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McBlogs | Putting the blogs of Dell Southwest and McDonalds in perspective

September 14th, 2006

As you may be aware, the practice of business blogging has become quite the rage within the last year with the latest trend being the launching of corporate blogs by some very large commodity companies. With the hype machine being cranked on overdrive, some are assuming that anyone or anything that launches a business blog is really on the cutting edge of marketing. I am reminded of a key principles derived from evaluating what makes great companies in Jim Collins book Good to Great:

Technology and technology-driven change has virtually nothing to do with igniting a transformation from good to great. Technology can accelerate a transformation, but technology cannot cause a transformation.

The corporate blogs of Dell (Direct2Dell) Southwest (Nuts About Southwest), and McDonalds (Open for Discussion) are easy to pick as poster children for the above principle simply because these companies have not gone through
a radical transformation, nor will they be in my opinion. These companies represent the points furthest away on the economic spectrum from the types of businesses that have the most benefit potential from properly utilizing the technology of blogs. I’m not saying these companies should not have blogs, on the contrary. I’m actually a huge fan of all three because they have perfected the science of efficient production and mastered the fundamental elements of quality that people like Eliyahu Goldratt and Phillip Crosby popularized last century. It’s just that they won’t be taking center stage in this new business era.

When a hot technology trend like blogging takes off, it’s easy for anyone to jump on the bandwagon and give the impression that just because their blogging means that they are on the cutting edge of the new marketing world of the 21st century. I need to qualify my statements a bit as the technology of blogging can apply to the dissemination of many types of information. Blogging in its most basic definition is the technical ability to regularly post and broadcast through RSS alpha-numeric characters. How those characters are arranged or what relevance they might have to others is not part of this definition. Now as tempting as it is here to take a stab at everyone’s favorite corporate villain McDonalds and say, “visit the McDonald’s Blog for an example of this definition,” I’ll hold my tongue because I know that within the few weeks I will be drawn to one of their darkened storefronts at some odd hour to devour two (OK five!) of those highly processed hamburgers laced with some sort of addictive chemical that I secretly love so much.

Back to the topic, the reference to blogging that I am basing this post on is the revolutionary social movement that has always been there just waiting for the technology of blogging to emerge. To me blogging is not a technology, it’s the mindset of revolution.  The revolution that empowers individuals and segmented markets to communicate their needs, value, to validate their legitimacy through community collaboration, and then, when validated, to expand their message through organic word of mouth evangelism.

These mass market corporate blogs are not real revolutionary components to the social phenomenon of blogging. If we look to them as examples of how blogs will change business and society we’ll be missing the real thing. Blogging is the vehicle for dramatic and revolutionary change in creating a highly segmented marketplace—not a commodity marketplace like Dell, Southwest, and McDonalds represent—where needs can be communicated and met on an individual basis.  Blogs and related new media technology didn’t cause this, but they do play the vital role in providing an effective and low cost venue to facilitate communication and business transactions thus allowing mass segmentation instead of mass marketing. Our individual needs have always been there, they’ve just been subdued by mass standardization from the industrial revolution and mass marketing from the “information age”.

So the point of my gentle stab against Dell, Southwest, and McDonalds is just to highlight that the radical growth we’ll see in business and society going forward is on those highly segmented and specialized businesses, most of which will be much smaller than Dell, Southwest, and McDonalds. Some experts believe that the mass market commodity model of business will die out during the 21st century, the most well known book with this opinion is The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. I believe that mass marketers will lose some market share from this revolution but will continue to succeed throughout the 21st century on a basic business model not radically different than what they have today…by being masters of discount commodity value. No one want’s to shop at Wal-Mart but we all do.

The real point is not whether Dell will be here in 20 years it’s that there is now the other market that has been opened up to compliment the commodity market. Now we can have our $500 notebook pc, take a $76 flight to Seattle, buy a $.79 hamburger at the airport McDonalds and enjoy participating in the highly segmented new media marketplace for those needs we choose to go there with.

Southwest Airlines – You’re Free to Blog About the Country

September 10th, 2006

I know that Southwest Airlines isn’t for everyone, especially those who love to be pampered by high dollar airline perks like microwaved frozen chicken and stale rice served in an aluminum box complete with plastic utensils. As for me, I’m perfectly fine with honey-roasted peanuts complemented by an ice cold ginger ale … and that’s why Southwest.com is typically the first Web site I frequent when preparing a domestic flight itinerary.

Okay, some of you who frequent this blog are probably thinking I’m a hypocrite because I’m promoting a company that could easily be described as the Wal Mart of the airline industry due to their commoditized approach. However, I’d argue that Southwest is a different type of company than a commoditized retailer such as Wal-Mart in the fact that value is provided to me personally through customized services such as SWAvacations.com and a frequent flyer program that even a traveling novice like me can understand. To top everything off, as a valued customer, I’ve been asked by Southwest Airlines to engage with the company through their blog.

Although BlogSouthwest.com started out as a simple extension of the company’s marketing rhetoric, the content has improved dramatically over the past few months. Brian Lusk and the crew have started to focus the stories on the emotions of their customer base. In fact, of all the corporate blogs that I’ve visited, I’d have to say Southwest’s is the best in terms of capturing my emotions through docuvideos on subjects covering post September 11th traveling fears to eloquently describing cool vacations ideas in places like Seattle. Whether in a positive or negative sense, travel is an emotional subject for most people, and Southwest has done a terrific job at understanding issues that travelers face.

Please visit Southwest’s blog site and let me know if you agree.

Apple Isn’t Really Blogging – Mac Users Want Steve Jobs to Blog!

September 5th, 2006

For all of my love and devotion to the Apple brand, it bewilders me that the company isn’t blogging effectively and is even being shown up by the enemy who has created and pro actively maintains a phenomenal Mac-centric blog. Oh sure, there’s been a few feeble attempts like the .mac blog, but it’s pretty much ignored because it’s simply a forum to talk about product features and violates some of the basic essentials to building an effective blog. How could it be that an organization that prides itself on being at the forefront of quality customer-centric technology has been beaten at its own game? Great question.

To provide a little background, I’ve been a Mac user for 5 years now and I initially made the switch because I was forced to through my job. In fact, I once thought of Mac users as strange professor types that lived in virtual compounds and spoke weird utterances common to cults. Begrudgingly, I began to use my desktop G4 and it wasn’t long before I came to realize the value of the product … it actually was performing at a quality level as testified by all those whacko Apple heads.

Lo and behold, 5 years later I’m typing away on my PowerBook G4 and dreaming about my future upgrade to a MacBookPro while at the same time scheming how to get my business partner, friends, family, and acquaintances to make the switch. Yeah, I’ve gone out on a limb by trying to reveal to them how they’re actually living under the blue screen bondage of a beast that sucks the creative lobe right out of their brains. However, I have to confess that approach has been met with less than desirable results.

So as I sit here musing, I can’t help but wonder if the dynamic and charismatic figure who started my little Mac cult would be more effective than me in swaying popular opinion by addressing the blogosphere in a way similar to how he approaches the WWDC. If there is anyone who can sell Apple, it’s our man Steve, I’m sure the guy even convinced Bill Gates to buy an iPod the last time they got together to discuss compatibility issues.

Along with opening the value discussion up to the PC slaves … err, users, through blogging, Mac evangelists would also love to hear what Steve Jobs has to say in regards to the future of the company as well as trends and developments that effect the industry. I for one desire to hear directly from Jobs on issues relating to Leopard, the rumored wireless iPod, and future compatibility/integration developments with the Intel processor.

It really surprises me how Steve Jobs is missing a grand opportunity to engage with Apple’s loyal and evangelical customer base by choosing not to blog. The company obviously sees some potential in blogging technology since they’ve integrated it into the iLife suite. So why not use the technology and have Jobs or other Apple personalities, like Guy Kawasaki for example, to come online and lead the most powerful marketing force in the personal computer market today? – ahem, that being us Mac evangelists.

In conclusion, the energy Apple heads like myself expend toward selling the product to friends, family, and acquaintances should be harnessed and exploited by the company so as to further endure its customers to the brand while increasing market share by exposing the company to potential switch candidates through the blogosphere. In all, we evangelists want to hear from Apple execs and we’ll do all we can to bring others on board as well.

If you’re an Apple user or one of those other types like my PC partner Doug, please let me know whether agree or disagree with my premise.

Fiskars: Cutting-Edge Customer Evangelism

August 2nd, 2006

I recently became aware of the inspiring story of Fiskars, you know, the company that makes the orange handled scissors.  When started learning about Fiskars I thought, “What marketing insight could be gleaned from a company that makes such a boring commodity?” I was soon to learn that it’s the commonness of their product that makes the Fiskars story so inspiring.

Imagine being handed the job as the marketing director for Fiskars–a successful international corporation with a legacy dating from 1649. You’ve been given the world wide marketing responsibility for….long pause….scissors.

I’m sure it’s out there, but I can’t imagine a product that would be more dull (not literally of course) and more resigned to the classification of “commodity pumped out of China for a few cents each.”

Just for fun, here’s part of the provocative description of scissors from Wikipedia:

Scissors are a tool used for cutting thin material which requires little force. They are used for cutting, for example, paper, cardboard, metal foil, thin plastic, food, cloth, rope and wire. They are also used for cutting hair and nails.

So, given this bleak scenario what has Fiskars done? They’ve taken one of the toughest products imaginable and perfected the basic essences of marketing by:

  • Identifying the real need behind why their customers buy their product.
  • Branding themselves around those needs (not around their product).
  • Creating strong emotional bonds with their customers.
  • Creating an online community offering real extended value.
  • Embracing Customer Evangelism Marketing.

It’s not necessary for me to explain Fiskars’ near-perfect emotional branding, they’ve done such a great job it’s apparent just by visiting their website.

The story of Fiskars can be a big downer too. When I absorb the marketing masterpiece they’ve created out of such a ubiquitous product, it takes away all excuses for why any other product would be difficult to successfully differentiate. Almost anything, compared to scissors, would be better positioned to achieve marketing success. If you’ve been using that type of excuse, just imagine what the marketing leadership of Fiskars would do if they were at your company selling your product.

Fiskars deserves high honor for their leadership in quality consumer evangelism marketing, and for the inspiration they provide to the rest of us.

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