transparency > authenticity > sincerity

  • Transparency is a state of honest communications.
  • Authenticity is a state of presenting.
  • Sincerity is a state of being.

Transparency Not long ago the market began to buzz about the need for transparency in corporate culture as they communicate in social channels.

This soon translated in brand authenticity, further evolving the humanity of corporate culture and the resultant media.

So what's next?

If we think about human relationships, the truest form of communications is that of sincerity.

Which begs the question: Can a brand be sincere?  What does a sincere brand look like?  What are the components that define brand sincerity?  Are there many/any sincere brands out there in the market?

How would you gauge your brand's presence in social media? 

Where do you believe the social media early adopters like Dell, Comcast, Zappos, SouthWest, GM, Delta, Home Depot, Graco, Jet Blue Verizon and AT&T are best categorized?  Are they transparent?  Are they authentic?  Are they sincere?  Are they human?  Or am I totally off?

Thanks to Paull Young for helping to cull this list.

Photo credit here

Disclosure: some of the brands listed in this post are clients.  The views expressed in this post are personal and do not reflect those of my employer or it's parent company.

innovation in an ROI driven world

Innovation_connection Over the past year I've encountered dozens of solutions, technologies, sales vendors, advertisers, marketers and futurists, all claiming to embody a single phrase - innovative. Yet to be totally honest, I haven't seen all that much that really blew my mind.  Is this because innovation has been stifled by realism, near term ROI concerns, a lack of vision, or is this a symptom of something greater?

Everyone claims to be pushing ahead, innovating, bringing forth new solutions that are "groundbreaking".

But most of what I've seen looks like everything I've been seeing for the past 5 years, just ported into a new channel.

As I see it, there are two types of innovation:
A) Incremental Innovation
B) Disruptive Innovation

Incremental Innovation is where much of the business world feels most comfortable.  This type of innovation is often referred to as, "the lowest hanging fruit".  This is innovation that takes a process or a concept that is already established and familiar, and builds on it.  It's not about reinventing the wheel, but adding a new feature to the wheel, making them somehow incrementally better.  Think of mobile OLA: it's nearly identical to regular OLA, just on a phone.  It's innovative,  but not yet a game changer.  Nearly all of the innovation I have seen over the past year falls into this bucket.

Disruptive Innovation is far more difficult that incremental innovation, yet the payout is far greater.  Disruptive Innovators are game changers.  They reinvent the wheel.  They are visionaries and big thinkers.  Disruptive Innovation is both risky and difficult, yet the end game payout is tremendous.  Think Facebook and social connections, the iPhone and user experience design and pervasive digital connectivity, Gigya and the widget, YouTube and UGC, Twitter and instant messaging, or BitTorrent and content distribution.  Without these innovators, 2008 would be a markedly different.

Key Takeaway: Most of us are putting the finishing touches on our '07 business and beginning to plan for '08.  If you don't have an innovation strategy or an innovation roadmap already in the books, it's time to do  so.   You won't be successful tomorrow if you don't have a plan for preparing for tomorrow, today. 

Dedicating all of your efforts to incremental innovation may satisfy the bottom line, but won't make you into a category leader.  This is true no matter regardless of the business you're in.  The time to begin planning for the future is now. 

If you've got any questions around innovation planning, PLEASE feel free to reach out to me via email or by commenting on this blog.  Karl Long just posted a great piece around the challenges and costs of getting innovation in-market.  If you'd like to learn more about innovation in business, check out any of the many fantastic blogs in reading list to the left of this post. 

Thanks for reading and as always, looking forward to your comments!

the future online privacy : conspiracy or reality?

Conspiracy theories THRIVE online.

But in every believable story lies a hint of truth.

And that is what terrifies me about the video below.

So you tell me?  Is this a massive conspiracy, or are we in the midst of a new and eminently trackable reality?  I think we're dealing with the latter.

And if everything we do is trackable, if we're willing to sign away our privacy rights for the ability to friend, poke, bite or zombify our friends, do we deserve any better? 

Whose job is it to look out for us when we ourselves don't care?

social interactions: sales and marketing

Heads Up - while this post starts as a rant about annoying salespeople, about halfway through there is some great social media advice

10 Commandments of Ineffective Sales People

  1. Smile
  2. Close
  3. Close
  4. Close
  5. Close
  6. Close
  7. Close
  8. Close
  9. Close
  10. Close

I am not kidding.  Over the past few weeks I have had more salespeople than I care to count do the following things when meeting with me or my team:

  • lie  
  • spam
  • accuse  
  •  talk down to me or my team on areas we are VERY familiar with (twice)
  • oversimplify (often)
  • misrepresent (often)
  • abuse trust
  • misquote me
  • not take "we don't have any present opportunities but please keep in touch" as an answer
    • I don't know what prompted these interactions, but after speaking with other people in the industry I have learned that these are not unheard of events.

Effect: While I may utilize the solutions provided by some of these companies because they best meet my needs, I would never want to deal with their salespeople again.  Additionally, I would never recommend them to friends or co-workers in the business.  Unnecessary unpleasantness need not be the cost of doing business. 

On the other hand, I have had well over a dozen positive meetings and other interactions with sales partners.  These interactions were with salespeople that were:

  • courteous
  • appreciative
  • respectful
  • professional
  • helpful
  • knowledgeable (about their offering - nearly half of all salespeople I meet with aren't)
  • fun
  • personable

I always look forward to running into these people again.

Bottom Line: Sales is a business oriented a social interaction. 

Takeaways For Social Marketers

Social interactions and their ensuing relationships are only as strong as the least interested party wants the relationship to be.

Which sales approach do you believe best describes your brand?

Consider the value of the conversations and relationships you are building.  Who is the least interested party?  Who is putting more into these relationships?  Who has more interest in the continuity of this relationship?

How interested do you believe your average joe is in having an ongoing conversation with a brand? 
How about with an automated machine representing a brand?
How about with noone at all?

Look at any brand website:

  • How easy is it to locate an instant-on chat with a representative? 
  • How easy is it to locate a direct dial customer support phone number? 
  • How pleasant is this conversation?
  • How hard is it to have this conversation (approximate time until you can speak with a real live human)
  • Would you want to be friends with someone who took this approach towards their social interactions?

transparent privacy : tracking, targeting and user outrage

Peeping_tom Digital media users are understandably upset over undisclosed industry wide user-tracking practices that have gone on for some time now.  But where is this going and what will this do to out industry?

The History: Digital user output has always been tracked on a gross scale.  Most Popular Search Listings on search engines have been publicly available for years.  Digital/Online conversations in social networks and blogs have been monitored for some time now.  Behavioral targeting is nothing new.  Google has "reading" people's mail since the launch of Gmail.

The Question: So why is everyone crying foul over the new behavioral/contextual relevancy efforts?

The Trend: Users they never realized how much of their lives are being tracked and listened to.  Digital users never really thought about the billions of people out there with free access to watch their videos, view and save their photos, or read their public conversations. 

The Concern: What would happen if Google's walls were to come down for even a day?  What would people know about YOU if they saw every search and subsequent click off that search  - that you performed over the past few years?  What would people know about you if they were to see how your search behavior relates to that of others - and who is most like you?  Wouldn't it be scary to find out that you (as a 24 year old male) are in the same behavioral grouping as old women, tweenage girls or some sick online fetish group?  And if you don't think it's true, play around in Facebook a bit - and watch the ads.  I was in meeting just two days ago where a male salesman in his 30s got an ad for a menopause solution. No matter how he is grouped or targeted (if at all), this is an uncomfortable situation.

The Underlying Reason: Digital media is unlike analog media.  Posting to a blog isn't like speaking with friends at a Starbucks.  Digital content is liquid.  It's flows freely wherever it is welcome.  Even if I regret this post in an hour from now and choose to take it down, there is still the possibility that a blog aggregator has clipped this post or quoted me.  Once digital content is published, it's "out there" for good.

The Future: Is this user demand for privacy something we as a marketing industry need to adapt to, or is this "unprivate" world THE future - and digital users will just have to learn to live with it (as they have with Gmail)?

I really wish I had the answer to that one. 

My bet:  This is going to be decided by good old guns and butter.  It's a question of supply and demand.  Demand will be generated both by public opinion and the level of value delivered to the consumer.

  • If relevancy can deliver value to the user experience - such as a on, then most users will accept this reality and move on.
    • Caveat - If ads and widgets seem a bit too relevant to a user (such as getting an ad for erectile dysfunction on your social network page after you performed a search for ED) then users may get frightened away, even if the experience has value.  There are some times I just don't want brands to know about me.  Just because I'm interested in something, doesn't mean I want brands telling me about it ALL THE TIME.
  • If however, there is no added value, and this is a pure advertising play, then users will understandably be upset.  In this scenario one of two things can happen:
  1. Virtually every online property continues to grow their behavioral monitoring solutions.  In this world, users will have no choice other than to accept the reality of BT or pay for their online utility.  Most of us will opt for the free and tracked solution, while the older, more affluent and professional users will pay for more of their online behaviors.  This is good old fashioned. supply and demand.
  2. A handful of industry leaders will publicly take a stand against behavioral targeting and tracking.  If this happens, the public may shift onto these platforms, creating a new industry standard and new rules that everyone will have to play by.

The Bottom Line: In either case, transparency is a positive trend, impacting both the user and the marketer. Walls are coming down.  Accountability is on the rise.  If you were ever evil, it's going to come out.  If you're still evil, it's time to come clean.  Those ghosts in your closet are going to cause you trouble, it's time to start playing by the rules.  And speaking of... check out the video below. 

This is not cool.

a legal quandry - with massive implications

Sand_2 Techdirt reports on an intriguing case that while on it's own may not seem that far reaching, the implications of this legal decision may well shape the future media landscape (see below)

The Case

Flying J is a truck stop operator.

They have been paying for a license to show TV content.

They have since begun skipping their broadcasted ads and inserting their own.

The Discussion
Their argument is: time skipping is legal!  It is our right to turn off the screens during ads, or to show our own ad streams in place of the content if we so desire!

Content owners are bringing them to court for copyright infringement.

If I can legally skip ads or turn off the tv whenever ads are shown, why can't I insert my own?

In the first model the content owners ads are not shown, in the second their ads are likewise missing.  Where is their loss? 

Techdirt reports:

You could even take the argument one step further and say that if Flying J employees turned off the TV whenever commercials were on (or, more realistically, changed the channel), it would still be perfectly legal. The only thing that seems to have somehow made this illegal is the introduction of the automated device, which doesn't even do anything to the broadcasters' content (which, again, has already been paid for). It's just blocking third party content, but that third party isn't a part of the case. So it's difficult to see how this is copyright infringement at all. Instead, it sounds a lot more like felony interference of a business model masquerading as copyright infringement.

My Thoughts
I would like to believe that the content owners are correct.  When you license a TV stream, you are licensing the right to display the stream.  If you want to edit the stream, that is your right.  If you want to show other content on the same television streams, that is your right.  However, to insert your own ads - to directly monetize their content - without a contract or clause allowing such behavior, should be a violation of copyright law and the licensing agreement. 

The Implications for the Future Landscape
Perhaps the most important trend here is not the case itself, but the implications therein.  If Flying J wins, what's to stop Tivo from offering a free Tivo to every home in America - one that will timeshift and skip ad breaks in the television content, replacing them with fewer but targeted ads?  Think about it: replace a 3 minute commercial break with a 45 second break containing three targeted fifteen second ads and you've created serious equity!  This should be enough to offset the cost of the hardware, and could put a significant dent in network viewership!

I'm not a legal expert, I'm just trying to figure out where we need to draw the line.  And hey, what if there is no line?  How will this change the media landscape as we now know it? 

planning for a creative and innovative future

Finger_painting In the video below Sir Ken Robinson asks the question: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

I don't think they kill it, but they certainly don't foster it.

However, I don't believe it is necessarily the responsibility of our public schools to generate creativity.  It is however, the responsibility of our teachers and individual school administrators as the influencer's of our young minds, to encourage creativity and more importantly individualism and humanity on a student by student basis.

Vast structure and systematic progression often discourages creativity and innovation.  Math is math.  Spelling is spelling.  Elementary educational elements must be addressed before we look to build out "fluff".  You cannot build a rocket ship if you don't have a factory that makes metal.  True manufacturing metals doesn't require the same ingenuity, but it essential nonetheless.

Perhaps the greatest issue is our drive to leave no child behind.  Our focus and emphasis on "keeping up" with the standards imposed often diverts energy from "driving for excellence."

I would like to propose that our issue is not structural, but it is in our structure.  Our structure and reportability is all about hard numbers.  55 is a passing grade, over a 90 puts you on Deans list.  90 percent graduate rates and 5 percent incremental improval year of year is considered success.

Moral fiber, creativity, innovation, expression.  These are all values we encourage, but they cannot be imparted through structural education.  We need to employ national wiggle room in our systems.  We need a national endowment for "wiggle" time.  We need to empower teacher to guide the lives of their student, not just to teach them how to add and subtract.  The arts are only one form of expression.  We need to bring back shop, woodworking and community service as formalized classes.

CASE IN POINT: My college roommates' high school required that each student work an hour a day on a Senior Project.  These projects were creatively driven and students took an amazing amount of pride in their work.  Their projects were lightly graded for academic structural purposes, but the emphasis was on creativity and ingenuity.  Some students produced their own films, some painted art for local galleries or school lounges, one student recorded a CD, my friend worked for a non-profit mentoring underprivileged students.  While everyone else was ditching school, taking Advanced Placement exams or participating in work-study programs, this school was teaching innovation.  This should be a mandatory bi monthly program in every school across the country.

Our school shouldn't be graded on their "creativity and ingenuity" metrics for success, as their primary purpose is to teach our children to spell, add and appreciate history.  They should however, be encouraged to create an environment that fosters and awards excellence, be it in the classroom or beyond.

Kudos to David Armano for sharing this amazing video.

future visions: when empowerment IS annoyance marketing

Everyone but used car salesmen hate radio ads that yell at you.  They are obtrusive, they are annoying, they make you actively turn off the ad by switching stations, turning off the radio or at the very least turning down the volume.

As we transition through and beyond web 2.0, technology and connectivity will become part of and empower ever growing portions of our lives.  As our connectivity continues to grow, marketers will increasingly look to play a part of ever growing parts of consumer lives.   

And consumers will push back.

There is a line that we as an industry need to find.  I don't ever want Unilever playing an audio ad when I open my fridge.  I don't want my alarm clock projecting video ads from Folgers onto my bedroom ceiling when I wake up.  I don't want my cell phone getting bluetooth pop-ups asking me if I would like to view an ad from Macy's when I walk past their store in the local mall. 

At a certain point we need to learn to stop intruding (even if it is by empowering) and let consumers LIVE their lives.  The first brands to offer value or content normally associated with intrusive advertising FOR FREE with NO ADVERTISING OR INTRUSIVE BRAND INSERTIONS will be marked as innovative.  Mark my words.

So were do we draw this line?  I would work with three determining factors when drawing the line:

  • Personal Space
  • Interruption
  • Annoyance

If you are marketing in a place that consumer's consider "personal" you're the brand equivalent of a "close talker". It's uncomfortable, uninvited and makes people feel uneasy.  The same goes for interruptive and annoyance marketing.  The parameters that define these 3 criteria will differ by demographic, and some groups will be more open to intrusive branding than others, but I shudder when considering that my kids may grow up expecting and inviting ads and marketers into their lives in ever growing capacities. 

At a certain point, every individual will have to make this call for themselves and say - this is the place where I don't want brands.  This is MY SPACE!

And BTW (by the way) if anyone out there is in the mental health or personal development fields, this is sure to be a hot emerging market.  By the year 2020 there will be an entire professional counseling field devoted to teaching consumers to draw these lines in their own lives.  By 2025 this lesson will be part of state mandated health class curriculum's.  Remember, you heard it here first.

So how does the market evolve?  By embracing the consumer's desire to turn their marketing off.

Just as Dove stood out by anti-marketing to the beauty market, so too will the first brand who recognizes this emerging trend and markets the white space they provide for their customers, giving them room to live their lives relatively marketer free.  And that my friend's, is the ultimate empowerment.