Stop, collaborate and listen

It really wasn’t so long ago (mid 1990s?) that marketing managers had notes typed up by secretaries as memos,  then signed and dropped them into the internal post to be delivered the following day. To another part of the same building.

That seems faintly comic from the perspective of today’s laptop, wi-fi and email culture, where documents can be sent at any time to anywhere and everyone works hard to keep up to date with their reading.

And therein lies the problem: emails are just memos with go-faster stripes. They encourage pass-the-parcel decision making and one-way broadcasting of part-finished thinking. Rather than facilitating working together, they atomise people and activity.

It doesn’t need to be like this. Collaborative tools have come of age and it is simple and low-cost  to work together in real-time, always staying in sync and enjoying the benefits of iterative improvements.

Here are five of my favourites:

  1. Slideshare
    This web-based app seems to be really taking off. It’s a fabulous way to share presentations and continues to add new features. There’s now a plug-in for PowerPoint 2007 and support for Apple’s Keynote files.
  2. Google Docs
    A free service from the Big G that allows groups to edit documents/spreadsheets at their convenience. Revisions are fully trackable, access control is simple (but sophisticated) and there is never any confusion about having the latest version – there is only ever one.
  3. Skype (for IM)
    As well as enabling free conference calls, Skype is an excellent instant messaging client. It’s especially useful for ongoing conversations – for example, members of a project team can keep a chat window open titled “project ideas” for several weeks and contribute only when they have something to say. And the entire discussion can be saved for reference.
  4. Basecamp
    Part of the challenge of project management is keeping everyone on the same page. The advent of simple “in the cloud” tools such as Basecamp gives everyone access to the latest status and working documents.
  5. Wikis
    Most large businesses have intranets now, but they tend to be one-way publishing tools. Wikis are now easy to set up (try Zoho or Confluence) and allow ideas to be continuously improved and built upon.

Discuss.

There’s never been a better time for a recession

More than any downturn before, there are readily-available opportunities for savvy marketers to use new tools and techniques to gain a relative advantage. For example:

  • have conversations with your customers via Twitter (Dell have apparently made $1m sales this way). It costs nothing and you can get kudos, feedback and insight. Is it mainstream enough? Check out Stephen Fry’s account or Britney Spears‘.
  • Turn your press office into a blog. They cost little or nothing and allow instant publication of news. Core journalists will subscribe to your feed and you can give them useful embedded multimedia content via YouTube and Flickr. Tech companies have been wise to this for a while.
  • Set up a Google Alert for your brand. What are people saying? And spend time in forums where comments crop up regularly. People love it when company representatives respond to their concerns. Just tell the truth and be polite.
  • Is your company’s Wikipedia entry accurate? You can’t put a sales pitch there, but you can ensure it’s fair.
  • Use Monittor to track real-time what’s being said about your brands on the web
  • Conduct simple surveys for free or build friendly customer contact websites using Google templates

There are many more ideas out there. Get over the ‘geek’ imagery; not knowing about these things is nothing to be proud of. MDs expect their marketing departments to understand PR and advertising. If they don’t already expect them to understand the opportunities and cost-savings of social media, then they soon will.

Maybe you can lead the way.

Dealing with the downturn

The end-of-year pundits are united in their gloom: 2008 has been awful, but 2009 is going to be worse.

Given this prognosis, it’s only natural for marketers to bury their heads in Doctor Who specials and hope it all goes away, the consequences of declining sales, job insecurity and disappearing clients being all too close for festive comfort.

We can’t control what curve balls might come our way next year, but we can give ourselves a better chance of dealing with them by taking the initiative and getting onto the front foot.

For individuals, this means taking the time to build that LinkedIn profile, writing articles for the trade press and keeping your skills up to date – before you have to. Would you still get your job if you applied for it today?

Brand managers need to move first in assuring FDs and MDs that they’re all over contract terms, have uncovered low-cost routes to market and found smart headcount savings before the budget review email arrives. Get a reputation for being someone who is both a real customer champion and commercially sanguine.

Agencies must show clients they’re thinking about value before being asked. Volunteer new terms, recommend a move to payment-by-results and find new savings. It’s coming anyway, so present yourself as the good guys who ‘get it’ rather than being an overhead that’s long overdue for cutting.

Whatever your role, you can actively decide to give yourself the best chance in 2009. Good luck.