5 Quick Tips to Smash Silos

Death by Silo by @gapingvoid

Breaking down silos remains a huge issue for communicators.

Either in the context of the current social business buzz or modern integrated marketing, breaking down barriers within a culture to create comprehensive stakeholder experiences only makes sense.

The question then becomes how to break down those silos? Marketing in the Round (co-authored with Gini Dietrich) discusses the topic in depth, but I wanted to provide some quick tips for change agents looking to evolve their organization. Here we go:
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Avoiding Measurement

I'm still running away
Image by Vincepal

Would you like to learn how to create an integrated multichannel marketing program? Register today for a Marketing in the Round training with Gini Dietrich and me in Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New York or Washington, DC.

I was talking with Gini Dietrich about our forthcoming book Marketing in the Round, and which topics people would find interesting. We discussed measurement, and both of us noted that whenever we get into the nitty gritty of ROI and outcomes blog traffic drops precipitously.

Generally, marketers and communicators avoid measurement.
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5 Common Actions Competitors Take

Marketing extends beyond stakeholders and organizations. Although companies and nonprofits like to pretend they operate alone in an industry, competition exists even if its just for the stakeholder’s time and money. If a marketer does their job well, and the product, service or solution is met with a warm reception, invariably the competition responds.

Moving forward, there are some common competitive responses that you can expect. Here are five of them:

1) Pretend You Don’t Exist

This out of all the responses is the most short sighted and foolish response. The ostrich approach — at least publicly (they certainly talk about you behind closed doors) — kids no one. Customers know there are alternatives, and so does the media and bloggers.

No one thinks the company or nonprofit operates in a vacuum, so when your competitor acts like that, it causes them look, like, well, marketers. It doesn’t mean anything other than people view communications from their organization to be completely transactional or brand related. Customers are less willing to trust them.

Further, it’s hard to develop industry leadership when a company doesn’t acknowledge the ecosystem, even in a general way. Apple rarely talks about HP or Dell, but it certainly acknowledges and talks about other PCs and smartphones. Car companies discuss industry accolades, which is smart, because it puts their product within a competitive context.

2) Copy Your Offering

When a company does really well, a common competitive response is to ape the product and offer the same product or service, often with less success. After Amazon launched the Kindle, Barnes & Noble offered the Nook. When Cirque du Soleil revolutionized big top entertainment, other circuses stole elements from their shows like the ribbon dance.

Holding first place is a very strong position for long-term success. In a strategic sense, first is the position of high ground. It’s always good to have established market share when this happens, but it can still be quite disconcerting.

There are instances when a company like Netflix or Google rises up and wrestles the market away, usually through some sort of technological innovation. Sometimes companies are caught in a price war.

The key here is to not necessarily over-react to the competition. Rather, to continue innovating on the product or service offering and extend market leadership. Don’t rest on your laurels.

3) Trash, Sue and Undercut

Smartphone bar.
Image by MJ/TR

Google recently purchased Motorola Mobility to acquire its patents in an effort to strengthen its case against Apple, who is suing the search giant for copying the iPhone iOS with Android. Other common hardball acts include talking poorly about the competition publicly, privately, stealing (er, hiring away) their talent, blocking distribution, and undercutting pricing to seize market share.

These are the tactics of war in the market. You have to be able to defend against them, not necessarily with direct engagement, but certainly by responding with value to your customers.

While these tactics are inevitable, they almost always make the market harder to work within, and can reduce customer trust sector-wide. These tactics do not grow the general market in any obvious way.

4) Go Toe to Toe

In an established market like car insurance where offerings are very similar from company to company, it is not uncommon to see advertising that directly positions a company against its competitors. This is a common tactic that Sprint takes with Verizon and AT&T with its data and service plans.

There’s not much you can do here other than to clearly state why your product is better than their’s and to engage in customer service and loyalty programs. This is about avoiding customer churn by bettering your total experience.

In the competitive wireless market, Sprint is a distant third currently, a gap that has increased over the past decade in large part because of the customer service issues the company experienced after acquiring Nextel. Having resolved many of these issues, it is now struggling to rebuild that marketshare. In a highly commoditized market, non product specific points like service can make a great difference.

5) Leapfrog Your Offering

Honda Civic
Late 1970s Honda Civic by dave_7

Last, but not least is when a competitor responds by offering a product or service that is significantly higher quality, more cost effective or easier to use than yours. While you might have the higher ground, this type of innovation in a new offering creates green fields for your competitors. Customers flock to them.

Consider how Japanese companies beat their U.S. counterparts in the electronics and the automotive sector in the 70s and 80s by offering higher quality products for lower costs. The result was incredible losses of marketshare and reputation. Google beat Yahoo by offering a superior search algorithm.

In this instance, speed is critical. Loyal customers will stick with your brand, but only if you are able to match or better the offering quickly. Unfortunately, when faced with a paradigm shift, most leading companies fail to respond, comfortable in their way of doing business. And thus new brands seize market leadership.

What are some common responses you see from competitors?

Reflections on Dell’s Social Media Facility

Dell continues to be one of the most innovative companies out there in social media. Yesterday, on the one year anniversary of its Social Media Listening & Command Center, Jason Falls and I toured the computer giant’s headquarters.

We met with several critical players on the Dell team, from perennial leader Lionel Menchaca to Amy Heiss, program manager for the Command Center. Along the way we learned quite a bit about how Dell evolves with its clients needs, in the United States and globally.

Perhaps the biggest impression made on me was the experimental and open nature of the Dell social team. When I walked into the cavernous room that houses Dell’s social media group, I noted several things:

  • A wide open space with no cubes or barriers
  • The team sitting together is cross disciplinary, ranging from communications and social media to customer service and legal. They literally have no excuse for silos as they all sit within strides of each other.
  • The Command Center (featured above) is the room immediately next to the open office space, readily accessible by all
  • An ambiance that’s generally light, fun and curious

Dell has become a “socialprise”, and is actively experimenting with the best ways to enable fluid business dialogue in the enterprise, critical to its online success. The company clearly understands that empowering departments to interact quickly extends beyond process. The result is increased access through physical space and location.

Data, Training and Falls

Dell's Social Media Listening and Command Center

Dell is listening to its current and potential customers in a very organized fashion across a wide range of data points. For example, the above video details influence tracking, just some of the incredible data the Command Center tracks. The diverse data points range from products to conversations to global regions to all the industry players involved.

In conversation with Rajiv Narang, executive director for social media and marketing innovation at Dell, it became clear how analytical this company is. We’re talking the ultimate data geeks here. Dell sees data, conversations, trends and corresponding behaviors, and deeply analyzes to distill knowledge. Then it mindfully addresses its business direction to serve the market. It’s fantastic.

Another factor that became clear was how incredibly social the company has become. In meeting with many diverse players in Dell, from enterprise sales to sustainability and social good, almost everyone of them had been certified in the company’s social media program. Knowledge and practice ranged, but it was clear that the 5000+ employees who have been trained are interested, and see social as a critical component to the company’s success.

It was great to do this trip with Jason Falls, too, who will add his insights next week. Jason is clearly doing really well, and is at the top of his game with the release of No Bullshit Social Media. Congratulations, Jason. You deserve all of the success as one of the hardest working people in the sector.