Don’t be so afraid to embrace cannibalism…

Here’s a scenario for you to consider:

Your organisation runs an annual conference and exhibition.  The attendance figures are steady and you are attracting on average between five and ten per cent of your calculated total universe.  Exhibitor and sponsor numbers are holding up and revenue is on target.

So far so good

Two years ago you introduced a specialist pavilion for one of the sectors of the industry you serve.  It’s been a huge success and now attracts 15% of your total audience and generates 20% of your sales.  But there is a problem.  The companies and visitors involved want their own event.  They want to be the focus rather than a sideshow and they are getting very vocal about it.

What are you going to do?

  1. Stick to your guns, but pacify them by giving them a bit more space and a couple more sessions in the conference programme.
  2. Create a ‘mini’ co-located event.
  3. Grasp the opportunity and develop a second event.
  4. Nothing.  Very happy with the status quo thank you very much.

Why would anyone answer yes to the last question?

One simple reason – they can’t get past the cannibalisation problem.

It seems like forever that this thorny old issue has been hanging around, with the publishing and events industries particularly sensitive.  From whether a successful supplement should become a publication in its own right; to investment in websites and social media that would take readers away from the printed page; and currently whether or not a virtual conference or meeting space will reduce footfall at a live exhibition.

The main argument against developing a pluralist strategy is that it causes a reduction in revenue or perceived market share.  But the truth is that when carefully planned and executed such a strategy can result in a larger share of an increased total market.  Examples within the retail industry abound: when Coca Cola introduced Diet Coke, sales of Coke fell, but ultimately led to an expanded market for diet soft drinks.  Forward thinking and successful FMCG companies positively embrace the idea as Apple CEO Tim Cook explains:

“iPad has cannibalised some Mac sales. The way that we view cannibalisation is that we prefer to do it to ourselves than let someone else do it. We don’t want to hold back one of our teams from doing the greatest thing, even if it takes some sales from another product area. Our high-order bid is, ‘We want to please customers and we want them buying Apple stuff.'”

Why then are B2B publishers and events organisers still struggling with the idea of creating virtual experiences in addition to their current physical and online activity?

Hybrid and standalone virtual conferences, training and meeting sessions may affect audiences but the truth is that they are likely to deliver more visitors, both from a wider geographic area and from a demographic that would normally be too time-poor to engage in a live event.  Detractors suggest that viewers online are not as engaged; but neither is every visitor at a conference (particularly at 2pm).

The bigger question is not how many visitors or delegates you are going to lose from your live event, but how many people from your total market universe are you failing to connect with?  Anecdotally we know that membership organisations attract on average 5% of their total membership to live events.  In commercial event organisations, marketers need to hit a target universe seven or eight times in order to pursuade between five and 10 per cent of them to attend.  Plus, if you only engage with this audience once a year you are putting up constant barriers to retaining and growing the audience and its levels of interaction, which in turn diminishes your opportunities to drive and grow your revenues and profit.

Tony Rossell from Marketing General, Inc. has done some excellent research on this subject in the context of Association Membership: his work shows that Associations which create multiple opportunities for engagement with their members, whether via annual meetings, professional development, webinars, social networking etc. are more likely to show increases in overall membership in both the long and the short term as well as an increase in new members and renewal rates.

It stands to reason that the more you engage with your audience, both exisiting and potential, then the more likely they are to engage with you.  Hybrid events don’t have to reproduce your live event verbatim and virtual events don’t have to be restricted to specific times and dates dictated by venue contraints.

Where virtual events are concerned, it’s time to put the issue of audience cannibalisation to bed once and for all and embrace the concept of market colonisation instead.

Hellen @missioncontrol

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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.

“There’s no such thing as a black swan…”

File:Cygnus atratus Running.jpgOnce upon a time, when hand to hand combat was the norm and eating vegetables a sign of poverty, people believed that there was no such thing as a black swan.  That was until Cygnus atratus was discovered by the English naturalist John Latham in 1790.

In 2007 Nassim Nicholas Taleb published Black Swan The Impact of the Highly Improbable  in which he expounded his Black Swan Theory on how random events are much more common than we think, have huge impact, are impossible to predict and yet we spend huge amounts of time (which could be better spent) trying to rationalise them.

It is this process of attempted rationalisation that is most damaging.  Drowning in an overflowing and ever increasing sea of information and data, individuals and organisations spend so much time trying to second-guess what might happen and what the affects might be that they become glued to the past and present rather than being able to adapt and deal with the future.

Taleb advocates “stochastic tinkering” as a method of scientific discovery rather than research which is dictated by top down thinking.   This non-determinist approach fits well with the virtual business solution.  Starting with a question, which might not be the correct one, the participants in a virtual event or virtual communication space can use provided content and information to begin their own collaborative process, where randomisation can be embraced and included in the process without the fear that this will result in a poor (or the predicted ‘wrong’) outcome.

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.

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.