Monday, March 19, 2012

How are you feeling today?

Today I am feeling energized because last week I had the opportunity to participate in McKinsey & Company's West Coast Women's Leadership Summit here in San Francisco.  The catalyst for this event is a five-year study of leadership conducted by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston who are passionate about discovering insights on how successful women lead. Together they have developed a model for what they call Centered Leadership which has five components: Meaning, Framing, Connecting, Engaging, and Energizing. I encourage both men and women to read more about this research in their book How Remarkable Women Lead, and to conduct their own self-discovery. This book tells remarkable stories of successful female leaders including one that I had the pleasure of getting to know at Google, Eileen Naughton.
I've seen Joanna and Susie enthusiastically present their findings in several different settings over the past two years, but this Summit offered the unique opportunity to interact with other McKinsey and West Coast company leaders including the CMO of Wells Fargo, a brand I admire.  They encouraged us to be of service to one another and have meaningful conversations while working on 'Connecting' in our small groups and in that spirit they had us begin by answering three questions:
  1. How are you feeling today?
  2. What motivated you to come to the Summit?
  3. What is your next big goal?
We were encouraged to be great listeners and to imagine what others were feeling below the water surface, using the analogy of an iceberg.  When was the last time you thought deeply about your feelings in a business setting?  Isn't that a career limiting move? According to the Centered Leadership model it's a key element of 'Connecting' and effective leadership.  This set the tone for the program by putting us in what Joanna refers to as a 'state of being' open for learning, motivated by our collective desire to discover more about ourselves and each other, increase our awareness and acceptance of our underlying mindsets which allowed us to access new insights and increased self-awareness.
The rest of the day's activities focused on sponsorship, which is different from mentorship, and is something they've found in their research that women require if they want to reach top management.  Sponsors are senior players who will stake their reputation on your behalf. While mentors offer informal advice and coaching, a good sponsor opens the doors of the promotion elevator and pushes a protégé through.  I have been fortunate to have many client sponsors as a consultant, including some incredibly talented women executives, and I am grateful to each of them for giving me the opportunity to help them and their organizations reach new heights.  I'm also grateful to McKinsey & Company and the fantastic women I had the pleasure of meeting at this event who inspired me to commit to sharing more of my thought leadership on this blog and to one day publish a book.  Yes, that was my big goal and so you can understand why I'm feeling energized.  I have a lot to accomplish!  How are you feeling?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Wisdom of Crowds Heard by Google

Today Google posted a response to the tens of millions of Buzz users who provided feedback. This is now a great case study in social media listening.

Google said, "We've heard your feedback loud and clear, and since we launched Google Buzz four days ago, we've been working around the clock to address the concerns you've raised."

They even apologized to users saying, "We're very sorry for the concern we've caused and have been working hard ever since to improve things based on your feedback. We'll continue to do so."

I've checked out Buzz again and I feel much more comfortable with the new controls related to following. The new "suggested" followers feature revealed many members of my Twitter following. I'm busy, so this is convenient. If I re followed all these folks on Buzz I would have a near replica of my current Twitter social circle.  Will I?  It's hard enough to keep up with my Twitter news feed so probably not.

Google has still not invited Facebook to the Buzz party, and the battle for social share wages on. John Battelle has named Facebook the victor, saying in his recent post on Buzz, "Google taking on Facebook for the social graph is akin to Facebook taking on google in web search. IE, silly. Google should incorporate Facebook Connect into Gmail/Buzz asap, and then build on top of it with its powerful services and algorithms. THAT would be a win."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why all the Buzz about Google Buzz?

Lately I've been spending the majority of my time helping leading brands develop social media marketing strategies. It's not easy to integrate all of these new channels with existing marketing programs, but best practices are emerging that I will discuss in a future post. Today I want to share my thoughts on a new entrant to the social media space, Google Buzz.

Buzz allows users to start conversations about the things they find interesting and to share updates, photos, videos and more with their friends or followers. If Google had an ad for this it might be  "When 140 characters aren't enough," or "Yes Bill, this could enable enterprise collaboration."

I think there are three important things to note about this product launch:

1. Buzz poses a direct threat to Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft's Sharepoint as it offers many of the same features of the social networks and enterprise collaboration tool right in the Gmail inbox, where users already spend a huge chunk of time each day. Users are starting to fatigue from having to log into multiple social networks and Buzz addresses this by incorporating everything in one place. Google may only have 100mm active Gmail users today (Facebook is reported to have 400mm), but Buzz will be an excellent gateway drug to its suite of apps, will drive customer acquisition, and enable it to steal share from its competitors.

2. Buzz helps Google get a handle on the flood of real-time user-generated content that is the specialty of Facebook and Twitter and complements its newest acquisition of human driven social search service, Aardvark. Google already incorporates Twitter messages into its search results. Facebook has yet to embrace open standards and this limits its growth, but it recognizes that whatever is public will be indexed by Google and weaken their competitive position.

3. Buzz appears to put Google's corporate strategy, searching and organizing all the world's information and making it universally accessible, ahead of the user, and trouble could follow. Buzz did not launch with easy to use privacy features, doesn't have an open developer API, and is not closed from the public in the way Facebook is private. Buzz makes sharing information an "opt-out" feature with "auto follow" so that when someone starts using the service, it "just works." When you first access Google Buzz, it automatically sets you up with followers and people to follow and by default, the people you follow and the people that follow you are made public to anyone who looks at your profile. This is frightening for users like my friend who shared, "I have a very paranoid feeling that somehow my Gchats are now on display for the world to see." Facebook learned the importance of privacy when it launched its Beacon program. Beacon was shuttered after it sparked a lawsuit alleging privacy violations.

I'm sure Google is listening to all the buzz about Buzz, which is hard to miss in Google's real-time search results, and I hope they will respond to their loyal users in an authentic and transparent dialogue and not lose sight of their core principal, "Focus on the user and all else will follow."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Do you have a relationship with your bank's ATM?

Recently, on what I'd call a less than average day I visited a Wells Fargo ATM. We've all used ATMs before and are familiar with the buttons and messages and probably could conduct most transactions blindfolded. However on this day something caught my eye and then made me laugh out loud. No it wasn't that someone had deposited a large sum of money in my account, but an image of colorful balloons and this message on the screen "Congratulations on your third anniversary. Thank you for being a valuable customer."

I'm a marketer and a nerdy one at that so I probably responded more positively than the average banking customer, but still this was remarkable and ended up being the highlight of my day. Wells Fargo delivered this personalized message at exactly the right time. I had in fact relocated to San Francisco just three years prior and opened my account with Wells because the WAMU bank across the street happened to be closed.

I was already an emotionally loyal Wells Fargo customer and there aren't many brands for which I advocate. Wells Fargo understands the importance of having a single view of its customers and has a clearly defined value proposition which is personified by the brand and communicated in all channels: retail brick and mortar, ATM, direct mail, and call center. This is truly remarkable for a decentralized enterprise in the banking industry and will enable Wells to build customer loyalty, increase customer lifetime value, and sustain profitability.

This provides another valuable lesson to marketers which is that you do not have to buy customer loyalty. There are dozens of ways to establish authentic relationships with your customers besides free shipping, discounts, and points. It starts with a single view of the customer which is the foundation of a winning CRM strategy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mulit-Silo Retail Marketing

"Tear down this wall!" was the famous challenge from United States President Ronald Reagan to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall. I'd like to issue a similar challenge to today's retailers who continue to operate their e-commerce divisions in isolation from their offline organizations. In these multi-silo companies employees across online and offline divisions don't cooperate nor even communicate with each other regularly.

Today's customers expect seamless experiences across channels and many retailers have recognized for awhile that their multi-channel customers are often the most profitable so it makes sense to integrate marketing communications to reach them online and offline. Cross-channel shopping behavior from online to offline (and vice versa) is a significant phenomenon, yet I only know of one specialty retailer who has put this priority on their strategic agenda.

Multiple independent studies have confirmed that online advertising drives offline sales. It's time for offline-centric retailers to recognize the power of their online marketing channel to drive traffic to their stores. Jupiter Research forcasted in its 2006 study that the portion of online plus online-influenced offline sales in comparison to total U.S. retail sales is expected to grow to 47% by 2011. This implies that of the average dollar spent in retail 47 cents will be spent either online or influenced by preceding online browsing and research activities.

I believe that if you sat down with a retail executive and shared these research findings that they would not be surprised. Why is it then that they continue to let their online divisions operate independently from the offline divisions? I believe strongly that these retail organizations need to be redesigned and common key performance metrics (KPIs) put in place to align the objectives of the e-commerce and store divisions.

In the past two weeks I've have had a surge in calls from retail clients looking for recommendations and benchmarks to assist them in designing their e-commerce organizations. I hope that this is an indication that some retailers are getting the wake-up call. I took the liberty to let them in on the secret that tearing down the walls between their online and offline channels and building an integrated, customer-centric organization could improve their bottom line.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Social Media Marketing Framework: A repeatable approach for planning social media marketing initiatives

Check out this SlideShare Presentation by Karen O'Brien, Partner, Interactive Services, Crimson Consulting. Karen is no stranger to communities and social and is doing some leading edge work for Crimson's F1000 clients.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Companies that Invest in Growth Break Away from the Herd

When companies fall upon tough times it is often the case that executives turn to defensive tactics, and focus their efforts exclusively on cutting costs. Cost reduction is not a bad idea, and can increase margins and lift revenue, but it should be one of several priorities for companies operating in an economic downturn.

McKinsey and Company research of companies operating with decent financial strength in reasonably attractive markets that invest for future growth, rather than cutting Research and Development and other investment spending often experience the best long-term results.

Executives at companies with relatively healthy balance sheets and the courage to go beyond defensive tactics in The Great Recession should consider the following three marketing tactics to drive near-term revenue growth and increase share:

1. Build brand equity by communicating your core brand values. While it is tempting to eliminate advertising spending when times are tough this is not wise. Research has found that consumers have less confidence in companies who don’t promote their products and services in a downturn. "Consumers continue to turn to strong, trusted brands, particularly during periods of uncertainty," said Judy Ricker, division president of brand and communications consulting at Harris Interactive. "Strategic investment in and careful monitoring of your brand is critical in both good and bad times, and will help you navigate the volatile environment." A customer’s willingness to pay for your product or service is a function of their reference price and the differential value they perceive. Your pricing strategy during the downturn will impact your brand health and positioning in the inevitable upturn. Analyze your portfolio of products and services and price elasticity of demand. Ensure that marketing messages reinforce your reference prices and communicate the differential value offered by your brand. Don’t be afraid to raise the prices of goods and services that have a high differential value relative to the competition.

2. Leverage analytic insights from company data. Central marketing organizations have access to customer-relationship-management (CRM) and transaction databases and should find opportunities to more effectively use this data to better predict demand. According to McKinsey a specialty retailer that developed an analytic tool to determine which items to promote online and in circulars experienced comparable store sales increases between two and four percent in test markets employing the tool to increase promotion effectiveness.

3. Improve offline conversion by investing in online advertising. Companies that follow their natural instincts may slash their ad budgets in periods of economic weakness. This makes it an even better time for you to take a long-term view, be aggressive, and increase your share of voice. Procter and Gamble COO, Robert McDonald, calls their approach to thriving in the recession, wejii, a Chinese term that combines crisis and opportunity. The good news is you may be able to accomplish this with fewer ad dollars and some changes to your marketing mix. You can increase offline conversion by investing in online advertising. In 2007 Google and ComScore combined forces to measure the impact of online advertising offline. Their study tracked a behaviorally driven search and display buy and produced a $530,000 sales lift in the new deodorant product, 96% of it from new buyers who weren't swayed by offline, demographic-targeted buys. Kevin Kells, CPG Industry Director at Google believes that "it's not that demographics don't matter, but the reality for most mass brands is that there's not a type of person. There are types of groups, types of communities within them that drive their volume, and they aren't homogeneous."

Companies with strong balance sheets in growth markets can gain strategic advantages through increased investment. Here are three suggestions:

1. Don’t abandon research and development. McKinsey research found that high-performing companies are twice as likely to increase research and development spending in a downturn. Procter and Gamble is an example and is increasing its fiscal 2009 research budget by 4.5% to $2.3 billion according to Wall Street research firm Sanford C. Bernstein. I recommend using social media channels to facilitate customer collaboration and increase research and development spend efficiency. Dell has done this with its site Here is how Dell explains it, “The name is a take-off on the word “brainstorm” and it is our way of building an online community that brings all of us closer to the creative side of technology by allowing you to share ideas and collaborate with one another. The goal is for you, the customer, to tell Dell what new products or services you’d like to see Dell develop to inform their investment strategies.” Dominique Hind provides a thoughtful overview of the evolution of Dell’s Ideastorm and Starbucks' idea model in this slideshow

2. Consider capex expansion in future growth areas.
Procter and Gamble executives have a positive long-term outlook on consumer spending and are launching the biggest capital spending plan in their 171-year history: 19 new factories worldwide over the next five years. Wal-Mart is also investing in new regions including Chicago where they are evaluating the potential of a supercenter on the South Side.

3. Grow through acquisition. A study of deals conducted from 1985-2000 by the Boston Consulting Group found that the average merger in a downturn created an 8.5% rise in shareholder value after two years, compared to the average deal in good times that resulted in a 6.2% drop in the acquirer’s share. McKinsey recommends identifying low cost acquisition opportunities in a downturn. In the current recession consumers may not be going on a shopping spree but smart retailers like Toys ‘R’ Us are snapping up their rivals for undisclosed bargain prices. In the past four months it has acquired both eToys and FAO Schwarz. No company today is immune from the pressure to maintain profitability, but those who avoid the temptation to go on the defensive and retrench will be better positioned to participate in the inevitable upturn.

Source: Kevin Kells, CPG Industry Director, Google,, April 2008; McKinsey and Company, November 2008;, June 2009; Business Week, June 2009.