Maybe Your Marketing Isn’t Working Because Your Strategists Are Too Lazy And Follow The Crowd?

Those who follow me or know about the type of things I do will probably remember that I launched a little Facebook quiz via Playbuzz that helps determine the type of strategist you tend to be. The quiz was taken by almost 7000 strategists.

While most of my writing about this quiz so far has focused on the outcome, this blog entry focuses more on some of the detailed findings, which I find both alarming and enlightening in explaining the current state of strategic marketing thinking:

An unhealthy obsession with “Culture” and qualitative research:

One of the questions in the quiz asked the question about the preferred research tool. “Cultural trend data” (34.6%) and “qualitative projective techniques” (34.2%) appear to be the most preferred research tools and I find this alarming.

The industry has had an obsession with culture and cultural branding for the last few years which while useful is also limiting. Now don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of culture and cultural branding. I’ve always been. But what is culture really? Merriam Webster defines culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also :the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time”. Hasn’t understanding the cultural context of your audience always been part of good marketing and good communication? The industry has turned sound marketing practices into a buzz word, in the process implying some sort of new and magical solution to business problems. Which it is not.

My own research for positioning-roulette shows that “culture” is only one of 26 potentially successful strategies when positioning a brand (and that is based on the analysis of over 1200 case studies of successful marketing). That means that obsessing over culture and cultural branding means leaving out over 96% of the potential solutions you have at your disposal to solve a business problem in a unique and relevant way. Imagine your doctor, or lawyer or even repair shop would use a similar approach.

Further, since everyone obsesses about this new buzzword and focuses on “culture” to identify a solution to your business problem isn’t it obvious that everyone will net-out with the same answers and solutions. Good luck with trying to get your brand and your communication to stand out with that.

A lazy approach to problem solving:

The answers to the 2nd question in the quiz are even more worrisome in my opinion. In fact, 50.4% of respondents (as a reminder almost 7000 people played the quiz) claim that “they usually come to a solution rather quickly, the answer usually comes to me almost immediately”. 49.6% on the other hand “come up with a solution rather slowly, knowing that it just takes time to come with the best solution”.  

Now, unless the 50% who come up with a solution almost immediately are strategic geniuses (the Bell Curve model would disagree with that) this points to a very lazy behavior. I’ve been in this business for over 20 years and, because of the nature of my work, worked on more projects, in more categories and geographies than most strategists out there. And yet, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times when a solution came to me right away. And yes, sometimes the obvious solution is the best one, but we all know that this usually isn’t the case.

The answers to this quiz seem to indicate that half the strategists out there don’t seem to put the necessary effort (or can’t for whatever reason) into trying to identify the best possible solution to the business problems they are trying to solve and that ⅔ of them look for answers where everyone else is looking. Einstein’s quote about insanity comes to mind here.

So maybe it is no wonder that a lot of the brand communication out there feels so expected and generic and that so many new product ideas fail. Laziness, a focus on the obvious and a herd mentality have never been the key to success and to great brand building.

If you want to find a more rigorous and insightful approach to developing genuinely innovative solutions to your business problem and brand positioning platforms, check out Positioning-Roulette, our proprietary methodology to deliver successful business results.

 

The Value Of Low-Costs/High Returns Experimentation In The Lottery Industry

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to speak at the Lafleur’s 2015 Lottery Conclave & Interactive Summit in Orlando about “Succeeding In Today’s Multi-Channel Environment!”.

During my presentation, I shared the idea to create a little online quiz to help people find out what type of Lotto billionaire they would be. We all know that people want to speak about themselves first and foremost in social media, which also explains the appeal and success of these little personality quizzes. In fact, people love these little “who am I? What city should I live in? What word best describes me?” quizzes and they love to share them on their social media platforms.

When I asked the audience (several hundred lottery reps) if they thought this would be a  good idea, most of them raised their hand. As a joke I told the audience that if I didn’t see this type of quiz being launched within the next 6 months I would create one myself. And so I did. Then life took over and I got distracted for a while.

A few weeks ago though, as the Powerball jackpot was about to hit $700 mio., I decided to bring this idea back to life and test my hypothesis. So I recreated the quiz “What Type Of Lotto Billionaire Would You Be?” using the free App Playbuzz. It took me a total of 10 minutes. Players had to answer three simple questions which would then tell them what type of Billionaire they’d be (choices ranged from the” Heart of Gold”, the “Bon Vivant”, the “Globetrotter”, the “Me Inc.’, the “Uncle Rich” and “the “Next Door Neighbor”). I posted the quiz on Facebook and spent $100 to promote it focusing on lottery players.

The quiz can be played here.

Frankly, the quiz could have been done better:

 

  1. The quiz wasn’t a piece of brilliant creative frankly. But the point was to test the format more so than the creative execution.
  2. My targeting approach on social media (unlike most lottery agencies, I didn’t have any followers to reach out to) was limited to identify layers based on a few key works (lottery, jackpot, etc.) which is fairly rudimentary, but sufficient to give the quiz a basic lift.
  3. The Playbuzz quiz lacks an essential social sharing button which usually helps organic growth. Further, my original prototype allowed the quiz takers to use their own profile picture in the results description when posting it on their social media (which is known to promote sharing), which was lacking here. Last but not least, my quiz didn’t include any promotional information or call- to-action (which I would have added if I were to actually drive business results).  

Despite all these shortcomings, the results speak for themselves, I think.

Results:

  1. The quiz reached 12,005 people, out of which 757 decided to engage (comment, like, share, etc.) with it. That’s an engagement rate of 6.3%. A quick scan of various state lottery agencies’ Facebook post about the $700 million Jackpot shows an average engagement rate of 1%. That is 6 times higher.  
  2. The CTR for the quiz was 1.7%, almost twice the average CTR on Facebook of 0.9%.
  3. And while the average cost per click on Facebook is $1.72, I paid $0.49 per click or less than a third.   

So what can we learn from this little experiment?

  • Most brands, including many lottery agencies, still need to learn how to best engage people in social media. The misleading part in the term “social media” is the word “media. Most social media channels follow their own rules and yet are still all too often used just as a paid media channel. Sure this approach is more predictable and easier to control, but it also doesn’t fully utilize the potential (and effectiveness) of these channels. Why does it matter?  Because “social” is now the #1 source of referral traffic to content on the web (surpassing “search”, i.e. Google) so understanding its rules of engagement becomes crucial.  I’ve recently written a piece entitled “Social Media, You Are Doing It Wrong If…” which sheds some light on the malpractices in social media.
  • Innovation doesn’t have to be expensive or slow, especially in social media. It’s not expensive to create content for social media and it doesn’t take long. Or at least it doesn’t have to, to be effective. Creating the quiz took me a couple of hours and promoting it cost me $100. Sure, you can also spend months creating something similar but that wouldn’t necessarily make it better or more effective.
  • Innovation is a frame of mind. The resistance towards innovation is primarily in people’s attitudes and mindsets, not in the structures or processes. That’s true for most companies. In fact, the barriers to innovation and experimentation are quasi non-existent in social.  
  • Innovation is (almost) risk free in social media. Experimenting with formats and experiences in social media is a low-risk/high-reward undertaking. In the world of investment, this would be the dream scenario for most investors. Worst case, nothing happens, really. Best case, you’ve found an effective and efficient way to grow your business, that can be amplified across product initiatives and media channels. In social media in particular, the opportunities to learn what resonates with consumers are endless, easy to implement, cheap to implement and risk-free.

What can we learn from this? Experimenting is easy, fast and very cost efficient. There is no real risk involved and apathy is the only reason not to do it. So “Just Do It”.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, the majority of players who responded to my quiz have a “Heart Of Gold”.

Ulli Appelbaum is Founder & President of brand strategy and innovation firm First-The-Trousers-Then-the-Shoes (www.first-the-trousers.com) specialized in brand growth, (product) innovation and brand storytelling. He has extensive experience in the Lottery industry having helped lottery agencies re-position their brand for growth, develop new white space opportunities and new product ideas, optimize their internal innovation and go to market processes and develop communication strategies for a variety of new product launches. He’s also a regular contributor to the Public Gaming Magazine (www.pgri.com) and speaker at conferences. Feel free to contact me to explore how I can help you grow your lottery and/or gaming business and shed a new and fresh light on your opportunities.

 

Social Media, You’re Doing It Wrong if…

You’re (still) using social media as a broadcast channel. Sure, we all know that social media is about engagement and tapping into conversation users find interesting (and often it is not about your product or brand) but look at the social communication out there. Broadcast, broadcast, broadcast.

You are not using social media as a research tool into the hot triggers of users and to understand what consumers respond to. Insights that you can then scale through more traditional media.

Your social media department is integrated within your media department (or your social media agency is integrated with the media department of that agency). Old habits die hard and they will plan your social media channels like hey plan traditional media channels (see point one).

Your agency doesn’t have an in-house production department that can churn out content quickly and very cost effectively. As a reminder, the production of the Dollar Shave Club launch video, which propelled the company to be sold for $1 billion, was around $5,0000. Okay, the founder called-in favors but still. A video for Facebook doesn’t have to cost $150K.

Your agency uses “traditional creative teams” to produce the content. They will look at the social media creative assets as “campaigns” for their books and will want to produce over-priced videos and set-up expensive shoots just to create a few social media posts.

Your social media partner doesn’t understand the brand’s character and tone of voice. In social you may have to react quickly and in the right tone of voice. Understanding the brand, what it stands for and more importantly what it doesn’t stand for is crucial.

Your social media agency is too young and doesn’t understand the business side of things. I’ve once had a client who wanted to launch a new brand. His social media agency, a young start-up, had convinced him that the cheapest way to do so was through social media, by building a community of fans and ambassadors for this brand (that no one knew I should add) that would then relay the brand message for him. Sounds appealing right? But what a bunch of BS. A year later and after having spend more than $1 mio. with no impact on the business, the client fired his agency.

If you don’t think mobile first. As Buzzfeed puts it “Social may be how content is distributed today, but mobile is how it is consumed”. If you assign an agency to re-design your website and they do not take a mobile first approach, fire them. Why does it matter? Because many transactions you might want your consumers to engage in, follow a different dynamic in mobile versus desktop. Who for example signs into their Amazon account using their mobile browser?

What Modern Brands Can Learn From A 75 Years Old Russian Motorcycle Brand?

Ural motorcycles have been around since 1942 even though most people in the U.S. have never heard of them. Urals are basically reverse-engineered BMW R71 from WW2. The Russian probably thought, “this Blitzkrieg thingy is not going to work for us, we can build those rigs too”. But just out of precaution they moved of their factory to Irbitz in central Siberia, where the rigs are still being built today.

Army troops on Ural motorcycles

Most people have never heard of them and their current worldwide sales numbers are fairly low I would guess. However, the brand is witnessing some sort of revival and its popularity is growing extremely fast despite the company’s extremely limited marketing budget.

The design has barely changed since 1942 (one of the appeals of the brand). Same with the technology and safety features. They are quirky to ride, heavy and underpowered. But they are extremely robust, easy to work on and fix, and the 2WD version will get you through snow and mud better than a Jeep. They are basically utility motorcycles built for the battlefield, not for comfort riding or highway cruising.

The product should have died a long time ago and yet the brand is witnessing a revival, allowing for a few lessons about modern brand management.

Stand-out or disappear:

It’s almost embarrassing to start with this point but just look at a grocery store aisle, a parking lot, or simply at the advertising you get exposed to day in, day out. All you see is a giant sea of sameness. My favorite is still the shampoo aisle at Target. This observation even applies to newer, fast growing categories like the craft beer category with its 5000+ breweries in the US.

“Standing-out” has always been a key success criteria for brands, and therefore maybe lacks a bit of sex-appeal and novelty in today’s marketing conversation. But it is more relevant than ever. In fact, Microsoft scientists have shown that the average human attention span has apparently decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2014. Goldfish have supposedly an attention span of 9 seconds, but don’t ask me how Microsoft figured that out.

A Ural motorcycle just stands out. The fact that it has a sidecar and because of its unique, old school design that has barely evolved in the last 75 years, it’s impossible not to notice the rig, even in a parking lot full of motorcycles. I’ve noticed that people even give me the right of way more often, simply so that they can check-out the rig or take a picture.  

Start your story with the product:

Urals are so different and the brand’s history is so unique that everyone wants to talk to you about them, ask questions or share their own stories and dreams with you. The product acts as conversation starter (just like Tesla by the way). It’s what is known in the community as UDF, or “Ural Delay Factor”, the extra time a rider need due to all the people that will walk up to him or her to ask about the bike, take pictures, etc.. Ural riders even joke that you shouldn’t get a Ural if you are people-shy.

The importance of the product (the modern buzzword for that is now “experience”) and its story is becoming more relevant for modern brands again, not the least thanks to Amazon and it’s product reviews (55% of all online product searches start on Amazon) and to Youtube and its consumer generated product videos.

Going back to the essence of your product, its look and feel, its origin, its uniqueness, why it was created in the first place, how it works, etc., and then trying to understand which of these elements still hold relevance today or what could be a modern re-interpretation of the original product essence will create new growth opportunities for brands.

The product has always been an important contributor to a brand’s perception and equity (just think Apple). The industry just seems to have forgotten about it for a while. Interestingly, and based on our analysis of over 1200 case studies of successful brand building (www.positioning-roulette.com), of the 26 universal triggers of successful brand positioning, 40% are rooted in the product.

Or as Jeff Bezos said: In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.”

Build a community around a lifestyle and a passion:

Another distinctive element of Ural is its community of owners. When I decided to buy a Ural, I placed an ad on Craigslist trying to find other riders here in town to teach me how to ride one. These bikes are quirky and have their own riding dynamic that is very different from a 2 wheel motorcycle. So I wanted to find out if I’d even enjoy riding this motorcycle (the product experience again) or if I even could. A few (non-Ural) riders told me at the time that I won’t be able to find anyone to help me, since bikers don’t like to let other people ride (or even touch) their bikes. Well, three people here in Minneapolis responded to my ad, one of which gave me several riding lessons for free despite my repeated efforts to compensate him for his time. Try that with a Harley Davidson or even a BMW owner.

The online community of Ural owners is one of the most active and supportive I’ve ever witnessed. And most of it is not even managed by the brand itself. People are passionate about their rigs (and probably the fact that they are so rare), exchange tips, tricks and how-tos in discussion forums, but more importantly they like to share their rides and adventures. Ural understands that and primarily uses consumer generated content about rides and adventures to promote its brand and newest models (not unlike GoPro).

Leverage your non-owned (digital) communication channels

Ural operates on a very tight marketing budget and seems to focus the majority of its efforts on social media and direct emails. They also seem to be able to get some good press coverage now and then, which I believe comes back to my first two points about standing out and having a story built into the product.

I am always surprised by how little attention marketers pay to their brand’s communication eco-system that isn’t owned by the brand. I am not talking about monitoring online conversations through social-media listening tools even though that is important too. I am referring to the fact that you can find consumer generated videos, especially on platforms like Youtube, that provide reviews, specs and personal experiences –and therefore help inform your decision- about every single imaginable product out there. I, for example rarely buy anything without checking the consumer generated videos on Youtube. And apparently I am not the only one. To quote Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai “People turn to YouTube and they want to research, buy or fix a product”.

Brands always seem to want to focus on the big influencers and most popular Youtube sensations rather than the dozen of content creators in any given category that in my opinion are way more influential and credible. I understand the “scale” argument and the fact that this require more efforts. One brand that understands this and has leveraged this approach to fuel its growth and success, especially amongst Millennials, is LaCroix sparkling water.

So, what can Ural, this 75 years old Russian motorcycle brand teach brands that want to succeed in today’s increasingly chaotic environment?

  1. Stand-out or disappear
  2. Start your story with the product
  3. Build a community around a lifestyle and a passion
  4. Leverage your non-owned (digital) communication channels

Advertising To Moms: The Average, The Good and The Great (Or Is Cultural Relevance Sufficient To Turn Around A Declining Business Nowadays?)

I recently came across three different advertising campaigns targeting moms that allow for a nice comparison between what I believe is average, good and great advertising to moms.

The framework I use to evaluate the ads is simple yet timeless. It considers two core dimensions to determine the appeal and effectiveness of an ad:

  1. The “what” is said or the strategic relevance of the ad. Is the message meaningful, does it reframe the brand and help consumers think differently about the brand, does it address a relevant need state or benefit? And is it well branded, i.e. recognizable as being specific to the advertised brand?
  2. The “how” it is said, which focuses more on the execution, on how the brand is brought to life in its execution. Is it engaging? Is it insightful and relatable? Is it catching the viewers’ attention and interest and is it worth sharing and or talking about?

The assumption obviously being that great advertising need to be both strategically relevant and engaging, i.e. fall into the top right quadrant. Or as advertising icon Dave Trott puts it -and I paraphrase- to make a great tasting salad you need fairly plain and boring ingredients such as lettuce, tomato and cucumber (the “what”) and mayo to add taste, flavor and excitement (the “how”).

Now let’s look at the three campaigns:

  1.       Target
  2.       Yoplait
  3.       Red baron

Target

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Target’s ad feels the most traditional in its content and its format. It’s all about the branding and the actual products offered, with very little insights to promote engagingness, memorability and cultural relevance. It’s not an ad worth writing home or talking about really. In a sense it just reminds the viewers that all their summer needs can be satisfied at Target. Duh! Because of this, this ad would fall in the lower right quadrant, i.e. strategically sound (I’ll assume that Target knows that the viewers would be interested in these products), well branded but not really capturing the viewers’ attention.   

Yoplait

Yoplait’s ad is interesting and almost the opposite of the Target ad. I would argue that it is culturally extremely relevant, tapping into a lot of relevant mommy insights and issues. In the process Yoplait demonstrates that it understands what it is like to be a mom and in many ways validates the way many moms feel. So executionally the ad is fantastic and is probably going to get moms to notice and talk about it –for a brief moment- especially with all the social media activities planned around the TV spot.

The challenge however is that strategically it doesn’t do much in my opinion. After viewing the ad I am still not quite sure what needstate Yoplait would satisfy or what differentiating benefit it would offer in the highly competitive yogurt category. Further, it doesn’t really make me think differently about the brand or the category. Last but not least, the integration of insights and the brand’s promise is not very strong. The ad could work for a lot of brands targeting moms. I suspect moms will love and talk about the ad but not remember which brand it actually is for. Or worse, attribute the ad to market leader Chobani. In any case, I doubt that “cultural relevance” without “strategic relevance” will help Yoplait turn around its declining business. As a result, I’d put the ad in the upper left quadrant of the model. High engagingness and cultural relevance, little strategic relevance.

Red Baron

The third ad is for Red Baron frozen pizza. Now, I might be a bit biased here as I’ve been closely involved in the development of this campaign created by Minneapolis based agency space150 for Schwan’s. The ad is highly engaging as, just like the Yoplait ad, it taps into relevant mommy insights and truisms. Moms can relate to the ad and can identify with it, the brand clearly demonstrated that it understands moms. It is culturally relevant. But the ad is also very relevant strategically in that it addresses a clear need state and promises a clear benefit to moms, recognizing that “carving out a few minutes in the day to have a second of ‘me’ time (something every mom craves) is something that pizza really can help provide.” Lastly the ad is unmistakably branded making a mis-attribution very unlikely. As such, I’d put the ad in the top right quadrant: strategically relevant and culturally relevant.

A few years back, and according to a MtoMoms.com survey, 80% of moms thought that advertisers were doing a poor job at connecting with them. That’s 4 in 5 moms. I’d like to believe that things have evolved since then and it is interesting to notice an evolution from a more stereotypical type of advertising to a more engaging and culturally relevant form of advertising that is more reflective of today’s moms’ realities.

The question the Yoplait ad raises however is whether cultural relevance is sufficient in today’s attention economy to turn around a business or has the bar of effective communication been raised even further, requiring both strategic relevance and cultural engagingness?

I’d be curious to hear what you, the readers, think.  

To better understand how to communicate with moms, click here.

I’ve become passionate about how brands connect with moms ever since my twins were born. Since then, I have launched a start-up enabling moms to connect with other moms, advised another start-up in the field, built a social community of over 10,000 moms on a shoe-string budget, written extensively for the HuffPost on the subject (one entry going viral globally by reaching over 5 million moms in 72 hours) and helped brands re-position themselves and grow by better connecting with moms. Feel free to contact me here to explore if and how I could help you better connect with moms and grow your business.

 

Your Corporate Culture: The Last Untapped Strategic Asset Of Your Organization

This is the latest article I’ve written for the Public Gaming Magazine, published in the August/September 2016 edition.

Lottery agencies face a unique set of business challenges which we’re all familiar with and trying to tackle on a daily basis. They include:

  • Player fatigue with big jackpots,
  • Difficulty identifying and reaching the next generation of players.
  • Rising operating expenses mean that each dollar of incremental growth comes at a higher cost
  • Cracking the code on successful digital engagement
  • Better utilizing digital throughout the POS experience

However, there is an even more important challenge most lottery agencies face and that directly influences the performance of their business. I am referring to an agency’s corporate culture, and the fundamental role it plays in driving innovation, growth, profits and employee satisfaction.

In fact, a lottery’s ability to tackle its business challenges is directly related to the strength of its corporate culture.

So, what exactly is a corporate culture?

When in doubt, we can start with Wikipedia:

Corporate Culture (or organizational culture as it is often referred to) represents the collective values, beliefs and principles of organizational members and is a product of such factors as history, product, market, technology, and strategy, type of employees, management style, and national culture. Culture includes the organization’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits… Thus, organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders. In addition, organizational culture may affect how much employees identify with an organization (Source: Wikipedia)

So: the corporate culture represents the unique style and policies of an organization as expressed by the beliefs and values of its employees. As well, and perhaps most important- the corporate culture is also seen in the official and unofficial behaviors deemed as acceptable or desired inside the company.

The peculiar and sometimes dangerous aspect of corporate cultures is that they don’t have to be consciously created in order to exist and seriously affect a business, for better or for worse-they can just as easily be a remnant of a past management legacy.

Or perhaps, the corporate culture is not clearly defined at the top of the organization or changes too frequently because of constant management changes. Then, subcultures will take over that are usually more driven by the preservation of a department rather than the thriving of the organization. And that makes sense! In absence of a clear vision and a clear set of values and accepted behaviors, it is human nature for employees to default to behaviors that create a subculture that will help them preserve their own domain and jobs.

Jeremy Gershfeld, founder of Corporate Culture & Communication firm Quartet Approach (http://quartetapproach.com/) believes that it is not easy to get a concrete grasp of a company’s corporate culture. A analogy Jeremy likes to use to describe corporate culture is the unique way one’s own family might do things and interact with each other. For example, think about visits with your family over the holidays. At a large family gathering, you might notice how family group habits can distort your own behavior. You might observe, over, say, Thanksgiving dinner, how different members of the family do things very differently, and how this affects the group’s behavior as a whole, especially when the full group is brought together.

Of course, the stakes are different in a professional environment, where individual and group goals are different than getting along with your relatives for a few days. However, the culture still exists, and the group is often bound by its social dynamics.

The lasting value of a strong corporate culture

Harvard Business School Professors Jim Heskett and Earl Sasser and coauthor Joe Wheeler assert in their new book, The Ownership Quotient, that strong, adaptive cultures can foster innovation, productivity, and a sense of ownership among employees and customers. They also outlast any individual charismatic leader.

While all these benefits are highly relevant for lottery agencies the last one is particularly salient, as lottery Executive Directors will change every few years and each new ED will bring their own sets of priorities, values and styles of doing business.

As Catherine McIntyre-Velky, a project management and process consultant who has worked with First-The-Trousers on a process optimization project for the Arizona State Lottery says: “One cannot under estimate the power of culture and its influence on productivity, especially in an environment that deals with regulations. A good strong corporate culture is as much a part of the process as the process itself. In order to successfully navigate deadlines and approvals, you must be able to speak the currency and understand the communication exchange.” 

“Your culture is your brand.” (Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos)

The idea that corporate culture is a strategic asset has become increasingly popular over the last few years. The most shining example, of course, is Zappos: the world’s largest online shoe store, known amongst other things for its “Wow” customer service and its philosophy of delivering happiness to both employees and customers.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh captures his beliefs in this quote: Our belief is that if you get the culture right most of the other stuff like great customer service or building a great long-term brand or empowering passionate employees and customers will happen on its own. He should know: his company was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

This quote is from Peter Drucker, management consultant and business thought leader whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations modern companies perhaps more than anyone else. He argues that having a strong corporate culture is actually more important for a company’s success that a well thought through strategic plan. In the same vein, Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus James L. Heskett (and author of “The Culture Cycle”) finds that as much as half of the difference in operating profit between organizations can be attributed to effective cultures.

As such, improving ones corporate culture should be seen as an opportunity for an industry, like the lottery, that struggles with operating costs growing faster than sales and the resulting pressure on profits and revenue contribution.

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But, lottery Agencies face unique cultural challenges

Lottery agencies face two unique challenges with regard to their corporate culture:

  1. Lottery agencies are government agencies and therefore cannot incentivize their employees based on their performance like a private organization would. This in turn has a direct impact on employee morale.
  2. Every few years a new Executive Director is appointed to head the lottery agency directly impacting the agency’s culture in ways that may be surprising. Many of the lottery employees we’ve talked to across the country over the years describe their tenure with the agency not in numbers of years (“I’ve worked here for 15 years”) but by the number of Executive Directors they’ve worked under (“I’ve had 9 Executive Directors”). This point matters because of the crucial role the corporate leaders have in defining and implementing the organizations culture.

These challenges can leads to “dysfunctions” within a lottery agency that directly impact performance, employee motivation and profits. Some of the symptoms of a weak lottery agency culture are:

  1. Lack of clarity within the agency with regard to the agency’s objectives and how to achieve them. While the core objective of a lottery agency is clear, or should be (increase the revenue contribution to the state) Executive Directors tend to provide their own interpretation of the agency’s objectives and how to achieve them. This interpretation, of course, has an immediate impact on the culture and the priorities set by the broader organization.
  1. Intra- and inter-departmental silos and lack of alignment: A lack of unified culture that everyone can live by often leaves each department or even each individual to pursue their individual objectives. This leads to subcultures that may not necessarily be aligned with the organization or with other departments (but that are aligned with their understandably natural need for job security). This often leads to a lack of coordination and collaboration between and within departments which again directly impacts the overall business performance.
  1. Lack of communication & accountability. A weak culture is also often defined by a lack of transparency or accountability in the decision-making process. Employees in one department don’t know for sure what people in other departments do. Critical information is often poorly documented and not easily accessible. The default behavior becomes to only share information if needed or if actively requested.
  1. Lack of appreciation for subject matter expertise. Another symptom of weak corporate cultures is often a general lack of understanding or appreciation for how others do–or could–contribute to the mission. On a personal level this often means that individuals do not feel appreciated or valued for their roles and contributions.

Improving ones corporate culture.

The first task for any organization looking to improve its culture is to actually try to define its current culture and assess its strength by asking a few basic questions:

  1. Is the agency’s vision and core values clearly defined and consistently understood by everyone within the organization (can everyone within the organization tell you in a few words what the vision and core values are)?
  2. How motivated are the agency’s employees? How valued and appreciated do they (really) feel?
  3. Is there transparency and cooperation within and across departments or is the cooperation hampered by formal or informal silos?
  4. Does information flow freely within the organization or it is “hoarded” by specific departments or individuals?
  5. Is the decision making process (RACI framework) within the organization transparent and it is clear who is accountable for what decisions?

These questions are basic yet fundamental. And while you’d think or hope that he answers to those questions are obvious, the reality is that they often are not. However, I am always surprised, and I’ve talked to many people working in the lottery industry over the last 5 years, by how open and willing employees generally are to share this information candidly when asked (though maybe they are more willing to open up to an outsider).

Imagine your organization is a music group

Undertaking an objective self-assessment of ones’ corporate culture can be difficult. Because of that, understanding how to evolve your corporate culture isn’t easy either.

For example, imagine your organization is an orchestra playing a symphony. How would it actually sound? Does your group sound like a harmonious masterpiece that transports you into a different world or does it sound like the cacophony of uncoordinated and un-synchronized noise (think first-grader annual Christmas concert)? Be honest with yourself.

The illustration of how a quartet can either produce beautiful music or just noise based on how well coordinated and in-synch the quartet members are is at the core of Quartet Approach’s consulting philosophy. Based on an upfront audit which identifies the strengths and weaknesses of your organization’s culture, Jeremy Gershfeld and his team let you actually experience what your organizational culture ’sounds’ like now and what it could sound like in the future. In Jeremy’s own words “The Quartet Approach personifies what happens when the rehearsing and performing group of four musicians plays a substantially better group performance when the elements of their culture are healthy (as well as hearing/observing what happens when culture is not). It becomes very clear what happens when, for example, a lack of clarity in the group’s roles create a psychologically unsafe setting”.

Translating the strength and weaknesses of an organizational culture into music often creates an “aha!” moment and the discussions that result from these insights of one’s organizational culture can help determine alignment, communication, and expectations.

To conclude

Corporate culture has become an increasingly relevant subject in the business world over the last 10 years as companies have come to realize the role it plays in sustaining a competitive advantage and building a business. It is especially relevant in the lottery industry which faces its own specific challenges that could be overcome with decisive movement toward a stronger corporate culture. This type of corporate culture exploration and refinement might therefore be worth exploring as an opportunity to improve the performance and revenue contribution of lottery agencies.

Positioning-Roulette: The Value Of Identifying An Enemy For Your brand

Know thy self,
Know thy enemy.
A thousand battles,
A thousand victories.

Sun Tzu

Most good stories, including brand stories, include an antagonist, a rival, an enemy that the hero (and his followers) has to go up against and sometimes fight. Cain had Abel, Luke Skywalker had Darth Vader, Tom had Jerry, and Apple had IBM.

Identifying and taking a stand against an enemy can be a very effective mechanism to grow and differentiate a brand or to associate it with a broader world view.

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An enemy can be a potential threat (real or assumed) consumers might not be aware of (think freezer burn which is made up or all the invisible bad germs threatening your children), another segment or sub-segment in the category (for example Mini positioning itself against the big gas guzzling SUV when it was launched in the US) or a cultural or social belief, convention or behavior that may be relevant to your category and brand (for example the beauty standards used in media versus Dove’s campaign for real beauty).

The options are limitless and will be best defined by your brand unique situation, its competitive and cultural context as well as the values of the people you are trying to appeal to.

Identifying and taking a stand against an enemy can help create relevance for your brand, provide your customers with a sense of coherence and belonging, provide validation in the brand choice and create a sense of urgency to act. It can also help re-frame and increase relevance of an argument as demonstrated by the anti-smoking organization American Legacy Foundation (Truth) which successfully focused on vilifying the executives of the large Tobacco companies as a way to prevent young adults from smoking.

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Identifying and taking a stand against an enemy to create more energy and traction for your brand is just one of the 26 universal approaches to successful brand positioning development and storytelling. The other 25 can be found here.

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