Culture Eats Acquisition For Lunch: Why Microsoft + Yammer Was Doomed

"Hey little sister, what have you done?
Hey little sister, who's the only one?
Hey little sister, who's your superman?
Hey little sister, who's the one you want?
Hey little sister, shotgun
"It's a nice day to start again
It's a nice day for a white wedding
It's a nice day to start again."
- Billy Idol, "White Wedding"
Anyone who's wasted months of their lives emailing documents back and forth with "track changes" knows that enterprise collaboration software is a no-brainer.
Whether you're talking about social networking, document sharing, videoconferencing, project management or some combination of all of these, the days are long gone when you could sit isolated in the back of your office and focus on "your work" all day.
How big is this market, however ill-defined? One forecast says "$5.9 billion by the end of 2018," another "$6.2 billion by 2019, representing a 13.4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the 2014-2019 period."
Collaboration is undoubtedly "the next big thing," so much so that one day we will look back and not understand how we ever did without it. Back in 2012, though, only a few companies had seriously gained traction, and one of them was Yammer. So it was predictable that Microsoft - the largest software company in the world - with its dorky Sharepoint tool that remains unpopular among users - would seek to buy it. Indeed in June of that year, the purchase went through for a staggering $1.2 billion.
After which Microsoft proceeded to kill it. Initially Yammer CEO David Sacks stayed on after the purchase, but departed in 2014 after being more or less ignored. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
"Sacks, who was Yammer’s CEO when Microsoft purchased the company in 2012 for $1.2 billion, had been an outspoken advocate for new tools to make workers more collaborative and efficient...Sacks went to work at Microsoft after the acquisition, but people familiar with the company said he hasn’t been involved much in operations at Yammer or Microsoft."
On January 22, 2016, the business collaboration community was shocked to learn that Microsoft has apparently entirely eliminated the entire Yammer Customer Success team. (Note that Microsoft has yet to confirm the news; It is based on status updates in Twitter and on the Yammer IT Pro Network.)
Meaning that now, when you get the product, you're on your own.
One industry writer reacted furiously. "These are the people whose blood, sweat and tears helped companies like yours turn collaboration into a success at your company," wrote Carrie Basham Young at, which broke the story.
Others shared Young's opinion, even before the news broke. As Dennis Pearce wrote on Twitter: "Microsoft is doing a good enough job of killing Yammer without any external help."
For her part, Young expressed disillusionment with Microsoft's betrayal of its initially promising approach to the acquisition, noting that in the beginning "Microsoft invested in the Yammer product as well as the team that built key relationships with its best customers [the CSMs]".
What went wrong here? 
From the very beginning, analysts were concerned that Microsoft had made a mistake by straying from its "core businesses," such as Windows. For another thing, others had already made inroads into the market. In a particularly stinging comment, Trip Chowdhry, an analyst at Global Equities Research, said, "Microsoft is too late to the social party....Imitation is not a strategy."
But in my view, the real problem has to do with culture, which is ultimately reducible to brand. Deloitte Consulting has published a short guide to the specific issue of cultural integration after the M&A, but even had Microsoft followed that guide the problem remains unaltered.
Which is: One company can't marry another company unless the two cultures are compatible from the get-go. "Mergers Fail More Often Than Marriages," reported CNN more than five years ago, citing statistics that are nothing short of shocking when you consider the cost.
"Divorce rates vary according to country, educational levels and income, but generally hover between 40 percent and 50 percent in North America and Europe. Conversely, a 2004 study by Bain & Company found that 70 percent of mergers failed to increase shareholder value. More recently, a 2007 study by Hay Group and the Sorbonne found that more than 90 percent of mergers in Europe fail to reach financial goals.
It seems that while we talk a great deal about the importance of corporate culture, most companies don't put their money where their mouths are. What should happen is significant due diligence before a merger or acquisition ever takes place - to see if the two cultures can live together productively.
Instead, what we see is the deeply misguided and costly notion that you can buy your way to best fit. It doesn't work on that TV show "Married At First Sight," it and you can't buy your way to a good corporate marriage in real life.
No matter how sexy the target looks, it's brand values that make for a lasting partnership.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. "Bride of Frankenstein" photo via Wikipedia.

#Snowzilla 2016: Notes From The Abyss

My heart is beating pretty hard right now. In fact I'm having trouble breathing.
Maybe it's the coffee, I told myself this morning, when this first started. Two shots of espresso is a lot.
But no, it's four hours later now and I think it's because of the impending snowstorm. The one they are calling "the storm of the century."
As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "I'm freaking out!"
Between emergency grocery shopping - online and off - and a run for kosher Chinese food, we have been to the store no less than 5 times and have spent a couple of hundred dollars.
Yet in my mind our pantry looks like this.
And then there's the idea that we'll be stuck at home all together, the family all on top of each other, for two or three days.
For some people this idea is bliss...but this is what I'm picturing.
A lot of people say to hunker down, and relax. Drink wine and watch a lot of Netflix.
But in my mind I picture the power going out, and then I can't watch any movies or anything.
Much less be on the computer. 
Yep, that's the part that really scares me.
The blizzard of the year is's already started snowing.
I guess you could say I'm having trouble coping.
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Main ("apocalypse") photo by krheesy. Grocery store photo by Quinn Dombrowski. Fight photo by NAPARAZZI. "Urban Insanity" byDima Bushkov. All photos via Flickr (Creative Commons).

We Came Here To Fail & We Succeeded

I've always had trouble believing memoirs and case studies. It's only common sense to surmise that most of this shit is made up.
  • For one thing, anybody writing a thing about themselves is creating a character, and they have a vested interest in making that character sound good. But most of life is a drumbeat of failure. (Consider that the ultimate "retirement plan" is bodily and brain decay, followed by death.) 
  • Second, "it's a small world after all" and the only currency we really own is trust. Once you blow someone's confidentiality - whether it's your ex-spouse's or your former employer's - good luck with finding your next "victim," unless they're a total exhibitionist. And free speech aside, it's a litigious world;  a person is smart to be concerned about getting sued.
  • Third, though it's true that "wild" headlines get a lot of attention, most people can't take too much reality. An action movie ends with the bad guy dead. A romance novel closes with true love. Just the same, viewers want any accounting of someone's business achievements to be positive and hopeful, a document of success. For that is what gives them hope.

So it is hard to get a "real" case study. But when I can get one, it's usually in real life, when the cameras aren't rolling and there is no pen and paper.
Here are the kind of things that inspire me.
  • The Polish immigrant who never had a big career, who died an agonizing death of Parkinson's, but whose behavior taught three generations how to be a mensch. That was Reb Dovid Garfinkel, my great-grandfather, olov hashalom, may he rest in peace. 
  • The social activist who wrote on Facebook that they are two years sober as of yesterday. Every day is a struggle. They are counting every single one.
  • The woman raising her son alone, whose work obligations led her to nearly being raped, but who kept her wits about her and somehow talked the guy out of it. Who was in an airport when some sheik tried to "buy" her. Who was locked in a hotel room for three months by an insane feminist boss who insisted that the women work twice as hard. Who never, ever gave up trying to mentor others and help them succeed. 
  • The colleague who almost died from a sudden illness and who woke up one day and said dammit, if life is really this fragile then I'm getting my degree. In mid-career, mid-life, with a raft of family responsibilities, with no particular support from anyone, this person got up and just plain did it. Why? Because every credit mattered personally, to them. 
  • Myself, when I want so bad to eat that piece of cheesecake in the fridge but say no and have a cup of decaf instead. Even though tomorrow I'll probably have pizza; even though the march toward middle age usually comes with "baggage." I smile when I think that I handled overeating, just that once.
Since the fact is that we're all doomed, and much of life involves dealing with failure, why do we talk about "the pursuit of happiness?" If you watch Leonardo di Caprio in The Revenant, he was satisfied with raw bear flesh, and I don't think it tasted all that good.
Instead, as the writer Penelope Trunk has pointed out (based on significant research), the better life objective is meaning. Whether we're doing well or badly, are we doing things that matter to us?
And if we fall on our asses again and again - are we reframing that experience in our own minds, so that we understand it as a form of progress?
It seems to me that what matters is doing what matters to us. Over and over and over.
As long as we are learning, we can only "fail up."
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Alex Indigo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

10 Marketing Trends for 2016

LinkedIn wants marketing predictions for the upcoming year. Here's my Top 10:
  1. Pervasive Texting: Your dentist knows how to reach you now, and so does the frozen yogurt place. In between texts from your significant other and your kids, expect a deluge of reminders, promos, and codes from marketers who want a piece of your business.
  2. Temporary Appearances: The allure of Snapchat is that it will be gone. Expect high-end marketing of everything from celebrity interviews to sit-down conversations with world leaders, who naturally lend themselves to rare appearances.
  3. Infowars Goes Main Street: Alex Jones' unique brand of reporting, long considered "fringe," resonates with many for its insistent, even paranoid, suspiciousness. Now that Donald Trump and Matt Drudge have made appearances, expect more savvy influencers to stop by their studios...including those who've been the target of Jones' criticism.  
  4. Sell It On Instagram: Now that it is possible to link from one's photos directly to mobile shopping pages, the sky is really the limit on this endlessly engaging social media site. With few captions and beautiful visuals that draw in a global audience, it is uniquely accessible to all.
  5. Tell It Like It Is: There is a grand tradition in marketing of highlighting the positive side of one's products and services. This will be the year that "plain talk" from "plain people" is celebrated in everything from commercials to speeches to Tweets.  
  6. News From Facebook: It's become a kind of garden sport to predict the demise of Facebook, but I think the opposite is true and FB will become more and more a part of our lives. What this means is that traditional news and entertainment news are going to blend, with entertaining stories about young inventors and lottery winners side-by-side with world news and political controversies, and there will be the constant drumbeat of shocking tragedies. All determined democratically and algorithmically, by what interests people the most. 
  7. Trust Generation X: For decades Gen Xers complained that the lion's share of attention went to Matures, Baby Boomers, and then skipped a generation to focus on Millennials, then Generation Z. This will be the year that this rugged, tribal, family-protecting and mistrustful group gets its due, particularly in Hollywood movies and TV.
  8. Preparation Mode: We've all heard of Doomsday Preppers, but this is a more general mindset of hunkering down that will spread into mainstream thinking. Shoppers will think twice before consuming luxury goods, mindful that there are dire predictions of a looming stock market crash, an unpredictable election forthcoming in the United States, and social instability abroad.
  9. Religious Unity: Despite or perhaps because of all the hype concerning religious strife, people will resolve to find ways to transcend these kinds of divisions. There will be a strong receptiveness to marketing messages that emphasize the unity of all humanity, even as we celebrate our individual differences and cultural heritage.
  10. The Language of Transformation: Dark times bring out the desire for hope, and people will gravitate to devotional, inspirational and self-help books, podcasts, television shows, webcasts, movies, and so on. The desire is for communication that speaks to our highest selves, rather than catering to the lowest common denominator. 
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. 
Photo by the U.S. Agency for International Development via Flickr (Creative Commons). Caption: "At the inauguration of a USAID-funded market, rich frescoes painted by local artists flanked the walkways and interior walls."

5 Unexpected Ways To Make The Client Listen

“It is much easier for some clients to dismiss ideas than to engage with them. But that’s exactly what we must advise our clients not to do….[because] they’ll just go somewhere else. There will always be someone who will embrace a brilliant idea. You do not want it to be your competition.” – Michael Dunn, Senior Brand Strategist | Chief Creative, D U N N
All service providers face the same dilemma: the client who doesn’t want to hear your ideas. It’s a particularly thorny issue, though, for professionals who touch on psychological issues that are very touchy for the client.
Yet you have to get the client to listen, argues Michael Dunn – you’re not doing your job as a brand consultant otherwise.
Here are some actionable tips, gathered from a variety of sources. (See the originals for more background on why people so stubbornly refuse to change their views):
  1. Tell them they’re right: “Agree with them first, then present additional information.” –
  2. Open the floor up to questions: “Say, I have a question…” and then provide your feedback. This is a method of challenging the client’s reasoning in a nonthreatening way, so that you can “let it be their idea” when they change their minds. – Personal advice from a friend
  3. Eliminate your ego: “Reiterate that your reasoning is not self-serving but rather has the best interests of the business at heart.” – IntuitQuickBase
  4. Try “gossip therapy:” This means that you talk in a way that sounds like an everyday interchange between two friends. E.g., “I don’t know how you’re going to respond to this, but I’ve decided to tell you something…” or “I really don’t want to be intrusive… but…” – Uncommon Knowledge (UK)
  5. Give them a dose of reality, in the form of options: “You can continue to do what’s not working, or you could try something different. One road maintains the misery you (currently) have and will probably make it worse. The other road will more than likely help you if you’re willing to give it a try.” – Counseling Today
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. 

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