You picked a really bad time to be boring

There was a time when you could get away with average products for average people.

There was a time when rapid growth could smooth over patches of mediocrity.

There was a time when being just a little bit interesting could hold our attention.

There was a time when relationships were built over time, face-to-face.

Now, consumers live in an anything, anytime, anyway world and there’s simply no reason to settle.

Now, largely stagnant markets require us to steal share if we wish to grow–and good enough isn’t.

Now, we are overwhelmed with choices and, more and more, the battle for share of attention is won by the weird, the purple cow, the remarkable.

Now, posts that include “more for Sagittarius”–or are merely a running commentary on your activities–get eliminated from our feed in one easy click. And winning back a lost relationship is harder than ever.

There’s a reason people don’t come to your store, leave your website within seconds, hit “unsubscribe”  or unfollow you.

Now is hardly the time to be dull, uninteresting and outright boring if you hope to make any kind of impact. If people see what you put out in the world and their first reaction is “who cares?” you’re either focused on the wrong folks or it’s time to rethink what you’re doing.

The fact is the tried and true no longer is. What once seemed safe is now often the most risky.

Yes, it’s a really bad time to be boring. But the good news is we can change.

What better time than now?

PurpleCow

The ecosystem of connection

We probably all realize that we are going through a connection revolution.

For many of us, scarcity of information, choice and access has given way to an abundance of stuff. The connection economy means we live in an era where we are literally one or two clicks away from nearly everything and everyone almost anytime we want. Relationships–with people, brands, causes, ideas–that were impossible just a few years ago are increasingly taken for granted.

As consumers, movements and things become more connected, many organizations that exist in their service aren’t keeping pace. Sure, plenty of brands have strong social media presence. Of course, monitoring online consumer sentiment is helpful. And yes, making it easy to share among peer-to-peer networks is a good idea.

Yet, far too many organizations remain internally disconnected in their data, information systems, marketing campaigns, processes, metrics and on and on. As Kevin points out, many brands still measure the success of customer contacts in isolation, not as part of a diet of interactions. But of course, it goes way beyond merely calculating marketing ROI.

Meaningful connection happens within an ecosystem. Seemingly disparate pieces weave together to become whole. Inter-relationships collide in both predictable and unanticipated ways. Relationships and trust build through cumulative effect.

As the pace of change accelerates, as consumers try to make sense of it all in an ever noisier world, brands that don’t line up their messages and capabilities to sync with the ecosystem of connection are falling further and further behind.

And once disconnected, once the customer sees your brand as a disjointed mess of disparate pieces, any hope for relevance is gone, perhaps never to be regained.

Going out on a limb

I don’t normally promote things on my blog, but I feel compelled to call your attention to Seth Godin’s new project “What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn).”   With any luck you’ve been exposed to Seth’s innovative work in the past. But if not, here’s a fantastic opportunity to dive in and get inspired.

Now in the spirit of full disclosure I should mention that I’ve known Seth for more than 30 years. He was my first business partner. He was Best Man at my wedding. So I’m hardly unbiased. However, if you feel the need to be challenged, prodded, cajoled or motivated to leap into the unknown or risky, you will not be disappointed.

See you out on the limb.

seth

My Top Ten Blog Posts of 2013

As I take a break until the end of the year, here’s a recap of my top 2013 blog posts, in order of popularity.

1.   Neiman Marcus & Target: A glorious failure.

2.   JC Penney: Trouble on the home front.

3.   Math is hard, for JC Penney.

4.   Sears: The world’s slowest liquidation sale.

5.   JC Penney: Gloat edition.

6.   The multi-channel customer is your best customer. Duh.

7.   No pottery, no barn, no crates, no barrels.

8.   The world’s first omni-channel executive.

9.   Blaming the hole.

10. Silos belong on farms (redux). 

On a special note, my most viewed post of the year was actually from 2010. Fail better got a huge boost from being featured in Seth Godin’s Krypton course. Thanks Seth!

Thanks as well to everyone for reading my blog, challenging it, promoting it and just simply paying attention to my ramblings. It means a lot.

May you and those closest to you enjoy a wonderful holiday season.  Namaste.

 

 

 

 

The world’s first omni-channel executive

The world’s first omni-channel retail executive was probably me.

In 1999 (not a typo), in a shockingly rare moment of forward thinking and risk taking, Sears’ senior leadership decided to launch an enterprise-wide initiative to glean how e-commerce and digital technology would alter our business model and to design a strategy to meet customer needs “anytime, anywhere, anyway.”

Millions of dollars were allocated, full and part-time resources were assigned from various business and support functions, a big name consulting firm was hired to help with systems integration, governance structures were created, and yours truly was plucked from the relative obscurity of running a small division to become the Vice President of Multi-channel Development & Integration.

Over a 15 month period, our renegade bunch of retail futurists executed a ton of analysis, unearthed scary findings (we had over 200 different 1-800 numbers!), delivered PowerPoint presentations bursting with jargon and coined memorable catch-phrases (my favorite: “silos belong on farms”). We also gained a deep appreciation for the barriers erected by organizations steeped in product and channel-centric thinking and behavior.

Once we wrapped up our work–and having blown through something like $7 million– we couldn’t point to many immediate high ROI recommendations. But our work did lead to an acceleration of investment in sears.com, building systems to create a single view of the customer and the formation of a central CRM group that yielded a lot of actionable customer insight.  We also developed the confidence to make pioneering investments in critical cross-channel capabilities such as ordering on-line and picking up in-store.

Personally I gained a very firm understanding of what is required to design a customer-centric strategy and implement a frictionless, channel-agnostic experience–which I was able to leverage once I moved on to the Neiman Marcus Group and in the years since I’ve been a consultant.

The purpose of this story, however, is not to regale you with my multi-channel bona fides.

The real point is that despite all the recent fervor around omni-channel this and omni-channel that, if you were really paying attention at any time during the past ten years or so, it has been blindingly obvious that digital technology was going to dramatically change the retail customer experience.

If you were really paying attention, you would know that Sears (and others) were publicly discussing the higher spend and engagement rates of multiple channels shoppers as early as 2003.

If you were really paying attention, you would know that companies like Nordstrom have been investing heavily in channel integration technology and processes for nearly a decade.

So if you are just starting to take customer-centricity seriously now–if you are peppering your earnings reports, industry conference presentations and investor meetings with little anecdotes about cross-channel customer behavior and the omni-channel blur as if this all just started happening–all this proves is that you were not paying enough attention years ago.  One has to wonder what other game-changing stuff you are years behind on.

Of course as Seth reminds us: “The best time to start was a while ago. The second best time to start is today.”

Leading through innovation starts first with awareness. Which needs to be followed with acceptance.

It’s a choice what you decide to pay attention to. And it’s a choice to act and to act boldly. Ultimately nothing matters without action.

It’s later than you think.

The useless jury

Whether we acknowledge it or not, much of the time many of us are playing to one or more juries.

I’m not talking about a literal jury–or even one of those goofy panels HLN puts together for sensational legal cases.

I’m talking about those sometimes nameless and faceless people that we consciously or unconsciously allow to drive our attitudes and behaviors.

We not only believe that there are these groups of people who are out there constantly judging us, but we take action to seek their approval, to get them to agree with us, to persuade them to buy whatever it is we are selling. To try to make them like us.

There are useful juries of course. Hopefully we all have friends, confidants or other members of our tribe whose input is trusted and valuable. They help us sharpen our message and fine-tune our product or service. They give us confidence to walk through our fear.

The customers we have or want are useful juries as well. Ultimately if they aren’t voting on behalf of our value proposition it matters a lot. And we have the choice to adjust our strategy and try to win them back, or move on to something new.

The useless jury, however, is the most pernicious.

Sometimes they take the form of the relentless defender of the status quo. They are filled with fear and hate most change, particularly if it might somehow reflect badly on them.

Sometimes they are the folks that aren’t engaged enough with your project to fully understand what it is about and who it is for–and you are powerless to change that. If they aren’t willing to do the work, they don’t get a vote.

Mostly, though, the juries that bring us down–that keep us stuck–are those whose judgment is irrelevant, yet somehow we feel compelled to listen.

When, as Seth reminds us, you choose your customer first then you can be emboldened to say and accept that “this is not for you.”  And if it’s not for them, why does their opinion matter, why do you have to listen, why let them hold you back?

It’s time to dismiss all the useless juries in your life.

 

 

This might take a while

Certainly the world is moving at an increasingly faster pace.

Clearly we have seen transformative new business models seemingly come out of nowhere to supplant industry incumbents.

Without a doubt, traditional sources of customer loyalty are being challenged in a rapid onslaught of ever-expanding options and innovative marketing techniques.

Yet, for many brands, it is still very much the case that relationships and trust matter.  And those precious assets are rarely earned quickly.

Despite the publication of Permission Marketing well over a decade ago, too many brands fail to follow the basics of Seth’s admonitions.

Too many brands want to get married on the first date.  Too many brands fail to take the time to treat different customers differently.

Too many brands think quantity trumps relevance (I’m looking at you Groupon).  Too many brands think they can shift their customer base quickly (I’m looking at you JC Penney).

As the pace of change accelerates, you may be tempted to do everything faster. But if you have a business model that is anchored in trust, rooted in deep relationships and in building a growing permission-based asset, the right answer may well be to go more slowly and deliberately.

Yes, it might take a while. But it’s likely to be worth it.