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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.

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