Sunday, December 13, 2009

Paying the price of doing what’s right --another war story

I often hear in conversation about companies’ engagement in Social Media that it is the right thing to do.
Doing what’s right might often seem like a common sense, honest and if not easy, natural thing to do. However, it is a process that is based on one’s beliefs and is intrinsically subjective. My view of doing what is right might not be in agreement with the majority’s view. Facing the consequences of following the right path might also not always be pleasant. Companies, marketers and individuals are facing the challenge of reconciling the outcome of decisions and keeping their interests in mind.

Decisions are complex equations with many factors:
One’s beliefs / values,
Environment beliefs (philosophy and values of entourage and/or organization)
Consequences of failure,
Expected results and the likelihood for them to occur.
These criteria are given different weight in the decision making process according to the specificity of the situation, its urgency, the focus on the outcome and past experiences.

Doing the right thing when it’s legally wrong:
I mentioned in a previous post that my Dad spent a good portion of his life in the military. As an officer involved in combats, he had to face the challenge of making decisions that impacted lives, his career and to a certain degree the course of history.
One of my Dad’s most consequential decisions during his engagement in the French-Algeria war illustrates not only how the weight given to these factors can shift dramatically and how the notion of what is right might differ between individuals.

After joining the Allies troops and marching over Europe, Dad joined the Saint-Cyr academy, graduated as an officer and soon found himself in charge of a Foreign Legion Commando in Indochina (the French Vietnam war) using American made weasels or crabs. In fighting what is now known as the colony wars, the fielded French military establishment believed in building trust among the population and gain ground that way. While there were many combats against the Viet-minh, Dad’s Indochina war consisted of wining the trust of villages and their leaders to acquire information in exchange of protection. The very same way officers had to make decisions regarding the trustworthiness of the information and the integrity of the villages’ leaders, these villages had to take a leap of faith and choose whether to go with the French soldiers or the Viet-minh. The survival of each individual in the village was at stake, and similarly the life of every soldier in his commando depended on the decision to trust village leader or not. When the French lost the battle of Dien Bien Phu and decided to pull out of Indochina, they abandoned those who had trusted them. Those who had worked so hard to establish relationships with villagers were now abandoning them knowing that the Viet-minh would seek revenge. If you’ve seen The Killing Fields you can imagine how it looked. (I recommend Helie de Saint Marc’s book “les champs de braises” to truly understand what the troops witnessed. Imagine trucks taking the troops away followed by villagers running behind trying to climb in the trucks).

When troops were send to Algeria to fight a similar war (in a much different terrain), Capitaine Petit was sent to the Sahara desert in the region of Touggourt to pacify the area. After a few years of combats, the “insurgents” (for a lack of a better word) composed of the FLN and ALN, realized that their cause would not be won with combat in Algeria and took the combat to the main land: France. After terrorist attacks started in France, it was clear to the government in place that the country would not support this war much longer and talks with the “insurgents” started. Military officials on the ground quickly realized that De Gaulle was now preparing to abandon Algeria and in April 61 a tight group decided to seize power in Algeria in what would become known as the Generals’ Putsch.
As the word of the coup spread out, officers were confronted to the decision of following the coup or remaining loyal to De Gaulle and the government which meant pulling out of Algeria. Few followed the coup, including Capitaine Petit’s unit.

The plan backfired and actually reinforced De Gaulle’s power. The coup collapsed within few days and De Gaulle was able to negotiate a pull out with the FLN.
The coup’s followers moved out singing Edith Piaf’s song “Je ne regrette rien” (I have no regrets). Some were jailed (up to 10 years) and some like my dad were consigned to garrisons in Germany and banned from France for few years. Being banned from France is certainly not the worst, but considering the fact that most of these men had fought for France in many harsh combats for nearly two decades this was a slap in the face. This was even more so, because these men had to deal with the loss of comrades in combats due to sabotaged material by communists militants in France which went unpunished (Soldiers were killed because of sabotaged jeeps shipped with sand in the oil tank).

As you can imagine, this decision impacted his life and his career. While Dad remained in the military for one more decade, his career path was abruptly stopped in spite of many medals, honors and citations.

Looking at the equation above here is one scenario of what the decision process might have looked like when deciding to follow the coup:
-Beliefs / values:
Keeping a promise: established trust with villages and nomad population, with an understanding of France’s loyalists should and would be protected.
Betrayal and its dire consequences: dealt with the betrayal of loyalist villagers in Indochina and now had to face it again.
Death for a meaning: dealt with the death of their comrades in combat which would turn out to be meaningless if pulling out.
-Environment beliefs:
Surrounded with pro-putschists
-Consequences of failure:
Death, jail, destitution, the end of a career…
-Expected results and their likelihood to occur:
Historians have clearly established that the purpose of the coup was not to take over power (neither in Algeria nor France), but rather to destabilize the government in place and push for a new administration that would back a French Algeria, maintain the status quo and would not negotiate with the insurgents.
Regarding the likelihood of this happening, this is where I wish I could ask Dad about his thoughts. However, I don’t think it mattered much for most of those who followed the coup. It did not matter because it was the right thing to do. This was about not letting down the locals who decided to remain loyal to France and those who put their life on the line. (I have to believe that this is very similar to what our troops in Iraq are currently experiencing in regards to the Iraqis who are helping them). These men stood up for their loyalists and were ready to face whatever consequences for their convictions.

Most of the troops however, did not agree with their choices and saw the right path as following the orders of De Gaulle, the chief commander. The coup’s followers were a minority but in their mind they were doing the right thing and they were ready to pay the price. In there mind those who follow De Gaulle where doing the right thing by following the commander’s orders.

In most cases, everyone has good reasons: marketers, regulatory/legal/medical, short term minded business managers, finance managers…
The right thing to do is clearly not always as clear and shared by everyone…for good reasons.
Some of us see Social Media as an opportunity. It is a customer centric approach with a promise of engagement, positive brand perception and in the long term loyalty. It is a right approach because it extends the value proposition beyond the actual product and provides support to customers.
But looking at it from other perspectives, engaging with customers is not as obvious as we see it.
In the pharmaceutical industry, from a regulatory/legal & medical standpoint, given that their duty is to protect the assets of the company which in turn has to answer to the shareholders, the liability of engaging real time with customers on topics of medical treatment is too great of a threat with a risk/benefit ratio too skewed on the risks (not to mention the inadequate current regulation).
For financial managers, brand managers, and promotions response managers the return on the investment needed might not be delivered fast enough, while they have market share targets and sales volume to achieve every months.

Capitaine Petit quickly made a decision in 1961 and expected that it would be understood because it felt right. For most in France, his decision was wrong. Whether or not it was the wrong decision, those who planned and organized the coup and those who followed it, failed to recognize that their reasons for doing so where not understood and therefore not shared by most in the country. They failed to educate, they failed to seek understanding and somehow failed to demonstrate their ROI.

It’s our job to educate and “sell” social media:
We certainly can not expect everyone to see the risk/benefit ratio the same way we are just because it feels right. Because the right thing to do is not enough of a reason to blindly execute strategies and the fundamental changes needed within corporations, requires a little more than a leap of faith. And it does require some investment analysis including ROI.
As employees of companies with responsibilities and liabilities, it is our job to “sell” social media internally. It is our job to understand everyone’s roles and responsibilities and what is driving their behaviors. It is our job to come up with solutions that will address everyone’s concerns. Great attention to details and working internally to identify solutions.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Can we?

Health care reform and cost cutting is on the table, and the industries (Pharma. Healthcare, Insurance) are coming forward voicing their interest in working with the administration.
Now come the editorial commentaries on the radio, T.V. and newspapers (for those who still read them) pointing out that these industries are only interested in securing a seat at the table to voice their opinion and hoping to minimize the impact on their businesses.
A key argument to that effect is that the industries have financial obligations to their shareholders and therefore will protect their businesses. As stated by Michael Cannon on NPR’s Health Care Reform? Maybe next year : “Lobbyists don't simply propose to reduce their members' incomes. If they did, they would be fired and replaced with different lobbyists”.
While the financial obligations to the shareholders are surely a priority, such obligations also include a viable long term business plan. As our health care spending as a percentage of our GDP is growing to gargantuesque proportions, the industries surely know that the viability of the model is no longer quite secure. Perhaps the industries have realized this and are looking at their financial obligation beyond the next few years. Whether they come forward or not, the industries should be included in the discussions. Not doing so would be irresponsible as the key to success in establishing a realistic plan is to avoid a win-loose situation where one or some of the parties loose too much to grow.
Can we hope that a consensus can be reached where all parties can establish a sound business model? We certainly should! A failure would mean that a capitalistic approach to health care is no longer viable…Of course, then there’s always socialism…

Related links:
Michael Cannon “Health Care Reform? Maybe next year” (NPR)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

About trust and transparency: walk the talk

Regardless of industry, engaging consumers requires among other things a strong connection and a need to identify with a brand. Engaging through social media has our attention these days, but exhibiting engagement is everything but new to marketing: social media engagement’s analog has been exhibited in the past with behaviors such as wearing a T-shirt touting a brand or ostentatiously consuming a brand in a social situation. It is a statement of one’s identity and desired projected image driven by association and a perception of a benefit from that association (being cool, being smart, being a trusted source of information, being sophisticated, being involved in a cause, being proud of belonging….). Social media engagement adds to the process a two way dynamic combined with speed.
While connecting with a brand is a personal experience, independently of how it is manifested by the consumer, key principles need to be present from the brand’s perspective and the consumer's perception of the brand. Fard Johnmar during his discussion at Social Pharmer and Steve Woodruff in this post, highlighted 4 critical criteria: among them Transparency. Transparency is an ingredient of trust. I am on the record (at Social Pharmer) for saying that transparency is probably one of the easiest criteria to achieve. Why?
Because as a company this is something we fully control. We can not control what consumer say, we might not control how fast we can react, but we control how transparent we are. Granted, in many companies (or industries), this might mean a cultural change (change management can be tough). I remember a story my dad told me about trust. He spend a major portion of his life in the military and fought many wars; one of them being the French-Algerian war (a pretty nasty war if you ask me). In charge of a battalion with a mix of metropolitan troops (meaning from the French continent) and indigenous troops (meaning from Algeria), he, one day received the order to take away the weapons from the indigenous troops every nights to reduce the risk of defectors flying away to the enemy with their weapons. He stood up and never carried the order with the belief that his troops were to be treated the same way, regardless of their origins. He trusted every single man in is battalion and he believed that this trust was build on the fact that they trusted him and he trusted them. He believed that any break in the reciprocity would have ended the relationship (aka trust). He ended up being one of the very few commanders (there were 2 of them) to never have a defector. Every single man under is command stayed with him. This is one of his proudest achievements. I share this value with him.
Evidently, I am not advocating that we do no listen to our corporate guidelines, but we need to remember what is in our control and what is not. Transparency is only a decision of how we conduct business and any businesses can achieve it. It is one step to gain trust from consumers, and it is an asset any company needs to build and cherish. It takes coherence, consistency, true adherence to recognized and shared principles, candor and in the end leadership. What we say is what we do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The future of online search marketing

There have been quite a few online discussions around search and live feed lately. It seems that given the rapid growth of social networking, the multiplication of information sources, search marketing could change dramatically in the near future.
The current scheme of online search marketing is organized around delivering relevance and therefore evolves around content. For marketers it translates into being found when consumers are looking for information related to their offer. Marketers do not control the timing of the delivery and the consumer is acting on the search.
Shifts that are currently taking place could change this and make it all about timing and about marketers finding the consumer:
The volume of the information available is and will continue to grow at a tremendous rate marking it harder to sort through the information.
The quality and relevance of some of the information available will provide marketers with the opportunity to push their content.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO is about pushing content ahead of everyone else’s and we can safely assume that the competition for better rankings will intensify fiercely. This pushes every one to produce more content (UGC, dynamic content, blogging, sites updates…) to ensure that the engines “understand” our relevance resulting directly in more content to sort through. The law here is that there will be more content to search and rank everyday than there ever was the day before and we are all fighting for the same amount of attention.
Social Networks
We are exchanging information through our networks and these networks are providing live streams. As more users are adopting Twitter, Facebook…, content flowing through live feeds will multiply even more dramatically.
Multiplication of sources connected to the internet
The addition on all sorts of products and appliances connected to the internet will generate enormous volume of transactional data: when fridges, microwave ovens, and all our household appliances will be connected to the internet through our home wireless networks, information will be exchanged between these appliances and their manufacturers, perhaps between the appliances as well and with other products such as our mobile devices.

This will amount for huge data sets having to be sorted through by search engines and while some information will be totally irrelevant to marketers, some will be, and finding it on time will be the challenge. We can imagine that search marketing’s next stage will then be for marketers to seek the consumer and push our message based on timing, the right timing that is: reaching the consumer when he needs a product or service, whether he is already searching or not, and in some instances whether he’s aware of the need or not.
A freezer enabled with RFID technology could communicate to my I-phone that I am out of frozen fish and update my shopping list. By looking for and finding this information the marketers at Gordons Seafood could sent a coupon to my I-phone while I am at the store.
A similar scheme can be imagined with consumers’ social networks. Indeed, finding consumers that are asking their networks questions about products and services will enable marketer to push their information either directly or via influencers in networks.

Paul Ivans noted during his keynote address at e-pharma last month that channels coming together (e.g. the way I am using wii fit will impact offers I get on my mobile device) provides marketers with the opportunity to extend their offer. Finding who to extend to and when to push the offer will be a big part of what he called the digital connected tissue.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Quote of the Day - March 7th 2009

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts - for support rather than for illumination”

Andrew Lang

Here is something we need to pay attention to when we evaluate our marketing programs' performance.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Quote of the Day: March 5 2009

"In cinema, there are those who want to act and those who need to act. Those who want to act usually don't...."
Heard it on the radio today but I missed the author.
True for life and action.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Where are my filters?

Using social networks to “filter” the information and connect with the “Experts”.
Great podcast from Knowledge@Wharton ( “Emerging Technologies, Part 3: New Tools for a Collaborative Environment
A talk with Doctor Guido Jouret from Cisco discussing how the technologies such as social networking and mobile, driven by consumers’ adoption, are migrating to enterprises. These technologies are being tested and are being slowly rolled out by large enterprises as young(er) professionals join the workforce and expect the use of these technologies as an entire and critical part of how they function and perform their work. Facebook applications and wiki apps (which are already used in some companies) will help enhance knowledge sharing, searching and development.
One comment of Dc. Jouret correlates very well with how marketer should look at social media and describe how we are (or will be) using our social networks to distinguish the information we are willing to consider. While there is so much information out there and so little time, we are using our social networks to filter the content and connecting with the experts (based on the trust we place in them) to distillate the content to us. Indeed, here lie the benefits of the social network. My recent e-pharma twitter buddies channel to me all day long thoughts, references to content and information that are relevant to my interests in social media and pharma. These are my chosen experts…Big thanks to my filters!

Monday, February 23, 2009

About Content Ownership/Liability and Social Media in Pharma

A post by Josh Stylman on the ad-age blog (“Facebook Serves as Own Example of How Web Bites Back: What Happens When You Post Something Without Thinking It Through”) takes an interesting look at content published online its ownership and its lifecycle. (I strongly recommend reading it).

In a nutshell Josh makes the point that it’ much easier to put content online than it is (if it ever is) to remove it. He judiciously points out that once online, content might actually be there forever and brings up the concept of companies and individuals’ digital footprint.

This “digital footprint” is most likely a major concern for any pharma company considering Social Media, and could prevent any meaningful engagement in this space. While a lot of debating is around Adverse Effect (AE) reporting, I strongly believe that AE can be overcome with education and putting some guidelines around it. I can even envision these guidelines being established industry wide under the umbrella of an organization such as PhRMA.

The digital footprint of marketing content however, and most specifically the online marketing claims footprint of a pharmaceutical company (or anyone acting on behalf of) are a more pervasive problem and one that implicates a company’s aptitude to deal with the risk of spontaneity impulsiveness and to a certain degree authenticity in social media. As Steve Woodruff wisely pointed out at e-pharma and in this post "social media salsa meets pharma waltz", success in social media relies on authenticity, exchange (2 way communication), transparency and finally immediacy. Combine this immediacy (interact now with spontaneity) with responsibility (i.e. who is liable for the content regardless of where it resides) and content ownership/perpetuity (can I take it down at the FDA’s request?) and you’ll understand why pharma is proceeding with caution. Indeed, in a world where content has been reviewed, and approved only after many iterations and hours of discussion, it is hard to envision the empowerment & delegation needed to implement meaningful and rapid dialogue on a large enough scale to have an impact.
Marketers in pharma are facing the challenge to balance the output of well thought, proofed (and I mean legal) and relevant content in a timely manner. Finding that balance will be critical but no easy task.


Friday, February 20, 2009

The flip side of the iceberg

We all know (at least most of us do) the iceberg view of the dissatisfied consumer (basically and in broad terms, for every consumer that voices dissatisfaction to a given company, there are even more dissatisfied consumers who will not contact the given company and will talk negatively about the given company to their friends).
One obvious benefits of monitoring social media and engaging in social media is for marketers to react quickly and provide a response to anyone who broadcast their issue with a brand and thus in a best case scenario giving marketers a shot at turning these vocal entities into brand advocates...
and we pretty much all know this by now...
The flip side of this however is for marketers to understand and quantify how the positive experience is being voiced and the iceberg structure behind the positive advocacy and finally how it compares to the negative iceberg structure.
I heard at the e-pharma summit last week, that basically 60 to 70% of social network comments related to a brand are usually positive. That's a good start. But knowing the iceberg structure behind the positive voice is what we need to understand, that is: for every consumer that voices a positive experience, how many are saying something online? How many are not saying anything to their friends and how many friends are they? How does the brand advocacy iceberg compares to the consumer issue iceberg?