A Consensus of Subjectivity…

…which is another way of saying Birds of a feather flock together and goes some way to explaining why social networking is such a success, although only for some.

Jeremy Bullmore used the term in 1998 in the context of shared perception of brand personality; the premise being that each and every one of many millions of people gathers a set of feelings that are to some extent autonomous but which further research shows to be closely related, i.e. we like to think we are taking unique decisions for ourselves, but in actual fact we often make them in the context of wanting to be part of a group.  It isn’t much fun being out there on your own.

Back in the dark ages of videotape, why did VHS succeed when BetaMax did not when the latter was universally acknowledged to be the better platform?  When faced with a decision, the consumer went with the crowd.  Similarly, why has LinkedIn grown exponentially while other similar business networks haven’t been able to tap into the same groundswell?  And Facebook wasn’t the first social networking site, so how come it is now almost the biggest community on the planet?

There is, perhaps, a single defining factor.  The consensus on the examples above is that the winners took time to listen to their users and potential users. They created entry points which were attractive, laid out their wares, watched to see how their consumers behaved and tweaked their offering accordingly, and keep on tweaking it (although in VHS’s case a seismic shift in technology eventually put paid to their dominance) to make it less and less attractive to go elsewhere.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes should take note.  There isn’t a marketing text book, essay or lecture today that isn’t trying to hammer home the message of listening:

Listening+action=success

How you and your organisation do this is up to you.  But do it you must.  And the first step has to be that you engage your clients, customers, partners and potential audience in a conversation where you can hear what they are saying about you, your products, your competitors, your competitors products etc. etc.  You need to find where they are having these conversations and join in, you need to be part of the People-Driven Economy which exists in social networks because if you aren’t someone else who does what you do is.

The choice is no longer whether or not you and your organisation embrace social media, the choice is how successfully you do it.

Advertisements

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.

Moving on from simplex marketing

A friend sent a great email this week in response to a message they received from us.

The information we gave them prompted an internal discussion about the power of new marketing tools to create a dialogue with customers where the emphasis really was on listening to what they want and then delivering the goods.

For many organisations this concept remains an anathema.  The marketing department, guided by management and other stakeholders, creates a brand and creative concept.  They then create a customer profile based on the assumptions around which they built the branding, then the list is bought or built and the message delivered.  Then they sit and wait.  And wait. And wait.

This simplex method of marketing no longer works very well.  Not least because technology has made the customer more savvy and more time-poor.  Clients don’t have the time to listen to generic messages, nor do they have the inclination to be told what they should be doing.  They know that you have the capability to talk to them and treat them like an individual, so anything else falls short of the mark.

Seth Godin, who is arguably our favourite marketing guru, also calls this the needle and the vice principle.  For some organisations they discover exactly who their customer is and they deliver a pinpoint accurate message, not worried if the total number of people they are talking to is in the handfuls rather than the thousands.  For others they use a general ‘squeeze’ approach, surrounding their target market with a forceful argument until one or more gives in.

By contrast, the simplex approach simply misses everything because it isn’t entirely sure who it is talking to and the recipients don’t feel inclined to respond.

So where do we go from here?  A little bit of bravery is in order.  Ditch the ‘got to have a database of 1000’s’ approach and work out exactly how many key prospects you actually want to talk to then strike up an interesting conversation.