Sunday, April 26, 2009

Victims of Legacy

I was working in the internet space, e-recruitment, as Marketing Head for two years from 2000. Some of our clients required experienced Legacy System professionals. Legacy Systems as the name suggests are the older and extremely huge computer network systems used by large corporations (Government and Private). They were made in the early 90’s or 80’s or even earlier. I do not know whether they exist anymore.

The professionals and their resumes were difficult to come by as they were scattered round the world. When we contacted these professionals, some of them were reluctant to move out of their current position. In fact, they were trying hard to recalibrate their skills to fit into the world of newer and more agile computer systems. Legacy Systems, they felt, were the dinosaurs of the IT world and they wanted to move out of that world. I had created a folder filled with resumes of such professionals and called it ‘Victims of Legacy’. 

Strength, over a period of time, almost always becomes a weakness or even becomes irrelevant. This is the basis of ‘Victims of Legacy’. 

We know this to be true from lessons in history, politics, industry and life. And like in the above case, in careers too. Isn’t it also true of brands?

The single and most important legacy for a brand is the actual product (or service). If time and effort is not invested in the product (or service) in continuously reinventing it or bettering it, the legacy crumbles. In such a scenario, marketers take the short cut and repose unreasonable faith in ‘communication’ to keep the brand alive and successful. The extremely tenuous legacy is stretched. What they are indulging in the name of brand building is actually ‘brand puffery’ and as the great Ogilvy said “the consumer is not a moron”. This exercise in majority of the cases fails.

Why does this happen, time and again?

Marketers always point towards cult brands like Apple, Nike, and Harley as examples of brands sticking to their core or legacy and thereby succeeding. No doubt about that. But the fact remains that these brands constantly give the world excellent products that is clearly differentiated. This way they continuously bolster their legacy and continue to be relevant.

Most marketers, though, are in a state of denial as regards the true worth of their ‘cult brand’. They have a me-too product (or service) with very wishy-washy intentions. And in a lot of cases, they (or the company) might have allowed the strong legacy to be diluted over a period of time. This is truly a great tragedy and a lot of us in the business know that this is quite common.

The Agencies and Brand Gurus don’t make life any easier for these marketers. They lay it on thick when they make important strategy presentation by drawing examples from these cult brands. These presentations which are slick and filled with obtuse philosophy probably from the likes of Socrates to quotes from the latest screen Sex Goddess (The Sex Goddess might make more sense than the strategy presentation) All this sends the marketing team into raptures of ecstasy much like the Emperor in his new clothes. And in this delirious state the strategy which is nothing more than clever wordplay is signed and sealed.

The teams that actually have to make sense of it all like R&D, Sales or the Agency creative team, are left in a catatonic state after such meetings. All this is actually very hilarious.

Investing in the product or service and thereby building the legacy is the hard way but it surely pays. Companies that seem to be realising that the ‘hard way is the best way’ like Dell, Hyundai, Samsung and many more.

Closer home I love this wonderful company Total Environment which lives this belief earnestly with little or no preaching. They are truly world class and it is no wonder they command a premium even in a highly volatile real estate market.

I am also aware that in most cases, over 90% might not be a wrong guess, what I have suggested above might not be possible. For some reason or the other companies are unable to invest in their legacy and depend only on communication to ‘build brands’. If that is the case, they should stop taking themselves too seriously. Loosen up. Explore the unexpected and liberate the agency’s creative team from mindless strategic drivel.

Whatever be the case, don’t become a victim of legacy.

As for me, I am going to quickly put together a few slides on iPhone App Store for a presentation to a prospective client of mine :-)

Note: Agencies mentioned above refers to all kinds – Research, DM, PR, Advertising and so on.
(Image courtesy: gavface)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why I think politicians can be successful social media marketers?

This is not a piece about Obama and his campaign that took him to the White House. That’s been captured very well here, here and here. This is also not about the initiative after Obama’s entry into White House. All of them are without a doubt awesome case-studies that I am sure will find its way into B-School curricula.

This is a random rambling of mine about how politicians, in general, can be great social media marketers. They could belong to the right, left or centre in their political orientation. I am aware that the left-leaning ones would prefer to be called “revolutionaries”. But then that is a topic for discussion over drinks.

Anyways, following are the reasons why I think what I think:

Politicians know how to create and sustain conversations

Experts keep pointing out that social media is all about conversations and that a sustained one can help build strong relationships.

Politicians can not only create conversations, they can raise it to the level of a raging debate – a groundswell if I am permitted to say so. They do this by taking a provocative stance or stoking the fires of controversy. They extract maximum personal mileage and thereby succeed in creating salience in people’s mind.

Take a look at any post that resulted in considerable debate (comments), you will know what I am saying.

Politicians are honest and transparent

This might be difficult to believe, but hear me out.

Social media, it is said, demands honesty and transparency as double-speak is easily spotted and denounced.

In the case of politicians ‘wysiwyg’ is fully operational. They are completely open (blatantly so) about their lack of scruples and love to keep everyone guessing about their intentions. This might seem hypocritical but it is their natural style. Probably, the fact that our expectations from politicians are low could be an important reason.

Denizens of the corporate world have no business pointing fingers at the politicians. Corporate actions and messages tend to bring about greater disbelief and at times comical relief than political promises.

Politicians thrive on chaos

Pundits constantly talk about the loss of control when one ventures into the messy social media space. They also mention that it is one of the reasons for marketers hesitating to venture here.

A politician welcomes chaos with open arms. It is the fuel that drives him closer to his ambition. Chaos is an opportunity for the politician to not only create a conversation, but a conflagration.

Politicians are fast to respond and extremely intuitive

Social media, unlike broadcast media, demands a quick response as one deals with the unknown. This means that one has to be extremely adaptive and intuitive. An average marketer is brought up on the staple diet of ‘linear thinking’ and therefore will find the going tough.

A politician is different. He cannot waste time (unless it is part of the strategy) as it will mean giving ground to his opponents. There is no loss of synapse time between his thinking and action – sometimes he acts first and thinks later. Some of the actions are so disruptive in nature that it can send a conventional marketer into epileptic seizures.

Politicians are undeterred by failures

There could be numerous failures along the way. Not everyone can be as lucky as this case when one ventures into the social media space. Come to think of it, this is also true of conventional media (approach) and I do not know why anyone is not making a hue and cry over it.

A politician is unfazed by failure as he views everything with a single criterion – was the noise level (buzz) high enough for him to stand out? The speed of a politician’s response mentioned in the previous point enables him to overcome a potential disaster and turn it into an advantage.

Politicians are able to command a loyal following

If the number of followers or fans is an important measure of success in social media, the politician is a winner hands down.

Even the lowest level politician, say a councilor, can attract and retain thousands of followers. The reason(s): all the above.

The more I got into the flow of writing this piece, the more I realize I have it all wrong.

This is beyond social media. The politician is, in fact, a great marketer. There are many more reasons one can think of than the ones mentioned above to prove this point.

In fact, B-Schools should invite politicians as guest faculty members. They will be able to inspire future marketers into becoming bold marketers. What say?

Note: There is no bias intended by using the masculine gender ‘he’ while referring to the politician. It was purely to facilitate the writing of this piece. If anything women in politics are as good at marketing (if not better) than their male counterparts.

(Image Courtesy: dmax3270)