Around the Dot

22 April 2005

The New Icons
Brands, celebrities, gizmos, songs, movies: there is no limit in today’s consumer’s mind. Everything can be an Icon. Everybody has at least one if not many.

For sure, I am not teaching you anything. What I want to share with you is that Internet offers at least two ways to check the popularity of an idea, a product or a person without Google and its Zeitgeist!

First, the “corporate” version: Saatchi & Saatchi’s Lovemarks built to backup or add to CEO Kevin [Saatchi Kevin] Roberts’ eponym book Lovemarks. The purpose is debatable (“future beyond brands” anyone?) and it is arguably biased because of the audience (I love it… / I hate it…) and the team behind (visitors suggest but the team creates the page and chooses an illustration). However, I believe this is a great tool to identify “icons” and how people relate to them.

Second, the “geek” version: isTheShit.net. My last post was about the high-school boy attitude of some recent British ads and this website has this kind of flavour. Gary Coleman and David Hasselhoff welcome you on the homepage… The principle is that anyone can propose something that is “the shit” and send a picture to illustrate that. Actually, you can even challenge a picture with your own suggestion.

In both instances, you can vote and get some sense of what makes a specific icon stand out.

Amusingly, istheshit is the shit at the time I am writing this, but lovemarks is not a lovemark. And thus, I had to submit it myself. Is Lovemarks going to be iconic? Wait & see.


Appendix* - My entry for Lovemarks:

I love to surf the site, discover and re-discover brands.

It is funny and sometimes touching to see what these iconic brands, products or persons inspire to the people who leave a message - strong memories, feelings and emotions.

Lovemarks.com is a great idea. I think the "future beyond brands" concept is debatable. But it definitely goes beyond brands, if not in time at least in terms of perception - consumers or believers?

*: This reminds me that I have a short story about appendixes… another time.



21 April 2005

Consumer Chav
The WSJ had an article that I really enjoyed this Wednesday*. All about advertising aimed at “Chavs”, it didn’t make my day but quite. Some jewels (big shiny fake jewels – we’re talking about Chavs):

First, the Fact:

London -- SOME NEW TELEVISION and magazine ads here are so bawdy and laden with crude jokes that it almost looks like teenage boys took over creative duties at the advertising agencies.


Honestly, this is no big news – ad agencies are run by teenagers. They look older but that’s the coke.

Then, the Definition - I guess this is like in the movie “28 Days Later”, the plague has been contained to the UK, so you might like to know what this is all about:

"Chav is normally used to describe a young, lower-class person who typically behaves in a brash or loutish way and who wears designer clothes," says a spokeswoman for the Oxford English Dictionary, which is expected to add the word this year.


Ouh - spokeswoman for the Oxford English Dictionary, this is serious stuff.

The article gives you more details:

(…) those in the chav demographic typically earn low wages, but tend to have few debts because they aren't pursuing higher education and don't have household bills because they live with their parents until about age 23, says Ian Pierpoint, who co-wrote the Vegas report.


In a word, post-teenagers still with mom and dad with bad tastes and enough money to express them (man, you have to see what they are wearing).

So what is the fuss about?

chavs are somewhat unusual in that makers of basic consumer goods are going after them.


Ha ha! Where there is demand… A nice new segment to target, let’s unleash the creatives.

I have seen the ads on TV, they are as stupid, boring and exasperating as any other. After all, the UK is the country of Churchill, the dog who sells you insurance.

Anyway, the article is a fun read, and it is enlightening: I can’t wait to see the next P&G gizmo aimed at Chavs: perhaps a powered toothbrush doubling as a vibrator sold with its lubricant toothpaste in the Ann Summers stores? – What? not “crude” and “teenage-boy” enough?


*: U.K Ads Try Common Touch to Lure Chavs by R. Matthews


19 April 2005

My First Business Biography
I wanted to do that for a long time and I just got the occasion through my entrepreneurship elective at London Business School last week for an evening organised by the YPO London chapter - of which I am not yet a member, don't worry, I still have to make $10 million in sales... and also to figure how to do that.

Anyway, here it is:
My First Business Biography

Note: I know I should have used the third person, but it's too pompous.


17 April 2005

The Techfluential Test
Are you a “techfluential”? I ran into this on Brand Republic:

A new breed of opinion influencer is stalking the streets. According to a report by Burson-Marsteller, this group of 'techfluentials' is having an important impact on technology brands' reputation and sales.

Using the data provided in this article, I have been able to elaborate the Techfluential Test – beta version (beta version are so trendy, from Flickr to Gmail). Discover now if you are a typical member of this new consumer segment.

Click if you own or use:
a BlackBerry,
a smartphone,
a hybrid car,
more than one computer,
broadband access AND wireless networking at home
Optional questions to know if you are a techfluential++©, click if:
You are planning to use the word “techfluential”
(true techfluentials love or hate the new buzz word but use it)
You are going to tell everybody in your blog
(true techfluentials only influence through their blogs).
I guess this is the kind of people my study group would love to sell Sonites and Vodites in our marketing simulation (Markstrat). As a true wannabe techfluential, I believe I have the duty to share publicly insider information, i.e. our market strategy (LBS students of industry Casper or companies I, beware): we are going for Singles, High-earners and Others and we are going to sell them what they want at a price you will not match. What, you planned the same? Damn…

Finally, I have not been working enough on my Managerial Accounting course but I don’t need much to guess that Sony Ericson would die to get more techfluentials up their sleeves.

Notes:
  • I managed to use techfluential 11 times (including the title)!
  • I hope this insider information sharing won't add to the "Business School vs. Ethics" polemic :)


Innovation & Peanut Helping Africa
I came across two interesting articles last week, one in the Wall Street Journal and the other one when looking for more information about it on Google. Both relate how innovation and to a lesser extent peanut could help Africa. I am not involved in the activities around social ventures at school, which host a very active Net Impact chapter, but I liked the stories of these two projects.

First, there is the Plumpy’nut, a peanut-butter based paste developed by French company Nutriset as a “rapid renutrition or supplementary feeding”. The results are quite stunning according to the WSJ:
    Plumpy'nut has been fed to some 30,000 children in Sudan's Darfur region and aid officials there say it has helped cut malnutrition rates in half.
Second, let me introduce you to the daughter-in-law who doesn't speak, as it has been nicknamed by its female owners/users (from a marketing and a poetic point of view, I love this name). This new relative consists of a diesel engine adapted to the African daily life. Shared with their village by the women who bought it, it can be used to produce peanut butter and electricity through various modules. According to a 2002 article by the WSJ, the results on the living conditions, education and women’s status are tangible:
    "It's changing our lives," said Mineta Keita, the 46-year-old president of the Sanankoroni women's association, which manages the machine and the flourishing business that has sprouted around it. Before it arrived a year ago, only nine women in this village of 460 people were able to read and write. Since then, she said, more than 40 have attended literacy courses. The training to prepare the women to manage the machine usually takes four to six months, and it gives them the basics in reading, writing and arithmetic. Most then continue with other courses to get better and better.

    Known blandly as the "multifunctional platform" in United Nations parlance, the contraption was invented in the mid-1990s by a Swiss development worker in Mali who believed that easing the domestic load of African women would unleash their entrepreneurial zeal. The machine, simple and sturdy, was tailored for rural Africa.
Entrepreneurial spirit can clearly help the development of the poorest regions of the world but, as the formula to balance social and capitalistic (money needs) constraints is a difficult one to find, this approach has to be backed up (by NGOs, the UNICEF…) to remain viable.

I will leave the final word to John and Paul. “Working for peanuts is all very fine / But I can show you a better time” –The Beatles


Mate, where is my house?
Mate, where is my house?


I really enjoy living in London. I love the city. I had not blogged on this before, this picture taken during a walk with Raquel around Little Venice and Maida Vale is an opportunity to do just that.

And these streets with the same house 5, 10 or 25 times. I couldn't resist. Guess the first thing to do when you move in is to paint your door in some crazy colour.


11 April 2005

France, Politics and Television
As any “expat”, I still follow the headlines of my native country. The latest polemic around the referendum for the European Constitution is about President Chirac appearing on TV to debate of this matter with eighty 18-25 years old. The “old guard” of partisans to the “NON” (ranging from extreme Left to extreme Right and splitting most large parties) find it outrageous.

They think that these 80 young French will be crunched by Chirac and will show too much respect to challenge his point of view.

This kind of reasoning and attitude is one of the reasons I don’t see any future for me in France as it is right now (with incompetent egocentric power-avid politics and stupid short-sighted narrow-thinking unions).

I truly believe this format is a very good one, even if it can be perceived as show-business more than traditional politic debating. What its opponents clearly suggest is:
  • France is pouring billions in an educating system which wouldn’t foster critical reasoning.
  • Where there is respect, there couldn’t be questioning (but clearly Politics aren’t aware of this).
  • The Constitution itself is more something for Politics than the people, hence young citizens shouldn’t be allowed to discuss it with the President and should leave it to “professionals”, who in my opinion will turn this debate into a political one instead of one dedicated to the French & European society and its future.
  • Innovation and forward thinking are bad things (no European Constitution, no new format for discussing issues, no direct public interaction between French and their leaders).
  • Unfortunately, there are a lot of would-be communists and unionists in French high-schools and universities and I guess some of them will be part of the chosen eighty, so some people on the Left are clearly ignoring their supporters and electorate.
I don’t know what could make France change but I sincerely hope these 80 young people (and the President) will prove their detractors wrong. This would be a tiny step towards a France I would respect and I would like to live in and with.


The Best Soap
The San Francisco Chronicle described yesterday how the online ad and marketing industry is booming again 5 years after the bubble burst. This topic along with the “death” of the 30-second TV commercial has been quite hot in the past few months but I particularly liked two things in this article.

First this quote:
"What a ride," said Nelson, who at the peak in 2000 had 1,200 employees with several offices overseas. "We went from a couple of card tables in a bedroom to going public, being worth billions of dollars, nearly crashing, and here we are growing like mad again," he said.

Then the fact that recruiting is difficult because so many people got burned and might not be ready to jump on the so called WEB2.0 rollercoaster car (sorry for the metaphor, I was in Dysneyland Paris last Friday with the MBA class of 2006). I guess most people also found less hype but more secure jobs meanwhile.

So, advertising soap for P&G on the web is nothing but a good old fashion soap opera: nothing like a love/hate relationship to keep the show going on.


Note: According to the SF Chronicle, "Jonathan Nelson [is] the 37-year-old chairman of Organic Inc. in San Francisco, a Web site development and Internet advertising agency founded in 1993."


10 April 2005

Efficient Information for Managers
What struck me when I first encountered blogs is that if you find a quality blog, relevant to what you are interested in, it is like an info digest you can follow regularly.

I am really not too sure about the editorial “I comment on the news” blog by individual X. There are enough talented journalists doing that for newspapers – also available online by the way. However, I am convinced you can get a lot of insights when the writer shares his thoughts about a topic for which he is qualified (I used to follow evolutions in the Java programming language for instance). It's fascinating to have the point of view of experts or people involved in specific sectors or companies at your fingertip.

Another cliché I don’t like is to see in the blogging movement a challenge to established news and media companies. I don’t believe this is true. Evidence could even show the contrary with the corporate world embracing the trend, as it did ten years ago with the web. In fact, it is interesting to see how the set of technologies and tools associated with blogs is now used by well established media groups. Most blog evangelist thought corporations could benefit from the “easy web publishing” features, but what is of interest to me are the syndication tools.

Every major newspaper nowadays allows to get a RSS feed. Even better, Factiva, a database of articles, has rolled out a few weeks ago a beta RSS service. I have been using it with the latest flavour of Mozilla Thunderbird, my e-mail client, and I now get the "editor's choise" directly in my “News & Blogs” folder. This is truly amazing: keeping up with the business news has never been so easy! And it is true of most subjects.

If I have only one advice to give to an MBA student or candidate, it is: find the most convenient syndication tool for you, get RSS feed URL for your usual source(s) of information (you know, this thing you couldn't manage to read every morning or that you miss occasionally…) and start following the news as a desk-chair potato!

Managers, get used to it. It might look like yet another IT skill to learn but I believe publishing and getting information through blogs is going to be the basis of future corporate information management systems. And people way more qualified than me to say so actually say so.

How does it work? In Thunderbird, you get the title, first lines and direct link to read the article. You can get the full article directly if you prefer. If you don't use your own computer, try Bloglines, a website where you can syndicate RSS feeds. I prefer to get feeds in my email client though – I think it is more relevant and I don't have to log in or have another open window. And if you are a megalomaniac person, you can even imagine CEOs or celebrities are writing to you every morning (so many “people” blogs…).

Of course, you can argue: Ok, this is not the same as reading the Financial Times every morning. And sure, blogging is not just about getting the “same old” news through feeds. But the approach I propose has tremendous advantages, of which are ease of use, speed, almost exhaustive publicly available information (focused or general) and the “I won’t miss it because I’m in a hurry or too lazy this morning” factor. And you can use the time you save to find more blogs. I particularly like to find some relevant to what I’m doing – like this “10 commandments for Entrepreneurs” which I can easily connect to my “Understanding Entrepreneurial Management” elective.


07 April 2005

MBA Mafia
It seems like I last blogged just a few days ago – but it’s been 3 weeks since my last post! Anyway, I’m back, back from 2 weeks in Paris, back to studies and back to blogging.

It seems I am not the only one feeling the urge to blog. My dear fellow French MBA2006 Olivier started blogging again! Such a link is almost incestuous but this is how it works: it’s a true Mafia. His first post has a serious tone and a serious subject and I will follow his (always) wise example – in my usual twisted manner of course.

It is interesting that Olivier’s first post describes dark prospects for MBA graduates in the US and the recruitment difficulties of American Business Schools, while giving his position about the debate of whether an MBA is worthwhile at all – if not dangerous. I really believe this is a never ending debate as clearly some people make it without an MBA (and without any particular undergraduate or graduate education at all) as the recent list of world billionaires clearly illustrates (Bill Gates, Michael Dell…).

On the other hand, this might be the best way for a lot of bright people who have not been incredibly or at all successful yet to reach the next level and then be able to grow in a way they wouldn’t otherwise. I am not speaking for myself (though success has not been knocking on my door), but it is true for most students around me at London Business School.

Sure an MBA is expensive. Now that I can (arguably) compute an ROI correctly, I might want to leave school, consider my first year tuitions fees a sunk cost and save half my estimated investment. However, I also learned that what is important is that you should undertake projects with positive Net Present Value (and that sunk cost shouldn’t influence your decision making).

What you get from an MBA is hard to quantify but the value is tremendous. Forget about any unnecessary Ethics course and the stupid debate about MBA and ethics– note: we are not all unscrupulous sharks and Ethics and Corporate Responsibility are well and enough taught at LBS and I guess at most top-tier school. I believe the value comes from the network you develop: an MBA really gets you rooted into the business and corporate world. Most of these interactions and links created across industries and between managers, entrepreneurs, investors, etc. are the basis and the catalyst of Business, especially for Corporate America.

It seems the trend of promoting in-house trained executives is gaining momentum and I believe most companies will be fine with that decision. However, on the long run it is ignoring what an MBA is able to bring to a company compared to internal training and it might jeopardise corporations’ future. The higher a manager climbs in the organisation chart, the less important the “technical” and industry knowledge and connexions are. What a true manager then needs is first a completely different set of kills like the ability to manage its teams or relationships with investors and analysts and second a larger network of contacts who will benefit the company – for fund raising, senior recruiting or creating new business opportunities.

I also find it funny – and I recognise my point of view is arguable – that media focus so much attention on the shortcomings of MBAs while in the same time asking for more professional, more rational and less “tycoonesque” management, at least in the media industry.

In my opinion, the wealth created by MBAs in general is extremely beneficial to society. There are a few bad apples and there are bad practices, but this is not limited to MBAs. Sure the MBA world, the B-schools, their recruitment methods and their alumni can be seen as a mafia and it is healthy that this model is challenged. Sure my opinion is biased. But honestly, I cannot think of a better way (not the only way) to bring to corporations and society at large the quality managers and entrepreneurs they so badly need.