Monday, December 15, 2008

"Trouble Don't Last Always": Mother Wit for Tough Marketing Times

Erik Deckers over on Twitter shared this link with me earlier today. Here's a taste of the article (a quick and good read):

Good news for marketing agencies, printers, and direct mail companies from B2B Marketing magazine. According to their “exclusive” survey, only 25% of all business-to-business marketers are going to cut their budget. But nearly one-third of them are actually increasing their marketing budget, while another 44% are leaving them intact. That’s good news for anyone in TV and radio advertising, digital marketing/advertising, and, of course, direct mail.

As I’ve been speaking to other marketing professionals around Indianapolis, they’ve all been saying the same thing: marketing spending is staying flat or increasing.

Increasing? In a down economy? Absolutely.

That may seem counterintuitive to some, especially the bean counters, but spending more on marketing now is smart. That’s because the 25% of marketers cutting their spending are your competitors. They’re hiding with their heads in the sand, which means their message isn’t reaching customers, which means customers aren’t buying, which means income is shrinking, so they bury their heads a little further. (Read on)

Here's what I offered as a comment:

Right on! I'd also add R&D and strategic planning. Here's why.

My Great Grandmomma was a woman from the American South who came North to escape the oppression of Jim Crow and find economic opportunity. Not educated past the 6th grade, she was filled with what the old folks used to call "Mother Wit," a kind of smarts that can't be taught in school. Momma Lena would look at the times we're now living in and remind me that "Trouble don't last always." She'd tell me to do everything I could to get ready for my blessing, adding "be ready to be found." That last bit was in her attempt to get me married off (Momma Lena, my Hubs is a marvel and I'm sorry you never got to meet).

Now, my spiritual path is one that this church-going lady would scratch her noggin hard over (I call myself a BaptiBuddhist Yogini), but her message keeps ringing in my head as I talk with fearful clients.

But, I digress: This won't last.

If we continue to freeze our spending completely, when the clouds pass, we'll be left in the those companies that invested in (wait for it...wait for it...) marketing, R&D and strategic planning.

We see examples of firms that invested deeply even when they didn't have the sales figures to back up that investment.

A few years ago, when Apple's sales were sluggish and their customers spoke hushed tones about the Apple gospel of "not a PC," they invested--mightily. They learned more about themselves, their customers and the market. They created new products there weren't even names (or desires) for yet. They studied trends and created a few of their own. They created knowledge centers and centers of learning for customers and employees. They crafted their message. They created communities and systems in which those communities could interact. They cemented their brand. They became evangelists.

Apple and many other companies have succeeded by not giving in to scarcity and fear, but this says more about their strong, adaptable culture than, perhaps, anything else. That company's marketing systems are built to flex. Having gone up against the Microsoft Machine since their inception, they're accustomed to being the underdog with far less in cash reserves than their Redmond-based cousin.

That means that they had to get smart in whole new ways. Having proven that they could build a brand, largely, by word of mouth, they used their Mother Wit to design marketing systems that grabbed the attention of their customers--both those present customers and those who would have never thought to buy anything from Apple. We all know people who own PC's and iPods or iPhones, or shop at the iTunes Music Store.

I do think, however, that spending the same money on the same things is a no-go. The markets are fluid, malleable things. During this downturn, companies can--and should--be taking a close look at their knowledge systems (training, R&D, etc.) for ways to beef-up knowledge sharing and folding new learnings into development. Companies can also be looking (as they should have been along) at who their customers are, what they want, how they want to get it and how they want to be interacted with.

In short, this downturn is a "teachable moment," speaking volumes about continuous improvement in marketing, communication, product design, planning and execution--all the systems that make up a company.

The statement in the post about nonprofits and not cutting marketing or mailings is pretty brilliant. The recent presidential campaign is a testament to the power of marketing and of the creation of new, flexible systems for communication of messages to customers (in the political sense, voters). These nonprofits (Obama, Clinton, McCain, Romney, etc. for President) told us quite a bit about scalable messages and scalable marketing systems. And let's not forget, while the Obama campaign was raising money by the semi-load in its last month, we had already been in a recession for the better part of a year!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Relationship 2.0

Web 2.0: The Architecture of Interaction
Web 2.0. It's a term we all know because, in fact, its existed along with the earliest elements of the World Wide Web, and includes social networking, co-creativity, collaboration and sharing. That means that social networking sites, wikis, blogs and other syndicated content were foretold in the creation of the Web.

Like Eric Schmidt famously said: "Don't fight the internet." Instead, he suggested using the power of the web as a platform for business and social interactions--an "architecture of interaction." That challenged me to use my website as more than just a web-based business brochure. And I've still got more north to go.

Relationship 1.0: Gaming the System
I love every single bit of electronic social networking with one caveat: I'm not sure if I'm all that interested in Web 2.0 if all we do is bring Relationship 1.0 to the party.

We all know the elements of Relationship 1.0. You can find them at every "networking event," for example, with people in a death match where the object is to (1) sell something to someone rather than connect, (2) figure out what can be gained rather than given and (3) promote a homunculus of oneself and never the authentic you. Extra points for having taken a class on smiling and handshakes (don't laugh, because they're out there). Then, dash home to add all those names to your newsletter mailing list and send out all of those "special offers" to buy your merchandise. If they didn't want you to send them endless stuff, they wouldn't have given you their digits. Right? Not according to the CAN SPAM Act (which arose because of internet abuses).

Trouble is: no one who goes to networking events goes looking to become your next customer. They went hoping you'd become their next customers. Trust me. I get to do my fair share of public speaking: I've asked.

Learn About You? I'd Have to Care
Twitter automation through services like Tweet Later are compounding the problem. Designed to help people manage their welcome and other tweets, these services are leading to some curious situations. For example, I routinely get welcome messages from other coaches asking me to join a teleclass or webinar or sign up for a free coaching session. I've been coaching for almost 18 years. Clearly they haven't read my bio. Now, I understand that having large numbers of followers, it can be tough to read the bios of every new follower, crafting a welcome message to each. And truth telling here: I use an automated welcome message service (I get sometimes 30 new followers a day and want to thank them for following). What i have found that works, is to click back through recent additions and sending a response to one of their more meaty tweets to let them know I'm listening. Also, I read profiles before I re-tweeet (forward a tweet) or reply the first time--just for context.

Follow Me, Follow You
There's quite a bit of strange controversy surrounding whether it is noblier in the web to follow people who follow you. Twitter notables like Guy Kawasaki suggest you're a lose if you don't. But that would mean, in Web 1.0 terms, that you would have been obliged to put everyone on a newsletter mailing list who put you on one. If Twitter users had to pay for the followers by level, there would be less of that nonsense going on. Like the book says, (they) just might not be into you. But that doesn't mean you can't be into them.

Relationship 2.0, then, is about the birds in the bush and not those in the hand--about connecting people to our connections. About paying the richness of our lives and relationships forward.

Think about it when you get (or give) that next self-serving tweet about that next business offer.

An Open Letter to Obama on Small Biz

Just sent off a happy gram to the good people at about small business. Here's what I said:

Small business is the engine that drives the economy, but the government has had little real focus on small business development in years. Multiple heads of the SBA in the Bush Administration, little in terms of money and talent. Little commitment. Now, we see the erosion of small business and the very agency tasked to support business growth is struggling for its own survival.

If the SBA was a small business, they'd be having their own fire sale.

Here's my coaching for you: Transform the Small Business Administration and appoint a new Director--fast!

SBA Scope
The scope of the SBA is too broad to help all of the very diverse business needs: non-employee microenterprise small businesses (0 employees), microenterprise small busineese (1-10 staffers), small-small businesses (10 - 50 or 75), small companies (75 - 250 employees) and larger small businesses (250 - 500 people).

Right now, with very little resources and scant support, they are tasked with job creation. There's little time, energy or resources for anything else.


Divide up the SBA into business support segments (as described above). Given the fact that there has been shrinkage among non-microenterprise small businesses (something like 12% over the past half dozen years and dramatic growth among microenterprise (especially non-employee micro-e businesses), where are some inescapable facts: we can't afford for these businesses to fail (and add more job seekers to the tightening job market) and these businesses fill an important role in America.

Create an office of microenterprise small business soon, lest these businesses disappear.

While I am sympathetic to the plight of new businesses, I am also cognizant of the fact that with its reliance on SCORE rather than existing consultancies, the federal government has set itself up to compete with some of the very small businesses they are there to support.

Further, the SBA is training business leaders that the services of consultants should be cheap or free. They never learn that as their businesses grow, their needs for more advanced business consulting and support services grows as well.

Finally, I find it shocking that the SBA does not offer specific HR services and consulting to the businesses they support. With all eyes on the meltdown over executive compensation, union wages and other weighty human resources matters, I can't help but wonder whether the SBA is enabling the next generation of businesses to overpay execs, exploit workers, and hobble themselves with comp and benefits decisions they should (1) never have made and (2) would have made differently with specific counsel.

Thanks for listening.
Lalita Amos, MRHM
Total Team Solutions, LLC

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What the Hairy Heck?

I was still chewing on this blog post over a week after I first read it, so I thought I'd chew it over with you. In it, the author described the travails of a consultant who'd had his gig pulled right after he'd made the cross country move.

Michael Moses landed a job as a human-resources consultant in Chicago straight out of college. He moved to the Windy City from New York, signed an apartment lease and was ready to work. But then he got a call that more job hunters have been dreading—the company could no longer afford to hire him. ‘I was ready to go, and they just pulled the carpet out from under my feet,’ says Mr. Moses, who is 22 years old.
What bothered me about Mr. Moses' account of losing a job he actually started was the job he was being hired for. And while he doesn't mention what his degree was in, it stands to reason that at 22, it wasn't a Masters of Phd and that he didn't have the depth of experience most people think of when they think: consultant.


Hiring managers have to do a better job of considering talent. "Growing people" in a position seems like a smart idea, except when I consider that most companies are trying to get cheaper employees, hoping that they'll get the experience they need quickly. Besides, these workers, as Mr. Moses can attest to, are easily shed.

Our current job market shows a lot of daylight in this strategy.

Monday, December 01, 2008

OK, now this was a little bit of a brain burner even for me (and we all know how much I like my noggin scorched). I asked the Hubs out of a cheap Sunday night date--books, computers, Kindle and coffee. So, I'm a cheap date. I already knew that.

Anyway, the Starbucks was the now usual dichotomy--great service in a dirty store (with the nastiest stains on the upholstery). While there, I noticed that the 10 by 10 foot area rug in the center of the seating area  wasn't very securely tacked down along one edge. I noticed it--not because I was trying to strike up a conversation with it. I tripped over it. Every single time I walked to the counter or the restroom (I did say I was drinking java, didn't I?). I felt like less of a busted ballerina when I saw a cop trip over it on his way out the door.

Um, oops!

So, before I left, I thought I'd bring it to the attention of the shop keepers. Here's how that conversation went:

Me: Excuse me. I wanted to let you know that the carpet isn't secure on that one side (pointing) and that I and one of the cops had tripped over it.

He: Yeah, I know.

Me: I saw that you'd used some other kind of tape on it. A little double sided carpet tape would take care of it.

He: You saw we'd tried to fix it already (smiling tiredly--end of shift). We were going to get some electrical tape (!) but the store'd already closed.

Me: Electrical tape?

He: We can only buy from certain stores. Our DM said if the electrical tape doesn't work, for us to get what we needed from another place.

Me: Um, OK. Night.

Now, can you guess where my tiny mind went? A 2" by 36' roll of carpet tape costs about 10 bucks (I checked). Three trips to and from the store looking for electrical and every other kind of tape costs more than that in gas alone (let alone time away from the store on the clock). In addition, the store runs the risk of lawsuit if someone tripped, carrying a steaming cup of joe or a big cuppa tea, and splashed themselves (yipes!), someone else (crap!) or a little someone else--like one of the many Christmas-togged tykes getting hot chocolate with grandma (gonna roast in hell).

By looking to fulfill the letter of the store's purchasing agreement, it failed to meet another important standard: the standard of care with respect of customer and employee safety.

I find this kind of siloed thinking quite a bit in my practice with executives drilling the rules into the heads of their direct reports such that they miss opportunities for innovation, avenues to clear roadblocks and in this instance, chances to remedy safety concerns before an injury occurs.

It's the bane of the business world--the inability to get ahead of problems or opportunties before they run their predictable and almost certain course then reacting to events to mitigate the damage.

The Faith Friendly Workplace

I used to work for the world's largest producer of Bibles. Curiously, they're the same company that produced that Madonna Sex book book a few years back. There was a pervasive atmosphere of religiosity. But what there wasn't was tolerance (got to find a better word than this) for other faiths or faith traditions. Like the sometimes maligned Chick Fil-A which routinely probes applicants on their family status and religious beliefs and practices but has come under fire for limiting opportunities for those in the "wrong faiths" (like Catholicism or Judaism), companies which provide space for religious expression (as opposed to religious accommodation like foot washes for Muslim adherents) are being watched for signs that they have an express preference for some expression over another.

This article from Workforce has some great tips for a faith friendly workplace like this from GM "If you want your faith group to be in Ford’s Interfaith Alliance, you’ve got to support the ability of other groups to meet." Read on.