Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best Buy Separation Package

A lot has been made in recent weeks about the Best Buy separation package - an offer made to all 4,000 corporate employees. Not a lot of people have had the courage to discuss this openly. Finally, one of my peers has. If you're interested in an insiders perspective on what it's like to face this difficult decision, please check out Ginger Sovari's blog.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Social Media and Marketing

Over the last couple of months, I have seen and heard a lot of debate on social media - how it is changing consumer behavior, the implications for brands and how one thinks of it within the marketing mix. I am still forming my perspective on social media, but here are a few thoughts.

Social media is not changing consumer behavior. Connecting with others and sharing a perspective is part of the human condition. Social technologies only enable this to happen much more easily and on a much greater scale, such that information/knowledge is a commodity. The commoditization of knowledge fundamentally shifts more power to the consumer. Therefore, actively participating in the dialogue and forming deeper relationships with customers will help maintain the trust required to win their business.

Second, social media is not a brand value proposition. It is a way of doing business. In fact, it is a timeless way of doing business – know your customers, form strong relationships with them and take good care of them. Go even further for your best customers. I don’t think its any more complex than that.

Finally, social media is a key part of the marketing mix, especially deep in the funnel. Engaging with others through social media inherently requires trust, which also happens to be a highly relevant factor as consumers move from consideration to purchase to usage and finally to repeat. Thoughtfully including social media in your marketing mix will only enhance your overall marketing activity.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On Business Survival

With all of the recent talk of auto bailouts and Wall Street failures, a big topic around the watercooler has been why some firms survive while others fail. For example, why is Target able to successfully compete against Wal-Mart where Sears and K-Mart have not? Why Honda and Toyota and not GM and Ford? Why is Goldman Sachs still an independent firm but Morgan Stanley is being sold to BOA?

There is one school of thought that the “winner” in any given industry is more of a random occurrence. That is, out of all the big-box retailers started many years ago, one had to emerge as the biggest (Wal-Mart), and a handful of others had to survive to compete. Out of all of the cereals in the world, one had to become the best selling cereal in the US. Out of all of the digital music players to launch, one had to become the brightest star. While there is some reasonable logic behind this, I find the thought a bit disheartening when it comes to the work that you and I do every day for the betterment of our companies. I’d like to think that the sweat I put into my job every day has some tangible effect in the marketplace.

Therefore, I fall into the second school of thought – that managers can and should have a material impact on the survival of the firm. And, it is these decisions above all else, including industry dynamics and macro-economic factors, that have the biggest impact on the survival of the firm. My case in point – Steve Jobs. Apple has had the longest sustained run of value creation for its customers and shareholders than any other company I can think of this decade. And, a lot of that success has to do with the brilliance of its leader. Jack Welch is another great example. GE flourished under his leadership, but has since stumbled under Jeffrey Immelt.

So, does firm survival come down to leadership? I think a lot of it does, and as you know, I am a big proponent of cultivating strong leadership in organizations. However, I don’t think business survival is about a particular style of leadership or public flair. I think it’s about having the clarity of vision to know where you’re going and the fortitude to follow that path no matter what. Unfortunately for “losing” firms, having clarity of the “right” vision is perhaps the most important factor of all.

I also think company culture has a lot to do with it. Winning companies must have an enduring mechanism that outlasts any one CEO or generation of employees that sustains success over time. They have to have a superior mechanism that guides decision making, hiring practices, training, promotion, etc. That is culture, and it is critical.

Finally, I think a degree of deliberate conservatism doesn’t hurt. Be the tortoise, Danny. Some firms take big risks and succeed. Others take big risks and fail. We’ve seen this play out recently on Wall Street with the sub-prime mortgages. I often think a firm’s appetite for growth gets in the way of prudent business decisions. I tend to err on the side of Warren Buffet. I can’t think of anyone with a more deliberate and conservative approach to the market.

This topic has been and will continue to be a favorite of mine. I took a great course on it in b-school at Michigan. The professor is now at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. For further reading, visit his website at I’d love to hear more from you on the topic.

Three Observations from a Car Dealership

This morning I took my Honda Odyssey mini-van in for a regularly scheduled maintenance and was pretty surprised by what I saw. I know that things are bad for the auto industry, but it doesn't make it any less shocking to see.

1. The showroom was empty. I think there were two actual customers in the showroom and about 8 sales people. Everyone else was passing the time while they waited for the service department. I was browsing the new model year cars and was approached by two sales people. This is from a dealership where it takes forever to get service on a Saturday afternoon. It makes me think we're a long way from the bottom in this economy.

2. They are sitting on a lot of inventory. I overheard one of the sales people tell a customer that they would do "just about anything to move '08 models". He went on to say that they were sitting on so much '08 inventory that they couldn't actually take delivery on '09 inventory. Wow. You know it's bad if Honda is offering discounts to move inventory. Imagine what its like at a Chrysler dealership. Then I thought, it might be a great time to buy a car.

3. Honda goes out of its way to act American. I noticed on the window sticker, very prominently displayed, a line that said Engine Assembly: USA, Final Vehicle Assembly: Maryville, OH. Even if the Big Three do go into bankruptcy, I don't think the American automotive business is dead. The cars are designed in Japan, but they're put together here by US workers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Linked In Tips

I recently came across this great website that lists tips for getting the most out of Linked In (mainly) and other social networking sites (Facebook). I browsed through the content and found a lot of useful nuggets, particularly optimizing yourself for search engines. I think this is the type of thing that social networks are great for. I particularly enjoyed Guy Kawaski's blog. Enjoy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Insignia Recap

We recently reviewed the first round of comps for the Insignia website redesign and wanted to share with you some of our learnings. We held two sessions, the first with Insignia management and the second with internal hand raisers. By hand raisers, I mean those members of the Best Buy/Insignia community that volunteered their energy and passion to help make Insignia the best brand it can be. Here is what I learned:

  • The current iteration of is closer to our vision, but it still has a long way to go to reach its potential. No matter how far we advance the ball with this version of the website, our community will want more. I like the insatiable hunger for a website that is truly owned by the community. It gives me confidence that what we're doing is the right thing.
  • Our brand is already out there as part of the social dialogue. We must leverage that energy and engagement for the betterment of our brand. Honestly, I was surprised by the number of Insignia videos appearing on YouTube. My favorite was a product review by a 10-year old kid. I hope I can get him engaged with our community sometime in the near future.
  • The real interesting part of the dialogue got into how the community could affect the brand and its presentation. Our audience found it compelling if we allowed consumers to provide tech help to each other or to even write/re-write our product manuals. This would take community collaboration to a whole new level.

Finally, we are exploring lithium forums as a way to continue engagement with our audience and then to build that functionality right into the site. It would allow us to launch with a pre-existing community and for our non-Best Buy hand raisers to engage in the same level of dialogue. More to come on this element.