About Me

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Len focuses on helping small and new businesses succeed through developing appropriate marketing and sales strategies. Len enjoys mentoring, relishes in getting both arms and feet wet in addressing technology, marketing and sales issues. He understands the drivers impacting business results for today and tomorrow including time-to-market, time-to-revenue, marketing, sales channels and social media.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"In These Tough Economic Times" - Words that are starting to grind on my nerves

I don't know about you but it seems almost every advertisement has picked up on the tag line in the title of this article. Yes the economy has been hit by the collapse of a financial bubble built on worthless paper. Yes our governments in Canada and the United States have selectively decided to bail out some car manufacturers to save jobs while allowing jobs at dealers to disappear with little thought of a bail out for them. We have seen a contraction in trade, a drop in the value of homes, foreclosure crises for thousands of families, and many other business failures. All of this is a reflection of our capitalist system where risk is rewarded and failure is not.

So having described the "tough economic times" for the last time in this article, I would like to talk about new business models that can push us in a different direction. North America is going through a revolution. Manufacturing used to account for a large number of jobs on this continent. Not so much anymore. I remember a very wise boss of mine, Dave Ungerer, back in the late 1970s who told me that the information economy is North America's future. He was right, just a little prescient. At the time the Internet didn't exist. Computer networks were mainframe and midrange computer systems costing millions of dollars. The home computer was an Apple II, a Sinclair, or a TRS-80. If you had 64 kilobytes of RAM you were state of the art.

Today we look back at these technologies from a Mount Everest of technical advances, atop a worldwide, ubiquitous network we call the web, tying together billions of computers together with collective computing power that would have boggled the minds of those of us in the 1970s. Our way of doing business has been altered dramatically. We rely on email, probably the killer computing application of all time. We Google rather than go to the library. We more and more watch TV online. Wireline phone calls have been replaced by wireless cell technology. We chat. We twitter.

Has our collective business mindset altered with the onset of a worldwide communication network? Have we changed our business behaviours to match the collaborative power of all of this technology? The tools are in place for collective solutions, mining individuality, sharing expertise, and building the new economy. This is the silver lining of these times.

Collective Solutions

By collective don't think communism, collective farms and that ilk. Collective solutions are best represented today by natural collaboration in the form of wikis and other web tools. Collective solutions refers to collective wisdom. Google Search is a collective solution. Wolfram Alpha is the latest new knowledge answering tool to arrive on the web.

Collective wisdom can be captured in a social network designed with that purpose. Public social network sites like LinkedIn, Xing, BizNik and Partnerpedia are designed to foster networking and collaboration. Behind the firewall private social networks such as those created by Enable Consultants, a client of mine, are ideal collective knowledge gathering and sharing tools. For example, Recess, an academic social network encourages students to interact on homework assignments, teachers to meet in virtual lounges to blog, comment and discuss best practices, and mentors to share their knowledge and provide coaching to students.

Mining Individuality

What CEOs and Presidents of corporations don't know about the people they have hired to make their businesses successful is legion. People are more than their job titles. They bring hidden skills to work each day, skills that can be used to improve the business, foster camaraderie among employees, and extend the business into new areas that can lead to revenue growth. But if CEOs cannot mine the skills of their workers then their will be no gold to share.

Some companies are using public social networks to foster better understanding of their staff. Others are building private social networks with employee pages that let them share their interests outside of work including hobbies, photos, music they like and so on. I remember when I got out of school, the first company I worked for had annual meetings in Florida. In the first few years, there was always a talent show night where employees did skits, standup comedy, played instruments, jammed together and shared a bit of who they were beyond their workselves. After a few years the company stopped sponsoring these evenings. What a loss that was.

Deploying private social networks can do much more than those singular talent show nights that I experienced back then. Individual skills and interests can become valuable corporate assets.

Sharing Expertise

In the past few weeks I have been approached by an entrepreneur who has been a consultant for many years, just like me. His skills are complimentary. His skills combined with my skills creates a higher value proposition when I go calling on a prospective client. I am sure these types of meetings are happening everywhere these days. In marketing we always talk about the importance of networking. We network with former business associates over lunch. We go to association talks and meetings a few times a year. We join organizations and clubs.

The web, however, is the ultimate virtual network and sharing expertise is as simple as creating collaborative social networks where consultants can share their knowledge, both free and fee for service, and individuals and businesses seeking answers can find the experts they seek. Such collaborative social networks represent a new paradigm, a guerilla marketing challenge for traditional management consulting firms, and the coming wave.

I state this with absolute certainty because a lot of very bright people in the last few months have watched their gold-watch careers vanish as businesses have layed off them by the thousands. Many of these individuals are turning to self employment because they are finding job prospects to be slim. These individuals have thousands of years of collective expertise to share. The web medium is there for them to seize the opportunity and create a new expertise sharing model that generates revenue individually and collectively.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Twittering and Change: Harnessing New Online Technologies

I was having an interesting discussion around the Passover Seder table a few weeks ago. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are both retired teachers. They were espousing their views on the future of newspapers, Twitter, FaceBook, short messaging, and chat and trying to get their heads around today's youth. My daughter who is 24 was at the table. She is an inveterate user of the Internet, FaceBook, short messaging and chat through Windows Messenger. But to her Twitter was something she didn't get.

It is interesting how the fast pace of Internet evolution with its many communication widgets and gadgets is altering how people seek, share and express information. The future of the traditional print newspaper is being challenged. I still read two every day but I also read newspapers online and subscribe to The Huffington Post. I'm on Twitter now to see what it is all about. I have embraced social networks in the last two years after being a skeptic about their worth.

We are in a whirlwind of constant change today and keeping up with that change is not easy but understanding how young people embrace change and make it part of their lives is an important thing to realize. Youth has embraced social networking, chat, instant messaging, wikis, blogs, online information, search engines. This is how they learn and communicate. Harnessing the tools they use is a key element in any strategy to engage them. That's why I believe in the use of social networking and other Internet widgets and gadgets to reach the virtual online audience.

If you do not embrace these new applications and understand them then all you can do is express mystification when suddenly they become disruptive. I'm a great advocate of turning over rocks to see what's under them. So use your curiosity when online because the Internet world is evolving rapidly.

Today if you are not "facebooking" or "googling" or "twittering" then you are missing potential marketing opportunities.