Sunday, May 26, 2013

Succeeding With Collaboration

Ask customers what they want in many product categories and they can intuitively jump from understanding what the product does today, to what they want it to do in the future.  With collaboration, though, customers need help visualizing the product promise.  The implication for those focused on collaboration is big  …. if customers don’t have a mental starting point today, they can’t imagine what better collaboration looks like tomorrow.  This realization struck me over the last week from three different angles:

·         From the vendors …….

Google is moving towards having Google+ as an underlying platform for many of its collaboration services.  Experts think it is a solid product, but what about the average user Google is trying to capture?  Forbes writes that people are having trouble understanding the value proposition. 

Takeaway:  Collaboration products have to be delivered towards a value proposition, not in search of a value proposition

·         From popular culture …..

Science fiction has a place in shaping the advancements we see in technology and consumer products.  Perhaps a stretch to call Star Trek Into Darkness science fiction, but when my son and I saw the movie, I was struck at how everything but collaboration had been re-imagined.  Warp speed - check.  Teleportation - check.  But what about collaboration?  They still use hand held communicators and communication advancements were focused on speed over distance, not better collaboration.  I can’t think of many books or movies that paint a compelling vision of what collaboration in the future should be. 

Takeaway:  Vision matters - we have to first be able to imagine a better collaboration future before we can realize it

·         From the experts …..

I was part of an expert discussion on new collaboration products.  As features were explained, the audience was not grasping the value.  Only when a top down use case was demonstrated did the value come into focus.  Collaboration selling is often done within the traditional technology “speeds and feeds” paradigm.  Collaboration today has no clear “speeds and feeds” with features still evolving

Takeaway:  Successfully selling collaboration requires an evolved go-to-market model

Collaboration holds great promise with a few gating factors holding back the market.  Successfully selling collaboration requires cementing a vision, creating purpose built technology and driving go-to-market coordination between product/marketing/sales.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Global Brand Value Studies - How do they help business leaders?

Brand is one of the most important assets a company "owns", broadly defined as the whole of customer sentiment towards your company.  Although easily defined, brand is hard to value and even harder to manage.  Interestingly, there seems to be more 3rd party insight available on the value of a brand than there is on the levers you can pull to impact that value; several companies put out annual brand value rankings.  These rankings have always been interesting, but unless you are involved with mergers and acquisitions and need the brand value to calculate intangible assets, the rankings have done little to help the line managers wondering, "what levers can I pull"?

Millward Brown, a WPP company, just came out with its brand value study, called "Brand Z".   Encouragingly, this year, they have begun to look at the levers a company can pull.  The methodology to calculate brand value still requires a firm grasp of finance, but Millward Brown broke down a couple metrics that actually begin to have relevance to leaders ... specifically, they look at a customer's engagement with a brand over time (called TrustR) and a willingness to pay metric (called Value-D).  These are business priorities around which there are real strategic conversations happening.  

The brand value rankings are still likely to be used as "score cards" ... how did my company do, what do I need to justify spend ex post facto, etc.  However, going beyond a single brand value is a step in the right direction of informing decision making and begins to move the study's relevance beyond just corporate bragging rights.  The study is worth a read.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

SuperBowl Advertising: Black Eyed Peas With Salesforce’s Chatter versus Darth Vader

Every SuperBowl becomes a crucible for advertising.  If a company is willing to pay ~$3 million for a 30 second spot and expose itself to the largest possible audience, it better be confident in its strategy, message, creative and the objective it hopes to achieve. 

I thought a few ads were excellent.  My favorites were little Darth Vader using the force to start the Volkswagen and Chrysler’s hard-nosed view of Detroit.  However, for me the ad that stood out the most was from for its Chatter product.  It stood out because:  
  •  A business to business (B2B) company,, used the ultimate pop culture pitchmen, the Black Eyed Peas.  This is pretty uncommon in B2B.  Accenture did it with Tiger Woods, a few other companies have done it.  But most don’t make the pitchmen as integrated into the product and usually just trade off the pitchmen’s persona.     
  • was launching a product, Chatter, that is a fundamental new approach to business, breaking down the work/business silo.  Whether or not Chatter or any of the other products deliver on the promise, this is quite a fundamental shift.  Usually, companies control their internal collaboration and conversation.  In this case, Chatter is offering itself as a platform, outside of the company, to enable dialogue.  
  • The product is based on the concept of the cloud that about 90% of the audience probably does not need to understand.  Microsoft has taken some admirable swipes at marketing the cloud .… touching up photos and watching television shows while stuck in the airport.  Making the cloud an actual player in the ads is more interesting.  Anyone 35 and younger probably views the cloud as standard operating procedure so I applaud the effort to not market the cloud so much as a concept and instead make it a supporting player in the ad.  
The Chatter commercials seem to have been universally panned.  However, I think it might actually have been one of the few that achieved its business objectives.  We will never know what Marc Benioff and team wrote down in their marketing plans, but here is my take: 
  • Linkage to clear call to action:   Ads usually don’t drive the sale, but should be a chain in the sales process.  In this case, I assume a large number of people actually visited the Chatter site.  On the site, there was a clear next step … enter your business email and start engaging in your company’s conversation.   I thought this was brilliant.  Not a call to action for another white paper.  Not some inane Facebook “like” request.  This was something you could fundamentally have interest in. 
  •  Broad awareness achieved:  SalesForce, unlike many other Enterprise software companies, needs the individual employee to be an advocate.  I’m not sure of the audience size for the SuperBowl, but aided awareness for SalesForce has likely shot through the roof.  
  •   Buzz created:  In today’s tech conversation everyone is trying to out-innovate everyone else.  Although arguably much of the buzz has been negative, it’s still buzz, people are talking, etc.  There is also plenty of places to take SalesForce’s approach  into popular culture given how ubiquitous the Black Eyed Peas are.  
Overall, I’m not sure how SalesForce justified its ROI on this advertising spend,  but of all the advertisements, I think this is one that might have made the most business sense.  Sure, every ad could be improved and this one is no exception; perhaps a different creative approach would have made this more enjoyable, but I'm not sure it would have made it have more impact.  As I wrote, my favorite ad was Darth Vader with the Volkswagen …  but enjoyment and impact aren’t correlated.  I’m not going to buy a Volkswagen, but I might check out the Chatter site.  

Friday, April 30, 2010

Gulf Coast Oil Spill - Early thoughts on the response

Almost two weeks into what promises to be one of the largest spills in US history, questions are beginning to come up about the decision timeline around the response.  Given the response went through a standard command and control model any of the actions can be considered against the standard operating procedure and the assumptions that feed into that operating procedure.  Below are some early thoughts based on these two categories.  Please note these aren't based on inside knowledge and may prove incorrect once more details come out.

  • Search & Rescue needs to be separated from environmental response at the outset:  Usually, marine incidents feed up into one centralized command center.  Anyone in this command center is going to focus immediately on the possibility of saving lives as they should.  In parallel, though, a separate structure should immediately be set up to focus on the oil spill.  That way, both events get full focus.  This approach usually should happen; what will be telling is how quickly this separate structure was set up and in place.    
  • Faulty assumptions likely exacerbated the spill impact:  The first assumption was based on a perceived understanding of oil rig design that there should have been a safety that stopped the flow of oil.  This assumption likely meant that during the first flurry of conversations, experts thought there would be no danger of a large scale spill.  The second assumption was about the size of the leak which went from 5K to 10K barrels a day.  Given the dispersion of an oil spill is based on basic variables like amount of oil, wind direction and current, the models of how big the spill would get were likely wrong.  
These assumptions seem to have lead to a delay in recognizing the size of the problem and the subsequent deploying of other resources like commercial vessels and the US Navy.  Unfortunately, this also means that the spill is exponentially larger (by area) and harder to contain than if the severity had been recognized and responded to at the outset.

How will this play into the future?  The standard operating procedures should be modified to include checks into the assumptions that exacerbated this spill.  There will be debate about first response actions (e.g., what happens when the first notice of an oil spill is received).  Given we don't exist in a world of unlimited resources, every spill can't be treated like the "big one" before all the facts are known.  However, there will likely be considerable debate about what the first response should look like in the future and whether it needs to be bolstered.  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Icelandic Volcanoes: Networks, Risk Management & Innovation

Network resiliencyrisk management and innovation are frequent topics of discussion when it comes to the economic system meltdown.  Any system, however, can be looked at through the same high-level lenses.  This holds true for the air transportation system which has seen airlines, travelers and businesses impacted by a giant cloud of silica spewed out from an Icelandic volcano.  With the air transportation system shut down, there are lessons to be learned in how businesses/governments think about networks and then how that impacts the very real decisions made around risk management and innovation.  

(1) Networks are resilient only to the extent their underlying operating systems are stable.  One hears a lot about how networks are resilient, that specific nodes can be taken offline without impacting the functioning of the overall network.  However, when the operating principle of the network is disrupted, the network isn't resilient and ceases to function.  In this case, the operating principle (ability to route around what are usually short term, localized atmospheric conditions) of the air transportation network was disrupted effectively shutting it down. This demonstrates that focus needs to not only be on protecting network nodes, but also the basic underlying operating systems.  This has often received less focus than protecting individual nodes  when ensuring the continuity of networks we depend on ... international shipping system, electrical grid, etc.  It gets to the heart of risk management.  

(2) Risk Management.  Formalized risk management systems are all the rage in a lot of companies, yet in many cases they become sterile exercises where everything is included and nothing is effectively mitigated.  How many airline companies had: "Large scale atmospheric disturbances, resulting from volcanic ash" in their risk management systems?  Likely very few.  

(3) Innovation to manage risk or make money off of it.  Some reports say that there were past volcanic eruptions in Iceland that today could cause an ash cloud that persists for months.  Somewhere, there is a company or inventor thinking about a jet engine filter to allow planes to fly safely through volcanic silica.  Perhaps, this was even proposed in the past, but was never acted on because a volcano was considered a "black swan" or the cost was too high.  In any case, what may not have been a priority in the past, likely will be today as the airlines lose market cap and businesses of every type suffer losses ranging from productivity to product spoilage.