Archives for posts with tag: stakeholders


The hype surrounding Social Media is dying down while the new shiny object everybody talks about is Social Business.

Just google the term and you get a million different definitions, descriptions and explanations. Add a layer of technology and you create massive confusion.

This is an attempt to make it very basic for anybody to understand, without acronyms or convoluted explanations.

1. Since brands were created, there were always two conversations: internal conversations (“I”) and external conversations (“E”). The internal conversation represents any form of communication that occurs within the company and the majority of the stakeholders (suppliers, dealers, vendors, etc.). The external conversation represents any conversation between customers, prospects and people that are tangentially interested in your brand.

2. What separates the external and internal conversation used to be a massive wall (“W”). Emerging and social technologies have poked holes in this wall. Some of the corporate walls have come down almost completely, others are still sturdy, constantly in repair. The state of the wall depends on cultural, technical and organizational factors.

3. In a perfect world, you want “I” and “E” to be as much in sync as possible. Nike is an example: The employees think their brand is cool, delivers awesome products, and so do their customers.

4. When “I” and “E” are not in sync, that’s when a brand is in deep trouble. When “I” says Product A is the best thing in the world, while “E” complains about the same product, you have a problem at hand. It’s hard to sell a bad product with good advertising. The same is true when the internal conversation (traditional US airlines are a good example) is full of negativity, the advertising is filled with unicorns and the plane occupied by extremely unhappy customers.

5. How can you sync up all these conversations? That’s where Social Business comes in.

6. Social Business pokes massive holes in the wall (“W”), with the ultimate goal to eliminate the wall altogether or provide as many openings as possible. When two unsynched conversations happen at the same, they are likely to get more out of sync over time. To adjust and sync both conversations, you have to make it easy for “I” to engage with “E”, and vice versa.

7. Ultimately, Social Business is about subverting and re-aligning hierarchies. We heard so many times that the customers are in control. To have a fruitful conversation, customers and companies have to be in control. Companies want to avoid a Twitterstorm or other social/main media/PR disasters and customers want to be able to have some control over the relationship. These control mechanisms are different for every company and service model.

8. Getting started in Social Business is not about technologies or social platforms. It’s about aligning conversations to help customers to get what they want and businesses to prosper in a social ecosystem.

Was that helpful?


The marketing world is filled with words like fans, followers, likes, fans, loyalty, engagement, commitment, participation, community, and so on and on and on and on, giving every marketer the false hope and idea what marketing should be about.

It would be beneficial for all stakeholders (clients, agencies and customers) to start with the assumption that nobody cares about what we do. This might make us feel depressed, less important and kind of useless. Still, at least we’re starting from the right point and it helps us focus on our work in the right way.

Don’t be sad: Nobody cares what anybody does.

Nobody cares about the 500+ TV channels, the thousands of magazines and radio stations, the millions of podcasts and gazillions of websites. There’s so much stuff out there, we don’t even have a tiny chance to consume 0,0001% of it. All this media is like the Atlantic, engulfing people with content wave after wave, competing with anything else that’s interesting, useful, or entertaining. With so many temptations surrounding us, seeping out of millions of screens, we should never assume anybody will notice anything we do. Oh, and don’t even assume anybody does care. Don’t kid yourself.

It gets worse: People don’t care about brands.

As a brand, you don’t want people to think about your brand too much. A strong brand will help people make quick, easy and gut-driven purchase decisions. If you’re an Apple fanboy, you don’t think about Dell or HP. It’s going to be Apple, no matter what. Strong brands solve problems. When your favorite beer is Guiness, you don’t have a beer problem. When Acura is your car brand, you don’t have a car problem. No thinking required, no decisions. No worries about price, quality or reviews.

The myth of brand loyalists

Another marketing myth is that the ultimate goal is to create brand loyalists and permanent relationships. People might ‘like’ your brand but they ‘like’ their dog 10,000 times more. For sure, people don’t love brands. They love their favorite pillow 10 million times more than your brand. Using the language of deep human emotions for brands trivializes those feelings. Brands are desperately looking for those lovers, those special ones. If you base your brand on loyalists, you will have a small party in a studio apartment in Manhattan. Brands are built by millions of light customers who buy the brand once in a while.

It’s easy to market to people who actively seek you out and use your product/services frequently. It’s hard to market to people who don’t know you, who don’t care about you, see you frequently. And, don’t get me started with the new buzzword “audience”. An audience goes to a Coldplay concert or watches the latest Spiderman movie. Advertising doesn’t have an audience, waiting for the show to start.

It gets worse.

The vast majority of advertising produced is horrendous. Go to some sad cable channel and try to stick around for the commercial breaks. Try not to change the channel within seconds. Good luck. It’s mental and creative pollution. Another proof point for people not to care about advertising.

That’s a good starting point.

At the bottom of enmity between strangers lies indifference – Soren Kierkegaard.

It’s easy to be loved, even easier to be hated. But it’s really hard to overcome indifference. You can get 1% of potential customers engaged and create participatory communities for them. It doesn’t help you when it comes to the bottom line. The real goal should be to engage the remaining 99% and that means fighting indifference.

The majority of efforts on social platforms is now limited to activating the 1% and going to church afterwards, praying the 1% will spread and amplify the word. It’s good, but not good enough. It’ll earn you brownie points but doesn’t improve business results. Unless you’re happy talking to a minority, we need to focus mainly on the 99%.

You will be judged how you engage the indifferent masses, the ones that don’t care. It starts with answering the most important questions: Why should they care more about you than all the other gazillion options they have? What’s the point? What’s in it for them?


Why would they care about your vision? It’s not unique enough and filled with corporate speak.

Why would they care about your mission? It’s not aligned with the real product/service experience.

Why would they care about your point of view? You have none.

Why would they care about your company? You don’t care about the stakeholders, you just focus on the shareholders.

When there’s nothing else to care about, people will only care about the price.

FoE Book Cover

This insightful book argues that success of any enterprise is built on a foundation that goes deeper than what we do and how we do it. In Firms of Endearment, terms like purpose, meaning, appreciation, joy, and yes, even love are not only acceptable, they are critical in the corporate language and culture. And they are not reserved for internal use or marketing efforts; these attributes are applied to all stakeholders, including customers.

Some people might think it’s about a 60’s revival or some do-gooders. Exactly the opposite is true. The book features an in-depth study of firms that have outperformed  their peers and the market as a whole. Publicly traded Firms of Endearment enterprises returned 750% over 10 years while the S&P overall provided a 128% return. Even more interesting, these companies provided a 205% return, while the S&P lost 13%. We’re talking about household names like Amazon, Best Buy, Google, Honda, IKEA, Patagonia, Timberland, Whole Foods – just to name a few.

Why do emotional connections between stakeholders make such a difference?

It’s fairly straightforward. Think about the relationships in your life: Some are rewarding because you really feel appreciated. Some are pure transactions. Interactions often drain energy while feeling appreciated gives us more energy. And they encourage us to have more interactions with the brand. Same is true when your turn it around: You feel more energetic when you are being appreciative of what you are doing and whom you are interacting with than if you were feeling dread about it.

The focus on emotional connections decreases the turnover rate, increases internal and external loyalty and, ultimately, improves profitability. Companies have to do better than just declaring people are their most important assets. They have to live it.


For the longest time, the marketing challenge was: How do we sell the product we have? How do we come up with great positioning? How do we come up with a good message? How do we find the people that find our message and product/service relevant? Trying to answer this question has created an enormous marketing and advertising industry.

What if we reversed the paradigm?

What if we asked: How can we deliver a product/service that people want? We could stop the insane guessing game all of us are engaged in. We wouldn’t have to battle for the attention of people; they asked for our attention. That’s the basic idea of Vendor Relationship Management. I’ve written many times about VRM before.

What baffles me is that many people believe this is an utopian dream. “It’ll never happen.” They tend to forget, it’s already happening. Not in the marketing world yet but it happened to the publishing industry. The desire of people to get customized media whenever they want it lead to the sale of Newsweek for $1. And the sale of Huffington Post for $315 million. It changed the recording industry forever. Or, rather, wrecked it. People revolted against getting their information top-down. They wanted customization, filters and control. It was a quick transformation because Web 2.0 made publishing so easy for everyone.

What makes you think the same won’t happen to marketing and advertising?


2011 will be the year when co-creating and collaborating through Social Media will begin to become more important than using the channels or people as messaging tools. And Customer Service will be become the transformative force to deliver on this promise.

Many enterprises we talk with consider this as their highest priority. They understand the need to improve quality of their Customer Service.

Changing from defensive to pro-active Customer Service is a natural adjustment to the changes in our daily behavior. We don’t care where service comes from (Customer Service, Marketing, Clerk, etc.), we just want good service.

One of the key changes will be pulling Customer Service out of the dark alley into the light of transparency. While many companies started to listen to customer expressions, they still try to take the conversation “off-line”, “off the grid”. They treat customers like parents their kids when they have an adult conversation: “Nothing to see here.” This paradigm will be reversed in 2011:

  • Customer Service will become public. Utilizing the channels to spread the word about good experiences. And providing a psychological barrier for each stakeholder to deliver sub-par service. It’s tough to perform badly in public.
  • Enterprises will reverse their strategy from passively waiting for customer feedback to actively looking for it.
  • Customer Service will be moved (figuratively and literally) from the edges of the enterprise to the center. This will require organizational changes that will impact each division and stakeholder.

All these changes will finally help delivering on the promise of “Service as Marketing”.

It’s going to be an exciting 2011.


Images: Courtesy of artbyphil

By now, it’s gone. A temporary city that forms during the annual Burning Man event is fading back into the nothingness of a remote desert. Most inhabitants are back in their normal life, and within weeks, the entire city will have disappeared. It’s an interesting way for a city to exist – once a year, just for a few weeks. People will talk about their experiences for months (just follow the hashtag #burningman to get a sense of the enthusiasm) and start making plans for next year’s event.

This was my second time at Burning Man. It remains one of the most bizarre, creative, inspiring, breathtaking and weird events I ever attended. Whatever you heard about Burning Man: It’s true. And, it’s completely false. You have to experience it to really understand it. It’s like having a kid, running a marathon or writing a book: Everything you heard about it is true. And, completely false at the same time.

On my way back from Black Rock City, I reflected on the lessons marketers can learn from Burning Man:

1. The paralyzing fear of change is far more inhibiting than the actual experience of change:

I’ve been a runner for more than 15 years. The first 5 years, I never ran more than 6 miles per day. A marathon was completely out of my reach, even though I was intrigued by the idea. “How do they run 26 miles?”, I asked myself many times, envisioning images of pain and agony. I tried to run 10 miles, never able to do it. Started walking after 6-7 miles, my usual comfort zone. Until one day, I decided to run 15 miles that day. No particular reason, just the feeling that I was sick of not being able to break that 7-mile barrier. And, I didn’t want to just break it. I wanted to shatter it. And so I did. Just to finish a marathon 3 months later.

Many marketers feel the same way: They want to break with the old model of marketing but they feel stuck in their old ways, the outdated processes and the aging model of broadcast marketing. They wait for someone to have the courage to change. The truth is: Nobody gets courage and then changes everything. First you change everything and then get the courage.

2. Don’t give up too early

The first time you try anything new, your senses are under attack. You don’t even know if it’s good or bad. You just know it’s new. You don’t know yet how to put it into perspective and add it to your experiences. The first time is the basic foundation of the overall process. The best advice for the first time in everything: Hang in there. Do whatever you can, the best you can. The second time is different: You have now one experience to compare your second experience to. And your second experience might be good or bad. Better or worse. It helps you to avoid bad experiences and to top good experiences. The third time is where it gets interesting. That’s when you become part of the context, when you can apply some of your experience history to the current experience. The third time gives you enough time to analyze incoming data.

This is true for visiting new cities. New countries. Starting a new job. And it’s true for marketing.

The first two digital campaigns/social media initiatives won’t be featured in any award book. I worked hard, I tried my best, I just didn’t have the proper context to deliver the best work possible. With the third campaign/initiative, I felt more grounded, more experienced. When you experiment with new platforms, new ideas or a new brand that just decided to run their marketing with you, just know you’re not going to ace it with the first idea/initiative. The fear of failure is looming large but you need to beat it by accepting this normal process.

3.) Give people a sense of ownership

The creativity and passion people pour into Burning Man has nothing to do with monetary rewards. It has a lot to do with a sense of ownership of the event. Sure, the man will burn, there will be coffee and ice, basic structures. The rest of the event is up to each one of the attendees.

Advanced managers base their ethics on fairness, harmony and gratitude to inspire a sense of achievement to goes beyond profit. Modern employees expect more from companies than just a paycheck. The work place should provide an avenue for employees to build knowledge, skills and experience.

The same is true for marketing: It’s not enough to have an offer or a discount coupon anymore. Customers review and recommend brands with a sense of ownership never seen before. Brands need to identify the best way to engage these passionate stakeholders. The future doesn’t belong to broadcast. The future belongs to companies that share values with their customers, that build platforms where all stakeholders can co-create and collaborate, and give people a sense of ownership.

4. Passion has real value

You can feel real passion. Just watch an artist or a kid immersed in something they are passionate about. Objects are not important at Burning Man. We are in the age of transition: From the economy of objects to the economy of people. Just look around: Everyone is starving for meaning. We’re meaning-making machines. All of us experienced how quickly the focus on profits can turn into an economic disaster. Instead, people want to do meaningful stuff that matters.

The new marketing reality implies that brands need to take a hard look at themselves and decide what they stand for. What is the inner truth of your company? What is your purpose? The foundation of any successful company in the future is purpose, passion and integrity, coupled with empathy and care for all stakeholders. It goes way beyond any CSR initiatives or charitable donations. The new marketing reality requires companies with big hearts.

5. The world needs more kindness

Tim Ferriss (The 4-hour workweek) discovered kindness in a sand storm. And, he shared a poem by Naomi Shinab Nye, entitled “Kindness”:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.


When your dreams turn to dust, vacuum.


Image: Courtesy of Minddesign

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” – Jonathan Swift

Every enterprise needs to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals. These Big Hairy Audacious Goals are your limit. It’s an idealized goal that might never be attained, it’s your Moon Landing. We will talk later how to reduce the gap between enterprise reality and pie in the sky ideal. But, forget about limits for a while. This is about expansive thinking: no borders, no limits, no boxes.

Planning for Pie in the Sky includes:

  • A clear vision of your enterprise
  • A mission statement, expressing the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals
  • Specific features the enterprise needs to have to achieve the goals
  • A pie in the sky design of the organization

A clear vision of the enterprise

Corporate visions are usually developed by executives, not involving all stakeholders. While developing the vision by few might be more efficient, the vision needs to be shared by all stakeholders in order to be pursued effectively. Most visions define what executives want the enterprise to be in 10 years or so, often forgetting what these executives want the enterprise to be right now. I would argue, it’s imperative to develop a vision that communicates the ideal design of the organization for the here and now, assuming the organizational design will be able to handle changes (and there will be many) without actually forecasting the future. Instead, organizational designs have to incorporate contingency planning.

I have all the plastic in the world but I still carry a few bills with me all the time. I don’t forecast a cyberattack on the banking system, I don’t forecast a massive quake in LA that won’t allow me to access my account for weeks. But all these things and other scenarios are possible. And I would like to be prepared for it.

A Mission Statement, expressing the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals

Most mission statements are borefests: platitudes of epic proportions. A real mission statement should answer the following questions:

  • Why does this enterprise exist?
  • What are the aspirations of the enterprise?
  • What does the enterprise do to succeed?
  • How will the enterprise pursue its Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals?
  • How will the enterprise serve each stakeholder?
  • What makes the enterprise unique?

While formulating the mission statement, stay away from empty sentences/words, corporate speak and anything your best friend outside of your expertise doesn’t understand.

Specific features the enterprise needs to have to achieve the goals

Whenever we develop a website, the first step is to sit down with all stakeholders to go through their wishlist: What features does each stake holder would like to have? Enterprises have to go through this exercise as well to design their ideal organization.

This can be a laundry list of thousands of items or just a minimal document that describes the structure of the enterprise, corporate culture, management style, employee expectations, high-level ideals of products/services, etc. Each ideal enterprise design is different and the features list will reflect its uniqueness.

A pie in the sky design of the organization

Imagine, your enterprise stopped to exist last night. Nothing else has changed: Technology, laws, regulations, taxes, etc. The environment and systems that surrounded the old enterprise still exist and they haven’t changed. Just your enterprise is extinct. Start designing your new enterprise.

What kind of enterprise would you design if you could start from scratch? How would you design it so the enterprise is capable of being improved continuously from within? We’re not asking you to create Utopia, a perfect enterprise. Instead, your pie in the sky design should incorporate what you want to the organization to be right now. While you discuss these ideas with stakeholders, many new ideas will evolve and creativity will flow freely. This process of collaboration is often the most important product of this step to transform your business. Enterprises need to make sure that during this step self-imposed constraints are kept to a minimum. Stakeholders should not be concerned with feasibility, budgets or implementability. Reminding them that the enterprise was destroyed last night might help limiting those constraints. Keep dreaming.

Next, we will discuss gap analysis and gap planning.

For your reference, the first parts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.