Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rework: A Book Review

"Policies are organisational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual"

With excerpts like that, you can be sure that Rework by founders of 37Signals Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson isn't an ordinary book on entrepreneurship. Divided into 12 short chapters on various aspects of business - from progress to productivity and competitors to culture - Rework is a compelling read.

Armed with amusing aphorisms and anecdotes, the easily read volume challenges management conventions and norms. In the chapter on "Promotion", we're taught that we should "out-teach" rather than out spend our competitiors, welcome obscurity so that we can test ideas on a smaller scale first, and to emulate celebrity chefs in sharing everything that we know.

We're also encouraged in "Damage Control" to own our bad news and be open, honest and responsive during a crisis. Be like Ashland Oil - a company that was open and immediate in handling an oil spillage incident in Pittsburgh - as opposed to Exxon of the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster. Or more recently BP.

I love the section teaching us how to say we're sorry, with a blow by blow account of why a statement like "We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused" is a complete no-no. (The trick is to be focused on what the real problem is, resolve it as soon as you can, and keep your customer alerted on what you're precisely doing.)

Perhaps the most radical chapter in the book was the one on hiring. Demolishing age-old HR wisdom, the authors encourage us to embrace the following tenets (see how many are an exact opposite to what your organisation is doing now):

- Never hire anyone to do a job until you've tried to do it yourself first.

- Don't hire for pleasure; hire to kill pain. In other words, see how long you can get by without replacing a position and only recruit when you're really hurting. Ouch!

- Pass on great talent if you don't have specific roles for them.

- Understand that resumes are exaggerations filled with action verbs that don't mean anything. Cover letters are far better ways to assess a candidate as they reflect the person's actual voice and interest in your company.

- Delegators are dead weight, everybody should learn to manage themselves, and the best writers should be hired.

Written as a "by product" to their own entrepreneurial journey as software developers of products such as Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire, Rework is unabashedly radical. Admittedly, some of its mantras are more suited to start-ups than established companies. Its absolute tone of voice may also appear overly condescending at times.

Having said that, I believe that the book holds useful lessons for those in a management or leadership position. By getting rid of organisational bullsh*t, we're able to build a better workplace. By speaking humanly, we can cut the crap of corporate speak, and inspire our colleagues, customers and stakeholders.

Let me end by attaching the back cover of the book. I'm sure you can figure out what their core lessons are.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The 3 Cs of Convergence Marketing

What is the true essence of marketing?

I believe that it can be distilled into three basic questions:

1) Which media/social media platforms are available;

2) What other businesses are dishing out; and

3) What customers truly want. 

These three spheres belonging to the worlds of businesses, media and consumers can be represented by the Venn diagram above. While you really should be at the sweet spot where the cupcake is, the truth is that these domains often do not coalesce.

Let us consider each of these "Cs" in turn.


The most over-hyped "C" are the channels. Yes, there are a gazillion ways to interrupt, influence and inform one's customers. It started with posters and banners across town, transited into newspapers, magazines, radio and television, moved up a few notches with websites and social media networks, and is now hopping onto the smartphone in your hand.

Media is omnipresent, be they company or individual generated outlets. We've read that they can be owned, paid, or earned, and that useful content is king. While more and more channels are technically "free" (such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and so on), the effort that goes into generating quality content isn't free at all.

Despite the overwhelming choices (or maybe BECAUSE of the overwhelming choices), consumers are pretty much ignoring what they're exposed to. They're buying stuff when, where and how they want it with nary a thought for that blaring commercial on TV or Youtube. The main triggers for purchase are still our friends, family members, and that little voice residing in our minds.


Our next "C" would be the competition out there. What are similar businesses doing in the marketplace? Are they successful in what they do or are they in serious trouble? Is there anything that we can learn from them?

Many entrepreneurs tend to fall victim to the twin effects of novelty and ego. It goes something like this: "I've got this brilliant new idea that is revolutionary and unheard of in the market. It is something I've been hatching after reading all those great books about Steve Jobs, Google, and Zappos and speaking to a couple of friends (all tech geeks). Let's rule the world!"

The unfortunate truth is that many entrepreneurs do not do enough market research before branching out. They do not spend enough time talking to their future customers on what could work, or to reach out to new people beyond their usual networks. Some are also fixated on doing it their way that they completely ignore all criticisms - including constructive ones. Inbreeding is the last thing you need as an entrepreneur.


The final and most important "C" are customers. There are of course all kinds of customers, clients and users out there for a billion different products, services and experiences. To cut through the clutter, however, consider the following questions:

1) As a consumer/business client yourself, what are your needs, wants and desires?

2) How easily can you satisfy that need, want or desire? Is it easily provided for in the marketplace? Or could this be an unmet opportunity?

3) What are some of the greatest problems or service issues in that industry? How would you work towards improving that?

4) Can you create demand and carve out a new niche for yourself? If so, what are the chances for success?

Naturally, consumers are incredibly fickle and difficult to read. They're (we're) living in a world so full of endless choices that it sometimes takes a rocket scientist to figure out what the best option is. Having said that, it is paramount to conduct some form of research and test-marketing before going the whole hog.

Convergence - the Sweet Spot of Marketing

To find that sweet spot where all three converge, you need to master your emotions and not let feelings cloud your decisions. While there is a time and place for passion in entrepreneurship, choosing what to do requires one to adopt a dispassionate approach in weighing between the 3 Cs.

Consider first if your idea is going to be embraced by your targeted customers. Conduct some market tests and use empirical evidence to back your hunches. If you're going into an entirely new space, find ways to understand consumer sentiments and drill deep into the triggers of purchase behaviours.

Thereafter, study what other businesses are doing. Can they enroach easily on your space? What are your fallback measures? How high are your barriers to entry? Use these observations to shape your product offering.

Finally, consider which channels would best meet your targeted customers at the time and place where they're most receptive to your messages. Devise how you're going the get the word out aiming for reach, relevance and resonance. Study which platforms are most appropriate and customise your content to suit the idiosyncrasies of your audiences. If necessary, build a core community of followers and advocates, and give them reason to spread the word.

Convergence is about creating products and services that serve the needs of customers, are disseminated through appropriate channels, and can withstand the onslaught of competition. It is about creating unique value that can be propagated in a sustainable manner.

The next time you think about launching a new product or business venture, do consider the 3 Cs of convergence marketing.

Friday, January 25, 2013

How Pleasure Works - Book Review

Why does pain sometimes feel like pleasure? Why do we enjoy music and art even though there aren't any adaptive advantages? When does "one man's meat" become "another man's poison"?

The answers to these human behavioural puzzles (and more) can be found in How Pleasure Works. Written by Yale's evolutionary psychologist Paul Bloom, the book uncovers the "new science of why we like what we like". By delving into the fields of anthropology, evolution, history, biology and psychology, the book investigates why we humans are so different compared to our fellow earthlings. 

According to Bloom, human sensations of taste are distinct from Fido, our best friend. While canines and other animals do enjoy food, water, sex, a good fur rub, and other "creature comforts", they are highly unlikely to appreciate Shakespeare, Tang poetry, an old security blanket, or K-Pop group Girl's Generation.

Such distinctly human pleasures are likely to have early developmental origins in biology. This is demonstrated by experiments involving kids and their reactions to various pleasurable (and not so pleasurable) stimuli.

These pleasurable sensations are universal, imaginative, and result from mental systems that have evolved from other purposes. In other words, they are accidental accompaniments to traits that help us to achieve the "survival of the fittest".

Covering food, sex, art, sports, books, television, music, movies and more, Bloom reasoned that our beliefs in the "essence" of objects, organisms and activities underscores the pleasure that we derive from them. This theory of "essentialism" prescribes that humans go beyond superficial Darwinian motivations (ie survival of one's progeny) when seeking pleasure. Instead, we consider the deeper underlying realities or true natures of an activity, person or item.

The acquisition of someone's essence by "ingesting" him or her is exhibited in the Eucharist, a ritual that millions of Catholics regularly practice signifying the consumption of Christ's body and blood. It is also seen in why President Kennedy's golf clubs could sell for US$772,500 in an auction in 1996 (their day to day contact with the man increases their value), or why Barack Obama's half eaten breakfast could cost over US$10,000.

This ability of objects to embody one's "essence" is also the reason why old teddy bears, photographs, school year books, and wedding rings hold tremendous value to us. Each of these objects contain a part of our unique history and thus are irreplaceable and priceless.

The most intriguing part of the book involved examining how art is considered pleasurable.

Here Bloom regaled us with the tale of how Nazi leader Hermann Göring was epicly disappointed by the news that the painting The Supper of Emmaus sold to him by Han Van Meegeren wasn't an original Vermeer but a fake. The news came as a surprise to experts who thought that the artwork was authentic.

This case revealed that the pleasure one obtains from art is often rooted in an appreciation of the human history and "life force" behind its creation. In other words, art isn't valuable from a purely aesthetic viewpoint. Rather, it often depends on the inspiration, history and significance behind what gets splashed on canvas.

With numerous examples ranging from the modest to the macabre (Bloom seems to have a thing or two about cannibalism), How Pleasure Works provides an engaging trip through the depth and breadth of human behaviours. Covering a wide scope of topics, Bloom writes in an accessible prose, using memorable stories to reinforce his ideas.

To conclude, let me quote a definitive paragraph summarising the key ideas of the book:

"The capacity to think about worlds that don't exist (ie imagination) is a useful human power. It allows for the contemplative assessment of alternative futures, something indispensable for planning out actions; it lets us see the world as others see it (even if we know that they are wrong), which is essential for human acts such as teaching, lying, and seduction. And, combined with our essentialism, it leads to pleasures that are central to our modern lives."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is Social Media Marketing Full of BS?

Bob Hoffman (courtesy of The San Francisco Egotist

Well, Bob Hoffman (above) seems to think so.

Before I talk about Bob's ideas, let me state that I love Mitch Joel's Six Pixels of Separation podcasts.

Unlike other social media/digital marketing consultants, Mitch isn't afraid to cast "shiny bright objects" into the recycling bin. His podcast conversations with guests are frank, forthright and thought provoking.

In a recent episode, Mitch spoke to Bob Hoffman of Ad Contrarian. A wizened ad agency man, Bob is pretty atypical. He is unafraid to speak his mind and dispel the smoke screen surrounding all the social media marketing gobbledegook.

Quoting from Digiday (hat tip to Mitch), this was what Bob said about social media marketing:

"... They have had a parade of social media miracle cures that were going to 'change everything' -- blogs, podcasts, widgets, YouTube, Facebook, games, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Pinterest, QR codes and, of course, now content. Mostly they have turned out to be over-hyped, marginally-to-moderately effective marketing tools that have not been game-changers, as advertised. The digital ad industry is unreliable at best, and irresponsible at worst."

With that in mind, let me share some of his more "contrarian" fluff-free assertions.

First, and perhaps the most radical, is the idea that the brand is only about two things:

1) Developing great products/ services; and

2) Treating customers right.

In Bob's world, branding isn't a verb. You cannot "brand" a company. Instead, a brand is a noun. It is the outcome of great products and wonderful customer service which helps to get the word out.

By emphasising the form rather than substance of marketing, companies are getting it all wrong. You need to build a fabulous product and treat your customers fabulously FIRST before you build a brand. Doing it the other way around with fancy logos, stylish ads, cutting edge designs or knock-you-out Facebook fan pages ain't gonna work.

The other "inconvenient truth" which Bob shared is that social media marketing doesn't build brands. Most of the major brands were built by television, radio or newspaper advertisements.

If we examine the top performing "social" brands, for instance, guess what? Most of them are already huge on mainstream channels. What social platforms do is enhance what is already a good product or service from a solid company.

(Of course, there are exceptions like, Amazon and Google. However, the majority of leading brands on the planet were mostly built from non "social" means.)

In Bob's view, social media, like much of the Internet, is a demand fulfillment engine. It does not create demand per se. What's more, display advertisements on the web, be they on Google, Facebook, websites and so on, are usually tiny. They function more like tiny newspaper ads (those that nobody see) rather than television or radio ads.

The challenge is that people do not visit websites to be interrupted. They are there to fulfill a specific informational or communication need. Trying to distract them with pop-ups, music, roll-overs or other forms of ads are huge NO NOs. This becomes even more irritating when it happens on their mobile devices.

In case you're wondering, interactivity isn't really cutting the ice either. According to Bob, consumers have shown no inclination to interact with online ads. Those games, apps and contests (with all the fancy bells and whistles) hasn't really changed their advertiser's brand equity.

And guess what? MediaCorp and SPH needn't fear!

People are still watching television according to recent polls. In the US, about 93% of Americans are watching them in real time (the figure is probably similar in Singapore). Newspaper readership is still high, and much of what gets spread around on social networks are news generated by mainstream media players. I know this is definitely true in Singapore.

This means that the social media snake oil salesmen are wrong. The Internet/social media hasn't destroyed the newspaper, television or radio. It has not decimated outdoor advertisements nor resulted in the death of brochures and flyers.

(On the contrary, media companies are growing bigger and stronger with significant presences in social media.)

In Bob's view, consumer behaviours hardly budged in the last few decades. Many of us still purchase from supermarkets, dine at restaurants, or watch movies pretty much the same way. What social media and smartphones may have done is to change the way we interact and communicate with others. However, it hasn't really shifted the way we interact with brands or consume.

So is it all gloom and doom then?

Well, I suppose it is useful to take a sensible approach to marketing. Be open to both old and new ways. Explore what mainstream media and social media can do for you. Understand that while social media marketing can enhance an already established brand, you should still focus on the business fundamentals.

Bob's advice on branding also rings true in most cases. Focus on building the best company with the greatest products in the world, and lavish care on your customers. Once that is done, you can then look at how marketing and advertising can assist in getting the message out. In other words, don't put the cart before the horse.

Do you agree with the views above? What has your experience of social media marketing been?

Hopefully the above isn't true (courtesy of Merlin's Blog)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Samsung Launches 1st Pop-Up Shop in Asia

K-pop group SKarf - celebrity ambassadors for Samsung (courtesy of Samsung)

Riding on growing consumer interest to experience their mobile devices first hand, Asia's number one brand Samsung has opened its first Samsung Mobile PIN in Singapore. A premium consumer experience space, the sprawling pop-up store will be at Ngee Ann Civic Plaza for a two-month period till 12 March 2013.

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch

First launched at the London Olympics last year, the Samsung Mobile PIN rides on the growing global trend of immersive pop-up stores serving as temporary showcases of brands. In case you're wondering, the world PIN signifies the pins on a map, ie this should be the experience centre that you should 'pin' down. :)

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch

Designed to the theme of "Your World Without Walls", the glass enclosed centres allows you to interact and dabble with fully functioning devices complete with features, services and apps. These include the wildly popular GALAXY SIII LTE, GALAXY Note II LTE, GALAXY Note 10.1 LTE, and the mobile-enabled GALAXY camera.

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch

Visitors to the Samsung Mobile PIN will be assisted by Samsung brand ambassadors. These smartly groomed young men and women are on hand to provide help, advise, and product walk throughs. Customers can also earn coupons, PIN badges and vouchers which can be exchanged for Samsung Mobile premiums and prizes.

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch
Even geeks like us need help to navigate the devices' bewildering new features!

To up the star power of the brand, Samsung has engaged Singapore singer-songwriter Olivia Ong to be its celebrity ambassador. Her new "Wonderland" project is a "creative song writing odyssey" where she uses her GALAXY Note II LTE to sketch down inspirational moments which are woven into the composition of her songs.

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch
Video clip from Olivia's Wonderland project

K-Pop girl group SKarf has also been appointed as celebrity ambassadors to boost the brand's popularity with youths. Comprising Singaporeans Tasha (19) and Ferlyn (20), Koreans Jenny (16) and JooA (22), and 16 year old Japanese Hana, members of the girl group has taken photos with their GALAXY cameras posted on the Samsung Mobile Singapore Facebook page.

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch
"We are SKarf!" I believe the horizontal wave is a signature move, no?

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch
Our cameras are Korean just like...err.. two of us!

In an age of ubiquitous social mobile devices, it is interesting to note how major technology brands are now building brick and mortar shops. The high price points of such feature-filled gadgets makes it imperative for consumers to be extra careful about making their purchases. While you can certainly buy them online, nothing beats playing with an electronic device first before deciding.

Samsung Mobile PIN Launch

Go check out Samsung Mobile PIN today. Let me know if it tempts you to get the latest droolworthy Samsung smartphone, tablet or camera!

All I want for Christmas is a GALAXY Camera!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Celebrate the Year of the Snake with Crystal Jade

Vegetarian Pen Cai from Crystal Jade

Hungry for traditional Chinese fare this Chinese New Year?

Consider popping over to one of Crystal Jade's many outlets.

Ushering in the Year of the Snake, Singapore's largest Chinese restaurant chain recently unveiled its 2013 Lunar New Year menu. Diners can choose from four different varieties of the traditional Pen Cai (a sumptuous one pot dish), and three new flavours of Nian Gau (a festive "prosperity" dessert).

Speaking on behalf of the restaurant group, Stella To, Vice President of Corp Comms and Marketing, shared that the CNY menu provided an "excellent option for meaningful celebrations with family and friends" for today's busy professionals and executives. Dine in and takeaway CNY Reunion dinners have certainly been popular here in Singapore as our hectic schedules make it difficult for us to cook up a storm for that all-important meal.

Thanks to an invitation from Geri and the Crystal Jade team, I had the privilege of sampling their Lunar New Year menu last week at Crystal Jade Kitchen of Ngee Ann City. Join me on this gastronomic experience as you feast your eyes on the photos.

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
This watercress (xi yang cai) with honey drink was a refreshing way to imbibe my favourite vegetable.

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
Are these mini Chinese pizzas? Well, the combination of succulent pork, meaty mushroom, and crumbly pastry provided a nice symphony of flavours and textures.

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
As always, the traditional Yu Sheng salad made an appearance, complete with auspicious sounding ingredients. I especially liked the crunchy strips of fried yam and the "golden pillows".

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
Here's how the eponymous local Chinese salad looks like after the waitress has gone through the auspicious ritual.

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
Barbecued roast meats are always a specialty at Cantonese styled restaurants. While I'm not really a meat person, this combination of roasted duck, soya sauce chicken, BBQ pork, pig's tongue, jellyfish and marinated duck web and wing were pretty yummy. The meats were juicy and flavourful without being overpowered by sauces or seasoning.

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
The highlight of the evening was the Pen Cai (or treasure pot) which came stocked with tasty ingredients like shitake mushroom, sea cucumber, fish maw, abalone, scallop, pork knuckle, black moss and more. After being stewed for hours, the aroma of the broth was rich with umami flavours. You can choose from four different flavours - Golden Abalone, Shanghai Style, Golden Abalone Chicken treasure and Vegetarian (my favourite).

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
Desserts came next. This green tea with red bean nian gau (glutinous rice cake) sprinkled with peanuts was a fusion of Japanese and Chinese cooking.

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
I liked how this nian gau with osmanthus and ginger cleansed one's palate after the rich meat heavy dishes.

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
These fried nian gau with strawberry jam provided a rather unique blend of savoury and sweet tastes.

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
My favourite dessert was this konnyaku jelly infused with chrysanthemum and honey flavours. Guess what they are shaped to look like?

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
To top off our culinary adventure that night, we were each given a box of Crystal Jade My Bread Fortune Bo Lo Pineapple Tart. Isn't the packaging above rather cute?

To enjoy the delectable delights above, make a reservation or place an order by calling +65 6512 8000 or pop over to your preferred Crystal Jade restaurant. You can also place an online order from 21 Jan until 24 Feb 2013. A copy of the menu can be viewed here.

(Do note that takeaway orders must be placed for a minimum of three days in advance and collected from selected Crystal Jade outlets.)

Crystal Jade Year of the Snake
Let's dig in and toss for good fortune this Year of the Snake!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Rise of Creative Leaders

John Maeda - creative leader par excellence (courtesy of

We've heard the clarion call.

We need our organisations to be more innovative. We need open and collaborative cultures. We need to take risks. We need to marry art, design and technology when asking questions, providing solutions and creating possibilities.

However, who should lead us in this brave new world?

Enter the creative leader.

According to Jeffrey Zacko Smith and colleagues from Buffalo State College, creative leaders are identified by...

"...The ability to deliberately engage one’s imagination to define and guide a group towards a novel goal — a direction that is new for the group. As a consequence of bringing about this creative change, creative leaders have a profoundly positive influence on their contexts (workplace, community, school, family, etc.) and the individuals in that situation."

Before we dive deeper into creative leadership, let us first understand how organisations are evolving.

In the social age, traditional hierarchical organisations will morph into heterarchical ones. Instead of having every worker managed by another above them like a pyramid, heterarchies are peer-to-peer systems whereby decisions are made in-situ across different cross-functional teams.

Here, the CEO is no longer at the top of the "food chain". Instead, he or she is in the nexus of the "ecosystem". Catalysed by external and internal social networks, the organisation of the future will be more fluid, dynamic and fast moving.

This can be viewed simplistically as follows:

Courtesy of Brian Watkins

With the above changes, traditional leaders no longer stand. According to John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, the heterarchical organisations of the future require creative leaders who are interactive, improvisational, risk taking, open and real. Such organisations are akin to a jazz ensemble as opposed to an orchestra:

Image courtesy of Emily Carr University of Art + Design

What can we do to up our creative leadership quotient? Maeda proposes six principles:

1. Build From Foundations

Emphasise the core skills of your colleagues. In the case of Maeda's organisation, this includes sketching, drawing and examining raw data in whatever forms. This isn't about going back to the past, but achieving rigour and competence in fundamental skills.

2. Craft The Team

Collaborate and work actively with your people to build the organisation. Be available on the ground and roll up your sleeves to "lead from the trenches". This helps leaders to inspire others while deepening his/her ability to sense ground sentiments.

3. Sense Actively

Be attuned to the feelings of others. Don't lock yourself behind ivory towers. Instead, make special efforts to foster active relationships and show genuine concern for your colleagues in an open and transparent environment.

4. Take Leaps

With reference to Patti Brennan’s "Hierarchy of Imagination" (see below), creative leaders should emulate artists by taking risks and questioning why things are done a certain way. Instead of relying on tried-and-tested solutions to problems, they should activate their imagination to look for unconventional approaches to solutions. This also means allowing some chaos and messiness to take place.

Patti Brennan's Hierarchy of Imagination (courtesy of Creative Leadership)

5. Fail Productively

The principle of "fail fast, fail safe, and fail often" isn't new. Essentially, this looks at how organisations can bounce back quickly from mistakes without disabling their core businesses. Having a resilient culture also helps organisations to stay focused to their objectives and be united come hell or high water.

6. Grow From Critique

Finally, creative leadership is about handling negative feedback. Criticism is a key strength in creative organisations as it bolsters intellectual leadership while allowing teams to learn quickly. Being able to speak candidly without fear of repercussion is certainly key in such organisations.

What are your thoughts on creative leadership? Are there any examples that you can think of?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

10 Steps to Building Social Businesses

Courtesy of Edelman 

As I've previously blogged about, the future of business is social.

In a world where we're permanently thumbing our smartphones, swiping a tablet or typing on a notebook, it is impossible to ignore the significance of social channels in business. While everybody in a start-up can "go social" quite easily, how should medium to large organisations craft their policies, re-route their processes, re-build their structures or re-wire their systems?

Enter Edelman's thought provoking ideas in Social Business for Complex Organisations. I was so enamoured by this that I thought I'd embed the entire presentation below for you to follow.

Key ideas can be summarised into 10 major points:

1)  There are 4 truths in this day and age:

a) Communication continues to reach further faster;

b) Everyone has a voice and is influential online;
c) The increasingly connected world generates an overflow of information; and
d) Core business objectives will remain constant.

2) Internally, information needs to be more efficiently and effectively managed. Employees must be empowered to build an innovative culture. Externally, organisations must engage in multi-stakeholder conversations, humanize their brands and embrace the rise of the individual.

3) Social business planning is the blueprint transforming an organisation which bridges the internal with the external. It creates a more connected way of doing business through three dimensions:

a) People - Behaviours, collaborations, executive support, participation, and organisational models;

b) Process - Social media policies, technology, customer support, workflows, and measurement frameworks; and

c) Platforms - Online monitoring, analytics, internal collaboration, communities, and social CRM.

Courtesy of Edelman

4) Social enterprise (internal) must support the social brand (external).

5) Value can be created through effective stakeholder engagement, both internal with employees, and external with customers, partners and the media. This was a point I've also highlighted previously.

6) Develop a centre of excellence geared towards evaluating the social landscape. This can be done through central management and the inculcation of operational practices such as listening, planning and engaging.

7) Structure social media roles with cross-discipline teams.

8) Formalise governance processes through policies, incentives, and clear accountabilities.

9) Create different ways for employees to participate as follows:

a) Listener - the basic level of participation where one subscribes to Google Alerts, monitors Twitter and Facebook, subscribes to RSS feeds and follows the company blog;

b) Conversationalist - an intermediate level participant who does some micro blogging on Twitter, engage in two-way conversation on Facebook and Twitter, and comments on 3rd party blogs;

c) Content Creator - an advanced level participant who records and uploads videos and photos on YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Twitvid, Google+ etc, and writes and publishes blog content.

10) Establish frameworks for collaborating, listening and measuring across the entire organisation. 

Naturally, the biggest challenge in building social businesses is not in developing the tools, structures and platforms. After all, many of these have been around for quite a few years.

Rather, the largest obstacle lies in overcoming organisational inertia and the vested interests of incumbents.  This is especially true in Asia, where organisations tend to be more hierarchical and tradition bound.

Having said that, I am optimistic that this will change. One cannot stop the ubiquitous influence of social devices in every facet of our lives. It only makes sense for companies to get into the act.

The question, however, is how firms can do so without throwing the business baby out with the bathwater. In this sense, social business planning frameworks such as Edelman's can help to illuminate the path forward.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Book of Business Awesome/ UnAwesome (Review)

Have you wondered what works (and doesn't) in Facebook?

Or how you can undo an ill conceived tweet let loose in a fit of anger?

Maybe you need to stand out in a sea of fiercely "social" competitors?

Well, now you can.

Written in tongue-in-cheek fashion with unabashed directness, The Book of Business Awesome/The Book of Business UnAwesome is a unique two-in-one volume by "UnMarketing" consultant Scott Stratten.

With refreshing candour, Stratten's book is laced with numerous case studies. They highlight positive and negative examples of what worked - and sucked - in the fields of social media, PR, customer service, HR, branding and other related areas.   

The first "half" of the book - The Book of Business Awesome - provides lessons, tips and tales of how companies have differentiated themselves. By hiring great people, providing outstanding customer service, responding with speed and sincerity to PR crises, and developing premium content, these companies could thrive in the age of all things "social".

Poo poo-ing the need for social media to show ROI (compared to say printing 2,000 mugs with one's corporate logo), the book demonstrates how "awesome" companies are able to reach their third circle through quality content that spreads "virally". The first circle are our clients/friends, the second are the friends of our friends, while the third are folks who have no personal relationship to us.

Two examples of awesome businesses in the book:

- How DKNY (@DKNY) responded to a customer's tweet on a torn shirt cuff with an offer of replacement (no questions asked);

- How Grand Rapids overturned a negative report (it was labelled a "dying city") by Newsweek with "Grand Rapids LipDub". Set to a live recording of "American Pie", this nine-minute-long video saw thousands of residents singing and walking through their town in a spontaneous display of exuberance.

The dark side of the book - The Book of Business UnAwesome - is probably the more interesting half.

Here, we're taught that customers do not care less about a company's silos, that one should always check one's facts before blurting out in social media, and that "Bright Shiny Objects" syndrome can be extremely dangerous. Many of these "unawesome" practices stem from companies focusing their energies on sales and marketing while failing on customer service.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the book is its "Hall of Shame". Companies "etched in infamy" due to their ignorance, offensiveness, and lack of accountability are depicted here. Examples include:

- Kenneth Cole, who decided to hijack the trending topic of #Cairo (a hashtag created for the protests and riots in Egypt) to promote a new spring collection of apparel;

- Politician Newt Gingrich, who was shamed for buying hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers; and

- Quantas Airways, which ran a contest using the hashtag #QuantasLuxury which offered - get ready for this - a pair of pajamas and an amenity kit to its winners (what were you expecting?).

Courtesy of Nina Mikaelsen

A master of wisecracks and clever quips, Stratten provided tonnes of "tweetable" quotes and "status update" worthy sayings throughout both sides of the book. My favourites include the following: 

"Numbers give you only half the story."

"I would rather have 500 targeted new likes than 5,000 generic ones."

"We need HR to be a catalyst for what employees can do better."

"It's what we do that affects our brand perception more than any brochure ever could."

In summary, The Book of Business Awesome/ UnAwesome provided practical bulls*** free insights into the "hows" and "whats" of customer and employee engagement in the age of social media. Through numerous stories from the frontline, it demonstrated what one ought to do and not do in a world where "spam" is hated and where "outrage does not take the weekend off."

For more insights and examples of both awesome and unawesome companies, check out Scott Stratten's UnMarketing blog which comes loaded with lots of juicy goodness (and badness). I'm sure you'll learn as much from him as I did!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Owning Your Customer's Experience (Part 2)

Singapore Airlines cabin crew are trained to own the customer experience (image from Singapore Airlines)

Does your organisation hold a common view of the customer experience?

Does everyone know what it looks like when it is done well?

What are you willing to give up to get it?

These questions frame the development of a customer experience vision for any tourism business.

Shared by KC Blonski of AchieveGlobal at the recent Singapore Experience Conversation, it continues on from my previous post. Then, I shared about the importance of the people aspect of the service business, the need to manage all aspects of a customer interaction, and the importance of being proactive in owning the experience.

After defining one's vision, one should next consider the customer relationship process. This can be mapped out based on the following:

1) An outline of your customers' expectations and how they will be met;

2) A defined way of engaging customers (what we call defining moments or "moments of truth");

3) A continuous cycle of improvement - just as your customer's wants and desires change, so should your modus operandi.

Beyond managing by design, companies also need to manage by variability. What this means is to vary the treatment of customers in various circumstances by empowering employees to do so, equipping them with the right skills and budgets.

The next aspect to consider is organisational support. Customer experience is not just a frontline job!

Here, leaders need to throw the weight of the entire company behind any customer experience effort. They should ask the following questions:

1) Do our leaders own the customer experience?

2) Is there a consistent definition of the customer experience?

3) Are there proper reward and recognition systems in place?

4) Are our processes aligned to support a positive customer experience?

5) Have we developed usable metrics and a dashboard?

6) Are our employees adequately trained and empowered? And so on...

In the strategic implementation of a customer experience strategy, a company's communication, commitment and execution need to match in order to be successful. Here, the following mnemonic device provides a useful way to think about it:

1) I KNOW - Having a clear and compelling vision and purpose;

2) I CARE - Having leaders who demonstrate commitment and understand the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) factor;

3) I CAN - Having the right training programme to equip employees with the right knowledge and skills, as well as the right processes and systems to support them.

Summing up, an organisation's customer experience strategy can be crystallised into 5 key components:

1) Clear vision and definition of customer experience, supported by organisational brand values;

2) A defined customer relationship strategy;

3) Superior skills for all customer-facing associates;

4) Leaders who genuinely motivate and guide others - leading from the front as opposed to managing from behind; and

5) Effective organisational support. Passive lip service alone isn't going to work here.

In essence, you should build the emotional connection with guests such that you're top of mind.  Focus every aspect of your business on the guest, and ensure that people, processes, and systems are in place to support this.

Let me conclude with this quote from Walt Disney:

"You can design, create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality."

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Owning Your Customer's Experience (Part 1)

Courtesy of HotelManagement.Net 

The world has changed. Customers now have all the information they need to decide.

With an attention span of 90 seconds or less (at 140 characters each time), business as usual ain't gonna work for the Facebook and Twitter generation. The game has changed from word of mouth to world of mouth.

In other words, nobody's gonna believe your marketing spiel.

Beginning on this ominous note, K C Blonski of AchieveGlobal shared at the recent Singapore Experience Conversation (organised by STB) that customers are now look for value beyond product and price.

Consider the following:

- 72% cite customer experience as the greatest driver of more spending;

- Companies enjoy a 39% increase in sale when customers respond to employee suggestions;

- 86% quit doing business because of a bad experience - up from 59% 18 months ago;

- 84% polled will tell others of a bad experience - up 10% from last year.

Physical amenities alone can no longer differentiate your business from others. Consider how the 1980s Mirage resort with a volcano in Las Vegas was supplanted by Treasure Island with a pirate ship upfront. This was subsequently upstaged by Bellagio with a huge musical fountain. And so on and so forth.

So how can one differentiate one's business?

The answer is people! They make all the difference.

If one looks at travel websites like Agenda, Tripadvisor, Expedia, Yelp and Travelocity, a common theme emerges. Guests who rave about their holiday experiences frequently talk about the staff responsible for creating those "moments of truth". 

More specifically, we need to deepen our relationships with customers and own their experiences. This should be done in two ways:

1) The Business side: ensuring that guest expectations and perceptions are matched, and satisfying them with operational efficiencies. This provides the base level of service.

2) The Human side: where perceptions should be a lot higher than expectations. Focusing on this dimension means going beyond the basic standard of service.

In focusing on the human element, companies should consider 3 key areas of interaction:

1) Transactions: Make it memorable beyond core service delivery;

2) Sales/queries: Build trust and confidence beyond delivering quality service;

3) Problems: Make them right. Reassure and rebuild that relationship, inspiring confidence on an individual level.

The benefits of positive customer experiences are plentiful. They include increased revenue opportunities, strengthened customer loyalty, reduced risks of service failure (customers are more willing to forgive you), improved productivity, and increased capacity to acquire, retain and grow customer relationships.

To progress towards owning the guest experience, companies should progress along the following continuum:

1) Do Nothing (not very advisable);

2) Manage - manage transactions at individual level;

3) Impact - impact the experience through customer feedback; and

4) Create - Strategically create customer experiences.

A quick tip to consider is what one's EXIT experience will be like. In planning a Disney theme park for example, Disney Imagineers are obsessed with every detail from entrance to exit, ensuring that every defining moment is carefully managed.

So how does one integrate these lessons into a whole?

Well, join me for part 2 of this post as Blonski shares some thoughts behind a customer experience strategy.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Next 10 Years of Infocomm Technology

What will the future of InfoComm Technology (ICT) be like? How will these trends impact the way we work, live and play?

Painting the scenario of how things will evolve, Cort Isernhagen of IDC Insights forecasted at the recent Infocomm Technology Roadmap Symposium 2012 that the ICT landscape over the next 10 years needs to consider four macro trends supported by four key pillars of technology. 

Let me cover each in turn.

Macro Trend 1: The Rise of Generations Y and Z/ C

By now you would have been familiar with the term "digital natives". This probably describes anybody born between the late 1970s to the early 2000s, ie Gens Y, Z (collectively called the "Connected" generation of Gen C).

Over the next few decades, this young cohort would comprise a rising proportion of citizens in Asia (31%-40% in Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, and more than 51% in Malaysia, Philippines, India and Indonesia).

With their lives perpetually tethered to the mobile web, the rise of these generations of tomorrow's customers, managers and workers will change how we develop and consume technology.

Macro Trend 2: Urbanisation

According to this source, the global proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13% (220 million) in 1900, to 29% (732 million) in 1950, to 49% (3.2 billion) in 2005. It is projected that this may rise to 60% (4.9 billion) by 2030. By 2050, 66% of the Asian population will live in urban areas.

The migration of populations from rural areas to cities will result in the creation of huge metropolitan areas and crowded mega-cities. These require a change in how technology should be deployed.

Macro Trend 3: IT "Tuned" for Industry

Over the last 3 decades, IT has evolved from providing infrastructure and hardware to a more strategic role that is intimately woven with business verticals as shown below:

- 1980s to 1990s: Servers, Storage, and Communications Infrastructure
- 1990s to 2000: Infrastructure, Security, Management, etc
- 2000 to 2005: CRM, SFA, ERP, Payroll, Analytics, etc
- 2005 to Today: Retail, Manufacturing, Finance, Government Specific, etc

This observation is also mirrored by the higher spend in IT budgets across most industries.

Macro Trend 4: Emergence of the Third Platform

In a similar fashion, the evolution of IT over the decades has resulted in the change of platforms, resulting in the development of what is known as the 3rd Platform. This can be depicted as such:

Mainframe-Terminals --> LAN/Internet Client/Server --> Mobile Broadband, Big Data/Analytics, Social Business, Cloud Analytics, Mobile Devices & Apps (3rd Platform).

This emergence of the 3rd Platform creates four pillars, namely:

1) Mobility - Connecting People and Process  Increasingly, intelligent devices will provide cost effective telemetry (remote data measurements) for infrastructure, vehicles, and people. There are nearly 941 million smartphones/tablets manufactured in Asia, with over US$203 billion spent on voice and mobile data services. In fact, we're enveloped by a staggering 10 billion devices transmitting information!

2) Cloud - The CFO View  With its advantages over traditional platforms owned and managed by enterprises, Cloud solutions will be viewed more positively by bean counters. New vistas of opportunities would also be developed as Cloud technologies change the way businesses operate.

3) Creating the Social Business  As consumers and businesses go social, companies will need to migrate the entire spectrum of their organisation on to social platforms. This will result in stronger networks of interaction and relationships from employees to suppliers to customers. Such a shift towards the social enterprise will also influence all functions from HR to Finance, Sales, Marketing, R&D, Operations, Product Development to Manufacturing.

4) Big Data - Touching the Entire Enterprise  With the growth in data, content, and end-users, information will need to be metered and managed. 2020 will see the rise of predictive analytics , collaboration and workflows that impinge upon all aspects of business. This reality needs to be considered now as the Third Platform will see billions of users around the globe.

Key Takeaways

Against this backdrop, IDC recommends four key takeaways:

First, macroeconomic trends will fundamentally impact the way technology is used and managed. IT masterplans and roadmaps need to consider these sea changes.

Second, IT is now fundamentally tied to the business. To gain resonance, IT plans need to consider the goals and metrics of the business and not just technology KPIs alone.

Third, the 4 technology pillars are changing the face of technology, enabling employees, citizens and customers in various ways. To manage this, consider creating individual sub-strategies and preparing for the 3rd Platform.

Finally, prepare for a "system of systems" approach in ICT design. For cities such as Singapore, this should look at how intelligent devices, pervasive broadband networks and social media platforms are interwoven into city services, buildings, transport, water, energy, communications, citizens' lives and businesses.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Are You Keeping White Elephants?

Do you know what a "white elephant" is?

Well, it is an idiom representing a valued possession where its costs far outweigh its usefulness. The phrase originated from age-old traditions in Indochina (Thailand, Myanmar). Back then, monarchs kept these rare (and burdensome) animals for the purposes of showcasing their wealth and power.

These days, huge "ego" projects by governments around the world are labelled as white elephants. They can be anything from tax-funded sports stadiums, military jets, hydroelectric dams to public offices.

Public listed companies are occasionally accused of building white elephants - sprawling HQ offices, luxuriant bathroom fittings, corporate jets, and more. While these are sometimes justified for "branding" and "image" purposes, stakeholders (particularly shareholders) usually point accusatory fingers at these when revenue and profits nosedive.

Wait a minute, I hear you say.

What do these exorbitant and rare animals have anything to do with me?


Like it or not, we all have white elephants in our lives. These can take the shape of materialistic possessions, hobbies, habits, social media properties, jobs and even people!

Examples of such white elephants could include the following:

- An expensive luxury car which you clean and polish every other day, but which you don't use so that you can avoid rising ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) and parking charges;

- A bejeweled gown that scintillates and sparkles, but which you don't wear as its too ostentatious for mostly casual Singapore;

- A highly popular YouTube channel that scores lots of views for its zany weekly videos, each of which is a bitch to produce;

- A jet setting career as a regional director in a MNC earning tonnes of cash which you don't have time (or energy) to spend;

- A relationship with the most gorgeous "trophy" hunk/babe who costs an arm and a leg to feed (and whom you need to constantly keep vigil over lest he/she stray). 
Like public and corporate white elephants, personal white elephants are not only costly to acquire but costly to maintain. They exert a disproportionate influence on our lives, sapping our energies, resources and emotions while offering comparatively little benefit in return.

Unlike organisational white elephants, personal ones are often the hardest to divest. Because they are personal, such possessions or positions were acquired after much thought. Often, they represented the best decisions one could make at that point of time.

(Admittedly, we also loved the darn things/persons because they're so beautiful/cute/exquisite/etc)

However, circumstances and contexts change. That luxury automobile served its purpose when you were a fast rising star in sales. Now that you're retired without any income, the monthly maintenance costs (road tax, insurance, parking) is a strain on your resources.

As you start the new year, think about those personal white elephants. Re-evaluate their relevance to your life as it is now. If necessary, do a cost-benefit analysis and make an objective decision about whether that ego project/possession/partner is worth keeping.

At the end of the day, remember that we are not the sum of our possessions. Our lives are worth much more than that. 

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Great Service = Great Marketing

Robinsons is an icon of service in Singapore (image courtesy of goodcitydeals)

What is the best way to trigger positive and enduring word of mouth?

Is it...

A) Rolling out fantastic promotions and irresistible deals, such as two-for-one deals or "everybody-win" contests?

B) Creating fantastic publicity events, like the recent jump from space by Felix Baumgartner for Red Bull Stratos?

C) Developing fantastic big idea advertisements, like the legendary 1984 Superbowl commercial by Apple for the Macintosh?


D) Providing fantastic customer service experiences that people will rave about, long after the sale was made?

There isn't a "correct" answer so to speak, but I'll probably go with D.
(If budget permits, you should tick all four boxes. Unfortunately, that's becoming increasingly difficult with the economy sputtering along as it is.)

In a world where product innovations can be quickly copied, customer experience makes all the difference. Companies need to focus not only on the transaction itself but the entire experience - from the point of first contact to the time he or she departs.

Excellent service is the reason we love shopping at Robinsons.

I recalled an experience some time ago when we were contemplating buying mattresses at the store. The sales lady described at length what the qualities of the different models of mattresses were, enquired what our sleeping habits and budgets were like, and encouraged us to "try" as many as we wished even when the brands were not under her charge.

At no time during the encounter did she rush or push us to arrive at a decision.

After visiting competing establishments and trying out different mattresses, we eventually decided to purchase from Robinsons (or more specifically from the lady). We felt more comfortable speaking to her and the price seemed right.

Obviously, my experience is not unique. Robinsons has generated so much goodwill over the years that loyal customers lobbied to keep it going when it threatened to close down a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately, establishments like Robinsons are few and far between.

In a world where practically any product or service can be commodified, sustainable marketing comes from creating customer experiences that are delightful and inspired. By caring about a customer's spoken and unspoken needs, you create magic.

That stuff is worth a lot more than the fanciest TV commercial or the most daring stunt.

Indeed, it isn't how many Facebook fans, Twitter followers, eyeballs, VIP customers, or email lists you have acquired, but what you do individually with each customer that counts. Being helpful, knowledgeable and sincere goes a long way towards creating lifetime customers. The goodwill and positive word of mouth generated far overshadows whatever new customers you can acquire through fancy marketing alone.