Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No data, no value?

From Jeremiah Owyang's Web Strategy Summary:
"As scrutiny over marketing budgets will increase, there is more discussion online about the value of marketing and advertising on social networks. Although we continue to see anecdotes and case studies, we’ve yet to see any social network offer a ROI on marketing efforts –or even public data. "

Hmmm... why is it always so difficult to demonstrate value from marketing communications efforts? What are your thoughts? Do your execs demand evidence, or are they confident that the value is there, even if you don't have the numbers to prove it?

Here are David Meerman Scott's views on this subject.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Does Six Sigma Have a Place in Communications?

Steve Crescenzo's recent blog post, Harness the Power of Six Sigma, is a fun, tongue-in-cheek look at how to best leverage Six Sigma without having to go through the trouble of training. Too bad he's not a cartoonist, because I think he was channeling Dilbert.

Admit it: Six Sigma wouldn't have that kind of farcical reputation if there weren't some truth to it. It's one of those business/management optimization models that builds a certain reverential culture around itself. Far more than it deserves, certainly, and far more than we need in order to parody it mercilessly for its jargon, opacity and attitude.

But, as a communicator who's been through Six Sigma training, I have to admit that, as skeptical as I once was, I did see the light. I tried it, and I liked it.

Don't get me wrong. I don't see Six Sigma as the solution to all business problems. And the communications function is not ideally suited to the manufacturing-based types of problem solving that Six Sigma was designed for. For example, Six Sigma just does not have a place in its construct for the creative process. That part's messy, and unpredictable, and often unrepeatable, and unfortunately, Six Sigma abhors those characteristics. Six Sigma was created for the manufacturing floor where the same processes are repeated hundreds or thousands of times each day, and both activity and output can be measured, dissected, analyzed and tweaked to the nth degree.

But in truth, the best parts of Six Sigma are not nearly as complex as the so-called "experts" might have you believe. In fact, you'd be shocked at just how common-sense most of it seems once you've cut through all the mumbo-jumbo that gives it that cult-like feel.

At Textron, after several of us communicators had gone through Six Sigma training, we began to learn that communications professionals at many of our peer companies had been given a pass on the training (including GE, surprisingly). That's because, although it's a perfectly suitable approach to solving many kinds of back-office challenges, communications still has a bit of a black-box mystique to it. No one had really figured out how to fit that square peg into that round hole. Many thought it couldn't be done.

But of course, as unwilling as many of us right-brained communicators are to admit it, our processes and challenges can be studied at both a macro and micro level. And although you can't legislate creativity, you certainly can measure the inputs and the outputs if you give it enough careful consideration and logic. It all depends on what you choose to measure and how you use the results.

For example, let's say one of your greatest challenges is that your internal "customers" keep making endless edits to something you're publishing. One of the simplest forms of Six Sigma analysis seeks to eliminate waste and error. By logging the edit rounds and the time spent correcting and re-correcting, you've got an iron-clad case to demonstrate the need to modify the process to a) be more efficient; and b) not drive you bleeping crazy if you're going to continue to work together.

I've used Six Sigma tools to analyze how many copies of the annual report we need to print; which pieces of marketing collateral are taking the most time and money to produce (compared to the value they provide); how rework in a web content management process costs the company money; and more.

One of my favorite sites for resources is Jay Arthur's. He's a consultant, but he also offers free downloads and excellent articles to help you get started. And he does a great job of making the complex simple.

The most important piece of advice I can give for working with Six Sigma tools in communications is this: don't let them obscure the forest for the trees. It's easy to get so wrapped up in which tools to use and the subtleties of how to use them that you quickly chew up more time and energy than you expected. Soon the application of Six Sigma is more significant than the communications project or product you're responsible for! If your aim is to streamline a process, that's a poor way to begin!

Take it one step at a time, keep an open mind, and start with the end in mind. Get an expert to help you out at first if you need to. Soon, I bet you'll find that Six Sigma can lighten your load a bit, too!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Profound Profanity

Oh, the hand-wringing, desk-pounding, snips and snipes over at Ragan.com about the use of profanity in writing! The debate's been going on for literally months (maybe years), and it's downright amusing to see the level of emotion the subject evokes.

Face it: any writing device can be inappropriately applied, be it profanity, metaphor or a simple adjective. But I can't imagine removing any of those from my toolbox!

Today, anyone who closes himself or herself off absolutely from that which might offend risks perpetuating their own ignorance. (George Bush offends me far more than any profanity ever could, but I ignore him at my own peril!)

What's more, our perceptions of the profane change over time. Like fashion, what constitutes acceptable today may be very different just five or 10 years from now. Hot pants were once scandalous; today they're ubiquitous. Going 'commando' is the new version. (Can't wait to see how that one evolves.)

Language is a living organism. As our generation of professional writer ages and degrades into obsolesence, so too will our values and perceptions. And no matter how self-righteously we proclaim profanity (or same-sex marriage or rap music) to be unacceptable today, time will march steadily on, deaf to our objections.

Profanity can be used to great effect with the right audience and under the right circumstances. The 'wrong' audience will quickly self-select themselves out of the discussion (and maybe straight into oblivion!).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Right Web Partner Will Do It for Me

Tim Frick posted a great series of recommendations for Working with a Web Designer for Harmonious Web Projects posted on MarketingProfs. His comments are dead on, and helpful for the uninitiated and experienced alike.

But I can't help wondering: is his advice directed at the wrong audience?

For sure, all the points he hits are critical to the success of a well-managed web project: Defining, scoping, prototyping, testing... all very important.

But I've learned from managing many online projects, large and small, that when I seek a web partner, I want those steps built into their process (not mine). And if they're not, then I know they're not the right partner for me.

As a busy marketing and communications professional, I have enough on my plate to worry about without guiding my web development provider through a robust process. When I issue an RFP for a web project, the winning bidder will be able to point out and fill in any gaps I may have left. For their own success as well as mine, they'll guide me through (and document) the question-and-answer process needed to ensure that we're both absolutely clear on what will be done, when, and for how much money. I expect them to wrap me into their testing process, to whatever extent I'm able.

The only circumstance I can imagine where I'd be the one initiating these activities is one in which I've chosen the lowest bidder, perhaps without the sophistication or experience needed to be doing it themselves. But as the saying goes, "penny wise and pound foolish" -- I may think I'm getting a bargain, but I'll be spending far more of my precious time and energy steering the project bus around potholes and road hazards than I should. And that's neither cost effective nor a recipe for a successful outcome.

I'll leave defining, designing, developing and deploying web projects to the experts I partner with, and hopefully contribute my value to managing the bigger picture.

So my advice would be a variation on Tim's recommendations: instead of adopting these practices, look for them in your prospective web developer's process. If they're not evident, you haven't found the right partner, so keep looking until you do!