Better service and cost reduction are not mutually exclusive…

Sometimes, if you say something often enough you can convince yourself it is the truth.  Like accepting there is only one way of doing things, and it costs X.

Ingrained in a workforce or population’s psyche, these points of view become corrosive, strangling innovation and stifling original though. It takes a brave person to become the tall poppy and disrupt the status quo.

It shouldn’t be this difficult.  Cultures change, needs evolve and skills develop.  Humanity’s greatest asset is its ability to adapt to challenges and circumstances, to create something new and build an exciting future.

But knocking your house down with the goal of constructing a brand new habitat is hugely unsettling, not least because for a time you are displaced from your home environment, surrounded by strange things and feeling anchorless.  Your plans get buffetted from all sides: critiqued by other individuals; slowed by delivery days; and affected by the great unknown – the weather. 

Some people don’t stay the course, moving back to something more familiar, throw in the towel in a fit of pique or simply become exhausted by the effort of dragging so many others with them on their epic adventure. However, if no one had ever taken the plunge, we would probably all still be living in tree-houses. 

And so it is with our current working practises. We already have the technology to deliver collaborative, two-way communication between large and small workforces.  We can deliver cost-effective, instantaneous training to government organisations that will reduce travel and accommodation budgets to practically nothing.  This budget cut will do nothing to affect service delivery, in fact the efficient dissemination of information and intelligence and the network of collaboration could make it better than ever.

It’s time we got connected.

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Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Social media has turned marketing on its head.  In every sense.

Marketing managers find themselves beleaguered by the number and complexity of media that they are expected to embrace and conquer even for what has always been the most straightforward sector – B2B.  As quickly as they understand the dynamics of one method of communication up pops another one – until the choice is both bewildering and extravagantly large.

Like children in a sweetshop, managers further up the chain, or stepped sideways from the marketing discipline, want it all.  They aren’t so worried if they are satifying a need, why just take the licorice when you can have the chocolate and the sherbert fountain, and the marshmallows and the sours, and the jelly beans…  But all this approach delivers is a stomach ache and no memory of the taste from each individual component.

Marketing for events has become a little like this.  Wanting email and direct mail and contra-deals and editorial and blogging and groups on LinkedIn…  but unless you stop to work out the strategy before you start all that happens is you have run around like a headless chicken for a few months and guess what?  You still don’t have any delegates for your event.

But this is where the smart organisations are getting their act together.  They have taken a long hard look at what email and random social marketing hasn’t got them, and they are embracing once again the old school of intelligent PR and great direct mail to form the backbone of their campaigns.  They aren’t spending as much money on these elements, but they are creating targetted shots that are really hitting home on their targets.

These same organisations are the ones who are also investing in specialist knowledge to help them build and maintain a social media campaign, managed and directed by a marketing manager who is not expected to be all things to all media.

Sounds like the way things were done 20 years ago – only better…

Networking delivers competitive advantage through the sharing of good ideas

In his paper The Social Origins of Good Ideas, Ronald Burt from the University of Chicago looks at the behaviour of employees and how their networks affect the generation of new ideas and how often they are applied.

Two key trends appeared from his study: that ideas generated from within a particular department were rejected more often, being seen as too insular; and that people who’s network spanned individuals across departments and organisations were more likely to come up with good ideas.

Neither of these results should be particularly surprising, but it’s good to see them qualified in an academic study.  Water cooler conversations that take place between colleagues from across an organisation enable indivudals to put a different perspective on a situation, giving examples of how something has been done elsewhere or simply to say ‘have you thought of doing it this way’.

Burton summarises the study in his paper:

People whose networks span structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations which gives them a good competitive advantage in delivering good ideas.  People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity.  This is not creativity born of deep intellectual ability.  It is creativity as an import-export business.  An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.

Some of this explains the explosive growth of social networking.  With 25% of all internet pages visited being to one of the top 10 networking sites and 9% of all internet visits going in the same direction, our insatiable need to connect with others is going somewhere to being satisfied.

The next step is to move this networking into a truly collaborative environment, where conversations can take place between many in a virtual space that crosses geographic and language boundaries.

Ten years ago this was just a figment of our imagination, today, thanks to some very clever folk, it’s a reality.

Social media is better for networking than the real thing…

Not our words, but those of a leading exhibition industry figure in one of the LinkedIn groups that we follow.

This is backed up by some of our own research which shows that, on average, an attendee at a virtual event connects with and exchanges details with 13 other people.  From our own experience this is far more than at any exhibition we have ever attended, and on a par with the most intimate conference or meeting.

While large, live exhibitions are great for getting close to products and getting a feel for the company you might want to deal with they are not ideal for networking with your peers (despite what any event marketing manager will tell you relentlessly within their campaign communications).

Why not?

Because they are simply too huge, too disparate and don’t create areas where individuals who have the same interest or problem can congregate to exchange ideas.

A virtual event environment is built specifically to do this.  Meeting rooms, discussion topics and even conference presentations all have the facility to see who else is interested in the same topic.  You can even see a list of their names and get an idea of who they are without having to scout around looking for an entry badge helpfully stuffed in a pocket.  If you strike up a virtual chat you can exchange business cards, or maybe call them via Skype.

What virtual environments have also conquered is the concept of real accessibility for all.  Even the best of venues cannot accommodate for everyone because while they are designed to allow for a wide range of physical disabilities they cannot cater for the delegate who suffers from agoraphobia or the one who cannot bear to be in enclosed spaces without having a clear escape route.

Only by embracing new virtual technologies and blending them with the very best of live events will we finally be communicating with everyone in a particular community.

What Tribe are you?

Collective drummingMasai. Ona. Inuit. Chibcha. Iroquois. Gurage. Aborigine.  Are these the names that come to mind when you think of a tribe?

Anthropologists use the term to refer to societies organised largely on the basis of kinship and more recently commentators are using it to explain the phenomenal growth of social networking.

As human beings we are pre-programmed to belong.  We like being part of a crowd.  There is comfort in concensus.  It’s good to know that we are not alone.

What new technology has given us is the ability to ‘multi-tribe’.  To connect not only with our current work colleagues, but with ones that have moved on but retained an interest in the same area as us, and with peers who face similar challenges to us in their day-to-day working lives.  It enables us to join forces with others who share our passion for a cause, or a sports team or a particular entertainer.

What drives the tribe are the leaders and the creators, the individuals who are prepared to step out from the crowd to declare their interest and their point of view.  In business these are the people who make or spot a trend and are willing to make the first move.  If they have read the signs well they will be followed by the early adopters who will begin to create the groundswell that will altimately draw in the crowds.

The question is…  Are you a leader, someone who is driving the agenda, manoeuvring your message and your marketing strategy to attract clients and customers to your tribe?  Or are you one of the crowd?

I know which one I would rather be.

hellen @missioncontrol

Chicken or egg?

Chicken and eggWhat comes first – the problem that needs the technological solution or the technology that provides an innovative solution you couldn’t have imagined before it arrived?

Unlike medical research, where scientists are looking for a specific remedy for a relatively well defined condition, with clear protocols and clinical trial proceedures, new ideas for business often happen incrementally.

But in the last two years there has been a major paradigm shift in the way clients and customers interact with the organisations that supply them.  Where once they were passive recipients of marketing messages, customer service and product development now they can comment, praise and condemn to an audience of millions should they choose to do so.

The difficulty for the organisations at the receiving (rather than the delivering) end is how to listen and react to this phenomenon and, more importantly, to harness it to grow and enhance their day-to-day business.

Fortunately, just as networking sites, wikis and user groups have created this phenomenon, new technologies in the form of virtual experience platforms, collaborative meeting software and independent broadcast media will enable companies to embrace the power of incoming marketing to create powerful networks of their own.  Which will require a significant shift in strategic thinking since the inputs won’t necessarily match up to the forecast.

Organisations that are able to engage with their audiences, respond and react will be the winners in this new world of communication and marketing.

Getting connected

Linked chains

con·nec·tive  (k-nktv)
adj. Serving or tending to connect.
n. One that connects.

Clever organisations are already engaging in connective marketing: joining all of their activities together into a seamless strategy that encompasses all of their internal, online, mainstream media and live communications.

It’s such a simple idea that it’s hard to understand why it is such a new concept.  Why is bringing all this activity together so difficult?

Perhaps it is because events are often seen as an adjunct to, or separate from, the main marketing activity, or that online is so sophisticated that it can only be handled by a specialist agency.

But technological advances mean that this is no longer the case.  Platforms that enable live events to be knitted into the very fabric of online activity are now available; social media can be tied into conferences and disparate workforces bought together to exchange ideas and proffer solutions.

Creating connections has never been easier.