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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Canadian Content Regulations on the Web? Google Says No

In the 1970s, Canada's cultural industry received a major boost from the Trudeau government's Canadian Content legislation (Can-Con, or Cancon). On March 30, 2010, The Globe and Mail published a report on the Commons Heritage Committee's efforts to come to terms with Can-Con and  New Media.

The Heritage Committee invited Jacob Glick, Canada Policy Counsel for Google Inc., to talk to them about new media issues. Glick told the MPs that Can-Con rules should not apply to the Internet:
For decades, Canadian content rules have controlled what programs air on television during prime time and what songs are heard on the radio. Those rules no longer apply to Canadians who increasingly go the web for music and video.

Google’s point man for Canadian policy, Jacob Glick, told MPs that while those measures are needed, Ottawa should not attempt to “roll back the clock” by regulating Canadian content online.

“More Canadian content can be seen, created and enjoyed in ways never before possible,” said Mr. Glick, Canada Policy Counsel for Google Inc.,. He said Canadians can already watch hours upon hours of Canadian content on YouTube (which is owned by Google) without ever watching the same thing twice.
I'm torn by this advice.

On the one hand, I understand that search algorithms determine relevance to searchers' requests using multiple criteria, including geography, so Canadian searchers are somewhat more likely to receive Canadian webpages in search results.

On the other hand, I'm skeptical of any business that claims regulation would be counter-productive in its domain. Many Wall Street firms are trying, with limited success, to make that same claim with regard to their creative financial solutions.

I'm also skeptical because it seems Google's entire business plan can be encapsulated in Benjamin Jowett's words: "Never retreat. Never explain. Just get it done and let them howl."

The case of Google Buzz is illustrative. Instead of consulting with Canada's Office of the Privacy Commissioner, or any other privacy advocates, before launching Google Buzz, Google launched first, then proposed to address privacy concerns afterward.

I guess it's easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

Except Google's not begging. Google is a large corporation with political leverage and a business agenda.

Canadian MPs will have to use a case-by-case approach to determine how best to accommodate the anarchy of the Wild-West Internet within the more Canadian ideal of peace, order and good government. The answer may not be regulation, but in any case the answer will never be to act according to ideological purity.

With all this in mind, perhaps we should re-examine Google's recent conflict with the government of China concerning censorship. After all, isn't Can-Con itself a kind of censorship?

We may have different emotional reactions to these stories, but emotions should not blind us to their common denominator: the conflict between a corporate agenda and a nation's sovereignty - a war with many fronts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Failure of Imagination

University of Waterloo President David Johnston on the Canadian government's "digital strategy":
Despite the lip service on the digital economy, Johnston said, the government doesn't appear to understand how important broadband and other information communications technology (ICT), such as mobile phones, are to economic development.

"There's a lack of understanding that ICT is a transforming set of technologies, as important as the printing press was 500 years ago. Because Western Europe understood the transforming qualities of the printing press, it took off. Chinese society, Islamic society and Indian society did not," he said."

We are at least in that kind of measurable comparison today. Those societies that have a better understanding of the digital economy will prosper very quickly and those that don't will not. We've had a failure of imagination there."
How serious is this "failure of imagination" with regard to a "transforming set of technologies"? Very serious.

We know that Canada is lagging partially due to high cellphone rates and slow smartphone adoption rates.

We also know that our educational system is not preparing the next generation of creative/information workers.
Johnston said the country's university system must shoulder part of the blame for the lag in Canada's technological mindset. The schools haven't done enough to train students to work smarter, he said, which means that few Canadian companies succeed based on innovation. Of Canada's biggest companies, most are banks, while only BlackBerry maker Research In Motion — also based in Waterloo — has succeeded internationally, mainly because it has focused on innovation.
Innovation is the key, and the time is now.

Social Media and Traditional Marketing, Part 2

I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create. (William Blake, Jerusalem)
As I said in my earlier post, I had a conversation with a marketing educator concerning the role of social media in marketing. I told the educator that I believed social media, as part of an integrated marketing communications strategy, have an important role to play, mostly because they serve to keep marketers honest.

In the educator's reply, he said he agreed with my comment that social media needed to be "part of a total media plan."

The only problem is, that's not what I said.

What's the difference between an "integrated marketing communications strategy" and a "total media plan"?

Night and day. It's frustrating to realize at the end of a conversation that you've been speaking a different language.

"Media planning" is advertising terminology. "Integrated marketing communications" is not. Advertising may be part of a larger marketing communications strategy, but an advertising media plan is only a small part of that strategy.

Whenever there is a paradigm shift in any discipline, a new terminology arises, because, as William Blake said, "I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's." The resulting cognitive dissonance can be both a barrier and a boon.

Social Media and Traditional Marketing, Part 1

I was recently asked, by a marketing educator, "how a marketer reaches and manages the markets involved with the Twitters and Face Books of the world."

Reaching is one thing, managing quite another. The question itself reveals a much larger question: how does traditional marketing adapt to the new reality of social media?

The first thing the traditional marketer needs to do is give up the idea of control. We can't control social media or the use to which they are put. We can manage our social media efforts, but we can't manage the media themselves.

We have to be very careful about overt commercial use of social media (see the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, 4.2).

Social media have changed marketing radically, but the change is primarily to remove the marketer from direct manipulation of the marketing message and the consumer. Social media can be a great commercial benefit, but you need to let your prospects and customers do the talking.

Marketers have to be aware of the power of social media conversations. They need to monitor these conversations and respond to them in their own publications -- their websites and blogs. They can use other social media to link to their websites and blogs, but they should be careful about engaging directly using social networks.

The one constant in Internet and social media marketing is information. People, regardless of culture, use the Internet and social media to find information that is of value to them. The marketer reaches prospects and customer by providing that information -- by making it easily accessible.

The other aspect of social media that is important, and which marketers have to been keenly aware of, is the power of narrative. They do not just contain information: they structure it within a narrative.

The well documented fact is that people usually believe anecdotal evidence over hard, even overwhelming, empirical evidence. It's not enough that marketers present the facts (though they must definitely do that in the age of social media). They must present the facts in a convincing narrative. Information without narrative is merely data, and data convinces no one. Social media participants can pick up a narrative and broadcast it, or they can formulate their own narrative and broadcast it. Which would you prefer they do?

The only way to manage the reputations of companies, products and services (and by extension to increase sales of those products and services, and improve profitable revenue and the value of the company) is to combine authenticity, information and narrative to present a compelling case.

I told the educator that I believed social media, as part of an integrated marketing communications strategy, have an important role to play, mostly because they serve to keep marketers honest.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Dark Side of Social Media

Hamilton Spectator, March 15, 2010:
Teen dead in triple shooting

Two partygoers complained about music at student house, then pulled handguns; two others wounded

The party had been advertised on Facebook and other social media. Eyewitnesses said the suspects were acting strange and combative that night.
Seldom do we see a more stark example of how a tool designed to augment our existence may be used to harm us. It seems the two suspects showed up with intentions to celebrate March break in their own manner. This ambiguity is in the nature of all tools. The tool is ethically neutral, but its uses are not. A hammer can be used to build a house, but it can also be used as a weapon.

What this story illustrates is how little we can do to control or manage the ways in which social media are used. We release information into the wild and it mutates like a virus.

As marketers, we have to understand that a social medium is not just another marketing or advertising medium. We can't control the conversation. We can't manage the medium. And we can't determine the uses to which our information is put.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How Not to Preach to the Choir

I recently published a post on cognitive conservatism and the climate change debate over at one of our other blogs. It got me thinking about the topic of cognitive dissonance in general.

Whereas cognitive conservatism is "People's tendency to retain their beliefs, intellectual as well as religious, in the face of what strike other people as conclusively refuting arguments or clearly disconfirming evidence" (Barbara Herrnstein Smith), cognitive dissonance describes the feeling of discomfort we feel during that confrontation between belief and evidence.

I frequently run in to both among marketing professionals. In general, people prefer having their personal prejudices confirmed over authentic analysis.

Now, cognitive dissonance can be a valuable teaching tool, because when a student overcomes the initial belief set by accepting the incontrovertible evidence, the lesson is generally well learned and has a significant impact.

However, cognitive dissonance only has this beneficial effect on the open-minded. Cognitive conservatism, like Douglas Adams' peril-sensitive sunglasses, blocks rational consideration of empirical evidence. Climate change deniers, for example, may counter hard scientific data with an anecdote about the weather. Phew! Cognitive dissonance averted!

Why is it that we tend to believe anecdotal evidence, often in the face of overhelming scientific evidence to the contrary? Michael Shermer, Scientific American:
"The recent medical controversy over whether vaccinations cause autism reveals a habit of human cognition -- thinking anecdotally comes naturally, whereas thinking scientifically does not."
As James Lovelock says, our brains are belief machines. We form beliefs based on anecdotes quite readily, and those beliefs often remain unshaken despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That is the power of narrative. It's also the power of conspiracy theory, and also how charismatic leaders have led us astray throughout history.

The reason that narrative has such power is that we make connections instinctively as a product of millennia of experience in the natural world. We create "false positives" (the belief that A and B are connected) from anecdotal evidence.

This mental habit has held us in good stead, because false positives, at least at the personal level, are usually harmless. If you hear a sound (A) outside your cave, and you associate that sound with (B) a sabre-toothed tiger, then this association acts to preserve your life, even if not true on each occasion you hear the sound. A false negative, believing that sound (A) is not a sabre-toothed tiger when it actually is, will likely result in your departure from the gene pool.

Scientific method, on the other hand, has been around for only a few hundreds of years. But if we're going to treat sales and marketing as sciences (which is what lean marketing proposes), we their practitioners must draw on more than just anecdotal evidence. We need to draw on human experience, tell a story, have a conversation with our customers, but we also need to use scientific method to measure our efforts and improve them continuously.

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received in my life came from an old Steelworkers Union labour negotiator. He said to me: "Never believe your own bullshit."

Or in the words of the ancient proverb: "Trust in Allah, but tie your camels."

The point is that we need narrative to overcome both cognitive dissonance and cognitive conservatism, but we have to back it up with science, and more particularly, with scientific method.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mr. CEO: Tear Down These Silos

I frequently meet with executives who think their organizations epitomize lean thinking. However, upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that the implementation of lean thinking applies only to operational functions within the organization. Design is lean. Manufacturing is lean. But what of all the other corporate functions?

Business as usual

A company that adopts lean principles in its design and manufacturing will not be a truly lean organization until it adopts lean principles across all corporate functions, including sales and marketing. In a lean organization, every executive, manager and employee is a stakeholder. Each represents the company. All should speak as one when it comes to describing the company, its mission, and its competitive advantage.

When it's business as usual, corporate functions are silos with limited intercommunication, speaking different languages.

The time is past when companies can afford adversarial relations between marketing and engineering, or between marketing and sales. In a lean organization, we are all marketers and salespeople, and insofar as we use real data and scientific method to achieve predictable results, we are all engineers. We are all engineering the success of our organization.

It may be the role of marketing to formulate the company's message, but the content needed to find, win and keep customers must come from those who design, build, sell, implement and maintain the company's products and services. They need a common language.

Lean is the common language. Any stakeholder from any department can ask the basic lean question of any other stakeholder: how does a proposed course of action take us closer to realizing our strategic objectives? If that course of action was developed using lean thinking, the stakeholder will have an answer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Conversation with Your Customers

With the advent of the Internet and various social media, marketing has become a conversation with your customers. Back in 2000, The Cluetrain Manifesto made it clear that marketers would not succeed in the Internet future without major retooling.

What does this mean? Well, put yourself in the place of your customers: If you want to talk to a vendor about buying products or services, do you call their marketing department?
No, because you don't want to hear how the product slices and dices and does everything but walk your dog.

Do you want to talk to a salesperson? Maybe, but only if you already have the information you need to make an informed buying decision and simply want to negotiate.

So, if you don't yet have enough information to make up your mind, who do you want to talk to? If you're a technical person looking for a technical product or solution, you probably want to talk to one of the vendor's technical people. You want a peer-to-peer conversation with someone who understands their technology and your needs.

If an informed customer is your best friend, then the curiosity of your customers is your best sales tool. Help them help you. Make the information they need accessible, authoritative, concise and complete.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"All Mouth and No Trousers"

I just ran across this phrase in BNET's coverage of the 2010 Super Bowl ads. It's a British expression that approximates the more common (in North America) "all talk and no action," and BNET used it to describe one of the ads that aired, and the failure of public reaction to live up to the ad's pre-game hype. In other words, the ad was a bust.

How did they figure that out so quickly? Enter Internet technology and social media.
Brand Bowl 2010 was created to measure viewer reaction via the "Twittersphere."

Before you get too excited about a new age of accountability in old media advertising, consider this stat from BNET: "
while the dollar cost of an ad on the Super Bowl has increased more than 6,900 percent, the effective per-viewer cost has tripled since 1984."

So, in 1984, when 85.5 million people watched the Chicago Bears beat the New England Patriots, a 30-second ad cost $525,000, or roughly 1 cent per set of eyeballs. This year, as approximately 90 million viewers (the "Who Dat" nation) watched the Saints trounce the Colts, a 30-second ad cost about $3 million, or roughly 3 cents per viewer. However, to really make an effective impression, the big brands had to run multiple spots. Doritos, for example, ran at least three different spots.

For the rest of us, who do not have a $9 million advertising budget on any given Sunday, the medium is definitely all mouth and no trousers.

And now for my favorite ad:

The reading glasses hanging from his t-shirt -- great touch.

(Full disclosure: I am a life-long Packers fan, and remain a Brett Favre fan.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ascent - Opportunity Meets Planning, Dedication and Determination

A year ago, my nephew climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, with the assistance of professional guides, and after months of conditioning work with a personal trainer. His stories upon his return were fascinating, but what impressed me most was the planning, dedication and determination with which he pursued his dream.

Dreams are just dreams unless you apply all of your physical, mental and financial resources to achieve them. An inspirational message for dire economic times.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Groundhog Day - Business as Usual?

Ever since Harold Ramis and Bill Murray got together in 1993 to make Groundhog Day, the day has taken on added cultural significance. This day has always marked the dead of winter, and the hope of spring, but it's also now a reminder of how we can get stuck in a rut, repeating the same old rituals day in and day out, business as usual.

And of course, there's the definition of insanity: repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting a different result.

Well, business as usual isn't good enough any more -- not in this economic climate. If you don't pursue new business aggressively and efficiently, you too can experience Groundhog Day every day, just like Bill Murray did.

Lean marketing requires you to examine the processes by which you aim to achieve your sales & marketing objectives. When you analyze processes, you can make continuous improvements, and achieve more sales opportunities at a lower cost, and thus more profitable revenue, improving both your top and your bottom line.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Website Evolution and Profitable Revenue

A rather long and complex post to make a simple point, I'm afraid, but process is everything.

I've been reading Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth, which is a powerful presentation of the evidence for evolution, and I've been impressed by his skillful use of analogy in making his case. Analogies are like cars: they all eventually break down (as this one is about to do). Analogies are useful as aids to understanding (as cars are not).

In fact, analogies are not only useful: they are necessary, because our understanding of the world we inhabit is largely figurative. Have you ever wondered why so many things taste like chicken? It's because we cannot express what the taste of something is (except as a chemical reaction, which would be meaningless to the vast majority); instead we have to understand our taste experience by comparison. We don't ask what the taste of a strawberry is. We ask what a strawberry tastes like.

But I digress.

Dawkins externalizes his search for appropriate analogies for evolution. He lets us in on his thought processes and his reservations, which is a good thing, since the audience he is really trying to reach (most likely in vain, I'm afraid) are linguistic literalists, the people who believe in the literal truth of the mythic, and as a result, that the age of the Earth is somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years.

Once more I digress.

One of the analogies that Dawkins tosses aside as inadequate and misleading is the comparison of DNA with a blueprint. When you build a house from a blueprint, you know where the roof trusses are going to go before you lay the foundation. This is top-down design. We can think of DNA as a set of instructions, but in order for DNA to be a top-down blueprint for the born/hatched/germinated instance of life, it would have to contain an exponentially greater number of instructions.

A more fitting analogy for the way that embryologic life develops is the recipe. If you look at a building carefully, you can reverse engineer it and come up with a blueprint. You can't do the same thing with a cake. A recipe does not describe a finished result. It is a set of instructions that sets a process in motion toward a not-completely-predictable result.

But, to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, that's not what I came here to talk about. I came here to talk about websites, and my point is really quite simple.

Your website should be a living, breathing entity. It is never done developing, so you can't start with a "final" state in mind. Instead, you need to start with a recipe, with a set of ingredients that interact to achieve objectives. You're not building a cathedral, and visitors don't come to your website to worship. Your website is not a one-time investment or a cost of doing business. It is an ongoing budget line and a profit centre. For most businesses, it is the key to more profitable revenue, because it drives down the cost of opportunities.

Think of your website as an ongoing dinner party with your customers, during which you engage in mutually beneficial, sparkling conversation. The courses change, but their purpose remains as a vehicle for that conversation.

When you are developing your website, you primary considerations should be your objectives, a recipe for success, and the ingredients you need to begin the process.