Archive for the ‘Entrepreneur’ Category

Two sides of the table: Agency vs. Client

Seth Godin hit it on the head of the nail again. He posted a blog today and turned my thinking upside down, inside out, like no one ever has, on the subject of being a great client. “Is there such a thing?” you may ask. Of course there is. Having been on both sides of the table, trying to be innovative on the agency side, and trying to keep innovation flowing as a client, I’ve never thought about my role in the light of “fostering.” But Seth said it well, and here’s my reaction to his bullet points.

I have here counter bullets of what you’re supposed to do if you’re on the other side of the table — that you’re the innovator. I think these bullets will serve as great reminders for anyone who wants to stay innovative and to become your client’s favorite innovator:

If you’re the client… If you’re the innovator…
  • Before engaging with the innovator, foster discipline among yourself and your team. Be honest about what success looks like and what your resources actually are.
  • If you can’t write down clear ground rules about which rules are firm and which can be broken on the path to a creative solution, how can you expect the innovator to figure it out?
  • Simplify the problem relentlessly, and be prepared to accept an elegant solution that satisfies the simplest problem you can describe.
  • After you write down the ground rules, revise them to eliminate constraints that are only on the list because they’ve always been on the list.
  • Hire the right person. Don’t ask a mason to paint your house. Part of your job is to find someone who is already in the sweet spot you’re looking for, or someone who is eager and able to get there.
  • Demand thrashing early in the process. Force innovations and decisions to be made near the beginning of the project, not in a crazy charrette at the end.
  • Be honest about resources. While false resource constraints may help you once or twice, the people you’re working with demand your respect, which includes telling them the truth.
  • Pay as much as you need to solve the problem, which might be more than you want to. If you pay less than that, you’ll end up wasting all your money. Why would a great innovator work cheap?
  • Cede all issues of irrelevant personal taste to the innovator. I don’t care if you hate the curves on the new logo. Just because you write the check doesn’t mean your personal aesthetic sense is relevant.
  • Run interference. While innovation sometimes never arrives, more often it’s there but someone in your office killed it.
  • Raise the bar. Over and over again, raise the bar. Impossible a week ago is not good enough. You want stuff that is impossible today, because as they say at Yoyodyne, the future begins tomorrow.
  • When you find a faux innovator, run. Don’t stick with someone who doesn’t deserve the hard work you’re doing to clear a path.
  • Celebrate the innovator. Sure, you deserve a ton of credit. But you’ll attract more innovators and do even better work next time if innovators understand how much they benefit from working with you. 
  • Ask what success means for your client. Tell your client what success means to you in relation to your client’s success.
  • Lay down ground rules and lay out a road map with which you can reach a creative solution, and explain to your client how you’re going to get there. Find out what your client’s ground rules and road map to innovation is like.
  • After writing down the ground rules, if you think some of them are getting in the way of innovation and creativity, revise them.
  • Discuss the importance of simplicity vs. efficiency, that your client doesn’t need to sacrifice sophistication nor efficiency with simple design.
  • Get the right people on your team, even if they’re smarter than you. Having people who are very good at what they do on your team is better than getting generalists who try hard to be good at everything.
  • Talk about innovations and decisions with your client. Make it clear from the get-go that decisiveness and a risk-taking mindset is key to the successful execution of innovative ideas.
  • Be honest about resources and constraints with your client. Be transparent about the truth, you’ll earn your client’s respect that way.
  • Don’t work for cheap. You know the market price of your work, so don’t accept less and spoil market.
  • Don’t concede to issues of irrelevant personal tastes from your client. Your client may have weird tastes and pet-peeves but your client may not be the only consumer of the product/service that you’re innovating. Your audience is king, your client is not.
  • If you sense someone on your client’s team is consistently killing innovation, pull the person aside and have a one-on-one discussion about innovation. This is a great opportunity to “educate” someone who might not have gotten it yet.
  • Your client may be the faux innovator, and you can’t run away from him. If the client continues to supersede your job to innovate, maybe you need to change your strategy or simply walk away.  
  • Celebrate a good client. If your client offers you plenty of room to innovate and make things happen, you should recognize the wonderful relationship and do even better work. 

About capturing your customers’ full value,


Is Your Brand and Rolodex Online?

Over a recent trip to Detroit, Michigan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Scott Monty, head of global social media at Ford Motor Company. It was Twitter that brought us together, but it was his candidness that made our meetup a meaningful and memorable one.

We discussed about companies, social media and branding. So in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to put up blog posts that cover these various topics and share with you insights from and analysis of each one of them.

Insight #1: Are your sales and marketing superstars on all major social media networks?

The idea of personal branding is centuries old, but the practice of it is evolving. “The long-term strategy is more than just a super Rolodex,” said Scott Monty of Ford Motor Company. “You need to establish a presence on all major social media channels.”

Traditional, old-school sales folks will tell you they can bring to your company a book of business, or a “super Rolodex” as Scott Monty put it, to help you win more business. If you hire someone in that vein of acumen, you could probably do yourself a favor by asking one more question: What’s your online presence like and how well is your brand established on all major social media channels?

If the person gives you a I-have-no-idea-what-you’re-talking-about look, then walk way. You’d do yourself another favor by saving 15 minutes explaining to him or her what social media is and why it is so important to have your personal brand presence online.

Think you’re being too tough to ask a 50-year-old sales rockstar this question? No, you’re not. Traditional sales and marketing concepts and experience are still relevant, but the practice of it has evolved online, and will continue to do so. If the person doesn’t have an online presence, where do you think your company will head to – stone age? You need someone who has the understanding, interest and conviction to take your business and brand online.

But before we dig deeper into business branding, let’s talk about the relationship between personal branding and business branding, which is so often misunderstood, but which holds the key to successfully separating yourself and your company brand from competition.

Scott’s personal brand was established before he joined Ford. (Check out @ScottMonty on Twitter and his blog on “There was a misconception about me that I utilized the Ford brand to establish my brand. But nothing is farther from the truth–I have my own personal network and online brand established long ago, and when I joined Ford, I took my personal network and connect my friends and peers with the Ford brand which they wouldn’t otherwise be associated with.”

A year after joining Ford, Scott not only continues to thrive in his personal brand, he has also taken the Ford brand to a different level—social media. Ford is now becoming a brand known to the younger consumers and have caught on the long-tail buzz as a reliable, trusted and quality brand.

Many business owners feel that if their sales and marketing superstars have their personal brands, then they must not be serving the purpose of the company. That’s ABSOLUTELY unfounded thinking. In fact, if they look closer at how branding, PR and marketing are done these days, a personal network of thousands can boost and drum up support and interest of tens of thousands on a geometrical scale, making whatever your campaign is much more successful than ever.

So let’s take a look here at the distinct features, upside and downside with regards to social media branding if you’re still wondering what they all mean:

Social Media Branding Distinct Features Upside Downside
LinkedIn A combination of traditional Rolodex and instant updates. Group discussion feeds are available at your desired frequency. Plenty of discussion groups to join. Receives real-time feeds of what your network of contacts are up to on the Home page. You can expand your network via tapping into your 2nd and 3rd degree contacts. Still not the most user-friendly interface. Group discussions yield limited participation. It’s difficult to look up event information and events you’ve RSVP’d once it’s done. People typically do not accept your invitation unless they’ve already made a connection with you prior.
Facebook Allows you to create personal network groups and make your posts viewable by those in your group only. You can join other people’s groups and receive real-time updates of their feeds and discussions. Everything is instant and done in real-time. Information is shared the second you post it online. You can tap into your group participants’ network as you try to expand your network of influence. Users seem to be more open to accepting new contact invites in this channel. Though easier to add contacts, the quality of contacts may not be consistent with that of your LinkedIn connections. Facebook interface and functionalities may require users to spend a bit more time to dig deep and interact. Only practice can make your art of Facebooking perfect.
Twitter Real-time information in 140 characters – short, fast and sweet. Great for building up a vast network quick and make real-time announcements. Single-layer platform doesn’t allow you to do much other than leveraging contacts’ updates to expand your knowledge and your circle as well as to work through contacts to see what opportunities they can bring you.
Blog In the true journalist style, a blog becomes your newspaper or magazine to voice your opinion and share content at your desire. Gives you a sticky presence online and perhaps the best form of personal branding to date. It’s essentially your own platform that gives you the flexibility to write, post and show what you want to share. High commitment tool that forces you to deliver high-quality content at all times.
YouTube Viral videos on steroid!! YouTube offers you a fast and furious way to get a reaction and prompts call-to-action for a campaign. YouTube links can be embedded cross-platform on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. This is a great companion to your existing content and sharing opinions in real-time. Successful videos can get hundreds and thousands of views overnight and generate a ton of publicity. Video quality varies on YouTube. Viraling videos and coming up with ingenious content requires professional video skills, strategic thinking and strong commitment to execute. If done inappropriately, videos can cause backlash.

In marketing, don’t claim to provide “24/7 customer service” if you can’t deliver

Marketing won’t work when what your promise doesn’t deliver. Your marketing promise doesn’t deliver when –

  1. advertising backfires
  2. promotion ideas don’t sell
  3. customer service fails

Of the three, customer service failure seems to be the most difficult to reverse, and probably the most detrimental to any business brand.

Customer service representatives are the frontline soldiers of any brand or company, they are the first to be called when customers need help with a product or service, report issues or provide feedback; they deliver the first and an important impression of a brand in customers’ minds besides the product or service itself. But how often do we get good customer service when we want to inquire about a product? How often do we get all the answers we want when we’re reporting a problem? And how often do we get our problems resolved satisfactorily through customer service?

If the company, service or product is a “monopoly” in its category or geographical region, the marketing/customer service experience tends to be worse, to the point of even being schizophrenic. Schizophrenia happens when a company makes all the promises it wants on TV, in print or online, but customers are feeling disconnected and disengaged when they interact with the company through repeated product/service failures to perpetually bad customer service. (This is when customers started using Twitter and Facebook to share bad experience with companies, products or services.) I think these companies know who they are.

Marketing won’t work in any case with these companies because the fundamental principle of good marketing has been violated – marketing dollars can only be justified and delivered by great customer service. You can spend millions on a TV campaign telling stories of how good a product is, how environmentally concerned a company is, or how lives have been changed through its service to the community, but if customers call and all they get is a “What?”, “I don’t know what you mean”, ” Sorry there’s nothing we can do”, “You gotta calm down ma’am” type of responses, I don’t think these companies will ever get anywhere with their marketing, and they simply cannot justify their marketing spending. Instead of creating a facade of goodwill, diversity, social responsibility or whatever it may be, these companies should seriously dedicate resources to re-training customer service, re-tuning infrastructure, and refining its business philosophy — create a long-term, growing commitment to its customers.

I’ve been placed into a perpetual queue by calling into a utility company‘s 24/7 customer service hotline for almost 45 minutes now…

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Should CEOs blog?

UberCEOThis seems to be a decade-old question since the inception of weblog and the wider spread of blogging during 1999.

Whenever I’m asked whether a company should have a CEO blog, images of the CEOs I’ve worked with would flow into my mind. My response is always: yes for some but no for others.

I’ve worked with a handful of CEOs over the last eight years, mostly in roles with direct accountability. In working alongside them, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with their counterparts – CEOs in other companies. Most CEOs are open, visionary and inspirational. And some are particularly engaging and dynamic. They take time to listen to their staff and build strategies with full support from them. They inspire employees to become “little hearts” of the company and transform the workplace into Magic Kingdom – fun, professional and happening. (Type 1 CEOs)

But there are also CEOs who simply don’t engage or inspire. Their focus is on themselves and personal success. Their ideas and decisions come down on their staff like blazing fires – consuming everybody’s energy and focus. (Type 2 CEOs)

Type 1 CEOs should start blogging if they haven’t already, but I wouldn’t recommend Type 2 CEOs to blog because the voice of their blogs will come off the same way, burning off every bit of interest in their readers.

Why? Because blogs are powerful tools – they penetrate the deepest thoughts and enliven your thinking into visual images. Successful bloggers create positive images, empowering messages and empathetic viewpoints. The most popular blogs are always painfully honest, honestly incisive and incisively inspirational.

I have trouble reading CEO blogs that simply aren’t believable. Their tone and content tell me how interested they are in people’s lives and what other people are thinking. Yes, Seth Godin will tell you “no one cares about you” (they only care about what they’re going to get out of you). But if I’m reading your blog, I’d somewhat care about you as a person or the impact of what you’re saying will have on me and others. I may not be aware of your company or brand right away, but I’d certainly be aware of your tone, your actions and how your experience impacts my thinking about your company and brand.

Don’t just blog because you have to, be good blog material first.

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Moving Beyond Experimentation to Revolution: Social Media is Relevant and pervasive


While many are converting to become social networkers and social media marketers, some folks are still twiddling their thumbs about the power and relevance of social media networks and tools, and how their business can leverage them to grow and transform. In my business, I encounter these “laggards” all the time.

TNS Cymfony, a company whose core competency is to tell brands and companies what their consumers are saying about them, recently published the Complete Guide to Build Support for, Implement and Generate Business Results from Social Media Programs. I was so excited to see that and wanted to share with everyone I know.

From the evolution of digital communication (discussion groups -> email marketing-> consumer review sites-> photo-sharing-> virtual communities (Second Life) -> video sharing -> social networks), online tools like these have gradually yet rapidly enhanced consumers’ experience and influence over their peers, which have in turn influenced the popularity, marketing campaign and brand image of different products. This feedback loop is now pervasive and relevant to every line of product and service. Word of Mouth (WOM), though a relatively older term in the Web 2.0 world, has now taken on a new life form—WOM can now feed off any social media channel and kick back decisions made by major corporations if they were not going the way their consumers wanted or anticipated. The amount of insight companies can gather these days about their products over social network sites can now subvert or convert the product development plan of any major brand product company. Talk about the real power of market research and product marketing, but above all, the power of consumers and especially of consumers online.

We must embrace the advent of social media and be part of it. We’ll address the planning and development of a comprehensive social media strategy for your company on the next blog.

Photo credit to spleenboy on

Focus on the Job at Hand and Not the Reward

Simon Sinek is probably one of the most inspirational coaches I’ve ever encountered. He doesn’t know me personally but I sat in one of his classes at Columbia University’s Strategic Communications Program before. As always, his blog makes me pause and think. His blog on “It’s Better to be Given than to Take” reinforces the motto I’ve been trying to follow in life–be the best of yourself with whatever you do. I thank Simon for reminding me that, and I also want to thank my folks for instilling that philosophy in me early on.

Simon’s “Re:Focus” thinking has certainly influenced my marketing approach toward what I do at work every day. If you haven’t read his blog at, go check it out now.

Salute to my influencers!