The majority of a company’s value is intangible, so a strong brand is a significant competitive advantage. As Philip Kotler wrote, “The art of marketing is the art of brand building. If you are not a brand, you are a commodity. Then price is everything and the low-cost producer is the only winner.”
Brands and communication have long been intertwined. From TV ads and press releases to events and endorsements, the way consumers view a brand will influence their decision making, so crafting and reinforcing a brand image has long been a top priority for marketers.
Yet historically, brand images were often only skin deep, the result of careful messaging and slick production values. Today, however, digital technology allows brands interact directly with customers and they, in turn, now expect more than talk. They demand positive brand experiences. Marketers need not only new strategies, but to adopt new mindset.
A few weeks ago, my little girl came down with a case of strep throat. From there, things followed a predictable pattern. My wife soon came down with it as well and then I did too. We took turns lying in bed unproductively, woozy from a high fever and struggling to swallow.
It was a silly episode when you think about it. Not only for my wife and I, who failed to take effective precautions but also, as Lewis Thomas noted in Lives of a Cell for the bacteria themselves. What was a few weeks of discomfort for my family meant utter eradication for the offending streptococcus colony.
All in all though, it was a minor affair. Our biology evolved over millions of years to deal with such events, not efficiently, but effectively. Sadly, most organizations work the opposite way. They are highly efficient at specific tasks, but often fail when confronted with a problem they weren’t designed for. The seeds of dysfunction are seldom recognized until it’s too late.
Every enterprise, no matter how big, successful or skillfully managed, will eventually have to deal with a challenge that represents an existential crisis. In meeting that challenge, every flaw will be exposed and every weakness will be pounced upon by competitors. A crisis is management’s ultimate test.
Last year eBay announced that it would be spinning off PayPal, the payments juggernaut that it acquired in 2002, into a standalone company with no ties to its parent. While the situation was not a crisis in the usual sense, because the goal was to unlock an opportunity rather than to avoid a catastrophe, it was an immense challenge.
Separating two highly integrated, data intensive technology operations meant that a decision would have to be made about every person, server, software protocol and database entry in the combined company. I talked to PayPal VP Kirsten Wolberg about how they did it and it is a model of crisis management that we all can learn from. Here’s what you should know:
From roughly the time of Jesus to Napoleon, life changed little. Then the industrial revolution replaced muscle power with steam power and human existence was transformed. Incomes, life expectancy and population, which had long been locked in Malthusian conflict, began to reinforce each other and rise in tandem.
It’s hard to overestimate how profound that change was. Prosperity, rather than being tied to land, became a function of the efficient use of capital. Physical strength was rendered largely irrelevant and education became a ticket to a better life. Technology, in effect, created the modern world.
Until fairly recently, the options for marketers were relatively limited. Mass media—TV especially—offered the opportunity to reach millions, but only in the form of short ads sandwiched between lots of other stuff. Other tactics, such as trade shows, offered high engagement, but low reach.
Digital technology and social media have offered the best of both worlds—the ability to reach millions of people with high engagement. Nike videos on YouTube routinely attract more than ten million views. Coke has nearly 100 million followers on Facebook. Red Bull has its own TV channel.
Yet despite these scattered successes, there is mounting evidence that most marketers’ content efforts are failing. The Content Marketing Institute reports that although most B2B and B2C marketers have some kind of content marketing program, less than 40% find those efforts effective. Clearly, things need to improve. Here are 4 things marketers need to know:
Apple recently announced its 4th quarter earnings and they are breathtaking. The company, already by far the most valuable in the world, grew revenues 22% to $51 billion. Profits grew a whopping 30% to $11.1 billion. What’s more, even after massive stock buybacks, the firm still holds more than $200 billion in cash.
It’s an interesting idea. She is certainly right that most of the innovative technology we enjoy today has its roots in the public sector. And clearly, those who call for government to “just get out of the way” are seriously confused about how the modern economy functions. Still, the idea that government is due some massive windfall gets the real story of innovation wrong.
Brian Robertson never felt quite at home in a traditional company. As he describes in his book, Holacracy, he felt the bureaucracy, politics and long, painful meetings made getting anything done an uphill battle, wasting not only time, but energy and motivation. He found it soul crushing.
So when he started his own company, he vowed to do things differently. Rather than try to “predict and control” things from the top, he set out to create an “operating system” for his organization, which would be directed by rules and processes, rather than managerial whim.
The result, also called Holacracy, is now a growing management movement and hundreds of companies are thriving under it. Others, however, have been less successful. It’s estimated that about 50% of the organizations who have adopted the system have abandoned the effort. Given the great disparity in results, how should you decide if Holacracy may be right for you?
The origins of the term “hack” are unusually rich and expansive. Originally, it was a wholly pejorative term, meaning to work haphazardly. When people called you a “talentless hack,” it meant that you were wholly unoriginal, cobbling together mediocre performance from the scraps of others’ work.
Yet these same attributes, when applied to technology, came to represent the height of creativity. In a quickly evolving field largely devoid of standard operating procedures, the ability to cobble together solutions from disparate pieces became a highly sought after skill. More recently, terms such as life hacking and growth hacking have come into vogue
Today, with every field evolving at light speed, we all need to be able to come up with unconventional hacks for thorny problems and synthesize solutions from disparate places. Unfortunately, that’s not something typically taught in school or in management training programs, although it probably should be. Here’s how I learned to hack.
On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy stood in front of the country at Rice University and declared that we would go to the moon by the end of the decade. The speech galvanized the country into a major national effort, involving politicians, scientists, engineers and the general public to achieve that goal.
While President Kennedy’s plan was ambitious, it wasn’t a quixotic dream. After World War II, the US government began to invest heavily in basic research and those efforts were beginning to bear fruit. It would be an intense undertaking to engineer those discoveries into practical applications, but it was a goal within reach.
Hipsters go to TED for inspiration about what the future will bring, but the world’s greatest physical scientists go to Solvay. It was there in 1927, at the fifth Solvay Conference that Albert Einstein famously said, “God does not play dice with the universe,” to which Niels Bohr retorted, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.”
Bohr’s quip was much more than a clever line, but a tipping point in the world of physics toward a quantum world of probabilities rather than the deterministic universe that Einstein preferred. Even Einstein, when faced with a flaw in his core beliefs, was unable to adapt and it doomed the latter part of his career.
It makes you wonder what chance the rest of us have. We all like to think of ourselves as innovative and agile, but when our core beliefs are called into question, the cards are stacked against us. Our brain chemistry, social networks and even our basic instinct for survival will resist the change. To master the art of the shift, we first need to master ourselves.