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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Like everyone else on the planet, you have a complex and interesting story to tell. There are all of your childhood antics, and accidents. There are the exciting and trying times through your high-school years, and all of those crazy things that happened to you in college. Your family, your job, your hobbies, your dreams. They're all part of the "story of you."
But when you meet someone new at a party, I suspect that you don't recount your entire life story with them; at least I hope you don't. Rather, you start with some of the more pertinent parts of your story -- your name, where you live, where you work, how you know the people who are hosting the party. That type of information.
As you engage in this dialogue, you begin to learn more about the other person and can slowly add other relevant parts of your personal story into the conversation.
Depending to whom you are talking -- someone you've just met or an old friend -- you relate different parts of your life story. It's as if we have an innate ability to edit parts of our personal stories based on whom we're communicating with.
Companies have complex and interesting stories to tell too. Unfortunately, companies cannot rely on some innate "corporate" ability to help them tailor their story for different audiences. That's where a well-designed, content-centered communications plan comes into play.
Think of all of the different audiences your company might engage on a daily basis, often simultaneously. There are employees, customers, potential customers, former customers that you're trying to woo back, investors and shareholders, distribution partners, application developers, user groups, traditional media, industry analysts, bloggers, those following your company on social media sites, government agencies and regulators, and on and on.
At any given time, your company may be telling various parts of the company story via specifically tailored content to a wide range of audiences. Further, there are likely to be dozens, if not hundreds, of people within the company having these variouis conversations.
Without proper planning, through the use of a content-centered communications plan, you run the risk of not communicating the right information to the right audience at the right time. That could hurt your company through lost customers, wasted time, energy and money, and could tarnish your company's brand image.
Even if your company has gone through the disciple of articulating its business objectives and has a clearly defined its brand story, without properly targeting your audiences by segment, and identifying which parts of the company story you're going to tell to each of them, you could create confusion rather than inpart useful information.
Think about the golf story your Uncle tells every single year at Thanksgiving dinner. You've heard is so many times that once he launches into his tale you automatically tune him out. Without targeting your company's story (content) for specific audience segments, you run the risk of them tuning out your message too.
Do you have a content-centered communications in place that tailors your company's unique story of your various audiences? If so, we'd love to hear your story.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Set Expectations To Get a New Relationship Off to a Fast Start

A former colleague of mine reminded me after I posted "Seven Keys to Successfully Transitioning to a New Agency" earlier today to Beyond the Arc that I left out a critical "key."

And she was right.  

So the "Eight Key" to successful agency transition management is this:  the incoming agency should hold an expectations meeting with the client's executive team and communications team leaders to review their expectations -- which are different from their business goals.  

For example, the CEO may have the expectation that he/she is going to be actively involved in business press activities (or doesn't want to be involved).

Setting clear expectations for how the program is going to run, and what each person's role and responsibility is, is key during the agency transition. 

Also, expectations meetings are ideal platforms for client and agency to agree to the establishment of a day-to-day working structure.  For instance, how will the client and agency account team members communicate on a daily basis; which communications tools will be regarded as essential to real-time communications; what will be the schedule for formal weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual meetings to review the progress against agreed to objectives. 

Seven Keys to Successfully Transitioning to a New Agency

Recently, I've been asked by several corporate communications pros what makes for an effective transition from an incumbent agency to a new agency.

It's a great question because for most corporate marketing or communications departments, transitioning to a new marketing services provider -- whether it be an advertising, PR or digital media agency -- is a very significant undertaking.

In most instances, the organization will have just completed a time-intensive, time-consuming, costly and exhausting agency review that took anywhere from two weeks to six months, and longer in a number of cases.   During the agency review, key internal review stakeholders likely sacrificed their "day jobs" to choreograph a thorough review process. 

And let's not forget that long before the agency review was actually underway, the corporate team running the review spent hour upon hour questioning, debating and deliberating the real need for a review and some time wondering if the existing agency relationship should or could be salvaged.   After all, wouldn't it be easiest if we just stayed with our existing agency?  That question crosses the mind of most every corporate decision maker since making a change means lots of heavy lifting, at least in the short term.   Typically, the negative impact of sticking with an incumbent agency where the relationship has run its course is much costlier than the short-term start up costs associated with bringing a new agency up to speed.

Corporate pros who know the agency review drill typically sprint from the completion of the agency selection process to the next critical step:  the transition from the incumbent agency to the new agency.  

To this point, and to help answer the question that's been asked of me of late, here are my seven agency transition management keys:
  1. Establish a collegial relationship among the incumbent and new agency with clear expectations set by the client.
  2. Insist on transition sessions with the outgoing agency where an extensive and detailed analysis of all immediate outstanding corporate and product issues can be discussed and transitioned.  Clients should be prepared to pay a fee to the outgoing agency at the successful conclusion of the transition period.
  3. Clearly determine which agency will be completing press-related activities that are in progress.
  4. The client's IT department should be made aware of the transition so it can provide the new agency with access to the client's intranet(s), email, phone system, etc.  The incoming agency's technology needs to be in sync and compatible with the client's systems.
  5. The client's international constituents should be alerted to the change in agencies, as well as the company's internal marketing and communications employees and any local and regional agencies that are supporting the company.
  6. The incoming agency should meet with the client's executive and communications team leaders to hold a strategy session to ensure the new agency, senior executives and communications team leaders are on the same page regarding the company's business goals and objectives and how the communications program is going to support them.
  7. Procurement and the client's financial department should be made aware of the transition so the outgoing agency is paid on time for its final month(s) and the incoming agency is entered into the company's supplier database.
Based on your experiences, are there other transition management keys that should be considered?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Five Marketing (and business) Truths Every Start-Up Should Know

Start ups are, perhaps, the most exciting and the most imperiled companies on earth.  They are the products of great ideas, brilliant observations, dogged determination, perseverance and risk. In the start-up stage, everything is possible and everything is critical.  Cash must be preserved while market share must grow, and thus there is little margin for error.  The competition for dollars between innovative engineers and customer-facing marketers is often intense -- both sides win when neither side dominates, but that is fragile balance to maintain even with level-headed executives on both sides.  So, with that, we offer our five rules of the road for marketing in start ups. This has nothing to do with how to market.  It has everything to do with how to conduct yourself as a company that needs marketing to define and drive the strategy of the company.

1. Learn how to make a decision. I know a start-up CMO who participated in weekly executive strategy meetings for six months with the CEO, CFO, CTO and head of sales. Each week they would discuss their ideas and outline them in detail on a white board in an executive war room and then leave thinking they were on the same page. For all the brilliant thinking and ideas, they never seemed to make much progress.  "The board brought in an outside consultant," my friend told me.  "And the first thing he did was ask to attend our weekly executive staff meeting. He watched us for 20 minutes, and then he asked a simple question that left us dumbfounded:  'How do you make a decision here?' "  The great Harvard Business  School Professor, Michael E. Porter has said that strategy is what you choose NOT to do.  As a start-up every choice you make and don't make is strategic. A large percentage of those choices will have a lot to do with spending money on marketing. But you have know how to make marketing a business decision. You have to agree to a process, and the CEO has to be the final arbiter. That's why he or she has more stock than you. 

2.  Spin it all you like, you are not a market leader so don't act or spend like one.  We can't tell you how many early stage companies flush with venture money try to market like leaders. These are usually companies whose executive team has not worked in start-ups before and assumes that the battle and budgets should be waged just as they were in the corporate world. This is a disastrous approach tied to ego, inexperience, reading too many business books or all of the above. The likely outcome is the rapid disappearance of all those VC greenbacks despite your followers and fans, your great press coverage, analyst reports and speaking engagements. 

3.  Protect your cash. If you are new to the world of start ups, you need to understand that cash is king. Do not over spend your marketing dollars.  Use them cautiously and be sure they are aligned against specific, measurable business objectives. If those objectives are unclear, pull that big red emergency break right away and stop your marketing spending. There might be some squealing as you grind to a halt, but if your ad agency or PR agency or social media agency are the only people asking about strategy, something is very wrong and you are about to spend precious cash on tactics that probably are not aligned with what the business needs to do to succeed -- and your investors probably have the wrong CEO in place.

4.  Practice guerilla warfare. As a start up, you are small and insignificant.  Your resources are limited and your business objective is most likely survival. If you have mastered the first three points here, you are in an enviable position.  How do you -- as an underdog -- fight, much less win?  Understanding the competition is part of the battle:  Market leaders usually fight defensively.  Direct challengers are trying to take market share from market leaders.  Smaller, established companies are looking to outflank large companies and early stage companies must find a niche they can own as a base for future expansion so that they can one day move to the next level and outflank the leaders. 

5.  Learn OODA.  This is not a new martial art.  It is what the military teaches soldiers to do in any new situation. OODA is an acronym for observe, orient, decide, and act.  If you are going to engage in battle against bigger, better fortified competitors you need to learn to read the situation and react faster than the next guy to survive. That is what OODA is designed to teach us. You gather information (observe), form a point of view about an unmet customer need and/or the intentions of competitors (orient), then you make decisions, and you act on them. The cycle is repeated continuously. The aggressive and conscious application of the process gives a business an advantage over a competitor who is merely reacting to conditions as they occur, or has poor awareness of the situation.

So, there you have it.  Five practices that will help marketing become a strategic part of the ultimate start up objective -- survival.  Let us know if you have shared any of these experiences or observations in your start up.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Branded Content

There is now general acceptance that a company's brand plays an important role in generating and sustaining financial performance. A company's brand can help attract new customers, keep existing customers from switching to a competitor, help pave the way for entry into new markets and regions, and even affect stock valuation.
To this last point, stock price, a BusinessWeek/JP Morgan study found that some companies enjoy most of their stock valuation as a result of their strong brand. The study found that McDonald's, for instance, attributes more than 70% of its shareholder value to its strong brand. Disney's brand contributes 68% to the company's market capitalization and Coca-Cola's brand chips in just over 50%.
To some degree or another, every company's brand contributes to its overall financial performance. That's why a company's brand story, along with its clearly articulated business objectives, should form the foundation upon which a content-centered communications plan is developed.
As has been discussed before on this site, content is the engine that drives customer engagement. To ensure the interaction with the customers is fully realized, a content-centered communications plan should map directly back to the company's business objectives and stay true to the company's brand; given a brand's powerful influence on customer perception as well as stock valuation.
A few years back I did some consulting for a publicly traded, global telecommunications company that had a brand reputation as an inventive and innovative company, which was based largely on the licensing of its extensive patent portfolio.
Every time we generated content for this company -- be it press release, an executive presentation, a video, a theme for a developer conference, or a social media program -- we always made sure that it was highlighting the company's inventive and innovative persona. In this way, every time the company used content to interact with any number of its target audiences, the company's brand image was reinforced.
If your company hasn't gone through the process recently, you might want to conduct a brand audit prior to development of your content-centered communications plan. The audit is a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of the brand involving activities (both tangible and intangible) to assess the health of your brand. This process should either confirm the status of your company's brand story, or suggest modifications to it. In any case, the audit should help you develop 3-5 brand messages, any one of which can, and should, be used when you develop content to interact with your customers.
Having your brand story clearly defined -- along with easily articulated business objectives -- will help guide the development of all of your company's content. As a result, your customer engagement will be more meaningful for you, and your target audiences.