Wikileaks has turned much of the world on its head. Exposing information, documentation and communication that many thought was secure.

The main target has been the US Government and how it deals with others. However, the next group in the site’s crosshairs is rumored to be big business.

Whatever your opinion of the site, you have to ask why everyone wasn’t more prepared for this. Business and Marketing in particular has undergone a change with the advent of the Internet and Social Networks. Transparency and engaging prospects in meaningful dialogues has become the way to success (continued or newfound).

Why wouldn’t that become expected (or forced in this matter) for everything? People don’t like to be kept in the dark or treated in a non-professional/ unequal/ condescending manner.

So, with that in mind, Marketers should take stock of themselves or the way their business deals with people.

But, wasn’t it just stated that Marketers have changed for the better if they want to succeed? Sure, but that still leaves plenty of leeway to use people who don’t know better.

Let’s look at talent. You’d think Marketers would want to deal with talent justly, in order to have them produce a constant stream of quality material to support programs. That’s true of in-house talent.

Many have found ways to exploit outside talent. Especially those that want to break into the business or are trying to secure a new client. Often this takes the form of ‘contests’ where the talent submits an ad (be it video, audio or print) for free as an entry into this contest. The business will post them on a website and encourage voting, with the idea that the entry securing the most votes winning an opportunity to work with the company in a creative capacity.

This is great stuff for the Marketer. They have effectively quadrupled their budget for nothing. People created ads for free and they’re directing others to view them. So now, there’s essentially a viral team exposing your brand for free as well. Even if the contest is on the up and up, resulting in an unknown plucked from obscurity,it’s still just paying for one ad. There’s no guarantee for the talent of continued work. (Technically never offered in most contests, but it’s implied that this is the start of a new career/ new client nevertheless.)

There is also a website that allows designers to essentially work for free on jobs as a ‘pitch’ to various clients. The same thing is going on here with a company getting the ad fully formed before the talent even knows if there’s a job or what the pay is.

Let me make it perfectly clear: Professional talent does not do anything for free. If you are talented and want to work on something to promote yourself as a showcase, then fine. Once there’s a client involved then there should be contract negotiations as to what’s expected and what the payoff is. Then work commences. No one will respect work that’s given away.

These are desperate times for some and that means others will prey upon perceived weaknesses. Marketers should be more self-aware of how this may reflect upon them and their business, but there is no law or morality clause that keeps them from taking advantage of gullible people.

In the spirit of Wikileaks though, think about how this might look to others. Follow your own path and hope it’s not one that will come back to bite you on the backside.

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The current business model’s measure of success is the launch of an IPO. Once there, some continue to grow and innovate (Apple or Microsoft, for example) while others may stagnate and stall.

What if the current business model is not the measure of success that it has been anointed as? A recent article in Advertising Age showed that some businesses do better staying private. They can even maintain idiosyncratic business behavior and continue to operate with a profit. How is this possible?

Without shareholders to worry about, these businesses can follow their own path to growth and profitability. There is no erratic decisions based on making a quarterly dividend. They can actually develop and maintain 5-7 year business plans. (And stick to them!) There is no hired gun CEO (Hired because they need those dividends.) or second guessing of plans. Many would say that because they are not public they don’t have the funding to make big moves, but that money comes with an unseen price, one that usually stifles big moves to begin with.

For marketers, these companies are potential creative gold mines. They don’t have a huge network to run ideas and campaigns through to get approval. They are more likely to go out on a limb and embrace new ideas, both in concept and execution. They are probably going to be more protective of their brand, as they have had to grow and maintain it the hard way. That’s a good thing though, because their feedback is based on vested interest and not just profitability. (New Coke, anyone?)

One other good thing about private companies for marketers is that they know their customers. They are certainly open to the attraction of new demographics, but not at the sacrifice of existing ones. In brief, they are less likely to shoot themselves in the foot. As a marketer, you’re much more apt to figure out if there’s a good match between the two of you quickly. They are usually not trying to be all things to all people. (And that’s good, because niche offerings continue to grow.) Serving the public is still different from being beholden to the public. The first still allows a lot of latitude while the other brings more limitations than may be tolerable.

Much has been made recently out of Twitter leveraging their feed to search engine providers with Facebook making a similar play. (Though not as successfully.)

Once Facebook figures out how to get its members to opt in to this. (*Hint* By providing a separate public feed apart from their regular status updates that go to friends. *Hint*) There will exist a phenomenal opportunity for marketers. It’s their own virtual marketing research lab.

As a marketer, how would you like to get immediate feedback from the public on how a business strategy, service or product offering will be taken? That’s the potential here.

Of course, just because the opportunity exists and your business concern exists doesn’t mean that this is a slam dunk. You need to have established a history of cultivating an active consumer base and engaging them in meaningful dialogue. You need to be trusted and be prepared to weigh in on issues that may affect them even if it doesn’t translate into sales. (Not immediately anyway. Trust = preferred brand and that definitely translates into sales, so be patient and cultivate away. You’re savvy and understand how to engage social networks. The consumer driven market doesn’t scare you and you don’t try to shoehorn old marketing tactics into new technology.)

Once the ground work is done between you and the Internet you’ll be able to get consumers to opt in to marketing research. With the correct phrasing they will play an integral part in shaping the future of your business concern. More importantly, they’ll give you information to help figure out needs that they may have that they haven’t even articulated yet. That’s the real synergy in participating with social networking.

Once you establish that there may be a need for something, the benefits of a real-time Internet could go beyond the initial market research of your network. Now you can query a word or term and tap into feeds to find what the untapped potential of your business proposition is.

You can be the Kreskin of your business and present psychographic/ demographic data to support a business direction. How do you think that will affect your marketing budget and the general POV a company takes towards the department? Looking good? Yeah, I thought so. Use this effectively and you can be a hero to both the business and its consumers.

Cloud computing was pushed pretty hard (mostly by Google) in late ’08/ early ’09. It’s starting to pick up steam again as Google finalizes more apps for it. (Along with other items in their business suite in an effort to compete with Microsoft.)

For those that may have forgotten, the pitch goes something like this: Don’t use up hard drive space. Do all of your work online and save it there. You can access it anytime from anywhere and not have to worry about using laptops or netbooks that customarily have smaller drive spaces than PCs or Macs.

It’s an interesting service concept aimed mostly at road warrior business types. One could see students or people on an extreme budget (Don’t have a computer, just go to the library and use theirs??) climbing on board. Could be used as a collaboration tool. (Use it with Google Wave,…once it finally goes public. See the synergy?)

The problem is, many businesses have a form of cloud computing going on already with shared drives. Your work station may only have a limited hard drive, but that’s OK. You’re supposed to keep all of your work on a shared drive that is maintained by the company’s IT department.

Until, of course, when it isn’t. The server goes down and the required back up wasn’t performed because the department was cut short by the recession and they’re overworked. IT or another person with drive access accidentally overwrote the drive or deleted files. Worst case: You’re a big company and a hacker target.

I work at such a large company and have seen all of these scenarios transpire despite everyone’s best efforts and intentions. (Hey, they won’t even let anyone upgrade IE or be able to use an alternate browser because of the hassles involved. What are the odds they’ve covered all the bases on the above mentioned possible computer disasters?)

For this reason I’ve learned to keep additional copies of important work in other drives and, yes, on the main hard drive. Many co-workers keep important work on memory sticks they carry around.

That’s the other unaddressed part of Cloud Computing. Storage space is at an all time low in terms of cost and getting lower all the time. It used to be a TB was housed in a rack of networked drives. Now it’s an external drive so small that it sits atop my PC at home waiting to be filled with videos of my 3-year-old. Any IT department that’s not buying that kind of space to archive important data is inviting disaster to come knocking.

Let’s not forget that Google is a big target already for those with a grudge and idle time or just some kid looking to make a name for himself. (Yep, you’re the top Internet gun slinger Google. Welcome to all that comes with that.) So, sure, let’s add the incentive of disrupting, or worse, hacking countless businesses and individuals because they’ve opted in to your service.

What this is always going to come down to is: Can you (or your business) afford to lose or inadvertently share data? Because if you can’t (and I’m assuming that is the case with 99.9%) then step up and take responsibility.

If you think Google is a trusted brand and this wouldn’t happen, then think again. How many Gmail outages have there been in the last couple of years? How is it that Adobe Acrobat can be transformed into a virus carrier? Microsoft is constantly battling parts of their OS and browser that hackers exploit and even Macs are not as immune as once previously thought.

Marketing-wise, anyone currently offering Cloud Computing needs to demonstrate considerable security before people embrace the offering. Everyone is in an ongoing security war and you can’t afford to not perform due diligence on any Internet service. Google needs to address those fears and be prepared to show testimonials from recognizable names that laud the successful deployment of their service.

Hopefully it’s not marketing professionals. If you’re waiting for demographic information from the census to make strategic decisions, then you’re lagging way behind in the game. If you think there’s some sort of data analysis going on there that you need to wait for, then think again.

If you’re not already leveraging social networks, surveys and direct feedback to engage in a meaningful dialogue with your (real and potential) customers, you have a problem. Waiting to dig into the census for data analysis is not going to be the solution you need. Roll up your sleeves and start connecting with the world. I know, it may be scarry and you can’t control everything, but guess what, that’s what goes on whether you choose to acknowlege it or not. You have to dive in and start managing things. It might be overwhelming, but stick with it and you’ll get better. You have to because your business depends on it.

All the demographic/psychographic data you could want is at your fingertips if you’ll just start becoming part of the conversation. Talk with consumers, not at them. And talk with a lot, so that a vocal few don’t sway you in the wrong direction.

Most products/services do not appeal to everyone. (They may have broad appeal but not universal.) You don’t want to wait and weed through the census for data that applies to your business. You can get through to the people that matter right now and at reasonable prices. (How much to start up Twitter? Modify or start a website? Get a Facebook page? Start a blog with commenting enabled?) It’s your business and your time. It’s worth that time to improve your business. Wait at your peril.

I’ve noticed a big push in Dunkin Donut sites openning lately. I’m sure you’re wondering why that’s a big thing? Easy, the two product lines that Dunkin serves (Donuts & coffee) have retail leaders that have had a hard time the last few years. Both Starbucks and Krispy Kreme have actually reduced the number of retail sites and are floundering in creating an upswing in sales.

So, how does Dunkin do well in a market that looks problematic? Strategy, both in operations and marketing. They have looked at the leaders in their respective sectors and found the flaws. They came up with products that addressed them and then used marketing to place themselves as viable alternatives in pricing and quality.

In short, they figured where they were in the scheme of things and took advantage. This is something many businesses need to do. You could be anything from a new entrant in a market to an established presence looking for renewed interest.

If you are a new entrant in a marketplace then potentially, the world is your oyster, as far a marketing goes. You are blazing new territory, but be careful. Just because you are a pioneer;it doesn’t make you impervious to marketing problems. You still need to perform due diligence in your marketing efforts and find something sustainable. (At least until your product has a history and becomes established.You’ll want to change tactics after that happens.)

If you are established and looking for renewed interest you need to look at the current market leaders. What kind of place have they carved out for themselves? How can you compete with that? (Price, quality, service?) Find out what it is and start a new campaign addressing those issues.

Remember the timeline from new adapter to mainstream is growing shorter all the time. New trends can increase marketshare, but external factors (use a STEEP analysis) can change things quickly. You have to remain flexible to address external issues regardless of where you are in a life cycle. So, figure out where you are and keep doing it. Don’t become complacent and you’ll remain competitive.

Those companies and business concerns that are surviving our economic implosion are doing so because they are forced to work leaner. Some are even having their business practices scrutinized by the government. (Hey, if you take the money, there’s go to be some price to pay.)

The ones that are really making an impression are not the ones that panicked and offshored as many efforts as possible while cutting back on crucial services. Those are the ones that are getting by on life support. The ones working smarter are the new vanguards of business. They didn’t cut services like marketing. Instead they honed their strategies by incorporating marketing into all other departments. Marketing gets to sit at the table with everyone else, sharing ideas and bringing new thinking to bear on problems. (Yes, it’s a two-way street. Marketing needs the other departments to bear on their efforts and should have integrated with them a long time ago.)

Marketing agencies have had to step up as well with clients making demanding more for their money. Again, this is an opportunity to smarten up the business approach. Panic benefits nobody. Well, except the ones keeping their heads.

So, all those CEOs cutting things right and left with little thought to consequences down the road; (Have to make their nut for the quarter, keep the shareholders happy. Seven year plan? Five year projection? What’s that?) Keep it up. You have competitors watching your frantic actions. Not all of them are concerned with padding their golden parachutes either. (That’s the kind of thinking that got everyone into this mess anyway.) You’ll see someone step up with a Business and Marketing Plan that will make all of your problems (and profits) go away.