Book Review: The Network is Your Customer – 5 Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age

Book Review: The Network is Your Customer – 5 Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age by David L. Rogers (@David_Rogers )

When I first picked up this book by David Rogers, (a professor at Columbia Business School), I thought it was yet another introduction to social communication technologies for wary corporate managers. Boy, was I wrong!

What’s different…

  • Rather than organizing the book around the use of specific social communication tools or an examination of the general theory of disruptive social technologies, Rogers builds his book around the behaviors and needs of customer networks. The title is quite apt.
  • The writing is accessible and the book is very well organized and designed to be practical. The first two chapters explain the dynamics of customer networks and social communication technologies. Each of the 5 behaviors he identifies are examined in their own chapters and multiple strategies are presented. Next, Rogers dedicates a chapter to a specific planning and implementation process that will help businesses apply these ideas to their specific situations. He then asks the questions, “What will the organization of the future look like?”and “How do we create an organization that is not just customer-focused, but customer-network focused?” Finally, he systematically reviews each of the strategies in the book, by asking a series of questions in a ‘Self-Assessment Quiz’. Inquiry is a powerful technique for self-reflection, personalizing the ideas presented here.
  • There are well over 100 case studies spread throughout the book. Companies are listed in an Appendix, sorted by industry. Each case study specifically illustrates the strategy Rogers is describing. This is an effective approach that makes it very easy to ‘try on’ techniques with your organization. As I was reading the book I found myself taking these case studies and translating them for my clients.

The Big Idea

Rogers suggests 5 Strategies that any business can use to create new value by harnessing the power of customer networks:

  1. ACCESS – be faster, easier, everywhere, and always on
  2. ENGAGE – become a trusted source of great content
  3. CUSTOMIZE – make everything you offer adaptable to your customer’s needs
  4. CONNECT – become part of your customer’s conversations
  5. COLLABORATE – involve your customers at every stage of your enterprise.

There is a lot here; much more than an explanation of disruptive technology. Rogers provides a road map, demonstrating techniques that will tap the power of customer networks, regardless of your industry or the size of your company. Recommended!

Quote Of The Day: from Clay Shirky’s ‘Cognitive Surplus’

“The dramatically reduced cost of public address, and the dramatically increased size of the population wired together, means that we can now turn massive aggregations of small contributions into things of lasting value.” -Clay Shirky, “Cognitive Surplus” p. 161

Web 2.0 and The Thank You Economy

I had the opportunity to hear Gary Vaynerchuk yesterday, at a Drucker Business Forum event.

Vaynerchuck is a social media expert, entrepreneur, and bestselling author of Crush It! – Why Now Is The Time To Cash In On Your Passion, and The Thank You Economy. He is a regular speaker at events such as the TED conference and SXSW and consults on social media with companies like Johnson & Johnson, Disney, Pepsi, and Google.

He is best known for building a huge online wine business with his irreverent WineLibraryTV video blog and extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies. Gary is in the top 100 of people followed on Twitter. He is funny, intense, competitive, and has a ridiculous work ethic.

In The Thank You Economy he passionately advocates for the humanization of business by strengthening authentic relationships with customers using Web 2.0 tools and old-fashioned generosity and consideration.

Building strong relationships with customers is a long-term play. Established businesses, particularly public companies, resist investing in this kind of culture shift because they are focused on short-term profits and have difficulty computing the ROI on  Web 2.0 engagement.

Vaynerchuk insists that this is the future of business and if companies don’t start caring about their customers and employees they will not survive.

As passionate as this guy is about people, his focus is on making money. He believes that building generous and sincere long-term relationships is the key to success, not because he is Mother Teresa, but because he is driven to compete and create wealth. Many people dabble in social media, but they are not really sure what they are doing or why. After some experimentation they give up. Without a clear business model and a solid understanding of your potential market, tools like Twitter seem scattered and decentralized compared to old-school top down marketing channels like television, print media and radio.

People have a tendency to use social media as a ‘push’ PR broadcast channel, which it is not. I see this all the time with musicians advertising gigs and their latest accomplishments on Twitter and Facebook. This amounts to random electronic direct mail. When I see this kind of communication I immediately tune out.

Twitter and related tools are like a giant cocktail party. This is a medium for listening and conversation. How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t get Twitter. Why do I care what so and so had for breakfast?” People are discussing their passions online. Facebook, Twitter, and mobile phones have become the new barber shop. Listen and learn. We are instinctively afraid to engage with strangers, but stepping into that conversation opens a new door.

The bottom line for business is this: Customers are talking about you every day, whether you like it or not, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You have the opportunity to join that conversation and build genuine, caring relationships. Vaynerchuk believes that unless businesses do just that they will be run over by the empowered consumer and the competition. I think he is probably right..

    C-SCAPE: Curation, Consumers, Convergence, Content

    “”How do you get people who can talk about anything to talk about you? The answer is to offer them something new and interesting to say – to chat about, blog about, tweet about, and spread the word about in all media, new and old and in between.”
    – Larry Kramer, C-SCAPE

    Veteran media executive Larry Kramer’s book on the influence of social media and the Internet postulates that today, all businesses are in the media business. He identifies four key trends; the convergence of consumers and media producers, the increasing power of consumers, the need for trusted curators, and the importance of content. These ideas have been explored in depth in many other books (such as the Groundswell series) but I find his writing concise and actionable. His enthusiasm is contagious and many of these ideas are directly applicable by musicians reinventing themselves in this massively disrupted industry.

    Recommended reading…

    Check back often to catch the ongoing updates on my favorite books…
    Skill-Building and Performance
    Outliers – The Story of Success
    Malcolm Gladwell – New York: Little Brown, and Company, 2008
    Malcolm Gladwell explodes the myth that excellence is the result of some mysterious, innate talent. By examining research and the lives of a variety of “outliers’ he explores the logic of extraordinary success, delving into the impact of ‘deep practice’ (10,000 hours…), family, and birthplace.
    The Talent Code – Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown. Here’s How
    Daniel Coyle – New York: Bantam Books, 2009
    Weaving together real world examples with brain science and behavioral research, Daniel Coyle breaks the process of expert skill-building into three main pieces: deep practice, coaching, and motivation.
    Talent Is Overrated – What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
    Geoff Colvin – New York: Portfolio, 2008
    Geoff Colvin explores ‘deliberate practice’ in individual and group contexts. This book covers much of the same ground as The Talent Code with the inclusion of a section describing organizational applications.
    The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working – The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance
    Tony Schwartz – New York: Free Press, 2010
    Tony Schwartz covers a wide range of topics in this actionable book focused on creating efficiency in the workplace. His premise is that people need four types of energy to perform at their best; physical (sustainability), emotional (security), mental (self-expression), and spiritual (significance). He provides practical steps and illustrations for each section. For example; we work best in 45 to 90 minute, highly focused sprints intermixed with periods of renewal.
    Practicing, The Psychology of Creation, and Overcoming Creative Blocks
    The War of Art – Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
    Steven Pressfield – New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2002
    This classic book (by the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) should be read by everyone. We are all artists and have a gift to give the world. Steven Pressfield inspires in this funny, straight-from-the-hip, kick in the pants, identifying the roadblocks that keep our potential under wraps and prescribing strategies that take no prisoners. 
    Free Play – Improvisation in Life and Art
    Stephen Nachmanovitch – New York: Putnam, 1990
    This is one of the best books I have ever read on the essence of improvisation and the creative process.
    Effortless Mastery – Liberating the Master Musician Within
    Kenny Werner – New Albany: Jamey Abersold Jazz, Inc., 1996
    Jazz piano virtuoso Kenny Werner shares his approach to practicing, getting out of the music’s way, and developing a state of relaxed focus.
    The Art of Practicing – A Guide to Making Music From the Heart
    Madeline Bruser – New York: Bell Tower, 1997
    This book describes both a physical and spiritual approach to practicing a musical instrument. While most of her instructions are for pianists, the principles can be applied to any instrument.
    Practicing – A Musician’s Return to Music
    Glenn Kurtz – New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007
    Classical guitarist Glenn Kurtz describes his personal journey as a music student who eventually drifts away from his passion only to return years later. The book is largely a memoir but contains many vivid descriptions of the process of practicing.
    The Pat Metheny Interviews – The Inner Workings of His Creativity Revealed
    Richard Niles – New York: Hal Leonard, 2009
    With the unique perspective of a fellow guitarist and long-time friend, Richard Niles captures the essence of Pat Metheny’s creative evolution, process, and work ethic in a collection of conversations culled from a three-part BBC radio series.

    Can Positive Deviance identify successful outliers in the music industry?

    Positive Deviance (PD) is an approach to problem-solving that has proven to be highly effective at facilitating systemic social change in situations that appear hopeless or intractable. The basic idea is simple: focus on the successful exceptions, not the failing norm. In their fascinating book, The Power of Positive Deviance – How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems authors Jerry Sternin. Monique Sternin, and Richard Pascale, present case studies describing applications of PD including; arresting the epidemic of childhood malnutrition in Vietnam, reducing the practice of female circumcision in Egypt, and decreasing infection rates in US hospitals.

    “The basic premise is this: (1) Solutions to seemingly intractable problems already exist, (2) they have been discovered by members of the community itself, and (3) these innovators (positive deviants) have succeeded even though they share the same barriers and constraints as others.” The Power of Positive Deviance, Harvard Business Press, Boston MA 2010 

    PD is a ‘bottom up’ approach driven by the community itself. Facilitators do not act as experts but ask the questions that will help the community identify its own successful outliers. Once the community has discovered how its own members are able to succeed against all odds, they can scale these solutions and integrate them into their culture.

    While the music industry is much too eclectic and broad to apply this approach unilaterally, it occurs to me that a PD perspective can be helpful in identifying successful trends. Clearly, the DIY dream will not replace the traditional record industry, but nonetheless, individual success stories can scale across specific industry segments. Professional musicians continually adapt their career models to accommodate disruptive changes in technology and business.

    What’s working for you?

    Using the "IKEA Effect" to connect with your audience

    In his new book, The Upside of Irrationality – The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, behavioral economist Dan Ariely describes the psychological effects of ownership and creation, what he calls “The IKEA Effect”. In a nutshell, we tend to overvalue what we create or work on. This phenomenon is well documented and anyone who has put together IKEA furniture or lovingly shown off pictures of their kids understands this immediately.

    Marketers have exploited this human trait for years. A classic example cited in the book: the instant baking mix products introduced in the 1940s. Initially these all-in-one mixes did not catch the interest of housewives, but when the formula was changed to require adding eggs and oil the market took off.

    This effect partially explains the popularity of blogging and user-generated-content on the Internet. Musicians have built strong connections with their fans by encouraging them to contribute, through remixes, blog comments, videos, graphic design contests, etc.

    As musicians, do we overvalue our creations? Of course. Music is an extension of who we are and what we stand for. It will always have a unique flavor to its author.

    All artists need to put in the hours every day; creating the conditions necessary to welcome The Muse, irrespective of the marketplace. See Steven Pressfield’s classic, the War of Art for the definitive word on this subject. When we change hats to take care of business we must be very clear that making something for others to use is different from making something for yourself alone. Not such a problem when getting paid to write music for a commercial, but a little more challenging when trying to figure out what to do with original work.

    Good, objective feedback from trusted collaborators and partners is essential. “Trust” is the key word here. The most meaningful insights come from people who understand business but also truly get your vision and your values.

    If we cannot distinguish the two processes we run the risk of compromising our work in an attempt to be more “commercial” or repeat past successes, or we simply give up on taking care of the business side of our careers.

    Why Do You Do It? – Pt. 2

    Most record labels were started by people who loved a particular type of music and wanted to share their passion. They liked to make money, but most were driven by a real love for music. Labels had unique identities – Atlantic, Delmark, Blue Note, Reprise, Prestige, Columbia, Nonesuch, Verve, Folkways, Deutsche Grammophon… As I discovered music I felt a clear loyalty to particular labels that has been absent for decades.

    As the record business grew the focus shifted to what they did and how they did it – throwing money at radio, creating mega-stars, selling CDs, music video, etc. By the dawn of the Internet age the music business had been replaced by the CD-selling business. Lacking consensus and visionary leadership the industry completely missed the huge opportunity presented by technology companies like Liquid Audio and Napster. Steve Jobs stepped in to pick up the pieces which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. Apple is all about Why and they understand how music works in people’s lives. So what can we learn and what happens next?

    Why first, execution 2nd…

    The music aggregators of the future may not look like old-school record labels, but I don’t think success will be based on a particular distribution methodology. The opportunity is for smart business people and artists to get back to the Why of music and build from there. Smart execution is key to creating a profitable business and distinguishing yourself in today’s flattened, over-supplied, music world is a formidable challenge. But first you need to know what you stand for and why you are doing what you do. If that starts to get fuzzy, your business will fade into the noise with everybody else.

    Why Do You Do It? – Pt. 1

    Reading Simon Sinek’s new book, Start with Why I was struck by his statement that,  “…people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Sinek describes a simple formula he calls the Golden Circle. The center ring is WHY, the middle circle, HOW, and the outer circle, WHAT. Most businesses he says, talk about WHAT and HOW, but real leaders start with WHY and work outward. WHY is what creates loyalty whether in business, politics, or the arts. I ask myself why I still listen to certain artists and particular pieces of music after decades. It’s not great technique or a killer sound that brings me back, it’s why they did what they did.

    Someone told me a story about Ry Cooder many years ago. I don’t know if this is true, but supposedly Ry showed up at a recording studio for a session, to discover that his favorite recording console had been “upgraded” to the latest and greatest. The owner enthusiastically extolled the virtues of his new board but Ry just shook his head, said, “We won’t be making any music today….” and walked out the door. There’s a guy who know why he’s doing what he does.

    When I asked LA indie band, Killola what makes them engaging to fans they said, “We tend to reveal ourselves in more realistic light, and show people that we’re just regular folks who just happen to have this outlet for making music in a band.  I think that lends to the accessibility.” Sounds like WHY to me.

    37signals is a company that is all about WHY. They built Basecamp because it was the product they wanted to use. This flies in the face of conventional Product Management thinking, yet their approach has built a very profitable, devoted, user community.

    Sinek talks extensively about Apple and Southwest Airlines. I recently booked air travel to a city that Southwest does not reach with direct flights. When I realized this I very, very, reluctantly switched airlines. Why this loyalty? Air travel is not a big deal for me one way or the other, but something about my experience with Southwest over the years has made them my default choice. WHY explains it.

    Last month, Mark Small wrote a great article in Berklee Today speaking with a variety of Berklee alums about why they make music. When I hear great musicians it is food for my soul largely because there is absolutely no question at all why they are doing what they do. I talk about business models, marketing and all the rest, but let us not forget WHY. If music inspires and deeply moves us, that is the true compass we need to follow. The HOW and the WHAT will fall into line…