Knowing we could be eliminated from the running for a job we want, should we answer interview questions that are irrelevant or even illegal? Continue reading
January 30th Advertising Age posted an article about ageism. Too late for the gray-hairs. I seem to recall everyone over 50 (maybe it was 40, but it seemed like 50 when I was 20) was fired for making too much money. Now it’s too much or not enough of something else.
I learned that lesson the hard way. Here’s my response posted to Ad Age just now:
I worked in advertising at the big creative agencies on both coasts for more than 18 years. When I hit 40 and was living in L.A. at the time, an well known ad agency owner looked up from his desk and said “I wouldn’t hire you ever no how no way”. When I asked why he said, “I can get someone half your age to work twice as hard for half the money”. Now that was a slap in the head with a two by four, no doubt, not to mention illegal but he was only saying what they all thought and didn’t want to say. It took a recruiter to sit me down and explain ageism to me.
Ironically, it was only then that I realized the only way to keep working was to keep reinventing myself in the digital world. I got a lowly job in a think tank in the Venice CA tech hub. Once there felt about code the way once felt about film. I was a sponge for technology and because there was nothing but new ground to cover, pulled out the stops, learned and accomplished things I would have been prohibited from doing in the Agency world.
While I love my colleagues and value experience in the advertising world, digital technology was the trip I seized and am still on. I am an award winning blogger, a sponge for all things digital and a well respected electronic commerce marketing specialist. TOTALLY SELF-TAUGHT.
In this new industry there are no holds barred as long as you are willing to stick your neck out and hit the trail.
Owner Maven Media New York
Blogging @ ExecutiveWomen2.0
Don’t Fret. Just Ask for What You Need.
By PEGGY KLAUS
Reprinted from The New York Times.
Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011
“YOU can’t be afraid to ask,” my Uncle Art used to say when recounting tales of his successful 40-odd-year career selling mattresses up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
My uncle was talking about making the sale, but corporate types need to ask for what they need, too. This is especially true for women, who, in spite of an increase in diversity training, mentoring and sponsorship programs, still lag far behind men in reaching senior management and C-suite positions. In fact, in 2010, only 14.4 percent of the executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies were held by women.
Whether from fear of being perceived as too aggressive or too selfish, women tend not to be comfortable asking for what they want. And when they do ask, it can be in ineffective ways.
Often, women’s speech is peppered with tentative and indirect phrases that scream a lack of confidence, such as, “I’m not really sure, but you could try it this way,” or, “Now, I’m not an expert, but …” or, “I think this is a good idea — do you?”
Many women have also adopted an upward vocal inflection at the end of sentences, a regrettable characteristic popularized by the Valley Girl. It turns a strong declarative statement into a question, conveying weakness, uncertainty and a request for approval.
In addition, and perhaps most important, professional women sometimes forget to build their case around the things that matter most to their employer — principally, the impact on the bottom line. That was true for one high-producing client of mine, who needed a more flexible schedule that would allow her to work from home one day a week.
While she knew she could make the change work seamlessly for her clients and her direct reports, she was still very reluctant to ask. She worried that her boss would demote her to part time and cut her salary.
After addressing her fears of the possible consequences, we went to work on perfecting her “ask.” We prepared a brief, clear account of why she needed to make this change and described how she could do her job without harming clients, colleagues or the bottom line.
The dreaded conversation with the boss lasted exactly 10 minutes. It was cut short the moment he told her: “I have no doubt we can make this work. In fact, if you should need to work another day at home, just let me know, and we’ll see how we can manage it.”
It just goes to show you: you’ve got to ask.
Another client, a managing director of an international investment bank, says women need to be bold and straightforward when stating what they need to achieve their goals.
“My 25-year career path has included several job changes,” she said. “And with each new job, there was always a male colleague who was responsible for introducing me around the firm. In every case, my cordial host would introduce me almost exclusively to women. I know they thought they were helping me, but, in fact, it was the introductions to the men I couldn’t manage on my own.”
She was quick to add that the “women only” introductions had nothing to do with trying to undermine her success. The men had simply assumed that she’d be more comfortable with other women.
But how will a business see a return on investment if women cultivate relationships only with other women? The answer is: It won’t.
From her previous experiences, my client had learned to ask for the help she needed. A few years back, when male colleagues welcomed her into the company with an offhanded yet well-meaning “Let me know if I can do anything for you,” my client knew exactly how to respond:
Introduce me to the top 10 people in the firm. Include me when you and the guys go out for dinner. Arrange a breakfast with the firm’s top traders, and let me introduce myself and my team. Count me in when the firm signs up for any corporate sponsorships. Invite me to your quarterly top-client events.
In addition to these requests, my client had the courage — some might call it the chutzpah — to schedule an appointment with the chief executive and tell him what kind of support she was seeking. When colleagues asked why she had gone to see the C.E.O., she told them: “The firm’s paying me a lot of money to do a great job. What C.E.O. wouldn’t want to help me do that?”
THE act of putting your stake in the ground — stating exactly what you want — is scary for most women. We worry that if we’re too direct, we’ll alienate the very audience we’re trying to win over.
Unfortunately, in the corporate world there is a narrower band of acceptable communication for women than for men. Even so, we can find ways to ask for what we need. Unfair as it may seem, women do have to be more attuned to the listener and more careful in determining the best way to say what needs to be said. But look on the bright side: for a gender with a propensity for zeroing in on the feelings of others, we’ve got a head start.
Peggy Klaus consults with executives and organizations on leadership and communication. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q&A (unedited) On Leadership
Charles Michael Austin, Ed.D. (“Dr. Chaz”) is President at Dr. Charles Michael Austin. He is a Career Mentor, College Professor & Curriculum Designer at various colleges and universities in Southern California.
How important in the roster of leadership qualities are attitude, habit and discipline? What weight would you assign them?
I assume discipline is present – in any professional. And certainly in a leader.
Habit can – and usually does – have a downside. As in, “that’s the way we do things around here.”
Attitude is the key. Are you open to new ideas? Can you make course corrections as needed? Can you give credit to a subordinate for something you didn’t think of? Can you get your own ego out of the way? We’ve probably all had bosses who’ve said to us, “My door is always open.” Going for the bait, we’ve gone in to pitch a new idea, only to leave the office like a flat tire because of the boss/leader’s needed to dominate.
What others, in your opinion, are coveted qualities of business leaders?
A. The ability to shut up and listen.
B. Making the people that report to you feel valued for their contributions.
C. Being crystal clear about what you want – and by when you want it.
D. Perspective. Except for hospital emergency rooms, no one is going to die if a deadline is missed. But so many leaders behave as if it’s always a life and death situation. It’s not. If you can lighten up, it goes a long way towards making those who report to you feel safe. People are more likely to take risks if they feel safe.
E. Allowing people to fail. If you’ve hired good people and let them do their jobs, they will occasionally screw up. There is no need to berate them. You’re not their mom/dad and they’re not your “bad” child. They’ll learn from their mistakes and probably not repeat them.
Do you think there is finally equality between men and women in the work place?
No. Things have improved, but we need to be continually vigilant. Sometimes it feels like the Womens’ Movement never happened. Look at the ongoing popularity of “laddie magazines.” We’ve reverted to objectifying women, and that sort of attitude no doubt spills over into the workplace. As Erma Bombeck said, “We’ve got a generation now who were born with semi-equality. They don’t know how it was before, so they think, this isn’t too bad. We’re working. We have our attache cases and our three piece suits. I get very disgusted with the younger generation of women. We had a torch to pass, and they are just sitting there. They don’t realize it can be taken away. Things are going to have to get worse before they join in fighting the battle.”
When most companies are tightening their belts and employees are not shaking things up, how much does risk taking (challenging the corporate orthodoxy) play a part in your advice for executives seeking to stand out in a corporation?
My advice is: don’t. Companies say they want “outside the box” thinking, but in practice they don’t. You want to take risks, start your own company.
Brevity is becoming a communications fact of life. When is brevity not such a good idea?
When it replaces genuine communication. Human beings are inclined to avoid confrontation. A quick tweet or text or email helps us dodge the uncomfortable face-to-face meeting where bad news needs to be conveyed. I think one of the things that has helped make me successful is that confrontation is one of my hobbies. I’ve always found that being direct with people deepens relationships. Not direct as in “you’re bad and wrong, and here’s why,” which is verbal vomiting that disempowers people. I’m talking about collaborative communication whose context is “what worked/what didn’t.” That takes it away from the personal attack, shifting the focus to problem solving.
You are a specialist in career development. What are the differences between setting a career path in your twenties and in your forties or even fifties?
Presumably, by the time you’ve hit forty, you’ve gained some wisdom and developed some sense of what your talents are and where and how you can make a contribution to others. My clients and students who are in their twenties very seldom have a career path. They may have a passion (or so they think), and my advice to them is to get to work in some capacity in their field of choice to learn where and how they fit.
The meta-conversation, though, is that most people do things in their careers that they never would have imagined in their twenties; that career choices are usually unplanned accidents or matters of serendipity. If someone would have told me in my twenties that I’d hold a Doctorate in Education and (among other things) be a college professor, I would have told them that they were crazy and that that would never, never happen. You need to be open to the unexpected.
What is one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?
Ego. “I’m the boss. I know best.”
Your Ed.D. dissertation discusses the inherent value of career coursework in higher education. What is your summary finding on planning for a career when college is often a place to “find ourselves”?
That’s both the subject of my dissertation and my book (to be published later this year).
Having some career direction by the time you graduate is part of finding ourselves. Unless you’re a trust fund baby, you’ll need to make money after you graduate (if only to start paying off your student loans). There’s enormous pressure on college students (from their parents, usually) to find “the perfect job,” and so many students have no clue what that might be – or even what they want to do. So, just get to work. If it’s not what you (think you) love, then at least have it be something you’d like to do. Get started. Meet people. Learn things. Trust that you’ll find your way – and eventually discover you passion(s). That’s plural because most people in their twenties can expect to have five or six careers. So even if you do find “the perfect job,” there will most likely be others during your lifetime.
What expectation is realistic when it comes to setting today’s career path?
Corporate loyalty is dead. Everyone is a freelancer, and their own brand. People need to be trained to determine, articulate and sell that brand – for as long as they work. The sooner they start doing that, the better their chances of continuing to find work that’s satisfying – both creatively and financially.
Distilling the Wisdom of C.E.O.’s
By ADAM BRYANT
This article was adapted from “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed,” by Adam Bryant, author of the weekly “Corner Office” column in The New York Times. The book, published Tuesday by Times Books, analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders.
IMAGINE 100 people working at a large company. They’re all middle managers, around 35 years old. They’re all smart. All collegial. All hard-working. They all have positive attitudes. They’re all good communicators.
So what will determine who gets the next promotion, and the one after that? Which of them, when the time comes, will get that corner office?
In other words, what does it take to lead an organization — whether it’s a sports team, a nonprofit, a start-up or a multinational corporation? What are the X factors?
Interviews I conducted with more than 70 chief executives and other leaders for Corner Office in The New York Times point to five essentials for success — qualities that most of those C.E.O.’s share and look for in people they hire.
The good news: these traits are not genetic. It’s not as if you have to be tall or left-handed. These qualities are developed through attitude, habit and discipline — factors that are within your control. They will make you stand out. They will make you a better employee, manager and leader. They will lift the trajectory of your career and speed your progress.
These aren’t theories. They come from decades of collective experience of top executives who have learned firsthand what it takes to succeed. From the corner office, they can watch others attempt a similar climb and notice the qualities that set people apart. These C.E.O.’s offered myriad lessons and insights on the art of managing and leading, but they all shared five qualities: Passionate curiosity. Battle-hardened confidence. Team smarts. A simple mind-set. Fearlessness.
What follows are excerpts from chapters on each of them.
Many successful chief executives are passionately curious people. It is a side of them rarely seen in the media and in investor meetings, and there is a reason for that. In business, C.E.O.’s are supposed to project confidence and breezy authority as they take an audience through their projections of steady growth. Certainty is the game face they wear. They’ve cracked the code.
But get them away from these familiar scripts, and a different side emerges. They share stories about failures and doubts and mistakes. They ask big-picture questions. They wonder why things work the way they do and whether those things can be improved upon. They want to know people’s stories, and what they do.
It’s this relentless questioning that leads entrepreneurs to spot new opportunities and helps managers understand the people who work for them, and how to get them to work together effectively. It is no coincidence that more than one executive uttered the same phrase when describing what, ultimately, is the C.E.O.’s job: “I am a student of human nature.”
The C.E.O.’s are not necessarily the smartest people in the room, but they are the best students — the letters could just as easily stand for “chief education officer.”
“You learn from everybody,” said Alan R. Mulally, the chief executive of the Ford Motor Company. “I’ve always just wanted to learn everything, to understand anybody that I was around — why they thought what they did, why they did what they did, what worked for them, what didn’t work.”
Why “passionate curiosity”? The phrase is more than the sum of its parts, which individually fall short in capturing the quality that sets these C.E.O.’s apart. There are plenty of people who are passionate, but many of their passions are focused on just one area. There are a lot of curious people in the world, but they can also be wallflowers.
But “passionate curiosity” — a phrase used by Nell Minow, the co-founder of the Corporate Library — better captures the infectious sense of fascination that some people have with everything around them.
Passionate curiosity, Ms. Minow said, “is indispensable, no matter what the job is. You want somebody who is just alert and very awake and engaged with the world and wanting to know more.”
Though chief executives are paid to have answers, their greatest contributions to their organizations may be asking the right questions. They recognize that they can’t have the answer to everything, but they can push their company in new directions and marshal the collective energy of their employees by asking the right questions.
“In business, the big prizes are found when you can ask a question that challenges the corporate orthodoxy,” said Andrew Cosslett, the C.E.O. of the InterContinental Hotels Group. “In every business I’ve worked in, there’s been a lot of cost and value locked up in things that are deemed to be ‘the way we do things around here.’ So you have to talk to people and ask them, ‘Why do you do that?’ ”
It’s an important lesson. For all the furrowed-brow seriousness that you often encounter in the business world, some of the most important advances come from asking, much like a persistent 5-year-old, the simplest questions. Why do you do that? How come it’s done this way? Is there a better way?
Some qualities are easier to spot than others. Passionate curiosity? It’s there for all to see. There’s an energy from people who have it. Other qualities are tougher to discern, especially the ability to handle adversity. Some people embrace adversity, even relish it, and they have a track record of overcoming it. They have battle-hardened confidence.
If there were some test to find out whether a person had this quality, it would be a huge moneymaker. But people, and companies, reveal how they deal with adversity only when they are faced with potential or real failure, and the status quo is not an option.
The best predictor of behavior is past performance, and that’s why so many chief executives interview job candidates about how they dealt with failure in the past. They want to know if somebody is the kind of person who takes ownership of challenges or starts looking for excuses.
“I think hiring great people remains extremely, extremely hard,” said Jen-Hsun Huang of Nvidia. “You can never really tell how somebody deals with adversity. When you have a difficult situation, some people just take it and run with it. Some people see adversity and they cower, as talented as they are. You could ask them about the adversity they had in the past, but you never really know the intensity of that adversity.”
Many C.E.O.’s seem driven by a strong work ethic forged in adversity. As they moved up in organizations, the attitude remained the same — this is my job, and I’m going to own it. Because of that attitude, they are rewarded with more challenges and promotions.
“I like hiring people who have overcome adversity, because I believe I’ve seen in my own career that perseverance is really important,” said Nancy McKinstry, the chief executive of Wolters Kluwer, the Dutch publishing and information company. “I will ask them directly: ‘Give me an example of some adverse situation you faced, and what did you do about it, and what did you learn from it?’ The people I’ve hired who have had that ability to describe the situation have always worked out, because they’re able to sort of fall down, dust themselves off, and keep fighting the next day.”
The chief executives’ stories help bring to life a concept known as “locus of control.” In general, it refers to people’s outlooks and beliefs about what leads to success and failure in their lives. Do they tend to blame failures on factors they cannot control, or do they believe they have the ability to shape events and circumstances by making the most of what they can control? It’s a positive attitude mixed with a sense of purpose and determination. People who have it will take on, and own, any assignment thrown their way. They say those words that are music to a manager’s ears: “Got it. I’m on it.”
At some point, the notion of being a team player became devalued in corporate life. It has been reduced to a truism — I work on a team, therefore I am a team player. It’s a point captured in a cartoon, by Mike Baldwin, in which an interviewer says to a job candidate: “We need a dedicated team player. How are you at toiling in obscurity?”
The most effective executives are more than team players. They understand how teams work and how to get the most out of the group. Just as some people have street smarts, others have team smarts.
Mark Pincus, the C.E.O. of the Zynga Game Network, the online gaming company, said he learned lessons about teamwork playing soccer in school. Even today, when he plays in Sunday-morning games, he said, he can spot people who would be good hires because of how they play.
“One is reliability,” he said. “There are certain people you just know are not going to make a mistake, even if the other guy’s faster than they are, or whatever. And are you a playmaker? There are people who have this kind of intelligence, and they can make these great plays. It’s not that they’re star players, but they will get you the ball and then be where you’d expect to put it back to them. It’s like their heads are really in the game.”
Team smarts is also about having good “peripheral vision” for sensing how people react to one another, not just how they act.
“We were sitting with a group of about 40 to 50 managers, and people were standing up to raise certain issues,” he recalled. “And I watched this one executive. People were riveted to him, really listening and engaged. And then this other executive addressed the group, and I watched everyone’s eyes. And their eyes went back down to their tables. It was a clear signal that said, ‘You’ve lost us.’ So sometimes you don’t know what the messages are that you’re going to get, but you have to look for them. They come from your peripheral vision.”
Companies increasingly operate through ad hoc teams. Team smarts refers to the ability to recognize the players the team needs and how to bring them together around a common goal.
“Early on, I was wowed by talent, and I was willing to set aside the idea that this person might not be a team player,” said Susan Lyne, chairman of the Gilt Groupe. “Now, somebody needs to be able to work with people — that’s No. 1 on the list. I need people who are going to be able to build a team, manage a team, recruit well and work well with their peers. The people who truly succeed in business are the ones who actually have figured out how to mobilize people who are not their direct reports.”
A Simple Mind-Set
There is a stubborn disconnect in many companies. Most senior executives want the same thing from people who present to them: be concise, get to the point, make it simple. Yet few people can deliver the simplicity that many bosses want. Instead, they mistakenly assume that the bosses will be impressed by a long PowerPoint presentation that shows how diligently they researched a topic, or that they will win over their superiors by talking more, not less.
Few things seem to get C.E.O.’s riled up more than lengthy PowerPoint presentations. It’s not the software they dislike; that’s just a tool. What irks them is the unfocused thinking that leads to an overlong slide presentation. There is wide agreement it’s a problem: “death by PowerPoint” has become a cliché.
If so many executives in positions of authority are clear about what they want, why can’t they get the people who report to them to lose the “Power” part of their presentations and simply get to the “Point”?
There are a few likely explanations. A lot of people have trouble being concise. Next time you’re in a meeting, ask somebody to give you the 10-word summary of his or her idea. Some people can do a quick bit of mental jujitsu, and they’ll summarize an idea with a “Here’s what’s important …” or “The bottom line is … .” Others will have trouble identifying the core point.
Another possible explanation is that a lag exists in the business world. There was a time when simply having certain information was a competitive advantage. Now, in the Internet era, most people have easy access to the same information. That puts a greater premium on the ability to synthesize, to connect dots in new ways and to ask simple, smart questions that lead to untapped opportunities.
“I’d love to teach a course called ‘The Idea,’ ” said Dany Levy, the founder of DailyCandy.com. “Which is, basically, so you want to start a company, how’s it going to work? Let’s figure it out: just a very practical plan, but not a business plan, because I feel like business plans now feel weighty and outdated. It seems, back in the day, that the longer your business plan was, the more promising it was going to be. And now, the shorter your business plan is, the more succinct and to the point it is, the better. You want people to get why your business is going to work pretty quickly.”
Steven A. Ballmer, the C.E.O. of Microsoft, said he understood the impulse in presentations to share all the underlying research that led to a conclusion. But he changed the way he runs meetings to get to the conclusion first.
“The mode of Microsoft meetings used to be: You come with something we haven’t seen in a slide deck or presentation,” he said. “You deliver the presentation. You probably take what I will call ‘the long and winding road.’ You take the listener through your path of discovery and exploration, and you arrive at a conclusion.
“I decided that’s not what I want to do anymore. I don’t think it’s efficient. So most meetings nowadays, you send me the materials and I read them in advance. And I can come in and say: ‘I’ve got the following four questions. Please don’t present the deck.’ That lets us go, whether they’ve organized it that way or not, to their recommendation. And if I have questions about the long and winding road and the data and the supporting evidence, I can ask them. But it gives us greater focus.”
Are you comfortable being uncomfortable? Do you like situations where there’s no road map or compass? Do you start twitching when things are operating smoothly, and want to shake things up? Are you willing to make surprising career moves to learn new skills? Is discomfort your comfort zone?
In other words, are you fearless?
Risk-taking is often a quality associated with entrepreneurs, the kind of people who make bet-the-farm wagers on a new idea. But risk-taking doesn’t quite capture the quality that many C.E.O.’s embody and look for and encourage in others.
With the business world in seemingly endless turmoil, maintaining the status quo — even when things appear to be working well — is only going to put you behind the competition. So when chief executives talk about executives on their staffs who are fearless, there is a reverence in their voices. They wish they could bottle it and pass it out to all their employees. They’re looking for calculated and informed risk-taking, but mostly they want people to do things — and not just what they’re told to do.
“One of the things that I characterize as fearlessness is seeing an opportunity, even though things are not broken,” said Ursula M. Burns, the C.E.O. of Xerox. “Someone will say: ‘Things are good, but I’m going to destabilize them because they can be much better and should be much better. We should change this.’ The easiest thing to do is to just keep it going the way it’s going, especially if it’s not perfect but it’s not broken. But you have to be a little bit ahead of it, and you have to try to fix it well before you have to. Companies get into trouble when they get really complacent, when they settle in and say, ‘O.K., we’re doing O.K. now.’ ”
Many executives said fearlessness was one of the top qualities they’re looking for when they were interviewing job candidates.
“Specifically, in this culture I have to have people who not only can manage change but have an appetite for it,” said Mindy F. Grossman, the C.E.O. of HSN, the parent company of Home Shopping Network. “They tend to be more intellectually curious, so they don’t just have vertical climbs. I ask for those stories. I love hearing them and it gives me a real sense of the person.”
Like the other four keys to success, fearlessness is an attitude, and because attitude is one of the few things over which everyone has complete control, it is a character trait that can be developed. It can be fostered with a simple approach to taking more risks.
Chief executives advise that you will be rewarded for fearlessness, because so few people live that way and bring this attitude to work. It is risky. You may unsettle people by shaking up the status quo. But if you have the best interests of the organization in mind, you can unlock new opportunities for the company and for yourself.
These five qualities help determine who will be chosen for bigger roles and more responsibility. Those promotions will inevitably bring challenges that require learning through trial and error.
C.E.O.’s can act as mentors to speed people along that learning curve. They may not develop silver-bullet theories, but they are experts in leadership because they practice it daily. And many of them have spent years honing their leadership styles, studying what works and what doesn’t, and then teaching others.
Chief executives face criticism from many corners, and it is often deserved. But there is no arguing that they have achieved a great deal.
Through their stories, lessons and insights, they have much to offer beyond the hard numbers.
The triggering event, of course, is the advent of a global communication
system that restores the banter of the bazaar,
that tears down power structures and senseless bureaucracies,
that puts everyone in touch with everyone.
From The Forward to the Cluetrain Manifesto
By Thomas Petzinger, Jr., The Wall Street Journal Author of The New Pioneers
Quotient or DNA? That’s the question.
If you have a Digital Quotient, you’ve learned most of your way through Microsoft Office, AOL, Hotmail or some other free email service and more than likely have your “tech guy” on speed dial. If you have Digital DNA, you probably had a MAC before Apple was chic, must have the latest gear and don’t need to flaunt it (you buy the plain black skin for it without a logo) and you can’t wait to get your sticky little fingers (from late night Twinkies, of course) on any new apps, programs, code, inside news, gossip AND your hacker’s on speed dial.
Somewhere in between is where I am. I had the first Apple laptop back in the early 1990’s, my favorite people are geeks and the digital references I make are over most people’s heads. Ok, so now that we’ve established that, there’s the matter of the digital divide. Still here and still thriving. I was around for the commercialization of the Internet and a thing called the “Cluetrain Manifesto“, written in 1999. That document was created, among other reasons, to inform marketers and advertisers that people using the Internet don’t want to be sold to. In short, as Thomas Petzinger, Jr., The Wall Street Journal put it, “an obituary of business as usual. ” And I quote:
The idea that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human.
That engineering remains second-rate without aesthetics.
That natural, human conversation is the true language of commerce.
That corporations work best when the people on the inside have the fullest contact possible with the people on the outside.
Fade out. Fade in. It’s the 2011, Ad Age Digital Conference here in New York City and the same principle applies. The conference is sold out and yet, the Keynote and other speakers, pretty much reiterate the same idea that those guys did. The difference is that marketers have to have their backs, or bucks, against the wall before they get the message.
This year’s conference was mostly about this. About staying out of the consumer’s way. About NOT selling but joining. About being a buddy (as in Media Buddy) and not a bully. About EXpression, not IMpression. The market place is changing so rapidly that we marketers and advertisers can’t consume the information about this change fast enough. As a sidebar, the year one Ad Age Digital conference had no sponsorship dollars at all. Now in only five years time, there are more than twenty. Presentations were delivered by such important companies as Google, Electronic Arts, Samsung, Lexus, Best Buy, Converse, Dell and more.
Aren’t We Always Rethinking Advertising?
First there were cave walls. Fast forward to print, radio, TV, satellite, digital etc etc. Each one of these innovations brings a retrench. Most professional marketers know this and still, there’s a lot of time and money spent measuring past results to predict future ones.
Social Activity (like communities, polls, Q&A, notifications, status, comments, games, group buying, virtual currency, social missions, social goods, check ins and the rest) is the largest consumption of time spent on the Internet today. To get marketers in the stream of activity means leaning forward like your customers are. This is activity, Folks, not media. Before activity was outside of advertising, now a marketer can leverage activity in the mainstream to have contact with 100 million people on a monthly basis to, say, help consumers build a virtual city.
Brand Lift Is The New Holy Grail.
Though corporations insist on seeing it as one,
the new marketplace is not necessarily a market at all.
To its inhabitants, it is primarily a place in which all
participants are audience to each other.
The entertainment is not packaged; it is intrinsic.
From Introduction to the Cluetrain Manifesto by Chrsotpher Locke
If you aren’t hip to this, sorry, but you’re already behind the eight ball. That is to say, if you’re still looking at click through rates as a measurement, forget it. If you’re still living in a world of display-click-impressions-banner ad next to content, the digital ecosystem has shifted to the next gear, the new way in which consumers view the brand. The flailing that research was doing while the ship was turning from past performance to real time left a lot of people, technological innovation and creative ideation mistakenly in its wake. Now, the tools for this have gotten a lot more sophisticated in a very short time. Companies like Point Roll and AppsSavvy would like to help you optimize your exposure. Marketers who are finally asking the right questions (not how big they are on ComScore and Nielsen and how many pages they have) but instead, “what are PEOPLE doing”, have a shot.
Friendster, Napster, MySpace, Facebook. What do they all have in common?
The answer is freedom. Each in its time carved a space for open discussion and sharing of ideas (creative branding or otherwise) Free space for anyone and anything to be highly energized by access and information like never before. In the old days, I was part of the Southern California (405) Group Listserve (remember those?) where a bunch of geeks, who rarely met face to face, discussed the Internet and problem solved collaboratively. It was not unusual for an entire thread to go on for weeks including barbs, open insults, challenges, put downs, throw downs and a ton of really cool information. These were developers, inventors, code writers, thinkers, hackers and pioneers. One day a guy looking a lot like a Hells Angel rode his bike into our offices on Main Street in Venice (CA). We’d been talking to him virtually for months, but had no idea who he was standing there. He announced he was from Digital Vegas. We could never figure out how he got that Harley up to the third floor. But, I digress. The point is, no one was paying much attention except the other guys doing the same things. There was no regulation since no one but the government and educators even knew Arpanet was there. And certainly no one was trying to sell us stuff.
The Internet is inherently irreverent and anarchistic and therefore resists any attempt to wrangle or rope it in. It’s also a chance for people who would otherwise not meet to laugh and play and share trade secrets, whether the trade is Mommy-hood, bikers, hairdressers, dog lovers, cat lovers or just plain long-distance lovers.
The “C” or Connected generation, as Alex Tosolini, VP, Global e-Business at P&G, likes to call it, may or may not make way for today’s C-Suite Chief Data Scientist. When the advertiser insinuates himself into the conversation with waving banner ads and interstitials, the mob moves elsewhere. Social activity , the largest activity on the Web today, is, and I repeat, NOT media! Branding before this phenom was OUTside activity, now it’s INside. In effect, the herd will be heard whether marketers like it or not. It seems to have taken an entire decade and then some for marketers to realize this and having done so, loosen their grip. Like Double Click in the 1990’s with display, Tremor and other video networks and AdMob with mobile, companies like AppsSavvy, represented here, would like to help marketers brand around social activities and do it at scale.
“Everything That’s Static Will Become Dynamic.”
Words spoken by Wendy Clark, SVP-Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities at Coke. Of those most likely to win the respect of the mob, is Coca Cola, the world’s largest beverage company. Which is why, Ms. Clark refers to Coke’s digital strategy as “liquid and linked”. And that’s not just lingo. It’s Coke’s take on brand storytelling
Ms. Clark rips up the stage in a blinged-out Coke T-shirt lauding the virtues of the hundreds of opportunities to join in and be a partner in “distributed creativity” on a “continuum of connections”. Brands can no longer pay their way to greatness, she warned. Media isn’t categorized by the outlet you plug it into anymore, its either paid, earned, owned or shared, she said. Coke has actually become the poster child for doing it right and the online world has chosen to anoint them with a following.
The key, of course, is not some play on words or metaphor for a marketing strategy. It is the living breathing fact that Coke has given up control in the traditional marketing sense and taken the lead from it’s lovable fan base deferring to their voice, and not imposing on them Coke’s decades old sales strategy. Because of this, nearly 24.5 million people like Coke’s Facebook page, the largest page on the site. I guess when you serve 3 billion Coca Cola products worldwide every day, that doesn’t seem like such a big number. Yet, giving the ax to business-as-usual at a company this big, Ms. Clark had a lot to do when, in 2008, she moved over from AT&T. Coke didn’t start out with Digital DNA but, with Wendy Clark’s help, they sure did get IT along the way.
In 2008, UniLever discovered 50 representatives of the social online ecosystem (AKA Greenpeace) dressed as orangutans staging a protest outside their London Headquarters to highlight the destruction of the Indonesian rainforest. The protest forged a relationship between the two organizations with Unilever agreeing to address many of Greenpeace’s concerns. Unilever may not have started out life with Social Media DNA but they sure got religion fast.
Think Like a Start Up. Act Like a Hacker.
The Net grew and prospered largely because it was ignored.
It worked by different rules than the rules of business.
Market penetration wasn’t interesting because there was no market —
unless it was a market for new ideas.
The Cluetrain Manifesto – Chapter One, Internet Apocolypso
Massive disruptive change is a marketers worst nightmare. Just as Geoffrey Moore, head of the Chasm Group and author of Crossing The Chasm about technology adoption lifecycle, points out, “the marketer should focus on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group.” The gap between them IS the chasm for disruptive or discontinuous innovations which force a significant change of behavior by the customer. In layman’s terms, climbing on the shoulders of early adopters is where the smart money is.
FaceBook, like other successful marketing plans that came before it, envisioned a need and filled it. Like is important, but Share is more important. Adopting a start up strategy may not get you where it got Mark Zuckerberg, but it might get you out of the dark or worse, the Dark Ages. Build a virtual startup within your organization to imitate what it was like when everyone was bootstrapping and no one was watching. Teams of geniuses were liberated from the matrix and finding the next thing rather than protecting the old. The team not connected to the parent, innovates, iterates rapidly on its own and builds on user experience, skills, talent, not titles. Android, a Google offshoot, while in the search business, was simultaneouslyfree from the core and faithful to Google’s devices. Today, it’s the next BIG thing.
To Ride The Trend Wave-
Make it Low Cost
Launch and Learn
Take the Best Ideas From Everyone Else
Fast Is Better Than Perfect
VOCAB OF THE MODERN MARKETPLACE
Apple Generation, C-generation,
Social Online Ecosystem, Lean in, Honor the Community,
Passion Points, Connections Are The New Impressions,
Facilitate Commerce, Hardworking Media,
Networked Consumption, A Lense on Social Media,
Listenomics, Digital Skin, Digital Cocktailing,
Start Up Envy, Native (to a medium), Path to Purchase,
Continuum of Connections, Distributed Creativity