The Responsibility and Value of Connectors

I’ve come to realize that what most people call thought leader is just the byproduct of being a connector.  Almost every RFP I’ve seen in the last year has had some wording about wanting to be a thought leader. Being a thought leader today requires more than being smart. Being smart is kind of a commodity these days.

Real thought leadership comes from not just being smart but having the ability to connect smart and talented people with the right people. The ability to find the right answers is infinitely more important than always having the right answers.

Where most companies fall down in thought leadership is that they don’t leverage their ability to be connectors, and all successful businesses really are just successful connectors. Instead they spend too much time talking about themselves. This is the problem with almost all “big win” PR announcements. They focus on themselves and not their customers.

In my experience there are only two ways for connectors to gain value from being a connector (beyond the intrinsic satisfaction they get): externally among their peers or internally among their connections.

Translation: You can either be the guy at the party who’s obviously name dropping or you can be the guy at the party that everyone wants to talk to, but you can’t be both.

This shouldn’t be a new concept to anyone in PR as this is the cornerstone of the industry.

Yet too often we see marketers and PR people who spend more time marketing themselves then they do their clients. This is working very well for some high-level bloggers, “industry experts” and the agencies that subsequently hire these “thought leaders,” but it only works for a while.

Eventually this will run its course and those who have spent their time exploiting their connections instead of building their connections will end up like the washed-up high-school football star, reliving his glory days.

This blog was originally posted on the Thinkers and Doers blog » The Responsibility and Value of Connectors

Photo credit by Lollyman

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Can’t We Just Be Frienemies?

There’s something that’s been bugging me for a while now. It’s our attitudes towards competition. I think most people have a very immature attitude towards competition.

Competition is a good thing. Actually competition is a great thing. But the problem is people think of competition in terms of absolutes and winner takes all, when the fact is, in business, absolutes don’t exist in competition anymore. I regularly run across startups who think that they don’t have any competition because no one does exactly what they do or I run into the opposite, where they view big companies as their competitor because they have one product that provides some of the same functionality as their product.

As I’m prone to do from time to time let’s start with a few definitions:

Who is your competitor? The simple answer is:

Any product or service that a potential customer would spend their money on instead of your product or service.

Seems black or white right? Let’s look at an example. The various tech examples are too easy  and in all cases involve several of my clients so lets look more broadly so I can be objective.

Who does Dr Pepper compete with? Dr Pepper is in the cola, soft drink category. So they compete with Coke and Pepsi. But Dr Pepper is owned by Schweppes which also owns RC Cola, another competitor in the category. But when was the last time you had to decide between Dr Pepper or RC Cola?

So let’s look at the Coke and Pepsi side of things. Dr Pepper is a 3rd alternative in the main cola wars. Dr Pepper does a really good job of staying out of the main battle. So well in fact that they are able to ride the massive infrastructures these two cola giants have set up.

In many areas of the country Dr Pepper is actually bottled by Coke and then distributed by Pepsi.  This allows them to achieve the efficiencies of scale that Coke and Pepsi enjoy in both cost of bottling and distribution but without the expense of setting up and running such complicated systems.

What if Dr Pepper  took a winner takes all, absolute view of competition? They would have refused to partner with Coke or Pepsi. They’d be RC Cola right now.

To bring it closer home, many of my good friends who I’ve known for years work at other agencies. They’re “the competition.” They’re still my friends.

Many of our clients work with multiple agencies and we have to work with them to do the right thing for our clients, if we let “competition” get in our way we’d do crappy work that would make us and our client look bad.Being competitors doesn’t mean you have to be contentious.

Competition doesn’t mean you’re enemies it just means you have someone to push you and make you do better.

Be better, don’t be contentious.

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Your Weaknesses are your Greatest Weapons

Image by Don Solo via Flickr

I love proving people wrong.

When I was in junior high my guidance councilor told me I’d never graduate High School. I went on to graduate from college and get my Masters.

A little over five years ago people told me blogs and new media were a fad. I was an idiot to believe they’d revolutionize the marketing, media and communications world.

I’ve even had former colleagues tell me that I would never cut it in this space. I didn’t have what it took.

All my life people have told me I’m wrong. I want to thank every single one of them. They have provided my the motivation to continue on.

Sometimes spite can be a great motivator.

But more than that, I learned something from my naysayers. They all had reasons to believe I couldn’t do what ever it was. You need to be able to address those concerns. Sometimes you have to compensate. By doing this I’ve usually been able to turn weaknesses into strengths.

If you can turn a weekness into a strength, you’ve just developed the perfect weapon to beat your competition with.

Here’s my recipe for success:

Turn your weaknesses into strength, prove people wrong and then beat them over the head with it.

BTW this is also one my of recipes for happiness :)

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What I learned from HP about co-opetition

What I learned from HP about co-opetition

We like competition. We thrive on it. We pit our children against eachother in near prehistoric rites of manhood called “Little League”. In all honesty without competition I doubt the human race would exist.

But what do we do when competiton doesn’t work anymore and we are driven to co-opetition?

HP (like most uber big companies) is complicated. Who doesn’t HP compete with? In the IT space there are very few companies that they don’t compete with on some level. While simultaneously there are very few of those competing companies that we don’t also partner with at some level. It’s very complicated.

As an example, my Samsung BlackJack 2. HP competes very heavily with Samsung on both PC’s, printers and phones (yes HP makes phones). After taking my first picture with my phone I was presented with three options: Send Multimedia Msg, Send to HP’s Snapfish and Cancel.

I was amazed that a company we competed so heavily with enabled their customers to send photo’s to the HP owned Snapfish. Snapfish had obviously worked their own deal with Samsung.

HP has always had a strong belief that each business unit was enabled to do whatever it took to grow that business, even if it meant working with a company that HP competed with. This is often referred to as co-opetition

Arguably one of the most profitable examples of co-opetitions is the HP LaserJet printer.  The LaserJet printer is HP’s most profitable product to date and was co-developed with one of HP’s biggest competitors; Canon. Canon still manufactures the engines.

Social media is all about sharing right? What about your competition? Aren’t you supposed to crush them? We all know this, but let me tell you something, competition is good.

What would PC’s be like if Apple didn’t exist? They’d probably be ugly, big and hard to use.

What does this mean to social media professionals? I’ve had an ongoing friendly relationship with Bruce Eric at Dell (one of the few companies we compete most fiercely with and don’t partner with).  While we’ve talked about family, life, travel, Web tools and social media we’ve never talked about Dell and/or HP.

While social media means we get to be human and share, you have to know what’s appropriate and what’s not. We were still competitors after all. At one point I was even invited to contribute to the Digital Nomads blog but declined because while I’m happy to support a cause I wasn’t willing to contribute to a site that was pushing competitive product.

Now that I work at Waggener Edstrom I find myself  “competing” with friends I’ve worked with at Porter Novelli (PN is an HP agency). I also find myself “competing” with people I respect and have learned a great deal from. But the fact of the matter is I don’t see myself as competing against them even if ouor companies are competitors.

Mike Manuel just posted
about how agencies (who all now do social media) are being asked to work with eachother by clients. This happened before the rise of social media but it’s almost becoming more common than not.

I for one welcome this. If you think you and your agency know more than any other individual or agency out there you are in for a rude awakening.

As with social media companies (especially agencies to begin with) need to embrace co-opetition. I garuntee you that your business will be far more profitable if you can manage this.

Even if you or your company culture isn’t ready for this (very few outside of tech are right now) you need to at least head the advice given by Mark Solon, managing partner at Highway 12 Ventures and respect your competition.

If you really want to know where this trend will lead I suggest you check out Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscape by Henry Chesbrough. This is just the begining.

As a prelude to a forthcoming blog post I also believe this is another factor in why large enterprise companies are on their way out.

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