Marketing

The Future of Social business is paved with (good) intentions.

Social Business is an Intention

Cross posting from CMSWire

There is no such thing as a social business. There’s Enterprise 1.0 over there, and Enterprise 2.0 over there, and we’re all somewhere between the two and some part of that is Social. Embarking on the journey from there to there is to form an intention. This intention can be about the way we want to engage customers. It can be an intention of creating a richly connected workforce so as to reap the rewards of agility, resilience, problem solving and innovation that such a workforce is capable of.

It is about realizing that the power of command and control is great, but limited, and we have reached that limit. It is about realizing that the capabilities, ambitions, insights and preferences of people that have been largely ignored in the 20th century will not be ignored in the 21st, in part because technology has redistributed a little power from corporations to consumers and the workforce, and in part because you cannot command and control your way through the pace and complexity of 21st century business and society, and, to quote a beloved fictional character, “the only way out is through” (bonus marks if you leave a comment with his name).

Intentions are different from goals or missions

Jony Ives narrates this lovely little video about why the next iOS will be flat, not bubbly. This is not simply a matter of taste and sophistication. It is a matter of intention.

In the video he says “Design defines so much of our experience. There is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity and clarity and efficiency … its about bringing order to complexity.” What Jony is saying, is that they did not set out to “change” the UI. They set out to bring order to complexity, while honoring simplicity. The difference between goal and intention is subtle but important. Intention is a permanent state of seeking, it is never achieved, but always honored. A goal says – I want a new UI, or I want to solve a problem, or I want something that will make it clear that this iOS is really different an innovative. A goal has an end state. Goals are good, but they are not intentions, and, unlike Social Business, they can be achieved.

Intention says – I do not know what my journey is going to look like, but I have certain qualities and ideals in mind. Intention puts your focus on the outcome, not the method, or really the goal.

Do you play tennis? If you remember learning to play, then you know that if you try to hit the ball – connect the racquet with the ball – you whiff, but if you put a laser focus on the ball and you swing your arm, somehow that ball gets hit. This is the power of intention. It lets the right things happen without examining them overly.
(It’s an act of faith that is reinforced by the delight in seeing the shock in your husband’s eyes as his ball comes back to him with equal power. But I digress. Actually this theme of faith comes back again and again when we’re talking about complexity, emergence and social. That is because we can’t explain it – at least not in rational, reductionist, cause and effect terms. We can only know it. This is an excruciating state of being for biz and science types, but is a leap that must be leapt. This is both why we crave and why we can’t have the ROI calculations we seek. We can only look for correlations between social-ness and top line performance. We can’t find cause and effect. We are epidemiologists, not chemists. ok. really, now I’m done with this. for now.)

Intention means that every step is both unrestricted but well informed by the truths you can find – that good products are better than bad products. That good products are the result of knowing customer needs and applying talent against them. That respecting the voice and convenience of the customer is a good investment. That there is no executive in your organization that is one fraction as smart as the rest of the org combined.

Perhaps my favorite exposition of intention is an old ad about a faucet. Yes, Kohler did a double bluff on the theme on pretentious design aficionados who come to a pretentious architect and say “design a house around this” – evoking the idea that they so admire the tacit design principles in the faucet that they want a house that embodies those same qualities – some of which are nearly impossible to articulate. So they can’t be goals. They are intentions.

Intention is a very long view approached by a series of very short steps.

If your intention is to be a social business, and you have a vague notion – and it can only be vague – that a social business will be more profitable, more resilient, more interesting – over the next 50 years, and that your customers will love you better, and your employees will love you better and magical emergent innovation will fall from the sky, and you will, finally, get Lew Platt’s wish of knowing what we know – or at least being able to benefit from what we know, even if we never actually know it.

If you’re lucky, you were “born social”
We have been through frameworks, processes, and models.We have been through half a dozen years of theories, pontificating, genius and foolishness. We have platitudes, and attitudes, (both entirely skippable. 140 char has its dark side). Many of them have merit and application in certain circumstances. but as a whole they build a holistic and visceral understanding of the intention, if not the defnition of Social Business. We have learned a few tangible-ish things, however.

The first is that while some companies are born social, it is very hard to become social – but it does happen over time. We see this in narrative-lead consumer companies, like Nike and Levi’s, and in (some) places where knowledge and collaboration are fundamental (but not Law. Social and seven-minute accounting don’t seem to mesh). The way they get there is by taking a zillion little steps toward something. The something they are moving toward is a little hard to explain. They hire the right people. They make decisions in slightly different ways. They try stuff knowing that whether it works or not, it has taught them something, in some form of David Snowden’s
multiple parallel safe to fail experiments.

Many successful CEOs declare that they believe social is a better way to do business, and they summon the courage to go there and figure it out on their way. Some businesses – like John Stepper’s Deutche Bank – find pockets of value in social technology, that enable certain departments to thrive, without necessarily becoming a social business, at least not yet. IBM has been on its journey longer and larger, and it may have more momentum than many.

How do businesses become social, really? In 2001, Jim Collins wrote in his book “ Good to Great” that good businesses do not make the leap to great all of the sudden. It is not a strategy or a project or an investment or an initiative that does it, but rather an aggregation of steps in the right direction. He makes this analogy, and, in truth it’s the main thing that really stuck with me from the book:

Picture a huge, heavy flywheel. It’s a massive, metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle. It’s about 100 feet in diameter, 10 feet thick, and it weighs about 25 tons. That flywheel is your company. Your job is to get that flywheel to move as fast as possible, because momentum—mass times velocity—is what will generate superior economic results over time.
Right now, the flywheel is at a standstill. To get it moving, you make a tremendous effort. You push with all your might, and finally you get the flywheel to inch forward. After two or three days of sustained effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster. It takes a lot of work, but at last the flywheel makes a second rotation. You keep pushing steadily. It makes three turns, four turns, five, six. With each turn, it moves faster, and then—at some point, you can’’t say exactly when—you break through. The momentum of the heavy wheel kicks in your favor. It spins faster and faster, with its own weight propelling it. You aren’t pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing.

My point here should be clear – a social business is one that has set a social intention and takes many, many steps, which, when properly aligned and examined, lead inexorably to a “Social Business” that is able to enjoy a more humanistic, sustainable, profitable, innovative, emergent form of business.

On the one hand this is simple aggregation of effort. Every positive step is amplified by the next one.
But on the other, we Another invaluable William Gibson quote – the future is here it’s just not evenly distributed – is WHY this works. To understand this, you must realize that there is not ONE future that is here, but an infinity of them. Each step opens up a new possible future if it works, if it takes, and sets off a chain of events that lead somewhere. Our goal is to make as many “intentional” possible futures as we can. We cannot know in advance which of them will take root and take over, but we can ensure that they are imbued with desirable qualities, that they are taken with the right intentions. A don’t be evil type of intention (that is reexamined often.).

The Best argument yet for Social/2.0 connected business.

Social Business = Intention = Seeking = Networking = Innovation

If you are still casting about for reasons as to why connected companies are more valuable than unconnected companies, you need to watch Ricardo Hausman’s lecture on person-bytes, which he applies to countries, but you will be wise to think of in terms of enterprises. And you will quickly realize that 1.0 leadership is leaving too much opportunity on the table because the number of person-bytes – the breadth and complexity of capability the enterprise can address – accessible by 1.0 Enterprise is far less than what Enterprise 2.0 can leverage.

Let me say that again, because I think its pretty big and you might have missed it. Enterprise 1.0, with command and control, is limited in its capability by the intelligence and capability of the Executive team. The executive team has most of the accessible person bytes in the company – though they can use others in simplistic ways. In 1.0 enterprises, the workforce is there to amplify the capabilities of the executives. Looked at another way, Executives are the constraint. After a certain point, it is the executives that restrain growth and capability because the organization cannot amplify what the executive can’t see.

In Enterprise 2.0 power and capability flows the other way – from the network to the leadership. In Enterprise 2.0, executives (leaders) inquire and align collective intelligence and capability. They can access the collective capabilities, resources and observations of the workforce and beyond. They can build businesses with greater person-byte potential.

Hausmann shows that not only are those products that require more person-bytes more rare and valuable, but they lead to richer adjacent opportunities. Person-bytes aggregate via proximity and connection. You don’t have one kind of expertise – say in manufacturing phones – and then suddenly have a totally different kind of expertise in oil exploration – unless you’ve discovered some link between the too.

Social, networked companies can build more complex – more person-byte – products, and grow expertise and advantage more reliably than those that can’t. Hausmann’s data is based on national economies, but if you look at it the connection will be instantly clear.

The Road to Social Business is Paved with Intentions. Make them good.

We are all somewhere between the two – between a 1.0 business over there – and a 2.0 business over there.
If you are looking for practicalities of social business/enterprise 2.0 next, you can read some of the lists and frameworks I’ve written myself here and here.

Just remember this. A framework is an invitation to think, not an excuse not to. Its a way to organize your thoughts. None of us will travel exactly the same path to a new business paradigm, in the same way that none of us have traveled the same path to profitability and success. There is no path, there is only intention. In a world where notions of business, privacy, identity, civil rights, labor, morality, war and peace are all disrupted, let us please make them good intentions.

The best is yet to come.

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Post Rationalized Narratives STINK. Build a better one.

Cross posted from CMSWire

Great brands have narratives. A narrative that explains their aspiration, their approach, and how they go in the world. Sugru is a kind of silicone putty/adhesive. It comes in colors. Its the kind of thing you might find as one of a thousand products on a shelf at Home Depot. But instead, Sugru has a narrative that makes this putty important. It makes you proud to be an owner of putty. IBM’s “Smarter Planet” narrative makes boring, complex technology important. [If it were even better it would make it both important and clear.]

Content marketing isn’t about content, it’s about being deeply valuable and meaningful. It is about standing for something that people care about. In fact, narrative is not a marketing tool. Its a business foundation. Marketing often leads the articulation of narrative, but its essential for the entire team – especially R&D and other people that determine what you sell and how you develop it and sell it. In Zappos’ case its narrative (Happiness) is essential for its core competency – customer service.  In addition to making you meaningful and important to your market, narrative is a framework for thinking about the problem – whatever problem that might be. The team is now thinking about how to make it ever more true.

There is extensive work out there on storytelling and narrative. A few years ago Simon Sinek nailed the importance, if not the method of it with “Start With Why”.  Simon was talking about the fact that people do not care what you do, but rather why you do it. If you’re the last person on the internet not to have seen his TED talk, do yourself an 18 minute favor. Narrative serves to engage your audience, ignite the imaginations of your staff, and act as a gut check on decisionmaking.

So – a story is great if you have one. [n.b. – yes, there’s a diff between story and narrative, but that’s the advanced class] But what to do if you don’t? You can build one. It is very hard and takes certain skills and acts of faith and business that are not everyday stuff. But, narrative, when done well, is the tale that can actually wag the dog. You know your narrative is working when it is easily adopted by your organization. When it is so good its obvious. When anyone can understand it to the point that it feels perfectly natural to tell it in their own words. Your narrative is doing its job when it becomes a core part of the conversation at work – when it becomes an identity. It infuses and defines your culture. It is helping to build the substance of your business. It is organic and viral. If this isn’t happening then you aren’t done yet. If this isn’t happening inside your company, its not going to happen outside with your customers. Great marketing is a side effect of great narrative. Don’t excuse yourself by saying that this is only for consumer goods, twenty-somethings or Apple. Get to work.

If you’re building a narrative, you will be in one of these situations:

1. New, brand new.

If you are starting up, then you are already in the deep soul-searching process of “why”.  Some startups have this fully formed because it was the discovery of their narrative that built the team and drives the founder.  Many have it, but its still vague. The challenge here is to find a mooring. Like Hemmingway, you need to search for the most true thing you can say about your organization, your work or yourselves and find a way to express that to the world. This type of deep truth is almost universally recognizable in the way great art is. Even the unsophisticated know it when they see it.

2. Established, but unarticulated.

You are doing business. You are growing. Perhaps you are doing something brilliant, but its really, really hard to explain. You have only 2 or 3 executives who can make the sale, because no one else can tell the story. And it takes them a face to face with every decision-maker. Its nearly impossible to show that you are different from your competition, even though the difference is vast. You are unarticulated. Your exercise is much like number 1, but you have a mooring – your work and your success. Ask your customers to help you. They probably can’t articulate it either, but they know.

Include them in your narrative attempts and spend time considering their input. Gut check your work with representatives of your entire ecosystem – Sales, Marketing, R&D, customers, analysts and experts, and anyone else who may have a stake. Take their feedback very seriously – but not necessarily literally. Steep in it.

3. The Big Fog

So – you’ve grown. Once you had a clear, but probably unarticulated mission. Now you are rudderless. Decision-making in your organization is painful and often temporary. Everyone is working hard, but little seems to come from it. You are in the fog. Now you have to do all of the above, plus.

You are not starting from scratch. There are things that can’t or shouldn’t be ignored. Which creates two challenges. First – you need to discern between the artifacts that need to go and the ones that need to stay. And second, you must at all costs avoid the temptation to post-rationalize

[There’s a fourth,”the pivot” …Pivot is a hard reexamination. Finding the pivot point, means figuring out what your real substance is and framing it properly. I could go on and on, but i’ve promised myself a short, readable post.]

POST-RATIONALIZED NARRATIVES STINK.

No exceptions.

My daughter has a game with about a dozen dice with words on them instead of numbers. You roll them and  make a story out of the awkward set of words that fall. Too many organizations build narratives the same way. They have a series of existing concepts, constraints and phrases – maybe they’ve been in use for years. Maybe they are pets of executives, analysts or customers. The stories my daughter and I come up with are about as cohesive and useful as your post-rationalized narrative. They both stink, but at least my daughter and I get a laugh.

Your narrative has to tell a truth, and truth is not a negotiated list of words whose goal is to thread the needle of your various weird pursuits and constraints.

While you may have rationalized that story and convinced yourself its true, no one else will get it or believe it. You might hook them for a moment, but when you turn around – its gone. They bought your enthusiasm, but not your story. (@krcraft puts it – the pitch, the promise, but not the purpose) [This is often true with personality lead companies where only a few people can make the pitch – its a symptom of poorly or unarticulated narrative. When your customer turns to convince others why they should buy your stuff – turns out they have no words. (cough, cough, Palantir).]

Post-rationalized messaging feels complicated and strange. You know you have it when people have to refer to their notes to remember it. When you have strange sentences that look like they could almost be in English but must be painfully memorized.

The cure isn’t easy. You need to look for a big truth – a truth that is big enough to contain all those important artifacts you are trying to deal with.

You can’t string the old ideas together – you need to create a context in which they all (or not) naturally fit. You aren’t forcing random puzzle pieces together with glue – you are drawing the rest of the picture into which they naturally fit. You are writing a novel, in which (at least some of) your dice-words fit as part of a plot and texture. You need to force your thinking upward and out. For this golden moment at least, you are a poet, a philosopher, an inventor, a maker.

Of course truth-seeking is the endless pursuit that encompasses most of human history excepting war and business. But this is little-t truth, and it will be playing an ever more important role in “Social” Businesses.

Experience has shown me that truth (if not Truth) can be found intentionally rather than fortuitously. You need a framework to help you structure the anatomy of the narrative (I call mine the narrative hierarchy – but that’s another discussion). You must be willing to discard good ideas at a sometimes terrifying rate. You need some close brain-trust relationships. Narrative building is collaborative, but not a consensus process. (yet another discussion) In other words, building great narrative, like innovation, is a result of skill and effort, not luck.

The best is yet to come.

Find Your (corporate) Greatness

[tweetmeme source= “deb_lavoy” only_single=false] Nike again showed its marketing (but not just marketing) genius with this ad developed for the 2012 Olympic games. This ad takes the “if you have a body you are an athlete” tag line and takes it even higher. They remind us that greatness is not the stuff of legends, but within reach of every single one of us. They reinforce this message in a series of ads, one showing a chubby boy, against a dramatic sky, doing his best, finding his greatness. You can’t possibly watch these ads without feeling something.

Now Nike happens to make sporting equipment and clothing that are high quality, trend-setting and pricey-but-within-middle-class-reach. If every person in the world were an athlete, then they get to sell more of their products. So it’s a selfish aim, right? Strictly shareholder value, right?

Purpose and Narrative

This just one example of how a corporate purpose can be both very, very profitable, while also creating value and prosperity for its customers. A great corporate purpose or mission statement expresses the value the company is committed to creating for its customers. It creates a magnetic alignment within the company and the market around that value. People within the organization are now rowing in the same direction, orienting their creativity and energy toward a common goal – without sacrificing their intelligence, skills or capabilities for the sake of consistency. Markets (‘people’) get excited and want to be affiliated with the brand. They seek out the products, and are delighted when the products deliver on the mission. They’ll often even be loyal enough to get past some flaws and stick with the brand as it tries to achieve its mission or purpose (i would always use the word “purpose” but I’m concerned about unintended religious overtones, so I’ve been fussing and fiddling with “mission” and “purpose” and would appreciate your thoughts on which is better, or if there is another term that would be more descriptive).

What Nike is also demonstrating, very beautifully, is that they do not just have a purpose (which their website declares to be “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world*. (*If you have a body you are an athlete)”), but they have a powerful narrative to go along with it.

Not just purpose, narrative

In fact, purpose and narrative are strongly linked, but not the same thing. We can cite examples of companies that have powerful narratives, but less clear purpose, and those that have powerful purpose, but unclear narratives. Those in the former category are rare – it is tough to have a strong narrative without a clear purpose. Those that do, are generally companies where the purpose once existed and has been lost, or those that have hired great agencies that build narratives independently from the real company. This is where marketing got its evil, manipulative reputation. But people are more savvy now, and truly good narratives, like truly good ads, aren’t common.

There’s quite a bit of great stuff out there on why purpose matters. It matters to your team – tied with leadership as the key catalyst to employee engagement – now widely considered the key to accelerated corporate performance. It matters to the market – when competition is so fierce and the field so saturated, it turns out to be purpose that people gravitate toward. They want to buy you, not your widget.

We can look at the purpose/narrative progression as a 2×2 matrix, and can show examples of each. Take a quick look – where are you? How would a clearer purpose change your company? How would a clearer narrative change your company? How would it change the world?

Not just narrative, purpose

In the enviable top right quadrant, we have the Leaders. You know who these companies are. They are the Nikes, the Apples, the IBMs (IBM is especially interesting as a company who in the last five years or so went from a bottom-left “Lost” to a top-right “Leader”.)
In the top-left, we have the “Marketers” I know several tech companies (that I won’t publicly name) in this quadrant, but I’d also add most junk food companies, several automobile manufacturers, clothing lines, many consumer goods manufacturers, service providers and retailers (Gap).

In the lower left, we have the lost. The lost are primarily hustling to make quarterly numbers. That is their only decision-making criterion. Their marketing is not very effective, their sales cycles are long and unpredictable, their employee engagement is low, their product quality is suffering, and they are generally unpleasant to do business with. Many of these companies once had a clear purpose, if not narrative, at one point, but somehow lost it along the way.  A couple of airlines come to mind, some technology and energy companies. Many are small companies that grew large.

In the lower-right, we have a small, fascinating set of companies. These are companies that have an intrinsic purpose that they are delivering on, but can’t quite articulate. Many highly innovative companies  – especially tech companies – live here. Think about twitter early on – or Reddit – they had some fanatical loyalists, but ask any of them why it was so great, and you got a lot of stuttering. One could say that the entire “social” marketplace still lives here to a large extent. There is one local tech company that I am a big fan of – they have an incredibly powerful approach technology and they are making a lot of money – but only two or three guys in the whole company can sell the product, because they are the only ones who can convey the tacit value of the company and what differentiates them from their competition. Their fans adore them, but they can’t quite cross the chasm because they lack a narrative that connects with a broader market. They recruit their team very, very carefully, and indoctrinate them with a longbreading list and a very strong culture – all good, but very tricky. They see themselves as a small band of brothers (with a few sisters thrown in) who are, in many ways, superior to all they see.

They aren’t necessarily wrong. Such companies tend to have charismatic personalities leading the way, standing in for mission. We are not quite certain as to whether Apple’s mission is clear enough to withstand succession from its charismatic founder to its COO. Check out this recent Apple ad campaign (thanks, Siobhan). I’ll let you judge the merits. An ad, of course, is not a mission, but Apple recently had to reveal its generous marketing budget, (really, we already knew they were spending serious money, didn’t we?) and an expensive ad is generally a company’s best shot at expressing its narrative.

Branding, Art and Limerence

What a brand wants: Limerence

Great parents, teachers, leaders and teammates have some surprising similarities. They get into other people’s heads. David Brooks editorial last year on the new business skills of attunement, sympathy and metis – leading to the condition of “limerence” . This term, in addition to being poetic and highly unusual in a business context, may be, in fact, the common link. And, I submit, that it is limerence at scale that is the true brand aspiration.

Brooks has very particular definitions of these words that are remarkable in their brevity and richness. Let’s review:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.
Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.
Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.
Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups. (note that Stowe Boyd just recast this word as Tympathy, which I love)

Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, or the challenge of a task.

 

Lovely, no? Keep these in mind and think again about what happens when a mother touches their child. The teacher, who reaches into your mind and helps you repaint reality. The leader who does exactly the same. A recent study rigorously demostrated that patterns of communication are the best predictor of team success. Is this another form or manifestation of limerence?

Limerence at Scale

How could a brand achieve this level of intimacy? How could it scale? Well – we do have examples of mass, limerent experiences – we generally call this art. Poetry, rock and roll, humor. The artist gets into our heads (though the reverse isn’t always true) directly through their work. At scale, perhaps we call this a community or a movement, or some thing we identify with.

As a brand, we want to create limerent moments – for our market and by them. How do we aspire toward limerence? (Well we start with meaning and authenticity. That is to say,  focus on something meaningful and communicate with authenticity. That’s a start. I watched “The Blind Side” with my kids the other day, so “Hope for authenticity, try for limerence” if you know what I mean.) When you dig deep and uncover a fundamental truth, when you get as near to art as business can, and when you are talking to the right audience then you might have limerence. Limerent moments can be lighthearted or deeply serious.

The “Imported from Detroit” ad that is now over a year old and which they have tried and failed to extend and expand were limerent. The other superbowl ad of that year that got more attention – the kid trying to channel “the force” into a volkswagon – that was too. 
Which brings me to the real thing that you want your brand to do.

Strive for it, brand manager

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, dear brand manager, is to evoke a truth, an aspiration, a meaning. You may say – oh that’s just for consumer stuff – “real” business isn’t aspirational. Government is anything but. Nay. I say.

Real business is complicated, and getting more so. B2B/G tech companies in particular are selling complicated things into complicated situations for complicated reasons. And enterprise is now dependent on more than a few of these technologies. The complexity, the unknowns, the risks, are paralytic.

And what those customers want – what they REALLY want – is for you to come in and say, don’t worry – I understand. I understand exactly what you’re going through, and I can give you the rich, poetic language that you need to understand it better yourself. I can give you a sense that your stress and confusion is not shameful. Its normal. And I have the solution. You want a limerent moment with them – where they suddenly feel understood, and liberated. They see a solution before them.

Of course it really does help if your products back it up. If, once they finish wiping the lenses of their glasses as they pause to absorb this little bit of truth you’ve handed them in the boardroom, if you don’t have the goods, it’s not going to go well.

It really, really matters
You need to have the meat to back it up. You need a model which describes how to get there, and the proof that your product or service delivers against it. Prove you’ve done it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a messaging hierarchy. This, ladies and gentleman is what the fullness of brand is. This, is marketing 2.0.

The real beauty of this aspirationally grounded messaging hierarchy, however, is that it is not just for the market, its for the team. Watch what happens when the engineering team begins to absorb it. Watch what happens when sales does. Suddenly your business is not a spreadsheet and a communal time clock. Suddenly it matters.

When you have that story that connects deeply with your market and your team, you have aligned the imaginations of your team. You have a brilliant way to tune your products. They are now thinking along common lines. They now have meaningful criteria to assess what they have and to make the millions of decisions – both large and small that make a product. The he-said, she-said is so much less important.

Many products share the same “value proposition” – the theoretical benefit you’ll realize from using it. But the difference between the theory and the reality is not the list of features, but the whole they create. When you have this deep connection with your audience, you have a clear vision of what your product needs to be (not do, be), you have the ability to transform your offering from a collection of capabilities to a meaningful whole.

When you think about the products or tech you love, you know that they have been built with deep insight and passion. They reflect the attunement, the metis, the sympathy of the makers, they are limerent products. The last thing I bought? A pot. Perhaps one of the first 100 things ever invented. But this pot is the best thing I’ve ever used. this pot made leftovers sublime. This pot changed my experience of making dinner. And no, I’m not kidding. (its a Staub). The team that made that pot did not make that sublime cooking vessel by thinking about the cheapest and fastest way to pour metal into a shape and slap handles on it and get it into the best sales channels. If you are investing in social software (or any software for that matter) are you comparing tick-mark features, or are you looking at who understands your needs best?

Social business is just a step along the way. You don’t want a social business – you want a business that matters.

The best is yet to come.

This is another cross post of a CMSWire article.

Image courtesy of wikimedia

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

If Social Business Is the Answer, What is the Question?

This article was originally published in 2 parts at CMSWire.

What are the fundamentals of Social Business? Tough question.  Maybe even the wrong question. Maybe the question is “What is different now, and why does it matter?” In fact, I’m still trying to figure out the question, (straining not to use the “42” analogy) and would be most interested in your opinion here. So, while I’m still not sure what the ultimate question is, here are 7 themes that are critically important to understand in order to understand. Interestingly, I’ve seen startling disagreement as to which are the most profound or mundane. [I will be pursing several of these over the next year. If you’re interested in joining me in exploring, researching or writing more on these, let me know.]

The first three themes I cover here refer to the mechanics and driving forces behind social. The next four (published in part two) speak to their implications for business.

1.    Humans, institutions and revolutions.

This is the foundation of the “social business” concept and everything else derives from this. Hierarchies and command and control institutions were society’s brilliant invention to scale and focus human activity toward a goal. This model has roots that pre-date the pyramids. It solves challenges of coordinated communication and will.  (I describe this is slightly greater detail here)

But now two things are happening. First, we don’t depend on hierarchy for communications. Top-down has, in fact, its become a bottleneck rather than an asset in the comms department. Second, the world is moving too fast and competition is too fierce for rigid command structures populated by people who could hardly care less to remain successful.

As a result, people are finding their own voice, their own insight, purpose and ambition – and many businesses are too. In little ways, such as the new social intranet at work, and of course the much, much bigger ways that democracy and freedom are being reexamined, tested and pursued throughout the world. The new organization’s role is to make that a good thing by aligning all that energy and capability with a worthy purpose and a networked leadership structure that learns and enables at the pace of human capability.

Social business is not anarchic, however. Decisions still need to be made and coordination is still critically important. So while the organization as a whole moves from a mechanistic to a humanistic ideal, leadership too, is paradigm-shifting from a patriarchal, omniscient ideal, to something else that still requires a name. “Servant-Leader” has been offered up, but I’m not yet convinced. In spite of new leadership’s namelessness, we do know a few things. Modern leadership asks questions. Modern leadership recognizes that the organization as a whole knows more than he or she as an individual. Modern leadership nurtures and orchestrates the organization around a common purpose, with the confidence to constantly move forward and the humility to look for every opportunity to do better. The modern leader doesn’t hoard power, they cultivate its flow through and accrual to the organization as a whole.

2.    The opposite of social business is fear. No, I am not exaggerating.

The problems of traditional command and control structures are legion, but the most debilitating can also be the most subtle. The 20th century ideal of the organization is the well-oiled machine – one where every part and process is defined and every cog shiny and efficient. Each person within it is expected to stay in their designated box and be perfect. That is, they should never make a mistake. And in this unpredictable, ambiguous and complicated world, predicting the future, and acting perfectly is rather difficult and ‘mistake’ is often just another term for “results”. So a primary motivator at work is being right and not making mistakes. Which leads to two profound problems. The first is that people only do what they know works. That’s an innovation buster right there. The other is that when problems arise, people are incented to HIDE them, both consciously and unconsciously. So all news is good news all the time. Learning and excellence are eliminated by definition. This would be a largely unintended consequence of a system designed to create stability, reliability and scale. Oopsie.

The fear of being wrong, looking foolish, or being rejected drives far too much of human behavior, and the vast majority of business behavior, and it has long been used as the primary motivator of work. If you are afraid of being wrong, you are not likely to ask the questions that hint at uncertainty. You are not likely to listen and look out for disconfirming information. As a result, we walk into failure with arms open and eyes shut. This is normal business. It is wasteful, it is absurd, and it is very unpleasant for its anxious participants.

Incentives are really just the other side of the coin  – the carrot and stick model is a fear based model. The antidote to this is first found in small teams – duoships, even (http://businessinnovationfactory.com/iss/video/bif6-keith-yamashita#). When a few people get together, motivated by a common cause and an intrinsic desire for autonomy, mastery and purpose, fear starts to recede and possibility opens up.

Such a team is incredibly powerful. They can probe the world, their doubts, their aspirations without fear, and with the support of other capable people. Their talents are amplified, their weaknesses diminished. If you have ever participated in such a team (and I hope you have), you understand this. When we have a shared goal, mutual respect and trust, we can deeply engage with our work by leveraging newly critical skills that David Brooks lays out with poetic beauty:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

Who wouldn’t want to be described thus?

3. Collaboration is the only way forward

That is to say, that humans working as pairs groups, teams, organizations and communities are where real value is created. The genius (or lack thereof) in an individual’s mind is an ever smaller (though still and always transcendentally important) part of the progress equation. Even Steve needed a team. This is why the advanced communication skills suggested by David Brooks matter so much. Collaboration has always existed, and we’ve always benefited from it, but now we are absolutely beholden to it. There are many reasons for this, but I think the most compelling explanation for this has two dimensions. The first is the above-mentioned renaissance of self-actualization, and the second is the exponentially-increasing complexity of the work that we do.

Economist Ricardo Hausmann describes this in terms of “Person Bytes”, which may be one of the most important business concepts to be articulated last year. . Hausmann details the phenomenon that as individuals we’re now capable of much less than our ancestors – few of us can build our own house, provide our own food, clothing, etc –  though as a society we can build much more. Toasters, for example, and computers, which are far too complex for any individual to construct entirely from scratch.

I’ve written several posts on collaboration, and there’s no reason to repeat myself here. Complexity is most effectively faced by groups with high collective intelligence. Research shows that a team’s high collective intelligence does not reflect the genius IQs of it’s members, but the excellent attunement and equipoise amongst them. Creativity, in the business realm, will turn out to be a balance between profound individual and group effort, and the possibility-opportunity expansion of multi-disciplinary, multi-perspective, “edge” exploration.

Reaping more than a trivial percentage of your team’s potential requires the kind of deep engagement that can only be derived from collaborative effort. If you’re working in any kind of complex, knowledge based industry, you are here or you are almost gone.

4.    The big ‘Why’ for business

I have recently heard people argue that the only reason for a business to participate in public social networks is to generate leads and revenue. That any “relationship” formed with any kind of businessperson in social networks is by nature manipulative and false. When it was a work colleague of mine saying this, I thought ah – this person needs a bit of re-education. When it was a friend on twitter, I nearly wept. So here is my response.

People invented business for a reason. I don’t want to spend all my time growing, harvesting and milling flour and baking bread. So I pay you to do it for me. I don’t know how to make a car, so I pay you for that too. In other words, people need business and vice versa. This is a symbiotic relation ship that became grossly distorted in the 20th century but is recovering in the 21st.

Business exists to create value efficiently enough that people can pay a fair price for the product while generating enough profit to enhance the prosperity of the people who constitute the business. That is the intention of capitalism.
One unintended consequence of the industrial era, however was that almost all the power of creation, economics and communication ended up with business. Consumers (that is, “people”) could like it or lump it. Marketing – the relationship between the business and the client – became about cold and crass manipulation of people for the purpose of maximizing shareholder value. Shareholders? Where do they fit into this balance? Ah. Well they do play an important role in society and business, but that role has had some unintended consequences as well. I don’t really want to go into it here, but Umair Haque does an eloquent job of it, and there is a cohort of other economists and philosophers who have similar views.

Back to the why. We need to restore this balance. Marketing, sales and business is not about (shouldn’t be about) manipulation or extortion. It is (and shall be) about being valuable. Social media is one of the ways this relationship is coming back into balance. The democratization of communication and the means of production are restoring individuals’ voice, (though they seem now to be most effective at bringing down bad restaurants, not so much on airlines) and enabling businesses to remember that they are, in fact, of, by and for actual people. Social business is the businesses way of participating and remaining relevant in a newly re-democratized world.

The proper social relationship between business and people is one of mutual ongoing value – it is not only “transactional “ (yes, @decodingdress, I’m talking to you). And to you too @jess3/@eloqua.

If you are a business who disagrees with me on this you don’t need raise your hand. We already know.

5.    Patterns, not metrics.

If you have spent any time in the “social business” world, you have been asked the metrics question. Metrics, in short, are trouble. [see this thought-shifting lecture by John Seddon ] On the one hand, few business institutions cause more negative, unintended consequences than metrics. People act to fulfill metrics because they replace meaningful goals. On the other hand, metrics can be very useful tools for learning. Use them wisely.

The key brain buster of social business, however, and social networks in general, is that these are emergent systems, and usually complex, emergent systems, and for the most part, understanding these has not been part the standard American curriculum or career path, so they are a foreign concept to most people.

For the uninitiated, I’m going to take a risky crack at a two-sentence definition of a complex adaptive system. First, it consists of many independent agents (like people or honeybees, or people and honeybees). Second, each agent can independently change its behavior at least to some extent, and third, the system exhibits properties that cannot be predicted from its initial conditions or rules. There is vast literature about these systems in areas of math, computer science, biology, and economics. Complex systems are closely related to Wicked Problems. If you want to change a complex system, you generally have a Wicked Problem.

The thing about emergent systems, is that unlike a mechanical system – your car engine, for instance, or even your iPhone – you cannot predict what will happen or easily discern cause and effect. What you can see and understand are patterns that emerge, and some of the characteristics of those patterns with which you can then experiment.

So – we are being asked and asked again to establish metrics for evaluating our social endeavors. There are three standard responses to this, and I’m not particularly fond of any of them.

Option 1: The only relevant metrics are leads, revenue and cost reduction.  This is the hard-nosed approach. Show me the money or shut the heck [sic] up. This is not without merit, but it can stop a lot of good work and expertise development.

Option 2: What is the ROI of your mother? This is the argument that we know its valuable, so stop trying to measure it and just do it.  This is also a useful model –  at times you just have to do it. There is a downside here too. Do we really wish to be unaccountable? Do we really not want to learn what there is to learn?

Option 3 The ROI is dependent on the goal. Define the goal then you get the metrics/ROI. This seems reasonable – I’ve often said it myself – and its probably the strongest argument, but it has limitations too. One of which is that often the goal is only clear in retrospect. This should improve with our collective experience in the realm, but will always be limited (see “emergent”).

Each of these is simultaneously right and wrong. The problem is this: our traditional use of metrics depends on systems that have generally predicable, linear relationships between cause and effect. Emergent systems are highly resistant to this type of prediction and analysis. You can measure the fever, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you if the patient is sick or well. An incredibly interesting phone call with @rhappe got us to this idea that you need to have faith in emergence, and in its non-linearity and look for signs that it is working. Metrics aren’t necessarily meaningful in nascent social systems, but patterns are. [The discussion of faith in this context is a juicy one, but for later.] [Note that there is an Option 4 that purports to measure things like employee engagement and collaborative-ness. Few executives truly care about these things, however, and even if they do, these are tautologies rather than outcomes.]

Humans detect patterns very, very well. That’s why we see a man in the moon.
What do I mean by a pattern? Well a really basic pattern is one where an interaction with a person creates another interaction with that person. That would be a good pattern. That pattern can be built into something of value for both customer and business. I laid out the basics of how to create a very simple behavior pattern.

This is what Nir Eyal’s notion of habits and “virulence” is getting at. One could say that a pattern that an individual adopts is a “habit” and how compelling that pattern is to people in general could be its viral-ness.

I have a point here and it is this. If you really want to be successful at initiating and nurturing emergent social systems, you need to be both aiming to develop patterns, and then looking for early signs of patterns that emerge. Patterns, not individual metrics. You must accept that to a certain extent, your system is non-linear and unpredictable. We must learn to recognize and embrace this. If nothing emerges, you don’t have a cohesive system, so you must tinker with it. If something emerges, understand it and nurture it.  We need to transition from metrics to patterns. (I plan to do some research here in the next few months, so if you are interested, or have relevant info, please ping me.)

6.  Let me be the first to say it in print (or printish-ness): the sales funnel is over.

The sales funnel was a brilliant framework coeval with knowledge management, cross-functional teams and other “modern” business concepts from the 1990s. It is a framework for understanding that a customer begins as a stranger, that there is a progression of steps to get them from there to purchase, and allows a methodical approach to optimizing this transition.

The profound problem with the Funnel is that not only does it treat good people like so much meat and statistics, but that its object is to filter out those that don’t make it to the next step. In other words, you start with 1000 “leads” (otherwise known as people who might be somewhat interested in what you do) and you instantly lop off 90% of them as you get to suspects, and repeat for prospects, and opportunities. The very language here is predatory, no? Not to mention the fact that you are “wasting” over 99% of the audience who has some interest in you. One thing I’ve learned in my years of marketing: never waste an audience.

What we want is to morph the “funnel” into more of a concentric circle or orbital model. Where you have the tightest, most active relationships with your customers who are in a tight orbit around you, and a few successively looser relationships with broader sets of people in wider orbits to whom you provide value in the form of info, connections, expertise, entertainment, etc, and who may someday become customers, or influence others who may, or give you continued insight into your key markets. The orbital model is a more human model that creates intimacy, insight, and an exchange of ideas and value. It is also a more efficient business model. It retains more audience and preserves and enhances its potential to generate more customers, build brand equity and expand your circle of influence. This is, in a sense, the goal of “content marketing” (which may be my least favorite term since “content”, which was last well used in a sentence by Martin Luther King, Jr when he dreamed of a man being judged only “by the content of his character”). I have much more work to do on this, so please stay tuned.

 

7.    It’s not about understanding social, it’s about understanding you.

So here it is. Why is social business hard? People will tell you its because of culture, habits, technology, blah, blah, blah. And all of that is true. But the biggest challenge in going social is not that its social, its that it is business. A more social approach to business quickly reveals business problems that have been rumbling under the surface. Gaps or deficiencies in your mission, goals, strategy, internal coordination, organization, processes and responsibilities start popping right out. Its disconcerting, and it can be discouraging. (Unless you have an organizational equipoise). Its also quite hard to push the cork back into the bottle, though some do try. In the current model, we’re accustomed to just live with things that aren’t well thought through, aren’t well understood, or perhaps well communicated – see “fear” above. Its not that big a deal that the left and right hands don’t know what one another is doing. Well, it is a big deal, but its easier to ignore what we can’t put our finger on. Social business engagement both inside and outside the organizational boundary forces us to face of all those dust-bunnies and piles that have been hanging around under our metaphorical desks for years. You have to suit up for some spring cleaning.

Take a simple example. A number of companies, from Cox, to United to Best Buy have seen their service organizations get pro-active in social media, and benefited enormously from it. Others have their service people, if they are on twitter at all, say “please open a ticket” to anyone who asks for help. Why? Because they are not allowed to answer a customer without a ticket, and cannot open one themselves. This is because on the one hand, they only get evaluated by management on number of tickets closed (stupid metrics) and on the other, they can only ensure that issues are resolved if they are ticketed. And in many cases, changing this is, for some inexplicable reason (that probably turns out to be a recursive example of the same phenomenon), something that cannot be accomplished in under six months.

The number one thing that keeps people back from participating in social, both inside and outside the company is that they don’t feel they know what is going on, they don’t understand the message or the mission, or don’t believe in it. They are not equipped to represent. This may be the reason behind the surprising and surprisingly rapid shift in analyst-predicted total social technology industry revenue from the marketing use case to the internal use case. The rank and file are clamoring for internal social because they want to do better, and want to be part of the solution.
It is a rare organization that is Purpose-Driven, clear and confident in its value, strategy and path. It is an even rarer organization where that insight and confidence is evenly distributed throughout the organization. And rarer still, one that understands how to transform decision-making into a real-time learning orchestration exercise.

So the key question isn’t “what is social business”, it is “what is your business?” Answer that, and social is a relative piece of cake.

The best is yet to come.

Customer Experience: We Want To Be Adored

this post originally appeared in CMSWire

Customer Experience Management: We want to be adored.

Customer Experience Management is the latest impossible to define, understand or implement concept coming at the enterprise. We think it might have something to do with Marketing or Customer Support or Metrics. It is owned by the CMO or maybe the COO or IT or Sales. Oh – it’s a corporate-wide initiative. We love those. We have maturity models, so it must be important, and tantalizingly, some organizations are very successful with it.

But what is it? And how do we get a grip on this swirl of a (dare I say wicked?) problem? How do we organize our thoughts and our actions around it to reach that green light at the end of the dock, the customer experience that customers love.

1. Aspire

You want to be wanted and valued. You want people to want to associate with you. You want people to think of you as an example. You want them to enjoy your company, so to speak. Because the most financially successful companies are the ones that are cherished. It is more than that, of course. You want to be cherished because, other than a few poikiotherms on the financial strategy team, the people in your organization would rather be great than not.

Interestingly, customers (alternatively known as “users”, or more colloquially, “people”) also want to be cherished. They want to be valued, they want to be accommodated, and they want to get at least fair value out of their investments of time, energy and money.

If you want this kind of emotional response from your customer, you have to convey a dedication to purpose and sense of values that make your brand and your brand experiences meaningful. You have to aspire to be great.

I am proposing a model of CXM that is based on three key principals: Meaning, Value and Accommodation. These principles set up a pattern for thinking about your work that will help your organization make the many small moves on the many, many fronts that will lead to success.

2. Meaning, Value and Accommodation

Research in the 1990’s showed (not surprisingly) that, for consumer brands, the more positively people feel about the brand, the more financially successful the business is. In the newly social world, this is increasingly important. In the case of complex B2B and B2G companies, it is critical. This is why “no one ever got fired for choosing IBM” or Microsoft, for that matter. Malcom Gladwell dubbed this effect “Blink”, Simon Sinek calls it the Golden Circle. This is perhaps even more important when you are not selling to an individual, but to a team – as is normally the case in B2B and B2C sales. That emotional connection is one of the few shared “truths” of that entire team. This kind of truth makes your brand a very, very good investment.

But what does it mean to invest in your brand in the context of customer experience? It means three things: 1) Meaning 2) value and 3) accommodation – not always in that order.

What do we mean by meaning? A meaning or a purpose is the notion that your brand and your organization stands for something beyond a simple product or service. That there are values and aspirations you strive to embody and enable. Apple means design, power, cool, simplicity. Buick is the rebirth of Detroit. Levis is about the American experience. Disney is about family friendly entertainment. Zappos is about perfect customer service.

In most cases your aspiration or your meaning comes from a sense of where you’d like to go, and how you’d like to get there. In B2B business, it includes a sense of expertise, leadership and empowerment: expertise in the subject area, leadership in terms of helping customers understand how to move forward, and empowerment in terms of how the technology quality.

Everything you do can embody your meaning. Your website and its contents, your social media presence, your customer service process, your billboards and your billing. Look at each as an opportunity to be meaningful.

Value – as in any commercial transaction, the buyer should feel as though they are getting good value for the time and/or money they are investing. The measure of this varies widely, but the concept is simple.

Accommodation – here’s the key to great customer experience. How easy, comfortable and accommodating is your product, website, customer service, etc? Ease of use, convenience and a sense of being catered to – of being valued is critical at every stage of the relationship. Do your customers feel as though they are held hostage? Many banks, airlines and cable companies are held in this sort of contempt. To earn devoted customers and fans, make sure your product is a delight to use, and all of the other associated assets – your website, billing and customer service are equally

3. Know your customer

To truly be valuable and accommodating, you need to know and love your customers. There are several ways you must “know” your customers.
a. Intimately understand the market and people involved. Who are these people? What do they do with their time? How do they make decisions? What do they care about? Engage them in conversation – either through social media or IRL (in real life).
b. As much feedback as you can gather about how they feel about you and your products. from surveys, conversations, sentiment analysis and more.
c. Consistent and accessible customer information so that whenever anyone is talking or otherwise communicating with a customer, they know all they should about that customer’s history and relationship with the company.

d. Know your customer experience map
If you want to create a great experience you need to be aware of how your customers needs change at various point in your relationship. As you develop the design and content for each interaction, think through who’s coming to it, at what stage of their relationship, and with what goal in mind. Customer experience maps will vary from business to business, but will have this general shape. Consider your map a cheat-sheet for understanding the impact of each interaction, and what you want that impact to be. In general, you’ll be trying to move them up the slope to a closer relationship. What does this person need from you to move forward?

4. Build high quality experiences
Products, websites, self-service portals, customer communications, customer support, must all reach for excellence in their meaning value and accommodation. That means that they must do the right things, convey the right message, and do it in the most easy to use way possible. They must each demonstrate a careful consideration of the users needs and preferences.

5. Ensure a cohesive and coordinated experience for every customer at every stage.
If you’re a company of any size, it is not that easy for an individual know or recall every bit of what you have out there at any time. This is where the principles of meaning, value, and accommodation really come in. If everyone on the team is deeply attuned to purpose and message; and the marketing ops, service ops and creative teams have shared resources, capabilities, and access, a beautifully consistent and emergent whole can arise. Ensure that everyone understands the customer experience map (and the customer) and takes it into account as they plan and execute.
You may not have perfectly strict, choreographed consistency (or you might, if that’s your thing)– but that has its upside. It allows for learning and evolution.

6. One Ring to Rule Them All: Your Team

Every word, experience or image you exchange with a customer is created and delivered by your team. Your team is the driver of your customer experience. Interestingly, there are all kinds of interesting data about how employee engagement is a great predictor of customer satisfaction, and then of revenue, and even growth.

This – in addition to the fact that we all would prefer purposeful, engaging, self-actualized work to mind-numbing, conforming mediocrity – not to mention the limitless and breathtaking potential for invention and re-imagination that such engaged people have – is the best argument for investing in your team. Hire good people. Talk to them a lot. And give them fantastic tools for communication, collaboration and the execution of their work. Make certain they are meaningful, valuable, and a pleasure to use. (We also like a good dental plan and coffee.)

The Tempkin Group recently delivered a report that shows that companies with more engaged employees have better customer satisfaction as well as higher revenues.

Aberdeen also recently published  research (underwritten by my employer, OpenText) showing that great CXM makes a very big difference indeed, especially, (but not surprisingly), in customer retention.

In conclusion.
Roll up your sleeves, there’s work to do. Forrester says excellence here is yet rare. But focus that work on earning the respect and affection of the people who matter – our customers and ourselves. Enjoy how it feels and what it produces. Be adored.

The best is yet to come.