During my recent trip to NYC, I sent out a last minute note to some of the 'old guard' Silicon Alley gang and some of the new guard doing cool social media stuff. We drank, we reminisced (silicon alley talent show circa 1998) we pontificated; we postulated on the future, we drank more. So what is the big difference between then and now--there was no running to catch trains back to the burbs to tuck in the kids in the old days.
[Note: I swear I invited the gals too, really!]
So - you signed on to the Cluetrain Manifesto, you jumped into the world of blogging, video, podcasting and all this social media, customer co-creation stuff. You believe strongly in "engagement" and community, and 'cgm' and really want to build relationships with your customers - Great! There is exciting stuff being created, produced and mashed up all over the place these days and interesting new ways to actually forge those relationships.
And just when you were finally getting used to the customer 'talking' back--it is time to start envisioning a world where we/they - "walk". That's right - where they not only talk back but actually have control over their relationship with you.
Get ready for the next wave of "customer empowerment" - aka Project VRM - aka Vendor Relationship Management. This is an initiative started by Doc Searls (aka one of the guys who brought you cluetrain and "markets are conversations") and it is gathering momentum quickly.
So what is this VRM thing?
Quite simply it is about figuring out how to empower me (the individual customer) to manage, engage and relate to vendors (vs CRM which is about Vendors managing me).
Note: Doc Searls - another catalyst extraordinaire! who gets the new "thecatalysts" tag.
I learned that my favorite Uncle had passed away at the age of 86. I usually limit my personal blog posts to my personal blog, but life changing events often force us to stop and reflect and find meaning in ways that our day to day life does not often allow. So, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on how differently my Uncle Benny and his generation led their lives as compared to how we of the "social media" generation lead ours.
My uncle Benny was a classic representative of the Greatest Generation - a man who grew up in the depression and fought in WWII. He won numerous medals in the tank corps and even used yiddish to assist the allied troops by translating both with german POW's and Jewish refugees. He was the consummate salesman, always with a quick smile and a strong handshake. By today's standards of assessing wealth he was not wealthy in the traditional sense, but he was rich with friends and loved ones. He was loyal and humble and true. He had a smile that would light up a room. For as long as I can remember he and my Dad checked in with each other on a daily 11am phone call. The call may have only lasted a minute - but it took place - daily, for well over 40 years. That is an amazing track record.
What stands out the most to me is that men like my Uncle (and my father) were humble and modest - they were men of action and little chatter. They had a strong sense of self and right and wrong. They knew who they were and where they stood. They were grounded. They were not after glory or fame, they left legacies in their actions and deeds. They led by quiet example.
In a world that is increasingly externally facing and ego-driven it is a sharp reminder that our actions, friends and the communities we contribute to are what lasts and define us in the end. It is what we give not what we take that is most treasured.
[Note: I am sorry that I was not able to participate in DLD this year. To all my friends who have been pinging me wondering where I am, now you know. Thanks for all your condolences and thoughts.]
...to build a digital community with multiple contributors. I want to build a “living” exchange of information, in one form or another. I want to be an idea hub that helps people find each other and build on projects together, where it’s not MY project, but it’s a community that I help seed. I want the information to be in video, audio, and text format. I want art, creativity, the ideas and business plans to make sense.
Chris is my new idol!
He is also the first person to get my new "thecatalysts" technorati tag - to be explained in a follow-up post, so stay tuned...
Way back in December (seems like a long time ago). I had the pleasure of participating in the Guidewire Group's, Fall Leadership Forum along with 80 or so execs, author's and entrepreneurs from across the country. Chris and the gang gathered a really great group and it was an energizing event. It also gave all of us a chance to take a breather and swap ideas, drinks and stories.
An interesting take-away for me what was that this was a leadership event, and what struck me as one of the only "marketing types" in the room was how much of the conversation on leadership and success centered around the customer. Many discussions revolved around smart ways to communicate with and engage the customer as well as discussion on the impact of the overall customer experience on the success of the company. You would have thought you were at an east coast CMO summit. Not that i am complaining - I say Hallelujah!
So, what's new? Why are all these smart, mostly Silicon Valley technology based start-ups and CEO's suddenly waking up to the importance of the customer experience and marketing?
My conclusion - up until recently the "West Coast" techies lived under the belief that their technology, solution, widget etc was better than the other guys. This was the mantra - my technology is better than yours. Today, as new innovation is layered on top of existing technologies, technology itself is a commodity and everyone is a media company, Tech/Internet/Software companies have woken up to the harsh realization that--gulp--the User is critical to my business and I better start paying attention - or they will walk. Differentiating yourself in this world requires a holistic approach to your customer. - features, branding, communication.
The flip side of this equation is that over on the East Coast, companies steeped in marketing, command and control messaging and brand advertising - now realize that they better be well versed in the technologies empowering their customers to speak up loud and clear and define the brand for them - they better "engage" and co-create - or their smart fast moving, fickle customer's will walk.
OK - you may argue that I am oversimplifying the whole East/West thing because my lens is skewed as I live on the bridge between these two world's, but there is an interesting inversion taking place.
Internet companies cannot rely on better technology alone - it is too easy for a slicker, better model to show up a nano-second after they launch.
Media/Marketing/CPG companies cannot rely on old slick "talk at you" campaigns that tell you to buy the newest, shiniest X it will make your life better simply because we said so.
Both "coasts" are operating in a bit of a discomfort zone - I like this. Innovation happens at these intersections - if you are willing to take a risk or two.
The reviews will roll in and compare and contrast and ooh and ah or moan at missing features. I don't care - I've been bitten. I am tired of settling for 70% of the features I want. Apple has already won my trust and following. They have honored my needs in the past and therefore I am willing to take the leap.
As Seth says - it is remarkable.
As Kathy says - they know how to create passionate users.
Over the last few weeks I took an unplanned break from blogging. I had so many great meetings and conversations in December that I needed time to absorb and let my mind percolate. I also wanted to reconnect with all the things that I love about this medium - especially the people - and I did not want to get lost in the "noise". I tend to not post my day to day comings and goings on this blog or attempt to keep up with the fast and furious posts of others. However, a few readers commented to me on my absence - so I thought it warranted an explanation.
This is such an exciting time for the intersection of innovation and the voice of the customer. It also means that for someone like me who absorbs information like a fish - I can tend to get overwhelmed.
Those who know me, know that I work in two modes ON and OFF. The past few weeks I have been OFFline gathering plenty of new ideas that 'riff' off of the many great blogs I have been reading, meetings I have had, and the projects I am working on.
Here's to turning the switch back ON! Maybe 2007 will even be the year I finally learn true balance after living in California for close to two years! [nah, who am I kidding].