The Adaptive Marketing Organization

Successful companies must be able to evolve at the speed of change.

Companies that don’t adapt to the changing world disappear quickly: Blockbuster is a prime example; today we are witnessing RIM (who makes Blackberries) following similar steps.

Technology is the disruptor: cloud computing is empowering entrepreneurs and businesses with computing power that was inconceivable just a few years ago. Mobile devices are making information ubiquitous. Social technologies are enabling sharing of ideas and knowledge in real time. As a result, today’s customer is very different from that of 10 years ago:

  • Smart – Buyers are armed with knowledge. More than half of all online purchases are influenced by online research.
  • Connected – Customers have the ability to research, share, comment and buy anywhere, anytime. The ability for customers to compare online and nearby prices while in a retail store is forcing unprecedented price transparency.
  • Socially Influenced -The new buyer is not alone. He or she is empowered and influenced by the collective knowledge of friends, influencers and online reviewers.

It is all to easy to react tactically to the latest trend or to go for the new buzzword. Only a few years ago companies were racing to build facebook marketing and f-commerce plans, today everyone is talking about how to build a Social Business. Instead marketers should think about Customer Interaction Strategies, and understand how the new tools (Pinterest, Twitter or whatever comes next) support your business strategy.

The new Dynamic Customer Journey, as the Altimeter Group calls it, forces marketing leaders to build a dynamic, adaptive marketing team and to lead the company in its pursuit of being an adaptive organization. Their focus on these two themes is what inspired this post.

This need to continuously evolve and adapt as marketers is the reason why In February 2011 I renamed my blog The Adaptive Marketer. In that post I shared this quote from management guru Peter Drucker, who back in 1968 in The Age of Discontinuity wrote: 

“Businessmen will have to learn to build and manage an innovative organization. They will have to learn to build and manage a human group that is capable of anticipating the new, capable of converting its vision into technology, products and process, and willing and able to accept the new.”

How to build an adaptive marketing organization? I don’t have the complete answer, but I can share a few ideas:

  • Don’t get blinded by shiny objects: Web 2.0, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Google + and the new tools that will appear in the near future, are just that: tools. Think of them in the context of how they can affect your customer engagement strategy and how do they support your business objectives.
  • Hire multidisciplinary marketers: Don’t hire a Pinterest expert or a Twitter guru. To be adaptive, your team must understand multiple marketing tools and tactics and how they interact with each other. Else, you end up with siloed, tactical activities. As an example, your twitter tactics can support your content marketing strategy which can combined can support your lead generation and revenue goals. Hire marketers that understand how all the pieces work together, and who can understand new tools fit this framework as they are invented.
  • Build a continuously learning organization. Change is hard. It took us years to begin to understand the internet affected businesses. Then we had to learn about SEO. Next was social media. Content marketing is important again (it has always been). The only constant is change. Build learning into your organization’s DNA. Hire curious people. Encourage experimentation. Build a training plan. Stay up to date.
  • Keep the customer at the center – Amidst all this change, there is one constant: the customer. While the interaction tools and the buying behavior are constantly evolving, customers should stay at the center of your strategy. The first step is to really understand who is (or should be) your customer, understand what they need and how they need it (including how they want to buy) and design your selling process around the customer experience.
  • Focus – it is all about the business. Marketers must be increasingly accountable for results. Not only leading indicators like website visitors or facebook followers – actual results. I am talking revenue growth, increase in customer lifetime value, customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy. This is what I mean: if you build great products that your customers love, you will probably do alright.

What do you think?

Are you ready to become a Social Business?

What is a Social Business

What Exactly is a Social Business?

Here we go again – we have a new buzzword, all the social media experts are talking about the “Social Business”

Peter Kim defines social business [link ] as “a social business harnesses fundamental tendencies in human behavior via emerging technology to improve strategic and tactical outcomes” – interesting but it sounds like something a consultant would say.  IBM defines it as an agile, transparent and engaged organization (of course, they sell collaboration, community and social listening tools).

I don’t think it is that complicated. What does it mean to be a social business? To me, it is not about having a team of people monitoring Linkedin, Twitter and, if you are in the ‘leading edge’, Google+ and Pinterest. Those are tools, communication channels.


Photo courtesy of Tobym under the Creative Commons license

What it means to be a social business can’t be relegated to a small rapid-response, crisis-prevention team. The social strategist should be a customer interaction strategist, not the leader of a support team that is trying to move quickly to avert a Comcast-like crisis or a United breaks guitars viral video incident. There is no formula to make content viral either.

To me, running a social business has a much deeper meaning. I say ‘deeper’ because it requires a fundamental culture change that spreads across the business and changes the way the business operates.

Social Business is about being sincerely interested in listening to customers and empowering employees to have an open conversation with them.

What do I mean? On one side Marketing is paying (struggling) to reach to customers to tell the company message while ‘customer service’ is trying to reduce call volume- that is, trying to talk less to customers. Does that make sense to you?

Why would a company provide better service via the social media team on Twitter than via the 1-800 phone line. [link!/augieray/status/187539854303838209] Figure it out. Previously I talked about how Social is not a strategy [link } and how companies need to develop holistic customer interaction and customer service strategies that span traditional and social channels.

Is your Business sincerely interested in listening to customers and empowering employees to have an open conversation with them? To help you find out, here is a short Social Business test

  1. You are not a social business if you leave people on hold for 30 minutes. If you do that, the message to customers is ‘we don’t want to talk to you’. I am proud to work at Rackspace where on average it takes customers 6 seconds to connect with a person who cares.
  2. You are not a social business if the emails you send to customers come from ‘do not reply’. Think about it: you are talking to customers and telling them, “Please don’t even try to talk to us, we don’t care, your email won’t even make it”.
  3. You are not a social business if you don’t publish your contact information on your site and encourage customers to contact you. How many times have you as a customer navigated nests of pages to try to find an email or 800 number? How many buttons does it take in your phone system for a customer to speak with a human?
  4. You are not a social business if you don’t have a formal customer feedback process, that gives the team designing products and services the opportunity to understand what customers want. A system that makes it easy for front-line customers to pass feedback, makes it easy for customers to volunteer feedback, a system that collects and summarizes it, and a product development team that reads the summaries and acts on it.
  5. You are not a social business if at least everyone in marketing spends time with customers every week. When I was responsible for social strategy for a F500 company back in 2004, every single employee in a division of many thousands was required to spend at least 4 hours interacting with our customer community. Ask your team, when was the last time they spoke with a customer (and listened)?
  6. You are not a social business if you don’t empower front-line empowers to help customers. If you don’t allow them to have an honest conversation with customers.
  7. You are not a social business if you speak to customers in a different language: you can’t connect with customers if you talk to them in consultant-speak, corporate-speak or marketing-speak (I am trying, it is hard). Talk to people like people, like you would if you were having a conversation between two humans (you are).
  8. You don’t have a social business if your social media team spends most of their time fixing customer problems via Twitter and broadcasting self-centered communications and discounts via Facebook.

To drive the point home, you can have a social business even if you don’t have a social media team and if you don’t have a Twitter account. Think about the small business that talks to customers every day, where employees know customers on a first-name basis and not only know about customer’s personal lives but they actually care about them. Everyone in the business understands what customers want, and there is a relationship with customers that goes beyond transactions. To me, that’s a social business.

Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are only tools to interact with customers. They are awesome tools that have incredible potential to transform your business and the relationship with customers. But you may want to start by simply answering the phone and talking to customers.

This post originally appeared at MarketingProfes as a contributed article.

Update: based on the comments I received to the MarketingProfs post, I want to add that I am not against the philosophy aof social business as expressed in the social media and collaboration circles. I am a fan of Peter Kim and many of the contributions from the Dachis Group. In fact, I have been an advocate of taking advantage of social media for almost a decade as well as empowering employees with enterprise social collaboration (now thwe Enterprise 2.0 conference calls itself the Social Business conference – how quickly buzzwords evolve).

The key point I am trying to make is that we marketers are too quick to chase the shiny object and pursue ‘advanced’ marketing technique when we have not really though about the basics. Markeitng is common sense. Becoming a social business is part of a business strategy that is centered around empowering employees to share knowledge and a personal interactionw ith customers, it is not about a set of ‘social media’ tools that a company can license.

Looking forward to more comments.

The Criticality of Company Culture

Courtesy Andreas Nilsson
Courtesy Andreas Nilsson

Last month 1 to 1 magazine published my article “The 10 rules of Customer Centricity” that talked about how customer centricity needs to be a company strategy, not a motto for the marketing team.  My last post about Why I joined Bazaarvoice talks about the Bazaarvoice culture and how it was a key factor for me to join this company. Again, culture should not be something that is done by HR, framed and then ignored – its central to a company’s strategy.

The book The Discipline of Market Leaders is one of my favorite books on strategy, I encourage you to read it. It makes the case for three central disciplines that define a company and its primary operating model and its product strategy. The book talks about three main disciplines: Customer intimacy (think Nordstrom), Product Leadership (think Apple) and Operational Excellence (think Dell or McDonald’s). Companies can’t do all three, they need to pick one and run with it.

Culture = Strategy

Company culture is strategy. It defines your company. It defines who you hire. It defines what you value and reward as an organization. It defines how you create products and services. It defines who you are. It determines your success.

The Engineering Culture at Motorola

Motorola has been for many years one of the most innovative companies in the planet. While I was working there I had the opportunity to visit the Motorola Museum. I was amazed about the number of firsts: From the first car radio (did you know this is the origin of the name -as in Moto- Rola?), the first square TV to almost everything RF/radio related in the world including the system that provided communication to the Apollo XI Lunar Lander.

Then it hit me: Motorola had invented so many markets yet it had been unsuccessful in maintaining market leadership. The company invented the cell phone and by then it had secondary market positions both on the cell phone business as in the infrastructure side. The answer, for me, was the company culture.

An interesting fact: Motorola employees wore badges of different colors based on the number of patents under each employee’s belt.  Engineers worked with pride with a silver or golden ID badge.  People knew you had to be an engineer to be successful at the company.  There were POPI (protecting our proprietary information) audits at every office ensuring nothing as trivial as an org chart or was left at your desk.

As much as Motorola excelled at creating products, it failed at bringing them to market.  I saw tons of technologies that should have been successful like the Canopy broad-range internet access network. But most of these failed because marketing was not a core competency.  The engineering -centric culture is killing the company. I really hope it can transform itself quickly enough and be a leader again.

The Product/Launch Culture at Microsoft

My four years at Microsoft were some of the most amazing of my career. Ultimately, I decided to leave because of culture. Everyone knows Microsoft hires type-A personalities. Many people know there is a performance grading curve for employees and that the performance measurement is exclusively focused on the fiscal year at hand.

All these factors result in a culture where there is no room – especially in a company this size- for long-term planning or for learning and optimizing a project. It is all about launching new stuff. From my first few weeks I was surprised by the number of emails that announced new things – new products, new initiatives, new marketing campaigns. There was no discussion about monitoring, learning, optimizing. Projects need runway to mature and become successful.

Marketers received a plaque with over a dozen slots for adding badges for each product they launched. I was part of the Visual Studio 2005 launch team. After the product was launched in November 2005, many people left the team starting with the GM. After all, they had a successful product launch under their belt. It was time to get promoted and move to another group. A former boss and one of the people I admire is John Smolucha who shared an analogy about the Columbia shuttle launching and immediately everyone in Houston command center going home.  How would you feel if you were an astronaut?  “Houston?….Houston?… we have a problem.” . This is how many projects felt at Microsoft.

A great example of this culture is Bing. Microsoft search engine became MSN Search which became Live Search and is now Bing Search – all over just a few years. Maybe next year a new GM will come on board and will re-launch it as something different.

The Culture at Bazaarvoice

It just makes sense: if you focus on making your employees happy, you will be able to attract (and retain) the best talent and everyone will be motivated to do their best job. Customer service experts know happy employees translate to happy customers. The rule applies equally to every area in the organization.

This is how Bazaarvoice defines its culture (from the website):  “To us, culture is more than perks and free sodas. It’s the way we work with each other and create a place where people want to work every day, have the opportunity to rapidly innovate, and foster an environment that brings out our best.”.  There are many blog posts about culture for you in the Bazaarblog.

In Brett’s words, “The importance of focusing on culture is greater than ever.  I spend around 15% of my time focused on culture, and I believe it is largely responsible for our success as a company.”

As I was finishing this post, I read Behind the Cloud, Marc Benioff’s book about building which reinforces this idea:  “My summers at Apple had taught me that the secret to encouraging creativity and producing the best possible product was to keep  people fulfilled and happy. I wanted the people who built to be inspired and feel valued. “ (Page 11).

Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, recently said in an interview ” It was Milton Friedman who said, “the only reason a corporation exists is to maximize return for the shareholders.” Well, no. Not really. We actually put the employee first. We don’t even put the customer first. Now, you know we love our customers. But we put our employees first. We believe that if you put the employee first and take better care of them than anybody else, they will take care of the customer better than anybody else. And if those two are happy, if you have the happiest employees and customers around, ultimately your shareholders are very, very happy as well.”

I’ll end this post by summarizing on one point: Culture is not a task for HR or for a marketing VP. It must come down from the top and lived by everyone in the organization:  your culture is your strategy.