure to think about what your competition won’t do or can’t do and then do that. Use their success against them and change the game, at least for a moment. Repeat as necessary.

Food for content thought. Or is it content for food thought?

“The Triangle of Content Success” By Jaka Lindic (eContent Magazine, May 2009).  eContent is a new addition to our reading meals and thus far the bit of extra time invested has paid back two or three fold. Like fine dining for the mind. Mr. Lindic’s article doesn’t answer many questions but it’s purpose is to provide scope as well as a general overview of the current state of the content art. In that case he’s right on target. Good stuff. And more proof that guests expect more than “just a web site”.