the grass is greener on the internet

October 29, 2009, 2:18 pm
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As important as the destination is, I love a good journey.

So when an advisory chat about entrepreneurship turned into a conversation about what it takes to be an expert I was taken aback but up for the ride. When you see the fire of enthusiasm burning in someone’s eyes, you know you’re about to discover just as much about them as you are about their favourite topic.

His big talking point is the research saying that most experts, top of their field kinda experts, have spent 10,000 hours honing their knowledge.**

That’s 10,000 hours of focussed, intense effort.

To put that in perspective, that’s about 418 days straight, or 1254 working days.

If you wanted to be at that level in 5 years, you’d need to spend 40 solid hours a week.

That kind of concentration is beyond most of us, and only a small percentage will put in the hours they need to be an expert.

(Good luck to the next person who tells me they’re a social media expert.)

The point is; to be good at something, you need to submerge yourself in it.

A similar chat with another person went in the direction of visualisation and whether it can help you achieve your goals. She’d found that meditation, conceptualising issues and writing down what she needed often resulted in lightbulb moments the next day. The mind can do amazing things if you submerge it.

Okay, so far, so good…now enter Gen Y.

We’ve grown up with the miracles of instant gratification, lottery success and thinking in windows. Multitask, diversify your skills and always be connected to everything.

As I write I’ve 8 windows open, three of which have at least 5 tabs each.

Where’s the time or focus to become an expert when the next distraction is an ALT + TAB away?

True, not everybody needs or wants to become an expert. But are we going to see fewer ascend to the heights of knowledge?

**I should note that the research was on sportspeople, chess players and musicians, but the point is the same.


Demo Cracy
September 14, 2009, 4:03 pm
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It’s that time of year again; student elections.

In case you missed the great expose by SBS in their Gen Y series last year, student politics is dirty. It probably always has been, except that these days the rules are heavier, the subterfuge has gone online and one can comfortably earn a living off one’s efforts instead of just power.

Call me jaded, if you will.

Simply put, student politics has all the factions and tactics of national politics, minus the accountability mechanisms.

This is not helped by the short terms of representatives. Their actions over the course of a year can make or break the student experience but rarely come back to haunt the people responsible. So much opportunity to do good – or to screw it up then get away with it.

For example, a director in one student organisation currently claims in their campaign for another organisation that they increased sponsorship by 150%. Impressive?

Well, the sponsorship of $4,000 in question came from a prominent professional firm. The firm was under the impression that this would be used for educational activities, and so were not overjoyed to learn that they were shouting an entire student body free drinks at one of the city’s more expensive cocktail bars. Would have been great for the students…if anyone apart from this director’s friends had been allowed access to the tab.

They did not deliver for either sponsors or members – and they could end up doing it again.

It gets me every time.

Now you’re wondering…how is she going to relate this back to marketing?

Well, things like this make me question…what if I do end up in a position where I have to sell something that I do not agree with?

What would you do?

Move over Gen Y – Z is here
July 30, 2009, 10:41 pm
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…such was the title of one of yesterday’s cover stories in The Advertiser, my favourite local newspaper**.

I’ll let you read the article for yourself but basically it concerns reports by McCrindle Research on the characteristics of Gen Z (1996 to 2009).

The increase in child-bearing age and trend towards having less children apparently means that Gen Z will have a relatively mature outlook, more education and material possessions. However, there’ll be less of them.

It goes without saying that Gen Z will be digital natives just like Gen Y. The part which I’m curious about is the speculation that Gen Z will be more financially responsible than Gen Y.

We’ve already heard the gleeful pronouncements that this recession will teach feckless Gen Y to stop spending and start managing their money – a trait which has been attributed to us never having experienced a recession before. True, for most of us the last recession worth talking about was either just before we were born or when we were too young to be affected. Won’t this be the same for Gen Z though?

Surveys have already started trying to predict which industries the next generation will want to work in. This despite the fact that ‘Gen Z’ is only just starting to get to high school. They probably need to be taken in context of surveys done for ‘Gen Y’ fifteen years ago.

From a marketing point of view Gen Z will be difficult. If Gen Y is cynical, Gen Z will be completely desensitised. Viral campaigns will become something you are infected with once and then get over, like chicken pox. They’ll be highly educated and marketers who don’t respect that will get shot down. And when you’re constantly connected to your friends, negative word of mouth spreads quicker than the latest Facebook quiz.

I’m intrigued. Gen Z will be the first generation I get to analyse as an outsider as they grow up. Given my complaints about the generalisations we Gen Y are subject to, any bets how long it will be ’til I start using phrases like ‘young people these days’?

**token irony for the post.

Employer branding: does Gen Y want CSR?
July 15, 2009, 3:36 pm
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PR is lovely. It allows companies to make newsflashes of ‘insight’ into topics ‘we have little to no understanding of’ (ie. Gen Y**) and promote themselves in the process.

Recent example: Morgan Stanley’s report by a 15 year old intern on why teenagers don’t use Twitter.

Let’s just ignore the fact that I’ve seen umpteen posts saying exactly the same thing from ‘Gen Y’ blogs. I think a more sensational headline might have been ’15 year old interns handling affairs of global financial management company’.

Like I said, PR is lovely.

This brings me to my original question: does Gen Y really look for CSR when choosing an employer?

…because according to headlines from several large companies, this is a key requirement tabled by ‘Gen Y’ in interviews.

Is this really true or just a marketing stunt?

  1. It allows the company to grab a headline
  2. It makes students think that if everyone else is aware of it maybe they should be too
  3. A further 250 words can be devoted to the company’s CSR efforts

[Let us note at this point that just because a story has been used for marketing purposes, it is not necessarily made up – the Morgan Stanley case demonstrates this.]

However, as a blanket statement, I don’t think you can say that ‘Gen Y’ feels CSR is important in an employer.

Rants on the general nature of the term ‘Gen Y’ aside, at the moment those just graduating or in junior roles are mostly just glad to GET a job. Many will not have the option to ‘choose’ their employer, and they will rank pay and job description higher than CSR in importance. It only comes into play where all else is equal. (Not that it’s so black and white – it’s usually that we like the brand more from the impression we get.)

This is something we’ve seen from before the GFC, though. Unethical corporate behaviour can be a disincentive, but proactive CSR strategies mostly only aid HR in forming company culture.

Not to say that CSR is not important – as a generation we are more aware of environmental issues hearing about a brand doing ‘good things’ can leave us with a better feeling.

But from talking to a variety of people, there is only a select group to whom CSR is very important. They’re generally highly educated, grew up with volunteer work or come from a religious educational background. Caring about issues like sustainability or human rights often coincides with a dedication to studies and long-term results. If they form part of your target market for candidates then your employer brand will benefit from an extensive CSR program.

Me personally? I wouldn’t feel comfortable working for an unethical employer and would much prefer to go for a job where I have the opportunity to continue making an impact on causes I believe in. Quite a few friends are the same. But I know we’re definitely not the majority.

**Irony fully intended.

CSR: it’s a culture, not a role
July 7, 2009, 11:39 am
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Too often, when I ask representatives of corporations (in the wide-eyed innocent manner only a prospective graduate can achieve) what their CSR program is the answer is a resounding “Errr…”

This is most disappointing when one of the key parts of their marketing pitch to ‘Gen Y’ is that they are socially responsible.

I’d like to look at this from a branding and strategy perspective.

If one of your reps didn’t know about one of the other ‘five basic tenets’ of your business, say, client service, you’d fire them on the spot.

The best way to communicate the values that your company wants to represent are through the actions of the people that make it up. Increasingly, due to societal pressure, companies are throwing ‘the community’ on a list of things they value. But how can staff embody company values if they don’t even understand them?

As more and more companies get on the bandwagon, CSR will shift to being a hygeine factor and the motivation will have to come from interesting concepts and authentic execution.

If you are going to go for CSR programs, it’s NOT just a ‘role’ that you can palm off to one person in corporate communications. It’s not a profession, it’s not a function. It’s part of company culture.

Otherwise, you end up with the situation I described earlier. For the students you’re trying to attract who care about CSR and want to know you’re doing it, that would be an ‘epic fail’ (to use ‘Gen Y’ speak).

All it takes (imho) is training and dialogue. This is why I’d like to see companies like Carbon Planet not just offering carbon credits and consultation but also training for entire organisations.

Make sure that your employees have an idea of what your company is doing. (Especially if you’re in an ‘evil’ industry like oil.) Better yet, an understanding. The feeling that through little extra personal effort they’re part of an organisation which is helping the community gives employees something to feel good about.

At the very least, please, brief them before sending them out to represent your company.

I’d like to add something for evangelists of CSR: it’s important to remember that when you’re talking to people outside of the CSR community the things that are obvious to you may not to be obvious to them.

It’s a constant sales pitch. You need to convince them in a way that doesn’t make them hate you.

Sweeping ‘obviously we must do this’ statements, absolute refusal to discuss other points of view, spam; they’re annoying and they give others who don’t want to listen the perfect excuse to brush you off.

If you’re going to call for action, how you’re communicating is just important as what you’re communicating.

Behold, the Blog Star!
April 6, 2009, 9:47 pm
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Behold the Blog Star, for it cometh to guide the way to the birth of…err, well we’re not sure really.

When Financial Planning Australia first announced their ‘Blog Star’ competition, I wasn’t sure if they were kidding – but they weren’t.

As part of their ‘Make a Difference’ campaign they ran a competition to find a student (aka the Blog Star) to blog about what it’s like to be a financial planner, the latest in industry happenings and generally getting students to engage more with the organisation.

So the latest announcement is that the Blog Star has been selected – the anointed one is a guy called Kane Piper hailing from Wollongong. Thus far he’s done the careers fair circuits, a couple of interviews and…interviewed a mascot? (A pig called ‘Terrence Trotter’, whom if nothing else will clash with their brand colours horribly.)

Downside of using Gen Y: grammar. “Strewth! Has the economic crisis effected [sic] you?” Strewth indeed.

Apparently they also thought they could just chuck the poor guy into a whole list of social networking sites and he’d pick up attention immediately. So far…Facebook group‘s looking a little lonely and January 5th’s ‘Kane is ready to Twitter‘ message was a bit deceiving.

A little confused about the website’s name, which is iplan2 – after publicising under the ‘FPA Blog Star’ name it’s a big shift, and hopefully not an attempt to link with the iPod family (please please no). Do not confuse with – a slightly less slick website for personal organisation software.

I am half glad and half mortified that they also took out the domain

I feel bad about criticising the website so much when Kane’s just getting started, especially when he’s managed to inject some humour into what is usually a dry topic. If the polls are anything to go by he’s at least getting some decent traffic (not yet registered on Google page ranks though). Overall it is a slick production but still just doesn’t sit right for me.

Then again – to use that classic ad industry criticism – I’m not the target market.

Are you being hunted down and targeted?

Why yes, you might be.

Just watched AdAge’s video segment on Emily Riley from Forrester Research’s recent speech addressing Gen Y and behavioural targeting.

They propose:

  • forming an op-out database for those who do not want to be behaviourally targeted – ie. they want their healthcare data to be ignored but are okay with their retail data being studied
  • creating a website where ‘Gen Y’ can post their wants (ie. a car) and receive advertising for those wants based on their information (ie. they’re a fan of BMW on Facebook)

I have number of objections:

  1. STOP taking ‘Gen Y’ as a singular marketing demographic. Generally young people are more switched-on technologically, but that doesn’t mean everyone has the same preferences about how they interact with that technology – that’s like saying all adults buy the same food because they’re more kitchen-savvy.
    (I will admit I have a bias against the term but ‘Gen Y’ is used FAR too much these days.)
  2. When it comes to consumers being able to ‘opt-out’ of having their info in a database, it’s a bit like communism: it might work in someone’s head as an idea, but it will never work in practice.
    People are less likely to bother to opt-out, or may not even know how – it’s a phenomenon they propose to exploit.
    I suspect the FTC will object to it because of this.
    Previously, people ‘opting out’ of telemarketing databases – ‘no telemarketing’ or ‘do not call’ lists – have found themselves part of a new database for all those organisations not bound by the ‘do not call’ list. Someone will try to find a way to get hold of their information, because technically a whole behavioural segment would be excluded if you didn’t have it.
    Of course, the speech brushes over this to talk about behavioural targeting.
  3. …and behavioural targeting will be controversial. But let’s look purely at effectiveness.
    It actually limits the consumer to their previous choices.
    You’re trying to predict the next point on the graph by extrapolating the previous ones.
    Well, if you want to talk about Gen Y traits…youth throughout the ages have demonstrated higher risk-taking traits. They want something new, something off the radar – not something served up to them.
    To implement this assumes that all brands would be able to advertise.
    To have a limited choice would be too generic and take away the joy of search – half the fun is the feeling that you’ve discovered something before everyone else has. (That’s contributed to the success of a little company you might know called Google.)
    Sure, they can still search on their own, but the more they find something they prefer by looking outside of your behaviourally-targeted advertising the less they’ll see value in using the service in the future.

Trading on information is probably Facebook’s best chance at actually making money since the realisation that the most successful advertising involving Facebook has been through apps, which are free to create.

But most people will feel a slight discomfort about having someone else own their information. It’s one thing to post it to share with your friends and another thing to have it being sold to corporations.

Take a leaf from Google’s philosophy… Don’t be evil.