Just because podcasts have become a popular means of communication in a broader sense doesn’t mean that they’re the slam-dunk tactic to successfully achieve every kind of communications objective. Still, that’s what an increasing number of large corporations have decided to do.
And yet … an article by writers Austen Hufford and Patrick McGroarty that appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal paints a picture of what many of us have suspected all along about podcasts that are produced by corporations for their employees and other “stakeholders.”
These self-important testaments to “corporate whatever” have as much impact as the printed memos of yore – you know, the ones with sky-high BS-meter ratings – had.
Which is to say … not much.
Invariably, podcast topics are ones which next to no one in the employee trenches cares anything about. As a result, corporate podcast open stats are abysmal – running between 10% and 15% if they’re lucky.
And the paltry open rates alone don’t tell the entire story. How many people are tuning them out after just a minute or two of listening, once it becomes clear that it’s yet another yawner of a topic that senior leadership deems “important” and that corporate communications departments try mightily but unsuccessfully to bring alive.
More often than not, the production values of these corporate podcasts have all the pizzazz of a cold mashed potato sandwich. Consider this breathless declaration by PR director Lindsay Colker in a December 18th Netflix podcast:
“I think that Netflix has taught me so much more than information about a job. The person that I was, coming into Netflix, is an entirely different person than the person I am now.”
This response, posted by a Netflix employee on the Apple iTunes store site, is all-too-predictable:
“Hard to follow, boring and dry hosts, and tooooo long.”
Or this recent American Airlines podcast that covered the company’s three major strategic objectives for 2019. After company president Robert Isom described the strategies for the podcast audience, host Ron DeFeo, an American Airlines communications vice president exclaimed, “That’s awesome!”
Employee reaction was far different. Here’s one response from an American Airlines pilot:
“How about you tell me why I should listen to this? A healthy employee doesn’t live and breathe their job 24/7, and the last thing they’re going to do after being on a plane for 12 hours is listen to a podcast.”
Perhaps because of this kind employee pushback, one company, Huntington Ingalls Industries, permits its workers to count the time they spend listening to the company’s podcast on their time sheets.
One suspects that absolutely every HII employee is posting 15 minutes on their timesheets each time a podcast is released – whether or not they’re actually listening to it. (That may also explain why each HII podcast is strictly limited to just 15 minutes in length …)
Every company interviewed by the writers of The Wall Street Journal story admitted that engagement levels with their corporate podcasts are disappointing. PPG Industries’ response is illustrative. With only a few hundred listeners tuning in each month out of a total employee base of more than 47,000 workers, “We have a ways to go,” admits Mark Silvey, PPG’s director of corporate communications.
What do you think? Will corporations find themselves riding a wave of success with their podcasting? Or are they swimming upstream against the triple currents of apathy, ennui, and snark? Will corporate podcasting become tomorrow’s “obvious tactic” or end up being yesterday’s “glorious failure”? Feel free to share your perspectives with other readers.
Few people I know would claim that being the Chief Marketing Officer of a company is a job without risks. Indeed, numerous articles in the business press point to an average length of tenure in a CMO position that is often measured in months rather than in years – indeed, the shortest length of time among all C-level jobs.
And now, a recently completed survey of CMOs underscores just how wide-ranging the reasons are for those employment characteristics. Branding consulting firm Brand Keys tested a number of issues to see which are the ones that keep CMOs “awake at night.”
Three-quarters or more of the respondents to the Brand Keys survey reported that every factor presented was significant enough to cause them to lose sleep. Leading the list with near-universal high-alert concern is ROI factors. Other factors of concern to nearly every respondent in the survey are big tech and data security issues.
Listed below is how each of the factors tested by Brand Keys turned out with CMOs in terms of “losing sleep” over them.
90%+ lose sleep worrying about:
Big data, big tech and big security issues
Establishing trust with customers
Innovation, AI, technology and marketing automation developments
Consumer expectations regarding privacy and transparency
Dealing with consumer advocacy and social activism
Developing long-term strategies that align with corporate growth goals
Having the ability to engage with audiences – not just find them
At the “bottom” of the pile … 75%-80% lose sleep worrying about:
“Democratization” of the digital world and protecting brand equity within it
“Political tribalism” and its effect on brand reputation
Being relevant when tweeted about
Keeping consumers engaged with the brand
Creating better cross-platform synergies for marketing campaigns
Creating an “unlearning curve” to move away from legacy marketing metrics
Creating marketing synergies among different generational/age cohorts
Being replaced by the chief revenue officer
This last worry factor – losing their job – seems almost preordained given the tenuous circumstances more than a few CMOs deal with in their positions.
… and likely made more so because CMO’s are quick to be blamed when things don’t go well, even if they aren’t in the strongest position to effect the changes that may be needed. “Responsibility without authority” is the stark reality for too many of them.
What are your thoughts about the dynamics faced by CMOs in their companies? Whether you speak from personal experience or not, I’m sure other readers would be interested in hearing your views.
For marketers working in certain industries, an interesting question is to what degree generational “dynamics” enter into the B-to-B buying decision-making process.
Traditionally, B-to-B market segmentation has been done along the lines of the size of the target company, its industry, where the company’s headquarters and offices are located, plus the job function or title of the most important audience targets within these other selection criteria.
By contrast, something like generational segmenting was deemed a far less significant factor in the B-to-B world.
But according to marketing and copywriting guru Bob Bly, things have changed with the growing importance of the millennial generation in B-to-B companies.
These are the people working in industrial/commercial enterprises who were born between 1980 and 2000, which places them roughly between the ages of 20 and 40 right now.
There are a lot of them. In fact, Google reports that there are more millennial-generation B-to-B buyers than any other single age group; they make up more than 45% of the overall employee base at these companies.
Even more significantly, one third of millennials working inside B-to-B firms represent the sole decision-makers for their company’s B-to-B purchases, while nearly three-fourths are involved in purchase decision-making or influencing to some degree.
But even with these shifts in employee makeup, is it really true that millennials in the B-to-B world go about evaluating and purchasing goods and services all that differently from their older counterparts?
Well, consider these common characteristics of millennials which set them apart:
Millennials consider relationships to be more important than the organization itself.
Millennials want to have a say in how work gets done.
Millennials value open, authentic and real-time information.
This last point in particular goes a long way towards explaining the rise in content marketing and why those types of promotional initiatives are often more effective than traditional advertising.
On the other hand … don’t let millennials’ stated preferences for text messaging over e-mail communications lead you down the wrong path. E-mail marketing continues to deliver one of the highest ROIs of any MarComm tactic – and it’s often the highest by a long stretch.
While public perceptions of “greedy businesspeople” have always been part of the sociological landscape, over the years opinions about family businesses have tended to be more forgiving.
That perception appears to be holding. A newly published report reveals that people trust family businesses significantly more than businesses in general.
The trust levels are ~75% for family-owned businesses versus just 59% overall.
That finding comes from a survey of ~15,000 respondents age 18 or older conducted by research firm Edelman Intelligence, which is part of the Edelman marketing communications firm.
The research was conducted across 12 country markets and are contained in the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometerreport. In addition to the United States, the other country markets that were surveyed included:
Not only do the respondents in the Edelman survey trust family businesses more, they themselves would rather work for a family business.
Moreover, if they know a company is a family-run business, they’re three times more likely to be willing to pay more for its products or services.
Not everything is quite so positive, however. Compared to businesses in general, family-run businesses aren’t viewed as innovators (only ~15% compared to ~45%), or drivers of financial success (just ~15% vs. ~43%).
Even more discouraging is this finding: Although in actuality family-run businesses are often major sources of philanthropy, only ~17% of the Edelman survey respondents view these companies as leaders in helping to address societal challenges. So, more work appears to be needed to attain the recognition that is deserved in this arena.
Another common perception – and this may be a more accurate one in reality – is that family-run businesses are skimpy in their willingness to share financial and other information about how their businesses are run.
But the most potentially harmful perception is the opinion the general public has about successive generations of family members managing family-run businesses. “Next-generation” CEOs are ~17% less trusted than founders. They’re also considered far more likely to mismanage the business – not to mention being seen as less committed to the success of their enterprises.
In short, an inherited business, like inherited wealth, is viewed with suspicion by many people, and it’s more likely to be perceived as “undeserved.”
So, the portrait of family businesses isn’t completely rosy … but the reputation of these enterprises remains better than for businesses in general.
More information and key findings from the Edelman report can be found here.
It’s common knowledge by now that the data breach at credit reporting company Equifax earlier this year affected more than 140 million Americans. I don’t know about you personally, but in my immediate family, it’s running about 40% of us who have been impacted.
And as it turns out, the breach occurred because one of the biggest companies in the world — an enterprise that’s charged with collecting, holding and securing the sensitive personal and financial data of hundreds of millions of people — was woefully ill-prepared to protect any of it.
How ill-prepared? The more you dig around, the worse it appears.
Since my brother, Nelson Nones, works every day with data and systems security issues in his dealings with large multinational companies the world over, I asked him for his thoughts and perspectives on the Equifax situation.
What he reported back to me is a cautionary tale for anyone in business today – whether you’re working in a big or small company. Nelson’s comments are presented below:
Background … and What Happened
According to Wikipedia, “Equifax Inc. is a consumer credit reporting agency. Equifax collects and aggregates information on over 800 million individual consumers and more than 88 million businesses worldwide.”
Founded in 1899, Equifax is one of the largest credit risk assessment companies in the world. Last year it reported having more than 9,500 employees, turnover of $3.1 billion, and a net income of $488.1 million.
On September 8, 2017, Equifax announced a data breach potentially impacting 143 million U.S. consumers, plus anywhere from 400,000 to 44 million British residents. The breach was a theft carried out by unknown cyber-criminals between mid-May 2017 until July 29, 2017, which is when Equifax first discovered it.
It took another 4 days — until August 2, 2017 — for Equifax to engage a cybersecurity firm to investigate the breach.
Equifax has since confirmed that the cyber-criminals exploited a vulnerability of Apache Struts, which is an open-source model-view-controller (MVC) framework for developing web applications in the Java programming language.
The specific vulnerability, CVE-2017-5638, was disclosed by Apache in March 2017, but Equifax had not applied the patch for this vulnerability before the attack began in mid-May 2017.
The workaround recommended by Apache back in March consists of a mere 27 lines of code to implement a Servlet filter which would validate Content-Type and throw away requests with suspicious values not matching multipart/form-data. Without this workaround or the patch, it was possible to perform Remote Code Execution through a REST API using malicious Content-Type values.
Subsequently, on September 12, 2017, it was reported that a company “online portal designed to let Equifax employees in Argentina manage credit report disputes from consumers in that country was wide open, protected [sic] by perhaps the most easy-to-guess password combination ever: ‘admin/admin’ … anyone authenticated with the ‘admin/admin’ username and password could … add, modify or delete user accounts on the system.”
Existing user passwords were masked, but:
“… all one needed to do in order to view [a] password was to right-click on the employee’s profile page and select ‘view source’. A review of those accounts shows all employee passwords were the same as each user’s username. Worse still, each employee’s username appears to be nothing more than their last name, or a combination of their first initial and last name. In other words, if you knew an Equifax Argentina employee’s last name, you also could work out their password for this credit dispute portal quite easily.”
The reporter who broke this story contacted Equifax and was referred to their attorneys, who later confirmed that the Argentine portal “was disabled and that Equifax is investigating how this may have happened.”
The Immediate Impact on Equifax’s Business
In the wake of these revelations, Equifax shares fell sharply: 15% on September 8, 2017, reducing market capitalization (shareholder value) by $3.97 billion in a single trading day.
Over the next 5 trading days, shares fell another 24%, reducing shareholder value by another $5.4 billion.
What this means is that the cost of the breach, measured in shareholder value lost by the close of business on September 15, 2017 (6 business days), was $9.37 billion – which is equivalent to the entire economic output of the country of Norway over a similar time span.
This also works out to losses of $347 million per line of code that Equifax could have avoided had it deployed the Apache Struts workaround back in March 2017.
The company’s Chief Information Officer and Chief Security Officer also “retired” on September 15, 2017.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed against Equifax. The largest is seeking $70 billion in damages sustained by affected consumers. This is more than ten times the company’s assets in 2016, and nearly three times the company’s market capitalization just before the breach was announced.
The Long-Term Impact on Equifax’s Brand
This is yet to be determined … but it’s more than likely the company will never fully recover its reputation. (Just ask Target Corporation about this.)
Takeaway Points for Other Companies
If something like this could happen at Equifax — where securely keeping the private information of consumers is the lifeblood of the business — one can only imagine the thousands of organizations and millions of web applications out there which are just as vulnerable (if not as vital), and which could possibly destroy the entire enterprise if compromised.
At most of the companies I’ve worked with over the past decade, web application development and support takes a back seat in terms of budgets and oversight compared to so-called “core” systems like SAP ERP. That’s because the footprint of each web application is typically small compared to “core” systems.
Of necessity, due to budget and staffing constraints at the Corporate IT level, business units have haphazardly built out and deployed a proliferation of web applications — often “on the cheap” — to address specific and sundry tactical business needs.
I strongly suspect the Equifax portal for managing credit report disputes in Argentina — surely a backwater business unit within the greater Equifax organization — was one of those.
If I were a CIO or Chief Security Officer right now, I’d either have my head in the sand, or I’d be facing a choice. I could start identifying and combing through the dozens or hundreds of web applications currently running in my enterprise (each likely to be architecturally and operationally different from the others) to find and patch all the vulnerabilities. Or I could throw them all out, replacing them with a highly secure and centrally-maintainable web application platform — several of which have been developed, field-tested, and are readily available for use.
So, there you have it from someone who’s “in the arena” of risk management every day. To all the CEOs, CIOs and CROs out there, here’s your wakeup call: Equifax is the tip of the spear. It’s no longer a question of “if,” but “when” your company is going to be attacked.
And when that attack happens, what’s the likelihood you’ll be able to repel it?
… Or maybe it’ll be the perfect excuse to make an unforeseen “early retirement decision” and call it a day.
Update (9/25/17): And just like clockwork, another major corporation ‘fesses up to a major data breach — Deloitte — equally problematic for its customers.
Today I was talking with one of my company’s longtime clients about how much of a challenge it is to attract the attention of people in target marketing campaigns.
Her view is that it’s become progressively more difficult over the past dozen years or so.
Empirical research bears this out, too. Using data from a variety of sources including Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Facebook and Google, Statistic Brain Research Institute‘s Attention Span Statistics show that the average attention span for an “event” on one of these platforms was 8.25 seconds in 2015.
Compare that to 15 years earlier, when the average attention span for similar events was 12.0 seconds.
That’s a reduction in attention span time of nearly one-third.
Considering Internet browsing statistics more specifically, an analysis of ~60,000 web page views found these behaviors:
Percent of page views that lasted more than 10 minutes: ~4%
% of page views that lasted fewer than 4 seconds: ~17%
% of words read on web pages that contain ~100 words or less: ~49%
% of words read on an average web page (around ~600 words): ~28%
The same study discovered what surely must be an important reason why attention spans have been contracting. How’s this tidy statistic: The average number of times per hour that an office worker checks his or her e-mail inbox is … 30 times.
Stats like the ones above help explain why my client – and so many others just like her – are finding it harder than ever to attract and engage their prospects.
Fortunately, factors like good content and good design can help surmount these difficulties. It’s just that marketers have to try harder than ever to achieve a level of engagement that used to come so easily.
More results from the Statistic Brain Research Institute study can be found here.
The Brookings Institution has just published a fascinating map that tells us a good deal about what is happening with American manufacturing today.
Headlined “Where the Robots Are,” the map graphically illustrates that as of 2015, nearly one-third of America’s 233,000+ industrial robots are being put to use in just three states:
Michigan: ~12% of all industrial robots working in the United States
It isn’t surprising that these three states correlate with the historic heart of the automotive industry in America.
Not coincidentally, those same states also registered a massive lurch towards the political part of the candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election who spoke most vociferously about the loss of American manufacturing jobs.
The Brookings map, which plots industrial robot density per 1,000 workers, shows that robots are being used throughout the country, but that the Great Lakes Region is home to the highest density of them.
Toledo, OH has the honor of being the “Top 100” metro area with the highest distribution of industrial robots: nine per 1,000 workers. To make it to the top of the list, Toledo’s robot volume jumped from around 700 units in 2010 to nearly 2,400 in 2015, representing an average increase of nearly 30% each year.
For the record, here are the Top 10 metropolitan markets among the 100 largest, ranked in terms of their industrial robot exposure. They’re mid-continent markets all:
Toledo, OH: 9.0 industrial robots per 1,000 workers
Detroit, MI: 8.5
Grand Rapids, MI: 6.3
Louisville, KY: 5.1
Nashville, TN: 4.8
Youngstown-Warren, OH: 4.5
Jackson, MS: 4.3
Greenville, SC: 4.2
Ogden, UT: 4.2
Knoxville, TN: 3.7
In terms of where industrial robots are very low to practically non-existent within the largest American metropolitan markets, look to the coasts:
Ft. Myers, FL: 0.2 industrial robots per 1,000 workers
It should come as no surprise, either, that investments in robots are continuing to grow. The Boston Consulting Group has concluded that a robot typically costs only about one-third as much to “employ” as a human worker who is doing the same job tasks.
In another decade or so, the cost disparity will likely be much greater.
On the other hand, two MIT economists maintain that the impact of industrial robots on the volume of available jobs isn’t nearly as dire as many people might think. According to Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo:
“Indicators of automation (non-robot IT investment) are positively correlated or neutral with regard to employment. So even if robots displace some jobs in a given commuting zone, other automation (which presumably dwarfs robot automation in the scale of investment) creates many more jobs.”
What do you think? Are Messrs. Acemoglu and Restrepo on point here – or are they off by miles? Please share your thoughts with other readers.