Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Blogging in the Flesh

Last Wednesday I decided to join Neville Hobson and Debbie Weil at the Hereford Arms in London for their proposed blogger get together. An interesting group assembled and I got to meet Mark White who has commented on a previous post of mine and some other interesting guys: Tom Shelly from the Economist, Alex Manchester from Melcrum, Martyn Davies and Matt O’Neill.

Neville challenged us all to come up with some comments for a podcast – he’s now published on his blog and we had a wide ranging discussion from politics to the value of face to face meetings. Like the previous Saturday when I got together a bunch of people to meet face to face I found the evening great fun and very rewarding. It is interesting to note how much faster the conversation gets going when despite meeting for the first time face to face, there is common understanding and in some way a prior relationship, where one has been reading their blogs and may have been involved in an online conversation.

Although I didn’t join in the conversation that evening about the Edelman / Walmart controversy, I listened with interest to the passionate views and have been reading some of the many posts around about this subject. Although I understand the anger and disappointment exhibited by some commentators I am amazed at the level of coverage this debate is getting. Nothing and no one is perfect, and I am sure everyone is still on a steep learning curve when it comes to social media, mistakes and misjudgements will probably be made by everyone at some point.

We also discussed the lack of understanding of social media inside corporations today, the challenge is there for the blogosphere – let’s keep our passion and energy focussed on that.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Heaven help me.....not politics!

Not being a great fan of politics I never really considered making a political comment on my blog. But twice today people I know have hit me with a political view. The first was Shel Israel's encounter with David Cameron and now an old friend of mine sent me a link to this new blog called the Majority Party and I must say it was a great read. Hope you find it stimulating!

Corporate Comment Control

JB3 raises a very interesting issue in his comment on my earlier post about Strategic Marketing:

“It can do all those great things, but the problem as I see it is, if companies control the content of a blog. What if someone is posting legitimate problems or outcomes with a product or service? Should the company be allowed to erase that from their blog?”

Clearly the blog owner is responsible for the content on their blog and there is no issue in my mind that moderating out profanity and unnecessary bad attitude is totally acceptable. Shel Israel calls it his “living room comment policy”.

For me there is also an issue when it comes to subject matter, if I am discussing a topic- because this is what I know about i.e. marketing, and someone joins my conversation and starts discussing something I know nothing about (i.e. football) or where it seems totally irrelevant to my topic - I'd say it was reasonable to at least question the relevance with the commenter before publishing. Fortunately I haven't had to do this - nor do I really expect to have to do this on my personal blog.

However in a large corporation it is reasonable to expect that an engineering department in Europe would know nothing about customer service in North America. (Not even considering the fact that many multinationals have various siloed product divisions under one brand). I don't think it’s appropriate for commenters to expect to be published if they try to address their North American service issues in a European technology discussion.

Nevertheless if I was a corporate blogger and I received off topic comments I'd certainly be forwarding those remarks off line to those capable of responding. The important thing here is for corporate blogs to be clear of their mandate, their scope of conversation and their ability to respond. It comes back to setting expectations for your readership. However as a corporate blogger you need to build trust with your readers, it would be unwise to moderate comments on matters you are clearly involved with, your responsiveness and openness are vital to maintain credibility.

It is also interesting to note that it is only about 1 in 500 readers on my blog that actually make a comment – (and I hear that is on the high side) - so a good question is: how appropriate is it for a vocal minority to potentially shift the conversation off the blog or post topic.

I’d revert back to Shel’s analogy of the living room, however justified the person may feel in making their comment isn’t it a question of manners and how a participant goes about building a relationship. Those that are not interested in a relationship and just want to rant or get sensational should not be made welcome. How different are these approaches for the example I created with a corporate technology blog focussed on Europe -

"When are you guys going to fix my problem, you just can't get your act together and I am fed up beating my head against a brick wall here in North America"

"Excuse me do you know how I can get help with my service issue in North America, I can't find any other blog or individual to talk too on this subject?"

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Shel, Rick Hugh et al

As per Shel’s post we had a great evening last Saturday when seven of my colleagues who have all been talking about the impact of social media on our lives and businesses met up with a few gurus on the subject.

Here is a picture of the dinner courtesy of Shel, and I’m sure there will be other pictures to follow.

Nick and Andrew my friends from Stonk media grabbed the initiative and interviewed Rick Segal, Shel Israel and Hugh MacLeod on the subject of corporate blogging, it’s a really good five minute insight. Download on thir post here

I have been asked a few times since the get together – what was the big take out for me. You know it’s very difficult to nail this with a good answer. I was delighted to see so much great conversation occurring and relationships being formed – who knows where any of them will bring value - but my expectation is that some will.

Maybe Bob will sell Shel an authorised signed reprint of a famous Pink Floyd album cover (yes Shel's last great rock music passion) – or perhaps Hugh and his business partner Jason Korman may have tempted a few more to try out Stormhoek wine – I doubt any of us can afford one of his suits. Also met with Henk Kleynhams from Skyrove and really interesting hotspot business concept, check out his movie.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Active Conversations but no mask on me

I invited a small group of friends and colleagues to dinner back in August. As a result of reading Naked Conversations I decided we needed to discuss the impact of blogging on businesses and in particular the ramifications for marketing and communication agencies.

We had such a good “on going” conversation we decided to start a group blog to represent and continue our round table discussion on line. This meant that everyone would need to start their own individual blog, mine was already up and running – although using the dreadful Blogger software.

Bob’s company Signals kindly offered to organise the group software and hosting. I plan to migrate across to the new platform very shortly. Two of the guys have already started posting on their new blogs: “The Podcaster” and the “The Signaller” and the others “The Voice”, “Talkin’ Pictures” and “The Navigator” will all start in the next few days.

To be different and create interest beyond the content (which we hope will be top notch) we planned to develop some interesting graphics (not as you see the blogs now) and a “mother” page that portrays the interaction in the group discussion. This emphasis on presentation and structure would also help us understand how corporate blogs could evolve, without compromising authentic individual contributions.

Unlike most of the group I have come from a corporate marketing background. In general corporations are not yet decided on the true value of blogging, however since leaving my corporate role I have discovered real benefits to shareholder value and customer relationships and have set about convincing former colleagues and peers (and anyone else who wants to listen).

Nevertheless despite allegations (as per Shel's reference to another misguided blogger) – I am not Apple’s "Masked Blogger", a quick check would verify I have never worked there.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Blogger Hell

Sorry it seems that all day I haven't been able to republish my blog. I don't think this is unsual for Blogger, although its ususally only been a problem before for a couple of hours, today its been impossible for at least 12 hours!

I wanted to republish as several comments are not showing up on the posts, so if you've added a comment and it hasn't showed up yet - its not because I've moderated it out!

I doubt I'll get this post to publish now (1st timed at 1.05 am 5th Oct) - but who knows with Blogger it's a real B*gger!

PS no need to comment on changing tools - I'm working on it now....

4th attempt to publish – this time from email

tried again at 7am 5th attempt and now again at 10.40pm on the 5th Oct 6th try.........

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Memory Test - 20 years on

Who remembers the top selling PC of 1986. The Amstrad PC1512 stormed the UK market in the autumn that year with an entry price point of £399 for a Single 5.25” floppy drive / monochrome version. Equipped with a fast 8086 Intel processor and 512kB of memory it carved the personal computer market up on price and ease of use. It was a real pioneer product, did you own one and what did it mean to you if you did?

The dual floppy colour version would have set you back about £700.

I have fond memories of 1986, not only did I pull together a bunch of fledgling PC distributors to take on this range (many of them hadn't distributed PC's before) but I also managed to fit in getting married at the same time. I was trying to remember who the original distributors were and from memory they included:
  1. MBS (later to merge with Combro – then become Technology plc and got bought out by ICL / Fujitsu) - the orginal IBM PC distributor
  2. Northamber - still chugging along
  3. P& P Micro - didn't it move into training? - not sure of the full story
  4. Norbain Micro (somehow – can’t remember- evolved into Ingram UK)
  5. First Software (later called Frontline then bought by C2000 / TechData)
  6. Hugh Symons - still going but not doing the same thing anymore
  7. Eltec - really not sure what happend up there in Bradford
  8. Lightning (later to be bought by Parkfield) - gone
  9. Micro Peripherals - still going great guns
  10. ADL (subsidiary company) - folded back into main organisation
I may have missed one or two off the list, please remind me! You might want to help complete the fates. Also from memory we mass registered about 4000 authorised resellers and together we advance sold tens of thousands of these PC’s before they even docked in the UK. The PC1512 was upgraded the following year by the PC1640 (640kB memory and a better resolution colour monitor) but we kept selling both models for several years – at least until 1989. In 1987 these were the number one selling PC’s with well over 20% market share. The strange coincidence is now Dell is selling PC’s again from around this price and it must have around 20% share in the UK market, how times have changed!

Some of the team still get together - see my earlier post on reunions - but the idea came up to organise a really big event to celebrate 20 years of personal computing in the UK. Do you think it would have legs? More importantly get sponsors?

Your memory/trivia test: What was Alan Sugar's ledgendary response to the unfounded claim that the PC1512 needed a fan?

Firefox to Internet Explorer and Back Again

A few weeks ago now I switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox and have been very happy with the experience. In particular I like the active bookmarks and tab views.

Then on my last blog post I saw a problem with the formatting of the bullet points – some html code was showing up on some peoples PC’s. However I and some of my other friends couldn’t see the issue at all. The reason was that I had created my post whilst using Firefox and those people seeing the errors were using IE. Of course this isn’t a new issue but it was new to me and the thought of having to check all my posts for compatibility before publishing certainly didn’t fill me with delight.

Checking around I found a blog talking about this: Firefox Review and a recommended neat little plug in to Firefox that allows you to easily switch the viewed page to IE and back again at the press of a button, so now I can continue to enjoy the benefits of Firefox and ensure that everyone gets the picture.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Blogging Interviews

I could do with some help; I have started working with a couple of companies who have asked me to look at their opportunity if they started blogging. Part of this process is a number of interviews with selected staff, to establish views and understand the business I have come up with 16 questions – however they may not be the best 16. What have I missed? I can tell you 16 is plenty – any more is not a good idea – in fact 12 would probably be better, but I can’t pick any to drop at this point.

SECTION A : Your company as it stands

1. What is your company role and responsibility?

2. What do you think about company’s products and services, i.e. quality and success?

3. How closely does your company work with its customers, alliances and partners?

4. How well do the customers or other partners know you?

5. How would you describe your company culture?

a) Openness, transparency?

b) Responsiveness?

c) Ability to deal with criticism or bad news?

6. How well does marketing and PR today support the business? And how would you describe your brand’s value?

7. Who or what are your key (they-below) and what do you think about them?

a) Competitors?

b) Journalists?

c) Analysts?

d) Events/exhibitions or seminars?

8. Is confidentiality a key issue for your business?

a) Intellectual property?

b) Customer details and trade secrets?

SECTION B: Your views on the blogging opportunity for your company

1. What style should the company blog be?

a) From corporate to personal?

b) From branded to non-branded?

c) From chatty to reserved?

d) Other comments

2. What will you post articles about?

a) Any allied subjects?

3. How long do you think you can spend blogging / day / week?

a) How many posts do you think that will be?

4. What ratio of time will be spent reading to writing?

5. What support do you need from the company?

i.e. tools , training, helpline, rules, back up etc.

6. How do you rate your own level of commitment to the proposal?

7. What do you see as the main benefit to the company?

8. Should I blog about the project?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dinner, Hope and Dispair

I was out to dinner with half a dozen good friends last night, discussing blogging and generally chewing the fat over what is happening to communications, marketing etc. Someone worried (or maybe it was a joke) about being too old for all this new stuff, we soon put the record straight by listing the ages of top bloggers we could think of - it was obvious that age is no barrier to success on line. It’s a good job too considering that there is a new law in the UK next week dealing with age discrimination! Then I saw this great post about late developing geniuses – QED.

We also witnessed a stunning failure of customer service, or if kind a real lack of understanding. When we ordered 3 starters for the 6 of us to share - one of the dishes served had 5 pieces of ravioli. We looked at the waiter and said, that’s a shame one of us will have to miss out, he grinned and walked away – leaving us each with 5/6ths each – we’d have paid for an extra piece of ravioli – but what’s the real cost!


Its one of the most important assets anyone or any organisation can have. Seth Godin says it’s behind genuine recommendations, I’d say it’s behind all good relationships. I’m no philosopher but it’s probably in the top 10 most important things in human life, with it you can achieve just about anything, as a leader it enables you, as a friend it secures you and as a brand it fuels customer loyalty.

Trust is tough to get and easy to loose and in today’s world of abundant information and excess availability of knowledge I think people have become far more cynical about other peoples (or organisations) motives. That’s why Seth thinks there is often a snap assumption of financial gain behind recommendations. I’d add that’s why no one really believes advertising anymore, with growing experience customers know not to trust the messages put out and consequently the companies behind them.

Trust can be built through genuine and honest conversations – by definition that requires a 2 way interaction that is not achieved in traditional broadcast communications. Of course the point I’ve been building up to is; that is why social media is so important, it is a great medium for building trust with your customers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Feeling Good

It is a great feeling to know that everything you are working on really is to your own benefit. I decided that I wanted to build my own personal brand in order to provide better long term security (As per my post “Is short the new long?”), even if I started another corporate role how long would it last and if extrapolated 10 -15 years what happens in the final analysis?

It’s tough starting out on your own from a financial perspective and I’m not sure yet if the hardest part will be getting enough work to keep me fully occupied or ensuring I get paid as and when agreed or maybe some other issue I haven’t even considered yet.

In little under 3 months I have discovered what blogging was all about, thanks to Naked Conversations, and figured out it was a really significant story. I started this blog and discovered all about how the tools work (or not in some cases – i.e. Blogger’s lack of trackbacks), I think understanding feeds is the toughest bit.

I quickly worked out that I could launch my own marketing consulting business based on the powerful combination of this recently acquired knowledge and my own experience of corporate marketing.

Reflecting on my own perceptions from within my last corporate role, I’d say that lack of time, good explanation and relevant case studies meant it was easy to dismiss what’s actually happening with customer communications. I felt I could help companies with their bandwidth issues and explain the relevance to them in ways they’d understand.

It seems to be working! So far one client has said yes to my proposal and I am just about to start the project (hopefully more details to follow shortly) and I have at least 2 other hot prospects and several other good opportunities.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Shooting the Breeze with David Tebbutt

I recently had a coffee with David Tebbutt. I’m a great believer in the power of face to face meetings, despite the benefits of social media it really can never be a substitute, however it did facilitate this meeting.

David is an extremely experienced writer, journalist, trainer, mentor, blogger and all round very interesting guy. When I shook his hand I had no idea what would come next and I’m still unsure of the full potential, all I know is I really enjoyed the couple of hours and I learned a lot too.

Now David has made some great comments and observations about me in his latest post - thanks. It’s amazing that throughout my time in the IT market our paths hadn’t crossed before, we share many friends and contacts. It’s probably because as he says he’s been ensconced in the media and PR world – whilst I have forged a path through major corporate marketing roles. I am sure we’ll hook up regularly to shoot the breeze and who knows if there might be some business opportunities too.

David has also recommended a couple of interesting articles for further reading on social media and how it’s affecting corporate marketing and PR:

Neville Hobson who produces a regular podcast “the Hobson & Holtz Report” and also just posted an article on developing a social media communications strategy.

Also Paul Gillan who is writing an interesting book on line “The New Influencers”.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Not Dell again...

I’m not sure if it’s great to be posting how my daughters notebook had a second major fault within 4 weeks - but twice now Dell have delivered a great service experience. On the first occasion they replaced the motherboard, this time the screen went. It seemed like they were unrelated faults.

Once again the call centre was very polite, helpful and arranged the engineer visit the next day. They followed up with confirmation emails and a double check to see if all was well today. The engineer phoned first thing to advise me of his expected arrival time, allowing me to plan my day. The job was completed inside 20 minutes and everyone here is happy. The same can’t be said for BL Ochmans second experience with her Dell service.

It felt to me like someone cared about my experience and was doing as much as they could to manage the situation and it wasn’t one of their “top honchos” that BL Ochman had resorted too. The secret of providing a great service is being able to repeat it every time to meet everyone’s expectations. That requires everyone at all levels in the service delivery organisation doing their bit to make it great.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dell is Successful!

At least as far as BL Ochman’s support challenge and my own recent Dell service experience.

Seth Godin suggests that success is about keeping your promises. This is another way of saying you must manage and meet (or preferably beat) the expectations you set. Not just your customers’ expectations but your own objectives too. As with my earlier post about “solutions” being a glib marketing response to “problems” – the real issue here is determining the goals in the first place.

Setting goals is a whole subject in itself but one goal that is always held up in today’s society is wealth. I recently heard a great definition of wealth that went something like this: wealth can be measured by the time you could continue to live by the standards you want, without having to work. I think this a neat definition as it copes with almost every perspective I can think of and yet it is still measurable – provided you can fix what standards you want to live too!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blogging is Strategic Marketing

Generally marketing is measured in terms of return on investment and for most people this means if they spend X dollars on marketing activities and they get Y incremental profit dollars, then Y/X = ROI. This approach usually results in marketing budgets being discretionary and when times get tough the budget gets cut, pretty early on in the cycle of trimming the P&L to meet forecasted quarterly results (usually because its impossible to prove Y – or its true incrementality).

However the intangible assets of a business make up a huge proportion of the market valuation of a business. This balance sheet goodwill is driven in part by activities that affect customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty. It also takes account of brand value, competitive conditions, market share, dynamics and awareness. These factors collectively are often referred to as strategic marketing.

The nature of blogging is to build genuine customer relationships, if taken to the core of a business strategy it can build substantial trust with customers. That in turn will create customer evangelists driving not only improvements in customer satisfaction and loyalty statistics but generate a long term brand advantage in the market. Blogging has to be strategic.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Blogging Consultant

Now Hugh has given away my secret, you all know why I started blogging!

But don't forget the blogging is just the tool - its all about interactive customer communications. That's why trackbacks are good - and Blogger doesn't support them so I have to fiddle around with Haloscan to make it work.

Solutions Need Problems

“Solution” is one of those words totally overused by marketers. It almost goes without saying that if a product or service really is a solution then it must be a benefit to the customer, because it must solve their problem. Eureka a great marketing message!

The problem is that it’s often used in a glib manner and the marketing message barely pays lip service to the actual problem that needs solving. In the traditional marketing way problems are identified through customer research. These problems are categorised or segmented so that good marketable solutions can be communicated. The bigger the “solutions” budget the more depth or breadth to the proposed solutions.

The concern is that this process undoubtedly leaves out some problems or variations in segments where perhaps the ROI doesn’t stack up. With the broadcast nature of traditional communications that means some customers are left seeing solution messages that aren’t answering their problem. Equals dissatisfied customer and bad marketing.

I was considering this subject the other day after visiting the European Solutions Group of a major multinational. The question I had for them was “how do you establish your customers’ problems?” The pitch I was attempting to make was that blogging could provide the means to establish a superior customer proposition through real solutions for real live problems. By taking a 1:1 approach to specific subjects or technologies, identifying problems that fit the standard solution and proposing suitable avenues for those that didn’t. (Admittedly responsiveness would be a big challenge!)

I certainly didn’t hit a home run but I’ll keep running with the idea as I think it could provide a great brand position for an organisation that’s truly customer centric and a market challenger.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Art of Communication

I wrote an introduction to the changes occuring in customer communications for my good friends at Signals:

How to find out what your customers really think

It’s an irony that communications technology has made it harder, not easier, to get your message heard. The problem is choice. These days, customers are unlikely to make significant buying decisions based solely on a dialogue with your sales team. Instead, they conduct research on the Internet. But even that is already changing.

Click here to discover how to be heard in an evolving virtual world.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Infect me with some of this please...

In this enlightening post on the difference between viral marketing and conversational marketing Shel Israel clearly states his personal objectives. Imagine what a fantastic place this world would be if everyone had these values.

“If you have not yet figured out why I post nearly 1000 times a year, let me explain that I am a conversational marketer. I'd love it if every reader buys my book, hires me to consult or pays a conference producer because I'm speaking at their event. But if you don't do that, then it's nice when you just come here leave comments here, or pick up what I'm talking about on your own blog or at your water cooler or in your car pool or over your backyard fence. Yes, I'm marketing myself, and I'm trying to build a personal brand. To do this, I try to be generous as often as I can.

But the only virus I want to spread is enthusiasm for the emerging social media.”

Monday, September 11, 2006

As predicted!

A good night was had by the ex Tektronix marketing team and many thanks to Rob.

There was a lot of reminiscing and catching up on what we are all doing now. It seems that every time I talk about blogging people want to know more about it. Its incredible how many people have heard about blogging but really don’t understand it.

I find it’s always necessary to point out that it’s just a communications tool, the really interesting stuff is that it is the enabler for millions of conversations which are causing a revolution in customer expectations.

Continuing one conversation we had last night, on the subject of my last post, there seemed to be a consensus of opinion on reunions. Not only are they great fun but enduring team spirits are created in groups of people who have faced significant challenges. Of course this just started more reminiscing and toasting.

Enjoy the great atmosphere that is obvious in these photos.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Reunions are great fun

I have been fortunate to work with some really good people and teams, many of whom I would consider my friends today. But I wonder what factors drive some of these past teams to keep organising reunions.

Tomorrow I am getting together with about a dozen ex Tektronix people who haven’t been working there for over 6 years. A few months ago I went to dinner with some of the guys from my Amstrad days – mostly we hadn’t been together for over 20 years. Last December my Dell team asked me and a few others who had left back for the team Christmas dinner.

Surely one possible explanation for the enduring relationships is that the team spirit was forged in the face of adversity. It could be that there was a business disaster or maybe the experience of an acquisition. It is always refreshing how people always remember the best in each other and not the worst. I always enjoy these sessions and to prove the point I have a couple of pictures from the Amstrad bash.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

WANTED: Alive - no good dead!

Seth asked for off the wall, challenging new ideas, I’ve no idea of the practicalities of this one but wouldn’t it useful for web users to be able to see at a glance how “alive” a web page is. It’s no longer important just to know how many hits a page gets but how often it gets updated. A little icon / gauge could tell a viewer quickly if it was worth a live bookmark. I think it would help people grasp the concept of RSS and the extra value in sites that are regularly updated.

Taking the plunge

Shel Israel talks to David Parmet on why he took the plunge and dropped traditional communications and PR in favour of social media. There are some real insights from someone who has lived through the transition and some good advice for those considering the future.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Incredible thanks to you

I am really delighted to see the way my readership is developing, In fact I'd go as far to say as I am stunned at the trend, after just 18 posts. Only one link in to my blog so far but nevertheless entering: Keith Collins Marketing, into a Google search gets me the top two returns out of 1.8 million, 6 weeks ago I was nowhere to be found!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Answers to David’s (oops sorry Dennis) questions on Blogging

Following David’s sorry I mean Dennis Howlett's questions in his comment on my post Italian Bistro Engine I have a rather lengthy response:

It’s important to first say that I am assuming the questions are from a corporate perspective rather than their customers view point or my own interest.

Why is there a need? There is always a need to communicate with customers, getting across your proposition, or answering their questions, or providing a service etc. The challenge is doing this as effectively as possible, and that’s not just a matter of cost, there may be quality or image considerations. Customers today are spoilt for choice and information is abundant on the web, if a business isn’t fully engaged with its customers it may loose out to its competitors.

What have you identified as requiring change? Traditional marketing communications are almost always a one way affair. Some organizations have done well to segment their propositions to different types of customers but that doesn’t go far enough. Customers want individual interaction with their chosen vendors, they want to understand more than the glossy pre-packed messages, and above all they are looking for a relationship. Perhaps in the past this relationship was the preserve of the corporate account manager, now customers of all shapes and sizes want to get closer.

Who is ready for any of this? The answer to this today is not everyone, however there are market challengers and companies that see that this fits their open culture and can easily benefit from this type of initiative. It may also present a good opportunity for market differentiation. If it becomes pervasive in a particular market it may leave the remaining companies no alternative but to participate.

Why should they believe you? My own experience as a corporate marketing director gives me insight into traditional marketing challenges. I have been fortunate to have had the time to investigate the opportunities, something I never really had time for when in a full time corporate job.

Why does it have to be external marketing? It doesn’t – this works equally well for a limited community like a management team or the whole workforce, in fact I can’t think of a better method for a CEO to explain his vision or strategy. The only question is what’s so secret that you don’t want customers to share in it too? I’m sure large companies already leak this sort of information to customers. So make sure all the stakeholders benefit.

What are the risks? There are risks that people may publish things in error, but a well organized employee blogging strategy should set down the rules and train staff as necessary, just like you would train staff to talk to customers (sales folk) or the media. It may be a different set of conditions but it boils down to how much do you trust a specific employee to represent the company. Salesmen do it for a living everyday – admittedly on a 1:1 or small group basis but nonetheless they are responsible for their actions. The other risk is starting and not meeting customer expectations on an ongoing basis – there has to be a real commitment, and time factors have to be accounted for in the analysis – so that the effort can be justified and properly resourced.

Who is going to manage the change and do they have the qualities necessary to steer this kind of thing through? I would suggest this responsibility rests with the head of marketing in a company, they are best placed to organize and implement this strategy, but they will need total buy in from the executive team, especially the CEO. They will have to be ready for the open culture it will demand and that may mean changes in policies, processes and some people!

Show me the money!!!! It’s very difficult to measure how a brand or company is perceived; the final measure should be in improved business performance. By having a customer centric business your customers act as sales representatives – driving new business and improving loyalty. (Reducing the demand for expensive acquisition programs). Customers can also provide valuable feedback for future product development that drives the circle of satisfaction. In the strategy is successful it should build substantial goodwill and thereby the overall asset value of the business.

I recognize this is not an easy change process, but I really do believe we are on the cusp of a very significant revolution in customer communications.

Good luck with the conference. Let me know what you think afterwards.

Monday, September 04, 2006


The problem with Seth’s idea about getting candidates to try a job before getting hired is that most people are already employed and even getting the time to attend an interview can be tricky (not considering their contractual issues). Another approach is to find out if a candidate can supply references or endorsements. Formal employer references are often overlooked, as no company wants to risk giving a bad reference; they simply confirm the historical facts. Open personal endorsements (i.e. on Linkedin) can seem one sided, as they are always positive however they could provide a valuable insight by looking carefully at who has been prepared to say something, or perhaps what’s not said.

I mentioned in my earlier post: Is short the new long? How contract work was more honest and upfront, and certainly I’m in favour of contract work evolving to permanent positions, if appropriate – but the candidate first needs to accept the nature of contract employment, not for many.

Showing a corporate video or getting the experienced tour guide probably won’t cover the specific role of the hiring team, particularly if the organisation is large. As an interviewee I am sure the authenticity of the less than polished pitch from the hiring manager gives a more honest view of the team you are thinking of joining. Perhaps a video podcast on the careers page of the corporate website would help in preparation; it could even be required before attending an interview.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Missing Lunch

I find that when I bored I eat; when I’m tired I eat chocolate and drink coffee. Ten years ago I used to smoke. So that’s my excuse for being overweight. Not surprisingly since I started blogging I haven’t got any time to be bored, I can always tell when I’m not bored because time flies past and I miss lunch and snacks without even noticing it. Also I don’t seem to get so tired, despite later nights writing posts in the early hours my brain seems additionally active.

I hope these effects aren’t temporary as it may mean that blogging actually has some unexpected health benefits!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The NEW Direct Model

Dell has built a highly effective customer proposition around their direct transactional business model. Not only does it save on the channel margins but it enables ideal stock management, which in turn drives additional cost savings. I hardly need to repeat this remarkable story, except to add that customers are not just interested in price these days.

It is possible to view traditional broadcast customer communications as working through another multi layer channel. Advertising agencies, PR agencies and media organisations introduce several layers of complexity each with their own profit requirement.

The internet cuts through these layers directly connecting customers and companies and blogs especially create a two way dialogue, which builds key relationships. These relationships are instrumental in driving future business (through evangelism) and protecting existing business (through loyalty).

Obviously in the direct communications model there are savings on “channel” margin, publication and media costs. However there are additional costs in time and resource. Nevertheless for many organisations I believe this new direct approach offers potential market advantage and improved ROI over traditional broadcast communications, which today are becomeing less and less efffective.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Naked Conversations

A good friend of mine gave me this book a few weeks ago with the strong advice; “this book was written for you Keith, you’d better read it…”

In the subsequent days I have started this Blog and found a real purpose that goes far beyond a job. The book isn’t just about blogging; it goes to the heart of building customer relationships through interactive communications.

I say to everyone who is interested in blogging for business they should read it, but anyone who wants to understand how their customers’ expectations are changing should read it as well.

I am really grateful to David for his recommendation and Robert Scoble and Shel Israel for writing a great book.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sustainable Competitive Advantage

I have been privileged in my career to have worked for some interesting corporations and although 20 years apart my time at Dell and Amstrad have some striking similarities. In both cases they gained significant market share. This was achieved in part due to a business model that provided a substantial cost advantage over their major competitors.


Selling or marketing a product that is noticeably lower in price usually fuels great growth and market success. The challenge is sustainability when the market conditions change. Both organisations controlled expenses ruthlessly to maximise shareholder value.


Amstrad came unstuck because of quality issues with its flagship computer range, it hadn’t anticipated poor component quality nor was it ready to manage the market crisis that caused. Shortening product lifecycles as processors and other components leapt in performance also undermined their mass production business model favouring just in time manufacturing techniques used by the market newcomer Dell.


Today Dell’s market share is very substantial, but recent growth has faltered. Have customers recognised that price and specification aren’t the only factors to consider? Do customers see any benefit in higher specifications? Have prices fallen by so much that the actual cash difference (rather than a percentage saving) is minimal and not worth sacrificing for great service? Has the competition strengthened that much? It is probably all of these factors and more besides.


In both examples did they invest in preparation for market change? I don’t think so.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Get your ducks in a row

I couldn’t agree more with Seth, if you get a large organisation not normally noted for its alignment across divisions, territories and other man made internal barriers to focus on one message or story then the effect is really remarkable. It is especially rewarding and motivating for all participants when the organisation is recovering from a crisis.

In my own experience at Xerox when the business was recovering from a financial crisis in 2001 there were a couple of pan European programs in the printer business (called Extreme and Golden Dragon) that really united the sales teams and channel partners and subsequently drove performance.

Then when I joined Dell I was asked during my induction what stood out compared to previous organisations I had worked for, high on my shortlist was total and complete alignment from Michael down to the cleaners everyone new what had to be done and said etc. This can of course have drawbacks for creative employees but still I believe it is a key reason for Dell’s remarkable success over the last few years (despite anxious quarters of late).


On Hugh MacLeod's blog Gapingvoid.com - "The Hughtrain" is really something to believe in. A remarkable work on the meaning of life and while he's onto big subjects he delves into brands, creativity and communications as well.

His post finishes up with a great explanation on the logic behind corporate blogging and an amazingly simple description of corporate - customer comunications.

Introducing "The Porous Membrane":

1. In Cluetrain parlance, we say "markets are conversations". So the diagram above represents your market, or "The Conversation". That is demarkated by the outer circle "y".
2. There is a smaller, inner circle "x".
3. So the entire market, the "conversation" is separated into two distinct parts, the inner area "A" and the outer area "B".
4. Area "A" represents your company, the people supplying the market. We call that "The Internal Conversation".
5. Area "B" represents the people in the market who are not making, but buying. Otherwise know as the customers. We call that "The External Conversation".
6. So each market from a corporate point of view has an internal and external conversation. What separates the two is a membrane, otherwise known as "x".
7. Every company's membrane is different, and controlled by a host of different technical and cultural factors.
8. Ideally, you want A and B to be identical as possible, or at least, in sync. The things that A is passionate about, B should also be passionate about. This we call "alignment". A good example would be Apple. The people at Apple think the iPod is cool, and so do their customers. They are aligned.
9. When A and B are no longer aligned is when the company starts getting into trouble. When A starts saying their gizmo is great and B is telling everybody it sucks, then you have serious misalignment.
10. So how do you keep misalignment from happening?
11. The answer lies in "x", the membrane that separates A from B. The more porous the membrane, the easier it is for conversations between A and B, the internal and external, to happen. The easier for the conversations on both side of membrane "x" to adjust to the other, to become like the other.
12. And nothing, and I do mean nothing, pokes holes in the membrane better than blogs. You want porous? You got porous. Blogs punch holes in membranes like like it was Swiss cheese.
13. The more porous your membrane ("x"), the easier it is for the internal conversation to inform and align with the external conversation, and vice versa.
14. Not to mention it makes misalignment, if it happens, a lot easier to repair.
15. Of course this begs the question, why have a membrane "x" at all? Why bother with such a hierarchy? But that's another story.
[AFTERTHOUGHT:] And yes, this works with internal blogs as well, poking holes in the membranes that separate people within a corporate culture; aligning "the conversation" internally etc. The other advantage of internal blogging is that it organises conversation into a long-term manageable form. Two people sharing ideas via blogs is a lot more permanent, viral and useful for the company than two people sharing the same information over by the water cooler.
[AFTERTHOUGHT:] Poking holes in membranes subverts hierarchies. Avast, ye scurvies etc.
Many thanks Hugh for a fabulous combination of humour, art and business fundamentals.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Don't Forget

Three of my favorite tips for corporate survival:
1. Corporate life is like a big Ferris wheel, remember when you are at the top enjoying yourself not to crap on those beneath you.
2. Before trying to shoot the alligators in the swamp, find the time to drain it first.
3. Your first loss is probably your best one. (Don't prevaricate in a crisis)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Is Short the New Long?

Thinking about long term job security it seems to me that a pipeline of short term jobs or range of part time contracts are the answer. Several people have told me that these days the average tenure for a CMO is around 18 months. During that employed period there’s no time to think about what happens next and then you get left with the feeling why didn’t I think more about myself, the truth is you were flat out 100% committed to the corporation.

The refreshing honesty about short term contract work means that your relationship with your paymaster is all up-front, they expect you to consider your own future (which is not necessarily with them) and the focus is on the deliverables and getting the job done not on a phoney one way commitment to the corporation.

Another key benefit is you’re above the politics; you can generally punch above your weight with senior management because they perceive you differently, more as an expert or professional than just an employee where they have to manage your expectations.

Although there is a significant additional challenge in keep the pipeline full, you get better at doing that as you become infinitely more aware of the market and your own skills.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Italian Bistro Engine

Picture the scene in a charming Italian bistro with plenty of great wine and tasty food.

There are 7 highly experienced marketers and agency owners (5 with silver hair and 2 far too young & trendy) trying to figure out what this revolution in customer communications will mean for their businesses.

I, one of the silver variety, had invited a select few together to figure out if we could / should work together to develop a joint proposition for business blogging and podcasting solutions.

After the best part of 5 hours and several bottles we decided that it would have been great to make a podcast out of our machinations as there was great entertainment value in some of the trains of thought (maybe next time!).

We did all agree on a few things:

(1) It’s not about the technology its all about a sea change in customer expectations, choice and empowerment – which has been enabled by these new technologies like RSS, blogs and podcasts etc.

(2) Most businesses haven’t started doing anything yet and there’s a real need to help companies develop and implement a new interactive communications strategy – but we need to get our skates on as the time for it is now. Although no where near mainstream yet, there is little doubt that the adoption levels have already crossed the chasm and are accelerating rapidly. Key market influencers are likely to be early adopters.

(3) Not all companies are ready to start these conversations – an open culture and/or a real business need are crucial to make a business act. They are likely to be market challengers or smaller / medium sized organisations with every thing to gain and nothing to loose.

(4) Company marketing teams and budgets are generally stretched with existing activities, our proposition should be complete, from education and analysis through to implementation. The costs are low relative to traditional marketing programs - its all down to the corporate commitment to really put the customer at the heart of the business.

(5) Organisations will need help and solutions in a number of areas:
- Assessing their opportunities and risks
- Developing the strategy – clarifying their needs and culture
- Deploying and integrating the tools into existing systems and processes
- Creating quality AV material – it’s all in the editing (especially for video podcasts)
- Training many more staff on how to communicate well:
- How to create good content - remarkable stories, passionate views etc.
- Are there any rules or taboo subjects
- How to remain open and honest yet not put your foot in it.

(6) There’s virtually no risk in giving it our best shot and we will all learn fast by diving in head first! Hopefully we might get recognised as being at the cutting edge of this revolution.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Who likes marketing anyway?

I thought it would be a great idea to start a Blog to find out what the “Blogosphere” was all about, nothing like diving in the deep end to find out how it all works.


Once in and up to my neck in reading, writing, links and feeds I started to notice a feeling that traditional marketers were disliked by customers – perhaps not as much as estate agents – but nevertheless a cool atmosphere. Perhaps I’m picking up on a few over amplified views in the blogging community, but it got me thinking – did I mind it or even deserve it.


Given the tools of the trade a traditional corporate marketer does his best to take a product or service (which hopefully they managed to get some input into at the research and development stage) and then they do what’s possible on a discretionary budget to get the messages to the target audience, hopefully generating some business and above all measuring the activity to justify the ROI and their job.


It seems to me that Blogging and the new interactive communication technologies provide marketers the chance to take the driving seat in businesses, but not by finding more ways to advertise efficiently or even smarter promotions, but by seizing the opportunity to handle the inbound communication channel that is indisputably from the customer. This customer mandate can then drive product or service innovation that really fulfils the market requirement and lessens the need to hard sell and promote the business.


This is nothing more than marketing basics but far too many marketers are wrapped up in budgets, ROI justifications, product launches etc. to even remember that their real role is to totally understand the market. How often in discretionary budget cut does research get the bullet first?



Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Apostrophe apology

It seems that getting ones apostrophe’s right is important to quite a few people, so I have added the one missing from my Blog title.

Monday, August 21, 2006

First time link

Not the first time I have recommended Seth Godin's blog and books but the first time I have set up a link - now that he's expecting you.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Beating Customer Expectations

You could be forgiven for thinking that my own expectation of Dell’s technical / warranty support would be on the low side (given my first post). Over the weekend my daughters 2 year old Inspiron went caput. A few frantic checks revealed the mother board had died and (not typically) I had purchased an extended 3 year warranty. So on Monday I telephoned the technical support centre in Bombay and spoke to Nisha. She was helpful and quickly realized I knew what the problem was and an engineer was arranged to visit us on Tuesday to replace the mother board.

I had a confirmation email in minutes and then on Tuesday morning a phone call from the engineer with an ETA. Later in the afternoon he updated the ETA due to traffic conditions, arrived and completed the job with super efficiency and politeness – winning a nice cup of tea. A few minutes after he left Nisha called to check everything had gone according to plan and then sent another email with references and contact info should I need any more help.
Two reasons for telling this story;

It’s great to tell a good story about Dell after starting with such a low expectation probably due to the fact that one normally hears about the problems rather than the successes.

It’s vital to set attainable customer expectations and manage them well to ensure a great experience. Beating customer expectations is generally more important than having the highest absolute standards (and not quite meeting them) when trying to create customer evangelists.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Seth Godin at Google

One of the best marketing presentations I’ve heard in a long time, make 40+ mins available.

Career Opportunities

I've always found that the best corporate career opportunities exist in companies in crisis, making a difference is what is required (job satisfaction for me) and promotions are always a possibility in a restructure however don't necessarily expect any bonus, and try and get a parachute in case it all goes wrong.

Second best are companies rapidly expanding, bonuses are a real benefit, but the workload is crazy - typically with no time for recognition and internal competition is fierce, promotion comes as the team grows - which can be painful waiting for.

That leaves corporations that are just chugging along, where I have found ingrained practices and politics rife, with little opportunity to make any impact and bonuses a hit or miss affair. I'll let you guess how I categorize my own career choices!

What I haven't tried until now is my own business or a pure start up. Here goes!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sales v Marketing

When I joined Dell I was told by every sales manager I met that Dell was a sales led company. What did that mean, well one candidate at a job interview had the perfect answer.

The role being hired was a junior marketing position and I had a sales manager assisting with the interview - I was ensuring I had his buy in to my selection. He then asked the candidate if she thought that a company was best led by sales or marketing. (What a horrible question for an interview I thought, especially as her potential sales and marketing bosses were conducting the interview.)

But I shouldn't have concerned myself about her response as she uttered the memorable words: "surely shouldn't a company be customer led".

Not only did it sort out the sales guy but it left me with an answer for life.

I suppose Dell was and still is sales led as she didn't get the job!