It’s been a week now since Steve Yegge of Google fired the shot heard ’round the tech industry. In case you missed it, Steve wrote a thoughtful, yet highly charged rant intended to begin an internal conversation about Google’s failures in learning how to build platforms (as opposed to products).
In the post, he eviscerates his former employer, Amazon, and in particular CEO Jeff Bezos (who he refers to as the Dread Pirate Bezos), but doesn’t pull any punches with his current employer either. It is an extremely passionate, well-written piece which, my guess is, will change the conversation internally at Google in a positive way.
But there was one problem:
When posting it to Google+ (which he was admittedly new to), Steve accidentally made his rant public, where the whole world could see it.
And over the past week, pretty much everyone has.
This prominent re-post (Steve took his original piece down, which I’ll get to in a second) has generated, as of this writing, 487 comments and over 11,000 +1s on Google+.
The comments are spectacular and largely supportive. Some have referred to this as Steve Yegge’s Jerry McGuire moment.
But my post isn’t about Steve. He’s received plenty of attention in the past week, poor guy.
It’s about the Google PR team that, in a time of crisis, made the tough decision to stay true to the spirit of openness that Google Senior VP of People Operations Laszlo Bock described in his recent piece in Think Quarterly. From Laszlo’s piece:
“And if you think about it, if you’re an organization that says ‘our people are our greatest asset,’ you must default to open. It’s the only way to demonstrate to your employees that you believe they are trustworthy adults and have good judgment. And giving them more context about what is happening (and how, and why) will enable them to do their jobs more effectively and contribute in ways a top-down manager couldn’t anticipate.”
So if “default to open” is the overall philosophy at Google, how does it play out in practice? As it turns out, Steve Yegge’s rant provides a pretty good data point.
In a Google+ message explaining his decision to take down the original post, Steve described the reaction of the Google PR team this way:
“I’ve taken the post down at my own discretion. It was kind of a tough call, since obviously there will be copies. And everyone who commented was nice and supportive.
I contacted our internal PR folks and asked what to do, and they were also nice and supportive. But they didn’t want me to think that they were even hinting at censoring me — they went out of their way to help me understand that we’re an opinionated company, and not one of the kinds of companies that censors their employees.”
This is not, in my experience, the kind of support that most PR folks would have given Steve in this situation:) And because of it, this episode, however traumatic, serves as one piece of proof showing that Google’s “default to open” approach is not just aspirational bullshit.
I’m sure there are plenty of places where people could argue that Google is not being open enough, or could stand to be more open than they are today.
But in this particular case, in a moment of crisis—where many weaker leaders would have given in to the frightened urge to attempt a cover up—Google stood by its core beliefs and defaulted to open.
While openness is sometimes ugly and painful (as it certainly is in this case), it often allows great opportunities to emerge that would otherwise never see the light of day.
I suspect that when the waters recede, this authentic, beautiful, and raw piece of communication might be the starting point toward something better, not just within Google, but in the tech industry as a whole.
And for supporting openness, even in its most painful form, Google PR team, I salute you.
Over the last few months, I’ve started posting more frequently here on the blog. And I just noticed that I actually enjoy writing again.
For the first two thirds of this year, I was writing a book. As it turns out, this is not the easiest thing to do on top of working a full-time job at a company that is still in startup mode. Who knew?
According to our New Kind time-tracking system, it took 138 hours for me to write 300 pages. And another 130 hours to edit. So, add in a few other book-related tasks, and I spent roughly 300 hours of 2011 working on The Ad-Free Brand.
To put it in perspective, 300 hours is almost eight weeks of a full time job. Or enough time to fly back and forth to Singapore sixteen times. I could have watched 100 major league baseball games or had 100 practices with my band. I could have taken a lot more bike rides. I could have breathed more fresh air. I could have written more blog posts.
But I didn’t, I wrote a book instead.
And, while, I’m glad I did, I can’t say it was an entirely fun experience. Looking back, I feel the same way about the book as I feel about going to Antarctica. I’d really like to have been there… but I’m not so interested in the actual experience of going there. Sounds cold, difficult, and I’d probably get seasick.
So I like having written a book, but the writing itself?
That part sucked.
Writing a blog post is like running a sprint. You go really fast for a few seconds, then you can relax and eat snacks. Writing a book is more like running a marathon (or what I expect that might be like, anyway, I haven’t done it). You write for hours and hours then, when you are starting to get really, really tired of it, you look up, see a mile marker, and realize you still aren’t even half way to the finish line. Writing books is an endurance sport, and I think I’m more of a sprinter.
While I’ve written throughout my life because I love the process of writing, I noticed because of the book I no longer got up early in the morning to write blog posts or stayed up late at night getting a thought exactly right. It just felt too much like work. But just the other evening, writing this post about Netflix, Apple, and Facebook, I realized I was actually enjoying it again.
So that’s why I have been blogging more often. I’m enjoying it, and hope that comes through in what you read here.
It has become a truism in marketing that you should stay focused on your customers. In most of our organizations, we are attempting to sell something to make a profit. We need customers.
But I often use the word community in places where most people would use the word customer. Why? Am I just being naive about what pays the bills for our organizations to continue to thrive? Am I committing heresy by not staying focused on just customers?
I don’t think so.
I believe that the dogged focus on marketing to customers alone has created a myopic view that makes us ignore many of the important people who interact with our brands.
Customers are important; most organizations couldn’t exist without them. So what is the issue?
Customers are not just listening to us anymore.
When organizations focus on only interacting with customers rather than taking a holistic view of the entire brand community, they forget that in the twenty-first century, the version of the brand represented by the organization might only be a small percentage of the brand the customer sees. Where is the rest of the story coming from?
Everyone else who interacts with the brand: the brand community.
When rolling out brand positioning, ad-free brands understand that it matters what everyone thinks about the brand—not just the customers. By understanding and planning your interactions with all of the communities around your brand, you have a chance to impact the customers’ views of who you are in a much deeper way than if you were just speaking to customers directly through marketing and advertising.
And that’s just if you are only concerned with the success of your business itself. If you are a nonprofit or a member of the growing breed of socially responsible businesses interested in benefitting the communities they serve while remaining for-profit, you’ll see even greater benefits from this approach.
So should you be focused on customers? Absolutely. But just remember that you aren’t the only folks talking to your customers about your brand. When you build a brand strategy that ensures the positioning resonates with all the people around your brand and not just customers, you’ll be on the path to much deeper, more fulfilling relationships with the communities surrounding your brand–and you’ll probably be heard by potential customers who would have never given you the time of day otherwise.
This is the eighth in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand.
I’m passionate about helping organizations develop more authentic, meaningful, and productive relationships with the communities around them. Last week, I suggested a few ideas for how to begin thinking about a less self-centered approach to community strategy that might help.
The evening after I wrote the post, I was taking a run around the neighborhood, listening to some tunes, when a song from the recent Avett Brothers live album came on. At the end of the song, someone in the audience must have screamed out “we love you” or something along those lines. The recording captures one of the two brothers (Seth, I think?) responding. Here’s what he said:
“We love you too. Sincerely. We’ve said it before. It’s real difficult to sound sincere on a microphone, but we love y’all too in a very big way.”
It’s real difficult to sound sincere on a microphone.
Man, isn’t that the truth.
In a few years, the Avett Brothers have gone from having a small fan base following them around here in my home state of North Carolina to selling out arenas around the world. In those words, you could almost sense the struggle. How do you broadcast a personal message to thousands of people while still remaining (and sounding) sincere.
Ah, poor marketing.
It has definitely been a rough patch for marketing the last few years. From those predicting that [fashionable term X] is the “new” marketing (social media! engagement! community-building! customer experience! design! communications!) to those predicting its outright demise, there are a lot of people looking past marketing to whatever comes next.
For many of us, marketing is what we know. We’ve been practicing marketing so long, it is, to paraphrase Chicago (yes, I just did that), a “hard habit to break.”
So if you’ve been tearfully exclaiming, “I wish I knew how to quit you, marketing!” I come bearing hope. What follows is the first in a series of things you can do right now to break marketing’s hold on you. Quitting has to start somewhere. It might as well be here.
First, a short history:
In the beginning, communications were personal. I’m sure it all started when Og was sitting in the cave talking to Grog about his new stone arrowhead design, responding to Grog’s questions and telling stories about all of the animals he had killed with the new arrowhead (brand positioning: lighter design, so you can throw farther, kill bigger, and feed your clan better).
Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, and all of the sudden we humans were creating goods and services that could be delivered to many more people at once than ever before. While this was fantastic, and made a lot of people a lot of money, the downside was that we could no longer communicate the benefits of the goods we were making to each person individually.
So we developed new ways of communicating to many people at once—mass communications. Along the way, the idea of marketing was born (fun fact: a telegraph was used for mass unsolicited spam as early as 1864!).
And all was awesome. For about 100 years or so.