The Blog

Using Twitter as part of your Social Media campaigns

I recently had a conversation with someone that doesn’t understand what Twitter could do for their business. Their comment was, “I really don’t care about seeing what someone is doing – and why would I want to tell the world that I just walked into Starbucks”. Of course, there are those that use Twitter for this…but there is far more to Twitter than updating in 140 characters exactly what you’re doing at that very moment. Tweets are a great tool to share stories, promote your business, offer promotions to your customers, break news about a big sale or a new product introduction, as well as to cheaply and effectively build your brand. So, based on that conversation, here’s what I told him makes Twitter an important part of a businesses social media marketing campaign.

________________________________________________________

Build a network – Facebook and other social networking platforms are great for keeping in touch with people you already know, but when it comes to building out your network among those that don’t know you, Twitter is much more effective. With Twitter, you can find and follow those that have similar interests as you  – helping you to build clientele that you may not of otherwise been able to find.

Drive website and blog traffic – You’ve updated your website, or added a new blog post – now you have to hope people find it. With Twitter, you can redistribute that content – and drive them back to the full blog post or web update, improving your site traffic.

It’s a great PR tool – With Twitter’s Direct Messaging tools, you can target specific journalists that follow you on Twitter to pitch story ideas. Given the cost of retaining a PR firm for a small business, this can be a very cost effective way to get news about your company out to the press.

Understand how your brands are doing – With the ability within Twitter to keep track of “mentions”, you can not only see what is being said about your brands and your company, you’ll be in  a much better  position to deal with negative feedback and counter it quickly. And, it’s also a great tool for getting instant feedback – far quicker (and quicker) than focus groups. Just ask your followers for their opinion!

Link to other conversations that might be of interest to your customers – With Twitter, it’s easy to share those things that you might find to be of interest with your customers. Not only is this a bit easier than trying to figure out what to say every time you make a Twitter post, its an effective way to not only keep your name in  front of your clients, but also continue to on your reputation as being a more viable source of information than your competition.

Improve your knowledge & skills – For example, I started following a number of design companies that post on Twitter. From that, I’ve discovered things like sources for free fonts, CSS design tools, best-practices for print submissions that I was unaware of…tools that allow me to not only offer better services for my clients, but also help streamline the work I do.

Improve relationships in your existing networks – Rather than using instant messaging,  Twitter allows people to connect and message regardless of what IM network they may use. And, with TweetDeck’s (and other Twitter platforms) ability to easily allow you do either to group messages, direct message, and mentions, you have the ability to connect far easier than trying to manage IM message among multiple networks.

Find good employees – Try using Twitter to solicit your followers for references on people you might need to hire. Much more convenient (and cheaper) than using either classified ads, or online job search websites!

Find a job – In the same vein, if the economy has you downsized, or you’re having to downsize your own company, use Twitter to soliciti your followers to either find yourself new job opportunities, or aid your soon-to-be downsized people to find new employment.

Getting started with Social Media

With all the buzz surrounding sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, the question remains – why is this important to my business? Well, it’s pretty simple. It could be detrimental to your business if you don’t.

First, let’s talk about how “Citizen Marketers”, as author Jackie Huba calls them / us, can have an impact. In his book, “What Would Google Do”, author Jeff Jarvis talks about his experience in June 2005 with Dell. In his now famous example, Jeff had a bad experience with a Dell purchase. In the past, he might have told a few people, who told a few people, and over an extended period of time, perhaps an extremely small segment of the population would have had avoided buying a Dell product.

But, with the advent of blogging, this changed the playing field. Jeff, who happens to be the proprietor of one of the Web’s most popular and respected blogs, Buzzmachine.com, blogged about it. Others read his blog, and they blogged about their bad experiences. And, it quickly had a significant impact on Dell’s reputation, and their sales.

Fortunately, in this case, Dell did the right thing. First, they started their own blog, and reached out to those bloggers that complained, basically saying “We’re Listening”. Then, they launched another blog called “IdeaStorm” – where customers could tell Dell what to do, discussing and voting on communities favorite ideas. Negative blog buzz dropped from 49% to 22% within a year.

Lesson – The customer knows best – and that the customer is boss – now we have to mean it. The customer is in control.

Getting involved in social media – joining the communities that people are involved in that impact your business – is how you can make sure that even though the customer is in control, that you are working with them, rather than against them, in growing your business.

So, the goal here is to understand what message is out there currently about your company, and then take steps to engage the community creating that message – and build relationships within that community. The best way to start is:

1. Google yourself and your company. Do it in Technorati, Icerocket, Blogpulse, YouTube, and Twitter.
2. Respond. Do it yourself. Be yourself. Find a problem. Fix it. Learn from it. Then tell people what you learned. Now, though, you’ll do it in public.
3. Do this by calling the person with the problem. Tell them you understand the problem and fix it and you’re grateful for his help.
4. Once fixed – encourage them to blog about the experience.
5. Start a blog yourself, and share the problems and solutions as they occur.

What you are doing here is creating relationships. Just like you do with your friends, family, and customers face-to-face. But now you are expanding far beyond your “core” group – you are also reaching out to those that you may not have ever thought of. Keep in mind that the people who say good things are important – they become your testimonials. But more important are those that aren’t happy. Think about it – they care about your business – why else would they take the time & effort to blog / post / tweet about it?

Next is to understand why things have developed like they have. From what I’ve experienced, Social Media has developed in the following stages:

Stage 1 –  Website: Basically an online brochure for the company. Little to no interaction between company and customer other than a “contact us” form.Stage 2 – Blogs: Gave companies an easy to use way to start building a relationship with their customers – and with “People” rather than “Companies” blogging, blogs quickly turned into communities. Citizens started to take control of the message – but with so many blogs covering similar topics, it became difficult for the customer to make sense of relevant information.

Stage 3 – Communities: With MySpace and Facebook, communities solidified among common interests  – i.e. “Friends”. Dissemination and sharing of information generated out of Stage 2 made it much easer to make sense of relevant information.

Stage 4 – Twitter: Combines best of Stage 2 & Stage 3 – with the 140 character mini-blog. With the ability to follow others & gain followers, sharing of information via “tiny links” ties back info from blogs & social networks back into the mainstream in a controlled fashion.

The Benefit: Engagement Correlates To Financial Performance
In a recent study by The Altimeter Group, they found that implementing a social medial strategy for your business has a quantifiable result on revenues. When they looked at the financial performance of brands, they found that those companies that engaged in social media grew their revenues 18% over the last 12 months, compared to the least engaged companies who on average, saw a 6% decline in revenue during the same period. As they put it, “For example, a company mindset that allows a company to be broadly engage with customers on the whole probably performs better because the company is more focused on companies than the competition.” |  ENGAGEMENTdb – Altimeter 20 July 2009

According to their study, 4 things stand out:

It’s about quality, not quantity.
Don’t just set up a blog or a Facebook profile and leave it out there – keep up with it. Keep your content fresh. Build a network of friends & followers. Get involved with  your audience.It’s everbody’s job.
Don’t just assign this to one person in your organization. Get everybody involved – if someone engages your suppliers and / or customers, those customer touch points are where your social media efforts need to target.

If you can’t do everything – do something.
Start now, or you’ll fall behind. Even if your customers aren’t doing it – eventually they will.

Find your sweet spot.
Test and see what works best – then do it well. Be the master of what works, rather than spread yourself thin and be a master of nothing.

How to Start:

  • Again, search about yourself – and your competitors. It’s free market research to better understand how customers perceive you.
  • Remember that you don’t control your brand. Your customer does. To influnce their perception, you have to build relationships with them.
  • Start with the basics. Start a blog. You can make a free online one at blogger.com, or WordPress.com.
  • Start a Facebook account. Keep it focused on your business.
  • Start a Twitter account. Search for, and follow, those that affect your business. Your suppliers. Your customers. Publications that influence your industry. Even your competitors.
  • Start a Friendfeed account – and link your blog, your Facebook account, and your Twitter account together – that’s what FriendFeed does.
  • Do it every day. Tell your friends, your employees, your customers – to log on and “tweet”. Get a smartphone and do it on the run. Just do it!
  • Remember that this is constantly changing – so don’t worry about knowing how to do everything at once. Just start slow – and to get an idea of how to post – read the posts of those you follow – both in blogs & Twitter. You’ll quickly get the hang of it!

This isn’t rocket science. And, it’s not something you can take lightly either. But keep in mind that by doing this right – and right now – you have the opportunity to not just learn about what your customer thinks about you today, you have the chance to have a positive impact on what they think tomorrow – and with the growth of online communities, you can impact the perceptions of everybody they are connected with as well!

Thoughts on Customer Perception

I just watched a commentary about GM’s exit from bankruptcy, and the struggles it will face moving forward. Specifically, that in recent customer approval ratings upon ranking issues they had with their new car purchase, the statistical difference between a Chevy product, and a Toyota product, were insignificant. Yet, the public perception of quality between these two brand is huge!

How many times have we made a choice between two brands based on our perceptions, rather than reality? And, later on, either found out we made the wrong choice, or that had we made the “other” choice, the result would have been the same?

I think about what we see & hear in the media. How that shapes our perceptions. How what our friends and family say about an experience shapes our purchasing decisions. And, from a brand management perspective, how can we re-shape and re-manage those perceptions in a social-media controlled environment.

It used to be quite simple. Do a big ad-spend over a significant amount of time, get some good PR around your product – and everything would improve. No longer. One bad experience means thousands of instant Twitter posts, Facebook status updates, and instant market share loss. What’s the solution?

Simple. Never let your guard down. Whatever you do when you interface with the customer – do more. Do it better. Your product needs to provide a better experience than it does now – and you need to keep improving it. And, ask your customers what they think! Don’t ever assume – anything. Research, learn, implemient. Rinse & repeat.

Now…the bigger question – will your accounting department and your shareholders understand this concept?

More on American Car Design…

I recently got a comment from a reader, who took issue with some of my past comments on why it seems that American car manufacturers seem to design “less than attractive” cars. His points were that so have the Japanese & European manufacturers…and with attitudes like mine, no wonder the American automotive industry is in such crisis.

I applaud his brand loyalty. There are plenty of things I’m also loyal to – and I wish one of them was cars from the American car industry. But, his logic is flawed, in my opinion. Based on his note, the problem isn’t that we’ve built ugly cars, it’s that people just need to buy American. To a degree, he’s right – if we’d bought more American cars, we wouldn’t see GM shedding brands and declaring bankruptcy, nor would we see Fiat now a large owner of Chrysler.

But, let’s take my opinions out of the equation for a moment. Reality – the American buyer votes with his bank account…and there are a multitude of reasons why he/she hasn’t voted American nearly as much recently as, say, back in the 1960’s.

So, let’s take a look at “1969 vs. 2009”.

  1. Market Penetration. In 1969 – there wasn’t Datsun / Nissan, or Honda, or Toyota, or Subaru, or Mazda, or Kia, or Hyundai….and the list goes on. What the American automotive machine was competing against was either poorly made cheap British & Italian cars, or the VW Beetle. And, American build quality was world-leading. But, the cars were simple. Frame, body, engine, carburetor, wheels, suspension, brakes. Performance was measured by adding a bigger engine, and maybe cutting down on the overall mass of the car – which is how the muscle car grew in popularity initially. Competition between GM, Ford & Chrysler kept the lines moving. And, yet, when it came to performance cars, American cars were a good value. Now, 2009. American cars have to compete not only with their much improved counterparts “across the pond”, they also have had to compete with a whole new group from Asia, which even if everything else was even, would still contribute to a loss of market share over the last 40 years.
  2. Value for the Money. In 1969, as I mentioned above, you could build a car for a pretty inexpensive amount of money. Safety requirements, emissions requirements, reliability expectations were all much lower. So, there was not only room to pay the labor costs associated with the car, but still make a good sized profit. Now, in 2009, labor costs, along with the costs of meeting safety and emissions requirements, have caused the cost to build a car to explode. Unions still expect their workers to get paid the wages they’ve negotiated, retired workers still need their pensions, and shareholders still want their ROI. So, the accountants have gotten involved – and even though the overall reliability of American cars has drastically improved over the last 20 years, they still feel “cheap” inside. Hard plastic, cheap materials, and lost options abound on the lower-tiered cars in order to hit their price points. Yet, with lower labor costs, no union pensions, and a different shareholder perspective, have allowed European and Asian manufacturers to create cars that “feel” more expensive in comparison.
  3. Management Myopia. 1969 had the “Big Three” competing with themselves for the most part. When the rush of inexpensive, and eventually reliable, Asian cars rolled in during the 70’s gas crisis, it seems that one of two things happened. Either management ignored the threat, or with our American desire for “instant gratification”, the Big 3 shareholders handcuffed management’s need to change the companies and their resulting corporate cultures to chase after the “immediate ROI”. I suspect it was a bit of both. Case in point – GM was the early innovator in the late 1990’s with battery / hybrid technology with the EV1. Yet, they killed the car because they felt the need to chase Ford & Chrysler for SUV market share – and transferred those development dollars to Hummer. Now, Hummer is being sold to a Chinese company, and Toyota currently leads the way.

To be fair, not all American cars suck. The new Chevy Malibu – very attractive, and back to providing good value for the money. Same with most of the Cadillac line. Dodge still builds some of the best trucks, not to mention most attractive. But, of the three, Ford in my mind still leads the way. The Mustang – just about perfect. The truck lines – spectacular. And, unlike the other two, Ford does know how to build small cars – the Focus has always felt more expensive than it was, and the upcoming Fiesta is a world leader.

It’s not that I want the American car industry to fail –far from that. I want to see them truly regain the position that they’ve lost over the last 40 years. But, to “Buy American” just because it’s American – doesn’t keep us competitive. It doesn’t force us to do our best. Competition is good. It’s even better when – finally – it seems that the Big 3 have woken up, and realized that they aren’t competing anymore with each other – they are now on a world stage, and have to cut back, build attractive cars that provide safety, reliability, value – and are just as attractive from a design perspective as anything from Europe or Asia.

Here’s hoping they do it!

Chrysler – When Design does – and doesn’t – sell…

News today that Chrysler has declared bankruptcy. Wow – really, it’s only 30 years to late. In reality, Chrysler was dead back in 1979 when they took government loans to stave off bankruptcy.

I remember that time pretty vividly. Within a year, Chrysler was on their way to “recovery” thanks to Lee Iacocca, and the infamous “K” car. And, the Dodge Aries K was the first car I ever drove – back in 1980 in a drivers-ed class. The second car I drove during that same driving class was a Toyota Corolla – and the quality difference at that point made me understand why the Japanese car industry was overtaking the world.

Toyota, Mazda, Datsun (now Nissan), Honda and Subaru, 30 years ago – built cars that were cheap. Sure…maybe the interior plastics didn’t mix well with sunshine over time. But they ran. And ran. Didn’t break. Never left you stranded.

At the same time, it seems the “Big 3” were still trying to believe they were on top of the world like they were 10-15 years earlier. Yet, both the style of cars they built, along with the quality of the product the offered….well, just plain sucked!

The Japanese – they listened. They paid attention to what the customer was asking for. Quality, reliability, value – and style. About the time Chrysler was getting lucky with the whole “minivan” concept (which I believe is what truly rescued them back in the 80’s) – Japanese cars went from being “cheap, reliable, and funky” to “good value, reliable, and attractive”. Just like Korean manufacturers like Hyundai is currently doing.

Ford, and to some degree, General Motors, have finally started to figure all of this out. The Ford Fusion – I drove one as a rental car a few months back – yes, it’s built on the same platform (as well as, I think, the same assembly line) as the Mazda 6. And, I thought it was finally something that would make me look at choices other than a Camry or Accord. The Chevy Malibu – same thing. But the Chrysler Sebring I drove last year – what a piece of crap!

For $20K – you get something that can’t merge in traffic, makes you think you could disassemble the interior with a dull screwdriver, and had a funky smell of plastic release agent that made me think that on a long distance drive, would be more effective at getting one high that peyote! Not to mention it’s industrial ugly.

Even the Chrysler 300 – with it’s “gangster” look – aggressive, yes, but one design straight “from the hood” doesn’t cut it. The only “affordable” car that they now build that is even slightly attractive is the Challenger – a car that steals all its design cues from the 1960’s muscle-car hey-day.

I remember back about 15+ years ago when Chrysler came out with it’s “cab-forward” look  – where they seemed to think they could lead with “style” – like this would cover the other, important things people look for in a purchase they’ll pay for now for 4-6 years – things like reliability, resale value, and “lasting style”. For a time – I had hope they would do it. Now, the market has spoken – and with sales down over 40% from last year, the lines they’ve brought out the last 2-3 years just don’t resonate with people.

Here’s the thing. Style gets them into the showroom – the first time. The rest of the car keeps them coming back. Example – Porsche. BMW. Ferrari. Jaguar.  All these companies build cars that go “beyond” style. Performance and resale value keep owners in these cars, and to a large degree, they don’t rest on their past successes – they keep the brands growing. New designs that break with the past (to varying degrees) – yet still keep customers excited. On the lower end of the price-scale – look at BMW with the Mini, Volkswagen, and any of the Japanese manufacturers. Even when sales are down, they retain their customer base. If style itself isn’t the selling point (i.e. the Toyota Prius looks like a freakin’ toaster) – it’s multiple other selling points.

I hope Chrysler can get their act together. With the concessions that both the unions and lendors are giving them, combined with Fiat’s eventual control of the company – there is a glimmer of hope for them. My fear is – if you can’t make a company work when you’re owned by Mercedes when the economy was good, how are you going to do it when the economy sucks and you’re owned by Fiat?

However they do it – they had better make their cars go beyond “style”. Give us substance as well.

The Impact of Brand Identity

I just read a great article by John Dvorak of PC Magazine, where he asked a couple of great questions – including “would you like the iPhone as much if it came from Redmond instead of Cupertino”. (PC Magazine – “Microsoft’s Brand Image Gets Worse – 30 March 2009). And he brings up a great point in his article. If the iPhone was a Microsoft product, rather than an Apple one – would we still love it?

He maintains, and has for years, that Microsoft has lost control of its brand image. It’s now a negative brand. Now…there could be multiple reasons for this. Negative press back in the late 90’s over the US & European government lawsuits maintaining restraint of trade, due to Internet Explorer being bundled with Windows. But, how is that different than Apple’s control over it’s software & hardware. Perhaps it’s the perspective that Bill Gates is a controlling, uber-rich geek, while Steve Jobs is just “cool”. Or, maybe it’s the failure of Windows Vista in the marketplace.

No, I think it’s something different. Apple has done a spectacular job of listening to the marketplace – and it’s customers – and building exactly what it needs. Nothing less, and nothing more. They’ve made the brand “simple”. Simple to use iPods. Simple to use operating systems. They just “work”. But, Apple has accomplished this over the years because they stayed true to a specific brand concept. Microsoft on the other hand, wanted “more”. They had the goal of owning the desktop. Microsoft would control everything – the operating system was the platform that they successfully built a business off of – that then owned the business computing space with the Office suite of tools, combined with their server technology. When they set a clear goal that meant taking the entire brand in one new direction they were very successful – and a perfect example of this was when they, almost overnight, took over ownership of the browser from Netscape.

But now, it’s too much. Their programs are bloated and heavy. They’ve tried to be all things to all people. Their operating system Vista required so much more computing power when it came out that even new systems that people had just bought couldn’t use it. With the growth of netbooks over the last 2 years, even the best netbooks can’t use Vista. Why? With the new tools to improve usability, it still had to be backward compatible with older programs – and older peripherals. When you buy a new computer, and it runs slower than your old one – and the only difference seems to be what you have on it from Microsoft – and it’s harder to use than your old software – you’re not going to end up having a good image of Microsoft’s products.

Which then translates to the brand itself. There has been the impression over the years that Microsoft’s goal was to own the business-space. And to hell with the end-user. Now, that’s not reality, but in comparison, Apple’s branding has focused on the end user – and with a clean, cohesive branding program surrounding their products, they have given the impression that they are customer-focused.

So, can Microsoft make a phone that is as good – or better – than the iPhone? Definitely. But, as long as Microsoft’s brand identity is one of “corporate monolith that creates products that don’t take the end user’s needs into account” – it’s hard to think that the public would ever believe it would be the better phone! My belief – if Microsoft wants to ever beat Apple, Google, or any Web 2.0 startup – before they focus on the product – they need to focus on their brand. The question now is – is it too late for Microsoft to do this – can we ever believe again that Microsoft is “best”?

Corporate Arrogance…maybe this is part of the reason the economy is having problems!

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve read a couple of different news releases and articles regarding recent company downsizings, in light of the current economic turndown. One of them concerns Microsoft. Beyond the train-wreck called Vista, it seems they keep making miss-steps that may be why they’ve announced some pretty extensive layoffs this week – 5000 employees.

One release describes  that some of these cuts include the disbanding of the ACES Studio team which is responsible for Flight Simulator, as well as other games. And another describes that even though the revenue stream from some of these games has been small, it has been positive – while the Zune player that’s designed to compete with Apple’s iPod – has been loosing money. And, we see another case of “We have to show that we’re better than XXX company – so let’s cut those areas that are profitable and use the money we save to throw at unprofitable business units!”.

I now read the following article from CNET- based on an interview with Steve Jobs when iTunes was only 8 months old:

http://tinyurl.com/bgazev

Hmmm…seems Steve was right! Now, this doesn’t mean that Steve is a genius. Yes, Steve believes in both his company, it’s products, and his ability to read the market (and understand his customer). But, that’s the point – he understands his customer! Too many companies spend their time – and their marketing efforts – on telling the customer what they need and want. But, I’d say that the most successful companies (at least for the long-term) – spend their time and efforts trying to figure out a better way to deliver to their customer what they ask for.

When you think of Apple’s designs – whether it’s an iPod, a MacBook, or the iPhone – they take the time to make sure that it’s not just “pretty” – it also delivers to the customer what they asked for.

GM and the upcoming bailout…

With the upcoming bailout of the “Big 3” Automakers, it’s got me thinking again about “bad design. Of the three, Ford is actually in the best position financially. GM…is in the worst. GM is also thinking of shedding a few of it’s lines, including Saturn, Buick, and Pontiac.

The funny thing is, with the exception of the Corvette, the upcoming Camaro, and the (of all things) – new Malibu, nearly all of Chevrolet’s products are, well, bland. Yet, the new Pontiac G8 (really a Holden designed in Australia) and the Solstice, the nearly all of the Saturn lines, and the newest Buick products – are actually attractive! With car sales down 37% or more over last year, it seems insane that GM would get rid of the lines that might actually have products worth buying, and keep the lines that, well, pretty much suck. Furthermore, they keep talking about the Chevy Volt – the car that will “save the company” when it comes out in 2010.

Speaking of the Volt, I’ve read complaints that the car is “boring” – not very exciting to look at. Now, it does look a bit less like a toaster than the Toyota Prius does, but here’s a chance for GM to show the world that a breakthrough automobile, that can go 40 miles on it’s batteries before kicking in a small gasoline engine for recharging them, can also be beautiful. Yet, they responded to the criticism by saying that people would buy the car not based on looks, but based on it’s technology.

I believe that this is additional proof that the movie “Idiocracy” was really a documentary!

Oh…and they’ve also announced that they expect that they won’t make a profit on the Volt, due to the enormous R&D costs they’ve incurred during it’s development.

And we wonder why GM is in trouble?

The Importance of Integrity & Reputation

Whether it’s in a business relationship, a friendship, or a marriage – the importance of integrity can not be emphasized enough. I have been forced to think about this topic quite a bit over the last few weeks – due to a friendship that at this point, looks as though it has unfortunately, and catastrophically, ended.

Without identifying the friend, nor their situation, I’ve found myself stuck in a situation that has forced me to re-evaluate the importance of staying true to one’s own values. The problem is, I see my friend making a multitude of errors in their life that has hurt many people. They have sacrificed quite a bit over the last few weeks due to this – and yet, they continue to follow a path that from my experience, will not dig them out of the hole they’ve created for themselves.

One of those sacrifices has been their integrity. The person I thought I’d known for the last few years – now, I hardly recognize. When all of this started, I promised them that as a friend, I would not tell them what they wanted to hear – but what they needed to hear. And, they said they would not want things any other way. So, about 10 days ago, I had to do one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I had to bring to their attention, the fact that I know the reasons behind their recent choices. And, I didn’t do this in a judgmental way. Rather, I was trying to show them how their current path could lead to more problems.

The problem is compounded by the fact that this person has been one of my best friends. They feel horribly guilty over the pain they have caused others. And, since my warning to “be careful”, they have ended all contact with me. Yet, I have no regrets over trying to warn them – since, it would be a violation of my own sense of integrity, as well as a violation of the promises I’d made to them as a friend, if I hadn’t brought this to their attention.

The tough thing about living a life of integrity – is it’s not an easy path. Whether it’s a friend, a spouse, a business associate, or a customer – taking the path of least resistance may seem at the time to be the best approach. It avoids confrontation at the moment. It allows you to avoid the pain and discomfort of having to face someone that is offended. And, there’s always the excuse that “I can just avoid this now and deal with this later”.

Unfortunately, unless dealt with immediately, the longer you go without dealing with the issue, gives the person that you’ve offended that much more time to question your integrity. And may damage the relationship to the point that you loose that customer permanently. Or the spouse. Or business associate. Or…as in this case…possibly a friend.

Reputation research has verified what you were taught as a kid –  reputations are hard to earn and easy to damage. We filter the behavior we experience through the lens of its reputation. Behavior consistent with the reputation is accepted at face value while events inconsistent with the reputation are discounted.  And, once a reputation begins to move in a positive or negative direction, its momentum is extremely difficult to reverse.

From a business perspective, studies have shown that even a small positive increase in a company’s reputation results in a significant increase in business value, while a negative drop in reputation results in a decrease in business value. For example, a +1% improvement in the reputation of a company is accompanied by significant increases in that company’s value. Unanticipated, however were the strength of the impacts of negative changes in company reputation. A minor decrease in reputation (-1%) has 34 times the impact than an equally minor increase in reputation (+1%)!

Looking at the current economic crisis is a perfect example. A strong positive business reputation attracts customers, investors and employees. This has great benefits for a company because it will book more business, have an easier time raising money and recruiting employees. One of the great gains of a positive reputation is the loyalty it generates in customers and employees. Loyalty will cause customers and employees to stick with a company through tough times. A good reputation also makes a customer more likely to give a company the “benefit of the doubt”. This will make a customer more likely to tolerate a huge mistake and to not resort to the courts to settle a dispute. And, may give that company a competitive advantage over other, less reputable companies

It’s also important that when we end up in a situation where our trust is broken, that we let our own sense of integrity derive the path we should take with that person, company, or organization. Many times, there may be underlying reasons that were out of their control that caused the fault to occur. So, giving them “the benefit of the doubt” is never a bad thing. But at the same time – once should never compromise their own integrity in that process. To do so – may cause others around you to question your integrity just like you’re questioning the integrity of the  person or company that broke your trust.

How do you know if you’re a person of integrity? Simple. There is a wonderful quote from Thomas B. Macaulay. “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out”. As well as another one from Martin Luther King Jr. – “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. And, finally, one from Thomas Jefferson – “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock”.

PS. In the event that my friend reads this (which is doubtful) – I would hope they would call me – as a matter of principle, I don’t abandon my friends – especially when I know they are feeling bad. ☺

Thoughts on things “after the election”

Now that the election is over, and we’re now inundated with the media’s “Obama-mania” – I have been thinking about what all of this really means.

I just read an article on CNN that Obama is planning on “rebranding” the United States. The full article appears at http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/11/19/obama.world.image/index.html, but the gist of the piece is that although he’s poised to re-brand the United States image in international markets, his actions will have to live up to his rhetoric.

I, for one, don’t think that this is going to go well for him. Simply because I don’t see how anybody, at this point, could do it. The damage we’ve suffered within the international community over the last 8 years has been huge. From a branding perspective, when your brand has taken a hit – even if your customers want your brand to recover, and want to believe in you, turning your brand image around quickly is extremely difficult.

Think of General Motors. Up until the early 70’s, General Motors could do no wrong. They built large, gas-guzzling vehicles that had gobs of power, but were horrible for the environment, and burned through fuel as if it was always going to be cheap and plentiful. Between tightening emissions and a gas crisis in the early 70’s, they tried to turn on a dime, building cars like the Chevy Vega – pieces of crap that rusted on the showroom floors, that broke down constantly, and depreciated to the point of being worthless about the time they drove off the dealer’s lot.

35 years later, GM has never truly recovered. And, they’ve done a wonderful job of repeating their mistakes of the late 60’s – early 70’s – and are now facing bankruptcy without a huge injection of taxpayer money (which is really what a bailout is) – to keep them afloat. Now, yes, I understand that much of their problems are also due to UAW demands driving up labor costs, keeping their cars from being price competitive to other competing brands. But in terms of overall quality – there is still the perception that GM vehicles are not as reliable as, say, a Honda. Even when the quality of their vehicles has improved to the point where they may very well never break down.

Does this mean that people want GM to fail? No. But they’ve had 30 years to turn around their brand perception, and they’ve had the help of some of the best marketers in the business. Obama – he has 4 years – or less – to turn around the United States brand position. And, he also has to focus on our wars in  Iraq & Afghanistan, an economy in crisis, all while fulfilling the expectations of every voter that believed his promises enough to vote for him.

As a country, I think it’s in our best interest to support our new President. But, it’s not just his responsibility to improve our country’s image overseas. It’s our job too. A 2002 National Geographic study indicated that nearly a third of young Americans could not locate the Pacific Ocean. So, go learn a language. Learn about another culture. Befriend someone that you might have just met from another country – and learn about their experiences growing up somewhere else. And, if you travel overseas – be humble – and appreciate the country your visiting – learn from  it, and bring the best of it back here. Our country was built by people that brought their culture here – let’s show the rest of the world that we can still learn from them, rather than impose ourselves on them.

It might just make Obama’s job a little easier.