I took a bold step ahead and deleted everything on my old desktop and installed Ubuntu feisty faun.
Installation was one of the most pleasurable Software experiences I ever had. Booted from CD, selected "install or run" and the mini-os loaded quite fast. On the desktop sat a link to install Ubuntu, that leads to 7 easy steps to setup installation.
The advantage was that, since I was already running the mini-os I could browse pages while it progressed.
After installation I faced the only minor glitch: configuring the nVidia driver. I was expecting that, since in my previous 4 Linux distributions I always had problems with it. The first time it took me about 3 days to figure the whole thing out. The last time I spent 2 hours; I was looking forward to a similar session. I was wrong. I got the 3D stuff working in 20 minutes. In case it is of any use to other Ubuntu users, all I had to do is run:
sudo apt-get install nvidia-glx
sudo nvidia-xconfig --add-argb-glx-visuals
(First line grabs the drivers and installs them, second line adds some very nice visual gadgets, although Ubuntu had a grephical interface to enable the advanced nVidia drivers, this did not work for me)
After that I played around for a bit and installed XAMPP for Linux. Started the webserver and laid back and relax watching everything go smoothly. I want to build a nice web development environment on that PC, on which I plan to have some geek fun. Ruby on Rails and Python support are on the pipeline. I do not intend to make the server public, just local to my home's network.
Now I'll talk about the interface. I've used gnome quite a while, but Ubuntu's Tailored version just rocks. Although it has a lot of visual effects (which you can enable or disable at will) it still performs smoothly. I have tried the cube desktop, with different things loaded in each of the 4 desktops, including transparencies and some 3D games in demo mode, still the system would not freeze. This is not a minor detail.
I have only unveiled just bits and pieces of the OS so far, yet what I've seen has a grip on me. What amazed me most is that I think that non-initiated users might find it is a very simple system to install and use. This was Linux's most prominent shortcoming, and I do believe Ubuntu did an amazing job solving it.
What's next? Installing archive and backup software (that should work for the Windows machines as well), and fine tunning everything on the machine.
A blog is your voice. It reflects your thoughts, feelings and ideas. It is a powerful thing in more senses that are worth mentioning in this post, since the aim here is different.
As a blogger you can potentially reach millions with your words (it is not the case of "the challenge", I'm afraid), thus you have a certain responsibility with what you state.
In my case that "responsibility" comes in not only in the way of carefully choosing what I talk about and how I deliver the message, taking special care not to become too personal or reveal things I'm not supposed to, but also in the content of what I write.
My aim is to write things that are entertaining, educational, that trigger thoughts, and that have some novelty in them. I know I can't possibly deliver excellent posts 100% of the time, but my feeling lately has been rather upsetting.
For the past month or so (maybe a little more), I've been writing posts I'm not all that happy with. Not because they are bad, but because after hitting the "Publish" button and re-reading them I get the feeling I left things unsaid, and that I might of been on the edge of making a much better job "telling the story".
This has happened to me before. I've tried twice to write "novels", and after several months in the task I fell out of love with them, truncating the projects. (One of the items on my life's to do list is to write a book).
I do believe that the only solution to this is to keep trying. One faces cycles in life, you might be highly inspired at one moment, and loose it at the next, yet only "working" can stay as a constant and something we can get a grip on.
Have you ever had this sensation with your blogs or other things in life?
Got two... 1 short.
I also have a desktop, recently upgraded to Ubuntu 7.04 Desktop Edition (It previously held a dual boot Windows - SuSe 9.3 configuration). I'll post about Ubuntu shortly, since I haven't had much time to play around with it lately; all I can say is that I've loved what I have seen so far about it.
Now, why do I need another Notebook? Well, I'll tell you about my other two ThinkPads first. One is my official work horse, a beaten up R50 that has resisted more abuse than I dare to say openly. I can't play too much with that since the PC is audited. The other machine is a personal, state-of-the-art T60p. This runs on Windows XP. I have considered making it Linux, yet the fact that my wife sporadically uses it for her work prevented me from doing so (since she runs some windows-only software).
Now the third one I need is a ThinkPad to run Linux on. I am very curious to play with Linux on one of such machines. I wonder how all of the built in TVTs run on it.
I guess I'll start saving some money to feed my geekiness in the future.
Although in his post Mark states:
As individuals, we tend to see these large organizations as a collective entity. We expect that all interactions we have with various staff members are documented in a system that all others have access to, and that if they really wanted to, whomever we speak with could either resolve our trouble or surely must know who can.
This is right, but I'll go a little bit deeper and in the opposite direction.
As individuals, we see large organization's employees as acting accordingly with the general policies of the companies they belong to. If you call a help desk (I never get tired of this example!) and the individual that handles your call lacks the abilities and tools to solve your issue you'll most likely say "XYZ company sucks big time!! I called them and they couldn't give me the solution I was after".
In other words, and expressed without examples: one on one interactions between corporation members and outsiders represent the visible face of a company towards the outside world.
Everything is marketing, everything is commerce, everything is conversation. This is becoming a mantra. I'm not quite sure a lot of people in customer interaction positions realize the power that is given to them. In a world where anyone can post their unhappiness for everybody else to see, customers have the power (or as Uwe said: "consumers decided to become customers again").
Many of such positions are regarded by far too many corporations as a "unavoidable annoyance", treating their employees (and their processes) as such. This sort of narrow minded view does not contemplate the reach such approaches have, and they only find out the harm this causes after it is far too late: when the public image has been affected by it.
For instance, many companies have moved call centers overseas to cut costs, yet how can the frustration many users experience (and how they talk about it) be measured? Once again it can be measured -somehow- after it is too late, when sales start to decline and public perception takes a deep dive. (pointless disclosure: I have nothing against moving things from one place to the other, as long as the service levels are sustained, regrettably this is hardly ever the case).
Companies are no longer large monolithic entities, beyond all good or evil, which can stump the users needs at will, they have become more fragile, they have to listen harder, they have to react faster and more efficiently. Customers will settle with no less than the best, and they shouldn't have to do otherwise.
My personal negative experience happened with my Mobile phone company. After it was bought by a larger, Spanish multinational conglomerate the user experience has been... (finding polite words to express myself) less than satisfactory. As a matter of fact out the three or four times I've called in the past two years not once have they provided the solutions I needed. (There are many reasons why I stick with probably the worst communications conglomerate in the history of mankind... but the frustration is growing larger, in the sense that from being my ISP, fixed phone, long distance, and cell phone provider now I only keep the cell phone service... and I'm afraid I'm not going to keep that for too long).
In a world where marketing has become conversation, how do you make people talk with an abstract entity, such as a corporation.
Don't waste your time giving a corporation a human face in the form of traditional ads, it simply won't work any more.
So, what do you do?
Basically what has been happening so far, giving corporation human faces that people can relate and talk to. This faces come to life in the way of blogs. I'm not talking about anything you didn't know already.
For quite some time, we've seen marketers try to provide human faces to corporations using very public figures, this works quite well for some industries (like sports: of course I want to use Federer's tennis racket, Michael Jordan's basketball shoes and the car Michael Shumacher drives), but not quite so in other industries.
Some praise must be given to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, each of them where very visible and public faces of their companies, opening ground to what we see today, I think there's no need to say they both excelled in their PR roles. People could relate to them (both loving and hating them) since they are human and they stand for what they do. This guys have become celebrities (weather they like that fact or not), and it's impossible for the public to divorce Microsoft from Bill Gates, Apple from Steve Jobs, and for those of us a little bit more geeky than the average: Linus Torvalds from Linux (I mean the OS does carry his name after all!!).
Human beings have a hard time relating to an abstract concept such as logo or a punchline. We need something more familiar, more close to our primitive feelings. Buying, after all is a compulsive behavior, it's psychology is deeply rooted inside our very primitive brain (the lizard section of it, as Carl Sagan would of put it). Thus, a familiar face helps a lot in this relationship.
But how do people such as HP's Eric Kintz, Lenovo's David Hill (or David Churbuck, I think he should have his own official blog), Dell's Lionel Menchaca, -Michael Dell is in a similar league as Gates or Jobs- (just to name a few from the industry I work at) become familiar faces? In a lot of senses it works just like cultivating friendships.
It starts with a healthy amount of lack of confidence, in the form of "now what is this guy going to try to sell to me?". As time goes by, and if you are careful with what you write (not in the sense of being too "corporatively correct" but rather not too "Marketer 1.0") speak openly and politely you'll build up a following (I assume what you are going to write about is interesting to a given number of people), they'll relate to you, and will eagerly await for what you have to say next.
Now, there's a downside to this. There usually is to everything in life. Corporations don't own their human faces, they only hire them. And it might happen that someone might move from company A to Company B, taking with him a big portion of his/her following. No workaround for this, just a matter of life.
The question that surfaces then is how loyal are followers to the face vs the company. I'd say it depends on the approach each blog / individual / company has. The more personal (as in first person) a blog is the more loyal people become to the human behind it. With the opposite approach it is harder (but not impossible) for readers to relate, yet, when they do they'll be more interested in the content than the messenger.
The final thought on this post revolves around honesty. And it will take the form of advice to bloggers (corporate or otherwise). Be honest in what you write and you wont deceit your readers, your employers and, most importantly: yourself.
I'll explore some other ways companies become personal in a sequel to this post.
Recent events got me thinking on the matter of procedures and processes.
I usually respect and enforce procedures. As lead of a production team I must, processes are my allies, my best friends, they keep things from braking apart, avoid all production hell rolling on earth.
There are times when they can't possibly be observed, when timing is just toot tight (probably because procedures where overlooked in the first place) and you must send everything down the drain and just take action.
We've all read about and experienced call center's procedural mazes and praised those unique individuals who were willing to take their eyes out of the scripts shown in the screen and go the extra mile to make a customer happy, many times overlooking their established processes.
Thus I ask: do you think it is necessary to stick to procedures at any cost or do you think there are occasions where they need to be overlooked?
What if while branding and marketing products we delivered tailored messages (and offers, and products) to small groups or even individuals. Today, more than ever the internet allows to pinpoint groups of interest gathered together sites and communities. If your brand has a sub-message that can appeal such niches, you'd broaden the number of individuals and groups interested in your brand on an exponential basis.
On today's world, where traditional marketing smells of lies, of impersonal, of mere punchlines emptied of content, an alternative might arise, one that is more easily built, is more personal and doesn't depend on the "proposition of the century" (an artificial device) to succeed. What if branding was also made into a conversation, just like the cluetrain manifesto demands on companies.
Mohammed Iqbal's post on long tail branding hits you as so obvious that you end up wondering how no one thought of it before.
For those not too versed on the long tail concept I'll try to summarize as much as I can, but I really recommend those interested in modern marketing to commit on both readings.. The main concept is that mainstream marketing focuses only on those products that do fit inside the Pareto distribution curve (that states that 20% of the products bulk for 80% of the sales), thus only massive products get the spotlight (and the shelve space) and get sold. The other 80% of the products represent loss.
Traditional (entertainment) product creation can be resumed into (And I quote Chris Anderson):
- A desperate search for one-size-fits-all products
- Trying to predict demand
- Pulling ‘misses’ off the market
- Limited choice
Now, Mohammed's genius was replacing the word "product" with "brand". The trend on mainstream marketing seems to be reducing brand propositions, and we're currently getting to single word propositions (maybe well see single syllable or even single letter brand propositions in the future, who knows?).
So, you are thrive on having a branding success, thus you spend big bucks on a single thick, general, hard to relate to proposition.
With this kind of approach you are ruling out all those people who are not mainstream in their relation with your brand, theyjust don't relate. And they might. Anyone knows that a potential customer is much better than no customer at all.
Mr. Iqbal's proposal is to have both mainstream propositions as well as secondary, tertiary and so on propositions (propostitionsn?) for branding. Maybe this way marketing is not that ethereal entity that hits people as artificial and with which no one can relate because it is just too general, too unfocused, too bland, because the aim is to grab as much attention as you can with a single, unique proposition.
The idea of long tail branding is bold, and forces marketers to think more broadly. That alone should be good just for a change, but like everything else in this world, it is a two sided blade. In Mohammed's words:
The task of the advertising agency here is to generate all the myriad communication messages with which people could relate to a brand and create communication for them all. (...) No matter how deep-pocketed a brand is, populating the entire long tail curve with customized messages across the spectrum can be the shortest and quickest way to bankruptcy.
The first challenge is how to generate the appropriate messages, without going too far, too expensive. Here community comes into play. It is hard to perceive what the right propositions are from within a corporation, thus listening to the community is imperative. This works on an additive and a subtractive way. Additive comes from user experiences such as "your brand delivered this and that value"; subtractive in terms of what you think your brand delivers, but the consumers don't quite get or interpret. There you'll know the communication failed at some point, or you are just plain wrong with what your assumptions were regarding what your brand delivers.
Mohammed Iqbal, on the other hand, exemplifies community involvement with cases of user-submitted spots and adverts.
I'll take my chance to disagree with him on something. It was bound to happen. Point 5 for the long tail branding states: Don’t try and predict. Measure and respond instead. There we can read the following paragraph:
The role of an advertising agency in this case shifts from being a gatekeeper who decides on limited data and gut-feel which brand message will be a success.
It becomes that of an active agent investing in the communication market of a particular brand. Keeping a keen eye on the market and how a suite of messages are faring, the agency keeps altering its portfolio of messages to ensure maximum returns for its clients.
Although I do agree that this sort of micro branding is far more measurable, I still believe some gut-feeling needs to happen in order not to fall behind your own branding campaign. How come?
If you are always making adjustments and changing the micro-branding messages you'll end up losing your authenticity. Which is the matter that I think is most sensitive on this whole elongating tail, and I'll address it a little bit further down on this same post.
That being said, measurement is fundamental, and the tools to perform very profound zooms into what the users experience in terms of branding are have become more efficient than ever before.
My second digression with the document is with the title: "When you have infinite choice, context is more important than content". If you focus too much on context and not too much in content your offer becomes shallow. You need to find the right context -in which you can get the attention of the niches you are seeking to conquest- and then drive that attention to the right content to support it, else you'll end up with a negative impact. You might hook people with the appropriate, highly niche-focused proposition, but if after scratching the surface they find a poor content (as in massively tailored, generic and not well thought) the spell is broken and you don't fulfill the promise you made on your proposition,yielding as a result the opposite of the intended reaction.
To do a wrap-up of Muhammad Iqbal's "elongating tail" I'll quote two paragraphs that pretty much summarize the whole idea:
There’s lesson for advertising and brand-building in there. Traditional brand-building is (...) complicated and expensive, because we burden it with our do-or-do expectations of success. And with our overpowering need to control it and its every interaction and consequence.
In my opinion, the future of advertising and brand-building will also be 'fast, cheap and out of control. Unlike our tried and trusted mass media advertising that we can take ‘off air’, future media vehicles will not come with an off switch. When we pay very little to run them, we are actually relinquishing our control over when, where, and how they will run. Effectively they are on their own.
Exiting times ahead. And challenging as well. The chances of great success are equal to those of booming failure. As with everything new, you can't copy models, you have to build expertise as you move along.
I think the most challenging thing about this approach to branding is not loosing identity. During the past we've witnessed an oversimplification in marketing messages, getting to a point where we want to define a whole brand, a company, all that a structure stands behind of, with a single word. It's like trying to define one's personality with just a word. No one can relate to something that is just one adjective (or verb, or whatever).The opposite might true as well. If you say too much about a brand you might start delivering the wrong messages at some point, or even end up contradicting the core aspects of the brand. Secondary, tertiary and all other further propositions should add up to the brand's identity, not contradict it. If you build upon a main premise, you will never be able to grab the niche standing in exact opposite corner.Building a brand's identity is a very challenging task. You need to be extra careful on giving the right image, sending the appropriate messages, coming up with propositions that identify what a company stands for. And you must be consistent while doing so. Coherence is not something that comes easily, and when broadening the spectrum of messages you send out it becomes not only imperative, but challenging as well.
The only good way I can think of achieving authenticity is being honest. Know the brand you are trying to market and what it has to offer, know both it's strengths and weaknesses. If you find out a message is not working for a niche don't replace it for the opposite, just because you need it to work. Credibility is lost in a second, but it takes ages to be built, putting it in jeopardy is about the dumbest thing that can be done.
Finally: be patient. Some results don't come up immediately and some premises take some time to settle and generate results. It might be hard to say if a strategy is simply not working or just taking it's time to yield results. It is very sad to see a half-mature strategy killed just because time runs against us all.
No, I did not travel. But I am attending.
How come? I have to thank Jeremiah Owyang for the experiment he put up. He is streaming live through his blog and on ustream.tv. On ustream site the Chat is enabled and all of us attending can interact with Jeremiah and the people he interviews on the halls and corridors. Something rather exciting and geeky in a whole new level.
Some really interesting stuff. Besides just a couple of sound drops every now and then, and some not so-good-sound on some conference rooms it all works quite well.
I have lurked for quite a while on the web strategy blog RSS, and was quite excited to attend this live cast. I will try to attend to futher conferences this way; it is much cheaper than traveling all the way from Argentina to San Francisco.
This all makes you think: what if for future conferences, product releases and the like, you'd grant your attendees free WiFi so they can broadcast, podcast, blog, chat and so on live? That would generate more on-line publicity than any amount of adwords you could buy.
Thanks for the ride, man!
PS: Did I mention Jeremiah was using a ThinkPad?
Recently, David Churbuck asked his readers for advice on next years KPIs. The comments were awesome. I'll try to draw some thoughts over all that was posted over there.
KPIs, are the 20 powerpoint slides you present to your boss at the end of the year that give them the excuse to fire you or give you the excuse to ask for a raise.
Key Performance Indicators. As if your area were an athlete or an artist. Modern lingo for did we suck or did we rock? Yet, since most of the time you have to present how well (or bad) you did to people not quite as initiated in your area as you are, you need to translate how things went to the common language of numbers, the Esperanto of business.
This can be very simple (revenue went up by 10%) or it can be tremendously hard (say, how do you measure a company's public perception or the level of buzz around it, and how do you express that in numbers).
For someone in the marketing world, like David, KPIs represent a real challenge. Marketing juggles with some "ethereal" concepts, particularly in today's "Marketing is conversation" world. You know when you have a good conversation but how objectively can you measure it? Let's take the post that inspired this for example, I believe there's an excellent conversation in place there; but how would you translate that into a power point slide for someone who didn't read the thing to understand it was good. Hard, right? and that is just a single post, imagine doing the same for entire websites.
There are some measurements that can be handy. If a site has a CSAT survey, and the number of negative feedback / total visits decreases you have a hard measurement on something. Yet, that alone can't be a KPI per-se, but it can be part of one.
Say you measure the mentioned CSAT, plus visits, plus non-e-commerce conversions (a matter for a post in the pipeline), plus searches for your brand, plus positive vs negative buzz, you can mingle them all together and have something that resembles a KPI from a safe distance.
And thus instinct kicks in. I mentioned Gut feeling at Mark's reply to David's post and Uncle Fester did so in the original one. Gut is underrated, yet a good perception of reality and a over the average response to what's happening has a high percentage of "instinct"; it is the key factor that makes the difference between a Mediocre leader and the one that is always a step beyond.
Measure for your boss, react to your gut. David, if you can market lenovo as you did with the post you'll be fine.