Let’s have meaningful marketing conversations

It’s the digital equivalent of eyes glazing over, that unfortunate side-effect when a conversation you think is interesting is boring the other person.

And the effect is bad enough when it’s face to face with just one person (especially if it’s your partner). Imagine the compound effect over thousands of prospects, some of whom might love you, some of whom might want to love you, some of whom are wary of you, and some who are just downright hostile. McGraw-Hill Magazine’s famous print ad. springs to mind.

Even with the advent of the Internet, on-line tools, CRM systems, database management tools, blogs, and more (all now familiar stuff) companies still spend seven-figure sums on digital content and outbound marketing, only to struggle to justify the investment.

Worse, they know it’s not working.

The digital difference then means merely arriving at this sense of unease faster.

But there is another digital difference, the most wonderful asset a marketer could want. The social web is your on-line radar receiver, a means of trapping and making sense of the noise in the digital ether. What’s more, it’s operating in real-time, so you now get closer to prospects and customers as the conversations are taking place.

Mapping individuals to organizations and industry sectors already in your customer database clearly lets you re-cast the messages you want to use with these individuals, potentially to each individual in turn if you wish. And it lets you package products, offers and services in the same way, either to respond to specific opportunities, or to wrap a ‘cover’ round an existing offering to reflect the in-bound insight you’ve just gleaned from the conversations you’re now part of.

When I first wrote about this four years ago, these conversations were couched in terms relevant and meaningful to marketers and, if we were lucky, sales managers. Today, boards are demanding to see the opportunities because they now understand that their organizations can distinguish between those that are immediate and real, and those that are irrelevant. They are quickly qualified because they reflect actual needs being expressed in detail by real people.

As every marketer knows, it’s good to get as close to reality as possible.

(Also published on LinkedIn and at digivizer.com.)

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In light of recent events…

I’m no political commentator but, re-reading Henry Mintzberg’s (@Mintzberg141) book Managers Not MBAs, I chanced across the following passage. I think it casts light on possible context for both last week’s US Presidential Election and the earlier Brexit result in the UK. What’s especially telling is that he’s quoting data from the late 1990s, in a book published in 2004.

He notes:

‘The facts…tell a different story [relating to the facility of the notion of a rising tide benefitting all on the back of increased shareholder value]. In 1989, the United States had 66 billionaires and 31.5 million people living below the official poverty line. A decade later, the number of billionaires had increased to 268, while the number of people below the poverty line increased to 34.5 million… In 1996, 26 per cent of all workers were in jobs paying poverty-level wages, a larger proportion than in the past…’

Notwithstanding the various aspects of racism, xenophobia and other unacceptable positions, comments and behaviour demonstrated on both sides of the Atlantic, what seems clear to me is that the political class indeed has become disconnected from those it purportedly represents.

My answer to a question from my late-teenage son, who simply asked “why, and how?”, seemed straightforward: citizens (I think, certainly speaking for myself) seek job security, good healthcare, opportunities for themselves and their families, and safety, with adequate infrastructure to deliver all of this. It’s my belief that most individuals are prepared to pay for these services through fair taxes. I suspect they are less-interested in political dogma or global systems, either capitalist or socialist, per se. Easy to say, difficult to deliver, even more so when preoccupied with aligning with others and to systems always underpinned by vested interests. That is, though, the point and purpose of elected officials.

And they’ve just been reminded.

(See Managers Not MBAs – A hard look as the soft practice of managing and management development, by Henry Mintzberg, Berrett-Koehler, 2004.)


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Yes, it’s all about influence – and data

I’ve just read this article by Stephen Waddington in the CIPR‘s online blog Influence.


Well worth a read – and I ask a few questions in the Comments section at its end, which I repeat and expand on here:

  • how widespread is rigorous data analysis in our profession?
  • can we ever advise clients or colleagues without data to underpin that advice?
  • how many of us actually do this?
  • do we factor in the resources (analysts, PR professional and budgets) to make this real and meaningful?
  • how do we convince management that what they thought they wanted to hear might not be what people are actually saying?

Food for thought. And thank you Stephen.

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The hunting of the Snark


Businesses are besotted with extracting what they see as more efficiency from their operations.

The instant they repeat their first success, most try to become “more efficient.”

It’s an occupation that generates its own jargon (efficiency is a perfectly acceptable word without further embellishment) and has, over the last 30 years or so, created a subsidiary economy of organizations seemingly expert at helping their clients (the original organizations) become more efficient (often with little direct experience in the host market).

It’s akin to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, a fictitious animal that is never actually caught, but which becomes an obsession with a barrister, a broker, and a banker (as well as a butcher, a baker and a beaver, among other persons and creatures).

I’d love to see data plotted as a curve showing returns on efficiency gained and costs seemingly saved, compared with returns on new products or services created and sales and profits gained.

As Seth Godin reminds us, the biggest danger in obsessively seeking to save a dollar is that we might eventually win, creating the worst product for the cheapest input price.

Markets (and the customers within them) always seek new products and services, and often better services and products. Value can always command a competitive price. Creating a competitive advantage other than price will always pull ahead, and always out you in command of your own destiny. And reinventing a market segment or product or service definition on your turns gives you advantage.

Saves you hunting mythical beasts.



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Malcolm Turnbull’s Crazy Ivan

Today’s announcement by Australia’s Prime Minister to recall both the Australian Senate and the House of Representatives, and serve an ultimatum – pass legislation or witness a double dissolution of both Houses, and an early Federal Election – deserves analysis.

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media after announcing his plan for a double-dissolution election if industrial relations legislation is not passed. Photograph: Rashida Yosufzai/EPA/Guardian Australia

What better way to do so than to run the Playmaker Systems ruler over the Turnbull strategy.

And what we see is a high-risk, no-prisoner Preempt Play invoking the Crazy Ivan and the Trump (not to be confused with another high-risk political playmaker currently running for power).

The Crazy Ivan is the deliberate acceleration of an impending threat. In quintessential Aussie terms, it’s running straight at the opposing front row forwards, seeking to crash or crash through.

It’s intent? To re-set the agenda, to short-circuit stifled process and debate, and to do both in a way that totally overwhelms the opposition.

Gone is negotiation and caution: Turnbull allowed the Senate last week to pass laws to change the rules for how senators voted (after, it will be recalled, a pyjama-party all-nighter). Now we know why. The Senate must pass the legilstaion seeking to introduce a construction industry watchdog, or have its bluff called.

In fact, his play was crazy enough to blindside his Treasurer, who had to re-set his forthcoming budget date almost on the hoof on the radio.

Alongside the Crazy Ivan play sits its stablemate the Trump: the act of usurping an opponent’s own position. Turnbull’s political opposition, the Australia Labor Party and the Greens, are opposed to the new legislation. Now they have a simple choice: stare down the Coalition, or blink.

Both Plays are high-risk/high-reward.  We can expect, over the next three weeks, and then, if called, into the election lead-in proper, our fair share of Labels (the application of a memorable word by one party on another – blackmailer seems to be the best bet right now), Call Outs (mock indignation – form a line) and Deflects (the evasion of an attack by an opponent – look out for an early Deflect counter-play by Labor leader Bill Shorten, perhaps seeking to reclaim the agenda with accusations of weak tax policies within the Coaliation to  move attention away from his party’s support of the construction union under attack).

Of one thing we can be certain: Canberra’s playmakers are only just starting to sharpen their drafting pencils.

What a start to the week.

(Photo credit source/copyright acknowledged. The author no longer has any formal affiliation with Alan Kelly’s patented Playmaker Systems methodology: I just love applying it, especially to the political scene. He does too: read his Plays for the Presidency analysis.)

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Book review: Tim O’Brien’s Inner Story

Disclosure: I’ve known author Tim O’Brien since university. We even share the same birthday (although, as I always remind him, he’s always older than me.)

So rest assured, this review has to be the most-objective I’ve probably ever written.


Looking to be a better leader, or improve team performance? Time to discard populist texts in favour of a learned one.

Time to buy this book and have it on your desk – whether you’re a manager, leader, sports coach, parent, or even international rock star.

Because O’Brien goes back to clinical, behavioural and observational basics about the psychology of the mind, and then makes it comprehensible and relevant to the rest of us.

Written in an accessible but slightly formal style, he establishes and explains, over 11 chapters, what’s going on inside your head, and how that necessarily affects everything you do, and everything you seek to do.

And then explains how you can change those internal references, world views and anchor points, and focus them anew on what you seek to achieve.

It feels like I’ve made a career of reading management books on performance and leadership. None comes close. How could they? Because every single one of us is an individual, so it’s impossible (for example) to corral us into one of four, or eight, behavioural or leadership styles. We, and those we work with, and those we manage, deserve better.

O’Brien explains why, and how.

His chapters cover the following subjects: the inner story your psychological sub-conscious creates inside your brain, understanding the behaviour it influences, where fear play its parts (as well as how to manage and redeploy fear), being more successful, happier, and confident, what being a better leader actually should mean, being a higher-performing team, and finally, a chapter on understanding how each of us changes continually – how none of us is static, but constantly reappraising what’s going on around us, and seeking to map those external inputs to our inner frames of reference.

If what I’ve described here sounds faintly alternative, rest assured, it isn’t. His text and experience is rooted in clinical psychological evidence and training.

A couple of examples: higher performing teams never get to “the end”, never get to being definitively “high” performance. and those which are truly high-performing understand this, as individuals within the team and as the more-complex, cohesive group. He also emphasizes the benefits (and need) for effective communication in high performing teams, and that lack of effective communication signifies a team not performing well.

But he also posits the concept of the “soul” of a higher performing team, that empathetic understanding between team members that allows them to construct a single team perspective, with mutual support. To achieve that requires every individual to understand their inner story, and for the team managers or leaders to understand how these various motivations and perspectives work together.

The second example is O’Brien’s analysis of how we construct personal perspectives in each of our minds, subconsciously and consciously. The subconscious perspectives are of course often submerged, and it takes work to identify what’s really going on there. This is important, because until the two are aligned, dissonance is likely.

He also asks the reader direct questions, ones he expects us to answer, and leaves space in the text for us to write down those answers. (I chose not to do this, not wishing to make my copy of the book untidy – I’m sure he’ll have a field day with this.) So he expects us to use the book as a training manual, and we should.

His style, as noted at the outset of this review, is slightly formal. No surprise, given O’Brien’s academic background rooted in teaching and research. That’s why his book makes you think, which is what I like about it the most.

Thinking is perhaps what all of need to do more: about what we want in life, what we want from our teams, colleagues, families and friends. Getting leadership and performance right is not a two-day seminar or a one-hour psych. test.

In any case, every team will, from time to time, fail, or not achieve its potential. Every performer, manager, teacher and individual will, occasionally, be faced with self-doubt. To assume it won’t happen, and to assume it’s a weakness when it does, is neither helpful nor realistic. None of us can predict what will happen next. What we can do is prepare ourselves to manage, overcome, and emerge from those moments better prepared and performing to our best. Understanding your inner story makes this possible.

Read this book. Then have it on your desk, and use if often enough to make it dog-eared. Its contents worked for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, and rock star Sir Elton John, so you’ll be on good company.

My review copy of Inner Story was provided by the author. Published by Ideational, available from Amazon.)

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