Posts Tagged ‘Management’

How to out-manage Google in six steps

August 14, 2008

When we look at industry leaders in any sector, it seems their managers do so many things so well that it’s impossible to imitate or surpass them. But that’s not necessarily true.

If you’re a manager, you can get key pointers from the survey below. It lists six specific areas in which the managers of America’s most reputable companies make a difference their businesses. Google managers used them to give Google the best reputation in the US.

First, the leader list. Each year Harris Interactive, Inc. ranks the 60 most visible US companies. These companies get to the top because management puts into place specific programs that all stakeholders appreciate. Doesn’t matter whether it’s the janitor or the biggest client, these changes are perceived at all levels.

This year’s top ranking company, as reported in the 7/15/08 issue of the AMA’s Marketing News, is Google. No surprise there. What other company is so big, and yet managed so well?

The full rankings are:

1. Google
2. Johnson & Johnson
3. Intel Corporation
4. General Mills
5. Kraft Foods
6. Berkshire-Hathaway, Inc.
7. 3M Company
8. The Coca-Cola Company
9. Honda Motor Company
10. Microsoft.

How did Google and the rest of these household names make it to the top? Based on six criteria. This is your crib sheet to excellence:

1. Social responsibility

2. Emotional appeal

3. Financial performance

4. Products and services

5. Vision and leadership

6. Workplace environment

The value of this list is that it gives you specific ways that big companies improve their reputations.

Most readers of this blog do not run a company big enough to contend for the top 60 list, let alone make “social responsibility” a key area for improvement. But every company can choose several specific areas from this list where it can make a concerted effort to improve. If you can build your rep among your own employees, customers, and stakeholders, you’re also laying the foundation for future profits.

For example, “workplace environment.” The addition of a microwave, a small fridge, an air conditioner, a water cooler, or any small appliance can make a big difference for the people who work there. None of these items costs more than a couple of hundred dollars, yet they can boost employee attitude and performance by showing that management (that’s you) cares about employee comfort.

And you know what? Happier employees are more productive, get sick less often, and take fewer days off.

If you don’t know where to start at your workplace, ask your people! Bring them in on the decision, even if it’s a small one. Multiple good suggestions? Make a second upgrade in six months. Your one-year investment in a better workplace comes to less than $300. How many saved sick days does it take to make back a $300 investment?

That’s just one example. You should look at all six metrics, decide which ones apply to you, then pick the area where you’re weakest as a place to start.

Or not. The important thing is to get started. Building your rep, even if it’s only with your own employees and in your own town, is not accomplished by some mysterious amalgam of voodoo, blind luck, and consumer whim. It’s based on concrete, tried-and-true management techniques that have worked for the most successful companies in the US. You don’t have to conduct research to find out what those techniques are – it’s been done for you. All you have to do is apply them to your organization.

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Outsourcing on a small scale

March 18, 2008

One of the costs of doing business is office machines. When I started out, i there weren’t even a copy machines. People used “onion skin” and carbon paper to make copies, typing on manual typewriters.

 

Today, those and many other functions are done with in-house computer programs. But that may not be the case much longer.

 

Many office functions are moving on-line. One of the most recent full-featured applications to do that is Google Apps. Popular office programs such as word processing presentations are available on-line, and they should be updated automatically as improvements are made.

 

I have been using Microsoft’s XP Professional and Office 2003 for several years, with pretty good results. Now the next upgrade, Vista, is on the market. I am thinking it over carefully. I am sure there are product improvements, but maybe I can get the same thing in another format, for less money, and that I won’t ever have to replace. So I am trying out Google Apps for myself. You may want to consider it for your business, too.

 

Will this be as good as Microsoft? I’ll let you know in a future post.

Guaranteed. Period.

February 26, 2008

 

When I lived in Italy, I worked with a guy who said to me, “What is Italy famous for? Three things: its history, its art, and its food. Well, we can’t sell history and art, but we can make a lot of money from its food!” His company made low-budget TV commercials, and he wanted to make a series of how-to videotapes (not CDs; this was in the olden days, back before the new millennium) of a chef preparing the culinary masterpieces of Italy. By the time I met him he’d let the idea simmer for too long.

 

I said, “We need some kind of guarantee to reassure buyers. If the customer doesn’t like it, he can send it back.”

 

I told him about L. L. Bean, the mail order company in the US that will accept merchandise back for ever. Their motto is “Guaranteed. Period.” You can send a piece of clothing back if you don’t like it, of course, or if it doesn’t fit. You can also wear it for ten years, send it back, and still get a refund. I told him it was a great sales tool, and that he’d sell more tapes that way.

 

“Absolutely not!” he cried. “’Caveat emptor’ which is Latin for “buyer beware.” Italians love to use Latin slogans. “If they bought it, they own it!”

 

We had a lot of other marketing disagreements, and I stopped working with him after a short while. He was able to turn his idea into a half-baked sales proposition.

 

The point of the story is the brief article that appears in the American Marketing Association’s February Marketing News (2/15/08). It listed L. L. Bean as the highest in customer satisfaction.

 

It’s true that some people will always abuse the returns system, but it really doesn’t matter what system is used – 30-day return, or return with receipt only, or exchange only, etc. – someone will always try to beat it. What matters is the public perception of the quality of the product, and the willingness of the company to stand behind it.

 

The markups in clothing make this a good place to use such a strategy. In fact, of the ten companies listed for highest customer satisfaction, five either sold clothes exclusively or sold them in conjunction with other merchandise.

 

Would such an offer work for high-end clothiers, for a Brooks Brothers or a Giorgio Armani? Might be worth a try.

 

How much is writing worth?

February 21, 2008

A recent article in the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing discussed pirated music downloads. A study cited for the article said that for commonly-available products, those which have virtually no cost to reproduce (like recorded music in MP3 format) the sales price tends to go to zero. Music is expensive to produce, but is commonly available and very cheap to reproduce and distribute (we all know about Napster). And although the study said this effect was not applicable to unique or customizable products (like writing), I’m not so sure I agree.

Writing requires a skilled, experienced journalist to deliver interesting, persuasive text. It takes time, money, and effort to produce the journalist (or musician) and the product. But today, a couple of keystrokes can make the product available to the world at no cost. In my opinion, we are seeing the same trend in both music and text.

Small-town and regional newspapers have been free on-line for years. They don’t have the market size, demand for information, or quality of writing to support selling their text.

 

It used to be different for the big publishers. But in September, 2007, the New York Times, which up until then had charged Web viewers for access to its “premium” content, switched to free, advertising-supported service. In October London’s Financial Times said it would offer 30 free articles on its Web site each month. My favorite magazine, The Atlantic, began offering its content on-line for free last month. I felt offended because I’ve been a subscriber to the magazine for years, and now everyone else will get for free what I’ve been paying for.

 

These and similar publications will always attract readers willing to pay. The question is whether subscription-based Web sites are the most lucrative way to market the text.

It looks as though the answer is no. Instead, the big publishers now put their content in a different package. They can still make money by selling it to readers, it’s true, but they make more money by giving away the writing and selling ad space next to it.

My concern as a copywriter is the perception that “great writing shouldn’t cost much, and that’s the way it should be!” will become pervasive.