Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cuba: the land of what you can do when you don't have a choice

(This is a version of comments also posted on Facebook.)

I've just returned from Cuba. What an incredible place! The people are lovely, the scenery is beautiful; it's rundown, but on its way to improvement.

But the single thing that struck me most was what the Cubans have been able to do because they simply didn't have a choice. This became particularly clear to me when I went into an art gallery with some of the best modern Art I've ever seen.  Every piece of art used recycled material. And yet it was fine art; it wasn't just glued together pieces and parts.  And then I started thinking about the cars.

We've all heard about the old cars in Cuba. There are a variety of reasons for their presence. But key to them is that they still run. And often without the real original parts.

Why? Because there was no choice. If you are Cuban with an old car, which is the only car available, and you want it to run, you just have to figure something out.

That's pretty much the way the country is all over. The cars,  the art, the food. 

And, the Ebola crisis has brought to our attention the excellence of the Cuban healthcare system. Two important pieces of data. The first is that the system is excellent, very organized, and focuses as much as possible on prevention. That's because they don't have the money to cure things.

The second amazing thing is that many doctors in Cuba have a second job. Because they don't get paid much as a doctor. One psychiatrist that I met was acting as a maître d' in a restaurant to augment his income. But he loves medicine. It was just amazing.

This is a dramatic contrast to the world of the Silicon Valley; this is the land of plenty. And yet, sometimes we forget about what it's like to have to use ingenuity instead of resources.

I encourage everyone to visit Cuba soon. If the rapprochement between the US and Cuba happens, the country will zoom into modernity. And, it's very likely that some of this wonderful can-do culture will be impacted by that.

The same is probably true about Vietnam, China, and  a number of countries I haven't visited. But it was so present in Cuba that I couldn't overlook it.

Happy new year. All the best wishes.

Abigail Johnson


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Friday, June 22, 2012

Hype Kills: Will Facebook's Troubled IPO Hurt The Brand?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Making a Revolutionary company Look Evolutionary

This past weekend, I read Om Malik's wonderful guidance about which seven stories to read this weekend. As always, this weekly list was provocative. One article that particularly caught my eye was "Why are we so Afraid of Creativity?". In short, creativity leads to uncertainty and "As a general rule, we dislike uncertainty. It makes us uneasy. A certain world is a much friendlier place."

This is a topic about which I am passionate because we live in an age of evolutionary innovation, to a large degree and those who are willing to think orthogonally are often accused of being dreamers. But that orthogonal thinking is what makes real movement in the market.

So what's a company to do when it has an (often technical) innovation that looks like an evolutionary innovation, but really has the potential to lead to an orthogonal market shift? Since we at Roeder-Johnson often work with companies that fit this description, it's a topic about which I think often.

Going back to the story about why we are afraid of creativity, the answer is:

-Understand what you really have (the "high concept").
-Build a communication and market strategy that first makes your breakthrough look and feel evolutionary.
-Then, when you have credibility, build the new, orthogonal trajectory on the foundation of the first stage success.

In some ways, you are building in your own "innovators' dilemma." That is, you know eventually, you will have to obsolete the perceptions you may have started out building. So why not just start with the big idea? Because in many more traditional markets with established perceptions (enterprise technology, vertical markets, etc.), the revolutionary idea can scare people and you won't build your base business before you move into the new realm.

Yes. We are back to the fact that creativity scares people.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Social Media and Building Sustainable Ideas: A complex puzzle

In this morning's news, an article ran called "'Kony 2012' grabs media attention, but it could be fleeting". The article is about social media and revolutions, summed up in a quote from the article: "When you use social media to bring down a dictator, it's simplistic and easy," says Christopher Tunnard, who studies the effect of social media on politics at Tufts University. "When you're trying to build things back up, it's much more complicated. It's very difficult to put together a story about how social media are being used to build up institutions."

Since this blog is not about global politics but communications issues, this morning's article highlights what I believe is perhaps the biggest issue in communications today: social media is very good for intermittent hits on single ideas. But how do you sustain and build an entire "ideology" with social media?

The first answer to this question is to keep your ideas simple. We have talked a lot in this blog about a "high concept".

But the second answer, about which we have also talked, harkens back to our view of creating a "communications architecture." That is, even when you have a single "high concept", building an entire infrastructure around it is critical to build sustained ideologies.

I believe we are all just in the early stages of understanding how to implement this second strategy with social media. There will be a lot of experimentation in the next few years; though it is likely that the right approach will revolve around creating social media campaigns that systematically build and weave ideas.

There's a lot more to think about re how these campaigns are created. Watch this space.

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Hype Kills Redux: Is Apple's Lesson "Underpromise and Over deliver"?

Yesterday, Apple introduced the new iPad. There have been various reactions. But pretty much everyone was underwhelmed or, at the very least, a little disappointed.

So what's going on here? The new iPad is a good product; its screen excites a lot of people. But the reality is that this new product is just an evolutionary step for Apple.

That's ok. Companies need to have systematic product introduction plans that build on their existing customer base and momentum. The difference is that Apple, on a regular basis, challenges conventional wisdom and keeps itself in a leadership position.

So what should Apple have done? It should probably have managed down expectations. Instead of getting people hyped up for a new a dramatic product; it should have let us know, in advance, what we should expect.

We call that "underpromise and over deliver."

Let people be pleasantly surprised, rather than unpleasantly disappointed.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Netflix and the Myth of Transparency in the Modern Age

A few days ago, Netflix announced that it would not, after all, split the company in two. You know the story -- recognizing its future is in streaming media, Netflix set out to create separate companies for its DVD and Streaming businesses.

When the company met with a very bad reaction from customers (and a lot of other constituencies), it retracted the plan. Some press described Reed Hastings a "chastened", among other words.

There are probably a number of lessons here. But, I believe the lesson in this episode is that transparency in the new media age is a myth. Netflix was attempting to be the ultimate in transparent: acknowledging to the market that its future was not in DVDs and a new company needed to be formed. It wasn't hiding that fact or playing games. Just taking steps and moving ahead.

A lot of people say that in today's world of 24/7 communications, the market figures everything out and you might as well just admit what you are doing and not try to manage your communications. Netflix did just that and was roundly punished for it.

The reality is it's critical to be a bit cagey in today's world. Or alternatively, do what you want to do but don't acknowledge or admit it. We have seen Facebook, Amazon, Google and many other companies do that repeatedly in recent years. And despite exclamations to the contrary, some of these moves might be a just a little evil.

Netflix was actually trying to not be evil. And it was vilified.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Hashtag Movements: Whither big ideas and social media?

One of the most puzzling communications issues today is how to introduce new ideas in the current environment that is dominated by social media and often calls for 140 character ideas. This is a question I think about regularly because we often represent companies that aren't just an evolutionary step from something that exists already, but often call for people to think about new and different issues.

I was reminded of this puzzle in reading today's Reuters story about the current anti-Wall Street movement.

What can we learn from this movement, called "Occupy Wall Street" and which has been described as a "hashtag movement"? I think there's one big lesson: social media works to generate interest when you can sum up your new idea with a simple, short tagline. I am not trying to be caustic or cynical here. Just observant.

Does that work for all communications problems? I am going to have to keep thinking about it. Over the years, as we have worked with companies with big, new ideas, I have come to understand that to help them succeed we need to come up with a way to systematically lead the market to believe it needs what the company has. In "the old" world where people relied on somewhat extended stories, we could develop an educational program designed to raise questions, answer them and gently ease perception in the direction we wanted. This could be systematic and allowed for explanation and clarification along the way.

But how do you do this when 140 characters is the norm? This is a really big challenge for new ideas.

There's clearly an opportunity within the social media space to address this issue. In the meantime, is the answer a series of progressive "hashtag movements" to get a market from here to there?

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

No, Cisco Didn't Flip Out; A good, Fast Lesson for Start Ups

When I first read about Cisco's decision to shut down its Flip division, I was stunned. This technology/product seemed like a no brainer. Even though the capability is quickly being built into multi-purpose, networked devices, surely Flip cameras would be needed or could be repurposed.

I don't know if there is a case to be made for that argument, but Cisco has just taught start ups a really important lesson:

if you have piece of your business that doesn't focus on your core capabilities, don't let it sink slowly. Kill it quickly.

It's hard for any company to do that, but it's really hard for a big business to do it. Because they often have the resources to support the ship in hopes of finding a solution. But with start ups, where every penny matters, that option is not available. Make these decisions quickly.

Of course, this depends on understanding clearly what your core essence is. Because you don't want to kill businesses that are key to that essence. That's what makes the fast decision so hard.

But Cisco's lesson is really important; they know their essence and saw that the Flip wasn't part of it.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Set Some Priorities; What is the Goal and How do we Get There? Well, maybe it's not that easy

We work with start ups, primarily. And I can't help being aghast at the current government shutdown debate (which may be resolved by the time you read this). When you work with young companies that are trying to make a difference, every day involves setting priorities.

Based on having worked with with nearly 100 new and growing companies, there is actually one question that underpins the determination of priorities:

*What is our company's goal and how do we optimize getting there?

Though this may be a simple question, it's pretty hard to answer. We suggest a recipe:

1. Understand -- at your core -- what is your essence as a company -- what is it you are really trying to do?
2. How will you realize this essence and truly optimize next steps as a company?
3. How do these next steps fit into your company architecture? That is, based on your goal, how do you set priorities so that you don't compromise critical path items in favor of short term issues.
4. Keep reassessing.

These questions impact communications strategy directly. So we are often right in the middle of this discussion. Sometime there's instinct involved in finding the right answer. But, at the same time, the key is having a clear vision and continuously moving in that direction.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Let's not Forget to Talk to Each Other

We ran into friends after a movie last night and sat down for a cup of coffee. I hike with the husband, but hadn't met his wife (I'll call her Brenda) and just learned what she does: she helps people figure out the best elder care solutions for their family members. Because Brenda has such a personal profession, she mentioned that she finds it's VERY important to talk with her clients, rather than just email.

This was a great reminder. Brenda mentioned that phone and in-person conversations are so important because she gets so much out of the nuance of people's voices and even how they phrase questions and answers. This gives her a far better opportunity to truly provide the best counsel.

This is a great reminder. Because working in technology, we all know that it's very easy to communicate electronically with short phrases to get a lot of our day to day work done. There's no question that this is a great enhancement in efficiency. But, sometimes, how much is lost in translation?

This reminder is particularly important when building a communications strategy. We need to know how to use all of these instant, quick communications tools/media; And we need to know how to emulate the nuances of emotion and intent through these instant approaches -- that is, how do you get nuance and emotion into 140 characters? That's a fun puzzle, which we find very interesting to try to solve.

At the same time, we encourage clients to remember to find ways to communicate verbally where possible. In-person and on the phone communications are more time-consuming, but they might can work wonders to cement a relationship or impart the essence of what you are trying to communicate.

And by the way, in today's world in which there are so many new ways to communicate instantly, there are also lots of new ways to ensure that we are able to talk to each other.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

How Supporting a Relay Race can Lead to Big Thinking about Communications!

I had a great weekend! Along with my husband, I was part of a team of people supporting the Coast Guard Team for the Baker to Davis Run. There were a few things about it that were terrific:

1. It was fascinating to be a part of such an intricate puzzle of logistics. There were 23 runners (20 main and 3 alternates) running a 120 mile course who needed to be delivered to starting points, followed for safety, and picked up. There were 7 support vans, a communications team, medical teams, and miscellaneous other volunteers (a total of about 50). And all of these needed to be coordinated in split seconds so that none of the team's advantage was lost to logistics. See the Team 1790 blog to read some of the highlights of each leg of the race. It was a great learning process and a little hint of what our armed services face on a daily basis.

2. The active duty and reserve Coast Guard personnel participating on the team were terrific. They were energetic, focused, and cared deeply about their mission. And it was really fascinating to hear about their day-to-day lives in the Coast Guard or as Reservists (one of the reservists is the head of City Planning for a city in California; another is a Las Vegas police officer; and I didn't get to hear about the rest).

3. Having been exposed to the Coast Guard through my husband's participation in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, I have become aware of how unheralded the Coast Guard is as a critical armed service. It is the oldest service and is responsible today for homeland security at every port and on every body of water in the U.S. as well as having numerous responsibilities in international missions. But it seems that, compared to the other armed services, most of us hardly know about the Coast Guard, in spite of its importance. It turns out that the one of the team members whom I met this weekend will soon be a member of the headquarters communications team for the Coast Guard. It got me to thinking about how interesting it could be to take on the mission to raise the awareness of the important role the Coast Guard plays in our Nation. Just as with any organization -- like a start-up company or large corporation -- the Coast Guard could be positioned strategically to accomplish certain key goals. And even though security is a necessary element of its mission, it would be highly possible to create a set of key messages and implement a consistent series of campaigns that could, over time, create a new understanding of the important role of the Coast Guard.

I never would have thought that a weekend of helping support a relay race could have such broad impact!

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Flight of the Dove: The Story of a Great, Consistent Communications Program

For some reason, I have been thinking a lot recently about Dove . For those of you who might not know (might be nearly all of you), Dove launched a fascinating marketing campaign a few years ago: "the campaign for real beauty."

I have probably been thinking about Dove because over a period of several years, with many brand extensions and new communications tools, they have been able to build a tremendously consistent positioning, branding, marketing, and communications effort. That's really hard to do. They continue to introduce products that are focused on "real beauty"; they have launched multiple programs focused on self-esteem; and have all sorts of social media activities focused on real beauty/self esteem.

Dove shows us that as communications become both more universally accessible through social media, it has also become more complex. That is, having a very clear and consistent message is all the more important when there are so many ways that the customer and influencer are touched.

Of course, at Roeder-Johnson we work technology start ups, most of whom are business-to-business companies rather than being consumer-oriented. But the same perspective is important with these companies. And, in fact, it probably is more manageable. Though unfortunately in this era of constrained resources, companies often forget that they can get MORE leverage by being thoughtful and consistent about their marketing and communications.

But imagine if a company had a clear "high concept" (like "the campaign for real beauty"), was able to develop products that reinforced this, AND developed marketing programs and communications through traditional and new tools that reinforced and built understanding of that core high concept? One theme, lots of leverage, and ultimately a lot of efficiency in building a unified brand.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Social Media Might have Value, After all -- If you Understand How to Use it

As a skeptic about the value of social media for most entities, I am now prepared to disagree to some extent with the perspective expressed by many entrepreneurs in the today's article in the Wall Street Journal called "Entrepreneurs Question the Value of Social Media". In the article entrepreneurs have been disappointed in the cost/benefit of social media campaigns. They thought they could accomplish the same kind of impact an expensive ad campaign.

The misunderstanding about social media that leads to this disappointment is that many believe they can emulate the impact of a big, expensive ad campaign by using social media. There are always exceptions to every rule, but we at Roeder-Johnson believe this is the wrong way to look at social media. Once in awhile a company will be able to mount a relatively inexpensive social media campaign that gets them much more attention than they would get for the equal amount of ad spending. But most of the time, that kind of thing doesn't happen.

So what is the value of social media?

The Value of a Blog

There are certainly some blogs that have become the "modern day press". That is, they include headlines and journalistic (or not) articles that a lot of people read and provide news that is broadly disseminated. Some examples of that in the technology world are TechCrunch, VentureBeat, GigaOm, and others. There are also some in the general press that serve that purpose.

That's not what we are talking about here. For most entities a blog can fall into one of two categories:

*For most organizations, a blog is what we call a "living brochure". It provides customers, audiences, influencers, etc. an ongoing perspective on the views, facts, experiences, questions, etc. of an entity. As such, reading the blog can give interested parties a much greater and more timely understanding than a document or two that are created once a year.

*Some of these blogs can also serve a slightly broader role of helping to educate key constituents about issues of broader interest. These are blogs that might influence a well-informed special interest group, but wouldn't necessarily get really broadbased attention.

The Value of Twitter (or microblogging) is as a replacement for the "Trade Press."

A lot of people I know are VERY skeptical about Twitter. I am too, mostly. However, the real point about microblogging is that it is unrealistic to expect everyone to have the impact that Ashton Kutcher accomplished.

*But we believe that the real value of microblogging for small businesses and other emerging entities is as a replacement for what has been traditionally known as "trade press". Because of the fundamental breakdown of most media economics, it has become harder than ever to get to special interest groups. We believe this is where an important piece of microblogging is going. And when coupled with a helpful blog and/or an effective web site, it is likely that it can create a pretty effective way to influence key audiences. By the way, we don't suggest that Tweets should be meaningless blather. But rather should be 140 character calling cards to provoke new and interesting ideas and appeal to key targets. A well implemented Twitter strategy is just as strategic as any other kind of communications.

Admittedly, this is an education in progress. We will keep you posted as we think we learn more.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Do this Week's Key Political Events Signal the Real Growth of the Long Tail in American Politics?

This week, two interesting things happened in the political world that made me realize that the fundamental restructuring of communications may be having a profound impact on our political system. These are: the election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts (lots of articles reference this); and the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow corporations to spend whatever they want in support of candidates (one article about this from the New York Times:

In the U.S., we are, of course, based on a two-party system. There are a lot of reasons for that, which I won't describe here. (There is always a lot of debate on the subject; I also won't address that here.) The events of this week, however, call into question whether that system can continue to be the de facto foundation of our system.


-In the Massachusetts election, though many are simplistically arguing that it represents a clear referendum on the current government approach (that is, the electorate has come out clearly and said no to what they see happening in Washington). But, I have heard a number of people talking about different issues about which they cared that ultimately influenced their votes. The result may have been a seemingly binary decision. But, in reality, as a result of widely accessible real time communications, I would argue that this election doesn't signal binary decision at all. Rather, it says that people will vote on their issues -- not the candidate or party.

-The Supreme Court decision will add to this non-binary evolution of American politics. If many entities can spend what they want advocating their own individual positions, the weight of one party vs. the other will be reduced. It is likely that many individuals will vote very specifically on their own issues rather than on the compilation of issues.

Surprisingly, when I looked up "the long tail" and politics, there is relatively little written about it. But, just as today's ability to communicate easily about multiple issues surrounding a product or service has led to a long tail in markets, it is likely to have the same impact on politics.

I am not sure I know what all this means, but I hope that some thoughtful political scientists will think hard about it.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Lessons of the Incas: Necessity is the Mother of "Innovation"

I just returned from Peru. It was a wonderful trip. And, as so often happens when I travel, I came away with some sort of "aha". While these trip-related insights may not be earth-shattering realizations in the grand scheme of things, they are always a great reminder of some basic lesson.

The Lesson of the Incas was a reminder that necessity is the mother of "innovation" (Yes. The wording is slightly changed over the common expression.) It was amazing to observe how advanced the Incas were so many centuries ago. This was particularly obvious in the very sophisticated techniques they had for agriculture. They planted in terraces to optimize the use of their land and then created an irrigation system to fit the demands of these terraces. And there are theories that the Incas created a deep circular terraced crater at Moray in order to provide different micro climates for various crops that were important to their survival. This is just an amazing idea!

I am not an expert on the Incas and won't try to defend these innovations or explain them deeply. It's just that the whole experience reminded me that some of the most effective innovations come in direct response to fundamental needs.

The question this raises for technology start-ups is how can this lesson be applied to optimize innovation today. For the most part, there is no survival issue driving much of technology development, whether it's building a better iPhone, social networking site, or whatever. (That's quite a bit less true of green tech and medical technology.)

We could have a long discussion here about "Maslow's hierarchy of needs" and recognize that today much of the technology work is past basic survival and have moved up the hierarchy. But the drivers are no less important. I just don't think that's true.

So, the question I took away from the Incas was: how do we fuel really important innovation in an environment where our basic survival doesn't depend on this innovation?

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Message is More Important than Ever

Unfortunately, this month has brought layoffs of some of the most seasoned journalists in the world. I won't go into the causes, except to say this is one more sign that the media world is going through a wholesale change (a bit of understatement). This will continue to have a major impact on everything from politics and government to companies and their businesses to the lives of each of the people effected.

However, I want to focus on what is means to start-ups. In short, it means the "press" is more scarce than ever and that clear and (as my friend Seth Godin calls it) "remarkable" messaging in everything you do is more important than it has ever been.

To illustrate the scarcity of the press, I will share an anecdote about a friend who is a former CEO turned author whom I recently helped to get word of his latest book out. We worked together to craft his messaging -- creating a high concept that was leverageable in several media. But then, because at Roeder-Johnson we were swamped, my friend did the press outreach himself. He was quite successful but needed to work pretty hard at it. He reached a number of his target journalists who were quite cordial, but for the most part explained that they found the story interesting, but really were very busy and couldn't focus on this story because it "wasn't required reading." Ultimately my friend has been quite successful, given the context of the times. But there's nothing like a little direct experience for him to see clearly the impact of the reduced presence of traditional media: he learned that if you want a presence in the press, your story has to trully rise above all of its competition. That's always been true. But today, the competition for the scarce space is more intense than ever.

But, the good news is that, more than ever, communications are transparent. That is, there are lots of ways of getting your story and message out to interested parties. It's not restricted to the press any more. As we have said before in this blog, that means that your message and its consistency matters more than ever: because anything you say is seen by everyone interested. Therefore, being clear, differentiated, tight, and consistent is critical.

At Roeder-Johnson, that message-clarity is what we have always focused on. This is not a battle of quantity. It's a battle of being "remarkable" and consistent and regularly reinforcing those.

So, even if traditional media isn't as high a priority in the communications mix, it's more important today to focus on the message.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

"When all else fails, try the Truth - Redux"

This afternoon, it was confirmed that the "balloon boy" incident was a hoax. The most amazing thing to me was that anyone ever thought otherwise. Having done communications and public relations for my whole career, I have found that it's pretty easy to tell when someone wants attention for their own benefit rather than for a "greater good." The surprising thing about the hoax was that it wasn't obvious to just about everybody that this family had a long history of attention-seeking.

The sad thing is that we "have made our own bed". The combination of the 24-7 news cycle and the general interest in drama and sensation have led to people like this family who exploit the system. Moreover, I suspect that ultimately they will benefit somehow from this great amount of attention, even if they have to wade through some mud to reach their goal.

It's ironic that I am concerned about this. After all, at Roeder-Johnson, we are in the business of helping companies get noticed. But, for better or worse, we believe there is a certain standard. I often joke about the fact that my motto is "when all else fails, try the truth." But it's actually not a joke. We believe that you start with the truth. The market ALWAYS figures it out. And companies are better off managing their perceptions based on the truth rather than apologizing or correcting themselves later.

So how do we rationalize communicating within this drama-driven world and staying with the truth. They are not mutually exclusive. Most companies have stories that are full of drama on several levels and, over time, can garner attention. And in the meantime, by communicating who they REALLY are, they are getting to the constituents they need to influence.

So, I am hoping that the sensation of the balloon boy doesn't encourage more such hoaxs. But, unfortunately, I am afraid it will.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

"Find the Language"

I met recently with a wonderful man and superb entrepreneur, James Currier, who founded (or co-founded) Tickle (acquired by Monster), Ooga Labs, Wonderhill and others. He is supremely thoughtful and has been through several rounds of entrepreneurial education, so he has a pretty clear vision of really happens in start-ups and lots of credibility.

After his years of founding and running companies, James shared with me that he sees his primary job as CEO and founder to be to "find the language" that clearly articulates what his companies are trying to accomplish. He believes this because finding the language is at the heart of understanding what a company truly is.

Boy, do we agree! As you know if you have read this blog in the past, we believe that "words matter". The process of coming up with the simple, "High Concept" that fundamentally explains why a company is important is critical to the process of creating a successful business.

I was excited when James expressed his viewpoint. In addition to being very strategic, his years of experience have also led James to be very practical: there's no point in having a company that represents an elegant concept if it isn't a good business (I am putting words in his mouth but I think this explains his viewpoint).

This perspective is important to us because we see WAY too many companies that believe they need to choose EITHER thoughtful positioning OR a good business. We believe that good positioning is all about how you can be most successful.

When we met, James further explained that the process of finding the right language can be stage-related: the first stage is find the right specific thing that a company does well right now; and then, over the longer term, broaden that out as the vision and mission of the company broadens. More of James' practical view of the world.

Thank you, James, for helping us think clearly as well!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Be Provocative -- But Don't Mistake it with Bad Behavior

We are big advocates of being provocative as part of a well-conceived communications strategy. Sometimes, the best way to get people to wake up to a need for change is to challenge conventional wisdom. Ask questions, throw down the gauntlet to established forces, change things up.

That said, in the past few days, we have all been exposed to bad behavior that has gotten a lot of attention: A member of Congress calling the President a liar in the middle of an important speech to the joint members of both Houses; and (admittedly, at a much more mundane level) a singer rudely interrupting an acceptance speech at an award show to advocate for one of the other contestants.

Don't get me wrong. In both cases, the parties in question completely have the right to comment loudly to express their beliefs; That's what makes this a great country. What bothers me about these two episodes is that both of them resulted in front page news. And, in turn, that could encourage acts of rudeness and bad behavior rather than constructive discussion. I am not sure of a solution, but feel compelled to raise the question.

So, what are some ways to provoke debate as part of a communications strategy?

-Present your products in a way that clearly explains the shortcomings of current approaches and asks the market to question the status quo;
-Make speeches that ask the right questions about conventional wisdom;
-Do point-of-view editorials and press releases raising these interesting questions;
-Embark on educational programs that cause people to wonder if current approaches are the right ones;
-Use social media to lead the market to ask the questions; and
-Lots of other ideas.

Please, just don't count on bad behavior to accomplish your goals.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Faster Innovation and the "Google-ization of Business"

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating piece yesterday call "The New, Faster Face of Innovation". MIT scholars Michael Schrage and Erik Bryn Jolfsson have traced the implications of the faster and more iterative approach to innovation that we are seeing from companies in today's market.

We have referred to this trend in past blog posts as "the Google-ization of business". Yesterday's article does a great job of describing the trend and cites excellent examples of its implications.

We think about the implications of faster innovation specifically from the perspective of what does it means to communications in today's world; when you combine this rapid pace of innovation and change with an "architectural" view of communications which we have discussed at other places in this blog, it has vast implications. To keep things simple, following are two of the key changes.

1. While having an idea of what image you are trying to create and a hypothesis of how you will get there is more important than ever (because of the transparency of communications), today it is no longer necessary to feel that your first communications stake-in-the-ground is indelible.

2. This new iterative approach to innovation means that you can communicate more frequently and with more trial balloons to help educate the market. Ultimately, when used well, it is likely to enable reaching your communications goals both more effectively and perhaps even more efficiently.

This new flexibility is quite liberating. When communicating, you no longer have to worry about whether every point is the "perfect" point. And you can learn along the way in order to make your communications better.

Please don't misinterpret this flexibility as a recommendation to just throw material into the communications chain and pay no attention. As referenced above, we still feel it's very important to have a clear hypothesis of what you want to communicate over the long term and how you think you might get there (this is what we call the "communications architecture").

The big difference now is that you can course-correct much more easily.

At the end of the day, we believe this new world means you should communicate more than ever before.


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