Blogging, Brand Management, Customer Experience, Marketing Automation, Stories

What a recent stay in Thailand taught me about service automation, customer experience, and my wife

Welcome board

Not the actual board, but ours was very much like this one – you get it.

In the reception of the place we were staying at in southern Thailand, they’d put up a board in the morning. On this board they’d publish the names of new guests arriving that day. Every day a new list of names from all over the world. About 20 names on average. First names and last names.

Then at check-in, you’d get these small, handwritten notes – the breakfast passes. One per day, per family member, stitched together. In beautiful small, curly writing, each note states the cabin number, the date, your family name, your arrival date and your departure date. You spend 7 days with a family of 4, you get 28 of these notes. 28 handwritten notes for a single guest family.

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Blogging, Brand Management, Bureau, Customer Experience, Marcom, Marketing, Positioning, Social Media, Stories

Beer Lovers Unite: Schuurbierdag

happiness is a cold beerYes, this is a slightly awkward post. I know. But I have been pondering this idea for a while and I want to put it out there.  

I call it “Schuurbierdag”, to be translated as Shed Beer Day. Yes, Shed Beer Day. That may need some work by some brilliant copy writer. But alas, let’s have a look, shall we?

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Blogging, Positioning, Stories

Vintage Hitler – Jetzt kaufen!

WiederDaLast week I finished “Er ist wieder da” by German writer Timur Vermes (Eichborn Verlag, 2012). Intriguing premise: in 2011, Adolf Hitler wakes up on a deserted playground somewhere in the middle of contemporary Berlin. It doesn’t take him very long to get back in the demagogue’s seat, pointing out all that is wrong in today’s Germany and rallying the peoples to wage war against today’s enemies of the state. It’s a hilarious story.

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Blogging, Brand Management, Content Marketing, Event Marketing, Marcom, Marketing Automation, Marketing ROI, Online Marketing, Sales, Social Media, Stories, Webcast

The Perfect B2B Content Mix

MixerI don’t think business-to-business communications as a discipline was ever as exciting and challenging as it is today. The convergence of available platforms, data and social media effectively provides marketers with endless opportunities to find prospective buyers among both suspects and customers.

At the same time, traditional ways of informing, engaging and transacting with customers are being scrutinized. The overhead of traditional PR, direct marketing, events and retail drives a tremendous shift towards online and mobile engagement models.

We all know this.

The Shortest List
But it’s hard to find the right path in this landscape of endless possibilities, isn’t it? Which mix of vehicles, assets, platforms, programs – owned or sponsored – will generate the optimum stream of inbound contacts? I find that in todays online conversation, a million writers (usually agency reps or consultants) will tell you about the many millions of different things you can do to find and engage your audience; nowhere will you find a discrete list of stuff you can’t do without – a minimal set of things that should get you where you need to be.

So here is the list of things you cannot do without in your 2014 enterprise marketing mix:

For influencers, main objectives: education, value and timely interaction

  1. Solution-level blogs
  2. Solution-level webinars
  3. Relevant customer case studies (PDF, YouTube, SlideShare)
  4. Whitepapers
  5. Landing pages aggregating this content around specific topics
  6. Online testing, demonstration, comparison and/or ROI calculation capabilities
  7. Events (3rd party for suspects, owned for customers and prospects) to enable influencers to discover the offering and meet the vendor team.
  8. Database and telemarketing

For decision makers, main objectives: credibility and buy-in

  1. Thought leadership blogs and videos
  2. Branded editorial content integrated into relevant online and offline titles
  3. Events (3rd party for suspects, owned for customers and prospects, and to facilitate the prospect-customer conversation).
  4. Account strategy, access and relationship management at the C-level (a C-level program can never be marketing-only. It needs to be a joined effort with the sales leadership).

All of this has to be (a) continuously fuelled with crisp, audience-based content, (b) optimised for search and (c) 100% Social, Local and Mobile.

That’s it.

Blogging, Social Media, Stories

@Gogol: Dead Souls Online

ImageThis week, both Google and Facebook shared their thoughts on dealing with social avatars after their real-life counterparts have passed away. Clearly, there is a business plan somewhere in here.

In Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol’s 1845 novel “Dead Souls” (Мёртвые души), the main character, Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov is on an intriguing business mission. In those days, Russian landowners were taxed per worker employed on their property, even after workers had died. At least until the next census determined the real number of live workers on the property, and the new tax rate to go with it.

Now, Chichikov’s scheme is straightforward: he goes around buying dead souls in order to mimic a mighty landowner on paper, and move up in the societal hierarchy of 19th century urban Russia – like today, centered between St. Petersburg and Moscow. It’s a win-win situation, since the souls selling land owners offload taxable property, as Chichikov is attracting headcount and status.

So as the number of followers, friends, connections, likes, shares and recommendations is quite valuable in the online social hierarchy of the 21st century, there will be a way of monetizing the dead souls idling away in twitterverse and blogosphere. I wonder who’ll be the first to start snatching them up in order to increase online influence.

To give you a good taste of the brilliant dialogues in Dead Souls, read how Chichikov is trying to get an old lady, Nastasia Petrovna Korobotchka, to sell him her 18 dead souls for a good 15 roubles each, “and roubles not in silver, but roubles in good paper currency” – she makes him work really hard for it!

Read Gogol’s complete “Dead Souls” here.

‘ […] However, the old lady still communed with herself. She could see that the transaction would be to her advantage, yet it was one of such a novel and unprecedented nature that she was beginning to fear lest this purchaser of souls intended to cheat her. Certainly he had come from God only knew where, and at the dead of night, too!

“But, sir, I have never in my life sold dead folk—only living ones. Three years ago I transferred two wenches to Protopopov for a hundred roubles apiece, and he thanked me kindly, for they turned out splendid workers—able to make napkins or anything else.

“Yes, but with the living we have nothing to do, damn it! I am asking you only about DEAD folk.”

“Yes, yes, of course. But at first sight I felt afraid lest I should be incurring a loss—lest you should be wishing to outwit me, good sir. You see, the dead souls are worth rather more than you have offered for them.”

“See here, madam. (What a woman it is!) HOW could they be worth more? Think for yourself. They are so much loss to you—so much loss, do you understand? Take any worthless, rubbishy article you like—a piece of old rag, for example. That rag will yet fetch its price, for it can be bought for paper-making. But these dead souls are good for NOTHING AT ALL. Can you name anything that they ARE good for?”

“True, true—they ARE good for nothing. But what troubles me is the fact that they are dead.”

“What a blockhead of a creature!” said Chichikov to himself, for he was beginning to lose patience. “Bless her heart, I may as well be going. She has thrown me into a perfect sweat, the cursed old shrew!”

He took a handkerchief from his pocket, and wiped the perspiration from his brow. Yet he need not have flown into such a passion. More than one respected statesman reveals himself, when confronted with a business matter, to be just such another as Madam Korobotchka, in that, once he has got an idea into his head, there is no getting it out of him—you may ply him with daylight-clear arguments, yet they will rebound from his brain as an india-rubber ball rebounds from a flagstone. Nevertheless, wiping away the perspiration, Chichikov resolved to try whether he could not bring her back to the road by another path.

“Madam,” he said, “either you are declining to understand what I say or you are talking for the mere sake of talking. If I hand you over some money—fifteen roubles for each soul, do you understand?—it is MONEY, not something which can be picked up haphazard on the street. For instance, tell me how much you sold your honey for?”

“For twelve roubles per pood.”

“Ah! Then by those words, madam, you have laid a trifling sin upon your soul; for you did NOT sell the honey for twelve roubles.”

“By the Lord God I did!”

“Well, well! Never mind. Honey is only honey. Now, you had collected that stuff, it may be, for a year, and with infinite care and labour. You had fussed after it, you had trotted to and fro, you had duly frozen out the bees, and you had fed them in the cellar throughout the winter. But these dead souls of which I speak are quite another matter, for in this case you have put forth no exertions—it was merely God’s will that they should leave the world, and thus decrease the personnel of your establishment. In the former case you received (so you allege) twelve roubles per pood for your labour; but in this case you will receive money for having done nothing at all. Nor will you receive twelve roubles per item, but FIFTEEN—and roubles not in silver, but roubles in good paper currency.”

That these powerful inducements would certainly cause the old woman to yield Chichikov had not a doubt.

“True,” his hostess replied. “But how strangely business comes to me as a widow! Perhaps I had better wait a little longer, seeing that other buyers might come along, and I might be able to compare prices.”

“For shame, madam! For shame! Think what you are saying. Who else, I would ask, would care to buy those souls? What use could they be to any one?”

“If that is so, they might come in useful to ME,” mused the old woman aloud; after which she sat staring at Chichikov with her mouth open and a face of nervous expectancy as to his possible rejoinder.

“Dead folk useful in a household!” he exclaimed. “Why, what could you do with them? Set them up on poles to frighten away the sparrows from your garden?”

“The Lord save us, but what things you say!” she ejaculated, crossing herself.

“Well, WHAT could you do with them? By this time they are so much bones and earth. That is all there is left of them. Their transfer to myself would be ON PAPER only. Come, come! At least give me an answer.” […]’

Blogging, Customer Experience, Stories

On business narrative (you know: storytelling)

ImageLike all human communities, companies outline their identity by telling stories. One exciting aspect of coming into a new company – like I am doing right now – is to dig your way into the new narrative. What stories do they tell the market, the employees, prospects, and customers?

Like people, companies make up stories. They view the world through many filters, take on various personalities depending on circumstance, and have a very picky memory for facts. They simplify and magnify. They focus by shifting focus. They turn a random series of disparate events into a seemingly planned, meaningful, significant history. A story. They turn barren no-man’s land into markets and demand. They spin, they storify.

In a previous life, I earned a masters degree in European Literature. I studied some philosophy to the side, grew a beard, and smoked a pipe. Roamed the streets of Prague in search of Kafka. Quoted Søren Kierkegaard, analysed Sigmund Freud, and pondered Sergei Eisenstein. Didn’t have much of a clue in general.

Well, all that except the pipe, of course..! Goodness.

So during an extensive course on Semiotics, a Belgian teacher called doctor Emile Poppe introduced us to the work of Vladimir Propp and Tzvetan Todorow, besides cool heavy hitters like Louis Trolle Hjelmslev, Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, and even Alfred Hitchcock – what a teacher! Anyway, Todorow and Propp were two scholars who spent a good portion of their lives describing narrative schemes governing folk tales. Folk tales, yes sir! At the end of it, Propp delivered his famous morphology, containing 31 basic elements of narrative with which one can deconstruct every single folk tale. From all cultural origins and of all times. No exceptions.

The most basic story formula: A -> B. There is a situation A, which turns into situation B, that’s your simplest storyline.

And it turns out that most other stories can also be analyzed using Propp’s narrative system. Movies, novels, theater plays – humans apparently tell their stories according to a highly standardized structure.

At NetApp, I got the pleasure of working with Michael Clancy, who combines an engineering leadership background with a remarkable talent for business value selling and corporate storytelling – an explosive mix of qualities. Put him in front of a customer, a sales team, an industry analyst, and he’ll set the air on fire with his energy and stories.

Anyway, Mike taught me how every single customer success story (not just the NetApp ones – look at Oracle, SAP, most any business boasting customer success stories) adheres to the same basic schematic:

  1. Customer status quo
  2. Problem occurs
  3. Solution provider is called in, resolves problem
  4. New status quo is established, better than before

Quite close to the most basic A->B story, isn’t it?


Update 18 July 2013: Found this great article today on MarketingWeek, with many examples and approaches to corporate storytelling.

Update 20 February 2013: I found this great new book, Life in Five Seconds, which “takes 200 world events, inventions, great lives, places, animals and cultural icons that you really need to know about, and then, hey presto!, cuts away all the useless details”, boiling stories down to strings of pictograms – basic elements of stories, check out the extract here. This is the story “Michael Jackson”:

Michael Jackson





So anyway, just to prove that reality is never A->B simple, I have a beautiful 1919 short story by Franz Kafka that defies narrative theory. Figure it out. I found this particular, splendid translation here.

A message from the emperor
The emperor—it is said—sent to you, the one apart, the wretched subject, the tiny shadow that fled far, far from the imperial sun, precisely to you he sent a message from his deathbed. He bade the messenger kneel by his bed, and whispered the message in his ear. So greatly did he cherish it that he had him repeat it into his ear. With a nod of his head he confirmed the accuracy of the messenger’s words. And before the entire spectatorship of his death—all obstructing walls have been torn down and the great figures of the empire stand in a ring upon the broad, soaring exterior stairways—before all these he dispatched the messenger. The messenger set out at once; a strong, an indefatigable man; thrusting forward now this arm, now the other, he cleared a path though the crowd; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other. But the crowds are so vast; their dwellings know no bounds. If open country stretched before him, how he would fly, and indeed you might soon hear the magnificent knocking of his fists on your door. But instead, how uselessly he toils; he is still forcing his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he overcome them; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to fight his way down the steps; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to cross the courtyard and, after the courtyard, the second enclosing outer palace, and again stairways and courtyards, and again a palace, and so on through thousands of years; and if he were to burst out at last through the outermost gate—but it can never, never happen—before him still lies the royal capital, the middle of the world, piled high in its sediment. Nobody reaches through here, least of all with a message from one who is dead. –You, however, sit at your window and dream of the message when evening comes.

Blogging, Customer Experience, Stories

Hello ServiceNow!

ImageSo NetApp is well behind me now, and here I am at ServiceNow.

One of the many great things about a change like this, is that it forces you to readjust on various levels. It’s a great opportunity to get reacquainted with yourself, your profession, the things you thought you knew – and learn a heck of a lot new things while going through that process.

ServiceNow has been a very impressive experience so far. New market category, new product, new customers, prospects, and sales channels. New business model, sales and marketing strategies. Understanding the inner workings of a subscription-based service model. What it means to be part of the fastest growing software company in the world. Native cloud. State of the art data centers coming online across the globe. Professional services. A channel ecosystem expanding like wild fire.

Phenomenal customers, who entrust us with massive workloads of data critical to their day-to-day business operations. We can’t fail them. We return innovation to their IT departments by replacing IT Service Management legacy systems that have been around for decades without going anywhere. The IT guys hate them, the employees hate them, even the guys over at BMC and HP themselves probably hate them by now. With ServiceNow, on top of the readily available IT Service Management processes, IT departments are able to develop apps on the platform themselves, automating processes specific to their company, bringing instant value to the business. And with those custom apps sitting on top of the ServiceNow platform, they automatically benefit from all available platform technology and enhancements over time.

We are revolutionising IT Service Management, and allow our customers to take our technology to unseen levels of deployment within their organizations. Way beyond IT. We turn your IT into the department of “yes”. All new. It’s a lot to take in.

I listened to a customer who got just a titbit emotional when he described the impact of ServiceNow to his IT department. We actually were able to make their lives a little easier, more fun. They get to spend more time on creating business value through IT innovation, instead of running from incident to incident and just barely keeping the lights on. Bingo.

I listened to the CEO, the CTO, VP’s of product development, sales, professional services and so on. Huge vision and determination. All these great stories – if you are interested, I can really recommend this keynote speech taped at our annual user conference Knowledge back in May of last year. Our CEO Frank Slootman packed it with stories essential to ServiceNow. Have a look, and let me know how you liked it.

And then the people on the ground! All these new excellent people that have been working since 2004 building this company you didn’t even knew existed – and here it is, and they’re happy you joined to help out in Europe. This last week I got to visit our offices in San Diego and San Jose, met many of my new colleagues and was able to start building new working relationships. Awesome.

Had a couple of beers with Tim, who after college graduation worked for EMC for 13 years before joining ServiceNow. Former adversary. Great guy. We had a good laugh about our backgrounds, and then a couple more cold ones.

I will stop here. Come back for more, later. I am writing a pretty good piece on narrative in business.

O and by the way: If you like these stories, why not join ServiceNow yourself? We have so many job openings. Get in now.