From the ridiculous to the sublime

A week ago the Internet was buzzing with debate about the colour of a dress.

Today the Salvation Army turned it into a provocative and thought-provoking advertising campaign about domestic violence.

It’s a brilliant piece of creative subversion that the Salvation Army should be applauded for, enabled by close monitoring of trends; creative expertise; swift decision-making and good management of media channels.

Combine all those things together in one team and it’s amazing what can be achieved – from Oreo’s taking of Twitter by storm after a Superbowl power cut to the kind of rich coverage of a serious social issue we’ve seen today.

It’s also a great illustration of why I love the Internet – you can go from the utterly ephemeral to the most complex and serious of stories in a moment.

And often when you’re least expecting it.

Leadership and Open Innovation

Yesterday, Innovation Excellence published a forthright post by Paul Sloane about the factors impeding the growth of open innovation. IE lays the responsibility squarely on CEOs, who, the post argues, say all the right things about innovation, but aren’t following up with enough action.

The post made me think of this profile of Jack Welch, reflecting on his time as chairman and CEO of General Electric. Towards the end of the film he talks about how he saw his role as leader, as moving around the corporation “with a can of water in one hand and a can of fertilizer in the other”, using his knowledge, experience and expertise to help the companies and people who make GE to grow.

I’ve never worked for GE, so I’ve no idea how closely Jack Welch’s perception of his role matched the reality of what he did, but what is interesting is that of the few companies Paul Sloane names as making strides forward in open innovation, GE is on the list.

Taking an edge

Picture of Ling's Leases owner, Ling Valentine, with her personal truck

Not sure what the lease rate is on this one. Source: http://www.lingscars.com

The other day I was planning a client workshop with a colleague, when we discovered our mutual love of www.lingscars.com

What’s great about Lings Leases is that it doesn’t so much ignore every rule in the book when it comes to web design, it takes the rule book and bludgeons the authors into submission until they’re willing to admit that animated gifs are actually a very good thing indeed and that every website should have them. Along with some karaoke sing-a-longs too.

Although then again, does it?

Ling’s Leases reminds me a bit of a Tommy Cooper performance; at first glance it looks like a gloriously haphazard amateurish mess, but take a closer look and you realise a lot of thought and planning have gone in to both to provoke a certain reaction.

For Tommy Cooper, it was laughter; for Ling’s Leases, it’s trust. And probably a bit of laughter too.

Ling clearly recognised that to build a brand in a highly competitive and mature market, like car leasing, she had to get an edge.

That meant creating a service proposition and a website completely unlike anything else in the marketplace.

She also recognised that the best way to win the trust of customers was to give her business personality, and what better personality to place at the heart of her marketing than her own?

A woman in a male-dominated industry, a recent immigrant to the UK and with an irreverent sense of humour, Ling is perfectly placed to offer customers something different and she does that so openly and directly it’s hard not to be convinced by her.

A very different website that I was browsing around the other day is the new Guardian.

Definitely a different experience to Lings Leases, but actually the underlying values aren’t too dissimilar.

Transparency and personality are still central to the experience: a cleaner presentation, better integration of pictures and video, the ability to embed Guardian content in your own blog or website to aid sharability, and we can even see what the Guardian journalists are reading to inform their ideas and writing.

According to the latest edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer (my former employer) firms need to think hard about how they build trust with customers, as the average level of trust in business is apparently declining:

There’s a lesson here I think about personality: the more genuine personality you can bring to your marketing and the more you can make your people part of the marketing communication, the more potential you’ll have to build trust.

This takes more than simply featuring pictures of your staff on the website or in glossy brochures; it depends on their direct participation in the communications activity and the willingness of the firm to give them autonomy to tell the firm’s story.

By all means work with them to craft that story in the first place – in fact, make that an essential part of your plan – but allow them to tell it in their own way.

The subject matter might be different, but Ling and the Guardian both tell powerful stories.

Cut outs #7: Time for a social network shake-up?

New social tools pop up all the time, and long may that continue.

A few stories I’ve spotted recently though suggest a bit of shake-up is happening amongst the popular social platforms.

Emarketer has noted a declining trend in the use of Facebook by teenagers in the UK and US.

And the Wall Street Journal recently reported that Myspace is still alive and well, carving out a tidy nice for itself as a community for music lovers.

No doubt Facebook will be working hard on innovation to stay fresh and relevant to new generations who want something different to the people who arrived on the network 10 years ago.

But with developments in technology making it easier and cheaper to launch new networks, and more sophisticated data collection and analysis enabling better customer segmentation and marketing, the potential for more platforms and tools to emerge and establish business models that will enable them to flourish seems to be growing.

The business sector too is showing some real movement. At IBM 65% of CIOs tell us that collaboration is their major investment priority (IBM CXO survey). While today, Slack’s CEO said today that interest in the business message app is growing off the scale.

Everybody likes to find their own space to play.

Cut outs #6: New business models

In August last year Ello burst on to the scene, promising an ad-free social networking experience and later establishing itself as a “public benefit corporation“, as a way to seal that promise.

Meanwhile in the music industry, platforms like weeSPIN are applying Big Data technologies to solve the artist royalties and industry revenues conundrum by enabling brands to partner with artists in a form of content marketing.

Now 8 has appeared: a new video-sharing platform promising greater content ownership for producers and control over advertising revenues.

 

 

My prediction for 2015

Source: visitlondon.com

Source: visitlondon.com

This is less of a prediction and more of a hope.

And for brevity’s sake I’m restricting myself to one because after all; there are enough lists of 2015 predictions out there already without me adding to the stack.

2014 has seen some fantastic examples of social media marketing, but despite the wealth of creativity and increasingly keen measurement on display, brands and organisations are still only scratching the surface of what’s possible in social.

The decline (or demise) of organic reach in Facebook and the potential for the same thing to happen on other platforms has been a big topic of conversation this year.

It’s certainly a significant development and it should prompt much more creativity in content strategy and I hope more considered customer segmentation too, but in 2015 I’d like to see organisations think beyond content marketing and brand promotion, and get a grasp of what social means for other business functions like customer service; innovation; customer relationship management and partner collaboration.

I’m being a bit harsh here (maybe it’s the Christmas fatigue setting in) – there are some great examples out there of organisations approaching social in a truly strategic way, but they are still the exception rather than the rule and in 2015 I’d love to see more organisations taking determined steps forward.

And that’s not just to keep me in a job…I genuinely want to see something new!

I talk to plenty of people in organisations of all sizes who recognise the potential social has to offer, but struggle to make a change due to the lack of internal will or direction in the places where they work.

This year I’d like to see more leaders recognise the opportunity to gain some competitive advantage and deliver more value to customers by thinking strategically about how they can harness the social character of their organisations.

I’d also like to see more people at lower levels in organisations applying their initiative to make positive, constructive changes.

After all, that’s often where the best ideas come from.

This obviously takes a bit of gumption from workers, but also the culture change, systems and technology to support them.

Top-down change and more creative impetus from the grassroots could make for an exciting combination.

The technology and cultural potential is there, I hope more organisations have the will to harness it.

Thinking Lean? Think Social Business

Lean production at Toyota. Source: www.toyota-forklifts.ch

Lean production at Toyota. Source: http://www.toyota-forklifts.ch

For my money, Lean Thinking is one of, if not the most influential management philosophy of the last sixty years.

Ever since the 1950s, businesses large and small, from manufacturers to service providers, have been investing in the tools and techniques that have become known as “Lean” to boost profits and efficiency.

Toyota is the most famous exponent and the company where much of the practice began, but there are plenty of other examples of organisations that have benefitted across the public and private sectors.

To a greater or lesser extent, Lean has probably influenced every organisation active today.

Social Business, by comparison, is still in its infancy.

Many businesses still assume it means a Facebook or Twitter strategy and are dubious about how  “social” can be of benefit to them, beyond a channel for marketing promotion.

But I would argue that any team of managers applying Lean Thinking today needs to consider Social Business as an essential part of their strategy if they’re to get the maximum value from their investments and truly gain competitive advantage.

How are the two related?

Let’s look first at how they’re defined:

Lean: “The creation of more value for customers with fewer resources. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.” (taken from http://www.lean.org)

Social Business: “The culture and systems that encourage networks of people to create business value.” (IBM)

Culture, people and value: there’s some clear correlation.

As Social Business is often mistakenly defined by social media platforms, so Lean is also often misunderstood as a set of tools and processes.

In fact it’s a philosophy designed to focus organisations on how they can deliver more value to customers by meeting demand instantaneously with ‘perfect’ quality and zero waste.

To do this means creating a culture of continuous improvement involving everyone at every level – as well as partners and suppliers too.

Foundational to Lean is a focus on the customer and an understanding of their needs so that customer demand can “pull” products and services through the production process.

Based on this definition it’s clear that one ingredient is essential for successful Lean transformation – good communication.

Managers need to be active and involved in the change process and visible and accessible to the wider workforce, which in turn must be well connected to ensure that the organisation can respond swiftly and smoothly to customer demand.

It’s here that Social Business transformation has a vital role to play.

By encouraging the culture and establishing the processes and technologies to enable more networked and flexible communication and collaboration, organisations can equip themselves with the means to successfully practice Lean.

In effect, organisations can apply Social Business methodologies to empower their workforces – another essential aspect of Lean.

It’s only by empowering people to take decisions and make changes that the proactive, incremental improvements can be achieved which Lean identifies to create better organisations.

In practice this means giving people the means to make their voices heard: to express ideas, make recommendations, share their achievements and gain feedback and recognition.

Again, the application of Social Business practices makes this possible.

A great example is the recent work by IBM (my employer) with Tesco, where by putting in place an internal collaboration platform and new working practices, colleagues across the organisation can communicate in a much more fluid way and be freer to focus on the customer than on navigating the structures of the organisation to get their ideas heard:

The business landscape has changed tremendously since Lean first came on the scene, but today I believe it’s more valuable than ever.

Business has become more networked, sophisticated and complex, driven to a large extent by technology.

This creates more potential for waste – whether in people’s time or materials – and that’s bad for the organisation and for its customers.

I’ve argued before that every business is a Social Business because the act of business itself is inherently social; an “Unsocial” business would have a hard time recruiting employees and forming partnerships with suppliers and distributors …let alone attracting any customers!

The difference is that now we have the technology, processes and expertise to enrich that innate sociability, encourage it and enable it to deliver benefits to the organisation and the people it serves.

So adopting Social Business shouldn’t necessarily be considered as the radical change it’s often portrayed.

Rather, it’s a natural extension of the practices they’re already applying today.