Thursday, November 30, 2006

Quote of the day

"In an era of hyper-competition and nonstop innovation, the most
powerful ideas in business are the ones that set forth an agenda for
reform and renewal—the ones that turn a company into a cause." _ Polly Labarre, co-author of Mavericks at Work

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Is old-style advertising even an option?

There's an interesting quote of the founder of GeekSquad  here that more or less defines advertising as a tax paid by companies whose products are unremarkable. This is perhaps the shortest assessment of the true nature of a practice that needs to be reshaped in a major way.
With the web becoming a truly interactive space and consumers taking more initiative (and control) how can a product owner even beging to think that investing in advertising is a more profitable proposition that investing in design and in customer experience?
In this blog, the author discusses this "death" sentence pronounced against old-style advertising and highlights something my friends and BuzzParadise believe and keep repeating to their customers and to audiences they train: if the product ain't good, there is no point trying to push whether one does so using old-style advertising and promotion or with a marketing approach that does not rely on advertising but instead builds on successful customer experience and word-of-mouth.
A product that delivers good customer experience is the minimal bsaeline below which the cost of the tax is extremely high and no return will ever come out of it. So really investing in proper product design really seems to be a no-brainer!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mission statement up for grabs

In the glorious tradition of such fine human activities as the Bull-Shit Bingo, here is a mission statement which is up for grabs if anyone would dare use it in real life (I have actually seen a few mission statements that looked considerably worse, so perhaps this one would be an improvement now that I think of it):

"The customer can count on us to authoritatively revolutionize innovative methods of empowerment to allow us to conveniently build competitive content." - source: Dilbert Mission Generator

Promoting digital media

Jamendo's CEO sent me a link on a class dealing with Promotion 2.0 (content in French) featuring Emmanuel Vivier for Culture-Buzz, the evangelist of what I call marketing x.0, i.e. new marketing like buzz, viral, word-of-mouth.... Culture-Buzz is part of a group of companies that I am most pleased to be serving these days. The class took place at CELSA, a highly respected school of marketing and communication in France, and it provided a good comparison between the old ways of promoting music and content and the methods that are taking shape under the impulse of innovators like Emmanuel.
While the class material (accessible here and also embedded at the end of this post for convenience) contains a lot of interesting points and recommendations, there are a few aspects that are particularly worth considering:

  1. the role of the customer, who used to be a passive recipient of marketing communications organized as a top-down process in the hands of people Joel de Rosnay calls Infocapitalists in his book (the English version is well under way) and who becomes an active player in the process of promotion of digital content;

  2. the sequence of marketing activities that used to place promotion as a last step right after physical distribution had occurred and before the buy decision was made by the consumer, whereas today promotion starts much earlier and is often preceded by a campaign of buzz marketing in which chosen "influencers" get a preview of the product and comment it (see the campaign on Bob Sutton's soon to be published book "No Asshole");

  3. the nature of communication that used to be tightly controlled and carefully created at the top or at the center of a network where the means of broadcasting used to lie, and is now rapidly evolving towards a dynamic process of conversations produced by the consumers themselves with only very limited control by the owners of the product. In fact the trend is so powerful as to have led some scholars and thought leaders to claim that brands belong less and less to corporations and more and more to their consumers (although sadly for many of us that does not concern the profits of brands we use... which may actually be an interesting idea to explore). For example, in a post about the Art of Branding Guy Kawasaki argues that consumers actually influence a lot the communication of a brand and he gives pointer about how to "flow with the go" as he says;

  4. the fact that transactions over the Internet grow very rapidly and the time consumers take before making a buy decision (at least for small-ticket items) is getting shorter (so we are in fact coming closer to impulse buys);

  5. a shift in the balance of power between record companies, artists and the public. Here the author of the class argues that record companies will have to change the way they see and play their role and consider themselves "co-creators of a musical experience" rather than authorities "who know what the public needs and will push it on the market";

  6. being a co-creator of a consumer experience is also something that implies some form of humility, something stressed by Polly Labarre in and interview she gave about Mavericks at work the book she co-authored with William Taylor.

"If you want to create an enduring, emotional bond with customers,
create a sense of shared ownership and participation among customers
themselves. The more you invite people in to shape your company’s
personality and products and the more you enable them to share their
ideas with one another, the greater their stake in what your company
does. Shared ownership is much deeper than simply listening to the
customer." - Polly Labarre in an interview by Guy Kawasaki

In fact, this excellent content confirms a lot of the analysis of the trends that I had the pleasure to facilitate for Jamendo. It was early 2006 and we summarized this radical change in the way music would be marketed in a diagram that I am posting here (click on the image for full-size view). I think it shows how sound and accurate a vision Jamendo has, something that is further confirmed by recent events in distribution of online music that is not protected by DRM systems (e.g. Thomson Link in France or La Médiathèque in Belgium).

In his slide-show Alban Martin also stresses the importance of psychology,
something that I see as a confirmation that value creation in the
economy is becoming more people-centric or at least that one needs to
take full account of the human factor in generating value. And in fact
that is also something acknowledged by a branch modern financial theory
that tries to embed human psychology into market models and expert
tools designed to support the work of traders and fund managers.

On facilitation

Guy Kawasaki posted some excellent points on moderating a panel. It's good read for anyone who is in a role of facilitation with any size of audience. I think a lot of what Guy says is useful to consider even though I believe we all have our own very personal style when moderating. I particularly enjoyed the way he focuses on the experience of the audience in his post. It is also great to keep in mind that the size of an event itself is not that relevant especially if the content is to be made available online for a larger audience, whether that is part of the process of an initiative of one of the participants (something that is less and less unlikely).
Given that I often run workshops for customers, I would add the following points to the post:

  • before starting the facilitation work, make sure you are in a stable and positive state of mind that will allow you to concentrate and manage everything that can happen in a process that cannot be without surprises;

  • be prepared to improvise because sometimes you are asking a question and the reply is not exactly within scope of the question but can be interesting for the process that you are facilitating. The facilitator should be able to seize opportunities even though that may change the pre-planned structure of the event. Of course, keeping a balance between the objectives of the event and the necessity for flexibility is not always easy;

  • create an environment of trust by making participants feel that although some questions may be difficult to deal with, there is no risk of impact on their image or on their reputation. I think that is a critical aspect of facilitating or moderating. That's ecause when one cannot provide the incentive of a more or less public appearance with a celebrity, then all participants must know the facilitator will keep the process under control and make a clear distinction between what they contribute to the process and who they are or how good they are.

Anyway, that's my two dimes on facilitation, inspired by Guy Kawasaki's blog. Usually we achieve a hell of a lot of good work during workshops with my customers.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Le Web 3" conference

I registered to participate to Le Web 3, a conference that will gather top notch speakers and the most active bloggers of Europe. The interest of corporate players is also quite obvious. I plan to report on the conference, events and presentations I attend. Dates are 11 and 12 December and I will be pleased to find a couple of my current (and future?) customers there.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Monitoring Word of Mouth

Mass adoption of infotech and always-on connectivity to the Net brought about major changes in the methods and tools used by marketers. As traditional tools become ill adapted to capture the reality of consumer behavior, new research methods are surfacing, some of which will almost certainly be considered as unwanted intrusions in private life by the public.

In their wildest dreams marketers of consumer brands would want to know exactly...

  1. what goes on in our minds when we become exposed to a brand's communications,

  2. how we decide to buy or not to buy,

  3. what characterizes our experience with the brand and the products under that brand

  4. what we actually say about their brands...

Fortunately, for the time being all they can monitor is what is going on outside of our heads, what we do and what we express verbally and non-verbally (to a certain extent).

If word of mouth and buzz monitoring are of interest to you, click on the link at the end of this post to access an interesting article published in the New York Times a couple of days ago. A PDF version of the article is available here: Download 20061124_NewYorkTimes_MonitoringWoM.pdf

While I do not agree with everything the article claims (e.g. I don't think it is that easy for marketers to extract meaning out of the blogs and online forums they may be visiting and I don't think they have time to visit a significant sample of those sites in every country), I believe its general direction to be correct. It's very interesting food for thought.

read more | digg story

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Capitalism 3.0 - A New Way To Think About What We Own

That's a very interesting way of looking at the economy. I like the fact that it includes in the analysis items usually considered as given and non payable. The way we used to think about the global economy when natural resources seemed over-abundant is no longer valid. Now it seems absolutely fundamental to make sure countries, companies and individuals pay for their impact on the commons. It's actually a fascinating discussion that is central to the continued presence of our species on the planet, so in a way we owe it to future generations. So in my humble opinion it is the type of larger thinking that should be part of any present and future Business Quest... particularly when the quest has major dependencies on the quality of the natural environment.

Capitalism 3.0 is about ways we can restructure our laws and rules of ownership to cover who should pay for polluting and other harmful things -- costs that our current system ignores and even encourages. The change is based on our realizing that we all own certain things in common.

read more | digg story

Monday, November 20, 2006

Reality check on start-up funding

As part of my work I often meet entrepreneurs at fairs and events dealing with entrepreneurship or related subjects. A fraction of the people I meet seem more focused on getting massive funding from VCs than on developing their business. While it is their right to do so, I feel one of the best piece of advice one can give them is to take a reality check.

The New York Times published an interesting article discussing start-ups like Meebo or JotSpot that used relatively modest amounts of money to show their offering could be a major success.
Download 200611009_NewYorkTimes_WebSuccessOnTheCheap.pdf

The trends discussed in the NYT article confirm statistics from Canada showing that the average amount of initial investment in successful start-ups is 75 000 CAD, which is more or less the average amount often quoted in the US and Europe, i.e. 50 000 €.

So it does seem that:

  1. investors will agree to join forces with entrepreneurs only after the market relevance of their idea has been proven

  2. there are far more investment opportunities than there is available capital to fund them

  3. entrepreneurs are on the weak side of the negotiation as long as their ability to capture a sizeable market is not established

  4. the pattern of risk aversion of institutional investors is such that the proof of concept will not be funded by other people than the entrepreneurs themselves and their relational network

  5. the scarcity of financial and human resources that is so typical of start-ups makes it essential to focus all efforts on showing that an offering is desirable on the market by more than just early adopters, which means that entrepreneurs must also have a clear way of capturing a larger market (and in fact they cannot pursue several paths to achieve that goal as beautifully discussed in Crossing the Chasm - and I am taking the opportunity of this post to thank Philippe Back for convincing me to read that book)

Friday, November 17, 2006

On attention and my next frontier

It's been a while since I last wrote a post on this blog. That's because I was away on training and I make it a priority to devote adequate attention to trainings I attend. Actually I think devoting adequate attention and being conscious of what is happening is a good way of doing things in general... Not always easy, but most of the time extremely beneficial especially if one is prepared to take the feedback any experience represents. I think that's a good path to achieving more of the human potential we all have.

Anyhow, I am extremely pleased and proud because a fantastic trip came to an equally pleasant close with my certification as master practitioner in neurolinguistic programming. Over the past two years I spent over 60 days of work learning and experimenting with the approach and that's only part of my investment in training every year. Every single second has been extremely beneficial because I learned a lot about myself and about my limitations of today that are my opportunities for tomorrow. Crucially, I understood that tools are worthless if used without an involvement of our souls as much as of our minds and I think that's exactly true for most disciplines. For all the skills I learned, for a profound change in key attitudes, for helping me evolve my vision, for showing me my limitations, for being tough on issues and kind to myself and for teaching with heart and mind, I thank wholeheartedly the beautiful team of Institut Ressources as well as all of my classmates who dared to share a path that is not always comfortable.

To a certain extent robotized management is one of the issues we have in the business world, where there's been a lot of work done to automate processes, more or less rigidly define methodologies and structure organisational pyramids that are characterized as "flat" these days (at least in corporate communications)... There is one facet of business that is probably the next frontier: people. What would the net present value of an investment in truly happy employees be? I think innovative companies like Google or companie that heavily depend on people like Ideo must have some sort of positive assessment of the investment's return...

Those of us who make a commitment to work on putting people at the heart of business may have to reinvent methods and processes. That's probably one of the biggest challenges of the decades to come and my intention is to contribute to that. Actually, the end of this cycle of training is also giving me an opportunity to reshape my personal R&D, and that is very exciting.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Skype for baby-sitting

Now, you can call us crazy if you want, but the point is that I am doing baby-sitting over Skype! A friend of mine had to go out for a quarter of an hour and his son is in deep sleep under my remote watch... How crazy can applications of technology actually get?

I can't wait for hologramic telecommunications to become mainstream, as stated in this awkward Cisco "ad" on YouTube: if you want audience "on the cheap" you should loosen-up you Cisco chaps and feed us something original / funny, unless you actually believe in aphorism (often attributed to William Randolph Hearst) that it is better to be receiving negative media coverage than none at all!

On change and difference...

"The person who takes the banal and ordinary and illuminates it in a
new way
can terrify. We do not want our ideas changed. We feel
threatened by such demands. "I already know the important things!" we
say. Then
Changer comes and throws our old ideas away."
Chapterhouse: Dune (1985) - The Zensufi master

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

To patent or not to patent?

There's a very good discussion going on about the relevance of patents on Guy Kawasaki's blog. This is a very important issue for any business that more or less relies on patenting to errect entry barriers and beat the competition.

I don't think there is a universal answer: each business is unique and I stronglya dvise my customers to have a real debate about the energy and money they want to spend in patenting something. It's quite an investment both in terms of going through national and international procedures, often involving translations in exotic languages, but also in terms of actually defending the patent once you have it. So there's a kind of balance to strike between the necessity of protecting intellectual property and the business contraints that may make protection itself irrelevant.

In Europe, for a long time and perhaps that is still the case, patenting was a sort of magic key to gaining support of governmental agencies in charge of innovation and stimulation of entrepreneurship. Universities are also extremely active in patenting their work and they are increasingly setting up organizations to commercially exploit their IP. So that creates an environment that is very much in favour of patenting and that may not be the best idea in the world.

My point is that patenting is neither something companies must do to survive, nor an unnecessary weight that can just be dropped without thought about consequences. It is neither "good" nor "bad" in itself. It all boils down to strategy and objectives: patenting is the means, not the end.

Day of workshops

Just got back from Luxembourg, where I spent most of the day running workshops with entrepreneurs. It's always a very energising and at the same time challenging experience for me.

I guess one of the things I really enjoy about workshops is the the fact that they cannot be scripted or predicted. It takes a hell of a lot of concentration while interacting with an entrepreneur who faces a challeng in business, mainly because the details sometimes become overwhelming.

Part of the job is to continually set and relentlessly pursue micro-objectives. The ability to ask questions in a way that does not bias the answers is also key. Then, of course, to get down to the substance of the issue, one has to listen to the answers and to the zillions of nuances they contain in terms of choice of words, structure of sentences, sequence of concepts, implicit cause-effect links and unspoken ideas...

Feeding customers with ready-made answers as some consultants do is really the easy part, especially in a world of open access to excellent content. Helping customers find the answers or at least the paths to those answers that suit them is quite another level of challenge and service. That's what I like doing and it is quite a fascinating type of work. It's my passion and I am thrilled my passion is also my job.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Big labels are f*cked, and DRM is dead

Got this article from the CEO of Jamendo who never thought DRM was a viable way to proceed in this industry. Actually, he walks the talk to the point of building the business model of his company in a way that does not require any DRM and that focuses entirely on the participants in the ecosystem of the music industry.

My humble opinion is that creating artificial scarcity has seldom been successful in economic history at least in the long run. The media & entertainment industry had better reinvent its model instead of trying to persuade everyone that piracy is the reason why people buy less CDs and to coerce people into paying the outrageous margins of an obsolete value chain that comprises many unnecessary intermediaries. The point of the matter is that we consumers demand:

  1. usability in the form of easy access to content through open technologies making it possible to transmit and reuse content in a fair way (managed within the framework defined by Creative Commons)

  2. convenience in the form of not having to toy around complicated rights management stuff whenever we want to simply listen to music. That means that we want to maintain at least the same degree of flexibility with digital content as we have with off-line stuff (e.g. if I can lend my collection of CDs to a friend, I don't see why that is so cumbersome to achieve with DRM protected material)

  3. seamless usage of content across our various devices because nobody understands why for example some protected CDs will not play in a car audio player...

for a reasonable price that compensates the artist and those adding value to the industry.

And as a matter of fact, the distinction between producers and consumers of musical content is fading away; this is the age of the prosumer in music too... Alvin Toffler was right in his analyses in the Third Wave and in Powershift.

== Go read the article in The Register

Few people know the music industry better than Peter Jenner. Pink Floyd's first manager. Jenner has also looked after T.Rex, The Clash, Ian Dury, Disposable Heroes and Billy Bragg - who he manages today. He's also secretary general of the International Music Managers Forum. And he doesn't pull his punches.

read more | digg story

Sunday, November 5, 2006

USA Today to use the Digg model to gather news?

Now, that's an interesting piece of news because it does provide more evidence that mass amateurism is picking up speed. Individuals are now getting more and more involved in processes that used to be the exclusive province of pros approved by institutions or other formal entites. Yet another interesting indication for companies like Jamendo (which essentially does something similar with music, bypassing all unecessary intermediairies and lowering transactional barriers for direct deals between artists and consumers of music) and BuzzParadise (experts of buzz marketing and word-of-mouth, acting as a platform between brands and their consumers, who generate a lot of the communication of the brand itself).

According to internal documents provided to Wired News and interviews with key executives, Gannett, the publisher of USA Today as well as 90 other American daily newspapers, will begin crowdsourcing many of its newsgathering functions.

read more | digg story

Friday, November 3, 2006

Adding sound to the web

It seems that one of the big trends today is in adding sound to web sites. A couple of weeks back I tried Sonific's widget for adding music to blogs (on the right-hand side bar of this blog); I actually like Sonific's model a lot and I think the company has a great asset in Gerd Leonhard. Today I came across a service called Razz. What I really like about Razz is that it provides for reuse of digital
content, which I think is a key feature of web 2.0 services: it is read
and write. In a matter of minutes I was able to upload a sound file (a song I got from a band on Jamendo) and to mix it with recordings that were available on Razz... Now, I don't claim any artistic quality for this, but it is an example of some interesting initiatives out there..

Make your own Razz!

My questions:

  1. how is Razz going to make money? I can see a couple of ways, but since I have no idea of their business strategy and business model it's a tough call;

  2. is this a venture that will actually generate over 100 million US dollars within 5 years? It seems Guy Kawasaki thinks so... which is interesting

Deep transformation of advertising

It's just amazing to see how sites like YouTube, Revver and DailyMotion are being used to disseminate commercial or political communications. This is a very deep transformation of marketing resulting from:

  1. the massive penetration of broadband connectivity

  2. a strong adoption of technologies making multimedia possible on the web

  3. improved user education on software tools made to facilitate production, dissemination and reuse of digital content

  4. a culture of personal independence in which the audience will allocate attention only on its own terms

  5. the public's awareness of traditional marketing tactics and methods, leading to great mistrust of traditional media at least when it comes to commercial communications (I believe mistrust is also starting to affect the news and political communications)

On making projections

Excellent post on Guy Kawasaki's blog, giving a dozen very good tips about business planning for start-ups as a contribution to avoiding yet another bubble. Several of those points apply both for companies that are suitable for VC funding and for companies that are not. Interestingly the author considers a company to be a "VC deal" if it can reach big sales in a matter of 5 years and to Kawasaki that means breaking the 100 million dollar limit within 5 years. I don't know whether this limit has any special meaning for a VC but I can imagine it dramatically simplifies the way they analyse and navigate the world of venturing. Interesting read for a couple of my customers.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Interactive is the name of the game

Failing to take into account the imperative for interactivity in marketing initiatives is a big mistake today. At a time when people are taking things into their own hands, deciding what content they will "consume", when they will do so and how they will eventually reuse said content, no consumer brand can afford to build rigid marketing plans that involve only top-down communication. The "coke and mentos" phenomenon is a good testimony to the fact that things are changing fast in this space.


To a certain extent, companies that do understand that "interactive is the name of the game" stand to win big time. An example? Google would be one excellent example: everything they do is open and interactive from communication to APIs, to testing of their tools by the community... which of course makes it possible for them to carefully choose what is neither interactive nor public. A few years ago, when the Internet was still recovering from the wounds inflicted by the 2000-2001 debacle, many people were willing to bet that Yahoo! was right to try to transform itself into a more traditional media company... The tide has turned for good I think.


The power of enthusiasm

Seth Godin has a post about the impact of enthusiasm. He claims that enthusiasm makes a great impact and improves an experience in business. While I agree with him that it is far more pleasant to be dealing with people who are passionate about what they do, I believe it is fundamental to choose the context and the audience in which it is OK to be enthusiastic.

Who has not seen an enthusiastic business person becoming a nuisance simply because the audience is not ready to follow or the context is not appropriate? In fact, more than a choice of context, enthusiasm is something you share with your business partners, so if you want to play by this tune the key is to be able to adjust yourself to the mood and style of your counterpart(s) and to help them make the transition from the state in which they are to a state in which they can actually take your enthusiasm...

Of course, a prerequisite for being credible as an enthusiastic business person is to actually be passionate about what you do, to be committed to your projects... Which brings us to the importance of actually doing something one likes rather than something that has the only virtue of being acceptable to a social group (especially if the social group is overly conservative - if Picasso had listened to conservative types quite a few works of art would not be around for us to enjoy them).

Doing something with passion in business is another way of saying that you are actually pursuing a business quest.

Business Ready Web

A few years back visionnaries told us about the way the web would influence business in all of its dimensions from customer facing functions to the farthest reaches of its back-end operations.

Limited penetration of the high-bandwidth connections, poor understanding of the Internet, lack of user education and lack of readiness of technologies enabling true interactivity contributed a lot to the demise of a large number of companies of the first wave of the web. In the process we all learned a lot; that was the first time R&D
was being carried out at such a scale in the open waters of the
Internet. Now the drive for having economically viable
applications is strong despite the tendency of a number of players to
support questionable positions like "features are more important than
the business model"...

Notice this: while a few years ago the first articles on "Journal du Net" in France would deal with some technical topic, today 3 articles out of 3 featured on its front page actually deal with marketing issues, from the web seen as a media platform to projects of well-known brands like Perrier to include new forms of marketing in their plans... which is excellent news for a couple of my customers like for example BuzzParadise and Jamendo.

Simple communication - Why a New York Dollar is Worth only 76.2 Cents

Every year, UBS publishes a report on wages and prices worldwide, which gives a good idea of the disposable income people have in different cities of the world and studies a handful of interesting indicators. Their approach is very statitstical and I guess that makes it more difficult to exploit for many people. The NY Magazine does something similar, possibly less scientific but far more understandable for the average reader. I think it's an example of good communication and good pedagogy. Einstein used to say that things should be as simple as possible, but not simpler... this looks like an application of his position.

== Why a New York Dollar is Worth only 76.2 Cents

Based on a few scientifically imprecise calculations, a New York dollar would lag somewhere behind a Canadian buck. Here’s why...

read more | digg story

No asshole

Some business people (conservative types) tend to look at non-standard ways of doing as suspicious and sometimes well worth their disdain. My professional path being fairly non-standard, I occasionally face disdainful arrogance, which I use as means to work on my equanimity... Now I have a very official and quite academic way of characterizing this type of behaviour as being only a manifestation of what Stanford Professor Bob Sutton calls "the asshole rule".

Guy Kawasaki provides quite a few very interesting comments on the book and on the necessity to resist asshole behavior both as a victim and as a perpetrator of such behavior...