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The East African : Aug 18th 2014
42 The EastAfrican BUSINESS AUGUST 16-22,2014 MANAG E R Ma≥kete≥s, do not just join the conve≥sation — you must lead it W hy are some brands able to be at once both global and local — to successful- ly seize the energy of grassroots movements and at the same time leverage corporate assets on a massive scale — while others only come off as artificial and pandering? The Web did not invent com- munity-driven brands, but technology has certainly made the strategy more popular. These days, it is pretty easy to interact with consumers directly. That is exactly the problem. Often, when marketers talk about their “social strategy,” they really mean a digital marketing strategy implemented on social platforms, rather than using social dynamics to benefit their business. That is why many social ini- tiatives fail. Consider Pepsi’s Refresh project, which sought to replace $20 million in Super Bowl spending with a social platform that funded good works. While its social media key performance indicators soared, its business suffered. Pepsi actually lost market share and fell to number three in the cola wars for the first time in modern history. Clearly, social initiatives are not a panacea. They can be wildly successful, but they can also crash and burn. For marketers to build effective community platforms it is not enough to simply join the conversation — we must lead it. And to succeed in the social arena, strategies must be grounded in network science, not conjecture. Specifically, four elements need to be in place. First, we need to win credibil- ity, not by paying lip service to the concept of authenticity, but by truly earning our mission. Pepsi Refresh failed because it had no relevance to the brand’s operations or heritage. Giving large sums of money to unspecified social causes may have re- (BIF has published its genome on its website), but it is even more crucial that core principles become mantras, continuously repeated and applied throughout the organisation even as they are adapted to local environments. This can only be done by applying a third principle: Balancing cohesiveness with diversity. When we find a model that works, there is a strong compulsion to try to replicate it at scale. We establish rules and regulations, along with penalties for violating them. While such orthodoxy can instill discipline and obedience, it squelches innovation and the ability to adapt to changing contexts. Research has shown that top For marketers to build effective community platforms it is not enough to simply join the conversation — we must lead it. COMMENTARY GREG SATELL “The Web did not invent community-driven brands, but technology has certainly made the strategy more popular.” flected genuine corporate sentiment, but it had no real relevance to Pepsi’s long-standing brand identity. Pepsi never earned that particular mission and therefore consumers saw little need to reward the company for its efforts. Now, consider the Business Innovation Factory, or BIF, an organisation that seeks to bring cutting-edge innovation to social initiatives, many of which are similar to those Pepsi Refresh sought to promote. Its founder, Saul Kaplan, is a self-professed innovation junkie. After a successful career as a corporate consultant, he became the director of economic development for Rhode Island, a Cabinet-level position, where he saw the opportunity to put his ideas into action and create innovation at scale. Mr Kaplan left government to focus on BIF full time. It is now a cult favourite in the innovation world. Its annual conference brings together well-known corporate innovators, such as Harvard’s Clayton Christensen, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and author Daniel Pink, to mix with an assortment of social entrepreneurs and devise solutions to society’s thorniest problems. The contrast is stark. Where Pepsi merely borrowed its mission for Refresh, Mr Kaplan spent decades earning his. Where Pepsi sought only to join the conversation, he led it and continues to do so today. Now, you may argue that it is not fair to compare a large, forprofit enterprise with a missiondriven organisation. But consider American Express and its long-running Open Forum initiative. While BIF has empowered social initiatives, Open Forum empowers small businesses. Given AmEx’s operations, consumer base and resources, it is well-po- sitioned to do so. That brings us to the second principle: Social efforts need to be guided by a genome of shared values. Let me explain. DNA, despite popular misconceptions, is not a blueprint; in fact, our genome contains only about 1.5 gigabytes of data, barely enough for a full-length movie. Its genius is that rather than try to specify every single feature of our biology, it provides us with rules for adaptation — first for chemical gradients in the womb and later for the outside environment. Effective corporate genomes perform the same function, establishing core principles that can adapt to local environments. McDonald’s has a great business in India, where beef is taboo and the company must cater to strict vegetarian diets. Cosmopolitan magazine thrives even in Islamic countries, where attitudes toward sex differ markedly from those in the US. Yet in both cases, the brands remain faithful to their core values, whether it is fast food or fun and femininity. It is important that core values be codified and documented performers find a way to combine both cohesive local units and global networks. In a study of currency traders, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the most successful performers worked within a core group, but also diversified their sources of information. Other studies of star researchers at Bell Labs and of informal company networks found much the same thing. Every community must find a healthy balance between cohesion and diversity. Without cohesion, there is no common purpose, but without diversity groupthink will set in and eventually that purpose will lose relevance. Finally, every successful com- munity creates passionate platforms. BIF’s annual conference serves as its focal point. American Express developed its Small Business Saturday initiative to help support local businesses. Harley Davidson has its group rides. These are all essential for allowing members to connect, share experiences and build ties. Yet passionate platforms can- not be conjured up out of thin air. They must evolve over time. Network science tells us that the strength of a community is not determined by its size, but by its density of internal connections; you must build in before you can build out. G≥eg Satell, a speake≥ and consultant, w≥ites the Digital Tonto blog. Putting a meeting back on t≥ack without emba≥≥assing the boss Q: I work for a midsize non-profit agency. In addition to weekly regular meetings, our executive director also schedules mandatory “all-staff meetings.” Everyone is required to stop work for at least half the workday to attend. The problem is that during several of the meetings, he has used much of this time to talk about his children — and even to share a slide show about them. Many of us have found that we need to work extra (unpaid) hours to keep up with the workload as it is. And so we feel that these meetings are nothing more than some type of egotistic exercise by our boss to show us how successful his children are. It’s frustrating. He is also the founder of the agency, and, not surprisingly, most of the staff is afraid to challenge him or these meetings. Do you think we are justified in questioning the decision to use valuable work time in this manner? — Anonymous A: You are certainly justified in questioning this ritual as you have described it. But be thoughtful about how to proceed. Meetings are a bane of office life everywhere. Yours is far from the only workplace where meetings regularly run too long, fly off on tangents and seem to serve no practical purpose. First, you would be wise to get a clearer sense — beyond meaningful glances — of what your colleagues think and why. Find out whether people see any positive aspects to these “all staff” meetings. And bear in mind that what you are reading as egotistic behaviour may be an innocent, well-meaning attempt $20m by your boss to connect with the staff on a more human level. If it is really true that everybody flat-out resents the results, that message ought to be delivered — carefully. Avoid arguments Avoid arguments that boil The Super Bowl spending Pepsi’s Refresh project sought to replace with a social platform that funded good works down to “we are sick of seeing your children” in favour of straightforward suggestions about best practices. Experts emphasise that meetings should be goaloriented and strictly time-limited. (A half-day certainly sounds excessive.) The happiness guru Gretchen Rubin has a handy and inoffensive online bullet-point set of tips along these lines. Such a list can be a starting point for proposing a meeting structure that just so happens to omit family slide shows: “We value elements X, Y and Z at these meetings — but there is concern about lost work time, so here’s what we hope is a constructive set of alternative ideas.” This may not result in overnight change, but it should start a conversation about improving the agency’s meeting culture — without anybody having to feel embarrassed.
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