Building Strategic Relationships and The Role Of Media

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Yesterday was a busy day… in fact the whole week was crazy when I come to think about it.

But yesterday more than most days…

In the morning I attended an event to mark 50 years of friendship between Korea and Australia. (I was there as the proxy for Professor Gordon Wallace from ACES where I work part of the time). And then I had to go to State and Regional Development to look at the venue where we are holding an event later this month to showcase a new facility for prototyping using nanomaterials and additive manufacturing. (You can register here if you are interested in attending). Then I had to get down to the Rocks area in Sydney to give a lecture to a group of masters students from AIM on building strategic relationships.

In some respects one logically let to the other…. but through an extraordinarily convoluted path.

My fundamental message to the students attending the lecture was that building strategic relationships is actually about building relationships. You can’t make them strategic until they are already in place ….

At the “friendship” event I met a few people who may prove to have strategic value to ACES as time goes by. One of them has a small to medium sized construction company and another is a partner in PWC. What on earth do either of these people have to do with the sort of hard core science that goes on at ACES? Answer: Both of them talk to other people.

What we have to do nowadays when we look at building relationships is to view the evolving business ecosystem through the lens of social networking. Facebook has given us a world where our potential for connecting increases massively. That means we have several orders of magnitude increase in the number of conversations that we have to manage. And that can be a huge waste of time unless we make those conversations count.

That is ironically the reason why the pursuit of the strategic is something that needs careful thought…

Earlier in the week I was at a lunch with a number of eminent scientists and a number of foreign science journalists. The journos are in Australia to look at the site of the square kilometer array. The conversation at the lunch table shepherded by NSW‘s Chief Scientist, Mary O’Kane, moved to the way that the climate change debate is being handled in Australia.

The journalists from various European countries expressed amazement at the media time being given to Lord Monckton – the pseudo-science, climate-change denier. A British journalist at the lunch told us that Monckton is not given any column inches or air time in the UK and consequently doesn’t have any influence on policy or community.

Here on the other hand, he has huge coverage. Why is that so?

Its always beneficial to follow the money trail when you want to get an answer. Monckton is in Australia courtesy of Gina Rinehart, one of Australia’s (and the world’s) richest people and a mining magnate. A relatively short while ago she purchased a significant shareholding in Channel 10 and a slightly lesser share in Fairfax.

Since making those purchases she has sough to influence the programing and/or editorial policies of the media outlets. Gina Rinehart’s relationship with these media outlets is perhaps more than “strategic” since she is now a proprietor.

In terms of influence the question is – “in a fully facebooked world does this matter anymore?”

If you follow the writing of Craig Newmark, you may have heard of the phrase, trust is the new black.

Gina Rinehart uses her financial muscle with media to influence public discourse in Australia presumably for financial gain. Nothing wrong with that – it has been happening that way since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

Understanding and strategizing how to develop an approach to finding the people who will help influence decision making without having to purchase a major media outlet is something that requires insight, subtlety, experience, vision and more. Its elusive, hard to quantify and complex. But it can be done. That is what I try to deliver for clients.

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How Do You Get Rich Quick?

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Amazing, isn’t it?

Everyone wants to get rich quick. The reality is that most people who get rich do it slowly.

If you get lucky along the line and make a kazillion fast, that is a great outcome for you. But the reality is that to do so, you probably were going to do it eventually anyway, because you already had put the process in place. Malcolm Gladwell (who wrote The Tipping Point) talks about the fact that most people who become experts need to spend at least 10,000 hours involved in the topic of their success in order to finally reach their goals.

Those who become rich do so because they got expert at something, and that something led to them making money too.

Just as it takes time, effort and commitment to get on the right road to success – and then suddenly and out of the blue success finds you, so too marketing favours those who plant the seeds for success and keep on improving over time. But the key issue is that you have to start.

And… once started you have to continue. Continue not just because you want a financial result, but continue because you want to learn more about your customer, more about the environment in which your customer lives and what they aspire to achieve and what they feel…. It is the eternal search for understanding the “other” that drives success – not just financial success, but the satisfaction that comes from learning.

I love to help people succeed, and I love to learn, and its great to make money too…. as long as my clients understand that they have to make a long term commitment  to their own success.

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Let The Force Be With You

Australian Bureau of Statistics

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If you are completing your degree at university and going into the work force it can be a daunting challenge – if you choose to allow that. It is natural to feel some trepidation about going into a new and seemingly foreign environment.

However, if you look at the data, which is always a good place to start, you find that in Australia the demand for workers is almost unprecedented.

Employment Trend 2011 - ABS


The above graph from the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells it all. There is a continuing upward trend and it is remarkably strong.

On the other hand what is interesting is that overseas interest in working in Australia seems to have been going down.

The following is data from Google searches within the US on “Australian Jobs”.


US Google Users Searching Australian Jobs


Here is one more data set reflecting unemployment this time.


Unemployment In Australia


So to all intents and purposes it would seem that if you want to work, you can get a job.

I remember when I arrived in Sydney near the end of 1972 the demand for people was so strong that you could virtually walk in to any office building in Sydney and ask for a job – and if you were wearing a decent suit and had some enthusiasm in your step you would be put to work immediately. That was the beginning of the golden age of media in Australia in my opinion…

Maybe its here again.

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When Scarcity Makes Marketing Truly Successful

Samuel L. Jackson

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Adam Mansbach is a marketing genius.

Actually Adam Mansbach is an author – and an extremely successful author as of a couple of weeks ago. He writes novels, but has not been the huge success that every author yearns for. At least until now. He recently wrote a children’s bed time story book. It is illustrated, as these things are, and it is of a similar tone to books that I bought to read to my kids some twenty odd years ago.

His new book has a title that jumped out though. It is called “Go The F**k To Sleep”.

And there is a YouTube video too… The movie star, Samuel L. Jackson, narrates. Its well worth looking at, because it is quite entertaining.

But that doesn’t have a lot to do with the marketing. That is where the genius lies – accidental genius as it happens.

The story goes like this:

The author did a reading of the text at a bookshop on April 23rd and told the audience that if they were interested they would be able to pre-order the book on Amazon. The next morning it had hit 125 on the Amazon sales chart!

Now the tactic of getting people to pre-order is pretty standard stuff in marketing to try to build a pressure wave of interested buyers in order to be able to sell into other channels. Amazon acts in the role of reference customer for all the small book stores and for international sales agents.

He had also sent out a pdf of the book to a few booksellers to prompt sales… and they forwarded the digital version to others. Mansbach, by his own admission, is not web savvy and so as the virality grew and social networking rapidly built huge interest in the book, he got his lawyers to send out cease and desist letters. That clearly wasn’t going to stop the spread of the book, even before Samuel Jackson did a read of the book with a video. So he and his publisher decided that it was not going to be productive to start suing people and instead it might be useful to work with people who are on the web. That led them to license the book to who in turn got Samuel Jackson to read it. At that point in time, the whole project became super viral.

The book, when released, immediately shot to #1 on Amazon’s best seller list a few weeks ago when it was finally released.

So let’s look at what was going on here.

First a great title – something that had to get people’s attention. Second and perhaps most important – the author had at play the one thing that is virtually impossible to get in the digital world – scarcity. Digital ubiquity means that everything is available to us at all times. Except at one point in the life of a project – the point at which it is released. The author and his publisher had totally the right idea with their concept of doing the readings to small audiences with the invitation to pre-order from Amazon and then emailing a pdf to selected retailers.

What then happened was the blueprint for how you would want to market any new digital product: the few became marketers to the many…

I presume that what Audible got out of the whole venture was a very inexpensive brand promotion campaign that made them visible to a lot more consumers than they had before.

So the take away from this story is that if you have a digital product and you want to build its visibility you have to think about how you can take advantage of the scarcity that exists before the article is released. It means that you have to think very carefully about the branding, and the initial presentation to the market, and you have to have a lot of organizational skills in place to ensure that you can move extremely swiftly as and when that viral moment crystalizes.

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The One Simple Step To Marketing Success

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Every day there is more competition for share of mind. More billboards, more radio ads, more TV ads, more blogs, better search capabilities… on and on it goes.

In this chaos of brand noise how do you get your own personal brand noticed?

There are some very simple steps that can be taken. Its amazing how few of us actually take the right steps. We get caught up in the infinity of choice. Choice of products to buy. Choice of paths to take in our personal lives. It shouldn’t be that difficult and generally it isn’t.

There is one idea that you need to put into the front of your mind when you are trying to figure out what you need to do. Identify your customer.

You can’t be too specific about this and you can apply this to almost every decision in life. It all gets down to getting very, very specific.

The more specific you can be, the more you can tailor your communications to fit what their desires are. Now a lot of people think that they can’t be specific because the product they are trying to market is going to reach everyone. So they want a message that will appeal broadly. The truth is that you can only market to the broad mass once a few people have become your product advocates. You have to figure who the first of those people are and why they would want to be your spokesperson. Focus on that first person first.

Have you ever wondered why some music becomes successful and other music doesn’t? It’s simple and it is the reason that in spite of the freedom of choice that the web gives us, the route to commercial success for musicians still comes via the major labels.

The reason for that is simple. It is because the labels have the internal discipline to keep remembering who the customer is and how to please them.

And by the way, the customer, believe it or not, is not you. It is not the consumer of the product. It is not the record store. The customer is the music director at the radio station. One person.

That discipline that the really great labels have is to understand that they act as the pre-qualifier to the music directors. They become the trusted partner of the music director and through her they become the de facto partner of the radio station. So just as the music director of a radio station is the gatekeeper to audiences, the record label is the gatekeeper to the music directors.

The problem that the labels have nowadays (other than declining profits) is to figure who to sign. They have no shortage of people knocking on the door looking to be signed. So if you were one of the hopefuls what would you do to be noticed? Think about what would influence the person who makes the decisions and create a product and a package that makes his job easy.

The same thing applies in the book business. A literary agent who I know (and who represents me) gives all of her aspiring authors a cheat sheet to enable them to put together a book proposal. It is there to help the author focus on what he (or she) needs to prepare in order to show that there is a very clear focus for a book. It is very granular. It entails identifying where the book fits at retail, what the price point is, what the profile of the prospective purchaser is likely to be and a whole lot more… So the author has to now become marketer in order to be signed by the publisher.

It may seem like there is a mountain of work and that the decisions are complex. Certainly there are a lot of people who throw their hands up in the air and just think that if they had the money they could solve the problem. That is not true. Before you spend the money, you still have to focus on who the customer is.

So think about who your customer really is. Think about what drives him (or her). Think about what their needs are. Then put together your product to appeal to those sensibilities. Its all about identifying their needs – not your own.

For a lot of people this is actually a monumental task – because they are so entangled in the process that they find it difficult to view the ecosystem from the outside in an objective way. This is one of the jobs that people like me do for clients (in the case of my consulting work) and for students (in the case of teaching work). The key to achieving success in marketing is to get started: either by doing it yourself in an objective way, or by reaching out and asking someone else to help you become objective…

Good luck!

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What Is The Biggest Brand – And Why

Lady GaGa concert

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What is the biggest brand?

There are some big big brands out there. Every year more brands vie for visibility and dominance. The reason is that every brand that gets share of mind – and trust – can generate huge revenues…

Let’s think about some of the great trusted brands in the world, and some of the brands whose trust is turning to rust.

You would have to consider: Coca Cola as one of the great global brands, and along with McDonalds. These are obvious. What about the upcomers? Google has only been around a decade or so but it has huge share of mind now. Lady Gaga is incredibly new. Has the brand now reached its useby date?

What about the legacy brands that we live? These are the ones that have been around for so long that we don’t even think about them being brands. Brands like Christianity… which you would have to say is one of the most incredibly brand propositions ever… a product promise that can’t be proven but which is not required by law to meet the kind of obligations that most products are required to deliver on… Like whether there is life after death…. And it has a great and enduring logo too – the cross…

Perhaps one of the problems that the Green movement has is that it doesn’t have a truly engaging brand. Nor does the Climate Change movement…And that could be their problem…

Think about the political parties in Australia now. They have been around for a long time, but as brand propositions perhaps they have reached their use-by date. With both parties trying their best to move to the right and with the inability for the Greens to actually cut through, you would have to say that there is a big opportunity out there for a new player…

I wonder whether the relentless scramble for businesses, industries, politicians etc to all try to find the right message, and the right logo, whether what is happening is that brands are no longer providing differentiation.

In a digital world where the differentiation is hugely tool driven, what is the optimum way to create visibility? I am going to be thinking about this over the next few weeks as I try to find a name for a new start up that I am working on in the green energy sector…

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UK Report on IP and Economic Growth

© is the copyright symbol in a copyright notice

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In the last week a major report has been released in the UK on the state of IP and economic growth.

This is really quite significant because what it serves to do is to look at the issues of copyright and patenting not from the subjective point of view of corporations in the content industry, but rather from the point of view of the economic health of a nation.

When you look at copyright from that point of view you have to look at the flow of money and not the rhetoric from specific corporate interests.

This report is effective in separating signal from noise, and from the outset establishes its credentials by noting that most of the corporate sponsored reports about piracy have little basis in fact.

The report also notes that it is useless to criminalize consumers for doing that which they should be expected to be doing by virtue of the technology that they have access to. For instance, under UK copyright law (as in many other countries) it is actually illegal to copy the music on a CD that you own to the hard drive of your computer and then to shift that onto your iPod. It seems pretty reasonable to suggest that the idea of this activity being illegal when everyone who owns a computer and an iPod does it, is ridiculous.

Similarly it is ridiculous to expect people to be disallowed from the use of a piece of content if they can’t find who the owner is in order to request a license – so-called “orphan IP”

Here is a summary of the recommendations of changes to law in the UK in order to enhance economic activity in the UK with regard to IP:

•    an efficient digital copyright licensing system, where nothing is unusable because the rights owner cannot be found;
•    an approach to exceptions in copyright which encourages successful new digital technology businesses both within and beyond the creative industries;
•    a patent system capable of preventing heavy demand for patents causing serious barriers to market entry in critical technologies;
•    reliable and affordable advice for smaller companies, to enable them to thrive in the IP intensive parts of the UK economy;
•    refreshed institutional governance of the UK’s IP system which enables it to adapt organically to change in technology and markets.

In regard to copyrights specifically the report suggests:

“In order to boost UK firms’ access to transparent, contestable and global digital markets, the UK should
establish a cross sectoral Digital Copyright Exchange. Government should appoint a senior figure to oversee its design and implementation by the end of 2012. A range of incentives and disincentives will be needed to encourage rights holders and others to take part. Governance should reflect the interests of participants, working to an agreed code of practice. 

The UK should support moves by the European Commission to establish a framework for cross border copyright licensing, with clear benefits to the UK as a major exporter of copyright works. Collecting societies should be required by law to adopt codes of practice, approved by the IPO and the UK competition authorities, to ensure that they operate in a way that is consistent with the further development of efficient, open markets.

I think this approach would be extremely helpful in Australia too.

We have exactly the same issues here. We are slavishly responsive to American copyright ownership interests here in Australia. While these may be of benefit to the corporations that promote this activity, it is not necessarily to the benefit of the Australian economy. What we need here is to be able to work within the international legislative frameworks that we have subscribed to, but in a way so as to encourage economic activity here.

This means that we must reduce the potential for criminalization of consumers for using copyights in minor ways – such as sync to a YouTube video – and instead encourage payment for copyright use of all kinds at a rate that is commensurate with the use itself, i.e pennies rather that dollars.

If anyone feels strongly about this please get in touch with me. I am keen to put together a group of people who will be prepared to actively engage in discussions on this topic with both government and with societies that represent copyright owners.

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Who Is Going To Write The Next Hit Song? You….

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The movement to mobile is incredible, isn’t it?

I have been reading up on data relating to the growth of mobile over the last couple of days so that I can deliver a reasonably coherent lecture on a number of issues relating to mobile to first year communication students at UoW.

At the same time I have been writing a strategy document on Wearable Bionics. So my brain is somewhat discombobulated, you’d think. But convergence is such an amazing thing that all roads lead to Rome – but particularly via Google!

At the same time that this is happening I have been doing some brainstorming with some people on what sort of app could be really useful for the music industry

Of course when you start to think about the music industry, you really have to think in a different way now. And perhaps that is the crux of it.

Back in the dark ages of the 1980’s before the advent of CD‘s a few corporations and societies and agents were pretty much the music industry – a kind of solar system of stars, planets and aseteroids. Fast forward to now and what we have is a veritable universe – nebulae, supernova, and all of their sub-categories, and an infinite number of them.

In fact now anyone who touches music in their daily life in order to generate money is part of the music industry and at the centre is Apple. iTunes dominates all as the money maker that sits over all the major corporations and enables them to continue to book limos and go to expensive restaurants.

And at the artist end of the spectrum, there are the stars, like Lady Gaga and others that work the old system and the new. And then there are the experimenters – like Arcade Fire. Their new video, which I admit I have only just discovered is a really inventive use of the latest iteration of HTML. It asks you to insert the address of the place that you grew up, and then it integrates footage from Google Street View into the video, making a totally unique and personalized experience.

There are a lot of artists playing around with the concept of personalized mixes of tracks. Surely the next thing has to be an iPhone or Android app that enables you to create your own hit song. I have no idea how it will work. But I am pretty sure that the music industry now has to include every man woman and child who has a smart phone.

Imagine a game – like Angry Birds – but instead of it making noises of birds and monkey’s it makes noises like Jimi Hendrix playing the guitar, set against a bass and drum track that knocks your socks off!

As we began 2011 apps were generating more revenue than music in sales and predicted to become a billion dollar a year business.

So what does that have to do with wearable bionics, my other current project? Nike already has an app that combines shoe sensors and iPod and web to motivate runners. Some companies are pushing forward with an understanding that they have to be part of the present if they want to be part of the future.

The big idea here is that every one of us is actually a part of every industry. Smart phones are the cement that is making convergence an absolute requirement to understand whatever industry you are involved in.

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Getting To A Price


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So someone calls you up and says that they want to buy your company.

You take a deep breath and then say, let’s talk…

There are a lot of wrinkles in selling your business. The main one is that most people are so unused to the concept that they stumble at the first fence….

Imagine this: its actually no different to selling your house.

So you are sitting in your lounge room one day. There is a knock at the door. You walk to the door and open it, hoping its not going to be someone wanting to sign you up for Watchtower magazine. Its a stranger. The stranger says, “Hey, I was walking past your house and I wondered if it might be for sale”.

So how do you respond? Hopefully you don’t immediately start trying to sell it – saying “well you know what, it has a fabulous pool out the back, and the water feature in the rock garden is just wonderful…. etc. etc.”

If you did, the person at the front door would be wondering what he had walked himself into.

What you do surely is this: You say, “wow, that is amazing. We don’t have the house on the market actually. You would probably have noticed that there is no signage offering the house. However, you know, everything is ultimately for sale, so why don’t you just tell me what you want to offer, and we will talk about it rationally and if it seems like a fair price, given the fact that we don’t actually want to sell, don’t need the money, and don’t want to leave the neighbourhood, we might consider taking it. But there is a lot of work to get through before we get to that….

The fundamentals of selling a business to someone who comes knocking is that you have to assume that they are not going to pay you with cash. They are going to want to do a deal with scrip.

In that case you are going to travel with the parent/acquiring company for a while before you get to a liquidity event. All that is workable. The big issue is how you play the game of being the prey. Its a subtle role to play!

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Choosing What To Do. It’s tough.

Location of Queensland on Australia.

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I’ve been at a conference on the Gold Coast of Queensland for the last two days on the commercialization of Intellectual Property.

Last night I got talking to a young PhD student who is trying to figure out what to do with his life. He registered for the conference because he is looking for a direction. He is obviously very bright – in his final year of his PhD at the tender age of 24 – he’s have to be pretty together, you’d figure. However, he is like many people at that age, trying to figure out what he really wants to do in life…

There are so many really incredible things that one can choose to do. The problem is when you are faced with such a smorgasbord of choice, what do you do?

Before the conference started I met with someone who I had spoken to on the phone a few times, who has a start up business. He too is trying to figure out what to do. He comes at the problem with quite a different point of view. In his 40’s, already made enough money to retire to the beach, and came up with an idea of an online service/product. Several years later and several tens of thousands of dollars, he has realized that to really pull off his idea will take a lot more money and a lot of effort.

His problem is that he has been living on the beach long enough to not want to have to go back into the cut and thrust of doing pitches to prospective investors and to then have to report to his investors on how their investment is traveling. He was hoping for me to do the job for him…

But that isn’t what I do nowadays. My interest is in helping other people understand what it is that they need to do in order to get the process going – to become investor ready.

Both of the people in these two scenarios are very similar in some respects. They are both at that point where they feel that whatever they choose to do they are going to be committed to for a long long time. That is true. But non-decision is a decision in and of itself.

The truth is that all roads lead to your final destiny. Much better to go on a lengthy circuitous route that gives you lots of experience along the way that you can tell stories about in your old age, that be in one spot all your life with nothing to look back on…

To both these characters, my advice is: Get started. You never know where it will lead. And it might be fun.

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