Thursday, May 21, 2015

Customer Relationship Trump Card

An article by Christof Binder and Dominique M. Hanssens on Harvard Business Review provides further proof that Lovemarks are where it’s at when it comes to how and where to focus your business. They examined the value of brands and customer relationships – two key assets of any business – and found that over a decade, brand valuations declined by nearly half, while customer relationship values doubled.

This finding suggests a paradigm where businesses with strong customer relationships reign supreme over businesses with strong brands. The former comes with loyalty – often, beyond reason. It’s also helped by digital technologies that offer a direct link between businesses and customers, thereby improving efficiency and quality of interactions.

The lesson? I think we knew it all along. The lion’s share of effort for businesses should go towards reinforcing relationships in order to build a brand. Focus on the latter without integration with the former and you might end up with a strong brand, but it won’t necessarily keep your customers coming back.

Here are five ideas from the team at Lovemarks Campus for creating opportunities for customer relationships to begin and grow:
  1. Build in layers – create a sense of belonging and connection through revelation, not explanation. Explore your brand to find resonances that your customers can uncover.
  2. Know what time it is – saying the right thing at the right time speaks volumes. Be there for your customers when they’re in need. Have a presence in their daily lives.
  3. Fan the flame – all relationships go through stages of familiarity. Communicate and reward your customers according to where they are in their relationship with you.
  4. Create strong ties – communities and urban tribes, online and offline, are an important part of modern life. Think of ways of how your brand can be inclusive to friends and family.
  5. Give to receive – successful relationships work both ways.
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Beyond The ‘New’

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‘New’ carries a sense of mystery and excitement. I’m not just talking about new objects and things, but ideas and concepts – we’re drawn to them. We often hold things that are new in higher esteem than what might be more appropriate or better. We get caught up in ‘newness’ and can sometimes lose sight of the central values and ideals that make things what they are in the first place.

Designer Hella Jongerius and theorist Louise Schouwenberg lament this focus on ‘new for the sake of new’ in a manifesto ‘Beyond the New: A Search for Ideals in Design’. It asks that one stays true to values and ideals, and implores design companies to get out of the rat race and get back to focusing on the ideal of the “highest possible quality,” imbued with “cultural and historical meanings and values.”

I’ve selected a few nuggets from Jongerius and Schouwenberg’s manifesto here:
  • Cultural and historical awareness are woven into the DNA of any worthwhile product… There is value in continually re-examining what already exists, delving into the archives, poring over the classics.
  • Design is not about products. Design is about relationships.
  • By means of its language and employment of techniques, good design expresses both the zeitgeist and a deep awareness of the past.
  • Without play, there can be no design that inspires the user. Without foolishness and fun there can be no imagination.
  • An industry that is willing to embrace new challenges and experimentation has the power to exploit the full potential of existing and new technologies, including the digital media.
The point is that a shift in mentality is required. ‘New’ doesn’t always mean better. We need to look back – to ideas, objects, and concepts – to look forward. New means dealing with today’s challenges and possibilities, while giving a solid nod to the past. It’s much richer than just ‘new’.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Building an Engaged Economy

The ‘Disengagement Economy’ - what a terrible term. In an article on Huffington Post, Robert Hall describes it as the result of a broader mega-trend, the “steep relationship decline across home, work, politics and faith.”

Every business is concerned about the productivity, commitment, performance, creativity and innovation of their staff, but it comes as no surprise that people are disinterested in work. There are too many leadership approaches and methods stuck in a bygone era. Turning up to work every day doesn’t constitute commitment, and the more people are restricted by the maze that is bureaucracy, the less innovative they are likely to be.

Having Millennials in our workforce has driven the importance of employee engagement and culture, and the key focus is on relationships – prioritizing productive employee and customer relationships (because they’re the “most valuable, value-creating and value-sustaining asset” to quote Hall) and building relationships that are grounded in a ‘commitment-worthy’ purpose.

Hall also talks about multiplying your power by giving it away. Straight from Zen. I sing the same tune – as a leader, your job is to create leaders by empowering them and giving them the decisions to make. To sustain a company, you’ve got to have leaders at every level, not just at the top. A leader is someone who inspires everyone they come into contact with to be the best they can be.

Every generation is different. Millennials are committed to their jobs, they want to work at socially responsible companies and they carry expectations of having a dream job or self-management. I say that providing freedom, not rigidity, is the key to harnessing engagement and talent. Let them go and get out into the world, to have other adventures and start their own ventures. This is how we’ll counter the “Disengagement Economy’ – by building a culture of enthusiasm, experience and fresh ideas.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Vote to Make Whangarei a Lovemark

How often does a small-to mid-sized city have the chance to remake itself as a cultural, artistic, and tourism hub? The founding of museums such as the Clifford Still Museum in Denver, the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Gehry Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, are once-in-a-generation events that have had transformative impact on those towns.

Whangarei, capital of the Northland Region of New Zealand, now has the opportunity to join that esteemed list. A public binding referendum from May 14 through June 5 will determine whether the city will build the Hundertwasser Wairau Maori Art Center to honor the life and work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The Austrian artist and architect came to New Zealand in 1976, creating a sustainable sanctuary in 372 ha of the entire Kaurinui valley near Kawakawa, Northland, and becoming a New Zealand citizen while maintaining a worldwide practice of exhibitions, architectural commissions, and writing. He immersed himself in nature and its humanistic relationship with art. Hundertwasser was buried at Kaurinui following his death at sea in 2000. A community-led group has pledged to raise the required $12m+ funds, with ratepayers expected to contribute just $2.8m to prepare Whangarei District Council-owned building for the major Hundertwasser refurbishment.

The art center will be a unique tribute to one of last century’s seminal artists and a great gift to the people of New Zealand. The art center will be the last Hundertwasser-designed building in the world (the Vienna-based Hundertwasser Non-Profit Foundation retrieved the original sketches from their archive and have given the project their full blessing and support. Using the original 1990’s Hundertwasser design, Heinz Springman, the architect on numerous Hundertwasser’s projects, has produced plans for the cultural center that captures the artist’s vision of boldly colored paintings and structural designs that use irregular forms and incorporate natural features into the landscape. The site in the heart of Whangarei’s beautiful waterfront and the facility would be a multi-faceted, multi-functional building with a state-of-the-art main gallery alongside New Zealand’s first curated contemporary Maori Art Gallery.

The art center promises to become an instant landmark—an iconic structure that will attract visitors from throughout New Zealand and the world. It will also be a boon to the local economy, with estimates suggesting the Art Centre will attract over 140,000 visitors each year, to the tune of $3.5 million per annum in net economic benefit to New Zealand’s Northland Region. Indeed, a report from worldwide consulting giant Deloitte states: “The Hundertwasser Art Centre will deliver cultural benefits at a local, national and international level and is well placed to make a solid economic contribution to the community.”

What cannot be measured in dollars, however, is the impact the museum would have on Whangarei’s identity. The Hundertwasser Wairau Maori Art Center would give New Zealand’s Northland region a way of distinguishing itself on the world stage—in the process instantly transforming the locale into a tourism magnet, and making the city synonymous with a great artist who deeply loved New Zealand and honored its Maori heritage. City branding does not generally happen overnight, and artistic and economic opportunities like this are rare. This referendum vote is a no-brainer from my perspective. Residents and ratepayers of Whangarei: Say yes to Hundertwasser!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Best Teachers

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I recently quoted from an article on The Guardian, “The best teachers instill a hunger to learn, and not just in their pupils.” Mike Boyle wrote to me saying that “As a facilitator and advisor for nearly 20 years I have run a small workshop on leadership role models and used one simple question: "Describe the best teacher you have ever had".” He says that “without fail these comments always come up:
  1. Fun
  2. Hard but fair
  3. Engaging
  4. Insightful
  5. Passion
  6. A coach
  7. Listener
  8. Highest integrity
  9. Respected
  10. Trusted
He adds “the description is never any different and yet so many teachers fall short of this.”

Here’s a starter-for-eight on a list of traits shared by great teachers, as well as by articles on The Washington Post (Chris Lehmann) and The Telegraph (Barnaby Lenon):
  1. Passion – they love what they do, which is why they do it so well. It’s hard to teach. Doug Lemov might argue the latter.
  2. Dynamic – they’re constantly changing and adapting to their environment. They try new teaching methods and they’re flexible with different types of students.
  3. Curiosity – they have a constant drive for improvement – in their students, as well as themselves.
  4. Engaging – their work is driven by energy and enthusiasm. Each day they put on a show in front of an audience.
  5. Substance – they know the material they’re teaching inside and out. They understand how to make it interesting to learn.
  6. Discipline – they’re hard, but fair. ‘A velvet hand in an iron glove’ is a nice way to put it.
  7. Listen – they listen and they reflect. They have integrity.
  8. Work ethic – they have it and it just won’t quit.
Think back to some of the best teachers that you had – what made them so special?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Keep Asking Questions Until Something Interesting Happens

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Brian Grazer (who has produced films such as Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, and most recently the James Brown biopic Get on Up) aims to show how curiosity is a driving force behind success at life and work - perhaps even more so than innovation and creativity – in his book A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.

‘Curiosity conversations’ had by Grazer with various visionaries over a number of decades informed not only the book, but are also claimed to be the creative inspiration behind many of Grazer’s movies and TV shows. His approach to these conversations was simple: “keep asking questions until something interesting happens.”

He argues that people should invest more in their natural curiosity and actively seek out different perspectives for self-improvement. This means talking to people, all sorts of people, who have different backgrounds and different ways of looking at the world, and listening – really listening – and taking it all in. In Grazer’s words, the result: “I seek out their perspective and experience and stories, and by doing that, I multiply my own experience a thousandfold.”

Grazer shared some of his insights on curiosity in a recent interview with CNET. I’ve borrowed (and elaborated) a handful here.
  • Curiosity is a process of asking open-ended, genuine questions, and not expecting anything in return.
  • Being curious takes courage. Sometimes it means stepping outside of your comfort zone and climbing a steep learning curve.
  • Curiosity can bring discomfort, such as when you’re exposed to a point of view that’s in conflict with your own. It can be confronting, but it can also be a valuable experience.
  • When it comes to conditions for evoking curiosity, technology is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. When you meet with someone, there’s a physical connection, a biochemical event that breeds discussion, ideas and questioning.