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Premise: The key to success is communicating to the reader, not yourself.
English is my third language, so I am being quite bold to presume I can provide any advice on how to deliver material in that fine language. Still, I have repeatedly succeeded in getting the desired results using a minimal amount of words, be it an email message or a social network post, a survey or a presentation, a business plan or a corporate strategic action plan where it is imperative that everyone clearly understands the objectives and is willing to participate.
Three sentences is really all it takes to find whether a target is willing to engage, be it on a personal level or professional. Consider the following when you are composing an important email message:
- Sentence 1: Opening statement – If you know the recipient, start of a personal note, if you don’t, find the common denominator.
- Sentence 2: Disclose the reason why you are contacting the recipient and outline potentially mutual benefits.
- Sentence 3: Suggest a follow-up that invites the recipient to reject the proposal without that hurting your relationship.
This may sound a bit cold and impersonal, but the fact is that lengthy messages are unlikely to be read. Usually they are left to be read later and eventually end up unread. When writing messages, matters tend to go wrong between sentences 2 and 3 as the sender begins to prove the concept in order to reduce the risk of rejection. Such messages tend to look like this:
- Sentence 1: Opening statement.
- Sentence 2: Beating around the bush a bit.
- Sentence 3: Beating some more around the bush.
- Sentence 4: The core issue; why you are contacting the recipient in the first place.
- Sentence 5: Evidence why the issue should be of interest to the recipient.
- Sentence 6: Further evidence why the issue should be of interest to the recipient.
- Sentence 7: Even further evidence why the issue should be of interest to the recipient.
- Sentence 8: Go personal leaving the recipient no means to reject the proposal without that hurting your relationship.
The first message can be read in seconds; the other takes a minute or more. The damage done using the latter approach is threefold:
- It demonstrates lack of confidence (fear of rejection).
- It demonstrates lack of clarity (fear clouds the ability to think).
- It puts a wedge between you and the recipient (fear is weakness and causes recipient discomfort or irritation).
Business schools, especially in marketing, emphasize the use of normal language when communicating as most people have only basic vocabulary. That does not apply when writing to executives, Board members, investors and other professionals. People at that level are quite sophisticated and can take offense if an issue they understand quite well is explained to them. If they do not understand the issue, they will find out about it privately or simply ask for a clarification.
Snorri H. Gudmundsson, CEO, GC Venture Consulting
When the credit system collapsed in 2008, I was asked which economy I thought would recover first: the EU or the US. My answer: “The US because it is driven by people that want to succeed while Europeans prefer to be taken care of.” This week, I attended a market research and technology conference in Philadelphia, The Insight Innovation Exchange, where this observation was not only proven but greatly amplified. I used to live in Boston where I worked in the market research field and considered myself fairly up to date as to what was at the forefront of market research technology and insight generation. Little did I know what this conference held in store.
The first day, I was exposed to presentations that made me realize that I was not a little bit behind – I needed a landspeeder in order to catch up! The first presentation was ‘Fizzy Visuals: 12 Years Evolution of Reporting Insights with Coca-Cola‘ given by ace presenter Patricio Pagani of Infotools. He clearly demonstrated how large customers can be brought straight into the development phase that results in solutions and services that are tailored to customer needs. Infotools has not only done so for Coca-Cola; they also list Microsoft, Ford, Audi, BMW, Mazda and Viacom as their clients which proves that their method works wonderfully. Listening to Patricio was a great experience and of tremendous value to entrepreneurs and solutions providers of practically any size, type and geographic location.
Next up was a presentation by Nick McCracken, Product Innovation Research Manager at Ford, titled ‘Creating a Truly Global Marketing Research Function‘. He began by illustrating what the condition of Ford was once the crash hit and car sales plummeted. For many companies, such a sudden decline in sales means downsizing upon downsizing until nothing is left and the company evaporates into thin air. Nick, however, showed how Ford managed to regain market trust and loyalty through groundbreaking market research techniques and attention to customer expectations, wants and needs, and succeeded in bringing sales back to pre-crash levels. One example that really hit home was the observation that we usually have our hands full when attempting to open the trunks of our cars. How about this concept?
There is much more going on at Ford that can be directly traced back to effective market and consumer research and this conference really brought it all out. If other conferences are hits, the IIeX is a ‘Best of‘ album. Gasping for air, I both dreaded and looked forward to what was to follow. I also realized that the US is not years ahead of Europe; it is decades as these selected presentation titles show:
- The Power of “Wow”: Emotional Valence in Social Media (David Johnson, CEO, Decooda)
- It’s Not The Size Of The Data, But What You Can Do With It (Zachary Nippert, Chief Marketing Officer, MotiveQuest)
- Technology Frontiers: Text, Sentiment, and Sense (Seth Grimes, Principal Consultant, Alta Plana Corporation)
- It’s Not Mobile Research, It’s Research In a Mobile World (Bob Yazbeck, Vice President, Digital Methods, Gongos Research)
- Listen In: How to Gain Insights from Conversations (Frank Cotignola, CIM, Global Analytics and Digital Insights, Mondelez International)
This box of confectionaries was of course followed by a main course: ‘Expert Panel: Big Data or Big Brother? Ethics & Regulations in a Data-Rich World‘ featuring:
- Tom H. C. Anderson, Text Analytics Champion, Anderson Analytics/OdinText
- Peter Milla, Principal Consultant, Peter Milla Consulting/CASRO
- Steve Cohen, Co-Founder, In4mation Insights
- Jason Raguso, Leader, O2 Integrated (a Gongos enterprise)
- Neil Seeman, CEO/Senior Resident, The Riwi Corporation/Massey College, University of Toronto
- Brian Cain, Vice President, Global Market Research & Analytics, Merck & Co., Inc.
- Phil Davis, CEO, Rapleaf
- Gina Sverdlov, Consumer Insights Analyst, Forrester Research
This was only the first half of day one; there were two more days of this! The entire schedule is available here so you can see what you missed if you were elsewhere occupied. This is only beginning, however, so keep an eye on the IIeX; it will only get better. Now, attempting to summarize this great event in a blog is like attempting to describe the picture below using a typewriter (if unsure what a typewriter is, click here):
Each day ended in a networking event hosted by various firms involved with the IIeX conference. These events were held at bars or restaurants and enabled a free-flowing dialogue between solutions and service providers, potential customers (usually in the Fortune 500 category), VCs, consultants, and visionaries like Ari Popper, who gave an incredible lecture on how science fiction can project the future and then sent us through an exercise that forced us to really consider what the future may hold in store for us. Most of us have gone through such exercises before, but few have completed them with Fortune 500 managers on their team. The World Bank also had a presence there which indicates that market research and related technology is taken quite seriously at the highest levels and for good reason; the better we can project the future, the better our growth strategies will be (and I personally believe it will culminate in ‘individual choice‘ as opposed to ‘economic means‘).
So, to spiral back to where I started, the IIeX conference is a prime example why the US will, in my opinion, maintain its leadership position as far as innovation and market drive are concerned, at least in the foreseeable future. Where else in the world can a blender like the IIeX be established that allows businesses to form partnerships, seek mentors and advice, forge strategic alliances, meet privately with major corporations, interact with VCs, give presentations to a highly receptive audience, and become a part of something much larger? This is a new model that creates energy of a type I have never experienced before. It was as if the air itself was electrified and when conference came to its conclusion, I not only felt up to date; I felt as if I had gained a vision of what is to come over the next 3 years (I want to say 5 but that is an eternity given current pace of things). To finish, this entire concept is cooked up by a handful of visionaries that have both the ability to envision it and to execute it to perfection!
It is the US that will propel the world forward through futuristic thinking and innovation while Europe hesitates to take risks and overthinks everything. Life is about taking risks for safety leads straight to stagnancy (as Kyle Nel, International and Multicultural Research, Lowe’s Home Improvement, pointed out during our panel titled ‘Data Philanthropy: Channeling Information To Drive Public Sector Innovation‘. That is where I fear Europe is heading unless the Horizon 2020 EUR 80 billion EC fund is deployed with actual monetization strategies and growth targets as leading concerns. Play is safe and those billions will be wasted. Bring in that market savvy and business drive from the US as part of the free trade agreement between the two regions, and Europe may find itself with more business intelligence firms than just SAP. Europe has slept for too long; it is time to wake up.
Free trade talks between the EU and the US is a game changer likely to have major impact on ICT. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the two economic superpowers was initiated 13 February 2013 and is currently in negotiations. Once an agreement is reached – and there is little doubt this will happen – demand for SaaS solutions, platforms, trading solutions and BI systems capable of treating both economic regions as a single entity as far as reporting and output is concerned is expected to increase dramatically. The opportunity is there, but capitalizing on it requires overcoming weaknesses present at both sides that are mostly of cultural nature.
Technologically, there is little difference between EU and US ICTs. How they approach the issue of developing solutions, however, is almost inverse. EU ICTs tend to begin on the architecture with focus on delivering robust solutions that have great structural integrity. US ICTs tend to look first at market needs and what can be sold before assembling a solution (often using bits and pieces from other sources) that will capture market share quickly. It can be argued that the reason why the EU has fewer internationally recognized software brands than the US is the availability of public funds through EC programs such as the Seventh Framework Programme (FP 7) (and soon Horizon 2020) that do not require ICTs to project any return on the investment (ROI). In the US, the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides loans that need to be repaid and the newly established Accelerating Market-Driven Partnerships (AMP) initiative is more of a VC-type funding mechanism that outright grants. In short, EU ICTs are not expected to generate any ROI while US ICTs are forced to. Which one is more likely to develop a highly marketable product?
In light of the free trade agreement, EU ICTs are in danger of being overrun by US market-driven solutions. There is, however, a weakness in the US structure that the EU can and should explore and it ties directly to the funding mechanisms of the US. In return for capital, US ICTs must either give away part of their businesses to investors or use it as collateral in order to secure a loan. For small firms, this can become growth inhibiting. So, as the EU funding mechanism keeps ICT ownership intact, US firms should consider relocating all or part of their business to the EU to become eligible for the type of capital injections provided. By attracting US firms (Malta’s income tax incentive is noteworthy), the EU will gain considerable knowledge in how to deliver cost effective solutions aimed toward the mass markets; an area where there is a lot of room for improvement as EU customer service often leaves much to be desired. In return, US firms become exposed to challenges that are far beyond what they encounter in the home market – EU’s languages and currencies – which helps them develop superior solutions that will work anywhere.
For ICT investors, the scenario offers considerable opportunities. For US investors, investing in EU ICTs that can be merged or partnered with US ICTs already in the portfolio is strategically sound. The inverse situation applies to EU investors. In order to capitalize on the emerging opportunity, ICTs from both sides of the Atlantic will be brought closer together; it will not be enough to focus on the home market. There are other benefits for US ICTs, one of which is the EU’s giant open data repositories. Most US data is privately generated and therefore privately held. EU’ s Open Data environment is a digital goldmine that EU ICTs have so far proved rather unsuccessful in monetizing. The arrival of the US ICTs will change that.