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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.

Suomi Finland and Nokia – A Benchmark for European Blogging

August 21st, 2006

As I was visiting some relatives in Finland last month, I noticed that very few Nordic Web sites had incorporated blogging and New Media features at a corporate level. Blogging and podcasting have already become commonplace amongst the general population in Finland, as it has in the United States, however there is a glaring gap between most corporate Web sites and available New Media technology.

Something inherent about the Finnish society is that people adapt to technology very quickly. In fact, it is a country where you find youth text messaging live television talk show hosts from their mobile/cell phones although they’re being charged to do so. Finns, and I’m supposing other Europeans, would most likely embrace companies or organizations that would open up the level of transparency in regards to products, services, and community. For instance, Nokia is Finland’s most influential consumer brand, of which people proudly show off their new model phones amongst friends and family, along the same level as a car, home, or other status symbols. So as to exploit and enhance this brand power, I could certainly envision Nokia providing an interactive community where its customers could go online to chat about new product features, designs, like and dislikes, desires for future technology and so forth. Not only would this create further intimacy amongst Nokia’s customer base, but also it would enhance customer evangelism while at the same time providing in-depth and basically free unsolicited market research. Plus, Nokia has already experimented with the blogosphere by sending bloggers new phone models and had phenomenal response; why shouldn’t Nokia then take blogging to the next level and engage their customers? Nokia also has a few non-employed enthusiasts blogging about their products, the next step would be to envelop this community within the Nokia.com sphere to help shape the content and engage in the discussion.

So as to prove this isn’t a Nokia centric blog, Fazer, Finnair, Hesburger, and Stockmann are four other Finnish companies that come to mind that could leverage new media technology and customer evangelism. In fact, no matter the firm or industry, the main ingredient for success is to identify a loyal customer base and empower enthusiastic individuals with tools like blogs and customer reviews so as to become a participative marketing and sales extension for little to no cost. Although this may appear somewhat iffy in terms of ethics, the truth is that most customer evangelists don’t want to be bought, they’ll proactively solicit the virtues of a company’s products and services simply because they feel an inherent personal emotional identification around the brand. In other words, the brand becomes a reflection on their personality.

In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate the old mantra to those of you who haven’t heard it before … great brands create consumer evangelists by empowering their customers to be a strategic marketing force. Companies that have succeeded, such as Apple Computers, Under Armour, and Southwest Airlines, know what makes their customers tick. If you’re a marketer reading this blog, I highly encourage you to check out some articles under Google keyword search using “Customer Evangelism.” One article in particular that I would recommend is the “Customer Evangelism Manifesto” by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba; it has honestly revolutionized our corporate drive at RisingLine New Media Marketing. Anyway, I hope this blog provided some helpful information. Please feel free to provide feedback or ask questions.

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