June 06, 2007

Are Relationships Changing?

My first two jobs were at intensely competitive companies.

At the Garst Seed Company, we were fourth in market share, losing money, fighting for our existence. We were fighting against the big boys at Pioneer.

We were downright competitive at Lands' End, too. Stuck in the middle of the country, with L.L. Bean to the east and Eddie Bauer to the west, we wanted to win in the early 1990s.

Two of my favorite experiences were part of cross-functional teams. Getting Eddie Bauer Direct to go from break-even to an at-the-time record $26,000,000 EBIT was fun, and it was especially neat to see merchants, brand marketers, finance, information technology, online marketing, contact center operations, creative and circulation all work together to make it happen. We openly talked about and shared ideas. And for a brief period of time, we were a well-functioning team.

The other really enjoyable experience was in 2003-2004, when Jim Bromley unified a similar team, a team that turned Nordstrom Direct from an epic failure to a money-printing machine.

Since then, the internet and blogosphere seem to have changed things.

Our allegiance to cross-functional teams within a company is being transformed by cross-company teams within an industry.

I see this happening every day. I follow an e-mail discussion group that talks about various topics within the e-mail industry. There are blogs for just about every possible discipline. Fans of any discipline can readily exchange ideas and thoughts with each other, across industries, within industries. You'll see folks from one competitor share ideas with folks from another competitor.

The changing face of relationships was illustrated to me earlier today. In the e-mail forum I follow, an individual asked if anybody leveraged partnerships with the web analytics folks to complement the metrics used to analyze e-mail campaigns.

This question was almost unfathomable to me. Fifteen years ago, you would simply walk down the hall and ask somebody to help you.

Today, you float your idea into the ether, to see if others in your field are already implementing your suggestion.

I'm not sure whether this is good or bad. In the old days, you'd develop your ideas internally. Some companies would win, some would lose. You learned things when you left your company, and went to work somewhere else.

Today, the ideas are homogenized. How many clever e-mail, web analytics, marketing, creative or merchandising ideas can there be if they can all be readily shared in nano-seconds on a blog or message board?

Ok, your turn. Do you notice that relationships are changing? Is this good or bad for an individual person's career? Is this good or bad for the profession we work in? Is this good or bad for the companies we work for?


  1. Interesting observations, as ever. I think, though, that the degree of homogeneity in some particulars perhaps isn't as big of an issue as it might seem. By way of metaphor, consider Hyundai. Consider Porsche. Does the fact that both enterprises use round wheels mean that they are homogeneous? I think the ether-transfer can spark a lot of good ideas, but to the point of your previous point about internal communication, that spark needs to be nurtured in the particular corporate environment, and perhaps morphed into a variant that is quite creative and quite unique to that enterprise.

  2. Agree --- if you can morph ideas into variants that are unique and creative, then you're cookin'.

    Great observation!

  3. Anonymous3:22 AM

    One thing to mention is that legal considerations(fear of lawsuits) keep employees from collaborating as well.
    It makes it very difficult to learn what others are doing when they are forced to keep methods secret so competitors won't "discover" and copy those methods.
    On the flip side, a good idea only lasts about 12-18 months before competitor copies and begins to "steal" market share.


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