November 24, 2008

Quick & Dirty: Re-Branding Luxury with KM 3.0

Noted 11/25: While reading this mornings news and alerts I came across the Executive Summary for an HBS Article entitled "Marketing Your Way Through a Recession" published in March '08. It's a great piece that just so happens to jibe with (and expand upon) my comments below. Take a moment to read it!

So, I'm totally jumping ahead of myself to even use KM 3.0 in the title of this post when I have yet to upload the post that inspired it, "KM 3.0 - The Return of Customer Service". Clearly, I'll have to launch that post ASAP, but it's about 6:40p and I really wanted to post this 'Quick & Dirty' before I leave the office and immerse myself in T-Day prep cooking.

So, I was reviewing news articles and posts this morning when I came across the umpteenth article on how businesses are dealing with the crappy economy (that's my official stance on our economy - you say recession, I say crappy...wait another decade and watch it become an actual economic indicator.)

Having exited my graduate program in December 2002 amidst a tidal wave of layoffs and joblessness that necessitated (me and friends across the world in similar situations) having to actually dumb down my resume and take a KM internship that - blessedly - became a full-time job (from which I was subsequently laid-off 2 years later) I'm extremely dumbfounded why the national media, our politicians, and even some businesses are all acting as if the current economy just cropped up over night like a thief in the night. Actually, it's been more like that whack-a-mole arcade game, popping up all over the place. Just ask the average American and they'll tell you, times didn't just get critical when AIG's mess exploded; it's been critical for a hot minute.

Anywho, the NYTimes posted an article about how luxury brands are coping in the crappy economy, the second article I've read on the subject in the last week (the first I linked to in last week's OOTB). Reading articles like these helps me to realize that I haven’t lost my gift for trend watching (even if I still don’t see the hype over Twilight, but maybe – despite my Gossip Girl fixation – it’s just my general lack of interest in 'tween-oriented media).

Before I'd even finished the article I was back to wondering what bomb shelther these folks have been in not to have noticed the constant crappy-ness of our economy over the last 5 years!?!?

Contrary to popular opinion, I don't believe it's an issue of people not having money (for the most part; obviously too many Americans have barely enough to get by with these days), they're just being highly selective about where they spend it, at least until a sense of normalcy returns to the economy. There's a reason why "old money" still has most of the money circulating around our country!

The fall of the banking industry does NOT instill a sense of normalcy.

My advice for purveyors of luxury goods is that this is not the time to cut back on will be your salvation as long as you are willing to re-brand luxury.

If cutbacks are necessary they should be made in the areas of production (reduce your output, which, consequently, makes your product more desirable due its limited availability) and focus/invest advertising dollars on smarter (i.e., newer, hip, more innovative) outlets for reaching both old and new consumers. An economic downturn is the time to (1) instill consumer confidence and (2) build and improve brand loyalty, displaying how well you know your customers to get at their safely guarded 'stacks' (that's a KM 3.0 thing).

One of the major problems with a lot of luxury items these days is that (on the advice of stupid marketing agencies - I know, I used to work for one) they've been pouring tons of money into business ideas that regard customer service as a premium service (instead of standard practice) and then selling that service to those capable of (and willing to) pay for it as opposed to treating all customers like 'gods' and building brand loyalty and equity. Now, those same businesses are going out of business as keeping up with Joneses becomes an increasingly poor investment.

Sidebar: a good example of a company with fantastic customer service and a marketing strategy that hasn't seemed to change since I can remember: Publix. As much as I love this store, I readily admit it can be a bit pricey (not Whole Foods pricey, but not Kroger, Winn Dixie, Albertson's, or Piggly Wiggly inexpensive either). Still, I'm a loyal customer. I even have a Publix rule to which my tennis teams are made to adhere. Nowadays though, I spend more money at Wal-Mart for many of the the same products (there's a company that's exploiting the hell out of this crappy economy!) How has Publix weathered the economy? Despite a 19% drop in profits that's likely been caused by eating some of their cost increases rather than passing them on to consumers, their sales have improved. That's why I continue to be a loyal customer.

When money is tight, everything not essential for living (fancy foreign bottled water is not essential; G5 jets, while hot as hell, are not essential) is considered a luxury (Starbucks is now a luxury, get the picture???) and folks want more value for their buck, so the challenge is to focus efforts on re-branding what luxury means to people, particularly those who have the money to buy what they want. But be cautious, in a time when the tastefulness of a company holiday party is called into question (because so many folks are being laid off), excessively priced purchases can be a sign of one's lack of tact, not wealth.

In the meantime, for you consumers, remember back when thrift shopping was the thing? Well, I’m here to tell you (as my fabulous and fashionable BFF Min previously educated me) that you can still get brand names, dirt cheap (in some cases, that’s literal – invest in good laundry products y’all) at Goodwill and save those duckets for another day! Nobody needs to know how you are able afford your social calendar…unless they’re following the same advice. Maybe you'll want to shop 'thrift' a couple of zipcodes over wearing a baseball cap and some shades.

All right, time to race home for Gossip Girl. XOXO!

November 22, 2008

Out of The Box - Week Ending 11/21

I tell ya, the week just flies by!! I've been trying to be a more responsible blogger and the bags under my eyes are telling the tale, but I'm sure a few more time exercises management will help me to juggle all of the balls making a bulge in my pocket.

So, for the first time in FOREVER I didn't do any work this week...well, if you don't count shopping for my T-Day menu ingredients (I'm preparing a Cajun themed meal in case anyone is interested) and braving the crowds at the DeKalb Farmers Market and my Atlanta Publix (where some manager I've not met before almost declined to accept my personal check because it has my PO Box address and my DL has my physical address and, he says, because the check number was less than 100 (I'm using up all of my old WaMU checks)- even though I've written roughly two checks a month at that very location and my Charleston Publix since April, and for that matter at any number of Publix's across GA since better people, I am well known for how thoroughly I pimp the Publix brand across the country! Do you need a Knowledge Manager to help you implement and practice your policies uniformly?)

Anywho, here's my OOTB grab bag for the week.

November 20, 2008

Pitchcraft: A KM Elevator Conversation

Well, when I started this post yesterday at lunch time I was heating up my Red Beans & Rice and sausage (I’ve been on a Creole kick for the last 2-4 months now, working at perfecting my Gumbo, Red Beans & Rice, and Jambalaya recipes) I thought it would be a great time to kick out another ‘Quick & Dirty’ blog post, but it required just a little more time than I expected.

A couple of weeks ago at the SPAWAR KM Offsite in New Orleans, we were discussing how to expand our (internal) customer base and one of my co-workers suggested the idea of developing an elevator pitch for KM, something that we could relate in a minute or so to interested parties.(I especially like the idea of KM-themed lanyards and badge holder stickers that said stuff like "WWKMD" or, closer to my personality "WTFIKM: Ask me?", lol.)

An elevator pitch, for the unenlightened, is a quick, high-level introduction to an idea, service or product that’s meant to be delivered in the length of time an elevator ride takes, usually thirty seconds or roughly 150 words – although that seems like an awfully short ride to me, but I guess it depends on how big the building is, how many evil button pushers are in your lift, and how funky-smelling the other passengers are (funky-smelling passengers = eternal elevator ride).

This method of selling/marketing ideas has become so mainstream these days (it’s the inspiration for Twitter…my favorite tool for brain farting across the net) that there are even classes offered on developing and delivering elevator pitches!

Anywho, I was showering yesterday morning and thinking about another potential blog post when it occurred to me how beneficial it would be for KM folks to have their own elevator pitch. Probably one of the coolest things about knowledge management is that the name itself is a natural conversation starter. When you say you’re a Knowledge Manager or that you work in knowledge management people seem to automatically respond by asking “what’s that?” Even if they’ve heard of KM, or worse still, if they have a negative perception of KM (usually linked to their dislike of the term “knowledge management” and the belief that knowledge can’t actually be managed) they are still interested in engaging in a discussion, at least until you prove that you’re a conversation killer or a jamoke!

From a sales/marketing perspective, you can’t ask for more than that! Why? Because it means you have an opportunity to present your expertise, your service – your value – in a way that could very well open doors. In our janky, depressed economy dominated by organizations that have yet to truly and fully appreciate how knowledge-dependent they are, non-revenue generating KM initiatives are often among the first to get thrown under the bus so the ability to sell the value of your KM initiative or your personal KM skill-set to your future ex-employer is critical for career success.

On this note, I will say that one of the things I notice a lot (and non-KM folks have also pointed this out to me) is how ill-prepared too many KM professionals are when asked to describe KM and its benefits. Even when an answer is attempted, the response often flies right over the heads of the listener(s) (mine too, and this is what I do for a living!!). Having spent roughly six years during school and several years more in the workforce refining my explanation of KM to professors, classmates, co-workers and even hiring managers (don’t get it twisted, even people responsible for managing KM initiatives may not fully understand all that KM involves) I figure I’m as qualified as anyone to take a stab at scripting an elevator pitch...well, an elevator conversation at the very least.

Keep in mind, however, that this is how I would conduct my elevator conversation based on the type of KM work that I do. Every KM professional will want to tweak this to their particular KM activity or area of expertise. Robert Pagliarini of lists 6 questions every elevator pitch must answer. And Eileen Pincus offers some salient points on crafting the perfect pitch in her 2007 BusinessWeek article on the subject. It’s doubtful that I cover all of this advice in my dialogue, but since the goal is to get a second, more in-depth meeting, this seems to work for me. Of course, it goes without saying that you should refrain from having any of this sound scripted or ‘canned’.

I’ll skip the part of the conversation that leads up to me disclosing what I do for a living – how you get there is an entirely new post and besides, I’m one of those people who just happens to ‘find’ himself in these kinds of conversations all the time without even trying! So, without further ado…Christian’s KM Elevator Speech!

Non-funky elevator person (‘cause we ain’t talking if they
smell funky)
: What kind of work do you do?

Me: I work in knowledge management (usually, I’d enquire about their work as well, but let’s not and say I did).

Non-funky elevator person: Knowledge management? What’s that? Do you use mind control on people? Hahahaha. (The joke is to cover their discomfort about not knowing what you’re talking about…this happens a lot when you’re dealing with people in positions of authority).

Me: I wish…that would make my job easier, hahahaha. (A counter-joke is my way of putting them at ease for their ignorance of KM) Actually, I help organizations create strategies to improve how they share information.

Non-funky elevator person: (Intrigued and at ease, because I have “a way” about me, lol, and because I sound like I might say something useful or valuable). So, what…do you work with computers managing databases or run some sort of data warehouse?

Me: (Cool as a cucumber) Well, sometimes that’s part of what I do – it really depends on the organization. The scope of knowledge management covers a range of activities from auditing how an organization shares information to managing content in a knowledge base.

Non-funky elevator person: (Impassive) But you’re not really managing knowledge, that’s more information management.

Me: Not quite. KM is a pretty multi-disciplinary field that combines aspects of information management and content management with organizational development and human resource development and a lot of other fields to create something very different.

Non-funky elevator person: (Engaged, but looking to challenge/debunk my explanation of KM) But how do you manage someone’s “knowledge”? It doesn’t seem possible. I’m sure you can manage processes and the kind of information people have access to, but managing what they know?

Me: (Keeping my cool and taking on a more authoritarian tone – it’s important to be the expert in these situations) You know, a lot of people tend to get stuck on the phrase “knowledge management” as sounding a bit tricksy (yes, I said tricksy), but I think it’s important not to lose sight of what KM, ultimately, brings to the table; or, at least what it should bring if you’re working with the right strategy.

Non-funky elevator person: (Listening…but ready to pounce on whatever sounds flawed or sketchy) And what’s that?

Me: (Still the expert) The big three? First, KM brings awareness and insight into what an organization “knows”. Too many organizations struggle with the simple fact that they just don’t “know” what they “know”. Even with a variety of tools and applications on-hand for sharing and storing information, organizing and centralizing content is a constant challenge. “Knowing” is the first step in the process of managing all of your knowledge and information for easy access and dissemination;

Second, KM brings a process for sharing and retaining critical knowledge and information. More importantly, if implemented well, that process can evolve into a cultural norm of knowledge sharing and retention. Perhaps one of the most common KM problems is the loss of critical knowledge that walks out the front door when employees are lost through downsizing, retirement, terminations, or employees leaving for new job opportunities. Even when a position is re-staffed or responsibilities re-tasked, how do you recover the lost knowledge? The answer to that question is KM. And, when properly supported and integrated into the organizational culture, KM makes any loss of knowledge negligible.

Third, KM acts as a “war chest” to help organizations weather economic ncertainty and ride out market changes. Perhaps the single-most powerful financial benefit of KM is its ability to provide a convenient, organized, well-maintained, up-to-date proprietary source of knowledge and information just waiting to be exploited and leveraged across an organization. Ideas on new revenue streams, new business relationships, ways to increase or solidify existing relationships – all just a few keystrokes away.

Non-funky elevator person: (Impressed, but cautious) Well, that certainly sounds impressive, but why knowledge mnagement? It seems to me there are several departments already in place that could be tasked to address these challenges, why create another?

Me: (Confidently) You know, one of the things that I love to share with people is that every organization – documented or not, and usually, it’s not – has a KM strategy. When an organization makes the decision that they need KM or something like it, what they’re really saying is, “what we’re currently doing isn’t working for us”. So, first off, I’d ask you to think about the things I said before about what KM brings to the table and ask yourself how your organization is doing in those areas. And, if you do feel that there’s room for improvement, why wouldn’t you bring someone on-board specifically skilled in KM to assist in that effort? (Smugly) Would you see a podiatrist to talk about a rash or a dermatologist? I mean, they’re both Doctors.

Non-funky elevator person: (Humored) True, but I’m also thinking about the cost involved and the potential disruption to the workplace. I can’t imagine folks are going to just stop working and participate in KM.

Me: (Still confident because we’re still talking and I’m getting ready to unload some knowledge – watch out!) I like to think that the cost of KM is inherent in all of an organization’s on-going activity, identifying specific activities as KM is merely exposing a hidden cost. Additionally, you have to weigh the opportunity cost of doing nothing to the cost of bleeding knowledge along with all of the costs associated with “re-building the wheel” so to speak, which is what you’re doing each time you have to re-staff a position and bring that person up-to-speed. As far as getting people actively participating in KM activities you'd be surprised how many of them are in need of knowledge management and may have already repeatedly asked for a solution without specifcally calling it KM.

Non-funky elevator person: (Surprisingly impressed) That’s an interesting way of looking at things. So do you get started with KM?

Me: (Pulling out a business card) I’d start
with giving me a call, hahahahaha. We can set up a time to discuss setting up a KM audit for your organization and go from there.
Okay, so I know my dialogue is a bit hokey – I tried to make it less so, but each conversation is so different that you really just need to be able to hit the major points and hope for the best. This, of course, is how things would flow ideally, but it’s best to be prepared not only for different reactions, but for different levels of familiarity with KM, and, obviously, different questions about KM. Personally, I try to keep the dialogue open and make myself available to answer questions, but I’m also trying to convert this conversation into a opportunity; I want this conversation to develop into a business relationship, not just an FAQ session.

Anyone else have insight they’d like to share?

November 17, 2008

Out of The Box - Week Ending 11/14

It's just after 2am and I've finished catching up on the latest episode of One Life To Live which has done a wonderful job (with the Todd/Marty/Tess storylines) of providing me with all the drama one could ask for...I believe that if I get all of my drama from daytime TV then that frees my real life up for all of the important stuff. Anywho, it's past time I posted an interesting OOTB list and, fortunately, there's been some interesting articles to read.

Quick & Dirty: Thoughts on a KM Curriculum

I know, I know, I’m a total flogger! I’ve seen my subscription numbers plummet and I’ve felt the guilt, but in my defense I’ve been craaaaazy busy with my new job…not busy enough to miss a single episode of Gossip Girl (what, are you kidding?), but that’s just one hour out of my otherwise hectic week.

I’ve been working (slowly) on a new full-length blog, but I’ve started to realize that perhaps I should take a stab at kicking out more "quick and dirty" posts to address many of the KM thoughts I’ve been reflecting upon lately but don’t (or can’t) seem to find the time to blog about at length. Between these and my OOTB posts (which should be easier to write now that the election is over) I should keep my readers and fellow KM-ers happy and reflective :-)

My current position has raised a lot of questions for me about managing knowledge in a large bureaucracy, most of them focusing on the impact of politics (within the KM function) and how it impacts the pursuit and implementation of KM (clearly not well) and also, how one might exploit conflict and office politics to achieve something positive (essentially turning negative behavior into something useful and constructive). Anyway, since I’ve got a(n imaginary) timer ticking down at my desk and in keeping with the concept of a "quick and dirty" blog post, I won't take time to dig through my daily journals to generate a list of those questions, rather I’ll blog about a question that a co-worker just asked about an hour ago: What did I study when I first began my foray into KM that helped me to learn and understand the field?

I’ve already envisioned, at some point down the road, teaching KM in both corporate and academic environments and helping to compile compile a KM resource list. Although, to be honest, I’ve only made notes, here and there, regarding what would appear on such a list. I do happen to have 80% of the articles I read on KM during college and grad school and occasionally I’ll thumb through them and shock myself with how outdated (and maybe a little ridiculous) they are in the present. Sometimes I surprise myself with an article that is still timely, I’ll have to look through them again and maybe blog a post about how KM (through the literature) has changed..or not, over the years.

Anywho, to the task at hand, I doubt I’ll be able to come up with anything definitive in the next 5-10 minutes, however I’ll give it a go and I invite others to offer suggestions about what they think should be added.

The KM Curriculum
Although I have an undergraduate degree in Urban Policy Studies and the majority of my time was spent in Economics and policy-related courses (and nearly every French course I was able to take), a good chunk of my courses were in the areas of Organizational Behavior (OB) and Organizational Development (OD), as well as coursework in Business Analysis and Strategy. In my humble opinion, these areas are seminal to working in KM. After all, KM is all about helping organizations to understand how they operate and to recommend (and implement, if that's your role or objective) strategies for improving areas of need. Even though these recommendations may involve non-traditional solutions, courses in these areas help to provide valuable insight into how many organizations operate and “think”.

If you’re wanting to learn how the people in organizations “think” then definitely you’ll want coursework in Psychology and Sociology, which was a requirement for me and, I think, most undergraduate students. I also recommend courses in Adult Education and Human Development. As I’ve blogged before, the number one reason I decided to pursue graduate study in Adult Education is because I felt that in order to understand how to implement and facilitate change, I needed to understand how people learn and adapt to change. I’m not knocking B-School ( this post) but I took enough Business courses to know that the answers aren’t there. If they were, we wouldn’t see the same problems (particularly with change management) cropping up time after time. Successful businesses (and business practices) aren’t merely adaptable they look outside of traditional business avenues for solutions and inspiration.

One field that I never properly studied in school (because I was already kinda good at it and my mother wisely suggested I explore new and unfamiliar territory) is Marketing. Over the last few years the concept of KM Branding (an article on which I promise I will write and shop around and eventually post to this blog before the end of the year) has really helped me to understand the intersection of marketing and education and its criticality in successfully implementing change - period, least of all KM.

Statistics and Program Evaluation. Math was never my strongest subject in school and processing data isn’t my idea of big sexy fun, but the 30+ hours of statistics, analysis and evaluation (including survey design) courses I was required to take between undergrad and grad school has been invaluable to me, particularly when you’re dealing with organizations that only seem to understand "bottom-line" business communications. It’s always a challenge learning how to translate KM goals and efforts into these types of communications, but if you learn one thing about implementing organizational change it’s that having data to back up your recommendations is essential and gives you unparalleled credibility…the rest is all in how you spin that data (see Marketing above).

One course that I’d wished I’d taken is Technical Writing. I pick up skills like it’s nobody’s business, but having this particular skill-set from the beginning would have been much appreciated. Again, it goes back to being able to translate ideas into requirements and documentation that can be universally digested. One resource that I didn’t discover until my last semester at GA State (mostly because its availability was only disclosed to the B-School students, even though all students had access) was the university’s suite (LMS) of online courses for learning various applications (e.g. MSOffice, Illustrator, etc) and programming languages (e.g., SQL, PHP, HTML, etc.). Not that I would have recognized the true value of this resource at the time, but, in hindsight, as a KM Strategist (and not a KM Architect) I would have been better prepared for some of the technical demands of the field. Fortunately, there’s some benefit in having a Sr. Systems Analyst/Engineer for a father (who maintained one of the most high tech households on the block). Just one of the reasons why I pick up new skills and new tech so easily.

All right my time is up and I’ve got to back on the professional grind. There’s definitely more that I could add to the above, but I’d love to hear what additions others would make!