Thursday, May 27, 2010

Embracing the Risk in Thought Leadership

It is easy to be a thought leader in the cozy confines of the corporate conference room.

With beer muscle bravado, executives often opine in private about issues, trends, competitors and…yes…even customers with views that would surely turn heads. Yet, when it comes time to incorporate these opinions in a social media program the end product is edited, scrubbed and washed out.

Everyone feels comfortable with the post, yet discouraged by the lack of readership and audience engagement.

How come there are no comments on our blog? Why is readership stagnant?

It’s quite simple. To be a thought leader and command market attention you actually need to have thoughts. And it’s okay if others present a conflicting view. In fact, it should be encouraged.

For instance, the most widely read posts on this blog all have something in common: a majority of the comments are from passionate dissenters. Consider my post about a wayward presentation or collegiate failings when it comes to social media education.

This brings me to a Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client who truly embraces the commitment (and thick skin) required for thought leadership. Check out this post by British Telecom’s (BT) Toby Weir-Jones:

Wither VeriSign? Further Consolidation in the Security Marketplace

As a senior VP in BT’s Managed Security Services business line, Toby is certainly in a qualified position to articulate his views on the responsibility that market leading organizations have to innovate. Doing so creates possible risk as some might take offense to the forceful presentation of his convictions.

Leaders take risks though. It’s true in social media…and in life.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Honest Goldman’s Marketing Wisdom

I typically walk out of an Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) National Capital chapter event with a notebook of exceptional ideas and best practices about strategy, operations and other contributors to corporate valuation.

Friday’s event was different. Sure, my notebook was filled. Yet, rather than furious scribbles about mergers and acquisitions, my take-aways from a presentation by Honest Tea’s CEO Seth Goldman related to marketing, promotion and positioning.

Perhaps most important was a reminder of a tenet of effective communications: while perception is reality, perceptions must be based on reality to resonate with customers.

This is certainly true with Honest Tea. A dozen years ago Goldman and a partner began to experiment at home with tea concoctions. The premise of their initiative was simple: devise a refreshing, low-sugar drink with natural ingredients and flavors.

Fast forward to 2010 and Honest Tea now generates nearly $70M in annual revenue from a line of teas, lemonades and kids drinks. Plus, the company is on the precipice of a national roll-out in partnership with their strategic investor Coca-Cola.

Goldman’s personal commitment to environment sustainability permeates every aspect of Honest Tea’s operations – from product development and manufacturing to packaging and distribution. It’s core to the company’s differentiation from other beverage companies.

Honest Tea continues to innovate when it comes to the environment having championed the formation of Bethesda Green, a not-for-profit that promotes sustainability.

While Goldman certainly knows how to whip up a tasty tea, his true genius lies in marketing. Here are three examples:

1. Every venture into the field is a photo opportunity. Seth lugged along a camera during his trip to China to inspect a supplier’s tea fields. The photos have been incorporated into the company’s Web site and promotional materials as a visual reminder of the natural ingredients brewed into every bottle.

2. The news of the day can be leveraged to garner your own headlines. This past April, Honest Tea turned crime and corruption on Wall Street into a CNN-worthy segment.

3. There’s a marketing play in nearly every crisis. When Honest Tea switched bottle design for sustainability reasons, customers cried foul claiming the company had short-changed them on the amount of product offered. A savvy update of the label quieted criticism while reinforcing the company’s environmentally friendly positioning.

Honest Tea's Seth Goldman in the tea fields of China.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Don't Shy from Business Execution

Our discussions had been promising.

The company was a start-up operating in what is commonly referred to as stealth mode. They had built out a feature rich software product in a market poised for expansion. Customers had signed on. Financing was banked. From a public relations and social media perspective there was a lot to work with.

We viewed the company as primed for sales execution. They had corporate and product messages in place that had proven to resonate with prospects. Yet, they insisted on the need for a comprehensive and thorough evaluation of this messaging, along with what would likely be a slow-role testing with industry analysts and influencers.


We shared two thoughts:

1. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

2. You’re the only one that cares about your messaging. Your key audiences are focused on themselves and their problems.

I guess that was the wrong answer as we haven’t heard from the start-up since.

However, I truly believe our counsel was on target. While I’m no proponent of the “ready, fire, aim” school of business execution, my experience working with clients of all sizes has led me to conclude that many executives spend too much time inwardly focused on planning.

Think, evaluate, decide, execute and then revise accordingly.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Social Community Platforms

As the shift in audience engagement and participation swings from in-person interaction to online involvement, organizations of all means and sizes have gone social.

It’s more than a Twitter feed…a blog…or Facebook fan page. Rather, niche social networks for nearly every fancy are now live and welcoming new members.

Even with the commercialization of the market-leading Ning platform, there are a number of free, easy-to-use applications for online community construction:






For marketers, participation in these groups allow for audience micro-targeting based on interest, occupation, industry, geography, demographics, etc.

It is never acceptable to spam with blatant sales messaging. Yet, by promoting thought leadership content of interest to the community and crafting relationships based on trust, these niche social communities can serve as a wonderful source of prospects, partners and potential employees.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Female Entrepreneurs, Capital and a Misguided View

If given the choice, would a venture capitalist or private equity investor be more likely to chase a deal or a skirt?

In the near 20 years I have worked in technology, I’ve had a healthy amount of interaction with equity investors. I’ve represented emerging growth companies, been an advisor to M&A transactions and IPOs, and rubbed shoulders at countless industry forums and networking events.

In no way do I gush over fat wallets, yet I do admire a professional investor’s singular focus on making money for themselves and for their limited partners.

So…I say deal, rather than skirt.

Yet, an article published last month by the New York Times entitled “Out of the Loop in Silicon Valley” portrays a different view of investor motivations.

The story authored by Claire Cain Miller explores a myriad of issues that impact the success of female entrepreneurs, technologists and entrepreneurs – such as education, personal goals related to family and the absence of professional role models. However, for the purpose of this blog post I’d like to explore Miller’s accusation that venture capitalists are inherently sexist.

The article leads with entrepreneur’s Candace Fleming’s frustrating tale of attempting to raise money for Crimson Hexagon, a start-up company she headed. She made the rounds to some 30 venture firms only to come away empty handed and insulted. (Photo: entrepreneur Candace Fleming, image courtesy of the Journal of New England Technology.)

One VC referred to Fleming as “mom.” Another made an indecent proposal involving his yacht and a naked photo of himself. While a third was more interested in discussing the impact biking has on male reproductive capabilities.

“I didn’t know things like this still happened,” Fleming told the NY Times. “But I know that, especially in risky times like the last couple of years, some investors kind of retreat to investing via a template. A company owned by a woman is just not the standard template.”

In no way do I defend the behavior of these venture capitalists. If true, their comments were completely out of line, inappropriate and degrading.

Yet, I also believe Fleming is misguided in her belief that it was her gender that tempered financial interest in Crimson Hexagon. More likely, it was the VCs conclusion that the company was tethered to a faulty business model, or Fleming was ineffective at presenting the company’s vision, strategy and growth plan.

Buried in the NY Times story is the revelation that Fleming recently resigned from Crimson Hexagon because “she had drifted too far from the creative side of the business.” Soon thereafter the company announced completion of its financing and the appointment of a new CEO.

So maybe sexist views didn’t block this start-up from much needed capital. It could have been an ineffective CEO.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Romancing the Cloud

The “Cloud Economics 101” panel discussion at yesterday’s Government Cloud Computing conference in Washington, DC created a fascinating juxtaposition between the industry’s top thought leaders and the government IT executives still struggling with how the cloud applies to their specific needs.

Let’s start with the vendors with representatives on the panel -- EMC, Cisco, Intel, VMware, Terremark and Lockheed Martin. Combined, these market leaders represent billions of dollars in annual IT, network and security spending by government and corporate customers. (Full disclosure: I attended yesterday’s panel discussion as a guest of EMC.)

The panelists did a superb job outlining the business case for cloud adoption, including:

1. Maintaining continuity of operations (COOP) when faced with a natural disaster, terrorist act or other form of disruption. Just consider the impact this week of flooding in Nashville on business and government activities.

2. Managing costs and ensuring reliability in an environment often defined by unpredictable computing requirements. EMC’s Tim Harder used the term “burst-ability” to describe a customer’s ability to tap into additional computing resources via the cloud, as needed.

3. Embracing a more green or sustainable IT environment through a reduction in power consumption.

4. Realizing the capability, feature and cost benefits from the economies of scale approach a cloud provider can deliver. The vendor is able to make more frequent financial investments in their infrastructure because the costs are spread across a myriad of customers and/or users.

When it came time for Q&A, many of the attendee inquiries focused on more pedestrian issues, such as how to justify the move to the cloud to internal decision-makers and ways to mitigate the cultural issues that arise with any enterprise shift.

One attendee asked, “Do we have to fire all of our IT people?”

Understandably, the issue of security was also a hot topic of discussion because of profile incidents that have plagued government agencies.

Panelist Barry Sheward of Lockheed Martin who has an extensive security background suggested that cloud computing can actually improve an organization’s security because of the management function.

EMC’s Harder brought the panel discussion to a close with a suggestion for attendees who have yet to adopt cloud computing in their environment.

“Select an application to become cloud-enabled and measure return on investment,” he said. “View this as a test to establish a baseline your agency can then use to evaluate how to best incorporate the cloud into your operations.”

EMC's Tim Harder and Alex Hart of VMware chat at the conclusion of the panel discussion.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Making News, Earning Kudos

You are who you are and, admittedly, I have some competitive issues. My sport of choice is pick-up basketball and my wife typically needs to remind me to “play nice” with the other middle aged guys.

While I’ve found throwing the occasional elbow on the court to be a healthy outlet, I would like to think that professionally I have mellowed a bit. This is attributable to a reset of priorities and the importance I place on my family.

Yes…I remain passionate about Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) and the clients we are fortunate to represent. Yet, our goals as an organization are much more tuned to being a successful lifestyle business:

1. Do great work for great clients

2. Embrace work/life balance

This is why the recognition Strategic has received during the past few days for our client programs have been so rewarding. Here are a few links:

Microsoft unveils social media directory for government
Government Computer News

Monster Government Solutions Unleashes Web Site
BtoB Magazine

BtoG Communities Now Online - Q&A with Strategic's Marc Hausman
BtoB Magazine

I am often asked by a prospect how we define “great.” I see it as the opportunity to design and execute a creative, results-oriented program in an environment defined by mutual respect.

When that exists, the headlines will follow.