Thursday, October 26, 2006

Machiavelli, Fist Fights and Managing Change

Fist fights and change initiatives require similar mindsets. Whether you are right or wrong, win or lose, flying high or lying low, you will get bruised.

One of my favorite works on the dangers associated with leading change resonates from the pages of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” published nearly 500 years ago.

“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, then to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things,” the founding father of political science wrote, “because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

Agree or disagree with his famed cut-throat, ends-justify-the-means strategies, Machiavelli understood the perils of change. Effective leaders today understand communication plays a large role in effectively managing change.

Clients of ours run into journalists with agendas, activists who bristle at anything new and others who react negatively for any number of reasons. The leading cause of failed initiatives frequently hinges on misunderstanding and, at times, intentional dissemination of misinformation by opposing parties. Preconceived notions about people, organizations and products by key stakeholders and outside observers with the power of the pen, check book and motivated, mobilized constituencies also affect rates of success.

If ever you are told it’s far too early to begin advocating on behalf of your issue, product or organization, don’t believe it. It’s never too early to plant the seeds of success.

For the most part, standing outside the ring, hoping they go away only makes it worse until all likelihood of success is lost. Get in the game. Take strategic action to bolster your position. Create a steady drumbeat of on-strategy, targeted messages. Take your lumps along the way. Focus on the prize. And, win the fight by creating a groundswell of positive buzz and accurate information.

Monday, October 23, 2006

FREE411: Will It Change the World?

Recently, when I needed the number for a place where I can get an affordably priced, high-quality men’s haircut, I recalled an interesting new service a friend had recommended, 1-800-FREE411. Call the number, tell the nice operator what you’re looking for, listen to an advertisement and BAM!–get the number. This way, you avoid handing the phone company a buck for public information. It’s a small victory, maybe, but you have to feel a little satisfied.

In my case, I heard a painless-enough message about the righteousness of a certain satellite TV provider and how evil and lame the cable companies are.

It’s a simple idea—ages old, really. A free service just for putting up with some ads? Sounds like good ol’ broadcast TV. But if FREE411 absolutely caught on, if more companies than just satellite providers bought in and they “enhanced the interface”—or whatever fancy buzz terms you’d like to attach—they just might be onto something.

Let’s say you called FREE411 looking for your local printer’s number. Suddenly, an ad for FedEx Kinko’s comes on, with a prompt to press 1 to get connected to the nearest location. You learn of a choice you might not have been aware of, and big, bad FedEx gets to muscle in on the little guy’s business!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Vince, are you saying that Free411 could pull together data learned from your location and the SIC code associated with the business you’re seeking and play an ad for a competing company, along with an offer to connect to that company FOC?”

To that, I would say two things “Yes! And what is FOC?” You would then say “Free of charge.”

With all the competition for customers’ attention these days, advertisers are struggling to find their audience. FREE411 could be a new way to target ads at the right niche audiences (similar to the way Google indexes its search queries and shows relevant sponsored ads)—potentially a win/win for customer and advertiser.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tit-for-Tat For Governor

This isn’t about politics. It’s about communications.

Nonetheless, as a public service to registered voters in the state of Wisconsin, I’ll begin by summarizing the communications to date in the current gubernatorial campaign. I trust this will be helpful to those of you planning to join me at the polls on November 7th.

  • Democratic incumbent Jim Doyle panders to Casinos and other special interest groups in Wisconsin.
  • Republican challenger Mark Green panders to big oil, Enron, W and the like.
  • Doyle’s administration traded state travel contracts for political contributions.
  • Green’s campaign transferred funds from his congressional campaign to his gubernatorial campaign, which might be illegal.
  • Doyle is running miseleading ads about Mark Green.
  • Green is running dishonest ads about Jim Doyle.
  • Doyle has created loads of jobs in Wisconsin in the last four years.
  • Doyle has cost Wisconsin loads of jobs.
  • Doyle wants to give illegal aliens welfare and subsidized home loans.
  • No he doesn’t.
  • Does too.
  • Does not.
  • Does.
  • No way.
  • Way.
  • Etc.

Kinder, Gentler, Better Communications
If you're in the U.S. and have a pulse, you no doubt recognize the name Russ Feingold. You know, the Wisconsin Senator of McCain/Feingold fame? The only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act? Straight-shooting Everyman? Flaming liberal? Pushed to censure Bush? Twice-divorced pinko straight outta Middleton? Sorry, I'll let the idealogues sort that out. This isn’t about politics. It’s about communications.

In 1992, long before Feingold ascended to his current status as political lightning rod, he was one of three candidates vying to be the Democratic challenger to Republican incumbent senator Bob Kasten.

By all accounts, Feingold didn’t have a prayer in the primary. His biggest claim to fame was that nobody outside the state capitol knew who he was. And that became the germ of an absolutely brilliant campaign.

With help from Milwaukee advertising giant Steve Eichenbaum, Feingold launched a series of TV commercials that poked fun at Feingold's obscurity. If my memory serves me correctly, one spot has Feingold holding a Weekly World News-type tabloid announcing Elvis Presley had endorsed his candidacy. Fun, funny and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise dour campaign, the spots created a groundswell that buzz marketers today would kill for. Like all great communications aimed at positioning anything—company, product, candidate, etc.—Feingold’s spots created clear, meaningful differentiation and preference in the minds of the target audience. They also made it easy for people to like him. Imagine that.

During the campaign, Feingold used his quirky TV ads to position himself as a straight-shooting, self-effacing, political outsider. People actually had some sense of who and what they were voting for. Which is more than many could say about Feingold’s opponents. In the end, Feingold won the primary and went on to unseat Kasten. He's won re-election twice since then. All of which says as much about communications as it does about politics. Maybe more.

Sadly, the current Wisconsin gubernatorial race offers nothing in the way of breakthrough communications. I have trouble fathoming how anybody who's not a political partisan could feel great about either candidate based on the nightly flurry of on-air, tit-for-tat exchanges. (Though both sides are no doubt polling furiously to chart the impact of the latest thirty-second salvo.)

In politics, as in business, you are what you communicate...and how you communicate. So in spite of my own ideological leanings, I find myself not liking either one of these guys very much.

Then again, maybe I’m not the target audience.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Is It Time for B2B to Get Wiki with It?

You’ve probably heard the term Web 2.0 lately. It’s a term that’s sweeping the nation. But what is it? Did Al Gore invent it? Do I need a password? The answer is no – chances are you already use it and didn’t even know.

“Web 2.0 has become a catch-all buzzword that people use to describe a wide range of online activities and applications,” according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s report, Riding the Waves of “Web 2.0.”

So where did Web 1.0 end and Web 2.0 begin? Some would argue that there’s really no distinction—that “marketers” use the Web 2.0 label to distance themselves from the failures of Web 1.0 companies that burst with the tech bubble.

But in some ways, “Web 2.0” represents a return to the roots of the web—as a social tool that brings people together without the weight of monolithic online institutions (think Usenet groups vs. an AOL-sponsored chat). Free and freewheeling applications that fall under Web 2.0 include MySpace, the wikis and Blogger, where social connections are the primary purpose.

Despite the hoopla, the more things change the more they stay same. Some of those clunky institutions are buying up these new applications, certain to stifle the hip, independent aura that surrounds something like facebook. Meanwhile, in the past five years, the most frequently reported internet activity by the average user on an average day is still checking email, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

So what are the implications of Web 2.0 for b2b marketers? At the very least, we can recognize the people’s preference for social activity online and play to it with tactics like hosting online forums.

I think b2b still has a ways to go with Web 2.0, and I’m pretty sure we’re not ready to start recommending to our clients that they build a MySpace page.

Check out the Pew Internet Project on Web 2.0 online.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Click Here

Just finished Business Week's provocative investigation of click fraud in online advertising. Well worth checking out, particularly if you or you company is involved in (or considering) pay-per-click on search sites like Yahoo or Google.

Those of you familiar with the Spyware "industry" will recognize some of the same mechanisms at play in the article's deconstruction of click fraud—including the involvement of sketchy, nefarious third-parties riding the system's vulnerability to big profits.

Given BW's broad audience, the piece understandably focuses on big search sites. So where does that leave B to B trade publications and portals that increasingly promote pay-per-click ad buys? My guess is, the relatively low volume of click-throughs makes it much easier to separate fraudulent clicks from "real" ones. We won't have to wait long to hear from our colleagues in business to business media: with October comes the height of planning activities for 2007 media budgets. So what say you, Mr. or Ms. Business to Business Media Rep?

Friday, October 6, 2006

Master the Fundamentals of Communication

In a world where personal time is scarce and competition for that time is intense, getting people to participate in even professional-related events and organizations can be quite a challenge.

As a member of the Association for Corporate Growth Wisconsin’s membership committee, I have been charged with the mission-critical task of retaining existing members and attracting new members. Greater participation is crucial to our organization because greater participation equals more ideas and connections.

At ACG WI, we’ve approached our search for new members the same way businesses find new customers: we’ve identified our target market and created a holistic communication plan. Our communication plan includes a brochure demonstrating the value of being a part of the ACG and post-meeting articles each month to reinforce that message on an ongoing basis.

This got me thinking about the fundamentals of communication and how, whether your concern is a professional organization, a business, a club, a church, etc., the issues are the same.

It all comes down to one issue: How clearly and consistently are you communicating with your audience? In a business or in an organization like ACG, you must regularly reinforce the reasons customers or members should continue to choose you.

If you keep in mind the fundamentals of communication when attracting new members or new customers, you will succeed.

Meanwhile, for more on ACG and how to become a member, please visit

Don’t miss ACG WI's remianing 2006-2007 line-up:

Stephen Marcus, Chairman & CEO, Marcus Corporation
Dan Broderick & Trevor D’Souza, Managing Directors, Mason Wells
Gus Ramirex, Chairman & CEO, Husco International
Jim Reinhart, Vice President, U.S. Golf Association
Lee McCollum, CFO, S.C. Johnson

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

New Data on Rise of Blogging in B to B...Kind Of

I've posted here before about the phenomenon of b to b marketing lagging behind consumer marketing in the creation and adoption of new marketing techniques. Blogging certainly fits that bill, as business-to-business enterprises have been much slower to incorporate blogs into their corporate marketing arsenals.

A recently released survey from KnowledgeStorm/Universal McCann sheds some new light on the state of blogging in the b to b space. The operative word here is some. As B to B Magazine noted in its article on the survey, the findings reflect responses from 4500+ people who use KnowledgeStorm's white paper download service. Says B to B, "KnowledgeStorm users are typically IT professionals."

Given the predisposition IT types have to blogs and other online resources, I can't help but think that the data may not be indicative of user trends in the broader business-to-business marketplace.

Having said all that, here are a few tidbits from B to B's article on the survey (I'm quoting directly from the article here):

  • 53% of respondents said blogs influence their purchase decisions
  • Of the respondents who said they read blogs daily, nearly 69% said blogs influenced their purchase behavior
  • 49.8% of respondents said they comment on or contribute to blogs at least once a month
  • 70% said they "recommend or pass along content from blogs to co-workers and colleagues" at least once a month