Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Being Strategic - a visit with noted consultant Erika Andersen

Being Strategic is a book that will reside front and centre on my book shelf. Written by Erika Andersen, it's probably the most practical approach I've ever come across on how to both plan out your personal success, as well as how to get a group aligned around a vision and strategy.

What I like about Erica's approach is that she provides a clear framework and excellent examples that help you visualize the learning. She then provides exercises at the end of each chapter to put your knowledge into action.

As part of Idea Sandbox's Post2Post Book Tour, I had the chance to ask Erica about the genesis of her approach and how it might be put to brand and marketing strategy development. Enjoy!

p.s. if you haven't visited Idea Sandbox yet, check it out. You'll find inspirational ideas and more interesting books that have been reviewed by Post2Post participants like me.

My Conversation with Erika:

Me: Most courses on strategy focus on solving a business issue. You start by focusing on the reader - helping them think through their personal goals or challenges strategically in order to build strategic thinking as a skill. How/why did you develop this approach?

Erika: I wanted people to know they can apply the skills and mindset of being strategic to any aspect of their lives. I’ve seen that the more traditional “case study” approach tends not to accomplish this; it implies that strategy is something that only applies to business – and often, only to large complex business. I feel strongly that being strategic is an important capability that can be applied almost universally – to businesses, careers and lives.

Me: Your book seems very timely. Many people are re-evaluating their priorities and goals due to lost jobs and diminished investment portfolios. How have individuals or families used your approach to face these new challenges?

Erika: Over the past few years, my colleagues and I have helped many people – from mid-level folks who’ve been laid-off, to high-potential young women leaders wanting to create a great career, to senior executives re-thinking (as you say) their life priorities – to use this approach to create a vision of the future they most want for themselves.

I was honored that one of our clients, Bonnie Hammer, who runs the USA Networks, ScyFy, and the Universal Cable Production Studios, has said of this work that, “it’s a clear, powerful, practical approach for navigating through tough times.” I truly hope that individuals and families who read my book will be able to apply the skills and process to navigate through these times and create the lives they most want. That was an important reason for writing the book – to make this approach available to a larger audience

Me: The readers of the Essential Orange are interested in how brands come to life. Do you have an example of how you’ve used your approach to develop a brand strategy?

We often work with clients around brand (although we certainly don’t consider ourselves brand strategists) using the being strategic approach. First we help them define their challenge - which usually sounds something like: “How can we establish a brand that expresses our unique value and is truly compelling for our core customer?”

Then we help them clarify their current reality relative to their challenge. After that, we help them focus on two aspects of “what’s the hope,” that is, of their hoped-for future relative to the challenge: 1) who do you hope to have as core customers, and 2) what 3-4 brand attributes best express the experience you want your brand to promise to those core customers? Once they’ve defined their core customer and selected their brand attributes, we generally hand off the client to a branding consultancy to create the “path” – the strategies and tactics to build and implement the brand.

Me: Getting a group of people with competing agendas to agree on a marketing strategy is like herding cats. What advice would you give to a marketing leader faced with this challenge?

Erica: That’s why I wrote the second half of the book! Getting a group to agree to approach their challenge strategically, and then actually to work together to craft good, solid vision and strategy, requires some specific skills and understanding. So, my overall advice is – read the book.

But seriously, one tip; defining the challenge first is a huge step in the right direction. “Competing agendas” often simply means that people are trying to solve different problems, and so will simply devolve into “dueling solutions.” If you can get the whole team to a shared understanding of the key problem they’re trying to solve, then they’re at least at the same starting point.

In the book, I use the example of the marketing group at a mythical company called “” Their challenge in the book is, “How can we define ourselves as the primary authority on “greenness” for parents of young children?” starting with that clarity is hugely helpful – even for made-up marketing people. ;-)

Me: When developing a strategy with a group, it’s hard to be a facilitator while having a stake in the outcome. What tips do you have for managing this process without appearing to have “an agenda”?

I agree that’s difficult. I have two ideas to offer, one more strategic, and one more tactical. On the strategic level, it’s important to enter into the facilitator role only if you are truly open to the group’s conclusion. If you as the leader enter into the process pre-committed to a particular outcome, it will be disastrous. I feel very strongly about this: if someone is pretending to facilitate a group process while trying to move the group toward a pre-determined outcome, he or she will completely lose credibility and forfeit the group’s passion and commitment to the outcome. So, if you as the leader are going to attempt to facilitate this process, reflect deeply beforehand to decide whether you’re going to be able to be a true facilitator for the group.

Now on the tactical level. It’s completely legitimate, as the leader, to go back and forth between the facilitator role and the participant role. The key is letting people know which role you’re playing at any given moment. For instance, during a discussion you’re facilitating, when you believe you have something of value to add as a participant, you might say, “I’d like to take off my facilitator hat for a minute here, if that’s OK with everyone: I have a comment to make from my own perspective.” Once you’ve gotten the group’s OK, say what you have to say and then note that you’re returning to the facilitator’s role. By doing this, you can maintain the integrity of the facilitator’s role and still participate in the discussion.

Thanks Erika. If you want to read more reviews on Erika's book, check out:

Thomas H. Magness, Leader Business

Phil Gerbyshak, Slacker Manager

Monday, July 27, 2009

How brands are using tracking to build trust

According to an article in USA Today, the new American obsession is to track everything from packages to pizza delivery, to tracking how taxpayer money is being spent. To give you an indication of the interest in tracking, in 1995, UPS had a total of 100,000 online requests for the month of December. In 2008, UPS received an average of 27.3 million requests per day for December.

Does this need for tracking address a human desire for control in a chaotic world? Whatever the psychological need, it definitely is a way that brands can engage longer with customers long after the purchase button has been pressed. It’s also a way brands can deepen their relationship with customers by building excitement and trust.

Here are a couple of examples:

Dominos Pizza
Domino's rolled out Pizza Tracker last year which gives consumers a window into the status of their pizzas as well as Domino's a window into the online world of its customers. The Pizza Tracker is used by 75% of Domino's online customers. Besides connecting consumers to their pizzas, the tracker gives the first names of workers who make and deliver their order.

Fed-Ex gets 6 million package-tracking requests daily, and according to Mark Colombo, senior vice president of digital access marketing, "tracking is one of our top drivers for customer satisfaction," "People are obsessed with it." FedEx has 14 tracking "events" for the average package, from pickup to when it gets on the plane to when it's on a local truck to delivery. Consumers can choose to be notified of any of these handoffs.

Some folks are big trackers of flights. That's why Daniel Baker started FlightAware in 2005. It's a free service that receives FAA information and converts it into maps that track almost all non-military flights in the USA and Canada. That's about 50,000 flights a day. The service receives 100 million flight-tracking requests a month. You can also check out, yet another flight tracking service.

Government Spending
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made millions tracking data, is giving New Yorkers the chance to track city agency performance. The website includes 550 data points that residents can track — from the response time of the local fire department to how quickly potholes are filled.


There is also a cottage industry being created through tracking. For example, through you can track the habits of your newborn. The software converts daily data (sleeping, pooping, feeding) into formatted charts. Not sure if those trends help sleep-deprived parents better cope, but for the track-a-holic, this makes for interesting reading.

The Opportunity
Tracking feels like a way to reassure the consumer that their individual purchase or request is important. People don’t have to call a number, be put on hold or get lost in complex phone trees. And while it is an automated feature, is feels personal, allowing you to feel just a bit more in control.

What services do you offer that might benefit the consumer? Here are a couple ideas:

Grocery or Specialty shops – when the truffles are arriving, the Copper River Salmon shipment, Fiddleheads……etc

Fashion Retailer – which shows your buyers are attending or a countdown to a truck show or sale

Photographer/Musician – where are you performing or doing a photoshoot

The possibilities seem endless. Have you seen some cool applications that you can share?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Blame it on Canada - Facebook and stricter Canadian Privacy Laws

I had to publish this from Mashable. Not only because of the privacy issue but of the fact that 33.333333 per cent of Canadians are on Facebook. OMG!!! That's a third of country - wild! Oh yes, and did I mention that I'm Canadian so very interested in these cross-border cultural differences.

So here goes:

Facebookcanada - A Canadian privacy commission report released on Thursday says that Facebook breaches privacy laws there.

The report, outlined by Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart at a press conference in Ottawa, criticizes the fact that Facebook retains user information after users have closed their accounts.

Facebook has around 12 million Canadian users, which equates to 1/3 of the population; and yet the country’s privacy commission expressed “an overarching concern” that Facebook’s privacy information displayed to users is “often confusing or incomplete.” Other criticisms were targeted at Facebook’s apps program: the report says too much private data is provided to 3rd party developers.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s retention of data from deactivated accounts violates the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the commission claims.

Facebook has been given 30 days to implement the changes, and has already agreed to “most” of them, according to a release. Facebook (Facebook) Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly is quoted in an AFP report on the issue as saying “We continue our dialogue and have every confidence that we will come to acceptable conclusions. I think the concerns are fully resolvable.”

An Ode To Authenticity - Walter Cronkite's legacy

Walter Cronkite has left this earth. What made him unique was his passion for the truth no matter how difficult or how pressured he was by censorship. He felt an immense responsibility toward his audience. He was authentic, he was someone who spoke your language - someone you could trust. He left an incredible legacy and imprint on all of us. His emotional reporting of the Kennedy assassination through heartfelt tears, his glee and encouragement for the Appolo astronauts flight to the Moon, the debacle of the Vietnam war and a America forever changed.

The world is a different place without this statesman of the truth. As a celebration of Walter's goodness, his authenticity, his wisdom and heartfelt connection to the telling of the human condition, I wanted to share this lovely Ode from Walt Whitman:,

Song of Myself, Part 1

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

Walt Whitman was a poet of great standing. His book, Leaves of Grass, published in 1876, is full of inspirational messages for poets everywhere.

Song of Myself, a poem with over 50 parts, is a deep "song" of Whitman, and aptly portrays him as he believed himself to be.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The new un-Starbucks

Starbucks has announced that it is launching a new concept - a cafe that will serve beer and wine in addition to coffee and tea. While the concept of serving wine and beer at a cafe isn't innovative - the Europeans have been doing this for centuries, what is interesting, however, is that Starbucks is launching a chain of un-branded cafes. The pilot cafe will simply be called the "15th Avenue Coffee and Tea shop" - a rather neighbourly if generic name. Starbucks plans on launching a couple more of these cafes - one assumes using neighbourhood descriptors.

And this from Starbucks - lauded the world round as the king of the branded experience. The very same Starbucks whose green dot logo is worth billions.

Hmmm. Can you brand and create intrinsic value from a look or experience without a logo? Can you create a chain of cafes without a common name? If there were no more logos, what would Naomi Klein call her next book? (OK, just kidding)

What do you think about Starbucks new move?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

United Breaks Guitars - UA's PR Gaff

You can run but you cannot hide when it comes to PR blunders. This week, United certainly received a tough lesson in customer relations and how not to manage a PR crisis. All brand managers take note - social media can be your friend, or in this case, your worst nightmare.

In the spring of 2008, Canadian singer songwriter Dave Carroll was traveling with his band Sons of Maxwell to Nebraska for a one-week tour and witnessed his Taylor guitar being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. He later discovered that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. While United didn’t deny the experience occurred, United employees kept passing the buck from person to person, refusing to deal with his issue. After nine months, United finally said they would do nothing to compensate Dave for his loss.

Frustrated, Dave decided to go viral with his complaint in the best way he knew how - he wrote a song and produced a video which he launched on YouTube. The story was picked up by CNN and other news channels and within days Dave became a hero; an overnight sensation. United responded to the video by agreeing to reimburse Dave, but the damage to their reputation was already done. As I write, over 2 million people have played Dave's video and it has prompted a viral outpouring of empathy.

This is another great case study to add to the annals of social media and brand crisis management (along with Motrin and Dominos), where companies learn the hard lesson in today's digital world, that every customer's voice counts and that the tenor of that voice can be echoed a million times in a matter of days. But the real issue for United goes much deeper. You've got to believe that there is an aspect of the culture at the airline that enabled this crisis - a culture where employees are limited by rulebooks rather than empowered to do what's right for the customer. In brand building every consumer touch-point counts, and as we've seen in so many other companies whether they be Southwest, Starbucks or Zappos, employees at every level can make or break a brand experience.

Maybe this crisis will make United start to think a little differently about managing the brand experience.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

State Farm Insurance and the tale of the moonwalking crazy pink bunny

Last week I wrote about smartphones. Since one out of seven minutes of media consumption today is through mobile devices, this is an important communications platform for brands. With mobile usage expected to grow by 60 percent over the next two years, marketers should be thinking about how they can leverage these devices to build the brand and drive the business.

Mobile advertising is certainly one avenue marketers can pursue. According to new research from IPG's Universal McCann and AOL, mobile users are surprisingly accepting of advertising. Amongst 1800 respondents polled, 38 percent said they had taken action based on mobile ads. Almost 30 percent said mobile ads had led them to share information, while 22 percent said mobile ads had influenced a purchase decision.."

However, Forrester Research isn’t as bullish as the AOL folks who commissioned the study referenced above, citing hurdles such as complexity around metrics, carrier relationships and limited consumer mobile data use as stifling mainstream mobile marketing today. The firm doesn't expect mobile spending to pick up until mid-2011 as brands continue to rely on more established avenues for marketing products and services.

Advertising complexities aside, what I continue to find promising for brands are mobile apps; where you are building something of value that your target actually wants to download. Mobile apps are a great example of permission based or “inbound” marketing, something that does not buy you immediate eyeballs but builds more meaningful relationship with your users. All sorts of brands are experimenting with mobile apps as it's an area rich in possibilities for building loyalty and driving sales.

Recently the savvy (e)retailer Best Buy introduced Best Buy Weekly Deals, a mobile app designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Once the app is downloaded, users can view weekly deals and mobile-only specials and find the nearest Best Buy store. A mobile app can offer a richer, faster customer experience than a mobile commerce web site because many of the features and design elements are stored on the smartphone. This means that these elements do not have to be regularly downloaded from servers, and because an app can integrate with smartphone features such as an address book or GPS navigation, it can greatly enhance functionality.

And then there is State Farm and the tale of the moonwalking crazy bunny. State Farm has recently introduced an iPhone app that acts as a "pocket insurance agent" allowing you to submit a claim directly, with pictures and details, the moment you're in an accident. Now, I don’t personally expect to have an accident happen frequently enough to have an insurance app taking up valuable storage space on my iPhone, but perhaps some do and will covet this app.

However, it’s not the app that I have an issue with – it’s the ad campaign. State Farm is attempting to offer convenience and build trust by “being there” with this app, however, their advertising is totally out of brand character. The ad features a pink bunny that goes berserk and dismantles a guy's car in a parking lot. While this is happening, the car owner is sitting in the car using the app to send in the damage report.

I don’t know about you, but I'm scared

Who’s in charge of brand strategy over there?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cell phones - addiction, bane or remedy for modern life?

We are tethered to our cell phones – we leave the house with the “holy trinity” – keys, wallet, cell phone. And if you’re a smartphone user like me, we manage our life through our smartphones by staying organized and plugged in through the calendar, email and text functions. We amuse ourselves with our favourite pics, games and music. When we’re lost we use the navigation function to pinpoint our location and give us directions. Oh yes, and it allows us to stay connected to folks through Facebook, Twitter or MySpace and, let’s not forget, the actual phone. And I haven’t even started on some of the cool apps out there. Where would I be without my iPhone?

It seems, according to a poll conducted by Best Buy Mobile, that I am not alone in my attachment to my mobile phone. “One in three people would prefer to give up TV for their cell phones, 60% say they'd rather give up alcohol for a week than their cell phones, and 37% would rather have a cell phone than an umbrella if caught in a rainstorm. About 15% even say they'd rather have their teeth drilled at the dentist's office than give up their mobile phone for a week”.

What I also found interesting in the poll was that while one in five American adults had a smartphone, everyone else is befuddled by all the choices. The poll, which included 500 men and 500 women, found that of those who plan to buy a smartphone in the next 12 months, 47% say they are too confused to make a decision yet.

The major barriers? More than half -- 53% -- are torn about which brand or model to buy, including 52% of women and 42% of men. And close to 40% of those planning purchases say they have not taken the plunge yet because they hate shopping for electronics, period -- with 45% of women expressing this concern. And 64% of the respondents overall say they think the devices are just too pricey.

Is it any wonder? Buying a phone, especially if you don’t know what model you want can be daunting. Not only do you have to figure what phone to get but then there’s the complexity of the carrier and the plan. Is it better to get your cell phone at Best Buy or go directly to a carrier’s retail store front? Yikes – just thinking about it is dizzying. This spells great opportunity to cell phone companies to simplify the buying process and to continue to amp up the branding/emotional connection. It might also be a great opportunity for an e-commerce entrepreneur to 'amazon' all the phones and plans out there and create a selector process based on lifestyle, features, benefits and pricing to help consumers with the purchase process. (Did I just give away a good idea? ;+)

So what about it? Are cell phones an addiction, bane or remedy for modern life?