Simple Management Lessons from The Batman

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Taking a break from management books, posts on linkedin, TED talks, and pep-talks from the Boss (?), I happened to pick up a comic book at the airport bookstore.

There’s no arguing that The Batman is the most iconic character among superheroes (and I sincerely hope the image stays iconic even after Bat-fleck gets out of the cave – hence this article while we still have Bat-bale fresh in our memory!)

Batman has no superpowers and no super human strength. He is subject to the limitations that apply to human physical capabilities and wit. Yes, he is super-rich and can afford such pass-time as crime-fighting for Gotham’s sake!

Over the years, he has had no career change. The Batman is consistent in his dedication and pursuit to save Gotham. And that’s quite commendable ’cause his job description had the words, “deal with nutcases like The Joker, The Penguin and Ra’s al Ghul everyday!”

How does he do it? And what’s that got to do with regular office going folk, making a living and advancing their careers … and on a much leaner bank account compared to the primary resident of Wayne Manor?

Here are some key lessons observed from The Caped Crusader’s mission over the years.

  1. Train Mind and Body. Everyday :

Batman needs to be at his optimum fitness levels everyday. His Job Description requires him to make quick (life & death) decisions, rational judgments and Holmes-like deductions to solve cases. Working out and meditating is the only way he can keep himself sane and battle ready.

Regular training can help one cope with taking the punches and still keep going. Tough days in office and long work trips take a toll on the body so much that even The Joker won’t think it funny!

In a small step towards being The Dark Knight in the office, check out this Batman workout

  1. The Utility Belt

Batman keeps The Utility Belt packed with tools for every imaginable situation. Other SuperHeroes don’t even seem to have pockets in their pants, and here Batman innovated the belt to ensure comfort and practicality!

The Utility Belt is quite the metaphor for “Being prepared”. For someone in a business or client facing role, the equivalent of a “Utility Belt” could be a “meeting kit” or a well organized folder.

The tools inside could be research, record of historic discussions, list of resolved / unresolved issues, tailored prezis, hand-outs, sample documents, and even a “backup” on cloud or thumb drive when your sidekick laptop is all tied up at security!

  1. Overcoming Fears

Being in a Bat Suit is the biggest indication of Batman’s triumph over his own fear of… Bats! Batman took time to understand his weakness and turned it into his biggest strength. He created an image which capitalized on the fear psychosis associated with Bats. The outcome of that, everyone knows, gives him that extra-second to turn any situation to his advantage.

Fear, as we know it, has a negative effect on one’s confidence and self-esteem. People have unwarranted and imagined fears that hamper personal growth and development. Students fear exams, employees fear appraisals (!), HR fears being bypassed by candidates and line managers!

Techniques such as visualization, meditation or setting of “small achievable goals” can help in easing fears and increasing positivity and motivation.

  1. Data Analysis, Research and Insight

Picture This: Bat Cave. Bat Computer. Bat Login. Bat Search. Bat Analysis!

An observation derived from reading comics – Batman seems to be the Original proponent of the “Big Data” concept! An unsung hero, yet again.

From Hi-Tech SONAR devices to trace the whereabouts of The Joker to studying behaviour patterns of every villain, Batman relies a lot on hard data.

While organizations rely regularly on data – for market or industry research, forecasting business pipelines and measuring KPIs to social media marketing campaigns – there is enough data to derive in our individual lives. Such data can provide basic analysis and insights to ensure a better living. One can track and monitor energy levels through the day (think sugary foods and that afternoon slump in energy), count reps in the gym, measure time spent on certain tasks or figure the best time of day to study or draft contracts and proposals!

Don’t Worry About the Trade Deficit––It’s Meaningless

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What happens when one country’s imports consistently exceed its exports, creating a deficit in the international balance of trade? There is probably no greater misunderstanding about the real nature of wealth than when a discussion turns to the balance-of-trade question.

Henry Hazlitt, author of Economics in One Lesson explained this phenomenon when he wrote:

… the same people who can be clearheaded and sensible when the subject is one of domestic trade can be incredibly emotional and muddleheaded when it becomes one of foreign trade.”

I recently taught an economics course to a group of learned professionals, and this one topic was the most contentious. Most everyone seemed to have an inordinate fear of China, India, and other foreign nations accumulating more and more of America’s debt.

I asked the group a simple question: If China and India become wealthier, is that a threat to America? The general consensus seemed to be yes, illustrating how zero-sum thinking is endemic to this discussion. Adam Smith eloquently wrote about this in 1776 in his seminal book, The Wealth of Nations:

Each nation has been made to look with an invidious eye upon the prosperity of all the nations with which it trades, and to consider their gain as its own loss. Commerce, which ought naturally to be, among nations, as among individuals, a bond of union and friendship, has become the most fertile source of discord and animosity.”

 

USA = Free Trade Zone

One of the reasons the United States of America is such a relatively wealthy country is that it maintains a free trade zone among its 50 states. The Constitution prohibits the states from interfering with trade among their respective citizens; there are no tariffs or import, export, or other restrictions within the 50 states. No individual state worries if it is running a deficit with another.

Economist Russell Roberts posed this challenging question in his delightful academic novel,The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism:

Shouldn’t Florida help out Minnesota by importing just as many oranges from Minnesota as Minnesota imports from Florida? Trade flows should be unequal. … if you pick any one state in the United States and look at its trade position with respect to other states, you’d see a lot of deficits and surpluses.”

 

People Trade, Not Governments

Trade deficits and surpluses are merely accounting conventions with no explanatory relationship to the underlying reality of an economy, which is why accountants and economists have different worldviews. If a free trade zone works internally for the United States, why would it not work internationally among the countries of the world?

It helps to keep in mind that countries do not trade, people do. In any transaction, as Adam Smith pointed out, both parties must gain for it to take place at all––the antithesis to a zero-sum condition.

You buy a Lexus only because you perceive it as being of higher value than the price you are paying. The government, for all practical purposes, has nothing to do with it; nor is it any of its business.

As individuals, we run trade surpluses and deficits all the time. I run a deficit with my local grocery store, importing more from them than I sell to them. You run a large surplus with your employer, who pays you more than you buy in products or services from them in return. So what? The resulting accounting deficits and surpluses simply do not reflect the economic reality behind these billions and billions of individual transactions around the world.

This is what Adam Smith meant when he wrote, “Nothing can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade.”

The gains from trade are what we import, not export. The purpose of production, in the final analysis, is consumption. The more imports we can acquire for fewer exports, the wealthier we are, either as individuals or as a country.

Other countries face the same realities, and we are no more likely to obtain the goods and services we desire by trading pieces of green paper with other nations than we are to send letters to the North Pole and get gifts from Santa Claus.

Being a creditor or debtor nation simply has no correlation with a country’s standard of living. Thomas Sowell exposes this fallacious concept in Basic Economics:

In general, international deficits and surpluses have had virtually no correlation with the performance of most nations’ economies. Germany and France have had international trade surpluses while their unemployment rates were in double digits. Japan’s postwar rise to economic prominence on the world stage included years when it ran deficits, as well as years when it ran surpluses. The United States was the biggest debtor nation in the world during its rise to industrial supremacy, became a creditor as a result of lending money to its European allies during the First World War, and has been both a debtor and a creditor at various times since. Through it all, the American standard of living has remained the highest in the world, unaffected by whether it was a creditor or a debtor nation.”

 

No one revealed the specious reasoning behind balance-of-trade concerns better than the French economist, statesman, and author Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850), whom the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter said was “the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived.”

Bastiat used entertaining fables and carried the logic of the proponents of protectionism to their logical extreme, with biting wit. One of his most famous essays, “Petition of the Candlemakers,” was a parody letter from the manufacturers of “candles, tapers, lanterns… and generally of everything connected with lighting,” arguing against the unfair competition––since its price was zero––of the sun.

Bastiat understood that exports were merely the price we pay for imports, and having to work harder to pay for those imports did not lead to wealth. Using impeccable logic, Bastiat wondered if exports are good and imports are bad, would the best outcome be for the ships carrying goods between countries to sink at sea, hence creating exports with no imports?

Stop worrying about the accounting fiction known as the trade deficit. It’s meaningless, and leads to harmful effects in public policy that destroy wealth.

Big Data is here to stay !!

 

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The amount of data in our world has been exploding, and analyzing large data sets—so-called big data—will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus, according to research by MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office. Leaders in every sector will have to grapple with the implications of big data, not just a few data-oriented managers. The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.

Interactive

Deep analytical talent: Where are they now?
Deep analytical talent: Where are they now?

Research by MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office examines the state of digital data and documents the significant value that can potentially be unlocked.

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MGI studied big data in five domains—healthcare in the United States, the public sector in Europe, retail in the United States, and manufacturing and personal-location data globally. Big data can generate value in each. For example, a retailer using big data to the full could increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent. Harnessing big data in the public sector has enormous potential, too. If US healthcare were to use big data creatively and effectively to drive efficiency and quality, the sector could create more than $300 billion in value every year. Two-thirds of that would be in the form of reducing US healthcare expenditure by about 8 percent. In the developed economies of Europe, government administrators could save more than €100 billion ($149 billion) in operational efficiency improvements alone by using big data, not including using big data to reduce fraud and errors and boost the collection of tax revenues. And users of services enabled by personal-location data could capture $600 billion in consumer surplus. The research offers seven key insights.

1. Data have swept into every industry and business function and are now an important factor of production, alongside labor and capital. We estimate that, by 2009, nearly all sectors in the US economy had at least an average of 200 terabytes of stored data (twice the size of US retailer Wal-Mart’s data warehouse in 1999) per company with more than 1,000 employees.

2. There are five broad ways in which using big data can create value. First, big data can unlock significant value by making information transparent and usable at much higher frequency. Second, as organizations create and store more transactional data in digital form, they can collect more accurate and detailed performance information on everything from product inventories to sick days, and therefore expose variability and boost performance. Leading companies are using data collection and analysis to conduct controlled experiments to make better management decisions; others are using data for basic low-frequency forecasting to high-frequency nowcasting to adjust their business levers just in time. Third, big data allows ever-narrower segmentation of customers and therefore much more precisely tailored products or services. Fourth, sophisticated analytics can substantially improve decision-making. Finally, big data can be used to improve the development of the next generation of products and services. For instance, manufacturers are using data obtained from sensors embedded in products to create innovative after-sales service offerings such as proactive maintenance (preventive measures that take place before a failure occurs or is even noticed).

 

3. The use of big data will become a key basis of competition and growth for individual firms. From the standpoint of competitiveness and the potential capture of value, all companies need to take big data seriously. In most industries, established competitors and new entrants alike will leverage data-driven strategies to innovate, compete, and capture value from deep and up-to-real-time information. Indeed, we found early examples of such use of data in every sector we examined.

4. The use of big data will underpin new waves of productivity growth and consumer surplus. For example, we estimate that a retailer using big data to the full has the potential to increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent. Big data offers considerable benefits to consumers as well as to companies and organizations. For instance, services enabled by personal-location data can allow consumers to capture $600 billion in economic surplus.

5. While the use of big data will matter across sectors, some sectors are set for greater gains. We compared the historical productivity of sectors in the United States with the potential of these sectors to capture value from big data (using an index that combines several quantitative metrics), and found that the opportunities and challenges vary from sector to sector. The computer and electronic products and information sectors, as well as finance and insurance, and government are poised to gain substantially from the use of big data.

6. There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

7. Several issues will have to be addressed to capture the full potential of big data. Policies related to privacy, security, intellectual property, and even liability will need to be addressed in a big data world. Organizations need not only to put the right talent and technology in place but also structure workflows and incentives to optimize the use of big data. Access to data is critical—companies will increasingly need to integrate information from multiple data sources, often from third parties, and the incentives have to be in place to enable this.

Would you like to hear that, Boss you are Fired !!

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What is lousy leadership? Here are a few of the most common ways leaders can get it wrong and too often do.

The first and perhaps most frustrating way that some people blow leadership is by being know-it-alls. They can tell you how the world works, what corporate is thinking, how it will backfire if you try this or that, and why you can’t change the product one iota. They even know what kind of car you should be driving. Sometimes these blowhards get their swagger from a few positive experiences. But usually they’re just victims of their own bad personalities. And you and your company are victims, too. Because know-it-all aren’t just insufferable, they’re dangerous. They don’t listen, and that “deafness” makes it very hard for new ideas to get heard, debated, expanded, or improved. No single person, no matter how smart, can take a business to its apex. For that, you need every voice heard. And know-it-all leadership creates a deadly silence.

If know-it-all are too in-your-face, a second kind of lousy leader is too remote. These emotionally distant bosses are more comfortable behind closed doors than mucking it out with the team. Sure, they attend meetings and other requisite functions, but they’d rather be staring at their computers. If possible, all the messy, sweaty people stuff would be delegated to HR managers on another floor. Like know-it-alls, this breed of leader is dangerous, but for a different reason. They don’t engage, which means they can’t inspire. That’s a big problem. Leaders, after all, need followers to get anything done. And followers need passion for their fuel.

A third category of lousy leadership is comprised of bosses who are just plain jerks—nasty, bullying, insensitive, or all three. As one reader wrote us recently: “My boss is abusive, by which I mean disrespectful, finger-pointing, and sometimes even paranoid.” Such leaders are usually protected from above because they deliver the numbers. But with their destructive personalities, they rarely win their people’s trust. That’s no way to run a business, which is why these types of leaders typically self-destruct. It’s never as quickly as you’d hope, but unless they own the place, it does happen eventually.

The next type of lousy leadership is at the other end of the spectrum: It’s too nice. These bosses have no edge, no capacity to make hard decisions. They say yes to the last person in their office, then spend hours trying to clean up the confusion they’ve created. Such bosses usually defend themselves by saying they’re trying to build consensus. What they really are is scared. Their real agenda is self-preservation—good old CYA.

Which leads us to a final version of lousy leadership which is not unrelated: bosses who do not have the guts to differentiate. The facts are, not all investment opportunities are created equal. But some leaders can’t face that reality, and so they sprinkle their resources like cheese on a pizza, a little bit everywhere. As a result, promising growth opportunities too often don’t get the outsized infusions of cash and people they need. If they did, someone might get offended during the resource allocation process. Someone, as in the manager of a weak business or the sponsor of a dubious investment proposal.

But leaders who don’t differentiate usually do the most damage when it comes to people. Unwilling to deliver candid, rigorous performance reviews, they give every employee the same kind of bland, mushy, “nice job” sign-off. And when rewards are doled out, they give star performers not much more than the laggards. Now, you can call this “egalitarian” approach kind or fair—and these lousy leaders usually do—but it’s really just weakness. And when it comes to building a thriving enterprise where people have an opportunity to grow and succeed, weakness just doesn’t cut it.

Surely we could go on, but we’ll end here with a caveat. We hardly expect lousy leaders to read this column and see themselves. Part of being a lousy leader, no matter what the category, is lack of self-awareness. But if you see your boss here, take heart. When it’s finally your turn to lead, you’ll know what not to do.

Constant Strategic Innovation is a Must: It’s About Providing More Value Than Anyone Else

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Is innovation important? Ask Blockbuster if they saw Netflix coming. Here’s a hard truth: The market will always be searching for something new—and you, not your competitor, must be the one to give it to them. Understanding and enacting these four principles is essential to kick-starting a state of constant and successful evolution in your business. Constant and Strategic Innovation: Products, Service & Delivery.

1. Unlock and Unleash Your Power to Create Progress

Pinpoint what’s blocking your company’s path forward. All the motivation in the world is useless without insight into your—and your company’s—method of operation, and why your vision could be at a standstill. Use your business map to understand where your products are now and to clearly define where you want them to be.

2. Make Your Target Innovations Compelling

Only when you have a compelling vision for the future of your products, services and delivery will you be able to effectively hit your target. Come up with powerful reasons to innovate. And, remember innovation comes in many flavors—it’s not just about high-tech advances or efficiencies in your process. You can innovate how you approach your relationship with your customers, or add a new voice or perspective that sees your products and services in a new light.

3. Link Your Product Features to Your Sales Numbers

The world’s most successful companies are constantly examining the relationship between their products and buyer behavior. Are there ways you can adjust your product to encourage higher frequency of repurchase? What changes can you make to increase your number of customers and dollars per sale? Incremental improvements can generate geometric sales growth.

4. Strategizing Should be an Embedded Skill

A quarterly pow-wow isn’t enough. Strategizing must be a part of your company’s culture, the same way customer service and quality control are deeply embedded in your processes. Innovation is really a daily habit, whereby you constantly reassess what your customers need now, and what they will need in a few years. It requires anticipation, and a determination to never stop identifying new opportunities to serve your customers better through fresh and inventive approaches.

These four principles can help you create a state of constant and successful evolution in your business.

Innovation doesn’t have to be glamorous. It doesn’t require a “nano” prefix, a “tech” suffix or—for that matter—a standing room only press conference. Every day, in every industry—from coffee to unmentionables

Opportunities and Threats in a Brave New Market Research World

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Much is written about how much Research has changed over the past few years – mobile is the latest big thing, social media is hovering in the background to be trawled for insights, ethnography is making a comeback, online qual. is proving extremely popular thanks to the speed and ease with which selected consumers can give their opinions on a whole range of subjects. Behavioural Economics has pointed out with much fanfare what qualitative researchers have always known – that context, social influence and emotions play a huge role in influencing what we say and do.

It’s exciting times, and from a Client perspective almost bewildering – the array of options from which to choose from is expanding rapidly, and the new normal seems to be that any one insights challenge requires a mixed methodology approach, using online, offline, qual and quant. We encircle our subject with an ever better (we hope) sense of what’s really going on – making Research an even more powerful tool.

So why the ongoing sense of Angst – that Research is threatened? Shouldn’t we be relishing change as an opportunity to become more influential with an upgraded toolkit?

My sense is it’s actually change per se, that is making many of us feel uncomfortable – margin-destroying, pervasive, ongoing. Low-cost technology software is putting MR tools into the hands of the potentially inexperienced. Our professional status is challenged; our sense of relative immunity to the ups and downs of economic cycles shattered; some of our assumptions on how best to model human behaviour are being shown to be wrong. It’s how we react to this change that will determine whether we will emerge strengthened or elbowed aside in a wave of MR disruption.

Here’s my take on the opportunities and threats.

Opportunities:

Data Experts = Insights Experts
Companies are exposed to ever more information, but we still live in a world short on real insights. This is a huge opportunity for Market Researchers: to widen the scope of our mandate – take on sales data, market data, financial data, feedback from Customer Service, sales force reports, and mine them appropriately for a given business question.

Nearer the Action
The traditional structure of a Research programme was invariably quant. survey plus groups/depths – solid, but hardly spicy and often regarded as costly and slow by Marketing people inspired by the speed with which their Internet Marketing analytics were available. All that has changed with a MR powered by technology which can now deliver data (not necessarily insights) in days not weeks, and where the visualisation of evidence produced by Smartphones gets us really up-close and personal.

This ability to be on-the pace pushes market research nearer to decision making – and helps ensure we are an ongoing and valued member of the marketing team.

New MR = Creative and Strategic
Market Research increasingly plays a strategic role in new product development: we are tasked with unearthing unmet needs, leading ideation projects; we often take the lead in multi-functional task forces made up of R&D, marketing and sales personnel.

This is a radically new position: we’re forced to develop hypotheses, not just evaluate them, to be pro-active, engage in lateral thinking, and step out of our analytical comfort zone. Get this right and you automatically upgrade the value of the MR effort.

Threats

Role-Usurption
Market Researchers used to be data-guardians, people respected for their in-depth knowledge of categories and brands, often gained over decades. The power associated with this knowledge primacy has effectively been exploded – data often bypasses the MR department; Marketing people with good business degrees often have a good grasp of how to use Excel, perform simple regression analyses, certainly track data, and establish benchmarks. The black box, if you like, has been replaced by Pandora’s box.

This data-freedom means Researchers need to work harder to be recognised and valued as the true go-to people when it comes to insights.

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“D. I. B.” (Do it Badly) Research
Low-cost, easy-to-use survey software effectively allows anyone with a database to do their own research – social media scraping (netnography at its best) is equally a field open to those with the time and inclination. The DIY trend is unquantified, often under-discussed, but a strong one in MR, driven by cost and speed – unstoppable forces, but with a downside: the lack of understanding of what makes good research, and what dangers and biases are involved in the whole Research process. I recently heard the phrase “Do-It -Together” at an Esomar Conference – which nicely encapsulates one way of addressing the danger of botched DIY Market Research, by collaborating and offering training, expertise.

Volume not Value Growth
The biggest single pressure I see on MR of the future is on budgets – either flat, decreasing, or simply not capturing a larger slice of the Marketing pot. More needs to be done with less, effectively – and once Marketing people have discovered the benefits of using a proprietary panel – radically reducing the per-survey cost – the floodgates can and do open.

This can lead to MR departments being bombarded with Survey requests, with less and less time available to evaluate the results. Larger Client side MR departments can split roles into more senior “strategic evaluators” roles and more junior “data-providers”, but for many smaller companies this isn’t an option.

Outlook

In summary, Research has a broader and arguably superior toolkit than say 5 years ago – we can get closer and closer to an authentic sense of what is driving choice, be it habit, social influence, visceral states or impulse. We have reason to be optimistic, but the hope that methodologies will on their own actually make a massive difference may be naive.

The most pressing challenge for Market Research in future is in my view actually using all the methodological innovations for superior business impact.

The most amazing tools aren’t much use in the hands of mediocre craftsmen, and vice versa: brilliant skills can create much out of nothing. It’s here ,at the coal-face of MR – the area of ROI and impact – that we actually need to see the needle move. I hope that we can look back in 5 years time and say that all our improved insights actually made a bigger difference, and that we captured the recognition for the additional value we bring to the party

Social Media is not for driving Sales…… But you are missing the Point…

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The point is that social media is a teeny tiny reflection of what happens in day-to-day life. In Jonah Berger’s Contagious, he makes the salient point that only 7% of word of mouth happens online (other studies say 5%). I’m not sure if all of that even belongs to social media channels, either. I’d guess a bunch of it happens over email and private chat.

There are hundreds of ways that your customer will find you (or not find you) online and offline. However, when it comes to spreading a message,word of mouth has always been the most effectiveway of marketing messages spreading. But these messages become ineffective when they aren’t authentic. The most salient point here is:

You cannot force word of mouth.

It doesn’t matter the media or the amount you spend on it – some stuff just doesn’t spread. And though marketing impressions make a brand awareness difference – whether it’s a billboard or a paid tweet – it’s never guaranteed to work.

So I’m continually bowled over when I hear people complain about how their social media marketing doesn’t work. Usually a few questions helps me realize what’s really going on:

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What’s really going on here is that companies think that paying for marketing is some sort of silver bullet. It’s not. It never was and it never will be. Hell, some Super Bowl ads go unnoticed – and that audience is one of the biggest captive audiences in the universe!

You are probably asking yourself, “Okay then, why would anybody in their right mind pay for marketing?”

Good question. I sometimes wonder myself because not everyone is ready for itand sometimes they are too late for it.

But why pay for marketing when the results aren’t guaranteed? Because, like I said before, there are hundreds of ways your future customers will find you (or not find you) and it’s better to be findable than not. And good marketing means that you will be more findable AND have more credibility (if the branding is done right) when people do find you. And all of that helps with what you want: sales.

There are all sorts of wonderful things built into social media marketing that you won’t have built into traditional one-way channels. There are:

  1. analytics: you can’t really tell who paid attention to that television ad, but you can tell who watched your YouTube ad all the way through, and who liked it, and who shared it, etc etc. The data available on how people interact with your content is AMAZING.
  2. feedback: it’s right there in the comments. It’s also there on Twitter. Oh, and you can find out what people are saying on Reddit and on their blogs and in forums and… well, that is invaluable. Read it. Report it back to your team. Improve your product with it. Respond to it with thanks. Hell, you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this feedback from focus groups each year and here it is for you for free. Completely raw.
  3. relationships: you aren’t going to strike up a conversation through the TV or radio. But that two-way conversation is built into social media platforms. It’s really awesome. You can find out so much about your customers and start to really build a bond.

What really baffles me is the demands that brands make of social media marketing when they pay a fraction of the price to use it. They’ll hire interns and junior staff to run it, they’ll lowball agencies and consultants (“I pay you what for a couple of FB posts?! I can get my kid to do that!”), they get impatient and want instant results without being willing to invest the thought needed or take risks, they’ll tack on a social media strategy (which has no strategy) to a made-for-television and magazine ad campaign thinking that it’s yet another direct marketing channel (which is a limited medium, too).

All of this and the brands ask for stellar results. They look past the amazing insights and feedback and potential for relationships that no other traditional marketing medium every had and they say, “Meh. Social media doesn’t work for me.”

And completely miss the point.

You want to know the ROI of social media?

Number one. It’s the ability to listen. It’s priceless. Not with some damned tool that measures sentiment or finds influencers, either. Really listen.

Number two. Serendipity. It’s opening yourself up to constant and amazing opportunities to participate and by participating, you will find numerous opportunities to lead the conversation and make a great impression. Oreo’s dunk in the dark tweet is a great example of this. They are doing a really great job of being a relevant brand again by seizing opportunities like that. Do they do it every single day? Nope. But when they do, they nail it.

Number three. Community instead of customers. The difference is incredible. If you have patience and build a community instead of just a customer database, you will have finally tapped into that magical word of mouth network you wanted to buy a few months ago. But this time, it’s real and authentic and it spreads.

So PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF DOG stop thinking of social media as a direct marketing tool or some sort of silver bullet that will drive sales through the roof. Stop reading those case studies where Facebook… no, Pinterest… no, Polyvore… no, Snapchat… drove millions of dollars in sales from a viral campaign.

That’s not the point.

[originally published on my personal blog: tarahunt.com]