Archive for April, 2008

Long Meetings, Large Teams and the Powerful Pro-Crack Lobby

April 27, 2008

seven of nine

Back in the 1980’s when I played music with Jeff Graham, we passed the highway time by making fun of anything we could think of. One of his favorite targets was a Missouri politician who took a strong anti-drug stance. “Mighty courageous,” Jeff would say, “takin’ on that powerful pro-crack lobby.”

Jeff’s words come to mind as I evaluate recent discussion from Matt at Signal vs Noise on ideal team size and ongoing conversations with colleagues on how many meetings are too many. Matt’s post drives home that there is broad historical agreement on nine to twelve as an ideal size for a team if getting something done is the intent. My only geek-obsessed contribution to his thoughtful analysis is to observe that this principle will continue to be relevant far into the future. Jeri Ryan’s Borg character on ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ was Seven of Nine, not Seventy-Three of Nine Hundred and Eighteen. And the Borg had collaboration tools that even 37Signals can’t match (yet).

Thing is, in many years on several Corporate American starships I’ve yet to be on a project team larger than that. So if the answer is obvious, why do we keep asking the question as though it were a controversial one? Not sure about crack, but on the other two I think it’s because ‘small teams, short meetings’ is the right answer to the wrong question about what makes us unproductive.

Even ten can be unwieldy for a project team. I prefer four or five when possible; there is no place to hide and it is crystal clear that the work won’t get done unless each person does their part. It never seems to be the project team that slows things down anyway. It is the endless flow of Borg drone ‘stakeholders’ who emerge from Giger-inspired corridors saying flatly “your project will be assimilated into our roadmap.”

The idealistic approach to fending them off is to authorize the project team to set phasers on kill. Nice for ‘Star Trek’ to get past that Prime Directive hokum, but impractical in the Collective that is Corporate America for many of us. If you work in a company of any size, one of the non-idealistic approaches I’ve seen work is use of a RACI chart.

There are variations and the chart is less important than the mental discipline in acting based on who is:

  • Responsible (does the work)
  • Accountable (one single owner of success or failure)
  • Consulted (has knowledge needed or is a stakeholder impacted enough by the project that their opinion must be considered)
  • Informed (needs to know what’s going on but is not consulted)

Confusion on the last two – not team size – is what most commonly bogs projects down in my experience.  People overestimate the degree to which any given project affects them and place themselves in the Consulted quadrant. Suddenly teams that you’ve never heard of are setting up meetings and requesting deliverables. The stakeholder creep begins. Without a clear definition of whose opinion can (and, more importantly, can’t) alter the project direction, Borg drones overwhelm the away team every time. When that happens you’re best off being beamed outta there.

Matt’s right that a small, effective team doesn’t need documents like a RACI chart. What he misses is this: the chart isn’t for them. It’s unimportant to identify who’s on the team. The key thing is to identify who isn’t.

Social Network Fatigue

April 25, 2008

Social Network Fatigue

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols at Computerworld says he doesn’t want to friend me. With an ever-increasing number of social media options, who can blame him? He has a long track record as an online social networker, with roots going back to managing listservs and Compuserve groups.

Zude is a promising option for those of us facing social networking site fatigue. As Brian Solis observes, it allows the user to incorporate elements from other social networking sites into a personal Zude page. Almost anything can be dragged, dropped, remixed and mashed up.

I’ve often discussed the need to be able to keep all one’s social capital in one place. Zude is a first step towards what that place might look like. Right now it looks more like MySpace than LinkedIn, but there’s no reason it can’t be used for professional purposes. And a professional Zude-type tool would have the added value proposition, if done right, of saving busy professionals time by updating everything at once and doing away with the need for multiple passwords and online identities.

Baby steps. But steps in the right direction.

Thanks to mattkeefe for the image

Inertia Marketing vs Loyalty Marketing

April 17, 2008

inertia marketing

Once a customer is acquired, subscription businesses make a choice between inertia marketing and loyalty marketing.

Inertia marketers make it easy to forget you even have the product. They don’t remind you that you have the high-end cable package; their billing is designed to avoid calling attention to that fact. They reach out when they think they can upsell you, but beyond that they’re silent as much as possible. If you talk about not messaging to your customers because you don’t want to ‘wake the dead’, if your strategies are designed to communicate only when necessary…you’re an inertia marketer. Inertia marketing is driven by fear that you are not worthy. If customers thought about their subscription, they’d cancel.

Loyalty marketers remind you that you’ve purchased their product. They remind you of the value. They communicate to you that they’re grateful for your choice, and they find ways to pass on extra value in their marketing communications. Those extra-value tips also drive usage of the product, making the value clear. Loyalty marketing is driven by confidence and hope. If you think about the subscription, you’ll feel good about the value and tell others about it.

When everything’s stable retention rates can be about the same with both strategies. There’s extra goodness from loyalty marketing, but it doesn’t show up in retention – it’s in new customer acquisition driven by word of mouth.

For any given customer the difference becomes apparent in times of stress. The Netflix account that you never use, the paper that you rarely read…gone. The insurance guy (thank you, David Hearn) who always delivers extra value by making things easy for you stays, even though Geico would be cheaper. That’s only one household, though…when times are stable it doesn’t make a difference and marketers rely on inertia because it’s cheaper.

In an economic downturn, every customer is under economic stress. That’s when inertia marketers ask “How can we promote loyalty?” Without a wayback machine they may be out of luck.

The Silicon Irony of Shutdown Day

April 16, 2008

Shutdown Day Unplugged

‘Can you survive for 24 hours without your computer?’ asks the Shutdown Day website.

Jack Bauer couldn’t. Here’s the script I’m writing for a season of ‘24′ that takes place during Shutdown Day:

jack shutdown day“Chloe! We’re running out of time! Have you hacked into the satellite grid to get the coordinates?”

“I can’t, Jack! It’s shutdown day! We’re saving energy and having a flash mob! Do you have a map?”

chloe shutdown day“Dammit Chloe, there’s no TIME for a map!”

“Jack, this conversation can’t be happening! This is a VOIP phone! Hello? Hello?!!!”

I’m a fan of movements, of flash mobs, of almost anything that gets people to try thinking and acting differently. Despite being a marketer I’m a fan of Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Day, for example. Getting away from the computer and interacting in person is good. Shutting down to save power is good. No arguments with any of that.

But there is a rich cultural irony in Shutdown Day. My first PC in the dinosaur days was not connected to anything. I did word processing, spreadsheets and games on it. Movements in those days were a mainstream affair. They had to be – unless a lot of people felt the same way you did, it was far too expensive to build a network of like-minded people. So movements occurred where like-minded people happened to be clustered. Proximity spawned both the KKK and the Watts riots.

That changed the day I plugged a 14.4K modem into my PC and launched an application called Trumpet Winsock that let me find information with Gopher, download it with FTP, and engage in what the kids these days call ‘social networking’ via BBSs. And I soon found an application called Mosaic that let me view all this information I was exploring in a graphical form. Mosaic led to Netscape, then IE, then Firefox. Email connected me with people around the world, then IRC, then blogging, then Twitter.

A lot of things changed, but here’s the important one: proximity doesn’t matter anymore. Whatever I’m into – LOLcats, collecting Beanie Babies or Fiestaware, railing against consumerism, coprophagia (don’t look it up), or anything else – connecting to people who share those interests is easy.

Every aspect of Shutdown Day is not only computer-enabled, it’s impossible to execute without computer aid. Looking at their list of actions, here are some examples:

  • ‘Register Online’ – How would one get the word out and build community without the Web site? Potential participants aren’t clustered in any one location or around any one set of interests to make reaching them easy. Mass mailing and advertising would be ineffective
  • ‘Make video and photos and take a chance to win one of our amazing prizes’ – by submitting that content online, of course
  • ‘Communicate’ – they do advocate talking to friends but quickly add a recommendation to discuss it in online forums, blog about it, use del.icio.us, Facebook and Digg
  • ‘Organize Shutdown Day Flash Mob’ – via the Web, of course. They’ll post your information on the site so other organizers can coordinate with you, and please submit the video of your event online
  • ‘Advertise’ – on your blog, forum or Web page
  • ‘Purchase a T-Shirt’ – using our convenient and secure e-commerce platform

I’m pretty sure that Andy Kaufman is dead. But if he’s not, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the mastermind behind Shutdown Day. It’s meta-satire worthy of Andy.

photo by spiritokko

BBspot Reports Firefox Plugin Offers Rickroll Protection

April 15, 2008

BBspot reports that Mozilla has released a Firefox plugin that protects users from being rickrolled. It’s satire…I think. They offer this link to download. Go ahead, click on it.

An Email Subject Line is Not a Fine Wine

April 15, 2008

I’m reading mailchimp’s study of best and worst subject lines. Most of the high open rate lines are straightforward and give a clear idea of what’s inside. Low open rate lines tend to be less clear about the content. The lesson: email marketing is not dead. It’s just becoming more honest.

My guess is the results would have been different five years ago. The move towards transparency of intent is driven by increasing savviness. Most of us now understand when you’re trying to trick us into opening something. A study over time would probably reveal changes in what we find compelling enough to open. Unlike a fine wine, an email subject line does not age well. Whatever practices work for you now should be examined and updated regularly.

I wonder how the tagline on this famous National Lampoon cover would fare as an email subject line. Mailchimp’s study makes me think it would be less effective today than it was in the past. (But it’s still my favorite magazine cover ever).

Very Important Customer Contradiction

April 11, 2008

Anytime you hear the phrase “you are a very important customer to us”…you are not.

The most common variant is “your call is very important to us, please continue to hold.” I don’t know about you, I rarely feel important when I hear that line.

Customers hear actions. What is your business saying? Your customers hear clearly and tell others.

Photo by givepeaseachance

Tweeting while Twitter is Down

April 7, 2008

A colleague just emailed me “I think I broke Twitter.” Not sure it was his fault, but as of 12:43pm CST it’s down.

Since the stated purpose of Twitter is to answer the question “What are you doing”, another friend and I are coming up with the tweets that we’d be tweeting if we could tweet while Twitter was down.

  • Checking to see if Twitter is back up
  • Checking one more time in case I was wrong
  • Getting the shakes
  • Trying to remember how to use email
  • Wandering around asking people on the street “What are you doing?”
  • Googling Jaiku
  • Checking my gmail archives for that old Pownce invite

And Twitter, this is all out of love. It’s a great feeling when people tell you they get the shakes without your product.

SEO Rapper ‘Design Coding’

April 5, 2008

I am nearly as speechless as when John D turned me on to aristocrunk.

My favorite quote: “When you use CSS your page will load quicker, client satisfied like they eating on a Snicker”.

When pop culture and marketing collide it’s simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. Thanks to iJustine, she who is the Internet, for pointing it out.

Marketing Mimics Memes

April 4, 2008

Rickrolling hit a tipping point on April Fool’s Day. I tried to explain my fascination with it to coworkers (click here for a full explanation, I told them!) but couldn’t.

Today I took in a seminar on guerilla marketing and realized that marketers envy memes. If I could craft a message that got passed on a enthusiastically as lolcats are forwarded, I could move markets with one email. (I’m in ur strategy movin ur market). If I could develop a product as simultaneously disposable and durable as Rick Astley, I’d have lifelong planned obsolescence.

Rarely do marketers create memes. Most die without ever creating a “where’s the beef” campaign.

But they really, really, really want to.