There is a grocery store a few miles from my house. It’s small and older, at least thirty years in its current location. Usually, the shelves are poorly stocked with a limited selection compared to the newer stores surrounding it. Despite these facts, the store manages to stay in business which is somewhat hard to comprehend given the cut throat, low margin nature of the industry. It survives because it has a secret weapon.
His name is Andres. He’s a cashier and has been at the store for twenty plus years. Andres speaks five languages and knows most of the customers by name, typically, greeting them in their native language. He knows where everything is, or isn’t, and if it’s not there he knows when it will arrive. He is the store.
While some customers, like my wife, frequent the store because it’s convenient, and quick, as long as the item is on the shelve. The majority of the customers go because of Andres. The store is in an affluent international neighborhood with many retirees. These core customers have time to shop and chat with Andres. For them, a trip to the store is an experience, not an errand. I haven’t seen the numbers, but I would guess that the revenue per square foot is why it survives.
The interesting thing, having worked with B2B companies for the past twenty years, is that many of my past clients also have an “Andres.” His, or her name may be different, but their role inside their organizations are not unlike Andres. They know the customers, how to get things done, where the “dead bodies” are buried, and how to navigate the complexity of the organization. They are the company.
As organizations rapidly move to “digitalization” and look for AI to play a larger role in customer interactions, they need to consider the importance of these essential employees. Like the grocery store, there are customers who may be highly profitable that aren’t doing business with your company because it’s convenient or fast. They are and have been customers, because of the experience. And a good portion of that experience is shaped by the “Andres” of the organization.
As other grocery stores move quickly to eliminate cashiers, Andres’s store has no self-checkout or online store pickup. Management seems to recognize the importance of the shopping experience, which seems to make up for the lack of selection and inventory. As your organization moves toward the future, does the management team fully understand that not all customers are the same, or want the same things. They may also speak separate languages and while self-service may work well for some, others want the full experience, which may include a personal conversation with their “Andres.”
Marketers, channeling their inner Maverick (Tom Cruise’s character in ‘Top Gun’) often find themselves thinking “I feel the need, the need for speed” but are plagued by internal speed bumps and stop signs. Little do they know that buried in Jeff Bezos’ annual shareholder letter is an approach for helping them accelerate marketing efforts, and navigate past internal road blocks.
Working with hi-tech clients, I learned the necessity for quick execution. Pipelines must be filled, leads progressed and converted, and quotas achieved. IBM had two “mantras” when it came to accelerating marketing execution. The first was the rule of “70%” and the second was “Fail Fast.” Once you had roughly 70% of what you needed (information, insight, etc.) to execute you then got into the market, letting the results refine your program and thus quickly course correcting. Built on the idea of the yield curve, the greatest gains in progress were made during the first 70% of effort, refining the remaining 30% being too costly and time consuming.
“Failing fast” was built on the idea of quickly testing “concepts” or theories. If IBM wanted to experiment with something new or different it would construct tests to quickly measure results to either scale or kill the program. These two guide points have influenced my thinking over the many years.
So it was interesting to see Jeff Bezos picking up on these same principals in his annual shareholder letter. Except he added his own twist. In his letter he warns of becoming a “Day 2” company. He defines Day 1 companies as obsessed with customers, skeptical of proxies, eager to adopt new external trends, and perhaps most importantly, their ability to make high velocity decisions. For him, Day 2 companies become static, quickly becoming irrelevant and out of business eventually. The key to staying in “Day 1” is the ability to move quickly, experiment patiently, accept failures, and “double down when you see customers delight.”
Bezos believes that there is no “one-size-fits-all” to decision making but rather “two-way doors” where decision can be reversed. Those decisions in his words use a “lightweight” process. It starts with what he phases as “disagree and commit.” Given the growing number of stakeholders in the decision-making process, could this be the secret marketers have been searching for to eliminate speed bumps?
As Bezos describes it, “If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?’ By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.”
Giving the success of Amazon, this is a piece of advice we should all heed. For marketers, the key to making this approach work is “conviction.” It means doing your homework, having the facts to support your point of view, and the courage to take a risk. Going fast brings with it the risk of failure, but as Bezos states “being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.”
And Mr. Bezos knows a thing or two about flying fast. On the day he released his annual shareholder letter, Amazon stock closed over $900, up 50% over the year. Need any more proof that this “maverick” got it right?
Where does the signal to pull your hand away from heat originate? If your answer is the brain, you’ve already been burned. Instinctively, we pull our hand back without conscious thought, because the response to the stimulus takes a short cut and originates in the spinal cord because of the need for quick action.
According to venture capitalist Peter Levine the need for this same type of short cut may be happening soon with computing. Mr. Levine said that he saw a shift in computing coming from the cloud (centralized) to the return of edge computing (decentralized) because the wave of innovations from IoT, and AI, are driving the need to have decisions made in milliseconds.
As Mr. Levine points out, a connected car is basically a data center on wheels “it has 200 plus central processing units…doing all of its computations at the endpoint and only pass back to the cloud.” Just like you hand doesn’t have time to send a signal to the brain, autonomous vehicles need to react instantaneously to the situation.
Data, insight, and now action, will be moving to the point of engagement in this future view. Now think about the potential challenges that present marketers in staying on brand, and controlling the message with thousands, or even millions, of touchpoints acting independently. Today, the best messaging and value proposition work can (and usually does) go off the track the moment it makes its way to sales and service reps.
Marketers live with the daily issue of cross channel attribution, add cross channel communication to the mix and we better have really good tracking tools! Sure, we can pre-set the messages, designed algorithms to present them at the right moment in the buying cycle, but controlling and tracking the delivery of each message in the context of an overall brand story will be the challenge.
And keep in mind, machines aren’t the only things that learn. As research has shown, the buying process is a highly emotional roller coaster. With machines entering the process we risk driving efficiency at the expense of dehumanizing the experience. As machines learn, we also begin to sense whether we are dealing with a human or a machine.
For example, do you really get the “warm fuzzies” from all those “HBD” messages on Facebook, or the “Congrats on the New Job” on LinkedIn? Machines have been great at helping us be more informed, but they have also have made it easy to turn highly personalized interactions into transactional tasks, void of any emotional connection.
The first wave of machine learning has been about improved efficiencies, productivity, and predictability. As Jeff Bezos stated in his brilliant letter to shareholders, “Machine learning drives our algorithms for demand forecasting, product search ranking, product and deal recommendations…much of the impact of learning will be of this type – quietly, but meaningfully, improving core operation.”
As the next wave approaches, we should be cautious on how it is applied to the buying process. The focus should be on making humans more human, becoming more instinctive, so potential customers don’t get burned.
I posted this on LInkedIn last month. Surprised by the response, so I thought I’d share it here.
One day you wake up and you’re 50. You’re the old guy you used make fun of because of his lack of fashion sense, various hair issues/challenges, and “dad bod” …before it became cool. What you may have lost in physical prowess you can more than make up with life experiences (the reason I’m given 11 not 10 tips, old guys can do that). Now that I’m that “guy,” here’s a list of the things I wish someone would of told me when I was in my 40’s. I’m no expert, just the guy with the dad bod who has learned some important lessons after the fact.
Focus on your fitness – fat and happy, you betcha! Men, the years of feeling like you have to eat what’s left over on the kid’s plate are over. Your job, lifestyle, and offspring have helped you pack on an extra 10-20 pounds (or more) over the last decade. Hit the gym, or the road with your feet or bike. Ladies, it’s time to put the focus back on you. You gave your time, energy and focus to the little ones, but now they’re in school…reserve some time for yourself. Head to the gym, outdoors or both.
Reconnect with your significant other – kids can suck the energy out of a relationship, and as good parents, you’re willing let them. You went from “us” to “them” in a flash; make an effort to bring sexy back. Put some intimacy back in the relationship by finding time to reignite the flames that drew you together. Yes, the kids will get in the way, but that can be exciting, find ways to sneak in your “special time.” Think back to your teenage days when Mom and Dad were upstairs.
Be who you are – Men, you know who you are now so it’s time to accept it. Embrace your “suckiness” be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Ladies – we love you for who you are, and not who you think we want you to be. Be comfortable in your skin, it’s a turn on.
Be completely honest – you’re a grown ass man/woman now, if you have bad news to deliver don’t sugar coat it, get to it. In business, stop telling clients what you thing they want to hear, and tell them the truth. By this point, you’re established in your career and should have the confidence to stop caring about how others feel about you. You might just find that they like you better when you’re giving it to them straight. This is the same on the home front, stop BS’ing and get to the point. It may get uncomfortable, but you’re old enough to handle it the truth.
Grow something – it’s time to work the soil. Get out in the yard and put down roots. Use the same nurturing instinct that you’ve developed to bear fruit, literally. Try eating something that you grow everyday in the summer. The satisfaction you’ll feel is well worth the fights you have with deer, chipmunks, and bugs of every variety.
See the world – spend your money on travel, and not “things.” There is a diaper load of research that proves the pleasure and satisfaction you’ll get out of travel trumps that of physical things, and it grows in value over the years. Expose your children to the world. You’ll plant the seeds of discovery and exploration that will grow as they do.
Eat dinner together as a family – teach your children how to cook, and the art of the conversation. They will understand the value of togetherness, if you make the time. Explore new food, cuisines and culture. If they only want to eat pizza and chicken nuggets – it’s not just because they like it, it’s because you let them.
Plan for college now! – even though they may still be in diapers they grow up extremely fast, but not as fast as the cost of tuition. Save now, and plan on saving more than you ever expected. College comes quickly and it doesn’t come cheap.
Live beneath your means – the thirties to mid-forties you are typically the “golden years” of income acceleration. As you climb the career ladder, the number of high paying jobs gets smaller, and the pool of available candidates grows. Keep the pace of spending below the pay percentage increase. As your children get older, they become more expensive…travel sports, camps, private schools, etc. Save, save, save…
Stay connected – you had college friends, single friends, couple friends, and now friends with kids. Each phase of your life brings with it new friends and a struggle to keep connected with the old ones. Making things more complicated, your work and family schedules will never be busier which means keeping in touch even with family members will be a challenge. You’ve been warned, social media is a nice surrogate, but it’s not a substitute for a phone call…as your Mom will tell you.
Teach your child to sell – it could be Girl Scout cookies, a raffle for school or a donation for the fun run, kids need to know that Mom and Dad aren’t going to do everything for them. It helps them learn self-confidence, determination and that rejection is a part of life. Don’t shelter them from hearing “no” it’s an important opportunity to teach them resilience
I’d love to hear what you would add, especially any advice for a guy with hair issues on what to do when he hits the 50’s.
It’s coming, the “futurists” are saying that the hype about Artificial Intelligence is real. The reason according to Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, is that AI is no long a “magical thing” but is now creating real value for companies, like Google and Baidu. Companies are now finding “pockets of opportunity” to invest in AI. But there is also something else at play that is also making the timing right for AI.
Americans are now living in highly polarized political environment. We’ve seen it play out in TV commercials, “resistance movements,” and daily news coverage.
At the same time, researchers have recently shown that it’s more than a person’s mindset that determines their political beliefs; it’s their actual mind itself. More specifically, the physical structure of the brain of those people on the ”right” and the “left” are different, and it impacts how information is interpreted, decision are made and how you see the world.
People who describe themselves as “liberals” tend to have a larger anterior cingulate cortex, the area that is responsible for taking in new information and that impact of the new information on decision-making. Meanwhile, “conservatives” tend to have a larger right amygdala being a deeper brain structure that processes more emotional information, in particular, fear-based information.
As a result, the adult world is made up of, to a certain degree, two hard-wired types of people, who see and interpret the world differently. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center there has been a dramatic political polarization of Americans over the last 20 years (see the graph below).
Put it all together and you have a perfect scenario for AI machine learning. Machines look for consistency in patterns to make predictions, and apparently we have become more predictable than ever before. Using psychographic segmentation along with online research tools, machines can more accurate and effective target and message to unique audience segments.
Our minds are already predisposed to interpret information differently. Layer on that our opinions and beliefs are becoming more distinctly aligned with other like individuals and you’re seeing the “middle” is disappear.
These distinct groups also use unique channels for information and communication that reinforce their beliefs and opinions, making it easier to find and message to them. In the end, the target, channel and message are all becoming increasingly more defined as a result.
While polarization is making it more difficult for one group to understand the other, it is making humans a lot easier for machines to understand.
Get Carbon Design’s latest news and blogs delivered straight to you inbox! Join our email list here!
Pat and I shared our key learnings on executing Challenger across a multitude of marketing activities: customer understanding, marketing messaging, content strategy development, content and sales tool production, and lead generation.
On March 8th at 11 am (EST) Jessica Cash and I will be presenting Using B2B Content to Drive Alignment & Accountability, details on the event and registration below.
Overview:With increased budgets comes increased calls for accountability. Today’s top marketers are using Commercial Insight, personal value, and help from peers to craft content strategies that result in more than just customer engagement. Learn best practices and ways to avoid common pitfalls that often leave marketers struggling to improve lead quality.
Join Jessica Cash, Head of Sales and Marketing Solutions Product Development at CEB, and Scott Gillum, President of gyro in Washington, D.C. as they answer questions, such as:
How can marketers avoid always defining their business solely from the legacy perspective?
How does redefining themselves allow for better alignment with customers?
How can value drive customer action?
Jessica and Scott will be holding up the mirror in order to show how CEB is applying these best practices and principles in their own marketing efforts, so come ready with questions!