Even if you think global warming is a hoax, this makes sense

I know there are still a lot of people who think global warming is a hoax, either because they think the world would be heating up with or without us, or because they simply believe it’s not actually happening.  Irrespective of whether they (and I do mean “they”) are right, an article by Leslie Kaufman in The New York Times today called “Emissions Disclosure as Business Virtue” gets to something that makes a lot of sense as a call to action for organizations everywhere.

CarbonThe article talks at length about an organization called the Carbon Disclosure Project, a UK-based nonprofit that collects data about the carbon footprint of organizations all over the world from large manufacturers to financial services firms.  The data is then used to help understand the carbon footprint of geographic regions, but more importantly it is being used for comparative purposes to show other companies in similar lines of work to highlight who has a best practice that others might employ to reduce their own carbon emissions, which usually means cost reduction.  Why do I think this is so useful and important?  Is it because I have started bleeding green like so many other people hell bent on saving the planet from, well, us?


I think this is important because like so many things I talk about in the book Rethink, companies are stuck in all sorts of “how” traps, mistakenly thinking it matters “how” they accomplish many of the outcomes needed to be completed for them to do what they do.  As I have shown time after time after time, the “how” rarely matters.  People have come to accept this with something like Payroll, where someone has to do it and it has to be done right with few mistakes, but these days, especially in the US, no one cares who does it, how it gets done, or what technology is used as long as it’s done.

So with the Carbon Disclosure Project, organizations can now get all sorts of metrics for everything from how much electricity is used to run data centers (an example Kaufman cites in talking about Boeing) to how much gunk gets emitted into the air from a smokestack.  With concrete metrics, people can see who has better numbers for something that is the same or similar to what they are doing, and if they want to look into whether those better metrics are also more cost effective, then they can pursue that.  Kaufman points out “Some American companies have argued that reporting is cumbersome and could allow competitors to learn too much about their manufacturing processes.”  I think this is nonsense for two reasons:

1) They are only getting metrics on the “outcome” of the work, exposing “how” it’s done, the process, is up to the organization to decide

2) Since only 5%-15% of “what” goes on in an organization is what makes them unique and drives their brand, the odds that “how” they arrive at their carbon footprint are part of that 5%-15% are by definition, very low.

So this is a good thing.  More metrics will drive more cost effective management of all sorts of organizations, and there will be more green all over the world.  Oh, and the environment will benefit as well.


Personalization matures in an important trend in outsourcing

PenguinI remember standing in line with my son at Disneyland earlier in the year.  We were ordering lunch and there were literally only three choices for what we could order and in a crowd of probably 10,000 to have to choose between A, B, or C it struck me that we were all just numbers to Disneyland, it felt incredibly impersonal.

But if you look around, at lot of places that imply that you have the ability to personalize what you want (like a car or a computer) is really a series of A, B, or C-like choices.  It has become very hard in many places to truly personalize something and be unique. It reminds me of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoon that shows hundreds of penguins, and in the middle one of them is singing “I gotta be me, oh I just gotta be me . . .”  Irony noted, I know how he feels.

But today there was an interesting article in The New York Times by Claire Cain Miller “On Web, Workshops to Create One-of-a-Kind Gifts” and in the piece it talks about a variety of web sites that offer a level of personalization and customization at a price point that up until recently was unrealistic.  In the book Rethink there are two chapters that discuss the trend of outsourcing all sorts of work to customers and why that’s such a good thing.  This particular trend discussed by Miller is slightly different in that it goes all the way to the top of the product design cycle (in some cases) and in many respects bucks the trend of “crowdsourcing” where a crowd of people provide input into product design.  This is different because the products in question are for a market segment of one.

“People are overcoming the idea that this is tchotchke, iron-on stuff,” said Jason Kang, vice president for marketing at Zazzle. “It’s really high quality. The folks here have spent a long time fine-tuning the chemistry, the workflow, the machinery, to really enable on-demand printing at a price point that is almost as cheap as mass retail.”

DNASome of the examples of personalized gifts take advantage of very personal information, such as getting an artistic print of the DNA image of a pet (really).  That’s interesting and I am sure there will always be markets for that, and as the quote above points out, that’s more a matter of some costs coming down that make some things cost effective to “print” something.  The more powerful trend that struck me in this article was that companies like Blue Nile that sells jewelery online is literally letting customers design their own jewelery – literally outsourcing the product design to the customer.  I think we will see this trend continue into lots of other markets as people realize it is possible to truly personalize anything from a low cost skateboard to an expensive piece of jewelery.

The call to action here is for companies to ask themselves what things customers will want to personalize, and start to make them aware that these things are possible right now.  The notion of selling to a “segment of one” is incredibly powerful and can transform brands and the way they connect with their customers – without having a huge impact on costs.  As this movement builds in momentum, I think we will all really start to see a new level of power and value from the internet.


P.S. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate Christmas, and Happy Holidays to those of you who celebrate different events at this time of year.

When bad news (a la Tiger Woods) is good for your brand

The front page of the business section of the New York Times ran a piece by Tim Arango called “Big Risk in a Brand of One Man” that takes the view that there is too much risk defining your brand with an individual you cannot control.  Obviously the piece centered around Tiger Woods and the sponsors of his that have stayed, and those who have taken a different tack.Brand

While I understand the opinion Mr. Arango takes from an academic perspective, I think the events that have unfolded just in the past few weeks tell a different story, which is that even when things go very badly with a brand tied to one man, that by itself makes brand management even simpler.

In the book Rethink, I spend a great deal of time talking about how to quantify where there is, and isn’t value in your organization, and a big part of that is being clear about what is most valuable to your customers, partners, and employees.  Why do they choose to work with you and buy your goods and services, what will cause them to leave, and how will you draw new customers?

So how is bad news a good thing for brand?  Obviously the Tiger Woods case is on the largest of global stages right now, but even on smaller more localized stages I think we would see the same things happening:

1) When a bad thing makes news, organizations have to decide if they have the right spokesperson and make a statement along those lines.

2) Because the story is already news, the statement itself becomes news, maybe even bigger news than the ad campaign itself.  Just in the past two days, two sponsors of Woods, Gillette and Accenture shifted their marketing plans based on Woods’s recent news.  The Gillette and Accenture news each made the front page of The New Tork Times – something advertising money almost cannot buy.

3) Whether it’s local news or global news like the Tiger Woods story, organizations have the opportunity to add clarity to their marketing message.  Nike is sticking with Woods for now because they are simply about sports and off the field activities aren’t really core to their message (which makes sense to me).  I didn’t even know that Gillette had a relationship with Woods (which they have kept for now) so that was great exposure for them, and in the case of Accenture who dropped them, I understand that decision as well, and Arango’s article does a very good job of explaining what Accenture views as its brand strengths and why Tiger Woods is no longer the right representative for that message. “Since most consumers have no idea what a company like Accenture does, Mr. Woods became the human face of the corporation and a means to extol the corporate virtues of performance and risk-taking.”

So why is it such a good thing to have brand tied to a single person, as in the case of Accenture?  Unlike a team made up of many people (such as a Tour de France team), when one person does something inconsistent with the brand message, it is very easy to come out and make that statement and be clearer to the target audience with respect to why the person is or is not going to be dropped.

“In a statement Sunday,  [Accenture] said Mr. Woods, 34, was “no longer the best representative” for its advertising.”

I believe that in the long run this will serve to further strengthen the brand of Accenture because they have been so clear about why Tiger’s actions are inconsistent with their brand.    The Accenture move also signifies that they didn’t just pick Tiger because he was so famous, there were specific things that they felt were core to their brand that he represented (again, see Arango’s article).

So bad news for a brand is in many cases a great opportunity to further clarify what the message of the organization is so they can be that much clearer to their targets about what their message is, and isn’t.


The impending death of the download

Single song downloads are going away, and complete album physical CDs are coming back with a vengeance.

That seemed to be the message when I heard on the radio and in the paper that YouTube, Idol singer Susan Boyle’s debut album “I dreamed a dream” sold 701,000 copies in its first week in the US, breaking all sorts of records – but the biggest part of the news was that a staggering 94% of those sales were in physical CDs.  Could it be that the download is losing steam and people want to return to the days of album covers and entire albums?

AppleIf  that’s really the case, why then did The New York Times on Sunday, in a piece by Jenna Wortham, declare Apple’s App Store for downloading applications to wireless devices such as the iPod Touch and the iPhone to be the “Game Changer.”  In the same paper, with an interview with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, he said that for every 100 books they sell in printed version, they sell 48 on the Kindle e-reader.

How can it be that in one area, physical albums were so wildly popular, while in articles in the same paper talked about the explosive growth of electronic versions of books and other downloads?


This is a classic example of a “how” trap in terms of how consumers want to access, buy, and consume their goods.  In this particular case, the “how” is the easy part – and it is vital (compared to most “how’s” of an organization, as I talk about in the Rethink book).  The trap is the linkage of the different “how’s” to the specific “who’s” in the sense that some, often older blocks of consumers want to buy things the old fashioned way, whereas other, often younger buyers want the digital download version.

The reason that’s such a big deal for everyone from book publishers to iPhone game developers is that there is a lot of nuance in these groups, slicing by age, gender, wallet-size, geography, etc. so this now constantly moving target means that even if you have the best music or the best book or the best software, ensuring that you have it in the right form for your target audience is vital.  Luckily for the downloading world, “making” another copy of a software program, book, song (or album) takes no time, for the printed book and CD world, it’s not quite so easy.

This is a big challenge for companies to stay on top of, and it’s going to require listening very carefully to their customers, and also, in many cases making decisions about which customers are most (and least valuable) to them, so if a customer asks for something (like a physical CD) should they make it, or ignore the request.


P.S. Congratulations Susan.