Category Archives: Business

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Disruption and Innovation, Part I

Over the years, as an analyst, advisor and even as an entrepreneur, I’ve heard the phrase “Our strategy is to disrupt ” far too often. It’s a bit disheartening at times, because what I really want to hear is how your strategy is going to “innovate” rather than disrupt.

Why? I’ve always believed that the fastest way to success is to avoid trying to knock somebody off the ladder and, instead, build your own ladder. You control your future. You shape the market. You let the people on the other ladder pursue their evolutionary strategies while you quietly create a revolutionary strategy.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DISRUPTION AND INNOVATION

To be clear, there is a definite relationship between “disruption” and “innovation” not to be confused with Clay Christensen’s “Disruptive Innovation”. Often, they feed off of each other – one leading to the other (or at least providing an opportunity for the other to take hold).

Innovations within a market can ultimately lead to the disruption (or devastation) of an existing or adjacent (but different) market (example: iPhone’s App store devastating video games, wrist watches, cameras). Note that true innovations don’t just offer better versions of existing products, but offer better alternatives to existing products – they ultimately replace them.

Similarly, disruptions within a market (or a vendor if they dominate that market) can often provide an enhanced opportunity for new and innovative vendors and products. The more disruptive a market has become, the greater the opportunity for innovation to create a new, better alternative market. But there are differences.

And far from being singular events, disruptions and innovations can often be associated with long-term evolutionary trends, rather than singular events (Pervasive Communications is a great example of two trends (technology and human behavior) leading to a disruption of both social structures, technologies and global markets (check out Alan Berkson’s framing of Pervasive Communications and a video chat with Brian Reich on the global implications of Pervasive Communications).

DISRUPTION

Disruption, like the stuff that hits the fans, often just happens. It can be caused by any number of different conditions. Disruptions to supply chains. Technological advances. Corporate mismanagement. Natural disasters. All can result in a market (and its vendors) being disrupted. In the extreme, the disruption devolves into a state of chaos – and chaos (while it may offer opportunity for those able to restore order) is usually not a characteristic of a market you want to enter.

To this last point, the notion of “disrupting” a market of a vendor to gain a competitive advantage is more often than not simply the wrong approach (a great example being the often asked question in the analytical/advisory space: “Why hasn’t anybody been able to disrupt Gartner’s business model”). To disrupt an entrenched vendor’s business model means to disrupt their market, which may be extremely difficult/impossible to achieve without disrupting your own chances of stepping in to take advantage of the opportunity (an issue we’ll discuss in Part II).

INNOVATION

Innovation, on the other hand, is more often the result of a “spark” or idea that transcends the products, services and strategies of an existing vendor or market. It creates something new: its own ladder. Rather than competing head to head against an existing market or vendor, it offers an alternative that, if done correctly, is often unnoticed by other vendors. It doesn’t (initially) compete for the same budget, nor does it require a “magic quadrant” or an “us vs them” comparison.

A true innovation stands alone – it is its own product and market replacing the need for existing products and markets. It obsoletes prior structures (an issue we’ll discuss in Part III) and represents – in both the short- and long-term – a new market opportunity.

While a new innovation may ultimately compete for overall corporate/consumer dollars, it is often differentiated enough that it can initially sit along-side existing products and simply blend into the landscape. In fact, the best innovations are the ones that existing market players don’t deem as viable – very different from a product evolution that may be considered cannibalistic if they were to implement it themselves.

Taking it deeper, a true innovation will ultimately replace the need for existing products, vendors and even markets. All though not common, the “existing products” *may* not actually exist (although the need for them may – the case of the impractical market), or if they do exist, they *may* under-perform or not currently meet market demand (something that may not be obvious or intuitive to either consumers or vendors).

Take, for example, the iPhone (introduced only five years ago in 2007). In and of itself, it wasn’t a true innovative product, but rather an evolutionary extension of existing multi-media phones (like the Blackberry). But the Apple App Store – when combined with the iPhone (in 2008) – was a true innovation. It created a new market, obsoleted others and forever changed the way that hundreds of different products (as applications) were brought to market.

MOVING FORWARD

In the next few posts we’ll discuss the different types of disruptions and innovations that commonly occur, and the risks and rewards that accompany each (here’s a thought to ponder: most disruptions – especially man-made – offer more risk than reward, while most innovations offer tremendous reward with very little risk).

Have a different perspective? Toss it out. There are plenty of opinions on this subject and I’m looking forward to the debate.

“Oops!” Broken Lightbulb photo courtesy of Kyle May licensed under Creative Commons

Note: Post updated to highlight and clarify distinction between “disruption and innovation” and “Disruptive Innovation”

Dealing with Corporate Chaos – The value of the right strategy

I like structure, order and consistency. I also like chaos. One provides stability, the other a challenge. In the corporate business world, we often see both: longer periods of relative stability and continuity with brief interjections of chaotic episodes that help make the business world a bit more of a challenge, a bit more fun, especially from a communications perspective.

Businesses need to communicate, and there are no shortage of groups within most organizations that can be leveraged, including Public Relations, Analyst Relations, Marketing, Sales, etc. I typically view corporate communications as falling into one of three categories:

  • Corporate-Focused messaging, where the company is focused on corporate stability, overall market direction (and domination) and the ability to be a long-term, reliable brand,
  • Product/Service-Focused messaging, designed to promote the merits and/or value of a particular product or service, and
  • Feel-good messaging, where the company is trying to promote the overall business, or the “brand” – often through a hybrid combination of Corporate and Product/Service messaging, and typically through cause-based efforts (“we’re so committed to this cause, that we’ll donate $$$ for every product you buy…”).

In a period of stability and order, this system works fairly well. In fact, many companies just assume that things will always be quiet and calm and plan their “market influence” strategies accordingly. But things never stay calm, do they.

Chaos has its own unique way of being an extremely efficient disruptor of corporate communications, and can strike from any source. A rogue employee (even in the C-suite). A dysfunctional Board of Directors. A product that didn’t perform quite the way it was designed to, or even a product that has been tampered with or sabotaged.

The list of possible sources of chaos is essentially limitless, as is the type and list of companies that it strikes. Want some good examples? Tylenol, which faced a product tampering crisis, Netflix, and their botched announcement of Qwikster (and its subsequent disappearance), HP, and their ongoing Board of Director’s turf battle, and Bank of America, trying to put a positive spin on a $5/month debit card fee, then backing off, then clarifying (almost like a politician).

When evaluating the strength of an organization or company, I like to look at how they react to these periods of chaos. It shows me several key elements:

  • Have they anticipated probable or likely disruptive events?
  • Do they have contingency plans in place to make sure the right message gets out, to the right audience through the right vehicle?
  • Are they monitoring what their customers are saying about them (in all of the various mediums) and are they tailoring their message accordingly?
  • Do they have the ability to bounce back from a chaotic episode without scars and a damaged reputation?

More importantly, I look for how quickly they can adapt to the crisis at hand, and make sure that the right type of communications (Corporate, Product, Feel-good), or combination thereof, is being used in the right manner that helps diffuse the crisis as quickly as possible.

So the next time you are looking at a company, and trying to determine their real strength in a market, don’t just evaluate their ability to operate in a stable, predictable manner, but look at how they react, and counter, disruptive chaotic events. That’s where the real corporate culture comes out.

Photo of sign at Newton-Lee Elementary School in Ashburn, Virginia by Fred McClimans.

Mentoring, Networking and Innovation – Revisited

History is filled with examples of linkages between networking, mentoring and innovation, but over the centuries the knowledge acquisition ecosystem has changed considerably. There was a time when this process was slow and rooted in tacit knowledge, but as the needs and wants of society progressed and evolved, the process became more refined—moving faster— and rooted in the exchange of explicit knowledge.

tacit-knowledge

TACIT KNOWLEDGE – SHOW ME!

Regrettably, as society and technology continue to explode at a pace that stretches Moore’s law, it translates to the current knowledge acquisition ecosystem being broken; in fact, we may be at risk of losing a generational exchange of knowledge and innovation.

Following is a fast-paced tour through related history, plus a prescription for 21st century mentoring, networking and innovation.

IN DAYS OF YORE

Centuries ago, the path to gainful employment often required apprenticeships. If you wanted to learn a trade, you had no other option: you needed to find somebody who was already doing it.

Through practice and much coaching—especially if it involved tacit knowledge—you could eventually master a particular craft or art. This was a one-to-one relationship that benefited both the master and the student. Students learned a trade that would serve them for life, and masters acquired young, cheap talent to keep their businesses alive. If you wanted to learn a trade, you had to find a person who was willing to teach you how to do it. And, if you were lucky, the master provided you with paid employment at the end of your apprenticeship.

In this type of direct one-on-one learning process, a master could only have a limited number of apprentices at any one time. This not only limited the ability of the master to educate the masses in their skill, but it also limited the ability of the young student to ask questions or bring new ideas to a wide audience.

While the collaborative sharing of knowledge occurred, the resulting by-product—innovation—was a slow process measured in decades, not years or months.

THE AGE OF MASS

EXPLICIT KNOWLEDGE RULES

During this period, the master/student apprenticeship process evolved into—particularly at the management level—a mentorship process. The master/student relationship remained intact, but it became less about passing along tacit knowledge and fundamental skills and more about the refinement and guiding of the student’s careerpath.

Throughout this revolutionary period, the one constant in the apprenticeship and mentorship processes was that both the master and the student benefited from the relationship. It was a two-way street that helped advance both experienceand new ideas.

In essence, it helped foster innovation.

THE NEXT “NEXT”

In the 21st century, we’ve shifted into a post-industrial, information-based economy that once again has resulted in a requirement for both educational change and a shift in the type of workforce required. Unfortunately, some things have changed (not necessarily for the better) along the way; namely:

  • the master/student mentorship process quickly is becoming a casualty of the global availability of information; and
  • there is a shift in the way society learns and how we reinforce our decisions.

THE “HYPER-CONNECTED” GENERATION

Technology, pervasive communication and the global availability of “any information everywhere” have had a negative impact on the state of mentorships.

Photo of sign at Newton-Lee Elementary School in Ashburn, Virginia by Fred McClimans.

Twenty years ago we had a culture where peers still relied upon personal face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) real-time communications. As we “graduated up” from high-school to university or college, we were introduced to a new level of peers and potential teachers/mentors. As we left our institutions of higher education and moved into the work-force, each new job opportunity brought with it a “new” level of contacts.

This change in contacts and peers wasn’t necessarily by choice. It was a by-product of the way we communicated and the limitations that geography placed upon our network of “on-demand” peers.

Today’s generation (some may call it Gen Y or Millennials—we’ll use the phrase “hyper-connected” here) faces an interesting conundrum:

As they move from high-school into the work-force, the hyper-connected still encounter the same “new contact” opportunities as their predecessors. The complication is they also bring with them a collection of trusted peers, with whom they remain connected through pervasive communications.

As a “trusted” group, and taking into account peer pressure, it is no surprise they rely heavily on this group of peers when it comes to making lifestyle or career decisions. Rather than seek out the advice of those with experience in their new-found field of employment, the hyper-connected often are likely to seek the counsel of their long-term friends.

This may fill the need the hyper-connected have to gain confirmation or acceptance of their plans, but it diverts their attention from the value that an outside advisor or mentor can bring to the equation.

THE NEED TO MENTOR

Why do we mentor others? Like parenting, it’s motivated by both selfish and selfless aspirations.

We want to:

  1. Bestow on others our own knowledge;
  2. Give them the opportunity both to work with us and for us; and
  3. Pass along our collective experience to those who we trust to continue our legacy.

At the same time, we recognize they may become our peers or even our competition—something that both forces us toraise our game to the next level and challenges us to find innovative solutions to win the game.

Where does this innovation come from? The innovation comes from the exchange of ideas with those we mentor.

WHY NETWORKING IS KEY TO LEVERAGING MENTORING

It’s often been said that it is not what you know but who you know. Today, more than ever, people recognize the value of diversity of opinion. We also recognize that a person need not have just one mentor and that mentorship needs—and mentors—may change over time; ultimately, helping to form a group of trusted advisors.

How do you accommodate this?

Mentoring is part of a larger ecosystem of networking. It requires you to reach out of your comfort zone to find those who are “where you want to be.” Unfortunately, too many people are afraid to—or don’t feel the need to—truly network and reach out to establish these long-term beneficial relations.

Simply reaching out online to ask an experienced person a question, or asking for a limited piece of advice, isn’t true networking. It often results in answers that lack context.

What many of today’s younger generation fail to realize is that networking isn’t about:

  • following people;
  • commenting on a blog; or
  • asking a question from a person with whom you haven’t built a relationship of trust.

While the old axiom “you may find that the most successful people make the most effective mentors” still applies, it has taken on a new meaning in the digital era. It isn’t about how many people you follow or how many people follow you, buthow many personal relationships you cultivate through your online community.

TOMORROW’S WORKFORCE

As we migrate from a world driven by process to one focused on innovation and problem-solving, we see the benefits of both data-driven components and experiential/tacit knowledge—something that is ideally suited to the:

Internship > Mentorship > Employment Model

As we create new professions (community managers didn’t exist a decade ago), we find that traditional education falls short in preparing candidates with the requisite skills and mindset to be successful.

Today’s questions are now:

  1. “How do we bridge that gap?”
  2. “How do we cross that functional/educational divide?”

The answers are that we—collectively—need to reach out proactively to schools and to students in the early stages of their careers. We need the hyper-connected to:

  • Think analytically; and
  • Evaluate events and circumstances and make the most effective and positive decisions they can.

And we need to:

  • Push them towards internship programs that foster and grow this critical skill set; and
  • Ultimately, lead them to mentorship programs that offer opportunities and provide for the mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas that lead to innovation.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO “Hmmm…”

We invite you to ponder this mental checklist:

  1. Are you reaching out to your local college or university community (or your summer student base) and offering internships that make a difference?
  2. Are you willing to both educate and learn from your interns?
  3. Do you realize the value (both for your organization and children) of helping the next generation of leaders benefit from your experience (careful – this requires a time commitment…)?
  4. Are you willing to openly give to those that you mentor, allowing them the opportunity to learn from you, work for you and perhaps even compete against you?

If the answer to any of the above is yes, you are one step ahead of your competition.

This post, co-authored by Alan Berkson with Fred McClimans, originally appeared on October 2, 2011 in  PR Conversations. It has been reprinted and updated here.

Alan Berkson is a principal at the Intelligist Group in New York, USA, where he focuses on helping businesses move past blockages, leverage unidentified or underused assets, and identify opportunities for growth. He provides provocative commentary and theories on a variety of business strategy topics on his blog, The Intelligent Catalyst. Connect with him on TwitterGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

Fred McClimans is the managing director of the McClimans Group in Washington, DC, USA, where he focuses on helping businesses improve their strategic business influence and find creative ways to drive their market from a proactive perspective. Read his blog at fredmcclimans.com. Connect with him on TwitterGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

Together, Alan and Fred are working on 2020F, a global community being built to identity, track and trend disruptive events that have the potential to influence long-term change in both related and tangential markets, including developing actionable solutions to both minimize the risk and maximize the opportunity of current and future disruptive events.

12 CEO Icons & their classic character traits

Every company has a CEO and every CEO has their own particular style. Some are self-made, while others have leveraged a bit of family clout to get their start. Some promote themselves, some promote their companies, while others (both intentionally and unintentionally) promote both. But what if that CEO, or their style, eclipses that of their company? What if the CEO becomes or IS the company? Does it change the way both are viewed in eye of the general public? Does it change the way corporations have to manage their operations AND their CEO’s?

Here are 12 icons of business who have shaped their companies and careers above and beyond the competition. I’ve paired them together, with the excellent help of Alan Berkson (@berkson0) of the Intelligist Group to highlight both common traits and areas where they may differ. For your consideration…

Martha Stewart and Ross Perot: Both iconoclasts whose brand is their name. Both were willing to push themselves into the spotlight, creating businesses through the sheer force of their own personal will.

Both were also never willing to say “quit” – despite the uphill battles they fought. Ultimately, however, this trait – and their larger than life egos – became part of their undoing. Both became victims of their own success and the benefits/curses it brought in limiting their future activities.

Lee Iacocca and Louis Gerstner: Two “hired guns” brought in to fix a business because they had celebrity status. Lee had earned his stripes helping to create iconic cars at Ford (both the Mustang and, ironically, the Pinto) – literally creating the then-modern day powerhouse Ford brand.

Gerstner, on the other hand had a proven track record at American Express, McKinsey & Company and RJR Nabisco before being brought in to right IBM’s sinking ship. Both were willing to put their names on the line in the public light to take a broken business and turn it into something of value. The difference was that Lee rebuilt a better version of Chrysler while Gerstner built a new version of IBM.

Oprah Winfrey and Larry Flynt: Yes, they actually pair well in several ways. Both have a “you either love them or hate them” persona and both have been driven by humanitarian/freedom issues. For Oprah, her history of giving is unique, as is her  humanitarian mission through the “O” network, which has become more important to her than its entertainment value. Larry, on the other hand (despite a somewhat sleezy demeanor) has a passion for free-speech, and a willingness to push the buttons that drive others to action. Is porn his passion? No – it’s freedom of speech and the press for all of us. You may love him, or hate him, but it’s unlikely you haven’t benefited from his controversy in some way.

Donald Trump and Richard Branson: Two men who clearly live larger than life. They live for both themselves and the celebrity that they create for themselves and their brands (both of which will survive long after their departure). People often underestimate the extent of the Trump empire, but it is vast, well managed and the man knows how to delegate.

Branson is similar – the ultimate man of both business and delegation whose world-renowned exploits only enhance his Virgin brand (Virgin, by the way, became the name of his first record label because he and his partners felt they were “business virgins” – a brand he has built through Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Trains, Virgin Express, Virgin Nigeria, Virgin America, Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Fuels and Virgin Media).

Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs: Both are their company and their company is them. But while Larry also lives outside of his company, Steve has become one with his company. In contrast to Steve, Larry lacks the universal, almost cultish, appeal that Steve has attained.

Could Oracle be where they are today without Larry? No. Could they survive without him? Probably better than Apple due to his strong promotion of others within the Oracle empire. His delegation is public and accepted – Steve’s is not – his fans, and Apple fans want him – Steve is Apple. Want proof? When Steve checked out of Apple, the company checked out. Apple has seen what life without Jobs can be like, and it wasn’t pretty. Unfortunately, this is a issue that they may well face in the not to distant future.

Warren Buffet and Jack Welch: Two men driven by principle and discipline. For Warren (the ultimate Boy Scout?) there is a “Buffet Way”. For Jack, there is the “GE way”. Both ways have a common trait  – We’re either #1 or we’re out.

Both grew their empires through investing in other businesses with very strict criteria – neither take risks and they both tend to view the world from a “risk does not equal reward” perspective.

So how does your CEO fit into this mold, or are you a CEO that see’s yourself in one of these individuals? Either way, it makes for an interesting time around the board-room table.

Influence Direct and Indirect

5 Questions: The Value of Direct vs Indirect Influence

Influence Direct and Indirect

Almost every action, choice or decision we make is the result of “influence” in some particular way. Even our personal preferences are shaped by influence, perhaps through the actions of others (“hey, you should really try this out”) or perhaps through our own past experiences (“I don’t care what you say, I’ve tried the bagels at that deli and they just don’t cut it for me”). Peer-pressure, marketing, advertising or even a desire to try something different based on past experiences are all forms of influence that shape our lives.

DIRECT vs INDIRECT INFLUENCE

Nowhere is the impact and value of influence more evident than in the world of business, as businesses are continuously trying to influence their target audience (customers) and partners to their benefit. When it comes to business, there are two different ways that a business or an organization can reach or influence its target audience – direct and indirect. Direct influence is when a business specifically targets or touches their target audience – it is a direct “us to you” type of interaction and gives the business the most control over their message (it’s a one-step connection).

The difference between direct vs indirect influence is like the campfire game – what you tell one person may not be what they tell the next…

Indirect influence, on the other hand, is a bit more of a challenge as it involves a third-party (and intermediary influencer of sorts) that the business needs to influence in the hopes that the third-party will in turn influence their target audience.

UNDERSTANDING WHO INFLUENCES, AND HOW

If we take a look at the different organizations within a typical corporation, we can see how they influence the organization’s customer base.

Direct Influence Groups

  • Sales directly touches the customer through personal 1:1 interaction. This is the front line, where the influence of a sales strategy & pitch (or even an individual sales rep) can be the most directly measured.
  • Marketing touches the customer base en masse (although sub-segmentation usually occurs to a great extent). Their goal is to directly convey a corporate or product image, create demand and literally influence a customer to think about their product or service. Measuring the success, or influence, of a marketing campaign is possible, but not quite as easily as the direct 1:1 interaction of a sales rep.
  • Business Development touches organizational partners. When it comes to building partnerships and team-oriented strategies, business development is the functional equivalent of sales – it is almost always a 1:1 pitch and its effect can be immediately measured.
  • Customer Service touches existing customers. When the customer has a problem, customer service can not only help resolve issues and answer questions, but can, on a 1:1 basis, help influence how a customer uses a product/service, how they perceive the company in general and, potentially, influence future sales.

Indirect Influence Groups

  • Analyst Relations (AR) involves the process of interacting with, and influencing, industry analysts, who in turn have the ability to influence their clients and followers (your target audience). Measurement of this influence can be difficult.
  • Public Relations (PR) targets the press and media (print, online, bloggers, etc.) with the goal of influencing these groups and individuals to share information with, and thus influence, their readers (your target audience). The influence of PR campaigns is often measured by the number of “mentions” a firm has, or by a post-campaign outreach to measure public (potential customer) awareness, or (if the PR campaign is designed to improve the value of a tarnished brand) consumer sentiment.
  • Investor Relations (IR) has a similar role to AR, in this case dealing with financial analysts and investment firms with the hopes of shaping a positive image and value proposition about your firm, which they hopefully will share with their clients, resulting in a healthy stock price. Measurement of IR value often (and somewhat unfairly) is measured by stock price or analyst recommendations alone, and not by increases in consumer sentiment or sales (while the financial analysts and investment firms may not directly interact with your target audience, it is hard not to connect the dots between a poor/falling stock price and the reluctance of consumers to purchase your product – nobody today wants to buy from a business that is viewed as financially at risk).

The Wild-Cards

  • The C-Suite, who has the ability to make or break a deal, to influence their entire customer base or investor community with a single sentence (think of the power and influence that Steve Jobs has by merely showing up at an event!).
  • The Customer – perhaps the most influential group of all, even if they are outside the core corporate structure (a perspective, by the way, that I think is slightly off-base: the customer should *always* be considered part of the complete business organization). Their ability to drive your business should be both welcomed and never underestimated.

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL…

As George Orwell said, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Perhaps the same can be said for influence as well. You could put forth a very interesting argument that certain forms of corporate influence are more important than others, perhaps even more effective than others, and certainly more cost-effective (in terms of bringing new customers to the table, and retaining them over the long term, converting them from customers to clients).

All influencers are equal but some influencers are more equal than others…

So let me pose a few questions – knowing full well that the answers will vary between industries, markets and economic business cycles…

  1. Are all business groups equal when it comes to the value of their influence?
  2. Are certain types of corporate influence more effective in *gaining* new customers?
  3. Are certain types of corporate influence more effective in *retaining* existing customers?
  4. With a limited budget, where would you focus your resources in building a strong corporate influence strategy?
  5. Is it possible for all of the different business groups to effectively work together to form a culture of “fluid corporate influence” that operates as a continuous feedback loop, or are there just too many barriers and silos for this to take place (Bonus points if you can give me an example of a firm that does this today!)?

So there you have it. Five simple questions about influence. I’m curious to know how YOU view the value and role of influence in your organization, and how you think it might change as your business changes and evolves over time (hint: the value of influence varies in both time and place).

5 Properties of Influence You Need to Understand

There has been a great deal of discussion of late regarding influence, most of it centered around who has it, how to measure it and how to leverage it. So when I sat down with my good friend and colleague Alan Berkson (@berkson0) of the Intelligist Group to discuss influence, we decided to push each other in a slightly different direction.

Rather that focus on how influence is quantified, we decided to take a look at what defines influence, and in particular, what are some of the universal characteristics of influence – not just in social media, but in the real world, across any/all markets and not limited to any specific time period.

At the end of our talk, several hours later, we had identified a number of unique characteristics of influence that were not limited to individuals, but also applied to events and trends. Here are five that we found particularly noteworthy – feel free to add your own to our list

1)    Influence can have a transitive reach across multiple industries or market sectors

Being influential in one market can often lead to being influential in another. In fact, the more influential a person or event is in a particular market can often be a good indicator of how far that influence can be extended, but there are limits.

Take for example, Bono, of U2. He has leveraged his influence in the music industry into the realm of humanitarian causes with great success, but I probably wouldn’t be swayed at all if he tried to sell me a Fiat. On the other hand, Lou Gerstner (who turned around IBM despite a non-tech background with RJR Nabisco and American Express) and Jack Welch (who drove General Electric to a dominant position during his tenure from 1981 – 2001) have enough influence, clout and experience to dominate just about any industry they touched (their influence in this case was both within their industry and within their companies, as motivators). But again, while I might be influenced by their actions in other unrelated business sectors, I probably wouldn’t be swayed by their attempt to sell men’s fragrances.

2)    Influence can have variable fade curves by time

Influence is not a steady thing, it ebbs and flows like the tide, but ultimately tends to fade over time. In some cases, the influence of a person is felt both in their present (look at how Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized the printing process in his own time) and the long term future (without Gutenberg’s invention, the age of knowledge would never have occurred).

For some, the curve is very steep and fades with extreme prejudice (ala 15 minutes, or even seconds, of fame – the same can be said, by the way, for trends or “fads”), while for others their personal and global influence continues to grow to span their entire life. For example, look at how the influence of Stephen Hawking continues to grow and drive advances in the world of physics (his curve continues to rise and will have a very slow fade, similar to Albert Einstein).

3)    Influence can be cyclic and/or recurring

Influence, of both trends and people, can be recurring. Steve Jobs is a great example here. While he was at Apple (the first time), his influence rocketed upward. But when he left, his influence (over both the company and the market) dropped to almost nothing. Interestingly, when he returned to Apple, his influential status picked back up exactly at the place where he left it, and it hasn’t stopped growing since.

In a different way, past figures can see a resurgence of their influence, often in unintended ways. Here are two really interesting examples:

  • Yul Brynner, the famous actor who passed in 1985, saw a resurgence in his influence through a series of anti-smoking commercials he recorded prior to his death to be released years after his death. Here, his influence not only was recurring, but transcended the industry in which he was known.
  • Charlton Heston, the great actor and long-time champion against gun control laws, while known for his acting is best remembered for his line “from my cold, dead hands” – a phrase uttered well after his fame as an actor had faded that has now, even today, remained a rallying cry for those who believe the 2nd Amendment guarantees their right to bear arms.

The list goes on. Look at how RunDMC jump-started Aerosmith’s fading career with their cover of “Walk This Way”, or how Tony Bennett, the singer famous in the mid-1900’s was able to stage a remarkable comeback with a younger generation, appearing along-side the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Flavor Flav, or Roy Orbison, whose career was revitalized through the collaborative efforts of people like Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, bring his then “old” music to a new generation of younger fans.

4)    Influence transcends positive & negative

The saying there is no such thing as bad press is as true as ever. Influence doesn’t respect the boundaries of good or bad, it simply is, and can often work in ways that would seem to be at odds with common sense. Need a good example? Take a look at Rupert Murdoch. Throughout his career, he has had his share of tremendous successes and dreadful controversies. Neither of these has, in the past, diminished or limited his ability to wield tremendous influence through his media empire. Even with his current scandal, involving the News of the World newspaper (and also the name of one of my favorite Queen albums), it is extremely uncertain what the long-term impact will be on his influence or his legacy.

5)    Influence transcends medium

Influence often works in subtle ways. For example, trusted and famous actors often lend their voice, not their image, to commercials across various industries. Most people don’t recognize the voice at first (if at all), but they do subconsciously associate the comfort they feel with that “voice” despite the fact that the medium doesn’t show the face of the actor or even mention the actor’s name. Great examples include the actor Sam Elliot, who despite a brilliant screen career, has probably had more true influence through his voice-over line “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” than he has had in his acting career. Interesting, isn’t it.

Like I said above, these are just five examples that we thought noteworthy. There are many more, and I think the real value of this list is how we leverage these characteristics in our daily personal and business lives feel free to add your own to our list

5 Trends Influencing Business Today

The world is presently in the midst of a wave of revolutions, spanning from massive changes in global politics to the ever-exploding presence of social media and online technology into our everyday lives. Through all of this, however, business must go on, but it isn’t business as usual. I recently wrote a short post on who might be influencing your next business deal.

After delving a bit deeper, and surviving some great brainstorm sessions (if you don’t have a group of trusted advisors, get one), I started to take a look at the bigger picture – not just “who” might be influencing business deals, but what are some of the major trends that are helping to redefine how we do business while the world around us transitions from the past of the 20th century to the new realities of the 21st.

Here are 5 trends that I think are worth watching:

1) The Importance of the Customer

The phrase “customer-centric” has never been more important than it is today. With the arrival of the “information age”, consumers world-wide know what is available, what everyone else is buying and how to find it online at the lowest cost. With this power has come the ability to shape markets, and define the products that they want. Manufacturers no longer have the power to define a market in their own closed space. The phrase “build it and they will come” no longer applies – you must know what the customer wants in advance if you want any chance of survival. And once you have delivered what the customer wants, your product and your customer support must both be perfect, because in this age, word-of-mouth doesn’t just reach family and friends, it reaches the world.

Place the customer first. Listen to them before you build your product and they’ll tell you what to make. Listen to them after they buy your product and they’ll tell you how to keep them as repeat customers (and brand advocates).

2) The Rise of Search

Search has changed everything. Anybody with a laptop, tablet or even a phone can find any piece of information they need. They can find just about everything regarding both a product and the company that makes it, including the opinions of others. But more importantly, search is becoming personal, and that is having a dramatic impact on both the consumption of information and the consumption of product and services. Search is no  longer “your father’s SEO”.

To drive revenue & growth, Google, Bing/Yahoo, etc. have always tried to present the most “relevant” search results (and advertisements) on your search page. Relevancy = dollars. But we’ve moved into a stage of technology, and “business to business” information sharing, where this refinement has evolved to where not just ads but content (search results) are now unique to individuals, based on their past search history, sites they frequent, their geographic regions, social/economic groups, etc. For example, Google uses 57 different “signals” to track who you are and what content is most appropriate specifically for you. Couple those 57 signals with information that they can obtain about you (either directly or through other “information partners”) and you have a powerful tool.

Businesses need to recognize the importance of personalized search, how it impacts their own online strategy and figure out the best way to leverage it to their advantage.

3) The Globalization of “Message”

There was a time when a brand’s “message” was local. Even corporations that had a global footprint (General Motors, SONY, Coke/Pepsi, etc.) still had customized messages that were appropriate (and targeted) at the local, or at least regional, level. And they stayed there.

Today, that world is gone. With the rise of the Internet and a population that increasingly views world travel as just another part of life, messages and brand images no longer stay where you put them. Instead, they go viral. They get picked up on YouTube. They’re seen by travelers. They’re found on the Internet (occasionally in a blog with a title like “the 10 worst marketing translations”). They are everywhere. Moving forward, the “message” that a corporation presents must be global in nature, or at the least, local and regional messages must be cultivated in such a way as to work on a global scale. From a business perspective, this isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, get creative with your international message and perhaps you’ll get lucky and it will go viral.

4) The Power of “Same”

Not only can you buy the same thing anywhere, people have grown to expect the same thing everywhere! While we still pride ourselves in finding that unique place or product, the reality is that the world is becoming one giant franchise. The “bland effect” (the ability to eat at a McDonald’s or Burger King in just about every country in the world) has moved into most major industries, from automotive to online, and shows no signs of slowing.

Perhaps the greatest example is the global domination of major online firms (Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, etc.) who have created wildly successful brands that require little or no customization to reach into any country. And if a business can’t get there themselves, the clones will. Here’s a great column from Shane Farley at Business Insider on how Sina Weibo (a Chinese version of Twitter) is outpacing Twitter’s own growth curve. If you are bringing a major product or brand to market, you must expect and drive global demand.

5) The Fall of Nations

What is more important in the world today: nations or businesses? I’d argue businesses. Who has more influence today: nations or businesses? Again, I’d argue for businesses. The globalization of brands, and the ability of consumer demand to occur on a world-wide scale, are tipping the balance of power. Commerce and trade, and consumer demand, doesn’t respect political borders. In fact, it makes them less relevant as, in this information age, we become a globe of increasingly “similar” consumers. Nations, of course, will push back and continue to try to regulate international commerce and trade. But in the long run, power is increasingly in the hands of the consumer, and the businesses that meet their needs.

What are the trends that YOU are seeing?

These 5 trends are a few of the trends that I see shaping and influencing the world of business today. What trends are shaping your business, and how are you adapting?

influence-whisper

Who is influencing your next deal?

Every business deal is a negotiation, and every negotiation has its players and its influencers. Figuring out who the players are is relatively simple – they’re the ones sitting across the table from you. But figuring out who their influential advisors are is a totally different issue, and it’s an important one to understand.

If you don’t know who, or where, your target is looking to for advice, you may not know the best way to focus your pitch, position your product or direct your negotiation strategy. You may also miss an opportunity to influence their influencers, potentially passing up a great chance to drive a deal through indirect, not direct, interaction (imagine if their influencer understood and was actually an advocate of your business, product or services).

In the world of business and negotiations, every edge is an advantage

Influencers, however, come in all different shapes and sizes, and are not necessarily consistent from deal to deal. Sure, there are a few that are always important, such as the person who controls the funding, or the COO who will ultimately be responsible for making sure that their business continues to operate in a smooth fashion. But the sheer number of influencers that you might encounter on a deal is much broader than you might think, and the weight of each can vary considerably. So just who might be influencing your next deal?

Here’s a quick list of suspects you might consider:

  1. Analysts: the trusted industry guru who shares their advice with all who will listen,
  2. Advisors: a bit closer to your prospect (mostly invisible, in fact), and somebody that is usually asked quietly to vet a new idea or project,
  3. Consultants: the person/group brought in specifically for this particular project who knows that their reputation is linked directly to how well this particular deal works out,
  4. Peer Groups: that group of industry peers (every industry has one) that talks about just what products or services they’ve used, what worked and what didn’t (and by the way, they often tend to flock together when it comes to technology best practices),
  5. Customers: not the person you are dealing with, but their customer, who may have a preference or a particular bit of sway based upon their size and purchasing habits with your potential customer (and don’t forget that a customer can be both a “best advocate” and a tremendous influencer),
  6. Press: who are always evaluating and publishing stories, articles, case studies about your products, your industry, etc. (sure, the “press” isn’t as popular as they once were, but their ability to influence is still as strong as ever as their writers have shifted into dual “reporter/blogger” roles, ),
  7. Bloggers: both individuals who have sway in their own particular sector as well as those in the emerging “tra-digital” hybrid model where the traditional press (with online publications) and individual bloggers have merged to form a slightly new breed of news/commentary that is becoming an increasingly valued source of information (Huffington Post early on was a great example), and
  8. Special Interest Groups: depending upon your industry, special interest groups (which are a bit different from industry peer groups in that they often have an agenda and can even be formal lobbying groups) can be a formidable force that can influence not just a particular business entity but an entire industry (and the politics that go with it).
  9. Marketing: I’m breaking out Marketing (either in-house or via agencies) from Competition (see below) due to the fact that Marketing usually involves a bit of “spin” that may not accurately represent your competitor in their true light. With that said, it is important to see how your competitor’s products are being marketed – who are they targeting? what buzz-words are they using? how are they gaining their traction? are they comparing their company/product (either directly or indirectly) to you, and if so, how?
  10. Your Competition: if you think you don’t have any competition, you are probably selling into a market that doesn’t exist. Looking at your competition is a great way to understand both market and customer dynamics. And let’s face it, very few (if any) of your potential partners or customers will ever sign a deal without doing a bit of window shopping, and what they see in the window will definitely have an influence on how they perceive the relative value between you and your competition. And don’t just stop at their products/services, but look at the entire firm. Are they product/service-focused or are they customer-centric? How are their various departments (sales, marketing, customer support, development, etc.) woven together. The more you know, they better you can compete, and answer those tough questions that your potential partner or client is likely to ask (like “Why you, and not them?”).

So if you can figure out just who your prospective client or business partner is listening to (which requires that you do your fair share of listening), you may just find an edge, and in the world of business and negotiation, every edge is an advantage.

So who are your target’s influential advisors, and how will you turn that knowledge into an advantage?


[UPDATE: This post was originally written as an introduction to the June 28th edition of #InfluenceChat, a weekly Twitter chat on business influence that takes place every Tuesday at 12pm ET (check out the GnosisArts wiki for a list of all Twitter Chats. This post has been edited for clarification and to update content, including the addition of the “Special Interest Groups” at the suggestion of Rika Ng @rikang and the suggestion of Marketing Agencies and Competitors from Margie Clayman @MargieClayman]