Isn’t it time your company got some haters?

Photo by recycledstardust

About a week ago, Matthew Rhoden wrote a post on called: “Create Brand Superfans”. The idea in a nutshell, if I understand correctly, is as follows: Customer satisfaction is a lagging indicator which you can’t based future strategy on. The next level of customer satisfaction is turning customers into advocates. A customer turned advocate supports the brand, actively promotes the brand and is emotionally attached to the brand.

All well and good. My problem started with the prescriptions for action which constricted of three things: 1. Silence detractors. 2. Build a solid and positive customer experience. 3. Offer extraordinary experience. Specifically, I had a problem with prescription number one which Rhoden describes this way:

Silence detractors. Develop an environment where customers will not want to talk badly about a brand. I once spoke with an executive who said his goal was to “not have customers hate us.” Identify and prioritize customer pockets with a high concentration of negativity, and allocate resources to fix the root issues. In other words, to get your customer-experience house in order you must honestly focus on your most common complaints [Emphasis added]

Really? Have customers not hate us? Is that your strategy in order to make zealous advocates of your brand? Can we really talk today about silencing anybody? Seriously?

If I was asked to suggest someone with a way to transform customers into advocates, I would suggest exactly the opposite. Find ways to make specific customers hate you. Don’t waste time on fighting them, just on making their hate greater. Because their hate probably means other customers love you. Having haters means you are making something unique or strange.

In a great post about how overcome the fear of being bold Olivia Mitchell quotes Oren Harri who says:

Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity

Not having haters is a full proof strategy for mediocrity. And when you provide mediocrity, you can sure as hell give up on prescription number two and three: Positive customer experience and extraordinary experience – they are both the opposite of mediocrity. Bret L. Simmons writes in a blog post toady:

If you are going to have high expectations of yourself and others, there is no way you can make everyone happy. High expectations by definition means you have to take risks and try some things you’ve never done before, or make changes to established methods in search of continual improvement. When you take risks, some things are not going to work as well as you thought they might, and from time to time, they might even suck.

I hate to go to obvious example but look at Apple. Can you truly say everybody loves Apple? That nobody hates them? Of course not. Actually, some of their most salient value propositions are the ones that are most ridiculed. And if there was ever a company that had advocates in its consumers… I am not saying that companies should not listen to their customers or should not improve products and services. However, trying to make everybody happy (not to talk about silencing haters) is a sure proof way to not being remarkable. Seth Godin wrote a while back in post called The forces of mediocrity:

Maybe it should be, “the forces for mediocrity”…

There’s a myth that all you need to do is outline your vision and prove it’s right—then, quite suddenly, people will line up and support you.

In fact, the opposite is true. Remarkable visions and genuine insight are always met with resistance. And when you start to make progress, your efforts are met with even more resistance. Products, services, career paths… whatever it is, the forces for mediocrity will align to stop you, forgiving no errors and never backing down until it’s over.

Such resistance should be relished and not fought against. It is a clear sign you are on the right way. You can’t make everybody happy. Ever!

Does your company or brand have haters? If not, why not? What should you do to make some?


A segment of one


Photo by Son Of Groucho

During the last week I heard the expression “a segment of one” a number of times. The idea is that with the tools of computerized customization many companies can actually understand the needs of each and every customer. For example, a company can send thousands of different emails to its customers, so each customer will get a personalized e-mail message. Sounds promising? It is. New technology creates an abundance of possibilities to do things that were once very hard to do. And I am sure that as time goes by, the ability to use it more effectively will enhance.

But, just because we can, does not immediately mean that we should!

Technology allows us to do many things today. It makes things that were once very hard, a lot easier. However that does not mean that we should do them. If it was not smart to do when it was hard, the fact that it is easy should not matter.

The “segment of one” example is a simple one. Segmentation is about going after the right customers. It takes into account the fact that there are some inherent tradeoffs because a company cannot be everything to everybody. The fact that we can understand all of our customers, does not mean we should try to satisfy all of them. Not all customers are born equal. Some are more important. Some are a liability more than an asset. Don’t invest time and money, even if it is a small amount of time and money, on these customers.

Don’t let the fact that there is a simple answer to the question: “how?” blind you from asking the question “why?”


Setting your priorities straight


Photo by ➨ Redvers

When I was an instructor in the Israeli Air-force I used to give a workshop about time-management. The concept “time-management” is a little misleading. It gives us the illusion that time can actually be managed, when in fact, it can’t. Time is given. It will pass if we want it or not. And it will do it at the same pace it always did, no matter what will do. So, we need to manage our decisions given that time.

Every time I gave that workshop there was a least one person who would come up to me and tell me: “Look, I am swamped. I just have too many things to do and not enough time”. I always gave those people the same response: “You don’t have a time problem, you have a priorities problem”.

Because time-management is about choosing your priorities, being consistent with them over time and accepting that this process will inherently include some tradeoffs. There will be things you will not be able to do. But until you get your priorities straight you will face problems.

I like to take principals like the time-management-priorities one and see where I can apply them in other facets of life. Now, after almost completing two session of my MBA program, I think that I can confidently say that “getting your priorities straight” is the key concept that describes my learning this session. Because all the courses I studied this session, had this one concept in common. You have to make choices. And you have to be consistent about them. Or in other words, you have to set your priorities straight.

In finance you can see it in the choice between risks and returns. Do you want a higher risk or a higher possible return? What is the level of return are you seeking? You have to make a choice. And until you set your priorities, your goals, your preferences, be them as they may, you cannot make the right choice. And in order to deliver real value, you need to make consistent decisions over time.

Operations management – does my company need to cooperate with others in the supply chain or not? Do I need a pull or a push based production line? Is responsiveness or effectiveness more important? Well, it depends on your priorities. But whatever you do – you have to make sure, that all other parts of your organization and even you suppliers and buyers, are in tune with the same priorities and are consistent with the same decision.

How do you determine your IMC (integrated marketing communications)? Or how do you decide if you are going to concentrate on growth or retaining current customers? You guessed it – decide what your priorities are and make consistent decisions about them. And most importantly – as in time-management – you have to make choices that lead to tradeoffs that are inherent to the decision making process.

Finally strategy, the mother of all priory decision disciplines. To quote our strategy professor:

“Strategy is making choices… since you have limited resources, you cannot do everything (and expect to do them well)… that are genuine… ‘real choices’ that are ‘difficult’ and consistent. A ‘set of choices’ that different elements strengthen and reinforce each other”

And for me, all of this is the essence of another great idea I believe in. The idea of the comparative advantage. Because comparative advantage is not only about actual competition, but it is more about recognizing what is more important, where can I make the biggest contribution – to myself and to society – and going with it all the way. That is why I try, once in a while, to assess what my priorities are and what my comparative advantage is.

When is the last time you sat with yourself and asked your self – in a personal or professional setting – what are your priorities?


Which do your prefer – happiness or trust?


Photo by yewenyi

Today in our marketing class we talked about customer’s happiness and trust. If you create a simple 2 by 2 matrix you can allocate your customers to 4 groups. Then you need to think about how you treat each group and what the reasons for the existence and size of each group are.

And that got me thinking about transferring the same kind of measurement and thinking process to other arenas. Let’s think about politics. If you are a president or a prime minster, what is more important – that the citizens trust you or that they are happy with what you are doing? Or think about being a manager – do you want your employees to trust you or do you want them to be happy?

I know that trust and happiness are interrelated. I also know that the definitions are not completely clear. But life (and leadership and management) is about making decisions in a scarce and uncertain environment. And when your resources are limited you are faced with the choice of what to concertante on.

If I was a marketer, I think I will concentrate mainly on happiness. But as a leader and a manager of people, I would go with trust every time. In the marketplace of the consumers – happiness will generally lead to trust. In the leadership sense, happiness is important – but doing the right things and making the right decisions is a way that will lead to trust, is even more important. The trust will lead to happiness.

Leaders and managers need to make tough choices even though their followers will not always like it. In a book I am currently reading called: “The last argument of kings” one of the characters uses the phrase: “One cannot be a great leader without a certain … Ruthlessness”. I believe this is true. First create trust in your vision, in your cause, in your decision making. First create respect. Happiness will come.

What do you think is more important? Happiness or trust?


Revisiting averages…

I was listening today to a podcast from the Mckinsey Quarterly titled “The Granularity of Growth“. The basic idea is that in an industry, not all companies, segments and products have the same growth rate. Which is of course, obvious. However, when so many times we use the term “average growth rate of an industry” in the decision mechanism, this realization holds many implications. Not only does the range of the growth in the industry vary, but it is also internally skewed across the segments, a fact that could lead to different decision regarding acquisitions and new ventures & products.

That made me think – where have I heard this concept before? And it immediately came to me – Hans Rosling’s amazing talk about statistics, where he takes Africa’s average GDP and breaks it into different countries that are so varied and different from each another, that just talking about “the problems of Africa” becomes immediately inaccurate. And again, this has many practical implications.

This led me to what companies do all the time. Look for the average customer. I already discussed some of the implications of such thinking. But a few of the discussions in our latest marketing classes and a case we are working on, crystallized it even further for me. “Our average customer”. “The average satisfaction rate”. Very dangerous concepts. Because by responding to the average, we are missing the different groups that have different characteristics.

Average is easy and convenient to use. It is intuitive for us to grasp. However, whenever you see an average, you should be suspicious. You should ask yourself – does it really represent the full picture or does it create a middle category that does not really exist?

Beware of the average, I know I started to.


Why you should go and observe someone else’s work?


Photo by Timothy Valentine

Last week in our strategy class we were talking about competitive advantages. We learned about the two main ways you can create competitive advantage – cost advantage and differentiation. Then, as an answer to a student’s question (I don’t remember what it was exactly) the professor said something like this: if you are looking for how to create cost advantages – you need to look for answers in the operations class. If you want to create differentiation advantage – you need to look for answers is the marketing class.

I can’t say I agree.

I think one of the major problems companies are facing today is to create ways disengage from this kind of thinking. To create synergies between operations and marketing. And finance, accounting and HR for that matter. The thought that the advantage of the company, whatever that is, lies in one aspect or one discipline of the business is counterproductive and for me, counterintuitive. With everything we know about the importance of diversity in the creation of innovation, about the effects of social capital derived from interaction between different parts of the business, even thinking about competitive advantage as being the responsibility of one part of the business is dangerous.

I am sure our professor acknowledges that as well. All the examples of successful companies we keep seeing are examples of companies which succeeded to do both cost and differentiation advantages. Doing both requires coordination.

More than that. In the operations class we learn about things like TQM and Six-Sigma. These are concepts that not only reduce cost, but also increase quality and can create differentiation. Marketing decisions can have cost implications. The fact the Apple chooses (or choose) to create the I-pod with a very limited user interface (which I find terrible) is a marketing decision. But I am sure it has operations and cost implications. Design of the product can be a competitive advantage – who does it? Marketing or operations.

In the words of Guy Kawasaki:

The separation of engineering and marketing is artificial. It presumes that engineers build feature-laden crap that no one cares about but engineers. Maybe mediocre engineers do this. Great engineers create with a customer in mind. Fantastic engineers create with themselves in mind as the customer. Every Nokia engineer should give their prototypes to their mothers, fathers, and kids. That would fix everything. The user interface of almost every phone is unintelligible. Anyone could have done an iPhone—it’s not like Apple has a monopoly on design.

I understand the need to simplify concepts for MBAs. But the fact that we study each and every one of the courses separately is enough to create silos of thinking instead of integrative thinking. I think all disciplines, and especially strategy, should embrace an integrative look.

No matter where you work and what is your pre-defined role in your company, you should try to schedule an hour, a day, a week – with another department – to understand their work, their needs and their problems. What you will learn will be invaluable to your work.


What can mangers learn from the Milgram Experiment?


Photo by Festeban

The Milgram Experiment was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience (in this case, giving a lethal electric shock to another person).In layman terms, Milgram showed in his experiment people’s tendency to conform to an authority figure.

This experiment was mentioned in our Marketing class a week ago as a reminder of the power we, as managers, will have over people, meaning, especially consumers. If people will generally do what ever you tell them and will easily believe whatever you tell them, that means you have a power and responsibility.

I especially enjoyed the discussion in class because just a few days before that I watched a Law & Order: SVU episode that dealt with the same experiment, featuring Robin Williams. In it, Williams plays a man who lost his wife because he listened quietly to his doctor even though he knew the doctor was wrong. This drives him mad and he starts calling people claiming to be Detective Milgram convincing them to do terrible things. He starts a movement calling people to: “Stop being sheep”. This video is the end of this great episode:

Both of these mentions of the Milgram Experiment got me to think on the implications of that experiment to people in managerial positions. The fact that we have the power of authority is a given. The fact that this power comes with responsibility is also a given. But most of the time managers don’t use this power to bring people to perform acts that conflict with their personal conscience. They just use that power to ignore people. And by that, they lose so much.

Most people will conform to authority. As managers we should discourage that. We should recognize those who challenge our authority in a constructive ways. We should encourage institutionalized devil advocacy. The responsibility lies with us as managers.

And off course, the coin has two sides. As employees, how do we treat our managers? Are we behaving like sheep? Do we stand up for what we believe in?

I will finish with a quote by Hugh Macleod from Gapinvoid, that is not directly linked to this subject, but which I find invigorating to think about from time to time.

The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.

So, what is your personal takeaway from the Milgram Experiment?


How are you listening to your clients?


Photo byAgentAkit

The reading material for our Marketing Class this week included an article titled: “The customer doesn’t know best; you do“. As this is something I mentioned in my blog a number of times before, I must admit I was intrigued. And I wasn’t a disappointed.

The first point of the article deals mainly with customers’ perception around prices:

Customers always want lower prices, but marketers should rarely listen. And our tough times don’t warrant exceptions

The writer, Anne-Marie Fink, gives a number of examples where price reductions caused a decline in sales due to branding issues. The interesting examples are those in which surveys said that customers will be willing to pay a certain amount for a product but actually paid a lot more in the stores. This did not come as a total surprise to me. Surveys are problematic. But more than that, asking people to give an estimation of value is problematic. A survey takes a certain point in time and asks the surveyed to appreciate how much he will be willing to pay in the unknown future.  As Dan Gilbert points out in his fascinating TED talk, human beings are really bad at doing this, because value is situation dependent. Perception of value of a certain product changes according the circumstances – mode, what other products I am buying at that moment, was is my total sum of expenditure and more. These things are more important than what a person says he will do in some anonymous survey.

Another great example in the article relates to another point I discussed here: competitive advantage. Fink describes fast food restaurants’ attempts to introduce health food into their menus because this is what customer said they wanted. Almost all of these attempts (usually adding some kind of veggie burgers or grilled products) failed even though in the surveys customers explicitly said they would like to see healthier menus. Why?  Because you don’t go to a fast food restaurant to eat a healthy meal.  These chains lost sight of what their competitive advantage was. Off what they were offering and insisted on listening to the customer instead on focusing on themselves and their advantages.

All of this does not mean the surveys are useless or that we should ignore what customers are saying. I think it is more important to understand how we are listening to our customers and what kind of questions we are asking. In the case of consumer behaviour and price sensitiveness, the best prediction is probably the wallet and we should listen to it very carefully and adapt our “market research” to it.

So, how are you listening to your clients?


What to do with feedback?

photo by Shadowalker

Today on the Freakonomics blog, Stephen J. Dubner writes a very interesting post titled:  “The Downside of Feedback“. As somebody who is very interested in feedback, I was immediately drawn to it. What? Is there a downside for feedback?

But when I started reading it, I realized, Dubner was not dealing with the kind of feedback I was thinking about. His post was inspired by an article in The Washington Post written by Hank Stuever dealing with the effects fans have on movie production, in this case the new Star-Trek movie. Here is the main idea:

Has our quibbling worked? Yes, if you believe in the collective force of fans and the “wiki” social ideal — that group input only improves the result, guiding by peer pressure if nothing else. No, if you think filmmakers are too beholden to fans. Quibbling does not produce a Heath Ledger-style Joker; that is the result of an actor and a writer and a director coming unhinged from the original material. Quibbling produces a Watchmen movie, which tenderly reproduced the 1988 graphic novel panel-for-panel and still failed — pleasing fans, perhaps, but excluding newcomers.

And Dunber adds:

It’s an interesting and timeless point that Stuever raises. Creators who wish to honor the fans’ concerns may wring out the originality that can make art compelling; and creators who ignore the fans’ concerns risk alienating them

This made me think about feedback in general:

1. We should never ignore feedback. We should always try to get some. Feedback is just a mirror. You look in the mirror almost every day. Why? Because it is the best way to know how you and what your state is. And because you see things in the mirror that you would never be able to see otherwise. In a business, professional or even a personal setting, these mirrors don’t always exist. This is what feedback is for.

 2. If we think about costumer feedback we need to think about what our customers want and listen to them. This is a given. But we need not forget two things. One:  the costumers don’t always know what they want. As Malcolm Gladwell tries to claim in his famous Sgpagethi Sauce talk at TED, we sometime need to create the market for costumers, one that they did not even think about asking for. Second: our non- customers are just, or maybe as important as our existing customers. A short quote from a manifesto called: “Uncovering Business Breakthroughs: Are you Tuned In or Tuned Out?“:

    Existing customers represent a small percentage of the market opportunity for most businesses, so basing a product development strategy solely on what your existing customers want is flawed. Worse, existing customers have different market problems than noncustomers (buyers who don’t yet do business with you), and only frame their view of your future based on incremental improvements to their past experiences.

3. In business feedback, as in personal feedback, it is ultimately up to you to decide what you change and what you don’t change. Sometime, the feedback just isn’t suitable for you. Some time, the feedback does not understand your message. And sometime, the givers of the feedback just don’t know what they are talking about. But all of this does not mean that you do not have to listen, assess and re-examine your assumptions. It is up to you to use your judgment. Don’t forget that feedback is a tool.

So, how have you used feedback that you have been getting lately?


If it isn’t broken – break it, if it is broken – ask somebody how to fix it

Yesterday I saw this video from 2006 of a lecture by Seth Godin (for better quality see here). It is a fascinating and highly entreating talk. In it, Godin describes how so many things are “broken”, and by “broken” he means just stupid, non-cooperative with the client or non efficient.

I don’t know about you, but the feeling he describes is something that I feel almost every day. You see something and you ask yourself – why is that? Why can’t they make it simpler? Or easier to use? Or just plain efficient? Now, you can cast doubt if all the examples are really “broken”. That is what the commenter’s on the Boing-Boing blog do. But I think doing that is missing the point.

I think two of the main points are:

1. “It is not my job” – Godin claims that many things are broken because the people who can fix it, say: “it is not my job”. I think this thinking is so common we don’t even notice it anymore. When we encounter it, it frustrates us, but it seems reasonable to us. We say to ourselves: “what can we do? It is probably not his job”. Why?

Ask yourself. If you think about a way to change something, to make it better, what do you do? Do you go to your manager? Do you put it in a suggestion box? Or do you just give up and say to yourself: “well, nobody is going to listen to me anyway”.

Now, wear the other hat. When is the last time you went to your employees or team members and asked them – “what would you change?”. These are the people who usually say “it is not my job”. They usually know already what is broken and how to change it. Go and ask them.

Some places are already doing that. Check out “My Starbuck Idea“. Think about all the sites that allow anybody to write an applet. “Hey, this site should allow you to do this. Maybe I will just write an applet for that” or “hey, I should be able to do this with my IPhone, I can write an applet for that”.

2. “Broken on purpose” – this is a point Godin makes all the time, especially in his bookpurple cow“. In order for something to succussed, it needs to be remarkable, meaning that people will make a remark about that. You create it by creating an exceptional product, or you just make it plain different. Maybe it is time to break your product?