Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nothing’s Really New

A friend of mine from my Alaska days in the 1980’s, having read this blog, emailed recently that I haven’t changed a bit.

He reminded me that on an airplane trip we took together over the North Pole to harvest potential business from Europe early in that decade, I did something I often do today in this blog.

He had watched me go through a huge brief case of reading materials, tearing pages from periodicals and using a handheld Epson device (regarded as the first laptop) to create notes and then print them out on ticker tape to staple to clippings for routing or mailing after I got home.

Running a community destination marketing organization requires gathering marketing intelligence wherever possible but my friend observed that in most cases, I was routing the clippings to other people in community, most unrelated to my former visitor-centric career.

A best practices consultant who interviewed several hundred community leaders hypothesized that this habit of circulating information was one of the reasons our organization was considered so much more relevant than peer organizations were in other communities.

I do enjoy it so I guess it is no surprise that I do something similar in retirement now with these essays.

Marketers for any enterprise should be on the forefront of trends and changes but far too many lag behind even within their own organization.  This is clear in the USA report from the “Annual Global CEO Survey by PwC.

CEOs were the only members of the C-suite to cite technological advances as the trend that will be most disruptive in the future.  In the US, only 36% of CEOs believed that those responsible for their marketing and brand management were prepared to make the changes necessary.

I suspect this is why you often see marketing departments so out of touch with their organization’s sustainability efforts, such as when they use roadside billboards which require huge amounts of deforestation, ultimately reducing carbon sequestration and fostering pollution.

Of even more concern to CEOs may be that only 20% believed their R&D divisions were prepared for the coming changes that will be wrought by technology.

Looking at the verbatims, those surveyed have very large concerns. These are the ones pursued by those I refer to as “big game hunters” on the supply-driven side of economic development (as opposed to those working on the demand-side such as tourism) which they hope to land in their communities of states.

Even though small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) were hit much harder during the recession, they remain where the action is.  The 23 million SMBs in America (fewer than 100 employees) generate 54% of the sales, provide 55% of the jobs and fill up 30-50% of all commercial space.

Since the 1970s, SMBs have accounted for 66% of all net new jobs.  About 98% or 22.5 million are independent, locally owned concerns that account for 54% of all U.S. sales.

They are under threat from chains for which 600,000-plus franchised small businesses in the U.S. account for 40% of all retail sales and provide 8 million jobs.

It isn’t just technological trends where big business marketers are unprepared.  Studies show big business often doesn’t understand small and medium-size businesses which for 70% are their customers.

The battle ground for this misunderstanding is on Main Street.  Part of the solution is better exchange and sharing of marketing intelligence and data.

Many local organizations that represent small businesses eschew strategy plans in favor of frenetically running around in an attempt to find a “parade” and then desperately seeking to be at the head or at least be the convener.

They have no patience for being at a table of equals if they can’t dominate the conversation.  They fail to see that a strategic plan is merely a pathway to make it easier to spot and react to trends as they arise.

They especially fail to grasp that today’s new breed of strategic thinkers see into the future by analyzing the past, sometimes referred to as “temporal planning,” something I stumbled onto decades ago by virtue of fusing my college major into my eventual four-decade career in community marketing.

But the aversion to strategic thinking among many organizations portending to represent business is why businesses of all sizes - but especially small businesses - have lost patience with and increasingly find these organizations irrelevant, leaving them to devolve into places where only “whiners” congregate.

Identifying and responding to trends is best done when organizations share and treat each other not only as equals but with a deeply respected division of effort and expertise.

Strategic partnering such as this works best when all eyes are trying to spot trends regardless of relevance to one partner or another but then quickly to shuttle them to the partner for which they are most relevant.

I realize this is annoying for generalists, who having been successful at one thing assume they are now expert at everything, dismissing organizations with expertise specifically suited.

In parting, I’ll forward 2014 trends by Sparks & Honey which takes an ecosystem approach to 80 areas of trend and culture.  If you find this amazing, you should see one of their custom reports.

Share them with strategic partners at a table of equals and assign which organizations will take point based on expertise and focus.

My favorite?  I’m retired.  My expertise now is narrowed to sharing.

Call it “content marketing.”  Just don’t refer to it as part of the new “sharing/collaborative economy.”

That isn’t new.  Nothing really is.

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