Disconnect between actions and messaging

Social awareness is evident everywhere thanks to the 24/7 news cycle and social media. I remember taking EFB (Environment and Functions of Business) during in my Commerce degree, and two points stick with me.

  1. the goal of a business is to remain in business
  2. every organization has some level of social responsibility

For both of these points an organization must remain consistent between what they say and what they actually do.

This point is important for individuals as well.

If an actress is going to say she won’t let her daughter watch Snow White because a strange man kisses the sleeping princess, then the actress should be careful about the types of movies that she stars in where she gets into a car with five strange men in a strange city. Or she needs to rethink her role in a drama series where she sleeps with a man and has a child out-of-wedlock.

What is the lesson you are trying to deliver?

If you are an international coffee company that touts itself as a great defender of social injustice, you need to be careful about how you claim your revenue in certain countries that results in less tax being paid in that country. You know, the taxes used to build roads, hospitals and schools.

Companies do not have a soul. The people within the companies have a soul. At least, I hope this is the case. And the soul of the people demonstrated during their interactions with all stakeholders is a major factor in the brand that is built. This is completely within the control of the leadership and employees of the company.

Many companies do great community work, with events such as fundraising for the United Way or health related charities or local arts groups. This is a wonderful way to keep a positive spirit in your community. Something that creates a real sense of pride in oneself, one’s company, and one’s city.

However, these companies do not get a pass if their business ethics are gone out the window.

Does anyone remember the US domestic car manufacturer CEOs that traveled by private jet to Washington to plead for government assistance in 2008?

Or how about the Sears Canada board still getting paid while the pension fund is being underfunded? The people who worked hard for their entire career and built a great brand are now getting punished because of weak leadership and board.

Why do these stories only get minimal play in the media when their impact is often far-reaching or very large?

Instead we get hollywood media darlings blasting fairy tales. I have not seen a reaction from Disney yet, and it will be interesting to see what they do.

Organizations must be mindful of what is said in the court of public opinion. If you are founded and operate on strong principles and values you should be able to have a reasonable response and maintain your position.

Or you might have to leverage those strong principles and values and make a course correction or adjustment. Do not adjust or minimize your values and principles if they are indeed strong and have been used all the time.

Marketing should play an important role in the organization’s understanding of these types of issues. I have written in the past about Marketing Muscle and PESTLE and keeping abreast of other customer related issues that are brought to the attention of the organization. Skilled communicators should be used to craft appropriate statements and responses. Not weasely “I am not going to answer your question” remarks. Most normal people can smell a rat when a spokesperson continually dodges an issue.

Grow a backbone and own up when appropriate and defend as needed. That is, if you can have a great defense.

Remember the recent situation in an US city with police being called to arrest someone who was trying to use the restroom when they hadn’t made a purchase? I am not going to get into all the details, except what made me angry was the way the store manager was thrown under the bus “for following company policy” at that time. And he threw the manager under the bus by blaming her. The effective point of accountability in that organization is the CEO and he endorsed that policy.

Until the incident.

And then he had to backtrack, adjust, change and do all sorts of dancing. Some people were disappointed that the chain was no longer an elite and expensive place to meet. Others heralded the inclusivity of opening the bathroom doors for everyone. You can make you own decision about which argument you like.

But be aware of how you may open up another can of worms and put your employees at risk. Oh wait, they had been at risk for years.

People in organizations that want to have a high-profile need to make sure they are squeaky clean before they trot out their high and mighty positions. Poor positioning and poor execution of messaging can cause you a lot of long-term problems. Good customers won’t buy from you and good employees will leave your organization.

I am going to have an apple. If I fall asleep maybe Trappar will lick the apple juice off my face and wake me up.

Marketers, it is our own fault

I attended the Deloitte 360 event Wednesday morning. As an alum of the firm, and with colleagues still leading the charge, it was a terrific event to attend.

One of the breakout sessions was on the Rise of the Social Enterprise. Deloitte conducts annual tracking studies of global human capital trends and identifies the top 10 trends each year.

As Catherine was presenting the results, in advance of a panel discussion, I was struck by so many of the trends having a more basic relevance to me…as a marketer.

And it became crystal clear that so many marketers, in their quest for the next app, great digital campaign, platform or Pokemon Go, has lost the true understanding of what Marketing should be leading in the organization.

Many of the key trends were in the social, economic and tech areas.

Hmmm, Marketers are supposed to be leading the regular assessment of PESTLE:

  • political
  • economic
  • social
  • technology
  • legal
  • environmental

These factors help a company determine what is important to customers, potential customers, and society in general. Tracking movement in these forces helps properly position products and services to fit customer needs or emerging needs that are only scratching the surface.

Shame on us for being dist…squirrel!

Without Marketing leading the charge, other departments will pick up on these factors, as the HR group has in some cases.

Sales is often seen as the key customer department because they deal with customers. Elite sales professionals will search out answers or uncover information that also fits within other factors, notable competition.

But Marketing is the department that should be collecting all of these components, even if they are not prime, and determining what these mean to their external and internal customers.

  • How will product and service offerings be adjusted or created to better serve customers?
  • How will changing, or “toke”n, legislation (toke me with you) impact customers?
  • Where will new competitors emerge based on change economics? A company that buys into a new industry or forces their way in because of cost advantages must be seen before they breach your corporate castle.
  • Identifying and standing up for your values is the new normal. The social enterprise is on the rise, yet the need for profitability must still exist. Do good work ethically and you will never have a problem.
  • More than AI and machine learning, how will blockchain potentially disrupt your future? I saw an interesting interview with George Gilder, author of “Life after Google,”  where he said people need to ensure continuous growth through learning. You have to find out what you don’t know. And real learning means you are surprised by what you uncover. AI and machine learning are not real learning in this regard, which is why the next wave will be sooner than later.

This point from Mr. Gilder is interesting for Marketers as I posit that their credibility needs to come back. We need to help our organizations and teams learn more deeply about customers and the true value that we provide to enable differentiation. Otherwise, we will be defaulted to being selected on a cost only basis rendering us a commodity.

Watch the cost cutting that occurs at that point.

Our words must be chosen even more carefully. Think of a one to one conversation with a customer, or team member that is an internal customer, and write to this singular audience. Then, when you are using any type of broadcast tool, traditional or social, your message will be received in the same manner. This is actually how you start a conversation. And remember to make the talking points about the customer, not you. Fight back against the:

  • we have the best service
  • we are family owned
  • our products are the best
  • we’ve been doing this for decades

as the main talking points in your messaging.

Marketers, it is time to put on our big underwear, be bold, and committed. We are generally pretty good at making a product look interesting. If we want greatness, we have to make it irresistible.  People have the need for certain products for themselves or their companies. We must provide the confidence that we are the choice that is right for them.

I must add a note of caution. Marketers must be:

  • well-trained
  • well-practiced
  • eager to keep learning
  • not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them
  • professionals
  • experts, but with a generalist approach to the overall marketing discipline

Failing to position ourselves in this way will result in us continuing to be the “make it pretty” department.

To quote a Led Zeppelin song, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

Except I will take responsibility and make the changes necessary.

Marketers, are you with me? Let’s reclaim our position within our organizations and lead with honour.

Training Day: like football or something else?

Last weekend I was talking with a good friend who is in law enforcement and he described some recent recertification training that he had to take. As a senior leader, he had to do exactly what all the front line officers had to do. This meant he was assessed on every detail of his firearms training in a cold, wet environment.

He mentioned that some other members grumbled a bit about having to do everything outside in the awful conditions. As he described this, we simultaneously commented that “this was real life conditions.”

After a chuckle, we talked further about a couple of important aspects. Remember, I have no law enforcement experience other than the friends I have that have served.

First, an officer never knows what kind of conditions they will encounter on a call or when an incident occurs.

Second, every officer, even the leaders, must stay in tip-top condition. With no exceptions.

Now, relating this to football, most games are still played in outdoor stadiums. This is certainly true for amateur football. You never know what will happen on game day. And even though practice may be lousy weather, you don’t stop “just because you are cold and wet.” Trust me, coaching in crappy weather isn’t much fun either.

In both cases, the preparation is important so that the officer or player can perform their best when their best is needed. Regardless of conditions.

In both cases, there is a lot of ongoing preparation because the games, and the incidents, are not a daily occurrence. There are a lot of factors affecting how intense an incident can get for officers. I am not talking about the extremes, however, the training will prepare you for that.

Think of the Emergency Response Teams that train on every possible detail in every condition. All with the hope that they are not really called upon because that means there are no really dangerous situations that require their expertise.

On a side note, read about Hell Week  for the SEALs. That is absolutely nuts what they put the recruits through. And this is all so that there is absolute trust in each individual and the collective group.

TEAM – together everyone achieves more.

Why is it important for the leader to be completely up to date in their training? So that in a live situation the leader can be confident that their officers are all trained to the same level and the leader can observe and correct to the current standard.

How do we conduct much of our corporate training? Often it is in a classroom setting with minimal practice.

We spent a good chunk of time in the classroom in football. On the practice field the coach described and reinforced the concept or drill, and then most of the time was doing it. The repetitions, particularly getting to full speed, allowed players to be properly prepped for the situation in the game when they had to execute the play or technique.

You have to practice full speed.

A VP from Disney was once asked why they spent the first two weeks training new cast members on the Disney philosophy, especially if the person quit. his answer was, “what if we don’t train them properly and they stay?”

Too often training budgets get cut. Leaders are so focused on day-to-day that they are not able to provide the coaching and correction required. An employee may think they are doing the proper task, but if they are not, they are doing it wrong until, or if, it gets corrected.

What do you do for your training? For example, do you:

  • have a formal game plan (think football)
  • teach the concept first in the classroom
  • allow for questions to ensure comprehension
  • practice with each other first
  • practice with customers. You can have fun with this and regard your customer for their patience. “Today is training day. We are learning something new that will be good for our customers going forward. To than you for your patience here is a free/discount/something as a thanks for allowing us to work to get better.
  • monitor performance on the key points so that corrections can be made and successes congratulated
  • ensure the supervisors and managers also get trained the same way so that everyone is proficient

It pains me when marketing budgets get slashed. The marketing activities are the only ones (besides innovation) geared towards growth of your customer base.

It pains me when training is slashed. How can you ensure a consistently great level of service and knowledge if you do not dedicate time and resources to properly prepare your staff?

Yes, budgets are important so you know how you are doing financially. But if you have no customers you won’t need anyone in accounting to do the debits and credits…because there will not be anything to count.

Training and reinforcement of good habits, and corresondingly removing bad habits, are a key success factor in the gains you will make frm your training.

Train with purpose. Train to play/perform your best. Remember that your best is needed every day by everyone in your organization.

You have to do the reps

On a cool and rainy day, a nice cup of coffee or tea is an enjoyable pause. Especially when it is with a friend going through some treatments and you see how well he is doing.

We covered a lot of subjects, and started to focus on business issues. We discussed the concept of corporate strategy and strategic planning. We both agreed that there are many fine plans written by fine people in fine companies.

But not every plan achieves its written objectives.

My friend was discussing this point with his leader and expressed some concern that elements were often missed. When the leader asked for his opinion as to why this was the case, my friend mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Terminator?

Yes. When Arnold was asked how he consistently was the world’s best bodybuilder, he replied with “you have to do  the reps.”

And this approach applies to any plan.

Every great plan your company writes is a wonderful dream. Until, and unless, you put it into action. Then you have a chance to achieve the success you believe awaits.

However, it is evident this must be easier said than done.

I mean, if it was easy everyone would do it, right? How hard can it be? We spent so much time thinking, discussing, reviewing, spread sheeting, and power pointing, that we must have created the best. plan. ever.

I submitted a proposal with a CMC colleague a couple of years back to assist an organization with a planning exercise. We lost the bid on price because the organization did not want to invest a bit extra in someone (us) to check in, and help ensure the activities were on track. Half the committee thought this was a great idea because they were volunteers with a day job, and they know the extra work involved during implementation. The other half, plus one, said they could do it themselves. So we lost the project.

How do you ensure that you are implementing your plan? Here are some core questions you should be asking:

  • Who is responsible for the overall pulse check (thanks Brian) and tracking progress of activities?
  • Do you have the right metrics in place to help track towards your objectives?
  • Are you communicating the progress with everyone in your organization? I am assuming (I know I shouldn’t assume) that you shared the original plan with everyone before your fiscal year started.
  • How far behind do you allow yourself to fall before you make changes?
  • What happens when your initial assumptions are wrong or change dramatically?
  • While tracking the financial performance is always important, are you also monitoring your customer culture? Marketing must lead this activity.
  • Are you monitoring your customers? What does Sales tell you is actually happening with average size of sales, average turnover, key client gain and loss, etc?
  • Are your competitors doing anything to react to your moves that you did not anticipate? How will you react, if at all, and how fast?

Arnold knew that in addition to the reps, you had to really push more weight, too. If you are not pushing yourself a bit harder each time, then you will not achieve improved results. Arnold and those old school bodybuilders lifted enormous weights, as well as getting all their repetitions completed. Even if it meant doing the last couple of reps one by one.

Watch “Pumping Iron.” What a great movie to showcase the focus and training of the old bodybuilding greats.

When I played and coached football, there was often a challenge to get the reps. Players competed to get more reps in practice as this likely put you in a better position to get more playing time in games. And, as a coach, you needed your starters to get the most reps so they would be able to react quickly on the field because they were prepared and confident. If you weren’t prepared, you were always a step behind where you needed to be.

Just like business.

If you have a great plan, but do not put in the reps and actually implement, you will not achieve the results that you were planning for. And then you likely add those activities into next year’s plans. And you are not really becoming as good as you can be.

While you may increase revenues each year, you are probably not approaching anywhere near your potential because you are not doing the reps. You are letting the day-to-day get in the way of doing the heavy lifting.

Time to get to work.

While the coffee is hot.

Time to “pump you up!”