How Tommey Walker Turned Detroit Into A Movement

I’ve referred to Detroiters as masochists. We’ve seen our industries collapse bankrupting our city in the process, with widespread corruption inside our local government to boot. We’ve been a national punchline for Congressmen and comedians alike. Yet there’s a certain je ne sais quioi in terms of Detroit’s public image and designer turned entrepreneur Tommey Walker perspicaciously capitalized on the very undefinable elements that make his label DETROIT VS EVERYBODY one of the hottest national global clothing brands of the year.

So as marketers, what can we learn from Tommey Walker? Well for one, he created a movement that every company, from clothing goods to electronics and automobiles should be envious of. While putting on my best Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point hat, I’ll attempt to explain how celebrities from Ricky Ross to Stephen Colbert to Keith Urban brought national attention to a fledgling clothing company with a small storefront in the heart of Detroit.

The Three Laws For Creating a Tipping Point-Like Movement

Law 1. Invoke Intimacy Through The Law of the Few

When Walker decided to open a storefront in Greektown, a historic commercial and entertainment district in Detroit, he did so in a small space on the third floor of a mixed retail/commercial building. His actual location was nondescript in every sense of the way, where if patrons weren’t huddled in to find a shirt in their size, you’d probably think you were in the wrong location. The message on his apparel was so powerful, and resonated with so many Detroiters, that it created the equivalence of a hipster scavenger hunt. You weren’t going to find DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodies in your suburban Urban Outfitters store.  No, you had to work to be a part of this inclusive movement. His customers didn’t mind however, and considered it a right of passage to joining the cause Tommey Walker had created.

Gladwell refers to this as “The Law of the Few”. About.com’s Ashley Crossman explains that “Gladwell argues that the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. This is the Law of the Few.”

The three types of people who fit this description? They’re referred to as Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen.

  • Mavens are individuals who spread influence by sharing their knowledge with friends and family. Their adoption of ideas and products are respected by peers as informed decisions and so those peers are highly likely to listen and adopt the same opinions.
  • Connectors know a lot of people. They gain their influence not through expertise, but by their position as highly connected to various social networks. These are popular individuals whom people cluster around and have a viral capacity to showcase and advocate new ideas, products, etc.
  • Salesmen are individuals who naturally possess the power of persuasion. They are naturally charismatic and their enthusiasm rubs off on those around them.

Mavens include Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson, who joined Colbert on the air to defend Detroit, presenting him with mainstream America’s first look at a DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodie to open their conversation. Walker has been quoted on record saying the hoodie on Colbert was a watershed moment for the brand, increasing sales significantly online thereafter.

Connectors include rappers Eminem and Big Sean who took the clothing label and brought it to the forefront of society’s conscience in their own unique way, including limited edition SHADY VS. EVERYBODY apparel.

Salesmen include the DJ’s, musicians, athletes, and local celebrities who turned a t-shirt slogan into a rallying cry.

Law 2. The Stickiness Factor

Gladwell refers to the stickiness factor as a unique quality that causes the phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of the public and influence their behavior. Taking the concept of the stickiness factor further, Dan and Chip Heath wrote an entire book on the concept called Made to Stick. In the book, the Heath brothers create an acronym that best defines how one creates a sticky idea:

  • Simple — find the core of any idea
  • Unexpected — grab people’s attention by surprising them
  • Concrete — make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
  • Credible — give an idea believability
  • Emotional — help people see the importance of an idea
  • Stories — empower people to use an idea through narrative

It goes without saying that Tommey Walker’s clothing label successfully indexes high on the stickiness factor.

Law 3. The Power Of Context

In previous interviews Walker mentioned that in his travels, he personally observed a lack of respect for Detroit. At one point in his life, he helped define Detroit rapper and fellow Cass Tech high school alumni Big Sean’s fashion style, only to see other musicians copy him without paying homage. The perpetual feeling of Detroit constantly having its back against the wall was easy to manifest into a mission statement. If I were to take a stab at it, I’d probably go with something like this:

By creating a brand that reinforces the spirit of Detroit: an attitude that conveys feelings of accomplishment, regardless of the objects that stand in the way of achieving one’s goals.

Gladwell refers to The Power of Context as the environment or historical moment in which the trend is introduced. If the context is not right, it is not likely that the tipping point will take place. When taking the bankruptcy, the political upheaval, the nation’s disparaging comments about the city and its people, there may have been no better time to turn a statement based on defiance into a national rallying cry.

What’s Next?

It’s a million dollar question. Walker’s sales continue to grow stronger, with recent expansions outside of his Greektown store, into the posh suburbs of Detroit. Tommey Walker is the type of entrepreneur Detroit rallies around. He has created a tipping point with DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY, developing a social purpose through The Power of Context, creating a social movement grounded in The Law of the Few, and embraced social outcomes through The Stickiness Factor of his messaging. It’s my opinion Walker is here to stay, and I can’t wait to see what he thinks of next.

In the meantime, you can count me in to represent my city:

Detroit Vs. Everybody

The Downside of Upside

Soapbox time!

I have mixed feelings on the parody ad. Yes it’s brilliant and Team Detroit, Pashon Murray and Ford deserve a fist bump for capitalizing on a lightning rod of Rogue’s Cadillac ELR commercial. Your father’s Oreo’s Superbowl content marketing strategy is in the rear view mirror after this one…

But I was taught some pretty valuable lessons working for the Blue Oval with the first being don’t get into street fights with the competition and the second being don’t get into street fights with the competition.

Counterpoint, counterpunch, however you want to defend it, Ford knows Cadillac won’t acknowledge them in response – what a nightmare if they did! Besides, you can count on Fox News picking up the baton and turning this into a class warfare story soon enough, and maybe that’s the point. Ford, the people’s champ vs. Cadillac, chariot of the elite. I just hope they realize that the MSRP on a Ford CMAX Energi is just about equal to that of a Cadillac ATS. Let the Bourgeoisie bourgeois!

So what do I know? I know karma kind of sucks. Just ask Hyundai how that Save the Asterisks campaign came back to bite them in the butt. Yes it’s fun to tease every now and then, but you better be prepared for the consequences if you do.

I guess what bugs me, is that we have enough good things to discuss in our industry that we don’t need to throw dirt (even if it’s Detroit Dirt) on our competition. As auto OEM’s and agencies, we’re living in unprecedented times. Our cars are that GOOD today! It’s easy to take a swipe at the ELR spot. Ford’s spin was creative and disruptive and deserves admiration for putting Pashon Murray front and center. There’s no buy behind it (yet) and it’s making its way through online blogs, news destinations and message boards. KPI wise it will be reported as a success.

But I don’t know how it aligns with Ford’s mission statement and values. The one I held pretty close to my heart from the day I joined to the day I left:

Enjoy the journey and each other; have fun – never at others’ expense.

*Note: This was originally posted on my facebook page. I decided after a myriad of conversations over the last 24 hours, to paste it onto my blog for further discussion beyond the walls of my social network. 

Saving Sears: How to Reclaim America’s Love Affair With An Iconic Retailer

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Imagine a world where Steve Jobs announced the first iteration of the iPod and never evolved the product any further.

Imagine if Amazon stopped innovating after 1-click ordering.

Imagine Nike capping its success with the Air Jordan line of sneakers and never produced another line beyond the originals.

As preposterous as these examples sound, this is the conundrum facing some of the largest retailers in the world today. Somewhere in the planning process they closed their eyes, resulting in consumer indifference and a correlated sharp decline in revenue. Can these big box retailers be rescued or is the evolution of shopping forcing them to extinction?

Paradise Lost in a Parking Lot

There may not be a brand in graver danger today than Sears.  Yesterday, they announced they were closing their flagship Chicago location in April.  A multitude of experts – from marketers to financial analysts have opined on the 120-year-old brand’s woes. From the shuttering of stores to being cited for urban blight, Sears didn’t move with enough agility when marketing trends shifted and they’re paying for it, literally. According to Mamta Badkar of Business Insider, for the full year ending February 1, 2014, Sears managements expects a net loss between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion.

It’s gotten so bad that independent retail analyst Brian Sozzi all but closed the doors on the brand when he published a recent article that Sears exerts an extremely low retail capital expenditure of 0.9% (In contrast to Macy’s ratio of 3.4% in 2012.), complete with empty store shelves, randomly placed sales items without context, and mannequins wearing drab outfits that seemed to convey a feeling of submission to good fashion.

Sozzi’s drive to paint a dreadfully bland picture of the retailer may have stemmed from the company disputing his 2011 proclamation that,  “There’s no reason to go to Sears. It offers a depressing shopping experience and uncompetitive prices.”

Sadly, Brian Sozzi is right.

Despite the company taking exception to finger pointing, offering a rebuttal that included listing assets such as inventory, real estate and “valuable proprietary brands such as Kenmore and Craftsman”, consumers have failed to connect with a brand that once proclaimed that it “serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living.”

As Sozzi points out through editorial and photographs, a brand can be quickly undermined with a series of negative occurrences.

Substantiating this point, Scott Deming explores the concept of defining a brand n his book “The Brand Who Cried Wolf” through aggregated experiences – the collected impressions of a number of experiences. One bad experience can do more damage than a series of good ones. As Deming explains “After all, our ability to survive is connected not just to learning over time what’s good for us, but more important, to learn very quickly what to avoid.”

Despite a mountain of negativity, the retailer is attempting to reverse the shopper Diaspora with a creative way of both poking fun of itself while hoping to entice shoppers to once more give Sears a chance through an ad that made light of the ample parking available in the empty lots that surround their stores.  The ad is memorable but quite possibly for all the wrong reasons.  Highlighting the Kardashians line of fashion, one has to ask, is their declining star power a contributing factor for the lack of shopper’s attention? Their merchandise isn’t moving, leading to steep price cuts and further placing the brand out-of-touch with today’s shoppers. Why dress like Kim when you can wear Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos via Target’s collection?

I’m not exclusive to opining on the topic of Sears. As marketer Valeria Maltoni references in her blog post on the topic, when prompted with the question would you miss Sears? I can only assume most would shrug their shoulders and move on to the next retailer.

But it shouldn’t be this way.

A History of Greatness

To the surprise of a generation of shoppers, Sears was great once. Renowned for recording the changing scene in America through its catalogs, Sears was a pioneer upon its inception. Scoff if you like, but there would be no Jeff Bezos if not for Sears. Amazon may have caused a stir by delivering a Nissan recently, but the concept of buying anything through a catalog including automobiles started with Sears, Roebuck and Company. Between 1908 – 1912, Lincoln provided vehicles under the name “Sears Motor Buggy” for delivery via railroad. And in 1953, Sears offered a badge engineered Kaiser – Frazer sedan called the Allstate to its customers.

Sadly, that spirit of the entrepreneur has long been forgotten, replaced by an expectation that relevancy be based on their long historical relationship with consumers. However, the competitive nature of today’s retail environment casts a perception of lumbering old brick and mortar where nimble, insight driven online savvy shopping sites can flank anchor stores through hyper-aggressive pricing, instant rewards, and social shopping experiences.

In order for Sears to have a fighting chance at survival, they must think differently.

Reinvention or Reclamation?

CEO Edward Lampert has nothing to lose. With shareholders and media/analysts targeting his company’s demise, it’s time to take a radically new approach and part ways from decades past.  I’m a firm believer that the best ideas come out of the most desperate of times and Sears should challenge the very conventions of the shopper experience today.

My goal is to extrapolate the great ideas I’ve discovered during my due diligence on the topic of saving this once iconic brand.

Introduce a Culture Shift

I’ve admittedly never worked for Sears so I can’t comment on direct experiences as an employee of the company. I can however use social networks such as Glass Door to gain insights into the mindsets of those who have. Currently based on input from Sears employees, both current and former, Edward Lampert has an approval rating of 17% with just 31% of Sears employees willing to recommend Sears to a friend.

Conversely, Macy’s CEO Terry J. Lundgren has a 65% approval rating on Glass Door. Target’s CEO Gregg W. Steinhafel? A 72% approval rating.

Thomson Dawson pointed out in his piece on the retailer that “Retail knowledge is not the core problem for Sears – it’s the investment banker management culture that has over time sucked the value out of these brands. Profit has been placed above serving people with experiences they care about.”

This may sound familiar. In the early 2000’s, Six Sigma CEO practitioner Bob Nardelli led Home Depot down the long road to eliminate the company’s most valuable capital: its orange-apron employees. Empty aisles, deplete of passionate subject matter experts removed the one variable that drove Home Depot’s revenues for so long: trust. Trust equaled revenue and it was an unaccounted for, unpredictable asset that was quickly replenished once Frank Blake took the company over.

As Business Insider’s Paula Rosenblum explains in her article Home Depot’s Resurrection: How One Retailer Made Its Own Home Improvements, the home improvement retailer used the recession to retool its business, paying close attention to economic trends – targeting women more frequently verses contractors of past, and understanding the projects that most home owners were undertaking during hard economic times. Most importantly, they put a focus on helping people, going so far as sales associates assisting a customer through the purchase process all the way to the cash register. Is it laborious? Yes. Does it impact positive brand affinity? Absolutely so!

It’s been noted that the parts may be more valuable than the whole at Sears. Brands such as Kenmore Appliances, Craftsman tools, and Lands End apparel have stronger brand equity in the eyes of consumers than the parent company.  Sears needs to consider this a significant competitive advantage and reinvent itself through those three core brands. Focus efforts on areas of strength and diligently work to converting brand apologists into brand advocates. While it’s difficult to change the mentality of a part-time, sometimes transient workforce, the example to serve customers should be embraced top-down.

Take Craftsman tools as an example. With a reputation for being some of the best in the industry, Sears should take a page out of Home Depot’s playbook and offer how-to instructionals on the weekends. Consumers are keeping their cars an average of 11 years, and as such, are starting to find ways to keep their cars on the road while undertaking basic automotive maintenance work in their own garages. Sears has the opportunity to sell product (Craftsman tools), service (Sears Auto Center) and advocacy (Sears taught me how to change my oil).  Lowes and Home Depot haven’t infiltrated the automotive space yet. Sears still owns it and can continue to own it by making subtle shifts in their approach while putting their product, people and presence in the community front and center.

To reiterate, service is the differentiator – just look at Nordstroms, Zappos or Starbucks. In fact, preserving a culture meant so much to Starbucks that when Howard Schultz returned as CEO, he shut all of his stores down for three days to retrain his baristas and thus, through his employees, convey his commitment to the quality and consistency Starbucks built its reputation on.

I should walk into a Sears and be met consistently with the most knowledgeable, passionate experts in each respective department. That tone is set at the top but executed flawlessly at a local level.

Let Data Be Your Guide

It’s no secret Sears is transitioning from physical stores to online retail. That shouldn’t deter the brand from leveraging its stores in ways online-exclusive competitors can’t.

British design firm FITCH has gone through a reinvention of sorts itself over the last few years to adjust for what they refer to as a SPLINTERED customer purchase journey. By dividing the consumer experience into three areas: Locating, Exploring and Dreaming, they have identified a way to unify the customer experience.

This means assuring that marketing, retail and real estate teams work collectively rather than in isolation, or worse still, in competition with each other.

For example, I think we’d all be in agreement that today’s consumer is ‘always on’. The discovery of a new outfit no longer takes place in-store. In fact it may not transpire on a PC or laptop. It’s more likely to take place on a mobile device. In a cohesive SEAMLESS experience, a customer may begin their journey browsing their favorite fashion blog on their iPhone while on a commute. Through contextually placed content, Sears uses relevant cues (geographical, cultural, emotional, etc.) to entice our customer to click on a promotion for a new outfit. Based on geotargeting, we discover the outfit is on sale and in stock at a local location, which is five minutes and one bus stop away. Our customer is presented with an option of placing the outfit on hold and as an added incentive, is provided an offer for a percentage off if purchased within the hour.

Entering our local Sears, our customer sees a radically different yet intuitive layout in a store with a much smaller footprint. As they enter, iBeacon recognizes our shopper using  micro-location context, welcoming and informing them as to where in-store they can pick up their outfit. Unbeknownst to our customer, she discovers an up-and-coming local designer designed the outfit with roots in their hometown. The sterile mannequins Brian Sozzi shot photos of have been replaced with brand based installations that offer to share the story of our designer and the impetus behind their collection. There’s even a barcode scan option to share the video with friends.  All of this is designed to establish a direct relationship with the customer.

Prior to purchase, our sales associate is informed of our customer’s check-in and is prepared to offer accessories that compliment the outfit through an e-commerce suggestion engine such as Aggregate Knowledge, which compiles aggregate consumer data to analyze consumer e-commerce purchases.

Post-purchase, Sears social media CSR’s monitor for positive posts on popular social networks, prepared to share with the broader Sears online community. As a thank you for posting a photo of the outfit on Instagram tagged #SearsFashion, our customer receives a bogo coupon for their next purchase.

Believe it or not, this is not a pie in the sky approach. Marketing and advertising executives have been chiming in on the flat retail experience, voicing for a change in thinking. Lee Carpenter, CEO of Interbrand North America was quoted as saying, ”E-commerce brands use data to create a one-on-one relationship with shoppers that can scale through technology. This model must translate to physical stores, and blend together into an omnichannel experience with the brand as the consistent thread.”

It’s no longer about online verses offline shopping, it’s just shopping and Sears should be at the forefront of this amalgamation.

Conclusion – Be More Like Lewis & Clark

Large anchor stores like Sears are not and should not go extinct, but the business model that sustained them is out-dated. Today’s retail customer wants to be stimulated. They need retailers to offer them the breadcrumbs necessary to spark constant reinvention. Macy’s would call this “Magic”, Lowe’s would call it “Never Stop Improving”.  Sears needs to reach deep down and decide how it wants to communicate its values to its customers. This should be a time of rebirth for Sears and that means a deep dive into exploration – new consumer targeting models, new store layouts, new ways of achieving customer satisfaction. It’s never easy to evolve, and in the past Sears has opted to buy verses build, first attempting to acquire Home Depot in the early 1980’s and most recently an attempt to purchase Restoration Hardware in 2007.

After decades of remaining stagnant, we’re now at a cross section of DIY culture meets Americana. It should be cool to shop at Sears. They just have to give us a reason to do so.

An Open Letter to Neal Pollack

Dear Neal,

According to your twitter bio, you describe yourself as an author of eight books, a yoga instructor, a roller-derby announcer, a reluctant car journalist, and three-time Jeopardy! champion. If your opinion piece on Yahoo was a category on the game show, you could take “Things You Shouldn’t Put In Your Mouth” for $500.

You’ve painted quite a picture in Detroit, Neal. One that borders on “When the cats away, the mice will play” and “Let them eat cake”.  I think it’s fair to say, neither of those are accurate in any sense what-so-ever.

Sure, you make a few valid points. Yes the ELR is excessive at a price point we all shook our heads at but you know what? The plebeian alternative Volt is kind of a bad ass car. As is the 100 mpg Fusion Energi and the 30 mpg Grand Cherokee equipped with the EcoDiesel.

Or how about a truck that just shed 700 lbs. and introduced mainstream America to the concept of lightweighting? Or a midsize SUV with a 9 speed transmission that gets over 31 mpg? Or a 460 HP sportscar that still achieves 29 highway?

Nope, apparently those didn’t count. Instead it feels like you’re asking us to bow down to the stoic shrine of Japan. Hey you know what? I like the Accord! I think the Prius was a catalyst that forced us Americans to think about fuel economy differently, but these are the same companies that make 13 city / 17 highway Sequoias and 12 city / 18 highway Nissan Armadas. They aren’t indemnified from criticism.

That must be why I saw their engineers crawling all over the new F-150 with open mouths this afternoon at the NAIAS Industry Preview. Had you stuck around after Kia stopped handing out bacon popcorn and MINI closed down its smoothie bar, you would have seen some eye opening dexterity that would have put VIA Motors special guest and aerial artist Maria Luna to shame.  Furthermore, I don’t think they were using their measuring tape, graphic note pads and cameras for fun. But who knows, I could be wrong. Perhaps it’s in the realm of possibility that the one gent I saw sticking his full arm in the wheel well of a Chrysler 200 misplaced his iPhone and was simply looking everywhere to recover it.

Look, I know I’m a tad over-sensitive on the topic of grinding the Big 3′s noses into the ground. I lived it for a few years on the front lines you know. I guess I’m sorry an out of town journalist used a national platform in a way that shuns the hard work this industry has put forth since its darkest days a mere five years ago. Yes there’s an awful lot to lampoon, but nobody would have imagined the innovations we’ve seen coming out of Detroit like we have today.

I think that’s worth celebrating.

Sincerely,

Craig Daitch

Join the conversation and follow me on twitter @craigdaitch

During an Economic Recovery, Brands Need to Teach their Employees to Look Beyond the Recession as a Rite of Passage

Going To War
“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

The recovery from 2008’s Great Recession has been a slow one, especially in Detroit where the nation has been reminded through films, television, books and news articles of its vulnerable state.

But there have been signs of life. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for the Detroit-Metropolitan Area stood at 1,862,000, up 19,800 or 1.1 percent over the year. Despite Detroit trailing the national job count by .6 percent, Detroit-Metropolitan area job growth continued the trend of over-the-year gains that began in May 2010.

Furthermore, the Automotive Industry seems to be clawing itself back to pre-2008 levels.  Bloomberg reported November U.S. auto sales have accelerated to the fastest pace in more than five years.

Additionally, via this year’s Recruiting Trends report, there has been a nearly 10% increase in the number of employers planning to hire college graduates with a bachelor’s degree, with a strong demand for accounting, marketing, computer science, engineering, human resources and public relations.

Despite the advancements we’ve made in moving the economic chains, the foundational intangibles that breed a successful industry are on shaky ground and a new recession, a cultural recession may be upon us.

The Forgotten Man: Your Corporate Culture

Profitable brands continue to act as if they remain undercapitalized and overexposed in the post-recession world. While the financial analysts can appreciate conservative spending, it’s not the quota on office supplies that prove troublesome.

The 10-ton elephant in the room revolves around the danger of regressive corporate cultures. With an unprecedented 2.6 million jobs lost in 2008, the recession projected the feeling of television and Vietnam. The war being fought in one’s living room was being played in fluorescent lit, windowless conference rooms across America. For carmakers and their employees, the long-term impact was simply put, worse. Complete with compensation reductions that eliminated merit pay, bonuses and matching contributions for white-collar workers, little could be done to prevent thousands at a time from losing their jobs.

To those who survived the layoffs, a resolve was formed, and with it an attitude that was analogous to going to war. While in some cases that took the appearance of  “Per Angusta Ad Augusta”, the reality in some circles was more “Et tu, Brute?”

Fast-forward nearly six years and while most states still have a long ways to go before payrolls return to pre-recession levels (In November unemployment rates declined 7 percent), the trend is moving upwards and a new crop of talented employees eager to contribute are coming aboard, joining the battle worn existing staff.

With expectations running high, these new entries into established employers run the risk of being set up to fail, and they’re voicing their opinions in the process. For example, in March of 2013, a study conducted by Kelton titled “America’s Workforce:  A Revealing Account of What U.S. Employees Really Think About Today’s Workplace.” analyzed the responses of more than 1,000 U.S.-based employees, uncovering where employees would like to see change from the companies they work for and the leaders who manage them. Seven key themes surfaced in the survey including leadership competencies, manager/employee relationships, communication of strategy, change initiatives, teamwork and accountability, process improvements, and employee training.

The America’s Workforce study found:

  • Employee’s Feel Discouraged:  More than half (54%) of employees have felt frustrated about work.
  • Manager/Employee Relationships Need Improvement:  Only 38% strongly agree that their manager has established an effective working relationship with them.
  • People Don’t Understand Strategic Direction:  40% say they don’t get the company’s vision or have never seen it.
  • Innovation Is Being Stymied:  Nearly 67% of American workers can name at least one thing that would prevent them from taking any kind of risk at work.
  • Big Picture Contributions Missing:  Only 43% of workers say they feel accountable for the company’s revenue, profit, or growth.
  • Not Leading by Example:  Just 26% of workers strongly agree that managers embody the values they expect from their employees, only 39% say their manager understands his/her role at the company, and 40% strongly feel their managers understand their company’s strategy or goals.
  • Collaboration Across Teams Is Tough:  Just 27% strongly feel they can depend on outsiders to fulfill their duties when working with other groups.
  • Training Isn’t Relevant:  26% report they don’t have any training available to them right now, and the 62% that do have training available believe it is either somewhat or not at all applicable to their jobs.

Explaining Going To War

It’s evident that the Going To War mentality is a danger to retaining employees in an upswing market. I’ve described four main categories of Going To War and its corporate implications below.

Been To War

Referred to as a “Band of Brothers” who, in small circles, are allowed to unapologetically wreak havoc on incoming team members without ramification or remorse. Leadership often turns a blind eye to their antics because of the gratitude they have for remaining loyal during difficult economic times. For all intent and purpose, these are the problem children, the ones that drag culture, innovation and productivity into the ground.

Drafted To Fight

This is the group who may have joined directly out of college, fresh faced and willing to accept the status quo as normal behavior in a work environment. Nearly six years removed from the Great Recession, they’re now growing into positions of gained responsibilities, but have been taught less than ideal ways to grow a department without teamwork. They are trusted implicitly by those who have “Been to War” and can usurp the hierarchal nature of direct management based on the close relationships they’ve developed with managers of greater power and influence. While not malicious, their loyalty and behaviors are easily persuaded to non-ideal standards, stunting cultural growth.

Enlisted to Perform

They fell in love with the brand’s ideals and sacrificed (in some instances rational thinking) to join their company blindly. Those who enlisted may have been coming back into the workforce but for many, they left existing careers seeking to contribute to a larger cause. These are the change agents who romanticized industries such as automotive, hoping to be a factor in the Great American Turnaround story and with them brought new ideas to the table. Unfortunately in the environment they’ve joined, the stomach for innovation is minimal, with a risk adverse philosophy hanging over their heads. As their passions wane, they’ve come to accept that no form of change can match the lack of top-down leadership in governing the intangibles necessary to be successful and now seek new opportunities after short stays with their employers.

Post-War Participants

Post-War Participants simply have limited reference to 2008’s dire environment. They could be just graduating college, or coming from different industries that may have faired better than the one they’re joining. Their voice may be loud but it’s rarely heard. Having never been to war, their hierarchal place amongst their colleagues is in the periphery where it remains without consequence or care.

The Bottom Line

Having a job in today’s environment simply isn’t enough to retain your employees. For example, a recent Harris survey for the University of Phoenix found that 80% of workers in their 20s say they want to change careers, compared to 64% of 30-somethings and 54% in their 40s. Furthermore, a Gallup poll says 52% of full-time workers are disengaged, costing US companies from $450 billion to $550 billion every year.

Yet there are examples of companies today that have exemplified growth through a positive culture, specifically by engaging their employees.

Google is the poster child for one of the world’s best companies to work for. Sitting atop $48 billion in cash, Google can afford to offer the type of amazing benefits once enjoyed by other industries such as airlines and automotive.

It’s easy to concede that not every company is Google. On the opposite end of the spectrum there are low margin companies that thrive, such as Costco. A company that offers good compensation and benefits, Costco’s co-founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal  said in an interview with Motley Fool that “…culture is not the most important thing in the world. It’s the only thing.”

By taking their culture seriously and making it a top-down priority, Costco keeps low employee turnover by reinforcing their love for their employees, encouraging them to grow with the company. In an industry with no annuities – consumers can choose whether to shop with Costco, they have weathered the financial storm of six years ago and are thriving, proving their inventory turns over but not those who present it.

Conversely, in a negative environment, when new employees leave for greener pastures, the typical reaction is “He/She couldn’t cut it in our culture.”

But as proven, cultural recessions and the Going To War mentality are hitting companies where it hurts the most: their wallets.

Follow Craig on twitter at @craigdaitch

The embargo is dead and it should stay that way.

 

A company has a news announcement they want to make regarding a new product.  They brief the media with the understanding they agree to adhering to a certain day and time and in quid pro quo fashion, the media agree not to write anything before then.

For the uninformed, this is known as an embargo and for decades the media have respected this practice as status quo, mostly because it offers parity amongst journalists covering a single topic. There are no advantages of one outlet over another, and ultimately this leads to higher quality stories because of the company’s willingness to share the news ahead of a scheduled release date.

Yet in today’s world of Long Tail media, the idea of an embargo seems not only passé but also potentially damaging to brands that try to enforce them.

The Ubiquity of Information

Embargoes work when there’s a single source of data, namely the company enforcing the embargo that offers accurate information on the topic at hand. The Internet paradigm however has changed the course of accessibility to data.

News outlets are comfortable uncovering sources inaccessible ten years ago and the ways to confirm news without a company’s acknowledgement for accuracy is easily circumvented.

Take LinkedIn for example. In product development, where next generation projects are masked behind alphanumeric product codes, one simply has to search for the product or project code itself to uncover employees and suppliers who use it as part of their job title. Digging deeper, you could deduce certain projects based on the specific focus highlighted in a profile via job description.

Furthermore the rapid-fire velocity of social media can be filtered down to additional insights through Boolean keyword queries, taking a complex topic and reducing it to relevant snippets of data. In a field covered by journalists, it’s easy to identify what someone is working on through key phrases, or more importantly when they’re working on it through Foursquare check-ins to engineering buildings or offices, tweets that touch on certain information, even Instagram photos and Google Plus updates.

Sources affiliated but beyond the reach of a company can corroborate news without the company’s permission and thus begin the debate of embargo vs. gag rule.  If the media agree and respect an embargo because that’s’ the source of their information, then they should be held accountable if it’s broken. However, if the story is bigger than the embargo, and is considered too important to wait, then why should the media be punished for independent reporting?

Reaching an Inflection Point

And that is the point of inflection the world of journalism faces. News is now a commodity, and the distribution model leans heavily towards people as media. Thus, the ramifications are dire. Business consultant Terry Heaton touches on the topic in a blog post titled TV News in a Postmodern World: News as a Commodity, “In the world of media, products used to be divided into categories: newspapers, magazines, television, radio, etc, but the personal media revolution is eliminating the infrastructure and distribution mechanisms that make each of these unique. Not only is the digital generation taking advantage of this to create their own media companies, but the incumbent companies are using technology to transform themselves as well.”

This transformation comes at a cost, speed to market being one of them. Examples can be drawn from any industry – from entertainment and the latest movie to the newest smart device. Accuracy has been replaced with speculation where first to the fence is rewarded with engagement metrics (likes, shares, linkbacks) that drive revenue through unique visitors.

A comparable analogy would be the use of social media apps. A 2008 study conducted by Roger Margoulas and Ben Lorica at O’Reilly Research analyzed approximately 30,000 facebook apps. Usage was highly concentrated among the top few apps where the collective action of millions of Facebook users continue to churn the makeup of top apps: new applications join the winners and old winners die and are buried in the tail.

How is this relevant to journalism? There’s less loyalty to the messenger verses interest in the message today. Consumers are simply agnostic to the source, they just want to be stimulated. Speaking to a friend in the industry, when discussing the topic of breaking embargoes, they exclaimed, “The competition to appear relevant has [sic] gotten so out of whack. Not an excuse but odd decisions are getting made (as a result).”

Finding a Solution

In some instances, high traffic automotive and technology enthusiast sites such as Techcrunch and Jalopnik have enforced a “no embargo” rule on companies sharing information with them.  Larger media entitles such as the Wall Street Journal followed suit in 2009. By clearly stating they will not adhere to embargoes, the onus is on the companies who provide information to avoid sharing it for fear of it being released early.

The reality is, in some instances, embargoes are a necessary tactic to offering the very best, most accurate information to the media. So is there a happy medium between continuing the practice and abandoning it all together?

The short answer is yes but it comes at a cost. In order to govern an embargo, a company must be willing to cut its nose to spite its face. By clearly outlining not just the embargo but the consequences for knowingly breaking it, a company stands a chance of holding the media accountable for honoring information that is provided directly to them by the company itself.

This has been substantiated notably by Techcrunch founder Michael Arrington, who after acknowledging their defiance to the embargo process, proclaimed “…whoever broke (an embargo)…generally gets more eyeballs and attention than the others, so there are lots of incentives for mistakes. Particularly because no one ever punishes the offenders. “

Companies need to decide what’s important when it comes to their messaging. Over the next few years, platforms will continue to converge and competition will remain fierce for the attention of consumers. In a world of immediacy and instant rewards, being told to wait simply won’t cut it anymore.

Unapologism and the New Brand World

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“iPhone 5C is beautifully, unapologetically plastic. Multiple parts have been reduced to a single polycarbonate component whose service is continuous and seamless.” – Jony Ivey, Apple

I’ve been obsessing over that quote since it entered into mainstream discussions amongst marketers, PR practitioners and consumers alike. Weeks later, during the debates between analysts as to whether the 5C is a failure (It’s far from being a flop.), a sliver of insight seems to have been lost on everyone: Apple’s ushering in what I’m deeming “The Age of Unapologism”.

Since Jony Ivey’s famous on-camera proclamation that plastic is sexy, there’s been a subtle paradigm shift in how brands are beginning to approach the positioning of their products to the public. After years of agency strategists encouraging brands to “co-create products with your greatest advocates” it seems as though brands are taking their power back without remorse. In a sense, I’ve relieved.

Like Social Media, This is Nothing New

Apple’s decision to take a stand with the 5C harkens back to marketing in the 90′s where brands would offer a market-led, superior value position to their customers. It’s hard to believe but one of the prime pillars of brand-to-consumer communication 20 years ago centered around quality, and with good reason. Quality is a “…concept laden with emotion, relating strongly to personal feelings of success, failure, self-esteem and meeting others expectations.”

When focusing on improving quality, such as in Ivey’s description of the 5C, it stimulates powerful positive feelings when it is associated with change, innovation, new possibilities, opportunity and break-through.

Admittedly, not every brand is Apple. But brands that have shied away in recent years from the very attributes they’ve built their reputations on, are hitting the reset button and embracing what they’re known best for.

Social Media forced brands to find their conscience. Unapologism will force brands to find their hearts.