Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why Advertising Mishaps Aren't Funny

As I was reading my copy of the daily newspaper yesterday (yes, my family and I are still traditional newspaper readers), a colourful brochure with coupons popped out. As I glanced through its content, I couldn't help noticing this promotional message which appeared to be a wee bit ironic in my view:

For a start, using a glossy, printed coupon and distributing it on a large scale hardly counts as being environmentally friendly. Free canvas or drawstring bag giveaways are also so common  that many of us have more "recyclable" bags than we'll ever use in our lifetimes. This begs the question of whether these are truly as resource friendly as they claim or just another premium item.

Of course, ironic advertising isn't only about using the wrong means to convey a message. Sometimes, it is occurs due to any of the following "wrongs", as shown in the examples below:

Wrong placement next to another advertisement

Courtesy of Metabolic Syndrome X

Wrong placement in product aisles

Courtesy of Visual Consumer

Wrong timing (just after Michael Phelps' pot smoking history was highlighted)

Courtesy of TMZ

Wrong context (this classic ad is quite...err...classic)

Courtesy of copyranter

While we do get more than a few laughs every now and then, having your web banner/poster/print ads/banner parodied in a negative fashion isn't quite a fun thing. To prevent this, I guess marcom and advertising managers could do the following:

1) Test advertisements with 3rd parties - particularly folks whom you know are more culturally sensitive than the rest - to gauge their responses;

2) Work closely with media placement agencies or media owners themselves to ensure that visual gags do not occur;

3) Be alert to what's happening in the news (NB - its not just the job of the PR department);

4) Think more critically about the meaning of one's marketing message.

Of course, if all else fails and something wacky does get puts up (and it happens), having the good sense to quickly remedy the situation (if it warrants so) would help.

Can you think of other examples of misplaced ads?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why Saying Sorry Matters in Business

BP Former CEO Tony Hayward's Apology came too little too late (courtesy of Infinite Unknown)

Recently, everybody in Singapore has been talking about the spate of SMRT train delays and breakdowns in December.  Numerous netizens have called for extreme measures to be taken, including the resignation of the CEO, granting of free rides to commuters, andother actions to be taken.   

As an aftermath of the incidents, we learnt that the CEO Saw Phaik Hwa has apologised soon after the incidents.  The SMRT Board has also apologised for them, and has commissioned a committee led by NTUC Dy Sec Gen Ong Ye Kung to look into the matter.  Separately, the Government is also investigating the incidents as part of a formal Committee Of Inquiry.

SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa apologising for the incidents (Courtesy of Channelnewsasia)

Honestly, SMRT is doing whatever it can to prevent this incident from escalating further. While the issues are grave, especially with passengers trapped in the tunnel, the transport company has  is working around the clock to address them.  

The question, however, is whether there is a sincere, honest and "correct" way to apologise. What can one do to truly make amends for a mistake? 

Thanks to a story in Church of the Customer, I learnt that FedEx had to swallow this bitter pill recently when a courier threw a customer's computer monitor over the fence. This was caught on video and circulated on Youtube for all to see:

While some damage to FedEx's reputation has been done, its quick and unwavering response to the incident has helped it to salvage the situation somewhat.

Back in 2007, JetBlue has also set a good example of how to say sorry. When dozens of JetBlue Airlines' passengers were stranded for more than 10 hours on the tarmac without taking off, JetBlue's CEO David Neeleman issued the following statement soon after the incident:

Through efforts like this, JetBlue managed to get the JD Power & Associates Award for #1 Customer Satisfaction for the airline industry that year.

Of course, while some companies get it right, others have come across as being insincere despite their pleas for forgiveness. Check out these examples of the most famous/infamous corporate apologies.  Some of the companies like Johnson & Johnson (of the Tylenol poisoning deaths) have gone on to grow from strength to strength while others (like Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein's apology) have left a bitter taste in the mouth.

How can one say sorry in the right manner then? Using JetBlue's example, Myra Golden shares the following 5 steps for consideration:

1. Outright apology. Start out with a clear and direct apology. eg JetBlue's “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.”

2. Explain what happened and why. Taking the time to explain to a customer what might have caused the problem helps organizations re-establish trust.

3. Acknowledge the customer’s “pain.” Make an empathetic statement that responds to the customer’s emotions.

4. Explain steps you’re taking to minimize problems going forward.

5. Humbly ask for forgiveness. Make a request for your customer’s continued business.

What are your views on corporate apologies?  How far should companies go to say sorry?

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Role of Showmanship in Marketing

On a recent visit to Takashimaya Shopping Centre for Christmas shopping, my family visited their highly popular basement food mall area looking for gift ideas.

Amidst the festive air, I noticed that there were many stalls offering gourmet food items for sale where the delectable pastries and candies were made 'live' by chefs.

Wielding their knives, rolling pins, trays, and cookie cutters with much flair, these professionals were neatly dressed and groomed with chefs hats, aprons, dresses or fitting tees. As customers looked on in amazement - or rather droolworthy expressions - they paraded their craft.

To me, these demonstration chefs are performers on a stage, just like 'live' actors and actresses. Their ability to mesmerize, tease, and tantalize their 'audiences' can make all the difference between success and failure, from the "Wow" factor to the wallet.

Here performance is measured in how effective you are in making customers so enamored, so tempted and so seduced that they decide to reach into their pockets and wallets to bring a couple of boxes home.

There are several points to note:

1) People ARE interested in the process behind how their products and services are made. The trick therefore is to 'prettify' that method and transform it from drudgery to art.

2) Showmanship makes a lot of difference in almost any consumer and lifestyle facing business. The twirl and flipping of a roti prata, the popping of champagne corks, the clasping of a necklace on a lady's neck - these are the stuff that helps make the difference.

3) The audience can tell if you're having a bad day and choose to let it show. It is said that a grumpy chef cooks less tasty food. Similarly, a surly retail assistant or sales person who chooses not to interact with shop browsers is going to cut less deals.

4) Like any art or craft, being a great performer on the consumer goods stage requires hours and hours of practice - maybe even 10,000 hours if you want to be a maestro in the marketplace.

5) Having the right stage, props and tools matter. A shabbily dressed sales staff will find it harder to close deals. Having the right backdrop that is aesthetically pleasing to the senses is also important.

6) Finally, it takes a whole village to raise this child. An entire army of people - open kitchen designers, equipment makers, logistics, food suppliers - are needed. Teamwork is key to making any show a crowd success, and everybody should pull their weight in choreographing the consumer experience.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Was Steve Jobs the Perfect CEO?

As the head honcho leading an organisation, being a good CEO isn't an easy job. Sure, they'll probably pay you more (or much much more) than the average salary man down the food chain, but the expectations are often sky high.

For a start, a good CEO has to have vision, ambition and the ability to inspire and motivate the troops. She needs to be great with forging relationships with customers, employees, partners, board members, investors, suppliers, government regulators and other stakeholders. Functioning as a mentor, coach, drill sergeant, and referee, she wears multiple hats depending on whom she speaks to.

With a watchful eye on the bottomline - particularly in today's jittery financial markets - the CEO must walk the tightrope between betting the farm or maintaining status quo. While he must push the envelope for change if the occasion calls for it, the CEO must also preserve certain semblance of order as total anarchy wouldn't lead to any form of progress.

A good CEO needs to also have both telescopic and microscopic optics, zooming out to see the bigger economic and industry-wide picture and zooming in on the infinitesimal intricacies of product and service features.

Is it then possible for one to find a "Perfect CEO". Well, Steven Levy of Wired Magazine thinks he has. In fact, he is none other than the recently bereaved Steve Jobs.

By now, you would have read tonnes of tributes and lots of leadership lessons (some good ones here, here and here) on Steve Jobs. Some of you may have even bought a copy of his best selling biography.

Sure, Steve Jobs was a great man, but the perfect CEO?

Quoting from Levy, Steve has these qualities which distinguish him from the rest:

"Understanding customers and what they want, even if they don’t know it yet.

Mastery of market dynamics with the acumen of a poker champ.

Commitment to excellence and brutal rejection of “good enough.”

Accountability when things go wrong.

Charisma that makes product launches as exciting as a Springsteen show.

...the ability to defy the corporate equivalent of nature’s law."

Levy went on to cite that Jobs has mastered the "Innovator's Gyre", where each game changing breakthrough is followed by another, and another, and another - a counterpoint to the Innovator's Dilemma. Everybody knows the story of the iMac, iTunes, MacBooks, iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

Like any outstanding leader, Steve Jobs also has a dark side. We know that he has a mercurial temper and is extremely overbearing in ensuring his way (or the highway). He has also embroiled the company in various law suits and been known to maintain a high degree of cloak-and-dagger secrecy. Transparency and openness isn't one of his greatest strengths.

Personally, I feel that perfection may be too strong a word to describe Steve Jobs. For sure he does have fabulous qualities, but his huge overwhelming presence has also made it difficult for Apple to earmark a clear successor. His reluctance to contribute to society through philanthropy has also left a dent on the otherwise sterling reputation of Apple (compared to Bill Gates for instance).

Are there other candidates for the "Perfect CEO" award? Who would you nominate and why?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Disciplined Dreaming: A Book Review

Can creativity ever be managed? Shouldn't it be a spontaneous process that happens when a flash of brilliance strikes somebody? How can one be creative if one is an engineer/accountant/mechanic?

Well, according to Josh Linkner, CEO of ePrize, anybody in any profession can be creative and it doesn't just happen by accident. In his book Disciplined Dreaming, the business innovator and jazz musician shows that creativity isn't born but made.  Any organisation can be a creative one so long as it applies his five step process to strengthen one's "creative chops" as follows:

Step 1: Ask - This entail identifying and clearly defining one's specific Creativity Challenge (the creative project identified for action) and learning how curiosity and awareness can be driven in one's team. A key part of this is the development of a Creativity Brief that articulates and directs one's effort.

Step 2: Prepare - The next step is to develop the mental and physical attributes necessary for the creative process. This includes the clearing of mental and emotional hurdles to creativity, creating a physical environment that is positioned for maximum creative output, and building a supportive culture.

Step 3: Discover - This stage looks at how creative ideas could be bubbled to the surface through concepts like the Borrowed Idea, inflection points, Upside Down, and patterns to trigger one's imagination.

Step 4: Ignite - The real act of generating ideas comes here, with all kinds of techniques ranging from Imbizo groups, the Hot Potato and the Wrong Answer, which are then elaborated into fully formed ideas with techniques like EdgeStorming, RoleStorming (imagine if you're Steve Jobs, what would he say?) and Brain Writing. You can find these examples and more here.

Step 5: Launch - In the final stage, one's analytical left brain is reconnected with the creative right brain to look at tasks like selecting the best ideas, developing KPIs for measuring them, and building an action plan to realise them in a fruitful and productive manner.

To bring the creativity process to life, Linkner spinkles lots of useful tips and methods in the book. In the section on Driving Curiosity and Awareness, for example, one is told to ask the three magic questions (Why? What if? What not?), adopt a beginner's mind, and use a big box (filled with anything and everthing that could lead to inspiration - photos, magazine articles, songs, toys etc). In chapter 5, one is also taught the seven rules of creative cultures, namely:

1) Fuel passion

2) Celebrate ideas

3) Foster autonomy

4) Encourage courage

5) Fail forward

6) Think small

7) Maximize diversity

In my opinion, the most useful part of the book is the section on ideation (Ignite). Here, Linkner provides useful tips like the Eight Commandments of Ideation (Thou Shall Not Judge, Thou Shall Not Comment, Thou Shall Not Edit, Thou Shall Not Execute, Thou Shall Not Worry, Thou Shall Not Look Backwards, Thou Shall Not Lose Focus, Thou Shall Not Sap Energy) and techniques on brainstorming. I particularly like the method created by Alex Osborn with the acronym SCAMPER, ie Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify or minimise, Put to other use, Eliminate, Rearrange or reverse.

To strengthen his key thesis, Linkner cites numerous examples of companies and individuals which have embraced creativity from Pixar, Cold Stone Creamery, ZipCar, Amazon, Quicken Loans, Tony Robbins, Intel and more.  Many of these stories were fascinating.  For example, one learns that Nintendo opted to build a device with a better game experience (Wii) rather than deliver the best graphics and sound to compete with Sony's Playstation and Microsoft's XBox (this was called the Upside Down concept of turning a problem around).

Compellingly written with lots of useful anecdotes and ideas, Disciplined Dreaming provides a good way to dive into the world of ideation, imagineering, and creative strategising.  Pick this book up if you're looking to sweep away the cobwebs of run-of-the-mill business strategies and are game to turbo-charge your creativity processes.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Does Sex-vertising Really Sell?

Everybody's now talking about the shirtless Abercrombie & Fitch greeters (Courtesy of A&F)

In the last few days, many would have seen the muscular half-naked guys in red pants, flexing their bare wares for all to see. Hired by Abercrombie & Fitch in Singapore for their store opening, they have created a buzz on Facebook, especially amongst the fairer sex.

Of course, this isn't the first time that A&F, renowned for using sex in their selling, has created a sensation. The uber fashion brand also created ruckus in Orchard Road with a huge and "indecent" half naked torso.

Courtesy of Coffee with Amee

Of course, girls have always been the subject of erotic imagery in ads, much more than than guys. A recent example from PETA (well known for using nude celebrities in their cause against animal cruelty) is seen below:

Courtesy of Trends Updates

The question I want to ask, however, is this:

Does sex in advertising sell? More importantly, will it work for your brand?

Well, for a start, using half-naked models or sexual imagery certainly helps in grabbing one's attention in a highly cluttered consumer landscape. Like love, food, and fresh air, sex is one of the instinctive urges wired into our primitive brain. Studies have shown that these effects influence both our physiological and cognitive senses - in other words, both involuntary and voluntary responses.

Having sexual innuendoes, nudity or visual images of physical attraction also generates buzz as seen in the A&F example above. The more sensational the ads, the more publicity they would generate, at least during the short term, and some would even "go viral".

Certain brands were also built on sex (or at least in its portrayal). Calvin Klein, Victoria's Secret, and more recently Abercrombie & Fitch consistently employ highly sexualised images to generate their business. According to this article, sex may work for products with a sex-related brand benefit (eg condoms for instance).

However, there are some dangers inherent in this "bedroom" game.

First, the strong reactions cited above are often negative and mostly by women. For years, feminist groups like AWARE in Singapore have lobbied against the portrayal of women as sex objects. To circumvent this, it is important to portral erotic appeal in the right context (eg in a relationship as opposed to a fling).

The heavy reliance on physical appeal alone may also not work if one's core product isn't up to scratch. I recall that a few years ago, a bubble tea shop employed bikini clad models as a gimmick to generate sales through "oogling" customers. That venture quickly fizzled out as the core product itself wasn't tasty enough to quench the thirst of customers, eye candy notwithstanding.

In a similarly vein, brands that deploy sex in advertising may also lose their message if their product has little relevance to what's being portrayed. While cars and girls have always gone together, vehicle workshops and tire/battery shops may not find it profitable to use the fairer gender in their ads.

Finally, if everybody is doing it, there is a danger of message dilution. Being unique and differentiated sometimes mean going against the flow. If all clothing retailers use a half naked torso, having one yourself isn't going to help you stand out from the "barely there" crowd.

What are your views on sex in advertising?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Should You Hire the Generalist or the Specialist?

Should you hire a General (like Cao Cao) or a highly specialised Sniper? (courtesy of Rongwen's blog)

In the Human Resource function of any organisation, an age-old dilemma commonly exists.

Should a company hire somebody with years of vertical expertise with deep and specialised knowledge in a niche area? Should it instead recruit somebody with horizontal expertise (ie a generalist) who may even hail from an entirely different profession or industry altogether? How about a candidate with a mixture of both horizontal and vertical areas of specialisation?

Before we sign the contract with our "dream candidate", it may be useful to walk through the 3 "Cs" of recruitment as follows:

First, identify where your organisational competencies are. Do you lack a critical area of expertise (eg accounting, corporate law, software development) that is needed to push the organisation forward? Is there an important gap in management and leadership experience which cannot be covered by other members of the team?  By asking these questions, you'll be able to determine if a candidate with vertical versus horizontal expertise is required.

The culture of your organisation is also important. If you're structured like a Silicon Valley start-up with a pool of mainly geeks and nerds wired to their computers and mobiles, bringing in an accounting trained CFO to "regulate the mess" may be a tough call unless he or she has some tolerance for ambiguity. In cases like this, consider if its better to procure such services from a professional services firm as opposed to forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Lastly, bear in mind the context of your organisation and the industry in which it operates in. If the organisation is going through a change management process where creative brainstorming and problem solving is needed, you may need to hire folks who have greater breadth in their experience so that they can look beyond the obvious. On the other hand, companies transiting towards a more steady state environment may require professionally trained builders to put in the nuts and bolts of the organisation, piece by piece. Here, depth and specialisation is needed.

In thinking through the above, one would have a clearer idea of who the best candidate would be.   The candidate should have the right mix of depth and breadth in experience and expertise, specially tailored to the unique and specific needs of your organisation.

Contrary to popular belief, he or she isn't the most highly qualified person in the room who is "appropriately priced". Rather, the best candidate is one who best fits the needs of your organisation considering its competencies, culture, and context.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Celebritize Yourself: A Book Review

Images courtesy of Celebritize Yourself

Are you keen to be better known and respected in your field of expertise?

Have you wondered how seemingly ordinary folks - policeman, plumbers, teachers and housewives - have risen to become well known household names?

If you do, consider adopting the principles written by Marsha Friedman in Celebritize Yourself: The 3-Step Method To Increase Your Visibility and Explode Your Business.

So what are the three steps? Simple. They are:

1) Write!

2) Speak!

3) Sell!

Written in simple English with a direct "DIY" style, Celebritize Yourself outlines the benefits of being a celebrity, describes how one should publish a book to establish credibility in any field, and elaborates on the publicity generating process. Backed by Friedman's own experience as a seasoned PR consultant, the slim volume narrates the whos, whys, whats, whens and hows of achieving personal limelight.

To reinforce learning, salient points for key ideas are summarised into factoids. Examples of these include the following:

"Opportunity has no birth date, though it most definitely has an expiration date."

"For your book to become your marketing tool, you must become the architect - the carpenter, if you will - of your very own celebrity."

"Your message is what will define you."

The first three chapters of Celebritize Yourself adopts an introspective "why should I be doing this" approach. Peppered with examples from the real and "reel" worlds, Friedman highlights the pros and cons of stardom, helps us to identify how we can change the world, encourages us to determine our weaknesses, and provide tips on how we can transform ourselves accordingly.

With the foundation in place, the book next elaborates on the book writing and publishing process (hint: you don't have to do it all yourself) and strategies on generating publicity. From the local presses to nationwide TV, Friedman proposes that the way to secure an interview is to be entertaining, informative and motivating.

One should also master the art of generating sound bites and learning how this makes all the difference. As a matter of fact, the book is chock-full of them on every page!

In the final three chapters or so, Friedman dives more deeply into the nuts and bolts of the business of fame. Here, we're taught how news is made and why different approaches are needed for radio, TV and print media like newspapers, magazines and websites.

To bring greater clarity to our journey, we should ask ourselves a series of questions, namely:

1) What's Your Vision for Celebrity?
2) What is Your Commitment to Your Vision?
3) What is Your Own Unique Message?
4) Why Does Your Message Appeal to You?
5) Why Will Your Message Appeal to Others?
6) Who's Your Target Audience?
7) What's Your Plan for Celebrity?
8) When Will You Start?
9) Have You Picked the Right Teammates?
10) How Will You Measure Success?
11) How Did You Score?

With its target set on lay readers who may be doctors, chefs, insurance agents or anybody with an area of specialisation, the book is more skewed towards personal motivation rather than management methodology. As a seasoned PR practitioner, I find that much of the book's publicity tips are fairly commonsensical. You can probably find most of these strategies if you surf article websites and blogs widely and deeply enough.

Having said that, I like the optimistic (almost bouncy) way in which Friedman paints the picture of personal profile building. Personal branding, publishing and public relations are presented in a refreshingly straightforward manner without the usual marketing speak. With the proliferation of personal profiles in the age of "Me Media", building one's star status becomes more important than ever before. For this, Friendman's book provides a good road map of the way ahead.

Special thanks to my buddy Daniel Goh of Young Upstarts for making this review copy available to me.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Why Leaders Should Embrace a Higher Calling

Michael Beer (courtesy of Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute)

To rise above the vagaries of the uncertain economy, what should companies do? How can they manage the wrath of Wall Street and the severe backlash of a liquidity crunch?

Well according to Michael Beer from Harvard Business School, the answer is that companies should embrace a higher purpose. In an excellent podcast from HBR Ideacast, Beer shares some of the characteristics of these firms and the leadership styles that they embody.

The key is to adopt a long-term rather than short-term view. Manage and lead your companies according to higher order values and purposes as opposed to quarterly gains.

How should companies do so?

First, invest in building human and social capital. Keep your hiring process highly selective and rigourous, with a mind towards maintaining a positive corporate culture. In Southwest Airlines, for example, only one out of 100 applicants get the job.

Next, don't grow too fast and end up overextending your company. If possible, try to keep debt low and manageable. In the case of Southwest Airlines, the company was able to minimise the retrenching of staff in a downturn by keeping their debts low so that they could afford to pay their staff.

Thirdly, one should forge a strategic identity. This begins by looking at the services or products you offer, the markets that you're in, and why your company is doing what its doing from an inside-out rather than an outside-in perspective.

Don't chase profits like what many firms in Wall Street (or the Stock Exchange of Singapore) do. Instead, discern what your company's passions are, what its values are, and find the intersect between market profits and purpose. This may translate to a steadier and slower rate of profitable growth but it will be more sustainable and enduring over the long-term.

In other words, look at building an institution (ie long-term view) rather than be ruled by quarterly earnings in the market. In doing so, adopt a multi stakeholder view - community, customer, supplier, distributor, investor - as opposed to merely satisfying one's shareholders.

Create a performance-based culture - one which is inventive and innovative in times of troubles to develop solutions to ride through the storm. This entails creative high standards and enrolling people in those standards.

Once the above are done, policies should then be shaped according to these perspectives.

In doing the above, companies can then tell Wall Street the long story rather than the short story about their firms. In most cases, this story does sell and would probably attract the right kind of investors.

Another example of a company which embraced higher ambitions is United Stationers. The company's strategies enable their partners and customers to succeed, as opposed to gaining pure profitability for themselves. Thus they create a higher purpose of serving their community and customers, giving them more meaning, and is rewarded with a more consistent performance on Wall Street.

On a national level, how can such practices be "evangelised" more effectively? Well, Harvard Business School has a few ideas for a start, namely:

1) Creating linkages between CEOs who think like this, and start a movement. This will resulting in the building of a set of norms that eventually become conventional wisdom.

2) Propose changes in the elements of the context in which business operates. For example public policies in buying and selling equities could help to reverse the speculative fervour, encouraging investors to get back to holding stock for longer periods of time instead of speculating obsessively.

3) Encourage management reforms amongst one's board of directors. These governance bodies should move away from short-term fiduciary duties to longer term building of a company and its culture.

4) Leadership as a discipline would also need to be more established in business schools. This includes inculcating values more clearly in the syllabus.  For example, integrity actually requires integration between what you do, what you say and how you function rather than just honesty alone.

5) Finally, at the CEO level, a return to performance over the long term as opposed to short term is key. This requires the steering of companies towards sustained compounded performance which is above average in one's industry while breaking away from the scourge of shorter and shorter timeframes in management.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Thank You Economy: A Book Review

Written by straight-talking serial entrepreneur and founder of Gary Vaynerchuk, The Thank You Economy presents a no-holds-barred approach to how businesses can leverage on the power of social media. Packed with case studies from online retail darling Zappos, burger joint AJ Bombers, burrito selling Boloco, Dr Irena Vaksman (a tweeting dentist!) to the Joie de Vivre Hotels, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller is written in his characteristic heart-on-the-sleeve and conversational manner. 

For an idea of what this means, check out the video featuring Gary below:

Unlike university professors or big-name consultants, Gary doesn't waste time on fancy frameworks or theoretical underpinnings.  Instead, his ideas are honed from the school of hard knocks, peppered with anecdotes from his own experience and a sprinkling of statistics.  Hailing the return of personalised, one-on-one attention, the book proposes that caring for one's customers, overdelivering on their brand experience, and building a rock solid company culture can trigger the Word of Mouth marketing while sustaining customer communities.

A huge fan of social media and networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook where he drew much of his examples from, Gary dedicated an entire chapter to the importance of social media.  While admitting that traditional media still has a place in the marketing mix - Gary himself has advertised on New York billboards to promote his previous book Crush It! - managing one's online communities is paramount in the Thank You Economy. 

My favourite chapter is the one critiquing the Old Spice Man commercials.  Although the campaign created a major spike in sales and brand awareness for the heritage toiletry brand, it did not follow through with its hordes of 120,000 fans on Twitter.  As a result, it was seen more as a "sprinter stuck in a traditional marketing mind-set, not a marathon runner living in the Thank You Economy".

So what are the key ideas in the Thank You Economy?  They're pretty straightforward actually, and include:

1) Caring for one's customers, employees, vendors and brand - with everything that one's got.

2) Erasing any lines in the sand (ie not being afraid of trying anything new or unfamiliar), especially when it comes to deploying social media.

3) Showing up first in a market, early and ahead of the rest.

4) Instilling a culture of caring in one's business by being self-aware, committing to change, walking the talk, investing in one's employees, hiring culturally compatible folks, being authentic and empowering one's team.

5) Remembering that there is a C behind every B2B transaction.

6) Speaking one's customers' language and allowing customers to help shape one's business or brand without losing control of the direction.

7) Building a sense of community around one's brand or business.

8) Deploying both traditional and social media to extend the conversation.  Gary calls this the "Ping-Pong" effect.  Here, brands should try to "earn media"

9) Directing one's marketing initiatives towards the emotional centre and the creative extremes.  In other words, connecting to the hearts of your customers while being boldly creative.

10) Embracing good intent, aiming for quality engagements rather than quantity.  Inauthentic intents can often be easily sniffed out in a transparent social media mediated world.

11) Use shock and awe to blow your customers' minds and get them talking.  Here, Gary is talking about overdelivering on the customer experience such that they have nothing but great things to say about you.

12) Use "pull" tactics (engagement, conversation, service) that remind consumers why they should care about your brand.

13) Play it big if you're small, and play it small if you're big.

14) Don't be afraid to crawl before you run.

The final chapter of The Thank You Economy contained little thoughts, ideas, and snippets in a style which echoed Seth Godin's own approach.  Paying homage to Zappos and its legendary founder Tony Hsieh, it reproduced Hsieh's email to all Zappos employees following its sale via a share swap to Amazon.  Gary cited this as an example of how one should communicate to one's employees in a company obsessed with a customer centric culture.

Before I end, let me offer a word of caution.  While the book does have many useful ideas for entrepreneurs or intrepreneurs, one should also be mindful about running oneself ragged.  Work related burnout is a very real issue in this day and age, and trying to be all things to your customer may derail your own health and peace of mind if it borders on obsession-compulsion.  For sure, you should keep the tweets coming and to respond to them, but do remember that you're human too.

Monday, December 05, 2011

How Tightly Should You Manage Your Team?

Should you control your subordinate's every move? (courtesy of River Empowerment)

There are two major schools of thought in leadership and management.

The first approach is the older "Command and Control" style. Here, an authoritative leader uses a clearly domineering way of getting things done. Charging ahead like a bull, he/she will steamroll over anything - or anybody - who gets in his or her way. Instructions given are clear, specific and often unidirectional. Its "my way or the highway".

Often, the nicknames used for such leaders include dictator, warlock, or Hitler.

The second approach is the newer "Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom" style. Here, we're talking about a rather lasse fairez leader who allows his/her colleagues to run the show whichever way they want to. Instructions, if any, are often ambiguous, and members of this team need to "roll with the punches" and guard their own backs as the game proceeds.

Often, the nicknames for such leaders include country club manager, papasan/mamasan, or just the dude.

The question is this. Which leadership style should you adopt?

I suppose most of us already know the answer. Yes, it all depends on the circumstances and contexts of your organisation.

In a transitional or new organisation like a start-up, company undergoing restructuring, and M&A targets, a tougher style is needed. Here, survival is paramount, and having everybody on board and paddling in the same direction is key if one is to ride the storms of entrepreneurial uncertainty. With an objective clearly fixed in everyone's mind, the only way to move is forward.

Some may argue that some flexibility may be needed in times of change. This depends on the maturity and experience of the staff on the team. While some leeway could be given to competent talents, the limited time and resources available often mean that one cannot spend too much time on unnecessary discourse.

In a more steady-state organisation like a market leading company or a long-time family business, a looser style of management may be useful. Here, product or service innovation, ie "what's the next big thing", is key. By relinquishing some control, one is able to engage the minds of one's team in reflecting about the situation and coming up with the next "game changer".

Often, the team members in a mature organisation tend to be more experienced and have stayed longer with the firm. The goal here is not so much to tell them what to do, but rather, to excite them and light their fires so that they can create and innovate once again.

To help you visualise this better, let me introduce two charts and theories in organisational management.

The first is the situational leadership theory developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard as seen below:

Source: Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K., (1982) Management of Organisational Behaviour: Utilising Human Resources. 4th edition. Prentice Hall International. New York (Image source here)

Unlike other charts, this one actually moves backwards from right to left.  Beginning from S1 and ending at S4, you can see that a more delegatory style of management is embraced as the organisation and its team matures.

Combining this with the stages of an organisation, we get the next chart below, also known as Tuckman's Stages of Group Development:

Image source here

In the forming stage, everybody's getting to understand each other's style and here, independent players must be made to work as a team. Moving on to the next storming stage, differing views and ideas must be synergised by the leader, with a fine balance needed. Norming is what happens when teams can agree on a common goal and to move forward, and successful teams will then reach the final stage of performing. Leadership styles will then adapt itself accordingly.

From the above, one can tell that the degree of management control really depends on many factors.  Evaluate what stage your organisation is in and how ready your team members are.  Finally, of course, you must be comfortable with the preferred mode of management. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

World's First Transformers Ride Opens in Singapore

EVAC, a new autobot created specially for the attraction

It's a night of 3D thrills and spills as Transformers The Ride made its global premiere at Universal Studios Singapore.

Rumoured to cost more than S$100 million and to take more than four years to plan and build, Transformers The Ride is probably one of the world's most expensive theme park attraction. It is also the world's first theme park based on the popular robot franchise from Hasbro, with the next opening in Universal Studios Hollywood in 2012.

Decked to resemble the military NEST (Networked Elements: Supporters and Transformers) facility from the series, Transformers The Ride is located within Sci-Fi City. Considered Asia's most technologically advanced motion thrill ride, the attraction includes a retail store (Transformers Supply Vault) for die-hard fanboys and a food and beverage venue (the Starbot Cafe). Theme park guests will also be welcomed by walking Optimus Prime and Bumblebee characters.

Thanks to Matthew and Krist from Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), I experienced the unveiling of the ride last night, graced by Transformers film director and executive producer Michael Bay.  Join me on a visual journey as I embark on the "Ultimate 3D Battle".

Striking a pose with a serious looking NEST "army officer".

Entering the "highly protected" NEST facility.  I'm amazed at the number of screens they have throughout the themed attraction!

Robot party central, with a huge screen in the middle of the stage.  Wait a minute, isn't that...

...Bumblebee?  Yes, he is perched high up keeping a watchful eye on us.

Genting Group Chairman Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay addressing the audience, joined by Universal Parks & Resorts boss Tom Williams.

Watch this video to witness the dramatic entrance of Transformers film director Michael Bay.

These "soldiers" in camouflage joined in the action next, bringing in the "Allspark" for the launch.

VIPs and the winner of a contest (who has the Autobot insignia shaved on his head!) launching the ride by giving "power" to the "Allspark" shard.

After a puff of smoke and pyrotechnics, they were joined by Optimus Prime and Bumblebee!  Who says a robot cannot be in two places at one time?

Enough of the ceremony - let's dive into the action!

We walked through rather long passageways built to resemble the facility.  Thankfully, there was never a dull moment with lots of anticipation building stuff to see.

Intruders are obviously not welcomed here.

Optimus Prime abandoned the VIPs he was accompanying earlier and barking us our orders.

I thought these computers and buttons had a certain old school feel.

Another shard of the Allpark, "powering" our adventure.

Somebody lost his metallic arm here...

... no wonder he is pissed like hell (its Megatron by the way).

OK kids, here's how you do it. Sit four in a row, stay behind the safety bar, and don't try anything funny!

The metallic cast of the movie and the ride are presented in this "computer".

Almost there guys, now pick up your glasses and get ready.

Striking another pose, with the EVAC ride vehicle in the background.

My final shot before I was "commanded" to put away my camera.  The ride itself was all headspinning, vertigo inducing, and hyperrealistic 3D excitement.  It was awesomely action-packed, with winds, water, heat, smoke, and lights transporting one to the scene of a furious battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons.  I'd rate it 110% for its heart-lurching gut-wrenching action.

After the ride, we carried our limp bodies into the well stocked retail store, stocked with all kinds of Transformers toys and merchandise.

I like this glass showcase of the robot toys on sale here, bathed in blue light.

Feeling hungry after the mission?  Fear not as you can fuel up at the Starbot Cafe.

Outside, the party is still going on with a band (was it Jive Talkin?) performing. In the foreground is the world's most famous Chevrolet Camaro.

More indulgences after all that "hard work" battling giant alien robots!