Category Archives: Business

Transparency in Your Business

P&G’s recent backlash for shipping a “new and improved” version of Pampers diapers in old packaging is a lesson proving the value in coporate transparency.   Social media has amplified customer’s voice, which can spread rapidly over social networks.  In this case, upset Pamper customers have put P&G’s new brand in jeopardy before it has even officially launched.

It goes without saying that P&G didn’t handle this product introduction very well.  They’ve also struggled to respond to their critics in an effective manner (read: using social media platforms to inform and respond to buyers of Pamper diapers).  However, injecting transparency in your company is not only important for preventing similar failures, but it is also important for establishing an authentic voice in your business.

Achieving transparency is easier said than done.  Organizations need to give their clients insight to their company, products and services without giving up too much competitive intelligence.  Ultimately, transparency breeds an authentic company.  Customers gravitate towards authenticity and your long-term business will benefit by having more connected customers.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and share the type of information that could provide value in their life. Find an authentic voice that connects you (and builds a valued relationship) with your customer.

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Looking Back and Looking Forward

In review of 2008, I thought Twitter had already arrived.  In reflecting back on 2009, I didn’t expect Twitter to continue to grow with such fervor in 2009, but then again I never expected Oprah to jump on board either.  I don’t know if Twitter will maintain it’s growth, but I can emphatically say that micro-blogging is here to stay.

As social media and mobile continued to evolve (FourSquare) in 2009, 2010 has changed the talk from should we embrace to new communication tools to how we can deploy them for enterprise.  App development is moving full steam ahead and useful ones like Evernote and Jott are sure to provide more value to businesses and consumers alike.

Many analyts think 2010 will be the Year of Social ROI.  I’ve been working on metrics and analytics this past year and with the belt-straps becoming tighter at companies, ROI is becoming more directly embedded in marketing decisions.  This is good news for data junkies as they will be in high demand.  In reality though, there is more to social media than a simple dollar value return. Customer service, branding, product development and other functions within a company will find more value in social media as it matures.

Transparency will also continue to be crucial for successful social media programs but many bigger companies continue to struggle with this.  Between layers of bureaucracy and legal approval, use of social media has been watered down to say the least.  This year, I expect more companies to adopt social media policies that give corporations a more authentic voice.  Common sense prevails, hurray!

I’m excited about 2010.  We are still in the infancy of digital marketing and new ways of communicating are sure to provide great opportunities for entrepreneurs and marketers.

Bobby Bowden Management

Bobby BowdenAs a native of Tallahassee, FL, I am of course a huge Florida State football fan.  With Bobby Bowden coaching his last game this week I’ve been thinking about what made him so successful.  For the uninitiated, Bowden oversaw one of the greatest runs in college football history.  From 1987 to 2000, 14 straight years, FSU finished in the top five of the AP college football poll.

How did Bobby Bowden do it?
I posit his ability to recruit the best players coupled with his delegating management style gave him the winning edge to build the Seminole dynasty from the ground up.

A media darling and adept recruiter, Bowden quickly learned that delegating responsibilities to assistant coaches allowed his program to flourish.  And with Bowden’s delegating management style in effect he was afforded additional time to focus on what he does best – recruit the best players. During Florida State’s 14-year winning streak his staff held tight and the rest is history.

As an entrepreneur, it’s often difficult to relinquish control and let those you hire to do their work without micromanaging them.  Avoid this by hiring employees that are smarter than you, giving them the reins to succeed and holding them accountable if they fall short. Hiring the best employees is difficult, but crucial to your long-term success.

And Bobby would agree having said, “He who gets the best players usually wins.”  And Bobby Bowden usually did just that.

Avoid Enemies of Change

Companies that spot trends early on and get transform their business focus at the right time are in the minority.  Why do some companies have blinders on when accessing trends?  A company’s very success is often what holds them back from seizing opportunities.  The mindset of leaders is crucial to combating this enemy of change.

We tend to be creatures of our past; our experience shapes what we believe and our perception of reality.  In sum, everyone is biased.  Our history and success are strong sources of our bias.  What often sets good leaders apart from leaders who miss opportunities is colored vision.  Good leaders see beyond their bias and spot trends that may be disparate from their past experience.

Automatically assuming something based on bias can handcuff you from changing direction to capitalize on a fruitful opportunity.  To combat bias and gain clarity, I recommend organizations use numbers and metrics to quantify trends and dispel bias that doesn’t mesh with the trends.

Avoid the enemies of change. Put your history and success in your back pocket while assessing your reality.  Use an unbiased view to ensure you can see trends as they really are and find opportunities that you may have missed before.

Dream Big, Narrow Your Focus

I dream big.  I also know that focusing on the key customer-driven components of my business solution and aligning my company’s processes around those elements is the best way to turn my big dreams into a successful business.

In a small business, it’s all too easy to get distracted by potential development opportunities that add breadth to your product or service line.  Don’t fall prey to this lure.  Ensure your success by selling a viable product or service before taking misguided steps that steer your attention away from your company’s mission.

Focus on one specific solution and deliver it better than anyone else.  This will lay the ground work to pursue more intricate business opportunities down the line.  Take a cue from 37Signals build a simple focused product like BaseCamp and parlay that success into other complimentary products that add additional value to your enthusiastic client base.

For entrepreneurs, it’s critical you define and stay focused on what your customer needs are and deliver your solution that is so focused on those needs that your customer’s alternative options become substandard in comparison.

Customer prospecting and marketing research upfront is key to accurately determine whether your solution meets your target market’s needs.  Once these needs are defined and you have your product mission statement, you can focus on developing your core product or service.

For example, let’s say I’m a window washer that’s discovered my customers want eco-friendly washing detergents and fast service. That’s great, but are they actually going to pay money for these proclamations? Be sure your prospect wants, is willing to pay for, and has the ability to purchase your product or solution.

As a window washer, If I find my prospects are more willing to pay for fast service then you better believe every decision I make will be guided by this need for speed, and my marketing efforts will position my services as the speediest window washer in town!

The takeaway from all this is when your starting out, narrow your focus, deliver a solution that meet your paying customers needs and parlay your success into developing complimentary solutions.  Dream big, but stay focused.  Your success awaits!

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Problem Solving With Monet

Our ability to problem solve is often directly correlated with our levels of success. Regardless of what function or role we inhabit, we are constantly bombarded with obstacles that require a measured response.

I prefer to view these problems as opportunities to improve a situation.  As the saying goes, “when life serves you lemons, make lemonade.”

Up close Monet's paints are difficult to make out, but from afar they are a thing of beauty - When analyzing your problem take a step back and to improve your perspective of the problem.

Apply a Monet framework to problem solving. Up close, Monet's paints are difficult to make out; from afar they are a thing of beauty. When analyzing a problem, improve your perspective by taking a step back to understand all of the problem's elements.

To improve your response, approach particularly troublesome problems using a problem-solving framework.  In my framework, I look at the situation like I view Monet paintings – from afar. I assume a third-party perspective that enables me to take a step back and hypothesize all stakeholder points of view.  From this perspective I recommend you:

Define the problem.
What’s causing it? Without knowing what the problem is and what’s causing it, you’ll either be fixing problems that don’t need fixing or not finding the right solution

Understand what you can control.
If you have no control over some aspect of the problem, don’t focus your efforts on solving the problem by trying to change that element.  Think creatively about how you can solve the problem and consider changing directions that circumvent that element entirely.

List you potential solutions.
Come up with potential solutions to fix the cause of your problem or change the landscape entirely.  Improve your creativity by brainstorming ideas with others to develop possible solutions.  Additional perspectives can give you a more complete view of the whole picture.  I also find it helpful to look at other solutions to disparate problems and see if those can be applied to your problem at hand.

Pick the best option and act on it.
Once you settle on the best option for solving the problem you’ve defined, take the steps to carry it out.  You’ll find this process is very rewarding, especially if you start seeing immediate results.  If this solution doesn’t solve your problem. Great! Now you know and you can move back through these steps to see what options you have to approach the problem that exists now.

Move on
Often, I find out problems aren’t as bad as they initially appear.  Problems can be great opportunities to explore new directions in your business.  Hopefully, your problem-solving process will have the results you desire.  Once you decide on a solution to a problem, it is often best to move on and tackle the next problems opportunity that comes your way.  This is particularly true for problems you don’t have any control over.  Don’t waste your time dwelling on what went wrong or why the situation isn’t fair; learn from your missteps and move forward by proactively taking steps to be successful.

Is Apple Evil? Part Two

SAN FRANCISCO - JUNE 19:  Apple Store employee...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Yes.  Apple is evil.  That’s right I said it.  Despite its cult of worshipers, Apple is the new Microsoft, or better yet, the embodiment of the monopolistic enterprise their 1984 commercial mobilized us against.

It’s hard truth for me to come to grips with because Apple still makes great products. For the record, I’ve owned a MacBook for a almost two years and used Macs since college.  Additionally, I own an iPod and finally secured an iPhone (see Part One).  Needless to say I like their product portfolio, but that doesn’t give them a pass for being evil.

Why is Apple evil?
Apple misrepresents its products and brand, mistreats its distributors and software developers, and it doesn’t act in its customers’ best interest.

1) Apple misrepresents itself – I can give a partial pass to Apple for the extent of their misrepresentation because the cult of Apple fans is partly to blame for spreading many of the misconception about Apple’s products.  These misconceptions and misrepresentations include:

  • Apple Computers Don’t Crash – This is not true.  This is one of my main beefs with Apple since it is simply not accurate at all.  My MacBook, while certainly more stable than most PCs crashes on a regular basis and other Mac owners I know have admitted to the same.  I’ve even used Macs in the Apple store and had them crash on me right in the store.
  • Apple is Virus Free – Also, not true.  Plus, with the way the applications we use are moving to an ASP (Application Service Provider) model, viruses and the things that kill your productivity are more vulnerable to attack within the browser.  Safari as a browser, despite it’s recent updates, has a lot of improvements to make before being considered a viable option for my web browser of choice.
  • Apple is Plug and Play – It would be exhausting for me to name all the peripherals I’ve tried to connect to my MacBook and either didn’t succeed or had to figure out what software/drivers to download and install for them to communicate with my computer.
  • iPhones 3GS is MMS Compatible – To bring my misrepresentation case home, Apple is being sued for heavily featuring the ability to send multimedia text messages with the iPhone 3GS in its massive advertising campaign.  This feature is one of the main reasons I waited so long to get an iPhone and to see that it still isn’t part of the iPhone I just purchased makes me feel extremely misled.  At least I now know why some of my MMS texts, weren’t being received by my iPhoning friends this Summer.

Apple mistreats their affiliates and software partners – If you are a distributor of the Apple iPhone, good luck making money off selling this piece of hardware.  Best Buy sells the iPhone (with service plan) and if the phone is returned, they lose a significant amount of money from the sale.   For Best Buy’s sake, I hope AT&Ts wireless coverage is good because if it isn’t, selling the iPhone would not be in their best interest.

Also, Apple doesn’t exactly make it easy for software developers to develop apps or software for their products.  This “open-minded” hip brand cracks down on apps that Apple doesn’t consider tasteful and plays “culture cop” for its iPhone applications.  Their mismanagement of the App Store has resulted in apps as innocuous as dictionaries being denied.  Uggh.

Apple doesn’t act in their customers’ best interest – First let me remind you what spawned this post I’ve been thinking about for some time now.  This past Friday, I took a trip to the Apple Store to buy an iPhone.  This trip tells the story of Apple’s overt inconsideration for customers by choosing to only service customers buying computers over those interested in iPhones.  This experience goes down in my annuls for examples of bad customer service.

That experience aside, more disturbing to me is Apple’s practice of limiting what its customers can do on their platforms.  The iTunes closed environments holds music you’ve purchased hostage from other platforms.  And Apple’s recent battles with Palm highlight this monopolistic practice even more.  The saying “There’s an App for that” should be “there’s an App for that if Apple thinks its stock-holders will benefit from allowing you to access it.”  Apple has blocked Google Voice and a slew of other apps that would benefit their customers – further exposing the degree to which they go against the forward-thinking brand image they still somehow enjoy.

Don’t be Evil
After this diatribe, it’s any wonder why I still buy or want Apple products.  The fact remains that Apple produces useful products; I just don’t care for their unjustified fanfare.  The evangelism doesn’t appear to fading anytime soon, but if Apple doesn’t start making itself more transparent and its platforms more open in our increasingly collaborative environment, they may require another bailout from Microsoft to stay afloat.  Jason Calanious, once an avid fan of Apple, sums up what’s wrong with Apple the best by saying:

Making great products does not absolve you from technology’s cardinal rule: Don’t be evil.

So Apple, are you up to the challenge?  Will you live up to your image of being an open, innovative forward-thinking company?  It’s your move and I for one am hoping you come back to the light side!