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On the importance of thinking frames — content marketing vs. customer-centric marketing

November 13th, 2013 francois Posted in buying behaviour, customer experience, innovation, marketing | 1 Comment »

Content marketing is hot, you cannot read up on marketing without seeing articles, blog posts, and announcements for conferences about the topic. And it should — because it does work.

The term itself, however, is misleading — and will increasingly lead to marketers producing and promoting the wrong content.

When content marketing works, it’s all about delivering the right value to the right person at the right time. At the center of the formula for success is not content, but customer value. If you put content at the center, everyone will focus on developing thought leadership content. As the different social channels get clogged up with thought leadership content, marketers will increasingly start paying to promote that content — and it will all end up like advertising again — not delivering value to the prospect.

When you put customer value at the center of your thinking however, you may come up with different answers. Take an OEM for application development tools as an example. With content at the center of your thinking, you might develop a plan to create thought leadership content that would appeal to VPs of engineering of applications development companies — the ultimate decision maker in buying your tools. If you put value at the center of your thinking, you might realize that the VPs are not the ones doing the due diligence on the available choices.  They will often times task an engineer or a group of engineers to do the research and make buying recommendations. Those engineers are very query driven and extremely reciprocal — helping one another across company boundaries. So if an engineer is tasked to find an XML database for example, she may take to her twitter community and ask for help in finding the best in class product. You could hire a few application development engineers to look for those opportunities and genuinely engage and help those people. If customer value is at the center of their thinking frame, it could well be that in 80% of the cases they would recommend content that does not even come from your company — but instead from magazines or communities in the space, and if you are really bold, even from your competitors. And yet it could result in becoming your best lead gen program — trust me, it actually happened.

Having the wrong thinking frame can be dangerous and limiting. If LinkedIn were to consider its customers as and integral part of their product — they would make radically different decisions that if they would think of us as customers. If you are a SaaS app provider and you evaluate a multi-million dollar investment to speed up your app by a fraction of a second in terms of time or money savings, you would make a very different investment decision than if you were to evaluate the investment in terms of the customer experience. Looking at it through that lens could let you conclude that speeding up the app by a fraction of a second would actually significantly improve the perceived ease of use of your app — making the investment worthwhile. Company leaders have to develop customer-centric cultures, where the customer value and the customer experience are the central frames through which any decision is being made.

Note that the framing effect is actually a well known human cognitive bias.

Being truly customer-centric is hard to do, and we found that in many companies there is a huge dichotomy between leaders’ intent and their execution when it comes to customer-centricity. More on that later.

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The Social Workplace Trust Study white paper is out

November 12th, 2013 francois Posted in Interesting Links | No Comments »

It has always struck me as odd that so many companies do not trust their own employees. They don’t let them use social media, they treat them as children who need to be told what to do, etc. How can those companies expect their customers to trust them if they do not even trust their employees? And let’s face it, most customer relationships are based on trust.

Part of me gets it — you want to protect the company from risks. But with behavioral scientists all agreeing that there are only 3-5% of us who are deviant, why is that we are building structures to protect our companies from them as opposed to building structures to leverage the power of the 95-97% of people who are good? Plus, realize that those 3-5% deviants already exist in our family and friend-circles too — and as humans we already know how to deal with these people.

The annual Social Workplace Trust Study, produced by Human 1.0 in partnership with IABC, The Great Place to Work Institute, and The Society for New Communications Research, has found that companies who create cultures based on trust can expect game-changing benefits in the areas of employee satisfaction and retention, innovation, employee engagement, and word-of-mouth, just to name a few.

Check out replays of webinars and download a white paper with the findings from the research study at

And let us know what you think.

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Customer-centricity does not happen in silos

August 22nd, 2013 francois Posted in culture 6.0, customer service, technology enablement | No Comments »

Companies have to become more customer-centric, there is no way around that.

Why, you may still ask?

Because the tables have turned — with your customers now having the upper hand in terms of the information imbalance that used to exist in the buying process. If you want your prospects and customers to buy from you, become advocates for you in the marketplace, and buy again, you need to WOW them in every part of the buying journey.

Ok, so how do you become customer-centric?

Broadly spoken, there are three steps to become customer-centric.

  1. Develop an employee culture of customer centricity. It all has to start with your own people. And with the advent of social media, not just with your customer-facing employees, but with all your employees. You have to create a culture where if you were to pick a random employee in the hallway and ask them what they did at the company, they would not respond with their title, but instead give you what they were working on in terms of what it means to the customer and the company. This may be the hardest thing to do on your journey to become customer-centric — it requires training and constant reinforcement, management support and embrace, trust, new metrics for success, deep understanding of your employee and consumer cultures, and more. And it requires a tight partnership between the person who advocates for the customer at the executive table (likely the CMO) and the CHRO.
  2. Become data-driven. Of course, you need to tap into the information trails that your customers leave behind. They leave them behind with you when they buy, get financing, or support, and they leave them in the marketplace when they research their purchases or comment on purchasing experiences they have had. Becoming data-driven is not something that you can do you with your agency, and it’s not just the creation of pretty reports. It requires integration between various data sources and deep mining for actionable insights. And it requires a tight partnership between the person who advocates for the customer at the executive table and the CIO.
  3. Technology-enable all customer touch-points. That is the place where most companies start. They try turning their CRM into customer experience management environments, they improve their customer support environment, they may add loyalty management, multi-channel campaign management tools, and better voice of the customer and employee tools. But all of that will fail miserably unless you have the right culture.

Some companies have added new titles at the executive table. It is not uncommon to now have Chief Customer Officers, although I suspect many of them are account sales people, Chief Customer Experience Officers, Chief Commercial Officers, or Chief Revenue Officers. It is good to have one person on the executive team be the customer advocate, and to coordinate the customer experience with other execs across all the touch-points or over time.

But it is not good to just create new silos — which many companies are now doing. There are multiple companies in the Fortune 500 companies that now have a CMO and one or more of those other titles at the executive table. How can you become customer-centric that way? How does anything get done about the customer in an environment like that?

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There are too few customer advocates at the executive table…

August 21st, 2013 francois Posted in Interesting Links | No Comments »

While working on a research project on Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), I noticed that out of the Fortune 250 companies, 151 do not have a customer representative at the executive table (someone with either marketing or customer in their title). Of those 151 companies, 45 had a Chief Communications Officer on the senior leadership team.

Granted, many Fortune 250 companies are holding companies, with CMOs or other customer champions in the various business units. But not having a customer advocate at the most senior executive level, and instead having a company spokesperson at the table is troublesome.

So, what is the problem?

Imagine for a second what the discussions at the executive table might be like, when all you have are financial, operations, HR, legal, IT, and external communications representatives. What do you think the tone would be?

I think it is fair to say that the tone of the conversation would be very company-centric. It would be about OUR finances, OUR IT infrastructure, OUR people, what WE should say in the marketplace and things like that. And if they are holding companies, this is what they would want the business units to report back on — thus creating an inside-out culture.

So what needs to happen?

Companies need to create outside-in cultures — with someone at the most senior executive table representing the voice of the customer.

Customers are no longer listening to companies — instead they make their buying decisions based on recommendations from peers and colleagues. They also do not tolerate any dissonance between the company’s internal cultural values and the brand values. And they expect consistency in the customer experience throughout all channels and over time.

You cannot create those conditions when the HR, IT, Finance, Operations, Communications, and Legal functions are not true “partners” with the company’s customer advocate.

Let me know what you think.


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Culture is mostly hidden, and it never forgets.

April 23rd, 2013 francois Posted in culture 6.0 | 3 Comments »

Part of what makes it so hard to “operationalize culture” (that is to predictably incorporate culture as part of all business decisions) is that most parts of culture are hidden. It’s like skiing, biking, or driving a car – after you have done it for awhile you do not think about how to turn, or how to brake. In fact you are doing most actions as part of these activities unconsciously. That is until you have an exception — a child suddenly jumping in the street or a moose crossing the trail. At that moment all your senses focus on the exception and your training kicks in. The same is true for culture — things happen mostly unconsciously until there is an exception. That is when culture becomes visible.

The other difficulty in predictably using cultural levers to achieve strategic success is that culture never forgets — it is cumulative. So you may want to become a lean organization and run into deployment/implementation issues that are totally different from other organizations that seem to share similar values with you only because they have a different cultural legacy than yours. The same could happen with the adoption of a new technology in different markets that seem to share similar needs and values — they may have very different cultural legacies.

Another issue related to the fact that cultures never forget is that your organization may be riddled with bad habits — with people doing certain things a certain way because it has always been done this way. Most people within the groups that have developed bad habits will not question those habits — for them to be questioned they need to be made visible to people who do not belong to those groups.

What do you think? Will we ever be able to operationalize culture, the way marketing and other disciplines were operationalized?

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Consumerization of IT, brands and millennials

February 26th, 2013 francois Posted in culture 6.0, Strategy, tribalization of business | No Comments »

What do those three topics have to do with one another you may wonder.

Consumerization of IT, the expectation to bring your own device to work and to find enterprise user interfaces to be as simple as the Google search box, is clearly driven by millennials. While older generations will increasingly want to do the same, it is the millennials, who have never known of a world without the web, Google, and mobile devices, who will demand it.

Many marketers now agree that with the increased transparency from the inside out (us being able to listen in on customer conversations), but also from the outside in (customers interacting with internal employees on social networks, etc.), there can be no dissonance between your internal culture and your brand. So for example if you have an aggressive culture, then your brand has to stand for being bold.

So if your company has a play in the consumerization of IT space, that means that you need to get the attention of millennials. In order to do that and appear genuine, you need a millennial-friendly employee culture.

Do you buy this argument? Let me know.


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The human need to leave a cultural legacy

November 27th, 2012 francois Posted in Interesting Links, random brainsqualls | No Comments »

Humans, like all other species, have been driven to leave a genetic legacy on this earth. Then we became the only species to develop culture to deal with change. Cultural evolution developed a symbiotic relation with genetic evolution, with humans being the main agents of cultural evolution, but with culture also impacting genetic evolution by favoring certain traits, such as non-aggressiveness.

In modern history, humans have also increasingly been driven by not only leaving a genetic legacy, but also a cultural legacy. While it used to be the purview of the cultural elite — the published writers, famous artists, architects, wealthy art benefactors, and political leaders –, the democratization of culture through the web and cheap technologies that allow anyone to become content/culture creators, has created an environment where everyone can leave a cultural legacy.

Of course, and as many leading thinkers agree, the web is not flat, and new hierarchies that curate real cultural legacies are emerging — we just don’t know who the new cultural kingmakers are.

A good example of cultural vs. genetic legacy is that of Abraham Lincoln. His gene line died off in the early 80′s but his cultural legacy will live on for many more generations.

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Conversation with Prof. Chris Labash from Carnegie Mellon on Innovation

November 3rd, 2012 francois Posted in adoption of innovation, business model innovation, culture 6.0, social innovation | No Comments »

I had a great conversation with Carnegie Mellon Professor Chris Labash this week. We discussed a wide range of topics as they relate to innovation, including:

  • The role of technology
  • The importance of understanding human behavior and culture
  • The impact of non-financial rewards
  • The need for methodologies and processes
  • The limits of crowd-sourcing
  • The requisite for risk intelligence
  • The importance of communication and face-to-face exchanges

To listen to the podcast and read a more detailed post about the discussion, please visit the Collaborative Innovation community.

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Why most corporate culture programs fail

November 1st, 2012 francois Posted in adoption of innovation, culture 6.0, Hyper Social Enterprise, innovation | 13 Comments »

Unless your company acts as a single tribe, which most companies don’t, you don’t have a single corporate culture. Therein lies the problem with most corporate culture initiatives — they start from the wrong premise that companies are people and that they therefore can have one culture. In reality, most companies have multiple cultures which results in having competitive behavior in the wrong place — within their corporate walls instead of outside in the marketplace.

So what is going on here?

As Edward O. Wilson said in his recent book, The Social Conquest of Earth, “People must have tribes. It gives them a name in addition to their own and social meaning in a chaotic world.” Tribes have cultures, organizations don’t — unless they are one tribe. Most organizations have many tribes — you may have a developer tribe, a sales tribe, multiple customer service tribes, a cost conscious tribe, an innovator tribe, a middle management tribe, or a tribe of Belgian-American wine drinkers. Having multiple tribes means that you have multiple cultures. Tribes share common systems of beliefs and values, they have their own language, their own rituals, and their own leaders — who may in fact have no place on your management org chart. Having multiple tribes also means that you have many “us vs. them” or “insider vs. outsider” feelings, something that always happen among tribes.

And that is where the internal competition comes from…a generally unhealthy corporate state of affairs if you are competing against a competitor which behaves like a unified tribe and which can channel all their energy to compete in the marketplace or to achieve a “change the world” type goal.

So what does that mean?

For starters, most traditional corporate culture change management programs fail…since most of them start with the assumption that organizations have a culture. The other implication is that by having multiple tribes, and in some cases mutually incompatible tribes, you may waste a lot of energy on infighting instead of innovating and competing in the marketplace.

There are ways to analyze corporate tribal cultures properly, and there are also ways to align them more closely with corporate innovation and collaboration strategies, but more on that later.

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CMO’s cannot get the benefits from Big Data by themselves — nor from their agencies

October 18th, 2012 francois Posted in business model innovation, buying behaviour, CIO 2.0, cmo2.0, innovation | 12 Comments »

I had a great CMO 2.0 Conversation yesterday with Jim Davis, the CMO at SAS (I will post the conversation in a couple of weeks). As you can imagine the topic of Big Data came up.

Having done research in the area of big data for multiple clients, and having interviewed many CIO’s and CMO’s on the topic, there are a few things that stand out in this emerging market .

  1. CMO’s cannot expect results by going it alone
    Some CMO’s are buying their own technology solutions to gain actionable insights from big data.  Unfortunately, most marketing departments lack the wherewithal to deploy sophisticated technology solutions and will never achieve the promise of big data on their own. Even if they have the product management skills to deploy technology, they most likely don’t have the right data-related expertise on the team to get the actionable insights from the data.
  2. CMO’s cannot rely on their agency for big data
    Agencies only see a small sliver of the customer data, that related to advertising and possibly lead gen. They do not have access to the other rich data sources that most companies have about their customers, including CRM, customer support data, bricks and mortar data, credit card data, purchasing data, etc.  So relying on only a small portion of the data will leave marketers vulnerable to competitors that can truly mine and base decisions on the comprehensive customer data set.
  3. CMO’s should team up with their CIO’s to tap into the promise of big data
    The only way for the CMO to tap into the promise of big data is by teaming up with the CIO. For that relation to work, however, both will have to have a shift in behavior. CIO’s have to stop considering themselves as service providers to the marketing organization and instead set themselves up as true partners to the business — with a deep understanding of the customer facing processes and desired outcomes.  CMO’s will have to become much more disciplined in how they document requirements for technology and data analytics support. As Jim suggested, a quick way to the get CIO’s and CMO’s to align is by giving them the same goals.

What do you think? I would appreciate your input on it.


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