Greenwashing is the New Red, White, and Blue

How do you motivate your employees in this, the age of cynicism?
Instead of handing out Chinese-made flag pins to all their employees (yes, this actually happens) companies can start by supporting a few good causes.
The Economist has a nice write-up on companies taking this leap. A few examples:
IKEA, the world’s largest furniture-maker, joins forces with Rainforest Alliance and WWF to promote forest certification in China by the Forest Stewardship Council
Marriott International teams up with Conservation International and the Brazilian state of Amazonas to protect a big area of Amazon rainforest.
Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, set up an ambitious programme in 2005 with the long-term aim of becoming a zero-waste, renewably powered enterprise.
OK. Does this mean that business is finally waking up to do the right thing?

Not exactly.

The real danger with the “greening of business” is hypocrisy, i.e. greenwashing:

So if your business is going to go green (and it should), make sure you don’t do it as a PR stunt.
If you do, your company just might end up here >>

Lessons Learned: Branding and Online Communities

Back in 2000 I was the leading an interesting experiment at one of the world’s largest software companies. The idea was simply this: if we build “communities of interest” around a specific topic (e.g. “database management,” or “innovation,” or “quality of experience”) we’ll be able to attract a significant number of our “target” audience and convert them to paying customers over time.
In a year and a half, we built seven distinct communities each supported by an ecosystem of vendors and partners. For four years we tried to make these communities work, and we did, with various levels of success. Along the way we learned several key lessons and I mention them here because while they seem basic, few companies ever seem to get them right:
Communities build Brand Equity
Unaided brand recognition for our company went from 12% to 84% within two years. Our “agency” did the survey and couldn’t believe the findings. Like most agencies, this one was focused on producing “creative” work rather than figuring out how to be useful to the consumer. Of all the sites we built, this was the only one which received “full funding” and was strongly supported ($) by the sponsoring business unit. It became a major hub in the ecosystem we were competing in, and we literally had about 50% of the “target audience” “opted-in” to our email newsletter. Furthermore, in terms of online referrals, this community accounted for as much as 40% (yes, forty percent) of referrals to the online store.
Communities are Self Segmenting
We learned we didn’t have to target or segment anyone. The content did the work for us. Because each community was “vertical” and concentrated on a specific subject, the only visitors we got were people interested in the topics we wrote about. In fact, the some of our more successful sites became the hub in the marketspace we were targeting.
Stop Selling, Start Learning
We didn’t push products on the sites. In fact, we tried hard not to sell. Instead, we focused on educational content from the world’s leading experts. The result, we had “stickiness” numbers even I couldn’t believe. On our best site, the average user spent over an hour per visit. And this number held up every month, for three years in a row. While we tried our best to teach, we also spent a considerable amount of time learning. I’d spend afternoons poring over site statistics – trying to figure out what was going on.
The 90/10 Rule applies
As we studied visitor behavior, we looked at content and author popularity, the clickthroughs and conversion rates, and resilience – which articles or discussions stood the test of time. Surprisingly, we noted that 5% of our authors drove 95% of our traffic. And 5% of our readers drove 95% of our sales. This was the pareto-principle on steroids (Richard Koch was right)!
Communities Drive Demand Generation
10X better than traditional online techniques like SEO and PPC. Our cost per lead was so low, our EVP of Sales couldn’t believe it. He became one of our biggest supporters.
Corporate Marketing is the Enemy
Don’t ever sell “communities” to a marketing department that thinks in terms of quarters and campaigns. As our communities took off, we experienced all sorts of difficulties, not from the outside, but rather from the corporate marketing staff. My boss believed that companies must drive traffic to their branded company URL, and not to a myriad of niche sites with funky names like (the site no longer exists, but it did work). Luckily my boss got zapped before I did, and I was able to keep the experiment going over four years and three different corporate marketing regimes. To this day, they don’t get it.
Forget the Wisdom of the Crowd, Focus on Thought Leadership
Communities are not necessarily social networks. We learned early on to allow the leading experts in the field to write about their pet peeves and passions. Sometimes they would come to “virtual blows” – one expert against the other – each presenting their views with wit and learning (and the occasional threat).
Manage the Ecosystem
After a year of slogging, we suddenly noticed that we didn’t have to worry about keywords or search engines ever again. We had become Google favorites. Almost anything we wrote about on any of the sites rose to #1 in Google and stayed there for years. Why? Because we had built a strong enough ecosystem- not a business ecosystem, mind you, but a consumer ecosystem. Our readers loved us. The experts loved us. Google loved us. What a game! All we had to do was focus on quality content. Our ecosystem became impenetrable. We had built a firewall against all competition. One example is particularly striking. Even after we stopped updating the site in question, we remained at #1 in Google for a highly competitive key phrase – not for a month or two, but for straight three years, after we had stopped touching the site at all!
There were a few more lessons we learned as well, but I think I’ve done enough jabbering for today. The end game for me was Double Loop Marketing™ and Ecosystem Intelligence™ – both direct offshoots of my time spent figuring out how to make communities succeed.

Hillary Clinton’s Swan Song

I’ve always hated the misogyny in this song, but now nothing could be more apropos:

“My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don’t understand it.”

And previously in March:
TIME: Can you envision a point at which–if the race stays this close–Democratic Party elders would step in and say, “This is now hurting the party and whoever will be the nominee in the fall”?
CLINTON: No, I really can’t. I think people have short memories. Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn’t wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual.
Posted by Cathy Sarkar

Humble Pie for Steve Ballmer and Tom Friedman

Two separate public incidents with similar overtones.
Today Steve Ballmer got pelted by a egg-throwing Hungarian nerd:

A few weeks earlier, on Earth Day no less, Tom Friedman gets a pie in the face:

Is this “The Wisdom of the Crowd”?
What I found interesting was the reactions of the “victims.” Ballmer cracked a joke and went on. Friedman took it a bit harder – walking off the stage in a huff.
Apparently, this is nothing new for Microsoft execs. Here’s a bonus clip from 2006:

Still, I don’t think this is funny. Especially in this day and age. What ever happened to old fashioned heckling?

Viewer-Driven TV Programming – Is PBS serious?

I think it’s a nice gesture that PBS is asking viewers for programming suggestions:
What would your prime time lineup look like? Would you emphasize news and public affairs programming over science and nature content? Would you make changes to existing shows? What kinds of new series and specials would you bring to the public airwaves?
When they meet in Palm Desert, CA, the executives should take a look at the suggestions, but I feel they should talk to each other as well.
Why? Because there are serious limitations to heeding the Wisdom of the Crowd.
I blogged about Nick Carr‘s take on this subject a while back: “What crowds are good for is producing average results that are not subject to the biases and other quirks of human minds.”
The PBS bigwigs have forgotten their mission. (Maybe not, since a lot of them are now Republicans; I have to confess, when I heard about that I was sure we were soon all going to be watching infomercials on PBS 24/7).
So let’s remind them what public television stands for. What’s the brand personality they need to be faithful to?
Seth Godin weighs in on this issue with a brilliant post about the purpose of the New York Times. Same deal for PBS.
So let’s ask: What’s important? What’s true?
Big opportunity for big stories, PBS. Go where the corporate media can’t go:
News, Education, and the Arts. And don’t forget to add “Global Warming” as a new category.
PBS, you knew that once.
Look what happened to Ted Koppel and Nightline. Or David Brinkley’s This Week. I’ll Fly Away. That’s commercial television. PBS, please don’t go there.
One more thing: make sure every show is archived online for viewing over the Internet. All the way back to the very beginning of PBS (including Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood). That would be a real public service. Heck, put ’em all on YouTube.
I’m a fan of customer feedback, but I’m a bigger fan of the customer experience.
Don’t mess this up, PBS.

Ranking Business Gurus: The Librarian’s Dilemma

Tom Davenport has done it again. He’s come up with a list of top business gurus in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.

Using the same methodology he used in his book, Tom tells us that things have changed. These are the new Big Idea boys in business.
Why all boys? Because the business world still seems to be sexist? Or maybe the women thinkers aren’t focusing on “selling” their ideas as much? Where’s Dorothy Leonard-Barton? Or Tammy Erickson, for that matter?
The Times has its own list of business gurus.
Accenture still points to the 50 Gurus that Tom Davenport came up for them a few years ago.
God is in the details. The issue I have is that Tom and H.J. have not really taken into account how Google works. They’re measuring quantity, not quality.
In terms of popularity, no one uses Lexis Nexis or the SSCI database, except for academics and librarians. So I’ve got to discount those two components of the guru index.
Let’s get less academic and try to measure who’s really getting attention. (By the way, Tom has a great book on that subject as well).
So to measure real-time popularity, here’s what I propose: let’s measure the influence network for each of these management gurus. Let’s see how far their reach extends in the ecosystem they’ve built with their ideas. Let’s look at who’s linking to them. Let’s look at their site traffic. Let’s compare their ecosystem rankings. Let’s take Google, Yahoo, and the blogs into account.
Stay tuned. We’re going to have some fun using our ecosystem mapping tool.

Bill Gates’ 2007 Harvard Commencement Address

Inevitably, we want to compare this to Jobs’ speech at Stanford.
I’m going to resist that temptation because I feel that Bill Gates has finally found a vision worthy of his (and Buffet’s) billions. And the irony is he had to look outside Microsoft to get it. Well done, Melinda Gates!
‘For what purpose?” he asks. Shouldn’t our best minds be more dedicated to solving our worst problems? Poverty, Clean Water, Sexism… Gates nails it (except for global warming; I suppose he’s left that to Al Gore).
My take: Harvard is failing us, as are our other institutions of higher learning, because they are not helping students develop an “informed conscience” as Gates calls it. Heck, they’re not even helping students develop an “un-informed conscience”!
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5