The Sky is the Limit (or is it?)

rocket-launch-67720_640There is a lot that I want to achieve over the course of my life. A lot. I consider myself to be an ambitious person, as I am very focused on working hard to achieve goals that I continually set for myself. There is just so much to experience and so much to learn in this great world of ours, it seems that my list of goals continues to grow and grow.

However, having ambitious goals is one thing. It’s quite another to orientate one’s mindset towards actually achieving them. Personally, over the last while, I’ve started developing my own plan outlining a path towards attaining personal and professional goals – inspired in part by Chris Guillebeau’s planning process.

As an extension of that, I’ve also been building a bucket list of things that I’d really like to do and accomplish in my life. The list is definitely a work-in-progress, as I add new goals based on recent inspirations or I remove those that have been achieved. I’m not ashamed to admit that some goals may remain unattained, whether through changing life circumstances or other happenings, but that’s not the point. It’s establishing the process that matters.

That being said, here is my bucket list. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few things I need to get to!

Digital Dating: Like Shopping on Amazon?

It’s compelling to believe that now, more so than at any point in our history, it’s possible for each and every one of us to find The One. If not The One, then perhaps close to The One. Very close. After all, surely that person is out there, with thousands and thousands of eligible singlets on a plethora of dating sites – both niche and mainstream.

Plenty-of-Fish, eHarmony, OkCupid, Lavalife, Match.com, JDate.com, certainly amongst these online stores everyone can find their perfect match, the perfect size, the perfect fit? No?

I have a number of friends who have met their relationship partners through online dating, and the relationships formed have been loving and long-lasting. I think that’s awesome. I will readily admit that I use online dating, and I will continue to do so. But I have come to realize, recently, that I have fallen into a trap. I wonder, how many other people have fallen into the same trap?

It seems that dating, for lack of better works, has become …. commoditized.

It’s the search for the elusive perfect match, The One, that has led people – men and women – to treat dating like shopping.

Not satisfied with a recent date because she’s brunette and you’ve come to realize that you really prefer blondes? Then fine, there are plenty of blondes out there. Back to eHarmony.

Although you really like the arts, perhaps he’s not quite into them as you are? Whatever the reason, there’s certainly someone who has a stronger interest on OKCupid.

Go on a date that was actually quite fun, but still she’s still “only” an 7 out of 10? Well, get out your iPhone and find that 9 or 10. Go! Get to it!

It can be an ongoing cycle, really. “One and done” dates, with the feeling that somewhere out there, in galaxy not far away, you will find “The One”.

But, what if?

What if the brunette truly is awesome, in every other way that you want your ideal woman to be awesome?

What if he just hasn’t had the same exposure to the arts as you’ve had, and he really does have a keen interest?

What if she was really nervous on the date, as people tend to be, and she wasn’t completely herself? What if she is the star you’re looking for?

I believe online dating is great, and I am fortunate to have met some great women as a result.

I also believe that too many people now treat online dating like shopping and maybe, just perhaps, these people are too quickly passing judgement when meeting others. Clicking through to the Next One, instead of investing more time to see if the current one might be The One.

Why Every Vancouver-based Marketing Professional Should Consider Leaving

I am a Vancouverite. The city is my true home, and will always be near to my heart. I was born and raised there, my beloved family is there, I have many dear friends there, and I literally live and breathe the West Coast lifestyle – the mountains, the ocean and yes, even the odd yoga class

It was for all of these reasons I diligently tried to build my career, in the wonderful world marketing and communications, in Vancouver. I worked hard, and was fortunate to gain significant experience in both B2C and B2B marketing through progressively senior roles at Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company, Ethical Funds and Texcan.

However, there was an underlying problem which at first I ignored, but in reality would have to face head on.

Vancouver is a small city that is not at all conducive to career growth and opportunity for marketing and sales professionals.

I first thought about this when my first boss and mentor Frank Dennis, the President & CEO of Swiss Water, recommended that I move to Toronto to advance my career. Through several subsequent information interviews that I had with marketing and advertising professionals, with experience in both Toronto and Vancouver, their advice was consistent: “move east, young man”.

A few years later, after spending a couple of years too long in Vancouver and an an awesome stint with Chaordix, a Calgary-based startup, I find myself writing this from my apartment in the the High Park area of Toronto. I have a job that I love at Asigra, and have settled nicely into my new city.

If you are in Vancouver, or in another small city looking to develop a career in marketing, I urge you to at least consider moving to a city that will provide you with better opportunity and resources to flourish in your career.

More Opportunities

Canada is unique, particularly compared to the US, because so many tier one and tier two companies are based in the Greater Toronto Area.  With so many companies operating here, there also are numerous ad agencies, communication firms and startups doing work with notable brands. In Vancouver, one can easily count on one hand the number of employers that have large marketing and communications departments.

It is true that competition for jobs is fierce, given the area’s population base, but Vancouver honestly just does not even compare to Toronto when it comes to opportunity. Not even close.

Consider Your Future Lifestyle

There are plenty of smart people in Vancouver, some of whom have cultivated great, rewarding careers in marketing and communications. However, there are also a lot of “consultants” – which honestly means there are a lot of people in Vancouver who are looking for work.

Sadly, salaries are also suppressed in Vancouver. It is a “destination” city, and that fact combined with fewer opportunities and lots of people looking for work means that employers just don’t need to open the salary vault. Simple economics, actually.

In a city which the Economist magazine recently ranked as the most expensive to live in in North America, the math starts to become dangerous – particularly when it comes to assessing one’s lifestyle and savings over the long term.

With a fair degree of certainty, I can say that marketing and communications salaries are higher in Toronto – I estimate by as much as 15 to 20%, when compared to an equivalent role (if you can find one!) in Vancouver.

Learn, Learn, Learn

I have found that both Toronto and Vancouver are rich when it comes to opportunities for learning and meeting people through networking events and seminars. I relish the opportunity I had in Vancouver to contribute to the BC Chapter of the American Marketing Association, and I always enjoyed attending social media events such as Third Tuesday.

However, there is a very distinct difference when it comes to the opportunity to career-related learning opportunities in Toronto – particularly with respect to social business and digital media.  In Vancouver, there are far too many people who profess to have social “expertise” without any proven, tangible business results to support their claims. These are also the people, in some instances, that are speaking at events. Sorry, I have a problem with that!

In Toronto, because of the size of the marketing and communications ecosystem, the people who who speak at events are able to do so leveraging tangible knowledge that they have developed through experience with top tier national brands.

Through events such as Social Media Week, PodCamp and Third Tuesday Toronto, and through many information interviews I have had since my arrival, I can honestly say that my rate of learning has greatly accelerated over the last year – for which I am very thankful.

Having said all of that, I can honestly say that the social life in Toronto isn’t all that bad either. Actually, it’s a very active, rich and culturally vibrant city. Yes, I am missing the outdoors lifestyle – the mountains and the ocean can’t be replaced. By hey, one can always make do with what one has access too.  Here’s a post I co-authored with Toronto native Debbie Horovitch on how to establish social roots in a new city.

I hope you found this post to be helpful. If you have any questions about making a move for career purposes, or about Toronto in general, please feel free to get in touch – eric.buchegger@gmail.com.

20 Pages a Day

20 pages a day. 140 pages a week. 7300 pages a year.

OK, that last number does seem a bit daunting. However, assuming the average book is 240 pages, with a disciplined approach to daily reading setting a target of reading a minimum of 24 books in 2012 does seem achievable. In fact, it is a target that I have decided to set for myself.

I have always enjoyed reading, and I relish spending time at a cafe digging into a good book or loading something of interest onto my Kindle app.  Often times though, I feel that I don’t read as much as I like, or for that matter as much as I should – given the need to keep learning, amidst the increasingly dynamic world we now live in. (side note: I highly recommend reading a recent Fast Company article, This is Generation Flux: Meet the New (and Chaotic) Frontier of Business).

So far, although it is early, I am on track with my goal of reading 24 books.  I completed reading Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis, and am currently getting immersed in the Steve Jobs biography as well as Seth Godin’s Poke the Box.

Some other books on this year’s reading list include:

The Histories of Social Media, by Jonathan Salem Baskin
Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, by Charlene Li
The Power of Co-Creation, by Venkat Ramaswamy
Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better And How They Can Change The World, by Jane McGonigal
What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, by Rachel Botsman

In writing this post, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a special hat-tip to Dave Fleet, from whom I’ve drawn some inspiration from – he is challenging himself to read 36 books this year.

Have you recently read any books you recommend I should consider? What books are on your reading list?

(Almost) Everybody’s Here Now

The path to cultivating and building influence on the social web has gotten a lot harder than what it used to be. That’s saying something – because building influence has never been an easy task. Companies, in developing digital marketing and communications strategies, have included influencer outreach and engagement as a key focal point for a number of years now. However, the continued steady growth of information and content on the web, blogs and otherwise, has made it much more challenging for individuals to build a standout, highly trafficked online presence – correspondingly, companies will face increasing difficulties in defining and engaging with influencers, and must rethink their strategies accordingly.

According to Wikipedia, as of February 2011 there were 156 million public blogs in existence. Comparatively speaking, various estimates peg the number of blogs in 2005 at around 25 to 35 million. More notably, however, is the rise in overall content creation and consumption. Think about the time that is now spent on social networks, and the resulting information that is being generated and shared.  If attention were to be considered as a currency, the exchange rate right now is quite high.

When blogging first started to truly grow in popularity a few years ago, those who put forth the effort to provide quality, reliable and interesting content were able to create a strong online presence – attracting readers, establishing themselves as influencers. A couple of such prominent bloggers who come to mind are Raul Pachec0-Vega, who writes at hummingbird604.com and Rebecca Bollwitt, who writes at www.miss604.com. Make no mistake, both Raul and Rebecca put in a lot of hard work into establishing their online presences – and success did not come overnight for either of them. However, I find it hard to believe that the degree of success they have earned can be achieved by anyone today, in the crowded attention economy.

This has ramifications for companies, as they attempt to identify and work with influencers to build relationships and establish genuine word-of-mouth about their products and services.

Here are some questions companies should consider:

  1. Is the message that they would like to spread, and engage influencers with, sticky and relevant?
  2. Do they have the capabilities to scale their influencer outreach?  To achieve a similar breadth of outreach compared to years ago, it is likely that companies now need to engage with more influencers – remember though, the quality of relationships with influencers can’t be replaced by quantity. Building personal relationships is important.
  3. Are accurate metrics and evaluation processes in place to identify relevant influencers?

Can Collaboration Be the New Competition?

I find it interesting that there is such a strong, prevailing mindset that companies within the same industry must always be in competition with each other. Whether the focus is business to business, or business to consumer, it’s true that companies are fiercely fighting to attain and retain customers – customers who, no doubt, are closely watching their expenditures in these challenging economic times. However, what if companies adopted a different mindset?  What if companies became more open to collaborating with each other?

We are already witnessing the possibilities that can arise when companies open the doors for stakeholders to actively participate in various corporate functions and decisions through social media, leveraging online community engagement, crowdsourcing and co-creation. Companies, by tapping into minds outside of their corporate walls, are expanding their knowledge base and becoming more innovative as a result.

Now, imagine what could happen if companies became more open to working with each other?

Last winter, I came across a great example of collaboration in marketing. New to Ontario, I went to the LCBO (Ontario government liquor store) in search of a good microbrew. To my surprise, the LCBO carried a six-pack of beers from different craft brewers. What a delight to see the brewers working together to promote their products. The craft brewers are members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association – through the association, 25 brewers collaborate on a number of marketing initiatives designed to educate and expand awareness amongst the buying public.

Needless to say, I bought the six-pack; also, since then, I have repeatedly purchased a number of the beers that were in the six-pack.

In another example, a group of coffee roasters have come together to form Coffee Common – with the goal of working together to introduce consumers to the joys of exceptional coffee. Having previously worked in marketing in the specialty coffee industry at Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company, I am particularly excited about this initiative. Great coffee can be just as complex and nuanced as great wine, and just as delicious too. It’s challenging for one coffee roaster, with limited resources, limited budget, and in all likelihood a very localized geographic area, to make an impact. However, there is opportunity to be had through collaboration, which enables greater access to resources – notably minds and money.

The above examples are relatively small-scale in nature, but what’s to stop larger enterprises from becoming more collaborative? Imagine, for example, that companies became more willing to share intellectual property rights. The fear is, of course, a competitor will innovate, develop a better product or service and gain market share – but it is not possible, that by sharing information and collaborating, companies can work together to grow the overall market?

What are your thoughts?

Lessons From an Exercise in Customer Service Futility

Recently, I went through the absolute worst customer experience of my life. The experience was with a major telecommunications firm that, in my opinion, is sorely lacking a customer-centric focus and a strategy for effective social business.

I normally am not one to vent publicly, but in this case I absolutely feel compelled to share my story.  I am choosing not to name the company in question, but I am endeavoring to contact senior staff. I want them to know that this happened. Maybe I am naïve, but I am hopeful writing this post will make a difference.

Towards the end of the post, I have shared a few thoughts on things this company might consider doing differently.

Day 1: It begins.

  • I called the company to order TV and Internet, with specific interest in a new TV service they’re offering.
  • After being on hold for 20 minutes, I reached a customer service rep. I was given pricing for TV and Internet, but soon realized that the TV pricing was for an older, existing service – not the new service.
  • I was told that I needed to speak with someone in a different department to order the new service and was transferred, enduring another 20 minutes of time on hold.
  • Finally, I spoke with someone about the new TV service and we went through pricing. Given the multitude of pricing options, things got confusing very quickly. All the while, I made it clear that I only wanted the most basic TV and Internet package.
  • Before proceeding with the order, I was told that the TV and Internet package would actually be $20 less expensive per month if I added home phone; reluctantly, I decided to do so (I use my mobile and I don’t have a need for a landline).  Installation was set for the following week, on Saturday.
  • I received my invoice via email, and realized that monthly pricing was actually $40 more expensive than I was quoted. There was no “bundling” discount for ordering home phone, and I wasn’t given the basic TV package I had asked for.
  • I called back, to cancel home phone and change my TV package. After enduring another 30 minutes on hold, the customer service representative told me that he was not able to cancel home phone; I needed to speak to someone in the “Loyalty” department, he said, which was closed for the day. I needed to phone back tomorrow.

Day 2: Nobody home.

  • I phoned to cancel my home phone, and endured another 15 minutes on hold before speaking with another customer service representative.
  • I was told that the “Loyalty” department was not open on Sundays, and that I needed to phone back on Monday – in spite of being told the previous day to call back “tomorrow”.

Day 3: Starting to memorize the “on hold” music.

  • Again, I phoned to cancel my home phone. Again, I endured 20 minutes on hold before getting through to a customer service representative.
  • The customer service representative said that I can’t directly call the “Loyalty” department, and that he would need to transfer me – resulting in about 25 more minutes spent on hold.
  • Finally, I spoke with someone in the “Loyalty” department and was able to cancel my home phone.

Day 5: My head hurts.

  • Fast-forward a couple of days, I received an automatic email from the telecommunications company reminding me about my installation on the upcoming Friday – and that I would need to be home from 8am to 5pm.
  • Of course, this made no sense! I had earlier arranged for the installation to be on Saturday, and received an email confirming the day. I work during the week, which was why I needed a Saturday installation.
  • Again, I called the telecommunications firm. By this time, sadly, I was starting to memorize their number.
  • Again, I had to spend 20 minutes on hold before speaking with someone.
  • I got through, but then was told that I had the wrong department – I was connected with the department responsible for the “old” TV service.
  • The customer service representative said she needed to transfer me to a different department; I was put on hold, and 20 minutes later I was connected with the SAME department.  That’s right, the department responsible for the old TV service.
  • Once again, in a second attempt to transfer me, I was put on hold for another 15 minutes.
  • Finally, I was connected to the right department. In short, I was told (1) the installation was changed to Friday, (2) they didn’t know why, and (3) there was nothing they could do about it – they couldn’t reschedule back to Saturday.
  • I explicitly mentioned that I work during the week, and that weekday installation not possible under any circumstance. The customer service agent then proceeded with litany of questions including (1) Can someone else be home for you? (2) Can you get building manager let the installation technician in? and (3) Are you available next week?
  • My answers: NO, NO and NO!
  • Finally, I was able to schedule installation for Saturday of the following week. Or at least I was hopeful that installation would be on Saturday – by this point, I had lost all confidence and trust in the company.

Day 6: Now I’m laughing.

  • Yes, there’s more! I received an automated call from the company indicating that installation would be on Friday –  the day I had just said would not work for me. By this point, I didn’t care, and didn’t bother to respond.

Day 7: This company likes to call me.

  • I received automated call from company indicating installation would be on Saturday  – the original day I had hoped for.

Day 8 (the original installation date): Peace and tranquility.

  • Nobody showed up. Not that I was expecting anyone to. I mean really, I wasn’t.

Day 14: Another lovely automated call.

  • I received automated call from company indicating installation would be on the following day.

Day 15: Hallelujah!

  • The installation technician showed up, and my home TV and Internet were set up.  Of course, during the installation, the technician himself had to endure about 20 minutes on hold with someone at the company.

So there you have it. Really I don’t know where to begin with the failures of this company. The tools, the technology – they now exist to help organizations become customer-centric. However, a customer-centric focus starts with senior leadership and well-directed strategy.

What could this company do differently?  Here are a few thoughts.

1. Differentiate yourself based on customer service and relationships.

“The fastest network”.  “The most reliable network”. “The best rates”. Do you know which specific telecommunications company made those claims? Didn’t think so.  Telecommunications companies can’t differentiate themselves on product, but they can differentiate themselves based on service to the customer.  In the case of this company, the time has come to create and adopt a “customer is king” (or “customer is queen”) philosophy and focus.  Put the customer at the center of planning, and re-engineer business processes accordingly, creating the best customer experience possible. Believe me, we’ll notice. And you’ll win – because word will get out. Yes, we’ll tell our friends about the amazing experience we had with your company – instead of telling the world about terrible debacles.

2. Simplify your phone system and leverage technology to improve it.

A different call center for each TV service that you offer, with each having little or no knowledge about the “other” TV service?  Really? Train your employees so that they have a broad and in-depth understanding of all of your different products and services – and empower employees to speak about them.  Also, implement automatic call back functionality.  I spent hours waiting on hold, I shudder to think what my cell phone bill will be (thankfully, my cell phone plan is with one of your competitors).

3. Be available to listen and to help – when and where your customers want it.

I tried to look for help on Twitter and on Facebook.  I was looking for you. I was looking for your helping hand.  But where was it? It is clear that you have no social strategy. If you do, it is being extremely poorly executed. Have a look at what a litany of other top tier companies are doing – and follow their lead.

Now, having written all this, if the guilty company is reading this – you still have a chance. I am still your customer.  Please …. show me that you’re listening. Show me that you care.

Right now, I have my doubts.

5 Things to Thank Steve For

Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m writing this on Thanksgiving, a great time to pause, reflect, and give thanks to those who have had a significant impact on my life. Last Wednesday the world lost a true visionary in Steve Jobs. Much has been written, and much has been said, about the overwhelming impact and contribution that Jobs has made; some people have alluded to Jobs as being the Einstein of our generation, and I have a hard time disagreeing with that comparison.

Here are five personal things that I would like to thank Steve for:

  1. Inspiring me. Steve’s many accomplishments, and the manner in which he achieved them, speak volumes.
  2. Helping me to maintain and build relationships with friends. Sure, I use platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but it’s through Apple products that I access them.
  3. Adding an element of fun to my runs. I bought an iPod Nano years ago, and have since graduated to using my iPhone. The Nike+ GPS app is definitely one of my favourites.
  4. Teaching me. Steve Jobs built Apple into a brand that is unlike any other – one that cultivates passion and emotion, and arguably has the most loyal customer base in the world.
  5. Reminding me that nobody is perfect. Even Apple is not without it’s flaws. Lost in the outpouring of admiration for Steve is one very staunch reality:  the majority of Apple products are manufactured in China by Foxconn, a company that is known for significant human rights violations.

Of course, it’s also fitting that I’m writing this using my MacBrook Pro. Steve, you will be missed.

Shipping

Are you in the mindset of shipping? Do you focus on delivering quality work and output in a timely manner, but with a realization that it might not be 100% perfect?

Often times, I think that people spend too much time trying to achieve perfection. It’s not that producing quality output isn’t important – it is. However the time spent achieving perfection can often best be utilized for other pursuits.

I’d rather produce 10 projects that are really, really good as opposed to one project that is perfect. Recently, I’ve spent some time working for a couple of startups – I honestly don’t think they’d survive if they didn’t focus on shipping.

Do you strive for perfection? Or do you have a sense for when the time is right to move to the next task?

How Observant Are You?

Too often, people are guilty of getting stuck in their own world. They focus on the minutiae of daily activities – without realizing the vast, amazing changes that are happening around them.

Those who are most observant of their external environment gain knowledge that can prove to be very beneficial. Knowledge that lends to creativity and new ideas – enabling people to get unstuck from the confines of their own world.

How observant are you?