David Maister and marketing as a conversation

David Maister, the über-guru of professional services, has embraced blogging and podcasting. In a revamp last week of his website, which has always provided extensive resources, he has launched a blog titled Passion, People and Principles. It is highly interactive, responding in depth to questions and conversations raised by clients and the professional services community. Not long before, he released an article Marketing is a Conversation, in which he advocates creating conversations and “salons” with clients, engaging in joint problem solving, setting up blogs, and replacing capability brochures with interactive spaces.

David has for a long time said that he focuses on the fundamentals of professional services, because that is still where the most difference can be made. He kindly suggests that in contrast my work deals with the “frontier topics”. He has been very supportive of my work, and gave me a nice blurb for the latest edition of my book Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships: “Dawson has pulled off the nigh-impossible: improved on what was already a terrific book. Even more than before, this is essential reading for professional service firms.”

I have immense respect for David’s work, and discussed his immensely successful personal strategic positioning in my book Living Networks. While David has always talked and written about listening to clients and great service, I think that he has shifted his approach in how he now strongly encourages collaboration and shared value creation with clients. In my latest book there is a subheading “Doing Great Work is Not Enough”. It’s far from enough, and true knowledge-based, collaborative relationships require an entirely different attitude. These are truly fundamentals of professional services.

P2P and human evolution

In a great example of how digital connection brings people together in face-to-face meetings, Michel Bauwens saw my blog post saying that on my vacation I was going to pass through Chiang Mai in Thailand, where he lives. He sent me an email to suggest we get together, and we had lunch in a picturesque local restaurant. Michel is a dot-com and telco veteran who has decided life is better in North Thailand than Europe or North America. He has now established the P2P Foundation, which examines and supports the application of peer-to-peer concepts to all aspects of society. Michel has a compelling vision for how P2P can be applied to creating value, organizational design, social structure, and political structures. Some of his vision is already well visible:

“we have to posit the birth of a new capitalist class segment, the netarchists, based not on the control or ownership of information, but on the enabling and exploitation of the participatory networks themselves.”

At the P2P Foundation website and other sites such as Integral Visioning, Michel has provided substantial resources on the vision for applying peer to peer across society, notably his excellent essay Peer to Peer and Human Evolution, and his P2PFoundation blog. Michel is now looking to establish a for-profit organization that will provide services and implement business models around the P2P frame. I look forward to seeing this develop far further. The potential is certainly there for a global society based on peer to peer structures and thinking, though this may take decades to evolve. It is an immensely worthwhile vision.

Speaking about professional services marketing

Bruce Marcus has been writing the Marcus Letter on Professional Services Marketing for about a decade, originally as a print newsletter, and now online. His broad experience makes him one of the true doyens of the field. His excellent recent book, co-authored with August Aquila, Client at the Core, goes into the practical detail of creating the oft-spoken of but rarely realized “client-centric firm”.

Bruce recently wrote an insightful and kind review of my second edition of Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships. Well worth a read – just taking a few brief excerpts from his review:

“Two critical elements have evolved, and are continuing to evolve. We see more clearly the uses of information as a discipline in law and accounting practices. And we begin to learn to harness that information to our benefit in serving our firms and our clients. And that is what Ross Dawson addresses, and addresses brilliantly in this book.

It is, I should note, a pleasure to read this book, not only for its lucid and rational instruction, but for its confirmation of much that I and others have been saying for some time. We agree on virtually every aspect of it, although he goes much farther into the process than most have done.

As knowledge management penetrates the consciousness of a greater body of professionals, Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships will be a well-read and well-thumbed handbook. It is certainly one of the more important works in the field of client relationships and practice management.”

Thanks Bruce!

Collaborative filtering for music picks up pace

I believe that “collaborative filtering” is at the heart of how the networks are coming to life. The basic concept is that we must collaborate to filter the massive information overload we face. We can do this simply by taking the recommendations of friends we know and trust. However now software can amalgamate the views and perspectives of thousands or millions of people to direct you to the information or entertainment that is uniquely relevant to you. One of the many domains in which collaborative filtering can be applied is music, by recommending or playing music based on your preferences.

Last.FM, which I last wrote about in this blog in 2003, has developed a lot further, and seems to have gained critical mass. Last.FM’s underlying recommendation engine, Autoscrobbler, is now also available separately, helping to fund Last.FM’s free, no-advertising offering. Last.FM creates personalized radio stations based on people’s preferences, and makes recommendations based on what other people with similar tastes like. As such, it is intrinsically based on social networks, and also provides group functionality so people with similar taste can interact. A newer service, Pandora, works quite differently. It uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze music based on its rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic structure, instrumentation, production qualities, lyrics and so on. You seed the service by nominating a song or an artist, and it creates an entire radio station from that. You can also provide feedback on your preferences, as in Last.FM. The service is available for free with advertising, or there is an advertising-free subscription service. Pandora raised $12 million last November, bringing its total raised to over $22 million, showing the faith investors have in the value of these models. However one venture capitalist prefers Last.FM to Pandora in an interesting comparison of the two services. Check out these music services and support them! The better they get, the more we can discover and listen to the music we love the best from the many millions of songs produced every year.

Localized blog search

A new Australia-specific blog search engine called gnoos will be launched in February in pre-beta form, by Ben Barren’s company Feedcorp. This is interesting and relevant because many blog conversations are often about local issues, not least politics. Some blog search engines, such as Bloghub.com and LSBlogs.com, offer the ability to search within countries, but have very poor coverage, so are of little use. Similar problems apply to country-specific engines such as the Brazilian blogs.com.br.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald on gnoos compared the initiative to other Australian Internet search engines, such as Panoptic, which have struggled, as most people prefer to use the global search engines such as Google, with which they are familiar, have very broad coverage, and which offer some degree of local search capabilities anyway. However this is not an appropriate comparison. Blogs are interlinked, they are not usually meaningful on their own. Blogs discuss issues of interest to a particular community, which are often local in scope.

Currently, the deeply intertwined discussions that happen in the blogosphere tend to revert to a US-centric perspective, as that is where the dominant pool of bloggers reside. In a way it’s easier for those who don’t speak English, as their community can be easily defined. Certainly the conversations of the blogging-mad Brazilians get entwined with those of the Portuguese, and those of the French with the rest of the francophone community, however there is a reasonably defined community just by virtue of language. In the case of English, the de-facto global language, conversations tend to get drawn back to the US. However Australians, Britons, and English-speaking Indians, among others, are often more interested in engaging in discussions on their own local politics or issues rather than being drawn back to the US domain. Right now we are in a situation in which US conversations are dominating globally, simply due to the size of the US blogging community and the globally interlinked nature of blogs. An excellent country-specific blog search engine can facilitate the creation of interlinked conversations among bloggers of that nation. I hope that gnoos fulfils its promise, and helps the Australian blogging community to develop a greater identity and ability to engage in discussion on local issues. That will be a big move forward in making blogging conversations relevant to local communities. Politics and consumer issues are largely local, and unless there are ways to tap into those blogging conversations, they will have little impact.

Is the balance of power shifting from advertising to PR?

A thought-provoking article in this week’s The Economist, subtitled “As advertising struggles, PR steps into the breach,” suggests that PR will grow faster than the advertising industry. It refers to an internal Procter & Gamble study that found that PR gives a better return on investment than advertising. Investment bank Veronis Suhler Stevenson has forecast that in the U.S. spending on PR will increase at 9% annually over the next five years, ahead of growth in advertising spending. This has to be put into context. Total PR spending in 2005 was around $3.7 billion out of a total pool of $475 billion spent on advertising and marketing. However all of the PR spending goes to agencies, while the majority of the remainder goes to media companies.

Today PR entails being involved with every aspect of how people encounter information and make sense of it. It is about being engaged in the flow of messages through an intensely networked world. These capabilities are far more pertinent and valuable than formal advertising, that seeks to persuade from within a defined frame. There is no question that PR, or whatever the field morphs into, will hold greater sway in coming years. What I wonder about is how this will affect the integrity of the content we have access to. Already newspaper articles are often reprinted or rehashed press releases. PR agencies have significant blogger initiatives, looking to influence “citizen journalists” as well as traditional media representatives. How far will the influence of PR flow into our sources of information, and will it be possible to filter these effectively? The answer is yes, however it will require greater attentiveness, and willingness to seek multiple sources. The energy and sophistication that will go into influencing the flow of messages in the few next years will be staggering.

Welcoming a busy and fun year ahead!

Back from a fabulous holiday in Thailand, and straight into an array of very interesting – and time-consuming – client work. Blogging is central to who I am, but clients ultimately have priority. I’ll try to make sure I maintain my target of 2-3 posts a week (or sometimes more), but do expect a little variation along the way…

I just thought it would be worth sharing some of what I have on the agenda for 2006. Advanced Human Technologies is continuing to work with a variety of major professional and financial firms on enhancing their client relationship initiatives. Through this year I will be focusing substantially on applying social network analysis (SNA) approaches to a variety of topics. In the near future CNET will be releasing a study I’ve done in collaboration with them on how influence networks affect the success of major technology purchasing decisions. There are some fascinating results, and I expect the report to prompt my influence network work to be developed and applied in a range of directions. As research leader for client connectivity for the Network Roundtable, the leading body of expertise on SNA, I’m currently engaged in a round of studies with major firms on what drives the success of their high-value client relationships. Other areas I will be applying SNA approaches to include creating value in industry assocations, and fostering cross-border innovation. In addition to all this, I will shortly be setting up a global organization studying the future of business, with a kick-off event mid-year on the future of media. More information on all of this before too long. In a word, plenty on my plate, but all great fun! I look forward to sharing details of what I’m uncovering along the way, and hopefully interacting with you at some point in the year. Happy new year!