Long-term vision with bold actions – is it your mantra?

Bringing sense to business

At the Freedom & Solidarity Forum, taking inspiration from Operation Overlord and the D-Day Landings, Brian Gallagher, President and CEO at United Way, said:

“We need a long-term vision with bold actions. Our endeavors must be values (or purpose-) based”

This phrase resonates with me, even more so as an entrepreneur. However, I think it’s an issue for most people in many companies, where the purpose is either non-existant or it may be published but not lived. Companies suffer from an oversized need to cater to short-term pressures. Finally, without the entrepreneur/founder at the helm, too often businesses lack boldness. And, I might add that actions speak louder than words…

In search of purpose

Mr Gallagher said that Operation Overlord was a success in large part because it embodied that phrase. As an NGO, United Way is inhabited by purpose. It is normal. In business, however, purpose is too often reduced to creating shareholder value. Interestingly, Mr Georges Plassat, CEO and Chairman of Carrefour, the second biggest retailer in the world, said the same thing about bringing “meaning” to his business and resisting the short-term ratrace (my term, not his). I wonder to what extent his comments resonated with the Carrefour employees? Mr Philippe Wahl, CEO of LaPoste France, echoed Mr Plassat, talking about the need to create products (and service) that are “useful” for society. Mr Wahl talked about the need to have “meaning” in business, which he translated as the need to contribute to society in each country in which one is operating, invoking the need to pay taxes in each country (a lightly veiled attack on Google and Amazon, etc.).

The big question I have is: how much does “purpose” fulfill shareholder value over time?

What do you think?

BBC Oops – the irritating rise of websites that… cc @BBCNews

I was intrigued by the BBC OOOPS this morning!

Words and images that catch the eye

The BBC’s front page this morning has an intriguing side story (in the far right column): “OOPS, the irritating rise of websites talking to you like a friend.”  Find it?  Well, when you click on it, you get… (see below).

BBC front page oops, The Myndset Digital Marketing

Ooops, I missed again

Here is a a close up of the H3 title

BBC oops, The Myndset Digital Marketing

404

And the link goes to a 404 (“page not found”)!  And I sincerely thought it was a joke. Ooops, is right!

BBC 404, The Myndset Digital Marketing and Brand Strategy

Fortunately, the tone and timbre of this 404 didn’t sound like they were trying to be my friend.  But, seriously, don’t you find it irritating when a link goes to a 404 page?  If the BBC can get such things wrong, just imagine the amateurs.  Of course, in this case, I consider it a rather funny error, so I chose to blog it.

UPDATE AT 9:03AM (28 Jan 2013)

The 404 has been now fixed.  You can now visit the real Ooops article if you are interested!    The section I liked best about this peice on the rise of unwanted and OTT familiarity (which I agree can be rather ‘grating’ at times):

“Computers were like bouncers. You were the three-sheets-to-the-wind punter swaying glassy-eyed in front of them pleading to continue. They remained impassive saying, “I don’t have to give you a reason. You’re not going into that file and that’s that.”

That’s the funny thing.  The internet is becoming deeply personal.  It is difficult to remain impassive in front of your computer these days!  And for marketers (and digital marketing in particular), brands need to know how to interface with each one of us according to our whims and mores if they want to “connect” with us.  Alternatively, you pick a style that suits your community and those that don’t like it, shove it.  Now, there’s a familiar term!

Photos: Google’s logo doodles through the ages

Looking for the business lessons in Google doodles (the freedom to play with its logo on its home page) is a little like trying to learn from Apple’s miracle marketing. There is a uniqueness and freshness that is contagious in Google’s changing logo. Along with the personalization on the day of your birthday (if you are logged in, that is), Google is paving a new path, but one that few traditional brands can reproduce because of the “brick & mortar” component. The beta mentality that underscores Google’s SOP (I refer to it as the Beta Myndset) is deliciously refreshing. They have, in so doing, turned the old school marketing lessons upside down. At the same time, most brands would probably be foolish to follow this example, merely for practical reasons.

Music lessons … A stand-up performance?

I came acros a shop in Annecy (Haute Savoie) that was selling a number of t-shirts with distorted brand logos (with play on words in French). Here is the most international example… The power of music and love (should I say “sex”): two of the world’s universal languages.

Translation:
Professor of Music
Private lessons at home.

As for the other examples, clearly they are lost in translation.  Enjoy!

MEDEF 2009: Ethical Capitalism – A call for transparency?

MEDEF UNIVERSITE D’ETE PLENARY SESSION – 3 September, 2009

“Will capitalism become ethical or not?”
Plenary Session animated by Jean-Pierre Elkabach

Below I will highlight a few points that I took away from the two hour plenary session, brilliantly managed by JP Elkabach, on Ethical Capitalism at the MEDEF Summer University 2009.

As with the other subjects discussed in all the sessions at the Medef UE 2009, the US clearly remains a nevralgic centre for business leaders in France. To be sure, I was not the only American in the audience to be fingered. The newly assigned US Ambassador to France, Charles Rivkin, was on hand to hear a number of rather broad criticisms of the US in the current crisis. Not too surprisingly, a large part of the ‘debate’ was focused on America, the originator of today’s world crisis.

With a few broad strokes, Pierre Bellon, President of Sodexho, ranted (since he feels he has earned the right), “the fault [of the current crisis] lies with bankers…credit agencies…and politicians…” As if that were not enough, he also felt the need to state that “the citizen and the small companies cannot be held responsible.” Mr Bellon called for, among other things, greater transparency, the cleaning up of conflicting interests, and the end of the eternal optimisation of corporate profits… What irked me about his tirade was the feeling that there was little accountability in his words There were no corresponding concessions understood in the propositions and there was no ripost from the stage or floor…

Laurent Fabius, former PM of France, explained that the US will have to rebalance its budget. ‘It is an enormous “black cloud” that looms over the world’ said Fabius about the US budget deficit. Regarding France and the system of ‘privileges‘ (defined as that which is “read in private“), Fabius suggested that the MEDEF should review that which should be allowed to be transparent as he believes that the trend toward total transparency is dangerous. Fabius grandly called for a Social and Ecological Economy, whatever that means.

Christine Lagarde, France’s Minister of Economic Affairs, also did not like too much transparency either. However, in a play on words, if not shadows, she prefers to shed “light”… shone on the shadier, darker areas, including the Swiss banking traditions (2/3 of the world’s transactions occur in the ignorance of, or outside the realm of the world’s governing agencies). However, unfortunately, she did not have the opportunity to elaborate on which transparency she did not want to have…

What struck me about the intervention of the three people I cite above was the recurring issue of transparency. To be transparent or not to be… and about what? This was certainly a topic that came up again and again in the various sessions. In certain regards, on an emotional level, total transparency is an unlikely objective, even dangerous. In any event, is there such a thing as total truth? Unlikely. The issue of total transparency is that one may risk removing all the mystery of life (as one might appreciate in surprises, love and luxury … ). Secondly, there are certainly some things better left unsaid in terms of avoiding unnecessary heartache…e.g. white lies. Whether personal or political, some secrets are better kept that way. But, how and when to know to stop the transparency tap? Aside from state secrets, there is the case of some ‘sensitive’ subjects being put into the wrong hands (notably the media), and these do indeed need to be treated with great care. But, shrouding facts behind the veil of secrecy is a tricky business. And, for the cynical, if everything is transparent, there is no more wiggle room for propaganda?

Nonetheless, notwithstanding the philosophical nature of total disclosure (cf Rousseau’s Confessions), I truly believe that, in the field of business, there is a need for much greater transparency and I would be worried to believe that Mme Lagarde would not agree. Transparency is, in this case, an issue of strategic communication. This does not mean that one need be saying everything about every subject; too much information is one of today’s major curses. Yet, there is much to gain in terms of employee ‘buy-in’ by being transparent about a corporation’s its financials, challenges and ambitions. Such transparency helps galvanize what is sometimes termed as ‘psychic ownership‘ whereby, without needing recourse to stock options, an employee comes to ‘own’ the vision and the problems and, along the way, becomes part of the solutions, too. Even in the case of brands and their relationship with the customer, transparency is more desirable. The myth of “mystique = value added” has worn thin. The brands need to regain the [lost] trust of the customer which is why there is so much being attention paid to authenticity and transparency. Surely, it is not too strong a leap to suggest ethical capitalism should include transparent values and justifiable value? Would be glad to have your feedback on this topic!

I finish with what, for me, was one of the more poignant phrases of the conference. Philippe Lemoine, President of LaSer said, “[t]he French need to have confidence in themselves…” He encouraged the MEDEF business leaders: “You need to listen better…” and you will find your way better.

#MEDEFUE09

I love brands … at a major discount?

I Love Brands, Oxford Street, LondonI love brands… Yes, I do; but, it would seem that, especially over the span of the latest economic crisis, the “consumer” has become decidedly less enchanted with brands, per se. On the one hand, the crisis has accentuated the need for consumers (and companies) to cut back on expenses and be more budget conscious — helped by the transparency offered via price comparison sites. On the other hand, in a world of hyper-consumerism and a return to good sense and more reasonable values, consumers are also looking for greater authenticity and meaning in their purchases and their relationship with the goods and services they consume.

A study by the BBDO ad agency in May 2009, showed that 48% of people in France seek to consume more intelligently, to avoid unnecessary waste and sophistication. Staying with France, a TNS Sofres study released this summer said that 7 of every 10 French people believe that consumer product brands attempt to “deceive” them. Eight out of ten consumers in France do not trust consumer brands. But this is not unique to France–far from it. To cite just Australia, a similar study showed that the Australian consumer doesn’t feel respected by the brands. According to the TNS survey in Australia, 58% of the Australian public feels indifferent to brands. The major brands have seen the pleasure associated with the purchase act drop (from 2007 to 2008) by 7 points to 60% and the confidence barometer fall 6 points to 59%. (Source Chef d’Entreprises). Presumably, if I dug around the stats in the US, UK and other western countries, the same type of trend would be observable.

The net, net, (not to mention the ‘net) is that the consumer is no longer prepared to buy a brand blindly. The brand capital [aka equity] for brands which fail to ‘give back’ enough value and meaning are undoubtedly taking it on the chin and it will be difficult to catch back lost ground on the other side of the recession [RIP]. However, it may yet be too early to see the effects on the ‘losing’ brands in terms of sales since some portion of the failure may be masked by [overly] aggressive marketing; which would mean that looking at the net price per unit and brand profitability.

Maintaining the perceived value in the realised price is strategic to the long term survival of brands, in order to help them invest in R&D (and innovation in general), but also in the appropriate distribution channels, education and, even, in society and/or the community. A shop on Oxford Street (London), called I Love Brands, captured for me the essence of many brands today as far as the post-recession consumer is or will be concerned: I Love Brands [that have no meaning or values] Only at a Major Discount… The list of brands blaring out on this shop front window included Dior, Valentino, Bottega, Versace, Fendi…. Proof also that it is important to manage carefully one’s distribution outlet(s) to have partners in BUILDING your brands with you.

I Love Brands 70% off, Shop front, Oxford Street, London

And the bottom of the barrell, although I enjoyed the (certainly unintended) play on words, the shop had a nice little rack on the right side of the doorway on the pavement, from £20, 70% OFF:
Closing Down Sale Mens Shoes Upstairs

Men's Shoes Marked Down Upstairs, 70% off


So, what are brands to do? To start with, they need to make sure that the higher prices are justified, not just by innovation and great product performance, but superior customer service, a sense of meaning, greater values, and a healthy dose of customer listening and interactivity. But, above all, they need to regain their customer’s trust and confidence, something which seems to be cruelly missing for so many brands.

In terms of the interactive/emotional connection, I have a few good examples (credit: Branchannel) of brands investing in getting people together, to foster the community/good feeling:

The E-volution of the Book… Kindle, Sony, Google weighing in

The evolution of all media is fascinating to follow, but today I am going to zero in on the printed word.  Whether it’s the future of magazines, books, mainstream newspapers or even research & professional journals, the internet platform is causing radical paradigm shifts and there are some hefty decisions to be made/duked out for each category of the printed word.  For the book, there are two massively important phases: the democratisation of the eBook and internet referencing.  As beautiful as the Amazon solution has been for e-commerce, the digital reader platform is still in its nascent phase and has room to improve.  Nonetheless, there are a number of exciting functionalities that make the digital book much more viable for the regular book reader.   You can immediately download content through the wireless internet connection, search for the definition of word, open to a reference map, use RAM to search for words in a text, copy and clip text you want to remember, and when you go on a long trip you carry many books & magazines in one tidy place… and probably many other functions yet to be integrated.  And, importantly, technology has improved dramatically, including the lighting, font sizes and definition; and the price is now accessible, especially as the competition heats up.

The two leading options at this point are Kindle 2 (from Amazon with 230,000 titles currently) and the Sony Digital Reader PRS-700BC (right).  As a quick analysis of the their sites reads, it is interesting to see Kindle focusing on the content (see the video) and ease of use.  Sony seems more interested in its technical specifications and the upgrading of the different products (they have already issued multiple model numbers).  You have to scroll down to the very end of their site to find that they have “thousands of eBook titles available.”  Based on these virtual observations, for now the Kindle (below) gets my vote for best presentation, and I love the free wireless access to wikipedia.  But, there are going to be plenty of other players jumping (the more expensive Fujitsu eReader with its colour screen, the iRex Iliad with superior hackability, the BeBook from Endless Ideas BV…).


On another front [page], another battle is being waged with books, this time with Google and the referencing of book content on the Internet.  Google has finally come out with its Google Books search function.   Having laid dormant for some three years in the lawcourts, since October 2008, Google Books is now live in beta format.  This function allows you to search for terms or names within a large volume of books.  The site is in beta testing.  Punch in your name, your brand or a specific term and you can find out where it is embedded in the database of over 7 million books.

With the settlement of October 28, 2008, the Google Books site states:  “Three years ago, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers filed a class action lawsuit against Google Book Search.

Today we’re delighted to announce that we’ve settled that lawsuit and will be working closely with these industry partners to bring even more of the world’s books online. Together we’ll accomplish far more than any of us could have individually, to the enduring benefit of authors, publishers, researchers and readers alike. 

It will take some time for this agreement to be approved and finalized by the Court. For now, here’s a peek at the changes we hope you’ll soon see.”

The books are catalogued into two different types and, according to the agreement reached, you can either read some information on the book plus some snippets for Library Project books; or for Partner Program books, you can flip through a few preview pages, as if you were in a library/bookstore.  There is a mobile version of Google Books as well that works on iPhones and Android.  You can read more about the settlement here.

The bottom line is that the book — and its printed paper form — is not dead yet… but it sure is going to evolve.  Apparently, book publishers had a very reasonable year in sales last year (no worldwide data is publicly available it seems as this google answer says), but it strikes me that the tsunami is out there for the book world and, as iTunes and the iPod revolutionised the music world, so will the trio of Amazon, Google and Sony change the book world.  Perhaps book companies would be wise to take heed of the bloodbath in the music world to involve themselves in the changeover rather than fight against it.  Bookstores should be quick to find out how they will need to change their model… perhaps stocking digital readers and preloaded USB keys (for the Sony Reader).  And I will be curious to see how schools and universities move to the new e-platforms.

Microsoft Opening Stores — A landslide or a landmine?

News is out that Microsoft is going to start opening its own stores. (Seattle Times 12/2/09 or Mercury News, 13/2/09) Having hired David Porter, a 25-year veteran of Walmart, Microsoft wants to go down the Apple path to create a retail outlet to express, educate and sell its wares… (Photo below courtesy of Gizmodo)

Microsoft Store Boutique Concept

Personally, it seems like the right approach considering the big array of products that Microsoft can display and the need to harness its retailing power. However, they will have a long way to go catch up to the beauty of the Apple store experience as well as the 251 outlets that Apple already has up and running. Not that Apple is Microsoft’s sole worry. The challenge is quite large. Can Microsoft craft a store culture that is consistent with its brand culture? What hardware will they have to bring to life the look & feel? One interesting idea for Porter: use open source for creating the design! What about co-creating it with a designer or a sporting goods company? Niketown meets Microsoft. (Portland isn’t too far away from Seattle).

Meanwhile, here is Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, at a conference in Barcelona yesterday… looking awfully like a Jobs job, no?

Steve Ballmer Microsoft CEO

This store idea is a bold initiative — but they should be able to find some good real estate at bargain basement prices these days. It will either be a landslide idea or a landmine depending on if Microsoft is able to create a sexy, well articulated store concept. Is a Walmart executive the best suited for that? Certainly, Porter has some exotic experience after heading up worldwide distribution for Dreamworks Animation. But, he will have to mine his REM cycles to come up with a great store strategy for Microsoft.

UPDATED FEBRUARY 18, 2009: Ballmer’s presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (as pictured above) was to launch the second compliment to Apple in as many days. Microsoft announced its Windows Market Place, a virtual store in which mobile phone using the mobile Windows application (a paltry 20 million) can download applications — to copy if not combat Apple’s AppStore (you have to love the elegance of that name) which, launched in July 2008, has had 500 million applications downloaded for the iPhone and iPod Touch users. The title of Windows Market Place, which is slated for an autumn launch, is somewhat more clumsy. As much as Apple remains elitist and stiff in its approach, Microsoft just does not have the same “hacker” friendly community. And Windows certainly does not inspire the imagination or stir the emotion. The WMP may find its place, but it will likely be a slow grind.

Great Values in Hockey…even when it is professional

Don’t you find that too many professional sports smack of too much money & poor values?  Below is an email that has been circulating since the end of last year. It is a great story, with a “mostly true” rating from Snopes. The event occurred November 23, 2008. It was first posted on this NHL Home Ice blog back on Dec 8, 2008.

Ice Hockey Stick Colour Fan Collection

“In the middle of a grueling six game road trip where a very young hockey team is away from home, the third game of the trip ends late on a cold Canadian Saturday night. This is the only break on the trip and the three days between games allow them the only break to get back home in their own beds for a couple of days before going back on the road. A scheduled commercial flight waits for them at Toronto’s International Airport for the short flight home; they could be home by midnight. This plane departs on schedule, but without a single member of the hockey team.

Back in the locker room a vote is taken after the game was complete, and a unanimous decision is made by this young team to skip this flight and stay one more day. They make arrangements to check back in the hotel and on a frozen Sunday morning charter two buses that have no heat and begin a journey two hours straight north into a sparsely inhabited Canada, but where hockey is its passion. They arrive at their destination to the surprise of the teams general manager who is there attending his fathers wake.

After a few emotional hours, this team boards the buses and head back for a two-hour trip back to Toronto. On the way they ask the drivers to stop in a tiny Canadian town because they are hungry.

To the shock of the patrons and workers at this small hockey town McDonald’s, a professional team walks out of two rickety buses and into the restaurant, which just happens to have pictures of two members of this team on its wall. The patrons know every single one of these players by sight being fanatic fans of hockey in these parts. One can only imagine their amazement of the locals seeing and entire professional hockey team sit down and have a meal in their tiny little town in the middle of a hockey season. After a while they board the buses and catch their same flight 24 hours later, giving one day to their general manager.

Chicago Blackhawks NHL Ice HockeyHave I made this up, is this an excerpt from some fictional book? No, this a true story of the Blackhawks last Saturday night and they decided to attend Dale Tallon’s fathers funeral. Its amazing that such a good story can be found nowhere on the internet, and not even mentioned in the Chicago papers. Had one of the Blackhawks got into a fight and punched some drunken loser in a Toronto bar it would be plastered all over papers and the television. This being said, its hard to imagine any professional football, basketball or baseball team doing this, but the members of the Blackhawks claim any “hockey” team would have done this. This is one reason I continue to be a big hockey fan, and another reason I am excited about this Chicago team.

I thought I would share as this story appears to have gone unnoticed.”

Here is the Yahoo News version, printed on Christmas Eve.

The story is a testament indeed to the solid values in hockey. And, as far as the Blackhawks go, their brand value — as in lovemark, although they have yet to be nominated there — just went through the roof. Moreover, the team is the youngest in the league (average age of 25.5 years) and is positioned 4th in the Western conference. I wish them all the luck.  And, I would certainly like to know of any other sports teams that have that kind of heart.