Getting A Few “F’s” And Being Happy

A roast turkey as part of a traditional U.S. T...

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This is our final screed until Monday.  I’m going to enjoy the Thanksgiving break and hope you can do so as well.  The post below was written the day prior to Thanksgiving in 2008.  It’s still very appropriate, whether your gathering is 20+ people like ours, or just 4 of you enjoying the day and one another.  It’s not the size of the family (everyone who comes is family to me!) that matters or even if some members are missing.  It’s giving thanks for what you have and sharing the day with some people who matter to you.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a lot of work in my house – maybe in yours as well.  If you’ve been reading along, you know that the menu planning, shopping, and prep work has been going on for several days and today (Wednesday) is the biggest of the prep days.   Tomorrow is focused on bringing all the pieces together, hopefully at the same time, and entertaining the horde that will descend.  I like to think of those pieces as the three “F”s. It’s also important to take a few seconds and reflect on them.  What?  You thought I meant the various dishes we’ve been wrangling up here?  Nope!

  • “F” number one is Family.  It’s the thing for which I am most thankful and the thing that has literally saved my life over this past year as I’ve made some pretty big life changes.  Having them here at this holiday is a labor of love and I hope they’ll all keep showing up for many years more.
  • “F” number two is Feasting.  We do ask everyone to bring something – an appetizer, wine, or a dessert, usually.  Obviously it’s not because it lightens the work load very much but because it makes them a part of the process.  It’s OUR meal as a family and our shared celebration.  The word “feast” comes from the same root as “festival” (yes, it’s also the same root Seinfeld used for “Festivus“) and we try to make it one.  All those days of prep come together in a 45 minute orgy of eating.  This holiday is very much like Christmas or Hanukah in that way – you prepare for quite a long time and then it’s over way too quickly.
  • “F” number three is Football.  This is America’s national sport and we’re very much a sports-oriented group.  I’ll never forget my Uncle Harry who would sit with us every year and watch the games.  “I don’t understand,” he would say, “they all fall down, they all get up, they do it again.  What kind of game is this?”  It could be paint drying – the point is that it’s a family ritual and through it we bond.

Hopefully those three pieces come together tomorrow in your house or wherever you’ll be as well.  Enjoy them!

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

No Place At The Table For Bad PR

I had planned to rant today about some smart marketing I came across the other day when a bit of really awful marketing slapped me in the face. I guess I’ll save the good stuff for after the holiday! Instead, let me present some terrible PR work to you. It’s almost a textbook example of what not to do in the modern age. I’m not going to name names because maybe the client has no clue what this person is doing (which is bad too!) in the client’s name. The names are unimportant; the bad PR work is what matters.

English: Olives in olive oil.

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first thing that catches one’s attention is the release’s headline:

Olive Oil Give Box Celebrated After Investigation

My first thought is what the heck is a “give box”? Something that solicits charitable donations? No, what it is in actuality is a typo. In the headline. He meant “gift”. That’s strike one.

Next comes the meaning of the headline. A gift box celebrated after an investigation? Not exactly. There has been an ongoing investigation of fraudulent labelling in the Italian olive oil world for quite a while. The report came out last week. It made no mention, however, of either gift boxes or the brand that is behind the release, which is a Greek olive oil. As an aside, every olive oil producing region has issues with fraudulent labelling, so I’m not sure that “celebrated” is the right term, since the fact that some Italian producers were doing some bad stuff doesn’t celebrate your Greek oil.  In fact, it sort of makes me wonder if I should wonder about this oil. There is a ton of hyperbole in the document too.  If the oil is “priceless”, why is there a price stated? Strike two.

The body of the story pitch/press release (I can’t tell which it is which is a bad sign right there) reads like a direct response ad. It describes the product along with selling points and has an affiliate link into an Amazon store for purchase.  It goes on to suggest “ideas for this story.”  What story?  Why do my readers (you folks!) care one iota about a premium Greek olive oil?  How does the knowledge of what’s in this release benefit you?  Strike three.

My inclination here is to rewrite this and show you how he could have turned it into something that might be of interest.  Instead, let’s just remember that what’s “news” to you must really be news to the reader (or blogger).  Please don’t ask me, or any other outlet, to serve as your vehicle for unpaid advertising.  Please don’t ask me to waste my readers’ time.  And for goodness’ sake, proofread the release!

There is a valuable role for good PR.  Bad PR such as this has no place. You with me?

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Filed under food, Consulting, Huh?

Firing The Customer

This Foodie Friday, we have the tale of a restaurant that fired a customer. A regular customer ordered some takeout and asked that it be delivered. The delivery guy, who is autistic, had handed the customer the wrong order from his car (he went back and corrected it immediately). The customer called the restaurant, furious. and informed the owner that the driver was an idiot and strung out on drugs (neither of which was true). I’ll let the owner (via his Facebook post) tell you the rest:  

This driver has worked for us for two years. He is a seriously accomplished University student, has an amazingly inquisitive personality, a wicked sense of humor and one helluva work ethic! You would think, in the year 2015 the majority of the population would have learned or at least heard about autism. I understand that there is a large portion of our population that is content to remain uninformed and uneducated, but that doesn’t give them the right to take that ignorance and turn it into a foul-mouthed rant on two of my employees!

Therefore, we have fired this customer. That address, that name and phone number will be tagged with a DO NOT DELIVER DO NOT ACCEPT ORDER message.

Now, we talk a lot in this space about being 100% customer-focused and seeing the world through the consumer’s eyes.  There are times, however, when we need to fire a client or a customer, and clearly this is one of them.  When you have a client or a customer that does certain things, it’s really time to move on.  Such as?

When there is no longer trust between you.  Maybe you sense there is unethical stuff going on or maybe the communication has become irreparably damaged.  Time to move on.  When clients stop paying their bills on time and don’t have a good faith discussion about the reasons why and the plan to do so, it’s time to stop working.  Financial abuse is abuse nonetheless. Maybe they begin to demand more work (or additional products) for no additional money.  No, thank you.  Finally, as is the case above, maybe they’ve become abusive verbally on a regular basis.  Everyone gets mad once in a while and you can’t make a souffle without cracking an egg or two.  That doesn’t mean a customer gets to cross the line on a regular basis.

Being customer centric doesn’t mean being a punching bag.  No client or customer is worth demeaning yourself to retain.  You might lose a customer, but you’ll lose a headache in the process.

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Helpful Hints


Yesterday’s edition of the screed was the 1,800th post. At roughly 350 words per, that’s 630,000 words I’ve written in an effort to make sense of business. I’ve written approximately 250 posts each year for the last 7. While not every one of those posts has been original (I do republish some stuff), each one has been carefully considered for its topic and usefulness to you folks. I’ll leave it to you to judge how well I’ve succeeded, although I hear from some readers that while some posts are enlightening, others are just too confusing. Well, yes. That’s kind of reflective of business, isn’t it?  

Since 1,800 feels like a milepost on the way to 2,000, I’m going to do something that I like to do with clients after a long meeting: sum up. If you hang around this space long enough you’ll pick up on a bunch of recurring themes, and while I’d hope that you’ll continue to come around here each day, let me make things a little easier for you in case you miss something. All of what follows should feel very familiar and, hopefully, not new. In no particular order:

  • The reason any of us are in business is to solve problems for our customers. If our product or service doesn’t add value and/or solve a problem, it’s useless, even if it’s free.
  • Hire smart people who possess the intangible skills you can’t teach: work ethic, honesty, humility, and hunger to succeed. Treat them well, train them even better, and demand their best.
  • Technology changes; basic, sound business principles don’t. Don’t confuse the technology with the business, even if the business IS technology.
  • Finally, while it’s impossible to ignore “the bottom line” as we run our businesses, for the most part our focus needs to be squarely on our customers.  We need to see our world from their perspective and recognize that their perspective might be very different from that of the business.  Customer focus is imperative, although (as we’ll see tomorrow), that doesn’t mean the customer is right 100% of the time (but they are way more than most businesses appreciate).

The above is a little cheat sheet to understanding what’s going on here most days.  In theory, anything you read will fall into one of those theme buckets.  I hope you’ll continue to do so.  Please?

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Not Sexy (But Effective)

There is a big debate going on about whether advertising is dead. It may be, to a certain extent (that’s a much longer post) but I’m also certain that marketing lives on, albeit in a very different form than it was a decade ago. No matter where you come out on the aforementioned question, you’re probably in the business of reaching out to your customers or potential customers to increase sales. Today’s topic is an unsexy but highly effective way to do just that.  

I hope you or your marketing folks spend a lot of time on email, but I’m doubtful that’s true. It’s “old” technology, and I think we all sort of gravitate to more recent stuff. It’s not as much fun as video or social media nor as interesting as paid search. It just works.  This from the folks at Retention Science:

Although flashier channels like social media and mobile marketing routinely steal headlines, email is still the core of every effective digital marketing strategy…Email marketing generated the highest ROI for eCommerce in 2014, and consistently outperforms other channels in engagement and conversion. Even tech-savvy Millennials prefer to communicate with brands through email; 47 percent of respondents chose email as the preferred channel, while only 6 percent selected social media.

Integral to that statement is the notion of control.  People like that they can see what they want to see and unsubscribe if you’re not helpful (how’s THAT for good feedback!).  Email is much easier to personalize, and the offers can be fine-tuned.  Are you really going to make 100 different videos to reflect the nuances of your customers?  Probably not.

Email is one of those things in business that reminds us that the new, shiny object might not be the best use of our time or resources.  Building a mailing list is hard, and just using content (fill this out for a free whitepaper or report) won’t do it alone.  Great content combined with innovative thinking and smart socialization can help.  So can working with another brand that complements yours.  The reward, however, is well worth the effort.

A personalized ad, delivered which is requested by the customer, delivered when the customer wants it, and which is highly actionable and measurable sounds like email in a nutshell.  It also sounds like a pretty good thing to me.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Choosing Ignorance

Ever had some fact creep up on you and scare you to death? I have had that experience this morning. It’s particularly disheartening because we’re coming up on an election year here in the US and one would hope that people are paying a bit more attention to the news than usual as they seek out facts and the information they need to make decisions. No, I’m not going down the political road. The point I’m going to make is about business, but I find it disturbing outside of business as well. Let’s see what you think.

Business Information Systems

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An organization called the Media Insight Project, which is an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, conducted some research on how Millenials get news. The headline coming out of the research is that the vast majority of Millennials, people who are ages 18 to 34, regularly use paid content for entertainment or news.  53 percent report regularly using paid news content — in print, digital, or combined formats — in the last year.  That goes against the conventional wisdom that younger people won’t pay for content.  While that is a significant finding, in my mind it buries the lede, which is this:

Among those Millennials who say keeping up with the news is very important to them, only half personally pay for news content. And, even among Millennials who do pay for news, free services like Facebook and search engines are their most common sources for obtaining news on many topics.

In fact, as the study looked at different types of information, Facebook was cited most often as the source for national and political news, social issues, as well as crime and public safety even among those people who pay for news content.  Given that what you see on Facebook is based on an algorithm that reinforces your current attitudes and likes, and is NOT meant to provide you with an unbiased world view, this is pretty dangerous in my mind.  It’s a business problem as well.

Just because some Millenials make an effort to have the broader, less tilted sources of news and information available to them by paying, there is no requirement that they listen to those sources.  It’s not really enough to find the information if you’re going to choose to ignore it.  That’s as true in business as it is outside of the business world.  A younger adult’s willingness to pay for news is correlated with his or her broader beliefs about the value of news, the study found.  Your willingness to seek out business information – even paying for it – should also imply that you’re willing to pay attention and not just pay lip-service.  Are you choosing to do so, or are you choosing ignorance?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Getting Personal

At the tail end of last week, I received a mailing from the folks at Total Wine.  It’s one that comes along each week and contains what Total calls my “weekend recommendations.”  It shows me some highly-rated wines that are supposed to fit my tastes.  The problem is that they don’t.  There are several bottles of white wine listed and I don’t drink white wine.  There is some expensive champagne and I prefer prosecco.  I don’t believe I’ve ever bought pinot noir in the store and yet there is a pinot recommendation as well.  

I’m not surprised. Although I shop fairly regularly at Total and love the store, there is no system in place to associate customer purchases with customers.  There is no loyalty card, as I have with a supermarket or two, to record what I’m buying, how often etc.  Without that information, recommendations can’t be personalized.  It’s the difference between me walking in the store and having them greet me by name as opposed to a generic hello.

I think we’ve all become spoiled by personalization, so much so that I think the ability to personalize the customer experience is table stakes for any retailer.  Notice I’m not limiting that to online retailers either.  My supermarket personalizes every trip as soon as I use their scanner to shop by delivering instant coupons and savings on products I buy or might like based on past buying.  We’ve all used Amazon and seen their recommendations.  In fact, their algorithm is so good that it’s worth examining what they’re using to determine your personalized selections and deleting things that you don’t want to include (maybe you bought something as a gift that should not be included, for example).  Netflix famously paid a lot of money to scientists that improved their recommendations by 8.5%.

Any business needs to think about how to incorporate personalization, even those of us that are not in B2C businesses.  Still showing generic decks to potential customers?  Still have a standard rate card that you send out when people ask for price quotes?  Still think you’re in tune with customer expectations?

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