Monday, October 29, 2012

From Integrated Marcoms to Content Marketing

Courtesy of fedobe

The old paradigm of Integrated Marketing Communication (or IMC) is dying. In a world fragmented by zillions of online, mobile and offline channels, consumers are tuning out advertisements faster than you can produce them. With endless "ad-free" options to choose from, nobody wants to be interrupted by your brand anymore.

What can marketers do in such a landscape? Enter Content Marketing.

According to the Content Marketing Institute...

Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

A content marketing strategy can leverage all story channels (print, online, in-person, mobile, social, etc.), be employed at any and all stages of the buying process, from attention-oriented strategies to retention and loyalty strategies, and include multiple buying groups.

Now wait a minute. Haven't we already done that through our various IMC campaigns. After all, we do have an advertisement on the daily papers coupled with a press release, a niftily designed website, and an awesome promotion on Facebook.

Before I go further, let us consider the three forms of "media" in which content can be disseminated, namely: paid, owned and earned.

Paid media are found in channels where media spaces are paid for (like most traditional advertisements). Owned media are the content platforms operated by the company itself. Earned media mentions are those generated through PR and social media engagement activities.

These can be neatly represented in the diagram below:

Courtesy of Leaderlab Leadership Network

As you may have guessed, earned media is the most trusted and valuable form of media. It is also the hardest to secure. Often, this depends heavily on your ability to create buzz, value and "interestingness" that goes beyond a sales pitch.

In the traditional IMC view of things, a company's brand take centre-stage. Where possible, all channels need to convey a consistent look and feel, with appropriate "messaging" that helps to solidify a brand's positioning in the minds (and hopefully hearts) of the consumer.

The keywords here are "integrated" and "communications". In other words, every touch-point should reflect a united identity.

However, truly effective content marketing focuses first on the utility, relevance and attractiveness of the content to consumers or other stakeholders. It establishes the organisation as a thought leader and builds trust. It also seeks to understand the contexts and concerns of its viewers, readers and listeners rather than fixate itself on selfish organisational imperatives.

The differences between the two are highlighted in the table below:

To succeed in the new consumer landscape, marketers need to change their roles from pushers of products to creators and curators of content. We need to shift the way we write, shoot, film and produce content. Generating a momentary buzz through a clever creative campaign isn't enough anymore.

We need to shift our minds from sales promotion to help provision. It isn't about how great our brand is but how helpful and useful we are. By generating engaging content that educates, enriches and entertains, we're able differentiate our products and services in today's hyper-competitive marketplace.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to Write for Your Audiences

Courtesy of NewGadget00

Consider the following two headlines:

"Optimise Your Basal Metabolism with Product X - The World's Most Technologically Advanced Nutritional Supplement"


"Burn Away Ugly Fat while You Rest with the Supplement Most Olympians Use"

Which appeals to you more?  If you're like most people, the answer would probably be the second.

Unlike the first, it is jargon free, uses simple everyday language, and is more credible (with the backing of Olympic athletes). It is also free from unnecessary hyperbole.

The most important cardinal rule is that you're writing for them and not for yourself. Advertising copy isn't a platform for your company to wax lyrical about "how great thou art". Neither is it a place to swarm your audience with irrelevant details.

Instead, it is an opportunity for you to attract, excite and interest potential customers to what you have to offer in a succinct, pointed and relevant manner.

To succeed in crafting great copy, consider the following tips:

1) It is stupid to make them feel stupid. As far as possible, avoid unnecessary technical terms, art speak, legalese, or health jargons unless your customers are engineers, art curators, lawyers or doctors! Your job is to make your customers feel inspired and motivated - not vice versa.

2) In the words of Michael Fishman (as heard on Derek Halpern's fabulous "Social Triggers" podcast) - “Don’t think OF the market. Think AS the market.” What are they worried about? Whom do they discuss their problems and issues with? What are their motivations, wishes and wants?

3) Use the same language as your customers. A good way to learn this is to observe how they talk with their friends, family or colleagues - online, face-to-face, on the phone - and mirror the way they communicate.

4) Understand their real concerns and motivations related to your product or service and build your messages around them. This may entail conducting detailed socio-psychological research techniques such as ethnographic interviews (an approach used by anthropologists) as well as careful observation of consumer behaviours.

5) Establish your credibility wherever possible. This can be done through testimonials, independent research studies, or market share statistics that show yourself as a leader in a certain area. Facts always work better than self-boasting copy.

6) Finally in copy writing, just like speech writing, do heed Winston Churchill's advice, ie “A good speech (copy) should be like a woman's skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest”

Writing for one's audiences requires a combination of intuition and investigation mixed with good old common sense. It is an art and a science which often comes through years of practice and diligence. Hopefully, the above tips helps to provide you with a strong foundation in which to begin with.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tales from the Tenement Museum

Courtesy of Gadling

Have you heard of the Tenement Museum in New York?

Founded in 1988 by Ms Ruth Abram, the Tenement Museum is a historic house museum located in the Lower East Side of New York City. Occupying a former block of apartments and shops, it depicts the gritty lives of immigrants to New York and the US from the late 1900s to early 20th century.

Thanks to the Singapore Tourism Board and Association of Singapore Attractions, I had the privilege of learning about the experience creation strategies of the Tenement Museum from Ms Miriam Bader, Director of Education for the museum.

With a strong emphasis on keeping it real, the Tenement Museum uses archival photographs, videos, artefacts and artworks to re-tell the tale of how immigrants eked out their lives in squalor. Each painstakingly recreated apartment of about 325 square feet (3 rooms) once housed families of 6 to 10 people in extremely claustrophobic spaces. Through deploying multiple layers of storytelling, the museum is able to vividly recreate how life was like for the 7,000 or so residents of those immigrant quarters.

Miriam Bader sharing about the Tenement Museum

At the core of the Tenement's tour development strategy lies two essential elements:

1) Research, which studies the history of both the site and the people who lived there; and

2) Concept which weaves the big idea of the story with a contemporary connection.

To ensure that all visitors go through the "Tenement Experience", no self-guided visits are allowed. This unique requirement has made it necessary for visitors to book their visits in advance.

In order to enrich the experiences of its guests, the Tenement employs a holistic approach to storytelling which involves the elements of a good story, ie: setting, characters, images, objects, multisensory stimuli, imagination, relevance, and mystery. To interest and enchant their guests, museum educators are also taught the skills of community, group management and presentation.

To preserve the original flavour of the premises, no effort is spared in restoring its premises. This obsession with authenticity is translated into how the plaster of the building is restored using horse hair as a binding agent - just like the old times! Old photographs from diverse sources are also used as part of the investigation process to determine how the site and its residents were like. 

Courtesy of The Big Red Apple

Through a calendar of activities such as building tours, neighbourhood walks, language classes, talks, a series on food and "Meet the Resident" sessions (whereby staff dress up and do role playing), the museum attracted some 182,000 visitors in FY 2012. About one-third of visitors are tourists, with one-third from the New York metro area, and remaining one-third from the other regions of the US. The museum also hosts some 40,000 school kids a year with age-appropriate programmes such as its "Living History" programmes.

Perhaps the most insightful approach adopted by the Tenement is its strong focus on contemporary communities. By holding language classes for new immigrants and organising extended tours which allow participants to talk about their own feelings and experiences of immigration, the museum is able to reach deeply into the heart of its guests. This intimate approach to sharing stories and garnering visitor feedback helps to differentiate it from many other historical attractions.

What I especially liked about the Tenement is its emphasis on real people with real stories. An example was fleshed out in how it traced the live histories of dressmakers Harris and Jenny Levine (photograph below) and faithfully rebuilt what their old home used to look like in its quarters.

Harris and Jenny Levine (courtesy of Tenement Museum)

By personalising the story of early immigrants with real characters, the museum is able to strike a deep emotional chord with its visitors. This brings engagement to a different level altogether.

Knowing who Harris and Jenny Levine were, for example, helped one to deeply appreciate how miserable their lives were like. From the photograph below, one could imagine how challenging life was like then when they had to squeeze an ironing board, baby's crib, stove, sink and hanging laundry into a tiny room!

Courtesy of musicaldiasporas

To keep itself afloat, the Tenement museum operates four different shops and F&B outlets at its ground level. Its retail outlet is so popular that it was voted "the number one shop to buy anything you want on New York City" by Zagat's. To further support its running costs, the museum also raises funds through courting donors and sponsors.

Annually, these activities generate some US$6 million in revenue. Two-thirds of the income came from earned revenue (ticket and shop sales), while the remaining one-third came from development sources (ie institutional and individual giving). This revenue helps to sustain the approximately 90 full-time staff of the museum - the largest cost component for the museum.

Courtesy of Travel and Transitions

To keep running costs low, the museum has zero budget for advertising. Its two man marketing team rely heavily on social media relations spending 30% of their time on online engagement. This has helped it to draw more than 63,000 monthly visits/ 200,000 monthly pageviews to their website, recruit 5,730 Facebook fans, and attract close to 10,000 Twitter followers. Their blog is updated twice a week, and a monthly email newsletter is sent to subscribers.

It is inspiring to hear how the Tenement Museum forges authentic visitor experiences through meticulous storytelling, comprehensive staff training, and community engagement. Perhaps the best way to summarise the "Tenement Experience" is captured by this quote from a Nick, an educator in the museum, on what he likes about his work:

"One,... creating a sense of wonder through stoytelling with a convivial nature, and two, listening to visitors. And that's why I love it here, I like listening to people."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The 3 'I's of Effective Project Management

Courtesy of Geek and Poke

In the age of social, information has become a commodity.

With millions of blogs, websites and forums providing a gazillion bytes of data, almost anything you want to find can be obtained for free. Just fire up Google and start searching with the most relevant keywords. Often, you can find white papers, sample plans, slide presentations, and wikis on any subject matter.

Unfortunately, while a prodigious amount of information is freely available, the true value lies in interpreting and implementing them appropriately. Combined together, these form what I call the 3 'I's of Project Management - Information, Interpretation and Implementation.

This can be depicted as a cycle as highlighted below:


Let us examine how these three 'I's are related to each other.


For a start, glean knowledge from multiple online and offline sources. These can be as distinct as corridor conversations, meetings, blogs, wikis, historical records, customer complaints/compliments, survey reports and commissioned studies. The wider and more diversified your sources of information, the better.

Once you've harvested the data, find a way to seive the wheat from the chaff. Consider what is truly meaningful and relevant to the task at hand. Prune mercilessly.

Ask yourself the following:

1) Is this information relevant and timely to what I'm doing?

2) Can the data be used in a meaningful way?

3) Will we be able to incorporate this information into our activities?

4) Do we have the capabilities, resources and networks to implement what is being proposed?


After the above is done, weave the various threads of information into your action plan. Tie down what you know with what you've got.

Ask yourself the Whos, Whats, Whys, Whens, Wheres and Hows. Make sure that you're able to see the full picture of implementation.

Remember that the devil is in the details!

If you can, try to let your plan simmer for a while. Go back to it a couple of days later when your mind is refreshed, and see if any part needs to be further polished. Erase the ambiguities and strengthen your checklist of activities.

When you've got a semblance of a plan, it is vital to tap the collective wisdom of others within your organisation. Grow a thick skin and welcome criticisms - the harsher the better. If possible, seek feedback from diverse individuals of varying seniority and years of experience. Listen first and talk later.

Remind yourself that it is not you that they're disembowelling but your plan. It is better to have an honest and frank discussion a priori rather than a posteriori.

Note however that this process must be controlled and limited - you do not want your work to suffer a degenerative death by committee!


Once you've done that, it is time to test the project and put it to practice. Should time or budget permit, do a pilot and gauge the effectiveness of your plan. If the experiment fails, find out why and recalibrate accordingly before going full steam ahead.

As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Learn as much as possible out in the battlefield. Adapt, modify and enhance as you go along. Where possible, find a way to capture these learnings on the fly.

When the project is completed, do a quick post mortem and document what went right and what went wrong. Do whatever you can to short-cut the learning process. Keep your knowledge stored where it can be easily retrieved by your successors. These lessons will then feed into the next cycle of future projects.

Naturally, the framework above is highly simplified. You will need to modify and augment it for your own purposes. However, it provides the basic ingredients of how a project can be more successfully managed, regardless of its size and scope.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Start With Why: A Book Review

We've seen it happen time and again.

A company starts off with great fanfare, led by a visionary leader who brings it to new heights and grows it year after year. There is much clarity in what it does and it attracts a loyal following of customers and fans. Employees who work there are passionate about what they do. Every action it takes is aligned to its core values and beliefs.

Suddenly, the CEO resigns, retires or is booted out of the organisation. Initially, the momentum generated still propels the firm forward. However, over time, it loses its steam. Performance becomes lacklustre until the former leader returns to save the company from ruin. This has happened with companies such as Apple (Steve Jobs) and Starbucks (Howard Schultz).

What is the magic ingredient embodied by these icons of business?

The answer according to Simon Sinek is that they inspire others to take action by beginning with "Why".

Anchoring its core ideas in psychology and human behaviour, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action teaches us that outstanding leaders and organisations achieve a disproportionate degree of influence by following the principles of the "Golden Circle". The circle comprises three concentric rings with "WHY" in the core, followed by "HOW" and finally "WHAT".

This can be represented by the figure below:

Source of image

By beginning with "Why", inspiring leaders and organisations can leverage on the beliefs and aspirations of their employees and their customers. This allows them to tap onto a deeper vein of trust, belief and passion which transcends the common attributes of competitiveness such as quality, features, benefits, service and price. 

Indeed, the most successful firms have the clarity of "Why", discipline of "How" and consistency of "What" - in that order.

Drawing upon human biology, Sinek equates the positions of "Why", "How" and "What" in the Golden Circle with the relative positions of the deeper Limbic Brain and the outer Neocortex of our human brain. The former is responsible for feelings such as trust, loyalty and decision making while the latter handles rational and analytical thought as well as language.

This is why companies and persons that can tap onto the intimate recesses of the Limbic Brain through clearly articulated "Whys" are a lot more successful at motivating people to act than those focused on the rational attributes of "Hows" and "Whats".

Examples of such corporations and individuals include Apple and Steve Jobs (Sinek's favourite example), Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart and Sam Walton, and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.

Expanding further upon the concept of the Golden Circle, the book proposes that organisations need to be hierarchically organised in a conical shaped fashion with the "Whys" on top, followed by the "Hows" (staffed by able lieutenants who are great executors), and "Whats" below. It is the "Whats" that the marketplace eventually sees as the expression of a company's "Whys".  

Source of image

To exert an inordinate influence, Sinek advises companies to focus on the "innovators" and "early adopters" (re: Diffusion of Innovations curve) to be their key customers. This group would likely be more loyal and adventurous, embodying the spirit of the organisation as well as the beliefs of its founders.

Towards the end, the book warned one against losing one's "Why" by being too obsessed with the machinery of the organisation or the wishes of the stock exchanges. To sustain one's business over the long haul, it is necessary for the organisation to continually hold on to its beliefs and values and to find ways to concretise this in its DNA so that it can survive the departure of its founder.

Overall, "Start With Why" is a great and motivating read for those looking to be inspired wherever they are. Highly recommended.

Special thanks to Geri Kan of linea Communications for loaning me this review copy!

Friday, October 19, 2012

The 3 Layers of a Social Organisation

Coutesy of Attractology

With social media becoming omnipresent in everybody's lives, it is timely for companies to consider how they can transform themselves into "social organisations". This transcends the next evolution of companies that already practice social media marketing, and goes beyond the company-customer relationship.

A social organisation comprise multiple overlapping spheres of influence as illustrated below:

At the external level, a social organisation would interact and engage with its multiple stakeholders through various social channels and platforms. This can be as varied as public as forums, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Google + accounts, and LinkedIn pages to more exclusive networks such as email lists, extranets and member log-in websites.

Content heavy companies may also have video channels, photo pages and audio podcasts, sharing branded content with the rest of the world.

Moving deeper in, we have the organisational level of social businesses. Here, the various platforms of a social intranet would come into play - employee profiles, blogs, wikis, discussion forums, chat, and so on.

Social organisations would probably nurture an open culture of sharing with the CEO making a regular appearance on the corporate networks. Ideally, staff members from geographically dispersed locations would form collaborative networks amongst themselves, leveraging on technology to triumph over geography.

Finally, at its most intimate core, we have the individual level. While not every worker in a social organisation can become a hyper-connected advocate ala Robert Scoble (the world famous social media guru who cut his teeth as a content creator in Microsoft's Channel 9), it is still necessary for them to embrace the tenets of "going social".

To allay fears of being sued or sacked for "saying the wrong things" online, social organisations may wish to lay down guidelines on digital discourse. More importantly, a culture of trust and encouragement needs to be forged to encourage employees to speak up as opposed to shut up.

At present, most employees - and their bosses - are likely to tread the grounds of social spaces with some trepidation. To nudge these organisations along, it may be useful to find "social champions" to help blaze the trail forward. These alpha users could set the stage for the rest to follow.

In the future, however, I believe that more organisations will embrace the "social way". Guided by a philosophy of trust, transparency and openness, they will make their walls more porous, allowing ideas, knowledge, data and relationships to flow freely both inside-out and outside-in. Working in a fluid and seamless fashion, employees in such social organisations will leverage on social technology to improve communication, collaboration and innovation.

Hopefully, such a day will not take too long to arrive.

Bees are masters of building social organisations! (courtesy of ahow)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Can We Attract Millennials to Tourism Jobs?

Can we attract these youths to tourism and hospitality jobs? (courtesy of Singapore International Foundation)

Hilton, we've got a problem.

On one hand, the travel and hospitality industry is desperately in need of workers. Labour-intensive and high-touch, tourism sector jobs in hotels, retail outlets, visitor attractions, F&B, and transport are always available.

On the other hand, the Millennials (defined as those between 18 to 24 years of age) are avoiding the sector like the plague. In their opinion, travel and hospitality jobs do not pay well, does not need smart nor talented people, offer work that is mostly of low status, does not communicate a professional image, and does not value education and skills.

Man! No wonder we find it difficult to attract younger front-line staff these days!

Also known as Gen Ys, the above views of Millennials were uncovered in a study by Duxton Consulting. Comprising 20 in-depth, 90-minute interviews aimed at determining the work-related goals and psychological drivers of 18-24 year olds, the study is supplemented by data from more than 200 quantitative surveys.

These findings were presented at the recent Web in Travel (WIT) conference held at the Marina Bay Sands hotel.

According to the study, a couple of things define who the Millennials are:

1) They inhabit their own "communal cocoon", sharing opinions, standards and perspectives on music, games, sports, celebrities and anything else revolving around their lives.

2) They create their own world - aided by online networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter - and dictate the population of that world, what is right (and wrong), govern the news, and provide the entertainment.

3) They want to build their own brand through projecting an image of themselves both virtual and physical.

4) They see themselves as being different from the norm, and are confident and "empowered" individuals operating in an intensely communal environment.

With their "can do" spirit, Millennials believe the old ways are inefficient and outdated. They prefer forming their own solutions and making their own decisions. Their expectations are also higher than their parents, seeking a better job, nicer things (to wear and own), more vacations, and a better home.

Wait, there's more.

Millennials need to have a sense of momentum. They crave instant progress and instant success, focusing on immediate results as opposed to long-term concerns. Meaning and passion also takes precedence in whatever work they do.

What's more, Millenials need to feel significant soon after they start work. They are obsessed about upgrading and levelling up both skill and pay wise.

Phew! That's a tall order to fill.  

Is there a way forward then? 

Laurenz Koehler, managing director of Duxton Consulting, thinks there is. In an interview with Cooler Insights, Laurenz shared that tourism companies should explore the following strategies:

1) Position and brand jobs appropriately, ensuring that they are meaningful. Address the "Whys" rather than just the "Whats" and "Hows". This can be done by shaping such jobs to be...

- Worthwhile (doing something that makes a difference);
- Challenging (learning and achieving new skills);
- Progressive (offers a clear path for personal development and greater income); and
- Recognised (status titles with constant performance feedback).

2) Encourage Millennials to take ownership of their own jobs so that they can find meaning and passion. This entails guiding and inspiring them to make their own decisions.

3) Train, equip and empower them with the right skills and resources. Thereafter, to leave them to use their judgement at work while establishing clear boundaries. 

4) Refrain from adopting command-and-control management methods. These simply will not work with Millennials.

5) Provide clear feedback mechanisms so that they understand where their limitations are.

6) Ensure that there is forward "momentum" in their jobs and careers, incentivising them through appropriate progression pathways as well as compensation packages.

Personally, I feel that it will be challenging trying to match the realities of customer facing jobs with the expectations of Millennials in Singapore. While employers can repackage the jobs to offer more empowerment and upgrading opportunities, hygiene factors such as the "retail" hours and manual nature of the work cannot be "strategised" away.

Somehow or other, we need to balance between the rising expectations of guests, spiraling labour and land costs, and growing demands of a younger workforce.

Do you agree with the findings of the study? How else can we attract more Millennials to the Tourism sector? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Have You Dived Deep Enough?

Courtesy of Time Travel

We're besieged by "short-termism" in an age of 24/7 hyper-connectivity. With the empowerment of social technologies, everybody can be a pundit, proffering an interminable stream of quick fixes.

When faced with a problem, you can virtually hear the "guns" firing away...

"Why don't that division do it this way?"

"The answer is so apparent that its painful to even tell you about it!"

"Its ridiculous for your department not to consider this solution!"

Now hang on a second. Before you release that volley of arrows, consider the following:

1) There are many sides to an issue. What you feel may perhaps be a biased and subjective view to a multi-faceted issue. Often, corporate challenges are a lot more complex than what one first perceives.

2) People are selective communicators. Studies by psychologists have shown that we have multiple cognitive biases which dictate what we say or do. These often result in us humans behaving irrationally.

3) The underlying causes to a problem may be so deep rooted and ingrained that a blanket solution isn't possible. There are multiple reasons why certain "pains" persist: political power plays; vested interests; infrastructural limitations; strongly held beliefs. Or just the sheer difficulty in implementation. Cursory analyses alone may not reveal these factors.

4) We are not as omniscient or omnipotent as we assume ourselves to be. Huge and ballooning at times, our egos compel us to wear blinkers in our assessment of the best way forward.

How do we then scale these walls?

For a start, learn to take a step back from the issue, reflect and think more deeply and carefully about its various points. Ask yourself if you're being brutally honest about the situation. Disengage from the need to come up with "10 Ways to Fix the World" so that you can dive more deeply into an issue.

Next, talk to as many people as possible. They can be your colleagues, suppliers, customers, clients, bosses or any other persons involved in the problem. If time permits, read the archives to understand what solutions were proposed in the past. Learn what worked and what sputtered.

Recruit a diverse team of resource persons. Bounce off ideas with them. Include a mixture of external parties so that they can provide fresh insights that are unapparent to internal stakeholders. Blend them with the perspectives of staff who possess an intimate knowledge of the inherent challenges.

Remember, however, that the culture of the team must be open, transparent and honest. Set the tone straight from day one and weed out perpetual naysayers who are only interested in slinging mud at others. Encourage upfront dialogue and discussions without any censorship, but ensure that the team eventually arrives at a solution.

After you've arrived at a possible course of treatment, remember to test your approach with those whom it would affect the most. Find ways to do a quick prototyping exercise and to possibly fail quickly (and less painfully) before rolling out the full McCoy.

Ask, enquire and verify if what you're doing is moving along the right track as opposed to careening off in a tangent.

Finally, measure your milestones and be unafraid to switch trajectories midstream if necessary. I know that it is extremely painful to abort 6 months into a project. However, cutting one's losses halfway may be better than bringing an initiative into worthless completion.

Diving deeply into any organisational issue requires determination, political savvy, experience and wisdom. While it can be sheer hard work navigating its often tangled web, doing so could reap a fruitful harvest of sustainable solutions that address the root causes of a problem.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hedonic Arbitrage - A Formula for Happiness

Courtesy of

One of the great life lessons I've learned from a former boss is the principle of Hedonic Arbitrage.

Hedonic what? Well, let us begin with some definitions.

According to the Free Dictionary, hedonism in the psychological sense is the "doctrine holding that behaviour is motivated by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain".

On the other hand, arbitrage is defined as a financial term meaning "the purchase of currencies, securities, or commodities in one market for immediate resale in others in order to profit from unequal prices".

Taken together in a liberal sense, hedonic arbitrage could be understood as the principle of shifting investments in any form (money, goods, assets, time or effort) from one pool to another pool for the purpose of maximising happiness (or minimising pain). In other words, it is a philosophy of weighing the gains out of any transaction vis-a-vis its costs relative to other possibilities.

To illustrate this, let us assume that you intend to spend a fixed sum a year on "fleshly" pleasures. If you're like most people, you'll probably go with your gut. This means that we'll be susceptible to the lures and traps of marketers devising various schemes to tempt us away from our money.

As behavioural economists and psychologists tell us, these decisions may sometimes be irrational and counter-productive. How many times have we regretted spending money on that epic holiday or that luxurious bag when we return home?

To avoid this, we could perhaps consider such decisions as "investments" and weigh more carefully the pros and cons of each. Think through the following:

1) What has our previous experience with this activity been like? Were we truly happy then or did we change our mind after the deed was done?

2) Consider other options beyond "going for the kill". Think expansively beyond the immediate category. For instance, do we really need to lavish ourselves with a $200 meal or would that money be better spent on an air ticket to Bangkok?

3) Take stock of your "inventory" of pleasures and determine where the gaps are. Have you gone on too many holidays and failed to update your tired-looking wardrobe? Conversely, are you rich in material goods and poor on novel experiences?

4) Don't forget the adage that "time is money". Any form of investment costs us both time and money. Consider if spending those few hours at the mall is going to make you more fulfilled compared to reading a good book or catching up with friends over a meal.

5) Adopt the mindfulness of a Zen master and reflect on your own life values and philosophy. Here, I'm not asking you to live the life of an ascetic. Rather, think about whether a particular activity is aligned to your long-term beliefs and values.

Being human, it will of course be challenging trying to curb all impulse buys. I'm not saying that every activity has to be premeditated. After all, we're emotional beings and not robots.

What I'm proposing, however, is that we take on the guise of an investment manager and view our "investments" as a "portfolio" of pleasure. With limited resources and time on our hands, it may sometimes pay dividends for us to consider one decision over another, weigh the long-term pros and cons, and reflect upon our past successes or mistakes. Doing so may help us achieve that holy grail of happiness without always needing to garner more money, friends, or assets.

Do you agree with the principle of hedonic arbitrage?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Social Media Marketing 101 for Non-Profits

Courtesy of Your Social Move

Plagued by the lack of funds, non-profits like associations and societies often have to employ shoe-string marketing strategies. With its relatively low cost compared to traditional advertising, social media marketing can be an attractive option. However, the devil as they say is in the details.

Speaking at the Association Management Seminar (courtesy of MCI Singapore), Martin Ross of mediamind shared that non-profits first need to understand the digital landscape and the plethora of social platforms available.

Different platforms have different qualities. For instance, LinkedIn may be more useful for B2B type associations than Facebook.

In terms of utility, non-profits can leverage on social media for lead generation, brand building, communication, R&D, thought leadership, as well as product and service launches and customer retention.

Rather than measure anything and everything, those tapping on social media should focus on 5 to 10 social media metrics. These may range from unique visitors, cost per unique visitor, page views, visits, interaction rates, to forms submitted, comments, members/fans, uploads, and reposts.

One of the most important things non-profits should do online is to listen. Beyond the buzz/chatter on one's industry, one should also analyse sentiments (positive/negative) and learn what one's competitors are doing.

In the B2B domain, understanding the concerns of end consumers may also be useful in shaping one's products to better meet their needs. For example, a manufacturer of packaging material may want to change how its product opens or closes based on feedback gleaned from product forums or blogs.

Beyond product development, social sentiment analysis also allows one to sharpen one's message/creative, improve ROI, control digital mobs (by nipping negative conversations in the bud), and strengthen competitive strategy. With a deeper understanding of their members' customers or clients, non-profits can better tailor their offerings to suit their members' needs.

To partake in the conversation, one could adopt what Ross calls the "Oprah Strategy" of establishing thought leadership and credibility, namely:

1) Drafting Social Media Releases instead of traditional press releases. Geared towards the intended end-user, a Social Media Release might read like this...

"WDA Wants Waste Management Workers in Singapore to Earn More"

...instead of something like this...

"Singapore Waste Management Industry to Get $5 million WDA Training Boost to Raise Productivity Levels"

2) Exhibiting EQ in working with one's online stakeholders, be they passive audiences, knowledge seekers (those that ask a lot of questions), supporters (your brand believers), and skeptics (uh oh).

A useful tip which I totally subscribe to is this: take all conflicts offline as soon as you can.

In summarising his talk, Ross reiterated the following takeaways:

1) Get people on your side and listen first;

2) Use what you've learnt to formulate your approach;

3) Engage on things important to your members and their customers, not yourself;

4) Avoid hardselling, anti-social behaviour or defensive responses;

5) Understand that your customer is your friend and that we don't exploit our friends;

6) We converse with individuals online - not companies. Hence one should always adopt a one-to-one conversational style which addresses their needs and concerns; and

7) People who manage social media responses need to be trained to deal with online feedback.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Innovate the Pixar Way: Book Review

From its first animated feature Toy Story to Finding Nemo, Up, and Cars, Pixar Animation Studios is probably the world's leading producer of animated features. Renowned for producing cartoon movies that stir the imagination and touch the heart, Pixar's ability to allow "artists and geeks" to flourish makes it one of the world's most innovative organisations.

The secrets behind Pixar's success is ably captured in "Innovate the Pixar Way - Business Lessons From The World's Most Creative Corporate Playground". Written by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson of The Disney Way, the book relates how Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith and lengendary animator John Lasseter created a company which captures the imagination of childhood while making dreams come alive.  The terrific trio did this by embracing four key principles:

1) Dream Like a Child

To dream "for infinity and beyond", one should not compromise long-term dream for the sake of short-term gains. From the onset, Pixar's goal is to "combine proprietary technology and world-class creative talent to develop computer-animated feature films with memorable characters and heartwarming stories that appeal to all ages."

With the mantra that "quality is the best business plan", Pixar established a clear vision, built a creative climate, and forged strong esprit de corps centred around mutual respect and trust.

2) Believe in Your Playmates

Like kids playing in a sandbox, Pixar invests heavily in employee education and training for all employees with Pixar University. Here, the institution develops proficiencies in depth (mastery in a principal skill or subject), breadth (a wide array of experiences and interests), communication (focusing on the receiver), and collaboration.

With a strong emphasis on values, Pixar stood up against "bullies" like Jeffrey Katzenberg (previous head of Walt Disney Studios) and did what was right rather than popular.

3) Dare to Jump in the Water and Make Waves

To encourage innovation, Pixarians are told to "try, learn and try again". Failure is celebrated just as much as successes, and play is a key feature of the company's culture with its offices and studios designed like a corporate playground. Workspaces are personalised and zany (think tiki huts, pagodas and circus tents), milestones and birthdays are celebrated, while fun is not a "four-letter" word.

In this section, we're also given 41 ideas to boost our innovative processes. Some of the more memorable ones include:

- Collecting artifacts that inspire good work;
- Visiting an art museum (hear ye hear ye!);
- Going to the park to play;
- Establishing a "Junior Brain Trust" comprising employees' kids;
- Getting out of one's comfort zone;
- Embracing chaos and confusion;
- Partnering with academia;
- Decentralising;
- Solving problems rather than just making better products. 

4) Do Unleash Your Childlike Potential

Here, innovation is embodied by intangible measures of leadership, quality, and mutual respect coupled with tangible budgetary and production metrics. To "make a dent in the Universe", Pixar invests in developing fully engaged and interested teams to create "blockbuster" results.

Once again, the section ends with various pointers on building an innovative organisation. They include:

- Ensuring that the story is king;
- Using storyboarding to display ideas graphically;
- Adopting improvisation;
- Enhancing other people's works (plus-ing);
- Internal and external collaboration;
- Prototyping, ie Try. Learn. Try again;
- Training;
- Transparency;
- Fun, Play and Celebrations;
- Dreamers with deadlines - ensuring that critical timelines and milestones are adhered to;
- Postmortems - learning from successes and mistakes.

Other than Pixar, Capodagli and Jackson also highlighted salient aspects of innovative companies. Google, Nike, Target and Zappos are cited as examples of "Corporate Playgrounds" (love that word!). What seemed clear is that these organisations place a heavy emphasis on teamwork, internal service, fun and spontaneity while not forgoing discipline and hard work.

Peppered with lots of inspiring quotes, Innovate the Pixar Way provides useful tips on building a more innovative and imaginative organisation with Pixar as a sterling example. Their imaginative and innovative spirit is probably best embodied by this quote from the legendary Walt Disney, the world's most beloved innovator:

"Too many people grow up. That's the real trouble with the world. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old."

Sunday, October 07, 2012

SCORE-ing a Second Chance

SCORE Chairman Chng Hwee Hong, representative from an award-winning company, and Senior Minister of State Heng Chee Chow

Are we truly ready to embrace ex-offenders in our society? Would we give them a second chance?

I pondered the above questions as I attended the recent SCORE Appreciation Awards held at Grassroots Club. An acronym for the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises, SCORE was established as a statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs back in April 1976 to assist offenders and ex-offenders through re-skilling and employment assistance. This is done through training, work, employment assistance and community engagement.

At the event, I found out that about 10,000 offenders are released each year from our prisons. Roughly 50% or 5,000 are trained and equipped by SCORE to acquire new workplace skills.  About 2,000 of these former prisoners are matched with employers each year.

Happily, the number of companies offering to work with ex-offenders has increased. They have grown from 2,872 in 2011 to more than 3,100 this year. With tightening labour conditions, it may make sense for companies to hire more ex-inmates for their workforce.

At the award ceremony, 56 organisations were recognised for helping to re-integrate ex-offenders back to society. They include Resorts World at Sentosa (RWS), the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, Buildables Pte Ltd, and the Singapore Art Museum (SAM).

It was heartening to hear testimonies from ex-offenders who turned over a new leaf and did well in their new jobs. They include ex-drug offender Davien Ong, who is now doing well as a trainee chef at the super-premium Joel Robuchon restaurant at RWS.

While progress has been made to rehabilitate ex-offenders through initiatives such as the Yellow Ribbon Project (SAM has strongly supported their community arts programme since 2008), there is still much work to be done.

Speaking to one of the SCORE case officers, I discovered sadly that the majority of ex-offenders are unable to integrate themselves back into society. Shunned by employers, they are often driven by desperation back to a life of crime or drug abuse.

While this can be quite heart wrenching, I am encouraged to hear from the case officer shared that they will still persevere. Through the relentless efforts of organisations like SCORE and the Social innovation Park, society will hopefully grow to accept reformed ex-offenders.

Through legislation, the government can push to eradicate discriminatory recruitment practices. However, the power ultimately lies with organisations and individuals. We need to overcome our collective mindsets and prejudices about ex-offenders. We need to help these fellow citizens to scale the slippery slope and get back on firmer ground.

As the tagline of the Yellow Ribbon project says, we need to "unlock the second prison".

Are there concrete steps that we can take to help this movement?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Public Relations Strategies for Non-Profits

SHINE Youth Festival 2012
Photo opportunities are good ways to grab media attention (from SHINE Youth Festival)

How can trade associations, societies and NGOs leverage on Public Relations (PR) to get the word out there? What strategies can they apply to "build buzz"?

As Vice Chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions (ASA), one of my jobs is to increase the visibility of the association and establish it as an industry leader. Thanks to an invitation from MCI Singapore, I learned a few new tricks relevant to my association while refreshing my knowledge of the discipline.

Conducted by Buzz Communications' Surendren Apparoo, the talk defined building buzz as identifying stories and providing attractive news angles that appeal to the media. In my view, this applies equally to "media" on social tools like blogs, social networks, microblogs and forums. To do so, non-profits can consider applying the following:

1) Look for superlatives, ie the biggest, fastest, first, smallest, latest, heaviest and so on.

2) Capitalise on the unusual, eg a Chinese architect designing a new Hindu temple or a teenager who is a big fan of Chinese opera.

3) Engineer "eye-candy" visuals, ie photo and video opportunities that capture the attention.  Sex usually works here (eg Big Boyz Toyz use of bikini babes with sports cars) as do anything that is visually exciting (a fireworks display).

4) Distil emotional heartfelt stories that can generate human interest beyond the ordinary. An example would be a 7-year old girl giving her savings for charity.

5) Create unique "buzzworthy" events that can excite the media. For example, organising a $1 hair cut at a shopping mall with a pledge by the organisers to contribute $99 to a charity for every dollar raised.

6) Ride on the prevailing issues of the time, and offer an insight, service or product that is relevant. For example, during the SARS epidemic, several pharmaceutical firms were quick to launch medical equipment and products that help "combat SARS".

7) Establish thought leadership through reports and studies that offer a fresh perspective. For example, the Food and Hotel Asia built a prototype of "The hotel of the future" using leading edge technology.

8) Competitions are always useful, especially if they involve doing something wacky or unusual such as a grape-stomping competition for a wine event.

9) Finally, ensure that your publicity reaches out to the right channels where your targeted audience is. There is little point in generating buzz if it doesn't add to what your organisation is doing.

As a seasoned PR practitioner, most of the above points seemed quite apparent to me. Perhaps the most important lesson, however, was the need to establish thought leadership - a role which associations, societies and NGOs are well-placed to do.

Now let me see what tricks we can pull out of our bag to grab some of that limelight!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

HBR's 10 Must Reads On Change (Book Review)

Harvard Business Review or HBR has always been one of the mainstays of my reading list. I love how its editors seive out business and leadership articles which are meaty enough to provide a good intellectual workout without unnecessary academese.

Its latest compilation "HBR's 10 Must Reads" is a selection of carefully selected journal articles centred on the most pressing issues of management.

"HBR's 10 Must Reads On Change" features articles by luminaries such as John Kotter (Leading Change), Thomas A. Stewart, W. Chan Kim and Renee A. Bauborgne (Blue Ocean Strategy) and others. Spanning topics such as human resource management, leadership, culture and psychology, the anthology cover the breadth and depth of key considerations in transforming any organisation.

Let me cover very briefly some of the major themes.

Leading change: Why Transformation Effort Fail by Kotter details his famous 8 steps to transformation. It explains that transformation is a process and not an event, and may take years to achieve. The step-wise approach to change is also proposed by David A. Garvin and Michael A. Roberto in Change Through Persuasion, with these four stages: Set the Stage for Acceptance; Frame the Turnaround Plan; Manage the Mood; and Prevent Backsliding.

In Radical Change, The Quiet Way, one is taught by Debra E. Meyerson how to effectively implement change as a "tempered radical" through strategies such as:

1) Disruptive Self-Expression (demonstrating values through language, dress, or behaviour);

2) Verbal Jujitsu (redirecting negative statements to positive ones);

3) Variable-Term Opportunities (capitalising on unexpected opportunities for short-term change while orcestrating longer-term transformations); and

4) Strategic Alliance Building (gaining clout through allies).

Change leadership issues are tackled through three case studies. The first is on IBM's former CEO Samuel J. Palmisano (Paul Hemp and Thomas A. Stewart) whereby we're taught that values-based management works better than command-and-control. Palmisano further shared that he gathered employee's input on values, analysed them for major themes, revised those values, identified obstacles to living the values, and launched change initiatives to remove those obstacles.

Leadership is further elaborated in an article on former NYPD Police Chief Bill Bratton by Chan Kim and Mauborgne (Tipping Point Leadership), as well as a A Survival Guide for Leaders by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky. The former entailed breaking through the cognitive, resource, motivational and political hurdles of an organisation (with reference to the Strategy Canvas), while the latter implored us to manage our environment and ourselves in any transitional role.

The psychology of change is tackled in several articles: The Real Reason People Won't Change (Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey) and Why Change Programs Don't Produce Change (Michael Beer, Russell A. Eisenstate, and Bert Spector). In the first, we're taught to diagnose change opponent's competing commitments and big assumptions (ie why their behaviours do not seem to match what they say they want). The second taught us that enduring change only happens when there is alignment with real work - sending woolly imperial edicts from HQ alone isn't going to help!

My favourite article (if that is at all possible) is probably The Hard Side of Change Management by Harold L. Sirkin, Perry Keenan and Alan Jackson. Based on a comprehensive study by the Boston Consulting Group, it proposes the DICE framework for change:

1) Duration - Projects frequently reviewed stand a better change of success than infrequent ones;

2) Integrity - A high-integrity, high-quality project team withthe right portfolio of skills is needed to drive change;

3) Commitment - Leaders must visibly endorse the change initiative and communicate constantly to affected employees in a consistent and clear manner;

4) Effort - Do not over tax employees with too much additional work as that will result in resistance. Ensure that workload does not increase beyond 10%.

Change management is one of the toughest jobs in the business world. You need to carefully frame the context for change, build an "A-team", manage the process carefully and overcome numerous obstacles along the way. By learning from some of the best minds as detailed in "On Change", one is hopefully better prepared for the arduous journey ahead.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Content Marketing Strategies for B2B

Courtesy of The Content Strategist

Content marketing is growing. Well, at least in the US. According to this report by The Content Strategist (heads up to Steve Rubel for the link), 90% of B2B marketers use content marketing.

To establish themselves in their various markets, B2B marketers employ a range of both traditional and social media channels in the creation, production and publishing of content. They include the writing of articles, organising of conferences, publishing of wikis, and authoring of white papers. Some of these platforms are seen in the diagram below:

While content marketing has taken off in the States, it is woefully absent here in Singapore. Most companies and businesses here are a lot more focused on advertising their wares and making a quick sale - often through deals and promotions - than to build their brands through quality content.

If you don't believe me, just look at the websites, and social media properties (Facebook fan page, Twitter stream, Youtube channel) of these companies. Most of these company-owned platforms scream "Look how great we are!", "Our products and services offer superb value!" or "Hurry, buy one get one free!"

Now, I'm not against hardsell marketing per se. There is a time and place for such practices to move old stock from your inventory or generate cashflow.

However, making them the core of your marketing strategy is hardly ingenious. Over time, your customers will label you as a "cheap and good" supplier, resulting in a downward death spiral of diminishing profitability.

How can Singapore companies leverage on content marketing then?

Here are some ideas to start you off with:

1) Be very targeted on who your niche customers are and concentrate on creating content that is relevant to them. Stretch your brand across neighbouring categories (eg diaper manufacturers can provide content useful for infant health) and look at your customer's contexts of use.

2) Supply information that helps your customers perform better at what they do rather than what you would like them to buy. If you're supplying say kitchen ware to restaurants, consider how you can provide the chefs and cooks with useful productivity tips or ways to optimise the use of your equipment to improve the taste of their dishes.

3) Keep your ear to the ground to understand what the underlying trends are in your industry. If you do know of a certain development that could impact your customers, be ready to provide that information through your platforms. Even better if you can link what's happening out there with what your company provides. This helps to establish your firm as a forward looking business while providing useful information to your customers or followers.

4) With Google and the ever transparent web, there are really NO trade secrets. Well, almost. In such an environment, it may be better to err on the side of generosity and provide as much content as you can afford to. Increase your utility. Make yourself likable and increase your fanshare. Remember that you should "give to get" marketing.

5) Most importantly, keep the content and conversations flowing AFTER the sale is made. Give your customers reasons to maintain their links with you by supplying useful updates, tips, techniques and strategies that help them become a better business/person/mother/whatever.

In an age where everybody is sharing and exchanging bits of information over the web, it is crucial for companies to establish themselves as thought leaders and knowledge brokers in the areas that matter. Develop your expertise as a content expert and specialist. Sooner or later, your customers will appreciate that extra help and reward you with business opportunities beyond your wildest dreams.