Sunday, October 21, 2007

Going green to grow the business

Seeing opportunity where there is a challenge is a rare gift and one that can do more to change a difficult situation than most government led initiatives. That's quite an interesting case and also an inspiration for a project I've been discussing with potential partners for the past year or so, which involves a different way of creating value in business, one that respects and stregthens a system much larger than the firm. Actually, I believe that we are in a phase of transition which will affect the way we think about strategy and business.
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Green business' go-to guys

When big companies want advice on the environment, many call Green Order, reports Fortune's Marc Gunther.

"This green revolution today is as transformative as the digital revolution was 10 years ago," Shapiro says. "That's the opportunity that lies in front of us."
GreenOrder also has built a substantial practice in green building development, helping Silverstein Partners redevelop a World Trade Center building that became the first New York City office building to win LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation from the U.S. Green Building Council. Major real estate firms including Tishman Speyer Properties and Vornado Realty Trusts are clients, too.

"Now it's really about growing the top line," Shapiro says. "How do you create the next Toyota Prius? How do you create the next Whole Foods? Look at our clients. They're so diverse. That tells you something."

this is about creating business value, not simply being less bad
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Excellent customer experience is the cornerstone of branding

There's a very interesting post discussing the attributes of global brands in Harvard Business Online. The author identifies common aspects to global branding and his claim that there is considerably lesser need for adapting to local markets is one that surprises me. Indeed, when considering new marketing practices most of which are based on the premise of customer participation, it does seem quite challenging for a company to force the same perception of a brand all over the globe. Furthermore, although the points identified are interesting, there is something missing: excellent customer experience, which in essence is based on consistency between what is promised and what is delivered. Toyota, Nokia or Intel, all mentioned in the post, have been able to deliver outstanding products delivering a customer experience in line with what was promised:

  • Toyota made cars with the best price-to-quality ratio making a total commitment to continuous improvement,

  • Nokia made it easy to connect people (most notably with a user interface now adopted even by competitors)

  • Intel brought processing power to the masses and beyond

So the market ends up giving its preference (and thus building brand value for those companies) first and foremost because the customer experience is excellent. That of course does not mean perfection: some Nokia phones are not that great and Intel had its share of failed releases. However, it does mean that if you don't have the excellent customer experience, no effort at branding will ever yield results worth mentioning. Perhaps this is the main issue facing Ford (another company mentioned in the post) these days. And excellent customer experience is also what drives buzz, viral and guerrilla marketing phenomena in today's connected world.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why some people can't Cool It...

It does seem that the discussion of the Copenhagen Consensus and Bjorn Lomborg's positions canlead to some pretty heated reactions. I came across an interesting post discussing such reactions and arguing that it all boils down to the concept of "opportunity costs". It does  look as though the world is going hysteric over global warming when it would be quite crucial to keep cool and make perhaps vital decisions rationally, especially since our resources as so scarce.

Sadly, despite a very "user friendly" / pedagogical way of presenting his points Lomborg is not always well understood. I believe that is because quite a lot of his developments run counter generally accepted ideas and even "common sense" in a way. It's a bit like the resistance to change one faces when trying to help a disorganized and overloaded executive to start prioritizing actions because it takes some nerve and a healthy dose of indifference to accept the idea that there are quite a few things out there on which you will not focus if you are to achieve anything meaningful on those subjects you've decided to tackle first with your limited resources.

Maybe more than an issue with the understanding of the concept of "opportunity cost" discussed in the post, I feel there are phenomena that provide explanations on that count:

  1. a reluctance of many people to use money and utility curves to make decisions about "noble causes" as though that would put dirt on those noble causes (perhaps owing to a tradition in many cultures to consider money as "bad" or "dirty")

  2. the degree of anxiety created by the sort of media coverage we're getting about global warming and I must say Cool It came as a refreshing perspective as far as I am concerned

  3. reluctance to accept the consequences that cannot be avoided and which stem from our past (current?) consumption behaviors... something which is creating a collective schizophrenia of sorts with part of ourselves concerned with success within the existing economic and social context and part of ourselves leaning in the direction of a radical change of behavior in favor of more ecology

  4. lack of skill in prioritizing and planning at a collective level especially where the protection of the commons is concerned, more particularly since we were conditioned into believing the theory that competition and the free markets would solve all of our problems without government intervention

  5. poor collective sense of proportion and assessment of quantitative facts, especially as regards the quality of projections of likely consequences from warming

  6. desire to keep things as they were or are (something that is very characteristic of our modern civilization with its unprecedented recording capabilities), when the world is a place in constant evolution

  7. excessive confidence in the effectiveness of public action with ambitious goals, fueled by the lack of assessment of past initiatives led by governments only with long term time horizons (economic development of less-developed countries, agricultural programs in Africa, funding of projects by the World Bank, free trade agreements invariably leading to a violation of the position of developing nations...) Overall we have confidence in a failed model of world governance and perhaps the first challenge to tackle is to reform that so as to be at least confident in the vehicle we are going to use to tackle whichever problems we can rationally consider to be the real top priorities

On the other hand there are also a few intelligent replies like this one that are a real contribution to the discussion from my perspective and which IMHO should not prevent us from using valuable contributions from the Copenhagen Consensus (I certainly consider their analytical and cooperative approach to be a very positive contribution that should bring us closer to a more factual discussion on this important matter).

Monday, October 15, 2007

The challenge of sustainability of business quests

Blog Action Day is the initiative that leads me to posting a few thoughts based on the simple fact that business has been the main driver of environmental impacts we've been hearing about over the past decade or so. By business I mean the more and more systematic use of limited resources and innovation (technical and non-technical) to achieve commercial benefit.

The topic is huge and I do not have sufficient knowledge and time to tackle it in an exhaustive manner, but I've started putting some thoughts together as to what causes business to contribute negatively to the global environment because I believe that understanding that is a key to structuring business practices that can be both sustainable and competitive on the market. In essence, what I'm saying is the following:

  1. today's situation is not something that happened overnight: it is the result of two centuries of industrial revolution

  2. the current status is a by-product of economic and business processes as they were structured for the industrial age

  3. some of those practices are at fault while other should be kept (i.e. let's not throw the baby with the bath water)

An the question is: can we use market mechanisms and financial vehicles similar to those that created the problem to solve it? In other words, if we could use existing assets (i.e. including good practices created with industrialisation) and resources to build successful businesses whose activity will have as a by-product solutions to the deteriorating environment, then we probably have a winner. And since it all starts with proper measurement of what is actually going on on the font of sustainability, I will mention a trend that is picking-up steam, as testified by posts like this one:

  1. socially responsible investing, a global movement to which Triodos, one of my customers has been contributing for the past 25 years or so, another example being the Domini Fund

  2. the creation and publication of sustainability indexes like the one recently launched by KLD. Their common ancestor is the Domini Social Index, whose companies seem pretty decent on their returns by several accounts.

I have started working on a mindmap of key areas and causes explaining the contribution of business to the deterioration of the global environment. It's still very much a draft. My goal is to examine the relevance of setting-up an investment vehicle dedicated to taking over a specific target group of European companies (allow me to keep that bit for me) in view of boosting their performance (in an integral sense, i.e. including environmental and human development aspects). After all, most companies are incorporated without an end date, so I guess it is in the nature of business to be seeking sustainability. The question being of course how to achieve sustainable consistent positive performance... Perhaps I'll have more on this within the next couple of months.


A contrarian's view

If we are serious about dealing with durable (human) development and the type of world we will leave to future generations (not only in the economically developed world), it is worth listening to well documented views from contrarians like Bjorn Lomborg, whose book Cool It I strongly recommend. Worth considering on this Blog Action Day I think. His presentation at TED Talks can be viewed at the end of this post.

What I like about what he develops is that:

  1. he makes the case for immediate action on stuff that matters today and has consequences tomorrow, possibly preparing people and nations to better deal with threats that we cannot possibly fathom

  2. his approach involves considering the issues of the human condition in an integral manner, not looking at matters in isolation

  3. he considers the limited nature of current resources and outlines a path for a rational use of those resources to achieve the goal of a wealthier and more balanced world

  4. taking an integral approach forces us to confront the contradictions of our current ways with barely conceivable imbalances between endeavours of different types and merits

  5. considering costs and benefits and focusing on currently achievable steps while keeping an end goal in mind is precisely what will break the loosing game of the prisonner's dilema as outlined in a recent article of The Economist

A matter of objective

The impact of human activity on the environment and consequences on the habitability of the planet is a central topic of concern today. So much so that today is a "Blog Action Day", that is a day during which blogs around the globe are to publish content, contributions, views and perhaps (I hope) a few questions about durable development and global warming. My contributions will mainly be with questions since there seem to be quite a few factual aspects to sort out for any action to be meaningful.

In the recent years the importance of "greenhouse effect gases" in the atmosphere has been central in media coverage of global warming and because modern communication requires simplification (excessive somtimes?), everybody seems to be focusing on carbon dioxyde. The claim goes that we should curb emissions to avoid catastrophy (for Mankind "only", should it be reminded).

But is this not somehow focusing on means instead of focusing on meaningful objectives? At the end of the day, what good will it do us to live in a world with (irrealistically) lower CO2 emissions, but still plagued with ignorance, malnutrition, lack of democracy, untolerable exclusion of developing world farmers from world trade as a result of subsidies in developed countries and so on?

My professional experience in business has taught me that formulating a worthwhile objective is central to mustering an organization's resources to execute in the right direction, so perhaps the big discussion about global warming is actually the very best opportunity in human history to agree on a long-term objective. What world do we want in a century? What can we do now to move towards that? Is it merely focusing on cutting carbon emissions?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A convenient Nobel Peace Prize: challenges ahead remain

Thrilled is probably the best way to describe how I feel at the news that the Nobel Peace Price is to be shared between the scientific community represented by the IPCC and Al Gore. At a time when Exxon is going out of its way to influence public opinions and governments against taking radical action about climate change and when Fox is doing everything it possibly can (serving which masters, I wonder?) to exploit imperfections in An Inconvenient Truth, the Nobel Prize is exactly what is needed to further tip the balance in favor of immediate action. I suspect it is also a great moment for a very special production company called Participate, which I covered on this blog over a year ago.
The challenge is huge especially when one factors into what needs to be done about climate change the following:

  1. China's explosive growth that is by no means environmentally friendly (see excerpt from Gore's documentary below)

  2. the fact that the growth of the other BRIC countries is not necessariy more sustainable than China's

  3. US indifference to Kyoto and hostility to accepting limitations and binding measures to curb emissions and move towards a cleaner and more sustainable economic model, which presumably cannot continue to be based on unchecked mass consumption of goods engineered for a limited useful life (programmed obsolescence is the technical word for it)

  4. the ethical conundrum that we all find ourselves trapped into in the sense that the developed world reached its current level of welfare by using natural resources without consideration for their limited nature and therefore is not in a moral position to force less-developed nations to subject their growth to an overarching goal of durable development

  5. the dynamics that are currently in place worldwide and which were very well described in a recent article of The Economist (covered here) arguing that game theory could be used to actually bring the world out of the current deadlock

Friday, October 12, 2007

Is mobile advertising really a good idea?

For the past few years we've been hearing a lot about mobile advertising and how it would be so great to be able to deliver "context-specific" ads to people on the move. Arguably, the mobile phone is one of the very few media & communications devices that has not been colonized by advertising (yet). Will that happen? Is mobile advertising ever going to be a good business? How strong is the public's resentment at the violation of one of the few remaining areas of relative privacy? And if the mobile phone can be used for ads, then why not your fridge or youf kitchen table? Probably the next frontier, but until then, pondering on mobile advertising is relevant for anyone in the business of marketing services as well as for brand marketing managers. The way I see it, mobile devices are probably the very best way to bridge the gap between offline and online campaigns and I have a few specific ideas that I will keep for my customers
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Mobile advertising

The next big thing

Marketers hail the mobile phone as advertising's promised land

ADVERTISING on mobile phones is a tiny business. Last year spending on mobile ads was $871m worldwide according to Informa Telecoms & Media, a research firm, compared with $24 billion spent on internet advertising and $450 billion spent on all advertising.
The 2.5 billion mobile phones around the world can potentially reach a much bigger audience than the planet's billion or so personal computers.
Only 12% of subscribers in America and western Europe used their mobiles to access the internet at the end of 2006.
While consumers are used to ads on television and radio, they consider their mobiles a more personal device. A flood of advertising might offend its audience, and thus undermine its own value.
operators have lots of databases with information about their clients' habits that would be of great interest to advertisers. But privacy laws may prevent them from sharing it
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Impressions from Ad:Tech London

This is a short interview given by Emmanuel Vivier, one of the founders of Vanksen Group (a customer I advise in matters of strategy, growth management, organization, structuring and corporate governance) at Ad:Tech in London. Emmanuel gives some pretty interesting assessments of the readiness of the market for new marketing approaches. It does seem that marketing decision makers are increasingly aware and willing to deploy integrated online-offline campaigns and to exploit capabilities of the Information Age for communicating. However, there are quite a few new challenges that they may not be familiar with, starting with the issues of brand management and brand protection in an open environment like the Internet. And since we are getting closer to 15-OCT (blog action day), I will simply put out the questions: how relevant is it to be marketing in ever cleverer ways if that does not contribute to better consumption instead of merely more consumption? how can new marketing support more sustainable economic models that do not require more natural resources than can be afforded by the one planet we have? Probably something to be considered as part of strategy formulation at Vanksen Group.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Why I will go to Le Web 3

LeWeb3 small

Last year's conference led to one of the biggest blogstorms in the web's short life and given what happened one may find it strange that I participate once again after complaining very openly (even though I was quickly horrified at the lynching of the organizers). Well that's simply because I think everybody has a right to make a mistake and I believe progress is based on the simple premise that mistakes can be forgiven even though they need not be forgotten. In other words, the world does not become a better place if the only response we are capable of giving to something outrageous or wrong is to ostracize the people who are responsible. I have made enough mistakes in my life to feel deeply appreciative of the people who showed me how to use those mistakes as opportunities to do better, people who showed me that the demand of perfection is not a reasonable one unless considered as a sort of evolving ideal for an undefined future.

The organizers seem to have understood that when hundreds of people travel for a conference like that, they do not appreciate the idea of a changing agenda, nor that of uncontrolled speeches (in French) by local politicians (we were at the start of the French presidential race back then). So I understand they did quite a bit of work to:

  • put someone in charge of the agenda with a clear mandate to safeguard it;

  • elaborate on the content so that we don't have topics systematically formulated as "Is [XYZ] dead?" (replace [XYZ] by any of the following "traditional media", "advertising", "publishing" or anything you fancy);

  • organize the event in a way that allows participants to get more of what's relevent to them.

So I decided to forgive last year, trust this year's team and participate to what I hope will be a positive conference for the innovative communities participating to the rise of the web generation, to the rise of a "creative class" and to momentous transformations of even the most traditional industries.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Laziness: an enabler of common sense?

A friend sent me a link to an interesting post about the risk of collapse of the Web 2.0. The article argues that users out there will become tired of playing around with platforms like Friendster, MySpace or Facebook as the "natural" human attribute of laziness becomes dominant as a driver of online beavior and that this will actually lead to a burst of the Web 2.0 bubble.

The point is valid in the sense that as the power of "new" fades, the motivation of individual users to spend time doing work for free will drop. However, there are still quite a few things happening out there which may be done without the people doing them getting paid and which bring at least indirect benefits to those people, such as for example public image or the opportunity to show how good they are at specific tasks or in given industries. In other words, in the vast mass of participants to phenomena like Facebook, there is a fraction of people who actually derive business value out of their participation to the platforms that are so characteristic of what has been called Web 2.0, like for example Wikipedia or targeted blogs like Culture Buzz.
The question then becomes: how does one actually measure the indirect benefits they get from participating to communities like LinkedIn or Facebook? By which means one can assess the relevance and value of platforms allowing users to host online applications is another question, that I think is particularly relevant in view of a comment made by my friend David on a recent post about Facebook.
I will also add that although I have no illusions as to the dark sides of the human psyche, I don't believe laziness to be inevitable or undesirable. Usually we humans face problems when we abandon ourselves to the extremes like complete passivity as resulting from extreme laziness or frantic activity as caused by workaholism... Bottom line: in order to identify value drivers for the web 2.0 space better skills in psychology may be needed.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Jajah buttons go live

When Jajah hit the market I became convinced that it would be here to stay and that it would make it possible to do some pretty interesting things. A clever implementation of IP enabled telephony using existing telecoms equipment, they have been able to assert themselves in a position from which to offer interesting services.

One of those interesting services is to make it possible for people and businesses that have at least a web page online to allow their visitors to call them. I think it's a great tool because at its simplest it allows some form of interactivity for otherwise "dumb" websites and for more evolved web sites it enables interactions through a channel that everybody on the planet is familiar with (the good old phone). Benefits are numerous and since the description provided by the company is very well written, I will simply quote it.

This is the first "personal, truly
global toll-free click-to-call service
" (available in more than 120
countries). JAJAH Buttons realize free and seamless voice communication in
online communities and email. One-click calling out of e-mails, websites, blogs
or social network profiles.

Initiating a call through a JAJAH
is as easy as entering your very own phone number and clicking
'Call' - all at absolutely no cost for the caller and complete privacy, your
phone number will never be revealed to the caller.
are completely customizable (size, color, style), you can you
set the time when you are free to accept phone calls and you can also protect
your privacy by rejecting or even blocking phone numbers. JAJAH Buttons are available as a Flash widget,
click-to-call buttons or a simple plain text link.

friends and family can now call you without any restrictions, obstacles or cost
considerations. You simply add your button to your email signature, send them
the email, they click on it and call you
they don't have to be registered
and there is no local numbers play, JAJAH buttons work anytime by just typing in
your phone number.

From a business perspective a JAJAH
is the quickest, cheapest way to a very own toll-free number.
Every SME can now afford to let their customers call them – from one or many
countries, or from all over the world.

What is going on with Jajah simply confirms me in my belief that the genius behind Jajah's business concept lies on the "simple" convergence between the web and traditional telephony. With their "call me" buttons they may well revolutionize direct marketing in addition to other commercial and non-commercial practices. So expect me to implement it on this blog pretty soon (as soon as I am done delivering on a project that is taking a lot of my time right now).

Solving the climate crisis with game theory

This article provides an interesting perspective on the current dynamics of paralysis in the way the international community deals with climate change. It also offers pretty interesting and practical actions that could help break the deadlock and start moving towards measurable improvements in the way we use the global environment.

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Playing games with the planet

A version of the “prisoner's dilemma” may suggest ways to break through the Kyoto impasse

AT ANY given summit on climate change, it is never long before some politician declares how “urgent” or “vital” or “imperative” it is to stop the planet from overheating. And yet few governments are willing to tackle the problem by themselves. In practice, what these impassioned speakers usually mean is that it is urgent—no, vital!—no, imperative!—for all countries but their own to get to grips with climate change.

Yet in a recent paper, Michael Liebreich, of New Energy Finance, a research firm, draws on game theory to reach the opposite conclusion. The dynamics of the prisoner's dilemma, he points out, change dramatically if participants know that they will be playing the game more than once. In that case, they have an incentive to co-operate, in order to avoid being punished for their misconduct by their opponent in subsequent rounds.

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Blog action day: 15-OCT-2007

The following video is an open invitation to participate to a huge global conversation about the environment on 15-OCT-2007. If you have a blog, post relevant material in your area of focus. If you don't visit more or less prominent blogs and use the "Comments" features to participate. Wherever you are, save a quarter of an hour to take part and show you care about the world that this generation will leave to the next one... if there is to be a next one, because life will go on even without mankind.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Wine 2.0? A long-tail business model for the wine business

This is about something I have covered on this blog, this is about a business quest that has been unfolding for the past couple of years (I am proud to support) on the slopes of the Mosel wine producing region. Markus has put together an interesting pitch that is available for all to view on Vator TV (by the way, that's quite an interesting platform). Watch it and rate it on Vator's platform if you feel like doing so: