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:

Frightful packaging waste with Canon printer ink cartridges

There are a number of marketing concepts which capture the consumer with a proprietary and branded system that requires regular replenishment of equally proprietary and costly refills. There are two “handcuff” systems with which I am confronted on a regular basis: my Gillette Mach 3 razor and my bluetooth Canon printer. In both cases, the price of the “refill” is absolutely stunning.

Yesterday, for my Canon Pixma MP470 printer, I purchased a replacement black (PG40) and colour (PG41) ink cartridge at the local Ternes FNAC. The price for the two cartridges was 47 euros — and I certainly do not get the feeling that they are long lasting. The challenge that I have with this particular ‘system’ is the incredible amount of packaging that goes along with the cartridges… as if the amount of packaging justified the price? Below, I detail what embalms each ink cartridge.

First stop, the outer packaging. A large plastic container, with some paper inserts for on-shelf communication purposes.

Canon Ink PG Black Outer Packaging

Next step, a cardboard inner box, which is visible from the outside in the open space in the bottom of the outer. This packaging even comes with a slot to “hang” on a rack — proof that it can live alone.

Canon Ink PG40 Packaging

Once you have opened up this cardboard box, you get to packaging layer #3. A plastic tub, with a film over the top, presumably to keep the ink cartridge “fresh”. In addition, you also get paper foldout multilingual instructions. And, of course, before you insert the ink cartridge, you have the final little orange plastic strip to remove (to “enable” the ink).

Canon Ink Cartridge PG40 Packaging

The scale of the waste is quite impressive merely on the micro level. However, in the US alone, according to Ink Guides, “[o]ver 375 million empty toner cartridges and ink cartridges are thrown into the trash every year in the US… [meaning] roughly 11 cartridges being disposed of every second.” In a surprising statement, in the US, apparently 30% of all ink cartridges and 50% of all toner cartridges are being recycled. I am not aware of the circuit for such recycling in France, but I would doubt that Europe reaches those still-low levels.

To this end, I believe it would be fully appropriate for Canon to provide documentation on how to recycle their ink cartridges and all the superfluous waste. There are now a growing number of opportunites and ways to recycle or even refurbish ink cartridges. Here is Cartridge Fundraising, a friendly site with advice and ways to recycle. [And herewith an interesting site for further reading on the topic: Ink Guides.]

As I mentioned at the outset of this post, the prices of these refills is quite outrageous compared to the “hardware” cost. Looking across a few ecommerce sites, the variation in pricing of these ink cartridges would lead me to speculate about how much “profit” is being drawn. The list price for the PG40 black ink cartridge is stated in the US as being $39. Amazon is currently selling them at a massive 50% discount at $18; but you can also buy “new” ones at $14 on Amazon. Incredibly, used ones are also going for $14. Refurbished cartridges are going for $13. Another option is the generic cartridge. Here is one for Canon ink cartridges: Castle Ink — where the generic version is being sold for $18.

LIDL – A web campaign that merges value and values

A consumer’s journey with a brand

Ever since I latched on to the Firebrand (RIP) site, I have been interested in the concept of advertising as content, beyond merely being a reflection of contemporary society. Ads that have content have meaning and create conversations. They can become viral, for example, because they transmit values to which people adhere or humour that bring true cheer. Content-filled ads are rather rare, as marketers are reluctant to step away from the classic advertising ways; and, yet, in today’s environment, I believe that creating meaningful ads should be on the top of marketers’ priorities — at least for those up and comers wishing to make waves, make a difference and make a buck. Arguably, all brands with at least a little attitude or a semblance of community, should be looking to make their message meaningful.

The brand’s marketing [advertising] message is one thing; but, the in-store “live” feeling is another. There is a lot of work to be done for a brand to connect its advertising message with that in store feeling down the line. In today’s economically depressed and evermore time-compressed conditions — not to mention the paroxysm of information and misinformation that besiege the consumer — there is a need to rethink the shopping experience. And, whether it is the high street independent, the department store or the supermarket, the shopping experience is in need of a significant [r]evolution. Consumers are no longer willing to put up with the deluge of confusing messages, lost time and wasted packaging.

LIDL LogoHere is a wonderful return-to-values and bring-me-emotion campaign by the German discount supermarket chain, LIDL (with stores in 17 countries, including major presences in UK, France & Holland…). I add a Wikipedia write-up here on LIDL. This web-based 1’31 ad (below) associates fundamental, daily emotions with basic (and cheap) accoutrements that you can find at LIDL. It is perhaps a more practical take on MasterCard’s Priceless campaign. Of course, I now need to see how this translates in the LIDL in-store situation.

For such a great creation, I was surprised to see that it only has 39K views (since its October 2008 posting). Perhaps, that is because it is only in German. In any event, I think you can get the gist from the euro figures…and the English lyrics to the accompanying song.

What are your thoughts? Please drop me a line!

UPDATED on 2nd June, 2009: Since there was a decision (I assume by Lidl) to shut down access to this ad above, I have re-added a different link to the YouTube ad from LIDL. In any event, if they do the same thing again, I add the link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkSOv52qvD4.

UPDATED on 19th April, 2011: This last ad was also taken down.  I guess LIDL don’t want their ads on line — or at least certainly not on YouTube?

NetExplorateur 2009 — Tom Gensemer on the Obama online campaign

At the NetExplorateur Forum 2009, I attended the Obama_online presentation by Tom Gensemer, Managing Partner at Blue State Digital (BSD), who explained the inner workings behind President Obama’s online campaign. Gensemer, who is not one to hide his partiality, gave lots of insights as to how to make an online political campaign effective — insights that carry over well into the business world.

First, here are some numbers about Obama’s “online” campaign:

  • They achieved a database of 13.5 million people each of whom subscribed and opted-in for the Obama campaign.
  • 7,000 unique email messages were created and sent out, populating the 1.2 billion email messages that were sent out between February 2007 and November 2008.
  • There were 3.2 million donors who gave, on average, more than twice an average of around $80 (some $500 million were raised online).
  • Around 2 million text messages were sent out.
  • They motivated 2 million social networking participants and created more than 200,000 events across the country.
For all the President 2.0-speak, this campaign excelled more in its presence online (more like a 1.0 approach) than for being a truly web 2.0 interactive campaign. The messages were evidently very controlled and, yet, by being touch with the communities, there was plenty of interaction. By mixing beautifully the on- and offline communication, the Obama team clearly mastered the art of feeling interactive via their effective grassroots mobilisation.

So, some guidelines to retain for creating your own campaign, political or not:

  • The average email message was less than 250 words long.
  • Each message was designed to provide a call to action of some sort (sign up, sales, contribution, affiliation…). i.e. no gratuitous communication. Every time, it was relevant and engaging.
  • The email remains the killer application.
  • There is no such thing as too many emails as long as the emails are not unwanted!
  • If you fake it, they will notice it. Be authentic.
  • If you promise, follow through.
  • Ask the addressee something (an action) with a clear and easy request.
  • Newsletters are dead. “When was the last time you opened and read a newsletter,” Tom chided us.
  • Text messages are more cumbersome to create in large scale and they do not work for raising funds.

In order for an online campaign to be successful, there are some basics that need to be understood by top management.

  • Make the online campaign fully integrated into the organisation: the online team and its activites must be part a the whole team — I think of the salesteam in particular.
  • Invest in staff, not the tools — not the easiest of Tom’s recommendations in today’s climate.
  • Listen and respond to the community needs. The Obama campaign had as a principle to get back to any sign up within 3 to 5 days with a telephone call or visit, thereby bringing online off line.
  • Test, test, and re-test. Not just the technological testing, but test on smaller markets to check the tone, the message and the uptake.

In a sidebar conversation with Tom, I was able to glean some insights as to how they managed to gain the budget for their activities. The first point was that the campaign already had some money which made it a little easier. But, the way they won the bid (they learned about it just 10 days before the campaign began in Feb 2007) and the way the budgeting progressed was by setting bite size measurable objectives. At the outset, the goal setting was all about acquiring emails (always with the mantra of linking each communication with an action…). Thereafter, the number crunching revolved around the number of email addresses that remained “live”, the number of people that contributed, responded or acted on one or other request. Blue State Digital clearly have a very good and immediate metrics system.

For me, my biggest takeaways from Tom’s presentation were that the success of the campaign was brought out by these two fundamental considerations:

  • Obama was and is a committed community builder offline; whatever strategy employed online was intimately related to the offline approach. The leadership set a consistent tone.
  • The success of the online approach benefited from groundwork done via the prior campaign with Howard Dean (2004), helping to break into the political infrastructure. I.e. An online campaign cannot be miraculously built overnight.

The revelation in all this? Business can learn from politics. Whereas I think that business principles are gravely missing from political processes, the way that BSD and Obama ran this campaign (call it “integrated sales & marketing”) is certainly a case study for businesses. For companies that are not as interested in totally letting go, there are still ways to involve and engage the consumer without succumbing to too much web 2.0 freak speak. The message was controlled, yet it looked and felt legitimately inclusive. Interesting, no?

You can read more about the Obama case study on the BSD website here.

Carrotmob for Paris? Wasting in the streets… at Cook

Restaurant with Wasteful Outside Heaters


Carrot Mob Ganging up on a PeaNo longer acceptable in today’s eco-age, above is an appalling example of waste, right under my nose. This restaurant, COOK, located on our street corner at 27 avenue Niel (Paris 17e), blasts these 4 electric heaters out onto the pavement throughout the colder winter nights. On the night I took this photo, all night long, there was never anyone seated outside. Granted it was cold; clearly, it was just too cold to be seated outside inspite of these heaters extravagantly warming the pavement. You wonder how the employees do not take a stand. Clients should be more enlightened (rather than heated).   Of course, this is the same restaurant where clients park their splashy cars (or faux-eco Smart cars) all over the place, in the bus lanes, pedestrian crossings, delivery zones, etc., without much regard for others. 

Similarly, it makes me think that shops that leave their doors open in the midsummer heat to let their airconditioned air attract pedestrians (like bees to honey) should no longer be tolerated. Maybe there should be a site where we can dump together all un-eco friendly commerces — the stick please!

Carrot MobThat said, on another note, and working the positive supporting angle, I recently learned about Carrotmob, a network of consumers who buy products in order to reward businesses who are making the most socially responsible decisions. As its site says, no one wins in boycotting a location. Everyone can win if you band together and support those making the best eco-efforts.

Let’s campaign for Carrotmob à la française! La manifestation positive!  More carrot.  Less stick… or should I say less schtick?

Their site is a little poor, but you can find out more about Carrotmob via this video:

Carrotmob Makes It Rain from carrotmob on Vimeo.

Market prices for metals and paper fall off the charts…

With falling market prices, what is to become of the recycling market?

Falling Prices GraphIf it were not difficult enough to raise funds in the current economic conditions for sustainable development, market prices for aluminium, paper, plastic and steel have been falling through the [corrugated] roof, making recycling a far less attractive business. As reported by Gannett News Service, the prices took a turn for the worse once the Asian markets, specifically China, stopped buying at the end of the year. According to RecycleNet Corp., the national price of aluminium has dropped from $2,040 to $1,020 per ton since June. Steel has fallen from $210 to $77/ton. As a result of these lower commodity prices, recycling companies have had to cut back on services, including curbside pickups, and to lay off personnel. Aside from the financial difficulties for the recycling companies, a more harrowing risk would be that consumers get out of the habit of recycling. This will depend in part on how long this depression in prices lasts. More on the subject of falling market prices here from the Times Herald-Record (NY State). These price drops reinforce the notion that sustainable development may well take a back seat in the ongoing recession. Hopefully, the recycling companies will survive this downturn and, perhaps, find more efficient means to do the recycling in the process. That said, if the recession were to reduce considerably production and hyper-consumption, maybe that would be some kind of victory in the fight against global warming? Wherefore the quality of life after that shake-up, though?

BootB & Pratiks – Website Reviews

I have spent the morning looking at and rating two different “community” sites with different concepts: Bootb and Pratiks, with proof that not all sites are created equal.

BOOTB – “unlimited creativity”

I discovered a new concept in the Internet world which appeals to me no end. It is called BootB, for Be Out of the Box. Available in 12 languages at launch (officially launched November 2007, but went “live” during 2008) Bootb it is still just in the beta phase. With several big name clients and plenty of media coverage around the world (LCI TV in France, WSJ, Guardian and more), I have to believe we are on to something here. BootB is a perfect example of “crowdsourcing.” Pier Ludovico Bancale, CEO and Founder, has pulled together a pool of some 10,000 creatives around the world who are there to submit their creative executions to briefs put up by companies who are looking for quicker and cheaper alternatives to the traditional Agencies. The minimum price is $1000 and the creator of the winning submission gets 80% of the earnings. I have not tried my hand yet on a brief, but in the era of collaborative, open innovation, BootB has a fun design and several success stories in its pocket already. Here’s how it works. As the site says, BootB is the Republic of Unlimited Creativity… the world is your [creative] oyster at BootB.

One annoyance for BootB: the sign up is particularly painful to navigate (scroll doesn’t work, small text, odd calendar system) and, worse yet, the sign up information isn’t rolled over into your profile, so you get to do it twice.

BootB FINAL RATING 5***** out of 5.


PRATIKS – “video guides for life”

The second site I have come across is called Pratiks.com, available in English/French/German. Pratiks is a site collating consumer generated video guides for life. The idea is for consumers to post their “how to” videos regarding practical parts of life. In the channel mosaic, you will find a number of chapters, most of which are as yet empty of content: Love Charm, Car Bike, Beauty Fashion, Kitchen Cocktail, Do It Yourself Decorating, Law Money, Practical Life and more. In Beauty Fashion, for example, you can find an amateur video for how to do a chignon or how to apply a lipstick – seems to be aiming at the teenager. In Law Money, meanwhile, you find topics such as death & succession as well as divorce (neither of which has found any takers, duh). In “Unusual Hobbies,” you find such unusual hobbies as football (single most popular game in the world), bicycling, golf and tennnis… When there are videos, they are virtually all in French, making the English and German flags a case of oversale. And, without even waiting for further content to be posted, I cannot state that I believe this site will not last long. YouTube and its peers have sufficient search functionality to allow to find videos on how to play many pieces of music, play cricket or just have a laugh… things that pratiks can’t do. Then again, I did get a laugh out of the poor quality of some of the videos.

One final annoyance, the English site is riddled with errors in English. Just on the English language Profile page, it writes “CONGRATULATION MINTER” and “Invit your friends”. A bit sloppy. And some of the text has yet to be translated from the French.

Pratiks FINAL RATING 1* out of 5

Your rating please!?

Finding a CRM Voice – The Right Values, Meaning & Frequency

Customizing your Real Message & Finding a CRM Voice?

As I mentioned in the prior post, I believe that the consumer world is in the midst of a true paradigm shift. In these dire economic times, there is a huge likelihood that the ongoing increase in the share of time and mind of the Internet is going to accelerate. The consumer will turn to the Internet even more because it offers useful new tools and services that cater specifically to the needs of people living in harder times. (Read here for more about why the crisis will push up Internet use).

The question now becomes how brands and companies want to take advantage of this. What posture will companies take to reach out to the consumer who is decidedly cautious, if not nervous about his or her future? The company that speaks to me in a way that makes sense is a good starting point. For example, if a company (ex Harrods) checks out my dopplr and see that I am going to travel to London on such and such a date, then drops me a pertinent offer for that date, would that not be a great idea? The chances are that I would be more than willing to view their mail (if they only they could make their creative a little more classy, too).

CRM Graphic Description

There has been much written about CRM (for basics, see marketingteacher.com), as in Customer Relationship Management. But, except for a couple of rare exceptions, I as a consumer have not been “feeling the love” from any particular brand or companies. It is not like I am not present on the Internet, or do not own any loyalty cards, or do not shop frequently at certain stores. There is certainly plenty of data on me out there to mine. At this point, for most companies, the mining has been, at best, superficial. There are some companies who have cottoned on to the idea of email campaigns as a cheap way to bolster traffic — to the web site if not the store. But that’s about it. But, I am looking for more. Companies need to tap into the data (which I volunteer) and capture my attention by knowing more about who I am.

Once companies have mastered dynamic customer knowledge (i.e. created a way to keep an up to date database), the question will then become to what extent (quantity and quality) the brand is communicating with its customers? There is a real risk that a deluge of irrelevant email campaigns will completely shut down the effectiveness of the email channel — broadening the definition of spam, increasing people’s intolerance to emails and making them opt out systematically or just delete with increasing revulsion on reception. If the average rate of opening an email drops down below the 2% level — a barometer for so many formerly traditional media campaigns — you may end up pissing more customers off in the process. While companies are still saving on the postal cost and on the CO2 with emails, they will be shooting themselves in the foot if they overdo it.

There is a golden opportunity to use the ‘net as a marketing tool. There are two important points. First, don’t abuse the opportunity out of laziness. Pouring out unpersonalized, non-customized emails is not the right answer; like cutting down rainforests, it is a very short-sighted approach. Second, mind the data (think “Mind the Gap” as they say in London’s tube stations). What is needed is to craft meaningful messages (in line with the brand’s values), with a customization that reflects some of the unique elements of the receiver.

Customize with Ease CRM

This all leads me to the main point: Brands endeavouring on CRM programs need to reflect carefully to find their CRM VOICE. There are three core ingredients to creating a CRM Voice. (1) A CRM Voice first means being getting in touch with the brand’s DNA, its core values. How is each communication refurbishing the identity of the brand and reinforcing the customer’s affinity with the brand. (2) It means knowing how to create messages that are relevant to the brand and to the receiving client. Does the brand have an interest in me? Does it know me (without the overtones of Big Brother). Does it know how to surprise me? To wow me? (3) Finally, it means getting the frequency right, knowing how often that person needs or wants to be contacted — including all the different channels of communication (TV included). A well-adapted, customized message becomes part of a well-oiled service.

LoveMarks Graph

In summary, brands need to find their CRM Voice: a Customized Real Message that is aligned with the brand’s core values. Brands that are high in love (lovemarks *****) and respect have a potentially greater starting point. But, every customer is looking for meaning and, in today’s difficult economic times, they will be more than likely spending more time online. I will be keen to see which brands or companies come through this vortex smelling like roses — for the times they are a changing, and I believe a paradigm shift is well underway. Which companies are going to capitalize intelligently on the accelerated shift in time on online that is bound to accompany this worldwide crisis? If you do what you always did, you may no longer get what you always got.

This Crisis will bring a Paradigm Shift on the Internet

Crisis, What Crisis? Bring forth the Internet

As we spin into the depths of this worldwide economic crisis, the opportunity for companies to move to more Crisis in Chinese Charactersefficient, effective and measurable marketing activities online seems perfectly obvious, if not natural. The time has never been more appropriate for companies to ramp up online activity because their consumer will be increasingly on the other end waiting for them. I identify below five main reasons why the consumer will be more than ever present on the Internet specifically because of the economic downturn.

(1) In this period of crisis, there is a very real likelihood that people will spend even more time online in the near-term because the web will offer a cheaper alternative way to spend time (watch YouTube or Daily Motion videos) and find entertainment (on a myriad game sites) than, say, going out to dinner in a restaurant or going to the flicks. Rather than going outside to buy a newspaper, free subscriptions will bring people online (or the news will be downloaded to their mobile phone). Doing banking/finances on line (a cost benefit for the embattled banks to save on bank tellers), paying your paperless bills (save on postal costs) and other administrative tasks will bring people to their computer.

(2) The internet is the most expedient way to do networking — especially important for those people without a job (linkedin, monster, etc.). The Millennials will need to have the “older” generations on board to hire them, but in general, the custom of business networking on line is beginning to build already. This notion reinforces a tenet I have long held which is that your presence online will become your most effective CV or resumé (see here for a prior post).

(3) There are plenty of new applications and sites that now make searching for a bargain substantially easier, specifically the price comparison machines, such as Kelkoo, PriceGrabber, Shopzilla… And this point goes beyond the notion that you can get better information from internet sites (and peer-to-peer reviews, etc.)

(4) In times when travel may be too expensive, there are now many virtual ways just to stay in touch with your friends and family (skype for face to face, facebook for group hugs or twitter, jaiku for group pecks). Essentially, the internet social media networks are intrinsically designed for harder economic times. Not all of them will survive, of course, but each will be forced to carve out its niche, its purpose and the likelihood is that the economic crisis will bring much needed acuity to each social media network’s positioning.

(5) And, finally, the truth is that items sold on line will be cheaper in fact and in perception. When you add the cost of getting in your car (time is money…), consuming fuel with the risk of traffic infractions to go to the brick & mortar (only to find a less informed salesperson) the chances are that the consumer is in effect going to find the Internet a cheaper way to consume. With people and companies forced to work harder and longer hours to survive, time for personal shopping will decline ipso facto. Retirees who have already shown a propensity to hit the ‘net, will do so even more (note to self: big business in keyboards will large keys). Driving to the store hardly eases with age. And, lest we forget that, with driving, there is the added nuisance of polluting the environment. Clearly, on the supply side, more and more companies will move to e-commerce platforms (expensive as they may be initially) because they offer a higher margin business model once the critical mass is reached. Moreover, having one’s own e-commerce site is a useful counter force for the brand/company against a distribution network whose strength in the balance of power has become hard to manage.

Vortex Internet

With the backdrop of the demographic and sociological surge of online traffic, plus the terrific growth numbers in developing countries, it all makes me believe that we are truly in the vortex of the paradigm shift. Beyond the crisis, we will come out different, truly changed in our behaviour and, specifically, our relationship with the Internet. With the oft mentioned Chinese expression (pictogram above), in times of crisis, yes there is danger and great opportunities. The danger lies in the fact that the crisis may be worse than expected and certainly the Internet will not solve everything. And the Internet has its own dangers in terms of potentially dehumanizing relationships or rendering us captive to the 17″ screen…  That said, nonetheless, it is worth noting that since the Internet and the e-companies have already experienced their own bubble-bursting and crisis, they have created more durable models, filled with more substantial content and purpose.  In the process, Internet companies are (perhaps inherently less fat and) potentially more resistant to the current crisis than many brick & mortar brethren.

All the same, the economic crisis presents a golden opportunity for the Internet. How to play it? That will be the subject of another post. 

UPDATE FEB 8, 2009: I found this article written by Le Monde on Jan 30, 2009, showing that clearly this idea above is gaining traction in France:  La Recession accélère la rupture entre le virtuel et le réel.

INSEAD – Celebrating the 15 Year Reunion (2008)


I have just completed my 15-year reunion at INSEAD in Fontainebleau. There were some 59 fellow classmates (out of about 205) who came in from 16 countries (3 came from Australia). It was a lovely way to reconnect – among other things to remind us of the importance of facetime and networking. As big a fan as I may be for virtual worlds and social media networks, the prescient words of John Naisbitt in High Tech/High Touch ring as ever true today.

There were three themes that seemed to keep coming up, no matter the topic at hand:

– The financial crisis
– The work-life balance
– Sustainable development

On the heels of the record-setting one-day stock market swings (the DJIA gyrated from a low of 7773 to a high of 8989 only to finish down 1.5% on October 10th), a devastating eight days of doom and gloom and a drop of -22% on the DJIA, the financial crisis had a bearing on absolutely every activity discussed. How is the financial crisis going to impact sustainable development? Will the financial crisis hurt social media and “metaverses” (with Professor Miklos Sarvary)? There were no contrarians to be heard. The concept of a worldwide recession was widely used. Clearly, we have not seen the end of the bad news as it will now roll out into other fields, including a predictable credit card crunch and down swing in sales of large ticket consumer goods. And, of course, it certainly will have an impact on executive MBAs coming to INSEAD and current MBAs looking for jobs.

The question of work-life balance was systematically raised, and not just by Gen Y MBA students. I think my wife summed it up rather accurately: work-life balance is a myth. There may be moments when when you are able to achieve more family life, but you are inevitably compromising work and vice-versa.

And on sustainable development, much of the conversation seemed to be focused on reinforcing the existence of global warming, and less about the [clear cut] solutions. We heard from Mohan Munasinghe, Vice president of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 2007 along with Al Gore), who exposed the framework of “sustainomics.” The notion of sustainomics “draws on three basic principles: (1) making development itself more sustainable through immediate actions, (2) balancing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and (3) transcending traditional boundaries of academic discipline, space, time, and stakeholder actions, to produce the most effective solutions.” Of course, I am not sure of the application in my immediate world. Anyway, good to listen to. {Read more on the subject here}.

Bottom line, attending the reunion was grand. Reunions are about seeing old friends, but I also got a lot out of listening to some good lectures and panels on contemporary topics. One of the recurrent conclusions of reunions, though, it is clearly NOT a French thing. Of the 34 French classmates, a total of 7 came (un grand merci à vous d’être venus), of which 3 live overseas — and only a couple of the French came for the whole weekend–too many other priorities elsewhere! Without talking about their lack of participation in alumni giving, it is a shame that the French culture does not seem to enjoy these types of reunions. I am, nonetheless, hoping that for the 20th year reunion (2013) we will get a fuller turnout — and with a bit of luck will be talking about rosier economic times. Thanks to all of you who did come. We certainly have our work cut out for us to bring some order to the world. In the meantime, all 1993 INSEAD alum are welcome to join the Facebook INSEAD ’93 group (assuming the company Facebook survives the current management exodus).

See you next time.