Luxury market on the decline in France — What deeper effects will occur?

A Return to Values

Recession brings luxury down to earth…but what of the more urgent changes needed?

The Herald Tribune ran a front page article entitled “A return to Values?” (15 Jan 2009) on the situation of the French luxury market.  What struck me about this article was the inherent contradiction about how France, the country that frowns heavily on the bling bling nature of the nouveaux riches, should also yet be the country of reference and, along with Italy, the leader in luxury wares.  Both the French and Italians have essentially got a wrap on the luxury market (at least in terms of reputation) through masterful craftsmanship, suave marketing and a culture of developing taste and sophistication.  The curiosity is that, in France (or in Italy), you really cannot be seen sporting too overtly any of the luxury items.  The socialistic veil would claim that all people should be made equal… But, beyond the impact on luxury consumption, the bigger question for me is whether this crisis will also have a deeper paradigmatic change in France in the way the economy is actually “engineered” for growth.

Decline PricesMajor luxury brands are talking of bringing prices down (some are even talking about discounting) and cutting back personnel.  End of November 2008, LVMH dropped prices by an average of 7% in Japan.  Many brands in India have announced major discounts (read here for the story from Business Standard India).  Chanel announced the cutting back of 200 temporary employees.  Champagne sales (with the proper appellation) were off 16.5% in the month of October 2008 versus the year before (having been -2.4% in the first nine months of 2008).  Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s designer, is quoted in the IHT article as saying “Bling is over.  Red-carpety-covered-with-rhinestones is out.  I call it ‘the new modesty.’”  Another IHT article in early December already traced the fall in luxury prices in the US.

The IHT article, written by Elaine Sciolino, writes that “only in hyper intellectual France could a sharp economic downturn be widely lauded for posing a crisis in values.”  The statement is inaccurate on two counts.  First, the hyper intellectual are a clique of people (a portion of which are often given the moniker “la gauche caviar”) which, by definition, is limited in number and therefore cannot also be “widely” praising such a crisis.  Secondly, the economic crisis that is hitting so many countries will also give rise to criticisms and rejection of the past “systems and values” that are at the root of the current situation.

For example, I believe that the USA, among other countries, is clearly reviewing its own value systems.  In coordination with the arrival of President-Elect Obama, there is a true opportunity for the US to revisit its values.  Hopefully, going well beyond the issues of financial liquidity, credit living and low savings rates, such a re-evaluation will look at the three biggest problems: (1) the lack of curiosity and poor general education levels, (2) the excessive consumerism and a reconsideration of the value of money, and (3) poor health levels, including poor eating habits combined with the terribly low medical coverage.

Great Depression: Jobless Men Keep GoingDuring the Great Depression, many people were no doubt forced to change their habits.  But, as the years went by, perhaps blurred by the impact of WWII, it seems that the Depression did not provoke any long-term change in values — at least not beyond the generation that was directly affected.  Will the countries hit by the current recession — assuming it gets deeper — truly change the paradigms on any long-term basis?  To talk of the need for a revolution is misguided in ambition; but, there will surely be enough people where the impact of this current recession will enter into their psyche.  As with the recession itself, you see that the psychological issues play a hard-to-overstate role in the duration and depth of the crisis.  But, what scar tissues will linger in the fabric of society?

In France and other mature countries, the removal of excesses [in the luxury market] and a return to values are seemingly upon us, at least for now.  Whether the crisis also cleanses the economies of its excessively inefficient components would appear to be the bigger question for France and its mature and less dynamic European partners (i.e. Italy, Belgium…).  The ability to restructure in down times–to help create a healthier base in the upcycle–will be critical for the future of France.  And, if there were such change brought to bear, then one could imagine that the luxury market will flourish with as great, if not greater fanfare in the next upturn.  If not, we might truly want to batten down the hatches.

What do you think are going to be lasting effects of this recession?

Cricket as Life – Howzat for a Philosophy

Cricket as Life – A philosophy to follow

Playing Cricket

Considering the space that sports has taken in my life, I can hardly help thinking that sports are, at the same time, a part of my life as well as a microcosm of life itself. I have written on several occasions in the past on how one can draw [management] lessons from sports, for example with rugby and rowing… There is no doubt that sports participate in the development, among other things, of leadership skills and life skills (e.g. learning to win and lose graciously). Sports have been an integral part of my experience and formation. Physical and emotional scars, tears and elation, friends and enemies mark my portfolio of memories.

Recently, reflecting back on my days (10 years) at boarding school in England, I was pondering what cricket had brought to my life. Cricket outside England and the former colonies does not bowl over many people and I do not have regular occasion to talk about the subject in my sphere of friends. Mentioning cricket is more likely to provoke a long off, sound like a silly slip of the tongue, leave a pit in the gully. They just don’t get the point; you don’t have a third leg to stand on.

I remember reading a wonderful article about how countries that play cricket go to war less often; at least, cricket was a pacifying activity, capable of aiding diplomatic relations. The point of the article was that cricketers were inculcated with a certain sense of civility and that, in competing against one another, there is an overall sense of fair play that reigns — otherwise the epithet, “that’s just not cricket” is voiced. Of course, all the cited countries in the article were colonies of the English. There remains the fact that, unlike England’s other colonies, the USA did not see fit to pick up cricket. In its stead, the Americans cultivated baseball. Here is a crooked timber blog taking a look on that subject. If I can retrace that article, I will gladly post.

Meanwhile, I was reflecting how a 5-day [cricket] test match was a condensed version of life. If you play a full 5-day test, it is quite the journey. As the title of the contest suggests, it is a test of your endurance and concentration. There are a four cycles as you bat first, field, bat again and field again (in life, there are four broad cycles: baby, teenager, adult and you’re looking good, son). You pass multiple moments being in, being out. If you mess up the first time, you generally have the chance to make up for it in the second innings. But if you score well in the first innings, people will be gunning for you in the second at-bat. More often than not, you come out with a draw, but the superior point is to appreciate the journey, to take away the positive moments, learn from the mistakes. Like most of life, cricket is not exactly wonderful television material (although the success of reality shows is throwing doubt on my assumption). Like in life, it is the collection of small moments that give the most meaning to the event.

Oval Cricket GroundAs Voltaire said, one should cultivate one’s garden. In cricket, during a 5-day match, you certainly want to have a good grounds keeper and a beautiful green square. Over the five days, the wicket gets worn down and the bounces keep you on your toes. You cannot be dulled into routine, for you will surely pay the price. And, as I found in this thoughtfulmood blog, you need to take every ball at face value, because each ball has an independence from the prior deliveries and needs to be played accordingly.

While recognizing that a cricket match need not necessarily last 5 days to accommodate my machinations, I just wanted to use this space to reminisce about the days I played cricket. For the record, I played wicket keeper and was a very mediocre batsman. But, I remember well my cricketing days. My last official game was playing as an old boy at my prep school (now the defunct Old Malthouse School, replete with VIP site on Facebook) and I remember how we achieved a tie (exactly the same score after 20 overs). The last time I faced a ball, without pads I might add, was on a dusty field outside of Delhi where barefooted boys were having the equivalent of a pickup game. I faced one ball and bowled a couple of balls (which caused considerable aches for the following days). They showed great grace in allowing me to relive my younger days.

Howzat CricketLike many of the eccentric games that I have had the occasion to play (and still do), including Real Tennis, Eton Fives, Field Game, Wall Game, the game of cricket has enriched my memories. To a certain degree, cricket represents the closest I came to doing far niente (not one of my strengths) in sports. Howzat?

If you like this topic, you might want to read on… Here’s another philosophical post on Life is Cricket from Kevin Rodrigues in Mumbai. And you can get a Life Is Cricket t-shirt here.

Otherwise, the name of the game is to make sure you live your life and are able to say at the end: that’s cricket.

Value of a Facebook Friend placed at 37 cents – What a Whopper.

How much is your friendship worth? Just 37 cents!

Burger King Whopper SacrificeI love this. Burger King is up to its notorious self, finding all sorts of ways to gain rebellious publicity. In this most recent activity, Burger King announced that it would give any person that drops 10 Facebook friends a coupon to buy a Whopper. With a Whopper priced at $43.69, that would effectively put the price tag of a friend on Facebook at 37 cents. The campaign, called Whopper Sacrifice, is now closed as some 24,000 people quickly sacrificed 10 of their friends to reap the Whopper coupon. Here is the story from the New York Times. If you want to check out the Whopper Sacrifice application, it’s here. And, if you are one of the people on the losing end, who got dropped by a now “ex-friend,” the Burger King team were sufficiently foreseeing, to provide the angry-gram application directly on their site (photo top right), with the ability to write to your ex-friend a nasty letter (replete with an angry hamburger). Here below s a neat little artistic rendering of the program from a Kenyan, Joe Ngari.

Facebook Friends versus Burger King Whopper Sacrifice

Frankly, it’s a wonderful piece of marketing, (a) getting at the notion of those who have oversubscribed their Friends, (b) giving out a free burger during the difficult economic times, and all this (c) with an application on Facebook, the second most visited site, after Google, over the Christmas period. Kudos to the BK marketing team and the Crispin Porter & Bogusky ad agency that came up with this counter intuitive program. And the cost? Ok, let’s say $10,000 for the FB app. Add $20,000 for the 2 light websites (angry-gram and Sacrifice Whopper) including the hosting for the sake of argument. And, let’s say there’s a whopping 30% uptake on the coupons (30% of $88,560) meaning $26,568 worth of redemption of the coupons sent out electronically, of course, taken at a reasonable cost of goods of perhaps 15% (I have no idea of the fast food COGS), adds less than $4,000. Of course, there are the agency fees to add. So the total cost would be $35K plus agency fees. Not bad from where I sit, even if I don’t like fast food.

Somehow, I managed not to get dropped, but I’d love to hear your reactions!

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.

Categorising my personal emails

Mail - EnvelopesI receive, I would estimate, about 35 non-work related more or less ‘old fashioned’ messages a day via the multiple communications services to which I am subscribed: hotmail, gmail, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. When taken alongside the 100+ mails received daily at work, I would say that such a volume is basically average for a professional. A few folks I know in the high tech industry (e.g. at Google or Facebook) suffer numbers more like 250+.

La Poste - Mail BoxA couple of comments here. First, the volume of these non-work mails is wholly manageable, if it were not for the time I like to take to reply to as many as I do. Secondly, the communications on Facebook remain surprisingly personal and, if not personal, opted in (via a membership in a group, etc., that I have chosen). Whether it’s a poke, some shared application or just a Facebook mail, the sender of the mail is someone with whom I accepted to be in contact, and by and large, there is a form of respect that seems to have settled in. And, whether the message is short and sharp or long and detailed, it is a message I typically enjoy opening. Thirdly, my regular post mail has been on the decline (thankfully we are not on any wasteful mailing lists). Having opted in for electronic versions for as many statements and bills as possible, the volume of CO2-related mail has dropped considerably.

On another level, when I take a step back and evaluate these 35 non-work communications, I feel like they fall into four categories.

Turtle Love - Making Love in a Garden(1) There are the sole-destination personal messages coming from people in and out of my life, dotted around the world. (2) There are the humourous messages, jokes of one or other colour (and often accompanied by cartoons or photos). Then, (3) there are the meaningful messages, for example, compassionate mails that spread humanitarian messages or soulful powerpoint slides shows (.pps). These last two categories of messages, which are more or less revisited “chain letters,” are collected and passed along to you as part of a group, selected perhaps for a specific or common value, but otherwise just part of a “forward to” group. Have you noticed that both the humourous and meaningful messages often contain a visual component? And, (4) finally of course, there is the beloved spam, spam, spam, eggs & spam and its small cousin Opted-in Newsletters/Mailings that get through the spam filter.

Meaningful Relationship Cartoon

Based on this classification, I have to say that I understand why I enjoy my early morning hours delving into my message boxes. Three of the four categories are bound to be enjoyable. Whether humourous or “meaningful” — when added to the personal — the vast majority of the mails I receive are in fact laden with some emotion, although the jokes category can sometimes be a little irksome. Who is to say that the virtual is by definition cold and impersonal. Nonsense! There is a warm and fuzzy world out there!

One of the key lessons is in how you “train” or manage your contacts and the messages you send and receive. If you like the jokes from someone, then by all means, reply back and join in the foray. If you don’t like them, you can ask the person not to be sent jokes in the future. Alternatively, according to the sender, you can just delete them as they arrive.

What it comes down to, in my mind, is that along with My MSN and netvibes, my worldwide web interface is actually becoming ever more personalized. Social media is feeling like personal media. The jokes bring good cheer. The meaningful messages bring sense and/or purpose. The early morning (when I tend to my personal mails) becomes a moment of virtual emotion and reflection. And I have ever less tolerance for mail that is not on target or on message. This leads me to the question of how brands will truly insert themselves into my world without offending my karma and/or busting my bubble?

On a related topic, I enjoyed this post by Mitch Joel entitled “Intimacy 2.0“. What is true about the post I have done today is that I have relegated the content to largely 1.0 type communications: the email. But, just like letters of yore, each communication has its place and the “old fashioned” one-to-one communication in emails has its place and affords the opportunity for deeper conversations than might otherwise occur in a public domain. It is meet and right that the scale of intimacy in the communications should go from light and fluffy to profound and pensive. The essential point is being ready and able to join in those conversations, to take the time to write back to the people who mean something to you, to participate and engage in the subjects that are important to you. And, returning to the point of how brands are going to “engage” in these conversations, I can anticipate that new marketers in the future should be vetted for their online presence and ability to participate in online conversations. Your presence online will indeed become your best CV.

All in all, aside from the personal mail that somehow gets mistakenly caught up in the spam filter (which is almost as irritating as seeing a spare parking space in front of your doorstep after you circled for too long and parked very far away), my morning’s experience on the computer is generally a moment of bonheur.

How about your experience? Do you agree with the categories? How can brands “interrupt” this tranquil, personal moment?

Obamania Worldwide – The Dreams & The Reality

OBAMANIA & OTHER REFLECTIONS ON A SUNDAY MORNING

Barack & Michelle ObamaThe effect of the Obama victory overseas has been impressive. Much like the initial outpouring after September 11th, 2001, since November 5th, 2008, I have come across a newfound sense of support for the US from many different corners of the world, and the support is quite similar in intensity. For most foreigners with whom I speak, the sentiment goes along the lines: You, Americans (at least on the coasts), faced with the biggest worldwide economic crisis in a century, 2 long unfinished wars, an Osama Bin Laden still on the lam, the prospect of ecological disasters and the risk of more voter scandals (untested new urns), overcame the urge for a recidivist reactionary vote, to adopt and hail its base values by electing Obama.

What is driving this support around the world for Obama? In part, I detect an enormous feeling of hope, like the release of a good dream.Dream He represents hope that change is truly going to come. What is said can be done. That diversity is not just a buzz word. I also detect that many are putting their hopes on the shoulders of Americans to rebolster the world, a world that is increasingly rocky. Beyond the economic crisis and environmental concerns, the Western world is worried by the deeper, structural issues including the rise of China, the Russian renaissance, the continuing splintering of nationalities and ethnicities as well as the omen of global terrorism. I don’t mean to have visions of grandeur for the Americans, but we all need to dream and many people seem to have tied up their dreams with Obamania. Aside from the 66.7 million American voters, Muslim communities around the world, the African community (well beyond Kenya), even a town in Japan have identified or associated themselves with Obama. And in the “If the World Could Vote” site, 87.3% of the nearly 900,000 people (up from the 49,000 I wrote about in my September post) casting their online selection for Obama.

Few would doubt that Obama’s plate is eminently full. As a black Parisian radiologist, Maxim, said to me, “it is a poisoned gift.”

For Obama and the Americans, all the real work is now ahead and it will be important to observe (a) the level and effectiveness in the bipartisanship — I have been positively impressed by the effect of President Sarkozy had in bringing in several valuable Socialists into his government; and (b) how Obama manages against the oh-so-high expectations. If the Democratic party were to get a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (3 seats still undecided) and with the strong House representation (between 255-259 seats), there is a chance that Obama will be able to put through a good portion of his vision. But, what happens systematically — it seems no matter the president, the party or the country — is that there is a boomerang effect some 12-18 months after induction into office. The dissatisfied electorate then “punishes” the standing leader, curbs his or her power and the result is a near lame-duck experience for the remaining years. I have started to think that this is just a natural cycle in democracy. More likely than not, an external and/or unexpected event will likely occur that will unbalance the apple cart and, whether or not his policies have had time to work, will have a material impact on his presidency. It does seem ironic that an unexpected event will be likely. But, this, too, seems to be a part of the natural cycle.

Four More Reflections

As I ponder this Sunday morning, there are four more things I would like to say about the past couple of weeks.

China Flag1/ Don’t you find it symbolic that the Chinese bailout plan at $586B is just below the US one in size ($700B)? Although, compared to its GDP (China’s is estimated at US$3-4 trillion versus $14 trillion for the US), the Chinese effort is far more seismic. You get the feeling that the turning point is around the corner. The burgeoning question for me is how will we, Americans, manage to alter our mania for consumption, so much a fibre of today’s US society?


Speed Limit = 50 mph 2/ Forty’s are in. Obama, at 47 years old, joins a healthy stable of “forty-something” leaders. Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the youngest I could find at 41 years old. Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Sweden’s PM Fredrik Reinfeldt are 43. Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, Ireland’s Brian Cohen and Spain’s Jose Luis Zapatero are 48. Canada’s Stephen Harper is 49. I am sure that I have missed out a few others — but these are all (with the exception of Harper) leaders born in the 1960s. [Note, among other notables, that Sarkozy (53), Merkel (54), and Putin (56) are, with the majority of other leaders, in their 50s.]

3/ Seeing that Obama is a Web 2.0 President-elect (he has his own Twitter, MyBarackObama blog, YouTube, etc), how far can he be a Sustainable Development-President as well? See here for a prior post on the relatedness of web 2.0 and sustainable development. Certainly, this article by Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek
would seem to back up the possible correlation. ADDED 22 NOVEMBER: I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post. Obama communicated in a way that “spoke” to people. As the article writes, “Government under Mr. Obama, they believe, would value personal disclosure and transparency in the mode of social-networking sites. Teamwork would be in fashion, along with a strict meritocracy.”

4/ Did you realize that within two days of each other, Obama won the US Presidency, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Paris Masters 2008 and was crowned #1 for France, while Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever Formula 1 Champion? As both Hamilton and Tsonga are 23 1/2 years old, Obama at 47 is exactly double their age. And all three of them are métise (specifically a black father and a white mother). Rather remarkable, no?

Your thoughts?

Common Factors in Web 2.0 & Sustainable Development

Web 2.0 and Sustainable Development – A Way of Life

Via personal predilection and, as it happens, in my work, I am embedded in Web 2.0 functionality. When I take a helicopter view of web 2.0, especially as it applies to the corporate world, I associate the 2.0 mentality with the desire to interact, to listen and to engage. Words such as “open”, “collaborative”, “flat” (as in hierarchy) and “collective intelligence” feature regularly in 2.0 vocabulary. web 2.0 is, at its core, social — thanks to the many new functionalities and the spirit that comes with it. And with it, the internet has gone from cold and impersonal to warm and interactive. Furthermore, web 2.0 is entirely global in scope, like all things on the ‘net.

Web 2.0 Graph Interlinking Circles


In another vein, I am personally committed to Sustainable Development (SD) and, in my professional world, am also engaged in the process. When I consider the mentality of all those who are also promoting SD, I think of the spirit of collaboration, community, an openness to new ideas, and a readiness to engage. And, in case it were not obvious, SD is also a global issue.

As part of any SD philosophy, there is a need to marry economic and ‘social’ benefits alongside the protection of the world’s natural resources. I like the definition that sustainable development is about the people, profit and the planet.

Sustainable Development Interlinking Circles Chart


I have for quite some time believed that, whether it is the mentalities of those involved or the inherent challenges when applied to the corporate world, sustainable development and web 2.0 are intertwined, not to say interdependent. And, as it happens, both topics are very much high up on personal and corporate agendas alike. Those that are engaged in sustainable development and web 2.0 live it both at work and at home. Both entail a state of mind. Both are about individuals engaging in a community affair. And, typically, I have found that when you are into one, you are into the other. Going further into the analysis, the similarities are more than skin deep.

Web 2.0 is a State of Mind


Sustainable development has a natural outlet via the web because its acolytes tend to be very web-friendly. When one looks at sustainable development initiatives (even in a corporate environment), the web itself offers wonderful opportunities. The most basic option is email. Rather than sending letters by post (and paying for and motoring the mail van), the web offers the option to send a paperless email (and even if the email must be printed out, it is quicker and you save on the stamp and the snail mail costs). Sustainable development is also about engaging with your community and there are terrific ways for building on-line communities that transcend borders, age and company lines. Similarly, whether it is an individual, a brand or a company that wants to link in with its community, it has no better way to do so than via 2.0 functionality.

Need to find meaning

In today’s world, especially true for the Gen Y — but also increasingly true for all generations — there is a heightened attention to find meaning. We are all, in our ways, trying to find or give meaning to our lives — and this is true in work as well. Whether a new recruit applying for a job or a current employee, there is an inherent need to feel that one’s values are aligned with the company for whom one is working [notwithstanding the crisis which may impair one’s ability to act freely]. Increasingly, it seems that, in the search for meaning, the professional must be personal. Participating in one or other social media or even writing a blog (in most cases) is a personal act — and the lines are now completely blurred with regards to the corporate “friends” with ever growing corporate functionality in second life, Facebook, etc. Similarly, being committed to sustainable development cannot and does not stop at home.

Sustainable Development & Web 2.0 in the workplace

This all leads me to the notion of bringing web 2.0 or SD into a company that is not otherwise “there”. In a serendipitous way, I was talking with some French friends and realized that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Corporate Social Media actually have the same initials when translated into French: R.S.E. (Réseau Social d’Entreprise et Responsabilité Sociale d’Entreprise). But, whether it is sustainable development or web 2.0, implementation at the company level requires significant change management. And, there are drawbacks or risks to engaging in sustainable development or bringing a web 2.0 philosophy in the corporate world. In both cases, it is hard–if not incredible–to be half web 2.0 or just a little sustainable development. Being half-hearted about either leaves you exposed to having your ear eaten off. Implementing web 2.0 functionality necessarily means being able and wanting to listen because it is about two-way dialogue. If your client has something to tell you, you better have a plan as to how you plan to react. If not, the syndrome of the “fake blog” is quicky rooted out. Similarly, if a company trumpets its responsibility in sustainable development, but behind is wasting water (cf Starbucks nailed by the Daily Sun in the UK), the community bites back.

Taking on SD or implementing web 2.0 environments are neither invisible, innocuous nor tempora
ry actions. Both CSR, as it relates to sustainable development, and the implementation of web 2.0 functionality and systems ultimately require a complete company adoption — and senior management involvement. Anything less will become either dysfunctional or causes disconnection, neither of which are healthy. Meanwhile, if there were ever any question as to why a company should want to go down either road (SD and web 2.0), it is increasingly obvious that the spirit of innovation is inherent in both. Web 2.0 has bred open platform innovation — bringing a wider ranging community into the innovation process. SD, when taken on board fully by a company, has an ability to transform old “in growing” models into vibrant, community-based models that combine ecological benefits (planet) with ergonomic improvements (people) and economic savings (profit), if not growth. By evolving corporate culture to encompass these state of minds, companies will benefit from attracting a certain profile of candidates. Both SD and web 2.0 have engrained in their approach an acute attention to the economics and, moreover, they both provide concrete and measurable benefits.

Three critical steps in “How To…”

But, you don’t get there overnight. So how to do it? As I mentioned before, it takes change management. I have three sine qua non suggestions — whether it is Web 2.0 implementation or Sustainable Development actions we are talking about.

First, part of the recipe for success is having senior management total benediction, if not involvement, to help push through the inevitable sticking points (company culture, etc.). Secondly, actions and implementation need to happen in bite sizes, but as part of an overall plan — otherwise, you can get the callout of “greenwashing” or fake 2.0. And, thirdly, when a company wants to undertake active CSR or integrate web 2.0 functionality (whether in intranet, extranet or internet sites), the internal communication and adoption by its employees are absolutely vital. Notions of greenwashing and web 1.0 management are immediately picked up by employees, so the internal marketing and actions must be carefully aligned with the external communications. Meanwhile, here is a good recap (below) from Search Engine Land on how to bring social media into a company (concept from Elliance.com).


So, in sum, Web 2.0 and Sustainable Development have paths that are intricately related. Not that Greenpeace is all about web 2.0 (of course, their site has plenty of interactivity), but, in that both SD and web 2.0 are associated with a way of life, they share many of the same traits and, to some degree, the same challenges. I scoured the web for others blogging on this particular topic, and I did come up with t
his article by Thomas Claburn at Information Week. What I did find more commonly was that there is room to act on Sustainable Development in a 2.0 fashion, namely Sustainable Development 2.0. Here is an October 2007 analysis from Knowledge Politics of Web 2.0 and International Development NGOs. For more on the topic, read below.

* Policy Innovations – Can Web 2.0 revolutionize CR by James Farrar, Gerhard Pohl, Emily Polk, Steve A. Rochlin, Devin T. Stewart, Andrew Zolli
* Diario Responsable
* Weitzenegger.de – Consultancy services merging 2.0 and Development

What do you think? What similarities do you see? Or do you disagree? Thanks to bring your engagement with you as you comment!

The Grand Divide Between Education & Teaching

The difference between Educating and Teaching… and the emptiness inside

I have decided to translate into English a post I did in French over the weekend due to the interesting discussion that it provoked. An article, entitled (for you francophones) « Il y a un divorce entre enseignement intellectuel et formation morale », by Jacqueline de Romilly, published in Le Figaro on October 29, 2008, inspired this post.

The article features a speech by Jacqueline de Romilly on the state of education and teaching in France. Education is a subject dear to my heart both personally and professionally. In a post I wrote earlier this year, I touched on the topic addressed in the speech by Ms. de Romilly, writing about the differences between education and training.

EducationWhile teaching relates to the transmission of knowledge and intellectual learning, Ms. de Romilly stresses the importance of education in the larger scope, including the transmission of values. “Education … means enabling someone to develop and flourish with his own qualities; for human beings, such human qualities relate to the spirit, character and suitability for life in society.” She cites three major problems in French ‘education’: (1) the poor knowledge of the language which affects the ability to communicate [with a risk of giving way to violence]; (2) a poor understanding of history and, therefore, of one’s past and one’s culture; and (3) a lack of reading of literature that is formative in the development of ideas and one’s imagination, not to mention what one can learn via certain iconic characters.

A fundamental concept is that the education of children begins at home. For example, at the dinner table, a family can forge links, telling stories and, at the same time, transferring the family history. But, today, with the quest for time, broken families and stress of work, the transmission of values, personal history and sharing of free time have become rare commodities for a child. I also know that the French philosopher, Luc Ferry, would approve when I say that we, as parents, must cultivate the passion for — and reading of — great classics, in which there are real lessons of life. In fact, it is vitally important for a child to develop his or her passion(s). Through this passion, a child will cultivate his/her curiosity, learn, connect and ultimately give meaning to his/her life.

Acting MasksSports CreativityExtending the concept of education beyond academia, I am a strong believer in the educational value of sports: how to work as a team, be a leader, to deal with physical challenges, to learn to win or lose with grace. Of course, sports are not all equal in the transmission of these values and are not necessarily for everyone. But for many, sport is also a avenue to channel one’s [excess] energy. In another domain, I believe deeply in the importance of performance arts, such as theatre and dance. Participating in theatre at school (I had roles in a dozen plays) was very formative for me – theatre called for the development of the self, opened me up to the diversity of personalities, and exercised my communication skills and stage presence. In England and university in the United States, I also greatly appreciated the art of debate – an environment that hones one’s talents in defending one’s ideas. It also serves to sharpen communication skills and how to compete in a public forum.

What struck me in the article by Ms. de Romilly was the way in which what she described echoed with the state of education – and society more broadly – in the United States. Ms. de Romilly does not cite the influence of the Internet which is normal to the extent the Internet is merely a tool and not at the root of the problem. But she could have expanded about the lack of attention span of children, distracted by the hyper-visual world, the addictive online games, chat rooms without profound meaning, and so on. Across the Atlantic in the US, a book was released this summer called “Why We Hate Us,” by Dick Meyer. In a similar sense, but coming from a completely different angle, Mr. Meyer writes of the lack of interest that have vis-à-vis each other. For Mr. Meyer, hate is not the hatred of fear & loathing, but the hate as in “oh, [women] don’t you just hate it when the men start talking about sports.” The level of conversation in suburban dinners in the United States, says Meyer, pushes some Americans to seek solitude, isolation (at the very least, it does nothing to encourage meaningful bonding). The conversation is too dehumanized. Many are disappointed by the lack of culture, the lack of depth – and indeed, the dulling effect of being permanently “politically correct.” Americans, he writes, naturally turn to the Internet to find interaction with others who share a specific passion, people who are present at any time within social media networks. Is the same phenomenon currently spreading to France?

Taking a helicopter view on Ms. de Romilly’s speech, I would say that teaching in France focuses too much on academics in general and should incorporate a broader scope on “education,” such as sports, theatre and even debate. With the emphasis on subject matters that promote the left side of the brain (maths, sciences…), schooling in France is flawed and gives less chance for children to blossom fully. Both Ms. de Romilly and Mr. Meyer talk about their values as “old” values; yet, even if some consider them retroactive, these are, in my opinion, timeless values and seem – in some circles, at least – to find a resonance on both sides of the Atlantic (and, of course, the Channel, too).

Blogs that have written on the book “Why We Hate Us”:
Page 99 Test
Campaign for the American Reader

Facebook Moskovitz’s departure means egg on the face…

Facebook – what book value? Don’t take it at FaceValue!

The news is out that Facebook is in the throes of a severe management crisis. Five of the top managers have left, including co-founder Dustin Moskovitz (October 3 2008) who has taken with him star engineer and ex-Googler Justin Rosenstein (see here Bit-tech.net news or on cnet.com). Prior departures over the summer included engineer Matt Cohler and COO Owen van Natta. The site is losing money and funding has dried up. The ambiance, conditions of work and, worse, strategic direction at Facebook are seemingly awry. The Microsoft investment ($250 million for a whopping 1.6%) and valuation ($15B for the entire company) is now looking sour and, given that we are in the vortex of a global financial crisis, you have to wonder what is going to be the right valuation if/when Facebook gets bought out if it does not go belly up (or should I say Face Down). See here for the report from Wall Street Journal WSJ Article or en français from Le Monde. Here is an analysis on why Facebook is foundering, from Valleywag.

Meanwhile, does this “flight from Facebook” put into question the value of social media?

My opinion: absolutely not.

Social media platforms are, without a shred of doubt, a great innovation for individuals of any age, all sorts of clubs & associations, and even companies (for their employees). Of course, there are some better practices that are advisable (relating to personal marketing, long tail issues, professional vs personal space…). Gartner analysts, Anthony Bradley and Nikos Drakos, touch on some of the important “how to’s” for a company wanting to integrate social media into its business. Read the article by Tim Ferguson on Management @ silicon.com.

If there is a true value for a member to belong to a social media network, which I believe is the case, then there will be ways for social media companies to create sustainable economic businesses. Targetted advertising on Facebook is effective and affordable — and as a Facebook user, to-date, I have never felt “violated.” But, they have clearly not managed growth well…

The challenges at Facebook reflect issues which are, at heart, proper to any traditional business (management cohesion, strategic alignment, cash flow, capitalization, growth issues, etc…). In the current economic crisis, there are likely many other businesses — that have even more robust business models — that are going to hit the wall. There will be no prisoners. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see who are your real friends in this perfect financial storm that we are all experiencing!

My take? Great opportunity for marketing companies to get some good advertising rates.

And, who is going to come to Facebook’s rescue?

Airline Competition & Inflight Entertainment – How do they fare?

AIRLINE COMPETITION & INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
ARE YOU ON BOARD?


As the competition for airline passenger dollars is only going to get worse — between higher oil costs, personnel issues & union negotiations, terrorism threats, ecological considerations [not to mention economic crisis] — you wonder how most of the companies in the airline industry are going to get through this. In many regards, the question is whether the airline companies have kept a keen eye on customer satisfaction? For myself, there are five key criteria (in order):

  • time/direct flight
  • cost
  • comfort
  • food & amenities
  • service

The first two criteria have the benefit of being quantitative. The last three are subjective and certainly vary within a company’s fleet, much less between the competitors. So, on what basis should airlines be competing?

Although the US market remains the most active in terms of volume (see here for the Worldmapper by number of flights by country), the margins are clearly under tremendous pressure and there seems to be little value creation by the US companies. The hub system, security hassles and unpredictable weather make travelling in the US already quite the burden. But, on top of that, the US airline companies seem to be in a negative spiral of cutting costs, eliminating frills and, as a consequence, taking the fun out of flying — particularly for domestic flights. It would seem that the US airlines are bent on competing on cutting of costs, which unfortunately means too many grumpy personnel and unhappy passengers.

Looking at Europe, you only have to think of the exits of SwissAir (now Swiss Intl Airlines) and Sabena (now Brussels Airlines and 45% owned by Lufthansa), the continuing tribulations at Alitalia and the massively splintered market (with each country having its own network of companies) to know that there is going to have to be a further shakeout. Moreover, the frills and pleasures of flying on European carriers isn’t particularly thrilling either. And, if the high speed train network becomes more commonplace, there will be evermore competition on the ground. But, for now, I am going to compare the experiences inflight.

To illustrate the difference in offer for two international flights with a similar duration (6 hours), I have made a few comparative snapshots of life in the cabin (economy class that is) for two different routes, with a focus on the inflight entertainment.

First [above], there is Air France (for which I am generally a big fan). On this route from Paris to Boston (26 Jun 2008), they offered a dingy inflight entertainment — with no personal screen (left – you get to see where it might be) on the flight (7 hours in broad day light). What you get is the ‘ole pathetically small and distant general screen (to the right). The good news? You are encouraged to read or rest…On the flight back from New York to Paris, the plane was equipped with a [very small} personal screen, but on the West-to-East flight, you are only interested in sleep.

Now taking look at another international flight of a similar distance, Paris to Dubai with Emirates Airline; the story is radically different. The personal screen (pictured to the right) comes with masses of choice. The touch screen is very user friendly (I blogged about this before — see here). And, even the booklet announcing the inflight entertainment is interesting to read. It comes with an informative music anthology (scanned below)…

What is even more startling is when you start to compare Emirates Economy Class and Air France Business Class. On the left, you see the Air France business class experience, Paris to New York. The screen is stationed on the back of the seat in front of you which, good news/bad news, is quite a distance. And, on the right above, you see the Emirates’ economy class entertainment system. The screen is touchscreen (better functionality), bigger and, as you can see with the seat number (28A), is entirely personalized. You might say it’s a small detail. First, details count. Secondly, I feel it is a huge difference because it is what I want in a long flight. Kudos for knowing your customer.

The truth is, however, the level of comfort, service and amenities absolutely depends on the route you are on. Some routes — for the very same airline — are better equipped than others. The problem with such “variation” is that, as a passenger, you no longer can trust the brand you are choosing. And, in terms of comparing one airline with another, unless you have the option of taking different airlines on the same route, you and I are systematically evaluating apples and oranges. So, there remains plenty of confusion out there and, to the extent that timing and cost remain top considerations, the “fluffy stuff” all too often takes a backseat.

All this to say, all things are not created equal in the airline industry. And, with the stiffening of competition, the economic crisis and inflexible cost structures, you have to imagine that the market forces will not be kindly for the airline companies that have taken the fun out of flying for both cabin staff and passengers. In another post to come, I am going to look at the advertising campaigns as a looking glass into the strategies employed by winning and losing airlines. Watch this space. In the meantime, please give me your feedback!