Blog Post: Thinking Digitally...If You Do Digital or Not

Click here if you would rather listen to this blog entry (8:16).

Marketing firms have been understandably concerned about how digital they must be in order to remain sufficiently central to the marketing mix. We’ve lost something, though, by framing this discussion around whether we should actually develop digital properties instead of around the broader question of how we should learn from digital thinking. In other words, we might need to approach our work—digital or not—with a more digital mindset. I want to talk about that, but I also want to talk about how you might go about deciding the degree to which you do digital, too.

At the outset of this movement, there were so few firms developing digital properties that it was actually difficult to make a poor positioning decision. The tools were rudimentary, no one knew what good digital really was, and that world was there for the taking.

Developing digital properties, though, now shows more signs of being a mature market, meaning that there are few gaps to arbitrage. Strong tools are widespread, we have nearly twenty years of experience to inform our work, and suddenly kids in the garage don't seem to own this anymore. (They have gotten bored and moved on to social media.)

The last two decades have ushered in a new medium, but the true impact of digital is barely felt. Worst of all, even digital firms aren't thinking digitally. But—and this is so exciting to say—the promise of digital impact is at your doorstep. If you miss the promise of digital thinking, you'll suffer far more than missing digital itself. I'd like you to consider thinking digitally....

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Blog Post: Getting to "Know"

I owned a pedestrian marketing firm for six years (this doesn't mean I sold pedestrians, but that it was very average). I had never worked at a firm, knew not a single soul in the industry, and had no role models to mimic. Average financial performance (I paid myself $60,000 in 1988), below average ability to manage people (with employees teaching me how I could do better), and above average effectiveness of the work. One thing for sure: I had no special methods or research that I could build into a twenty-year consulting firm known around the world. Shoot, for the first few years I was drinking water from a waterfall.

I started ReCourses through an odd and fortunate series of events where someone else suggested I do it, and gave me a platform with plenty of opportunity. It never would have happened otherwise, and I will always be grateful to Cam Foote.

I felt like I didn't have much to lose, really. At least I thought so, until the first firm...

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Position Paper: Impact of Internal Culture

What is culture? What defines culture in an organization? One thing we know for sure is that it's not strongly connected to the "vision," "mission," and "culture" signs hanging in the lobby. Heck, the most evil companies in history said all the right things, and they said them in engraved marble in the lobby! No, culture isn't what you say.

Culture is what you do. Period. Even bigger than that, culture is the sum total of all your actions. You know that very talented employee who is selfish and territorial? Keeping that employee around speaks to the real culture at your firm. It says that you value output pretty much regardless of what comes with it.

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Blog Post: What Success Looks Like at Your Firm

A great client recently asked me to outline my definition of success for their firm. I really enjoyed doing that, and below is a version that you can adapt to your own situation, putting your own stamp on it:

  • Partner compensation equals or exceeds industry benchmarks.
  • After that is achieved, you still 20% net profit.
  • The more entrepreneurial employees are satisfied that their contribution to your gain is recognized and accounted for.
  • Partners and employees in key roles will have already tasted competence in the area of your focus, or they will experience it within nine months of joining the firm.
  • There will be few or no young employees who value variety over expertise.
  • When employees talk about your firm, while still employed, their private comments will be complimentary.
  • When partners and employees head out the door to work for the day, they look forward to the challenges, the companionship, and their participation in the overall culture.
  • As a firm you will not require extraordinary people....
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Position Paper: Aversion to Process in Marketing Field

The marketing field is probably less process-oriented than any other among the professional services. Why do you think that is? Working in the field for many years and advising the same field for many more, I’ve come to that realization after noting several reasons why.

Why We Shun Process

First, you crave a freedom to explore, free of the “restrictions” you perceive in process. Second, there’s a need to identify personally with the work—it must stem from inside you rather than emerge from a more external process. You want to create the solution and own it. Third, your role is replaceable enough that you perceive an added value in keeping part of it mysterious. You want to be a magician or shaman or rain dancer. Fourth, there’s a thrill in diving into an empty pool and inventing water on the way down. It’s a drug high to face a blank sheet of paper with each project and, with as little help as possible, make something out of nothing, once again emerging as the hero. Fifth, it’s clear to me that the typical generalist, “full service” positioning that so many of you employ prevents and even promotes lack of process, since each new situation really is new. In other words, the solutions you arrive at are not benefiting from experience like they could, but are instead plagued by the experimental where those who pay your bills could be more victims than clients...

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Blog Post: More Transparent Client Relationships

I've had a hand in shaping four of the software products out there, including the two with the largest installed base. And for ten years I've been clamoring for more transparency, enabled primarily by allowing a client to log into your project management software (that's not BaseCamp, by the way) and seeing the status of things. For one thing, why make the AE do that? Every client is different, and this would let them interact with the data on their own terms, with selectable update options to boot.

Why hasn't this caught on? Two reasons:

  • Firms say something will take three weeks of work but they don't even start it until four days before the deadline, and this way the client would know that.
  • Firms are afraid of interferance in the creative process, where I think it should be more collaborative and with no "big reveals" as we call them.

Anyway, I was chatting about this with a client of mine, Greg Daake, who has a firm in Omaha. He has been thinking the same thing, and so I asked him to write some thoughts on this. Here's Greg...

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Blog Post: Managing People is Counter-Intuitive

I was sitting down last week, thinking about how much difference it makes when you have a good boss. I realized, though, that much of good management is counter-intuitive. So I thought I'd take a few minutes to record a few observations while they were top of mind.

Before I do, though, remember the survey on the last email? It asked whether you were better or worse than average as a manager. A full 68% of you said better! You can interpret that one.

Here are the things I've learned interviewing nearly 14,000 people for the book I reference at the end:

  • Any non-evil person can be a manager.
  • Management does not make you special.
  • Managers shouldn't always make more money than those they manage.
  • There should be two career paths so that we don't saddle technicians (craft people) w/ management.
  • Nearly all important information should come from an employee's direct manager.
  • Why you were promoted, or why you promoted a certain person, tells a huge story.
  • The biggest danger to your company is a very skilled employee who doesn't fit the culture.
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Blog Post: Storytelling and Real Storytelling

Bill Baker (no relation) is nicer than I am, so don't pin any of my introduction on him. I recently spoke to an auditorium of C-level executives, and the title of my presentation was long but revealing: "The Happy Death of Branding, the Next Fad of Storytelling, and the Hopeful Rise of Alignment."

I guess that expresses my view of branding: there are a few firms really doing it, and the rest (and majority) aren't doing anything differently than they did before, but now they are calling it branding because it sounds upstream. There was no training in marketing, no classes, books, or even real processes. The typical four circles with the ubiquitous use of alliteration doesn't count and should be taken off your website.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with my view of branding, it clearly is yesterday's news, and storytelling comes up frequently. Rather than being marginalized even more, I think we ought to jump on this one early so that we don't relieve the word of even more meaning.

Bill (disclosure: a client) is one of the very few people really doing story telling. While the concept has been around since people wrote on cave walls, modern storytelling was really maximized by E+S (Envisioning and Storytelling) in Vancouver roughly three decades ago, a place where Bill was Chief Strategic Officer. Now, under BillBaker&Co he continues that great work with clients like GE, Relais & Chateaux, Johnson & Johnson, The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, etc. Here are some of his thoughts on the difference between faux storytelling and real storytelling. Real storytelling is a very complex skill, and I can sit for days listening to Bill point out the subtleties involved. This is just the outer layer.

Here's Bill:

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Position Paper: Top Ten Characteristics of Project Managers

Good project managers are hard enough to find, and great project managers are rarer still. Thanks to Andy Crowe (Alpha Project Managers), though, we now have a peek inside the top 2% of project managers, based on a study of 5,000 of them as rated by their peers/clients. Not surprisingly, great project management requires a lot more than the ability to move a milestone.

Here are the top ten traits of project managers who are really making ideas happen:

Qualities of a Great Project Manager

  • Command authority naturally. In other words, they don’t need borrowed power to enlist the help of others--they just know how to do it. They are optimistic leaders who are viewed in a favorable light and are valued by the organization.
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Position Paper: Three Common Struggles

Using a database of hundreds of firms in about 90 different metropolitan areas across North America, what are the three things that principals struggle with the most? You might recognize yourself.

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