Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Vertical Integration and Communications

I had the wonderful opportunity to tour the Carver Boat factory in Pulaski, WI last week. It was fascinating for a variety of reasons. But what struck me most was that our host repeatedly went to great effort to reinforce the benefits of being vertically integrated (predictability, reliability, and quality assurance). This was such a different perspective from what we in technology companies have come to value; and it was quite provocative. As you know, the "Dell" model, outsourcing, fabless semiconductor companies, etc. are today the rule, rather than the exception, in the technology world. And if you choose to make an exception to that rule, you will raise a lot of eyebrows.

But, this very interesting and unusual perspective sparked some thinking about a conversation I had last week with a large company that is working to remake its image. It's not that this company is or is not vertically integrated; rather, I was struck with the fact that at Roeder-Johnson our view is that most companies (particularly large companies) fail to understand the tremendous importance of "vertically integrated messages".

If you have read this blog before, you probably can guess what I mean by the new term "vertically integrated messages". In short, it is a phrase that implies that messages need to be consistent throughout an organization rather than piecemeal. And that vertical integration stems from a clear understanding of the "essence" of an organization, how it manifests in each of its parts and the whole, and how this essence can be communicated in such a way that the language stands separately or together for each of the parts as well as the whole.

I know, some of you are probably saying that this is not a realistic view in today's transparent communication environment. But we disagree. Sure, today you certainly can't control every word ever mentioned about your company; but if you have a clear vision of who you are, and then proceed to manifest it throughout the company -- not just in some superficial messages -- the market will figure it out. As a matter of fact, we contend that if you really do have a clear understanding of your vision and you execute it well (including in your communications), the market will do a better job of understanding you clearly than when we just had to rely on the far more limited distribution of a few short words to get the message out.

What does this mean practically?

  • From what I can tell, the Carver Boat Corporation has done a great job of this: they know who they are, implement it through their execution, instill that vision clearly through the organization in lots of ways, and then they communicate it clearly.
  • The large organization I referenced must really work to understand the essence (or "high concept") that it has built through the years, manifest it in all they do, and then talk about it clearly. (By the way, I felt the company understood this.)
  • If any organization tries to just posit a position that is not based in reality, the market will figure it out.
I would never have guessed that a visit to a solid, midwestern company where boats are built would so clearly underscore one of the key tenets of communications!

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