Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Definitely Delicious

This weekend I indulged in my current read - Setting the Table - The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. The author, Danny Meyer is the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, or differently put, the brain child of several outstanding restaurants in NYC, Grammery Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park just to name a few.

As I sat on my couch reading, much of his verbiage was as delicious as reading Julia Child's My Life in France, or Jacques Pépin's The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. His description of finocchiona (fennel-flecked salami), eggs daffodil, or spaghetti alla puttanesca is likely to stoke even the most picky of appetites, but for me, there is an element of his book even more delicious than this.

For me, the biggest quintessential yum factor is his observant take on human behavior and what he calls the "51 percent solution" - an individual comprising emotional hospitality. Danny Meyer uses this mindframe when hiring his employees knowing that in hospitality and the restaurant business, his people are his best differentiating factor from other establishments.

5 Core Emotional Skills -> Emotional Hospitality

1. Optimistic warmth (genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full)
2. Intelligence (not just "smarts" but rather an insatiable curiosity for learning for the sake of learning)
3. Work ethic (a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done)
4. Empathy (an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel)
5. Self-awareness and integrity (an understanding of what makes you tick and a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgement)

These qualities can aid in the make or break of a fine dining establishment. But Danny Meyer surely doesn't limit the success of this type of individual to the confines of merely "good eats."

(picture compliments of Meghan Petersen, WSJ)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Gov 2.0 and Un-marketing - How Far Can it Go?

On the topic of Gov 2.0 and un-marketing, a curious friend of mine, who works within DHS' Customs and Border Control, brings to light some good questions. If Gov 2.0 is to be an example of un-marketing, or even a leader in un-marketing, while solid examples exist already, how much can these examples scale up?

For a company or any entity to demonstrate more of an un-marketing approach, the company/entity has to first listen, engage, and not simply serve up and out. Yet, for this to happen, there first has to be "chatter" around the company/entity - something to be listened to!

With this, I raise two questions/comments.

First, considering the complexity of the entity, how easily do you get the "big picture" via this chatter, and how much chatter does it take to provide helpful insights to he who is listening (the goal of the un-marketing)?

Consider for a moment, how this "chatter" relates to a company with a finite product. Take Nike for example. Nike sells various athletic apparel and sports equipment. While these goods are significant, they are ultimately finite. They serve a purpose and provide the necessary functions to the owner. Not downplaying the significance of a running shoe, for example, it is a fairly straightforward offering and generally elicits fairly straightforward feedback.

To the contrary, the Government is an animal with hundreds of moving parts, the sum of which are extremely complex. In order for the Government to properly "listen" it needs to a) have chatterers with a means to be heard (social media for example) and b) have enough chatterers on a certain subject to get to the "big picture."

Of course, most Americans have some level of opinion on their views of the Government, but historically, there wasn't much of a platform for this openness to occur. In order for the chattering and listening to occur, can the adoption rate get to a level where the un-marketing can result in improved Government offerings and functionality? Hopefully the goal of transparency?

Something I'll be pondering...

And thanks to my friend for his probing questions.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gov 2.0 - An Example of Un-marketing?

Gov 2.0 an example of Un-Marketing?

First, let me recap the notion of un-marketing as it pertains to the commercial marketplace. Historically, corporate marketing has been all about managing the communication of a product or service and dishing it up to an audience that is theoretically listening. Rather than speaking openly, listening to the customer's point of view, or participating in a community, historical marketing aims to carve out a subsection of individuals who are most likely to take to a product or service and become customers. After sufficient data is gathered on customer demographics, consumer behavior, etc, the product/services are positioned and the campaign is launched. Engagement is entertained when the time is right for the company, all with a plan. So, in a sense, everything is controlled and delivered from the "ivory towers." Website content and promotional materials often speak with a purely corporate aura and a nose, eyes, mouth and emotional quotient are no where in sight.

The interesting thing is that a human relationship with a company (as human as a company can be) is often what consumers are yearning for, and is often what turns a consumer into a brand evangelist. If a company only allows for engagement and openness at scheduled times, with a strategy in place, consumers become skeptical. And as Elvis said "we can't go on together with suspicious minds."

Un-marketing on the other hand, is the mind frame of starting with the customer first, and working back towards your product/service. Rather than simply "launching" a product with the "take it or leave it" mentality un-marketing
looks more like this:

- Participate in your community
- Listen to the conversations happening outside of your boardroom (and REALLY listen)
- Allow things to be open and happen as they do, as they will
- Don't try to control everything - relax your grip...

Now, take the Government. The Government, I will add, is an interesting species because not only is it the largest customer in the world, it is also its own entity with different functioning divisions, all marketing themselves. The Government plays the role of customer and provider all the time. Yet consider its past reputation of being vacuum sealed. Information is disseminated and ideas are exchanged, but in reality, considering things at large, an antonym for "open" would be a better description than a synonym. Thankfully, things are changing. Gov 2.0 is opening up channels for discussion within agencies, on social media sites, with the public. For all the naysayers out there - there are solid examples that are hard to dispute. Just consider the conversations going on via GovLoop everyday, the CDC's use of social media tools to disseminate information about the swine flu and peanut recall crisis and their new media website, the EPA's "Take Five" initiative deployed for Earth Day, NASA's spacebook, and hundreds of agency blogs and twitter sites. Also consider the recently launched White House blog page with a Twitter site, and a Facebook page. The Facebook page now has 201,592 fans and re: the launch of the twitter page, 5 minutes after the page went live, it had 585 followers, and within minutes of refreshing had 731 followers...now it has 97,277 followers.

Many are skeptical in considering this notion of Government opening up and social media tools. Yesterday, Andrew Wilson of Health and Human Services presented a webinar titled: Social Media and the H1N1 Flu Virus: Lessons Learned from the Peanut Recall. At one point he mentioned that recently he attended the SXSW conference and described the surprise many from industry exhibited upon learning about all the social media tools the Government is already using!

When it is all boiled down, un-marketing is about listening to your customers, engaging, allowing things to be more open, and quite simply, interacting as a human. The Government is displaying examples of this and I commend the leaders that have this sense of marketing acumen.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dont be the Tree that Doesn't Make a Sound

Un-marketing. What? Yes, un-marketing. Or, for the visual among us, consider Company = A, Consumer = B. Now consider this. Traditional marketing? A -> B.
Hope for an entities' success? B -> A.

Lately I've been doing quite a bit of observation and I am noticing some things "going down." With the opening up of information, there is an ever-increasing shift in power from corporations to consumers. Consumers are gaining an ever-increasing voice, and companies better pay attention.

For pretty much the existence of marketing as we know it, there was a flow in place to move a customer from awareness to adoption. A five-step process, including awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, adoption. The AIETA model. Now, also consider the textbook definition of the marketing process, which includes performing each of the following: situational analysis, marketing strategy, marketing mix decision, and implementation & control. There is something very interesting to all of this which Jason Falls, forward-thinking-marketer, catechizes on so nicely: "do you find it disturbing that the customer isn't mentioned in any of the main tenants of marketing thought? The AIETA flow assumes that consumers are just going to follow along. It lends nothing to their needs, just throws the awareness of the product in their faces. And if 'implementation & control' isn't condescending and presumptuous of a company's target consumer, I don't know what is."

Things are changing. In the past, this method of corporate conjuring and creating, tucked up away until the launch of the product like Santa and his elves working all year in anticipation of Christmas eve doesn't fly anymore. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little because companies do perform focus groups and surveys, but still, what kind of opinions are they really getting? Consumers are not senseless lemmings. Consumers want to be listened to, engaged, fed (with information) met where they are, and be respected.

Now consider reality as it exists right now. With the help of social media tools and opening up of data, information, conversation, and truths are becoming increasingly more prevalent (I like how Seth Godin discusses the truths point -"multiple channels of information mean that it's almost impossible to live a lie...authentic stories spread and last"). While in the past, a consumers' voice was left to channels such as word of mouth, the suggestion box, and emails to a company, now consumers have a say. And because consumer A + consumer B + consumer C = consumer ZZZ+, consumers ultimately have more than just a say, they ultimately rule the roost.

Now, of course the shift is gradual. We don't have proletariat consumers rising up against bourgeoisie corporations, but rather with the opening up of information, a more natural shift as consumers find more airtime and start conversing. Perhaps the coolest thing with this is that I believe it helps consumers as they begin to have a voice, and I believe it helps the overall marketplace because for the corporations that have a solid product/service, they will be able to get input from the horse's mouth and improve their offerings based on reality vs. theory. This can be hugely opportunistic for businesses that see things in the right light.

How to implement more un-traditional, un-marketing tactics?

*Put on your listening ears! For too long, businesses have pushed products on consumers without consideration of what they want/need/etc. Take a step back and listen to the buzz. The world won’t stop!

*Make it an A+. The best, most, authentic marketing is when your customers see the value/quality your company or product/service provides. If your customers love you because what you provide is quality, they will spread the word authentically and these stories will be recited again and again...

*Participate (and this doesn't mean create everything and try to control everything). Allow things to grow and reinforce the positives of your brand by consistently incorporating positives into the evolution of your offering. As nicely put by Brian Oberkirch "bake your marketing into the experience of the product, not in discussions of it."

Things are changing. And with the right consideration, there is a surplus of opportunity. But adhering unbudgingly to the old ways of thought may result in a company being tuned out, like a tree in the woods that doesn't make a sound when it falls (because no one is around).

"Marketing, even in its newer, social-media enabled forms, is not about tools or technology, but about the way you look at your customers. That regard for your customers has to be in your DNA, such that you face the hard work of getting out in the trenches and embracing the feedback your customers give you to drive your marketing, customer service, and product development."

-Deb Schultz, Social Media Industry Thought Leader

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Self-Made Twitter

Consider for a moment the self-made man. A man who is given little in terms of concrete opportunities but is introspective about his actions and the paths he chooses to take. He extends himself in ways that germinate results and through positive and negative reinforcement, in turn discovers his own best practices.

I equate Twitter to the self-made man. When Twitter was hatched 3 years ago, like the self-made man, it came into the world without any formal guidance or immediate opportunities. Instead, it was set on its way with the mere question of "what are you doing?" Like the self-made man, Twitter quickly figured out that it would not do particularly well, simply answering the question of "what am I am doing." In other words, Twitter quickly discovered that answering "I am toasting a poptart" wouldn't make the cut. Instead, Twitter evolved with its best practices spurred by its own race for survival of the fittest.

Twitter's platform is nothing more than a couple of rounded edges. Yet because of this, it is constantly churning out do-s and don't-s, chiseling away at its being, defining its features and visualizing its success. Its motivation? Knowing that this is its only hope for success.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Fruitbasket of Opportunity

I haven't heard much of anything good in the news lately - the economy #FAIL, swine flu, Apple raising prices on itunes songs. And I won't even start on the weather as of late. Last time I checked my zip code was in Washington DC, not Seattle.

BUT - being a die-hard half-glass full kind of person I'd thought I'd summarize some of the happy realities I am realizing to be increasingly more true despite all of the dismal doom and gloom we read about everyday in the paper (or maybe more realistically on Twitter).

I've always believed that "good luck" is actually more a matter of "good efforts." Yes, it is true that there is an element of random "right place, right time" with good happenings - indeed, you can be sitting on an airplane at the age of 22 and meet the CEO of your dream job who then recruits you after he registers your value-adding insights and hears examples of your indefatigable work ethic - BUT, this can happen easier, faster, and more repeatedly when constant shock waves of effort are put out there (ie; show up more).

So here's the good stuff in the news right now (at least for me). Indisputably, we live in a world that is becoming flatter, faster, and a place where it is easier to become famous (hello blog-o-maniacs). We are connected from morning till night where you can find out in less than 60 seconds the name of your second-grade teacher's chocolate lab and the last article she read 20 minutes ago - even if you haven't heard a peep from her in 20 years. A few years ago, if you met a cool person at an event and didnt get their number or business card, chances are you'd never be able to hunt them down ever again unless you ran in the same social circles. I remember about 7 years ago Boston.com (the online piece of the Boston Globe where I interned) had a service where you could put messages out on a public forum with hopes that the person you wanted to find would stumble upon your message, look you up, and you'd do great things together, like start dating, or entrepreneur a company, or return the hat they dropped on the train. To me, this sounds like stars colliding. Now, all you have to do to find this person is google them, peruse through their web footprint, and friend them on Facebook.

We now live in an age where opportunity is sent to us in a fruit basket every day, every hour - practically every minute if we're willing to take up the offer. The technologies to connect with people, to express opinions, and to "engage" wait patiently at our fingertips - waiting for us to click return. For people who feel stuck - in anything - there are hardly any excuses. "You miss every shot you don't take." But now there are infinite possibilities with a new definition of "infinite." Want to introduce yourself to a colleague you heard speaking at an event but didn't get a chance to introduce yourself to? Find them on LinkedIn! Want to share ideas with a total stranger whose blog you've been reading but otherwise would never have the chance to meet? Hello GovLoop! Want to put an idea out into the twittersphere and get back ideas otherwise nearly impossible to garner? Tweet away!
Essentially, all that is required here is simply the act of doing so. The technologies are already built and are growing by the nanosecond. Caveat - I guess I am on the side that technology actually does "connect" people vs. leaving them holed up in their house, hunched over their computer, losing basic human interaction skills by the minute.

Social media is re-writing the channels for marketing. For the first time, really ever, customers are voluntarily offering up details about their life, passions, and favorite cereals. And likewise, the channels for opportunity are being re-written. We now have the opportunity to uncover more information than ever before, by simply clicking "Search."

It's like a kid coming from a city of pop. 200 with the only ever before exposed brand being Coca-Cola walking into Walmart for the first time. Technology is opening up infinite channels for conversation, creativity, and curiosity.

The real question is - what will we do with all of it?

PS - of course there are some cons to all of this and obviously nothing is perfect - but I'd rather see good ideas spread than swine flu

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I'm Full of Appreciation on a Rainy Sunday Evening

This morning I woke up before the crow crow-ed to drive to Belle Haven Park in Alexandria, VA. Shortly after 5am, I met my fellow DC Capital Striders Running group teammates to aid at the Belle Haven Marathon. We were stationed along the race course armed to hand out water, power-aid, gel energy-packs and the human touch to the bone-weary runners . When I look back on this morning, in the comfort of my warm apartment, two things are explicitly clear - a) how many people exist "out there" with big hearts who want to "do good" simply for the essence of "doing good" and b) how many people are so appreciative in a fundamental "out-of-themselves" way for those that give of themselves. Both a) and b) provide some light on this gloomy evening because both remind me of the intrinsically good nature of the human spirit.

It was the subtle things that I observed that reminded me of the truths above. I remember seeing a man 65+ at mile 23.8 who stopped at the water station and clenched my hand, salt dried on his temples like war paint and said "thank you volunteer - we can not do this without you" - the man had run 23.8 miles with 2.4 to go and found it in his willowy, exhaustion-tipsy body to make this appreciation known!! And I remember a fellow Capital Strider's volunteer who made it his mission for 6 hours in the rain to get a smile on every runner's face - no matter of the exhaustion - or pain they were in.

While there are acts of "good will" everywhere, at every time, in every capacity, it is extremely refreshing to remember that as long as the human-spirit is, gratitude and the will to repay this gratitude never go out of style.

"One can never pay in gratitude: one can only pay "in kind" somewhere else in life." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh