This Foodie Friday, we’ll return to the land of Top Chef.  Not only is it my favorite show on TV (House of Cards isn’t really TV now, is it?), but it almost always inspires broader thinking about business for me.  Last night was the conclusion of the annual restaurant wars competition in which two teams of contestants have 24 hours to conceive and execute a restaurant.  The losing team (and they really did deserve to lose) made some key errors, from which I think we can all learn a couple of things. 

First, their menu had no focus. Some of it was Asian inspired, some of it was Italian, some of it was influenced by the chef’s ego and nothing else.  There was no cohesiveness to the meal.  Any restaurant – and any brand – makes a promise.  I like this explanation:

A strong brand promise is one that connects your purpose, your positioning, your strategy, your people and your customer experience. It enables you to deliver your brand in a way that connects emotionally with your customers and differentiates your brand.

With no focus to the items being served, there was no connection – emotional or otherwise – to the diners. The next issue was execution. As incoherent as the menu was, had the dishes been prepared extremely well and had the service been spectacular, the dining experience might have been saved. Unfortunately, most of the dishes the losing team served were awful, led by a salad of strawberries, pickled cucumber, roasted beets, and arugula with a strawberry champagne gazpacho. The gloppy “gazpacho” was more like a desert sauce and the judges hated this dish. There was a pork belly served in a consomme that apparently was almost all vinegar. You know there is a problem when every shot of someone tasting it shows them looking like they’d just bitten into a lemon.

Great execution can make up for many flaws.  That too is part of delivering on the brand promise.  I’ve certainly been to restaurants where the food was just ok but excellent, personable service and reasonable prices made it someplace to which I’d return.

It’s one thing to make a promise.  It’s quite another to deliver.  Are you doing that?


Filed under Consulting, food

The Pony

You’ve probably heard the old joke about the kid and the pile of horse manure.  There are many variants, but the basic story is that a kid is digging through a huge pile of horse manure.  When he is asked why his response is “with this much manure, there has to be a pony in here somewhere.”  It’s a story a use to help clients understand the nature of data.  Any of us who are in business see more and more of it each day.  In fact, we’re probably setting up systems to provide more of it to us as well.  The unfortunate truth is that most of it is…well…manure.

a Shetland Pony. Français : Un poné (Shetland).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re after the pony, or at least we should be.  The pony is the actionable insights that are contained within the data and not the accumulation of data itself,  It does take a lot of digging, and that digging can begin only after we set up systems to gather and to organize the flood of data.  Knowing that website traffic grew as measured by session count tells you very little.  Understanding how it grew or if that growth was because a bunch of referrer spammers hit it gives you actionable information (update the spam filters!). Knowing that your store sales were up 5% without understanding that you’ve lost market share can cause you to think that you’re doing well when in fact you’re losing ground.

Say “so what” to yourself a lot.  If you can’t explain why a piece of data is meaningful, you need to discard it because it’s the manure surrounding the pony inside.  If you can’t put something into a broader context, push to do so. If you can’t determine a course of action based on a particular nugget of information, ignore it and keep digging until you get to the pony.  Make sense?

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Trust No One

I see that “X-Files” is back on the air. I’ll admit that I was never a huge fan, although maybe if I go back and binge watch the old stuff it will grow on me. Still, there was a line spoken during the series that came to mind as I read about influencer marketing: Trust no one. 

You’ve probably heard about influencer marketing before. Many studies have shown that the best possible source of product information and recommendations are from a trusted source such as a friend or family member. Those are influencers, as are some bloggers, celebrities, etc. Influencer marketing is using those folks as channels to sell a product.  Obviously, as the use of ad blockers becomes more prevalent, marketers are seeking other ways to get their messages out, and influencer marketing has become one of those channels. As a report from eMarketer says:

In the past, working with influencers was time-consuming. Brands had to find and vet individual bloggers, strike deals with them and then devote significant resources to managing campaigns. Now, there are an increasing number of talent agencies, networks and matchmaking services for influencer marketing.

I have many nice things to say about my clients but you won’t see me touting their products or services in this space, at least not without a prominent disclaimer.  We have already seen instances of celebrities failing to disclose that they have been compensated to do that and we might have seen another one at the end of the Super Bowl.  I have no doubt that Peyton Manning was going to drink a bunch of Budweiser, and the brand quickly stated that they didn’t pay him to plug them (twice that I saw) after the game.  He does, however, own two Budweiser distributorships.  Does knowing that change your perception of his statement?

I doubt many of us will be asked to plug a new restaurant or car or any other product to our friends via social media.  Still, knowing that some people are asked to do so calls almost any nice statement people make into question.  I don’t know of a way for anyone to label their own post in social media as a sponsored post but it’s a shame that we really can’t trust anyone’s good words nor any blog’s excellent review.  I’m trusting no one.  You?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Any Press

There is an old expression that “any press is good press.” It has a couple of corollaries – “as long as they spell my name right” being one. I’d like to examine that in light of the most talked about ad of last night’s Super Bowl, Puppymonkeybaby.” This was a bizarre ad for a new flavor of soda and featured three lovable things – a puppy, a monkey, and a baby – mashed up into a strange creature. I’m sure you’ve seen the ad by now. 
According to

Mountain Dew dominated Super Bowl winning 1st place for the top performing commercial on game-day with its weirdly unmistakable “Puppymonkeybaby” ad. Even with so many ads, this unique spot captured nearly 13% of the big game’s Digital Share of Voice, generating over 244k social actions and a total social volume of over 272mm impressions and more than 2.25mm organic video views on game day.

No question that the ad made an impression. It finished, however, towards the bottom of the USA Today ad meter rankings (almost 20,000 pre-registered people weigh in) and, more importantly, lit up social media with comments ranging from humorous (adopt your puppymonkeybaby from a shelter) to the negative (I’ve never felt so uncomfortable watching a commercial) to the frightened (I don’t even know what #puppymonkeybaby was supposed to be advertising. All I know is the fear.) Generally, the comments were negative.

So is any press – or our 2016 version of press – social media – good press? I don’t think so.  Any brand that thinks just getting their name out there is following a terribly misguided strategy.  Huge amounts of  press for the wrong reasons can kill a brand.  The folks at the Stanford Graduate School of Business put out a study that said in some cases negative publicity can increase sales when a product or company is relatively unknown, simply because it stimulates product awareness.  Their thinking is that the negative impression fades over time and increased awareness may remain.  Given how most people research today using search engines, you can be very sure the negative impression will remain too.

Any press isn’t good press.  I won’t be buying the soda and I’m not buying that the negative impression made by the ad is a good thing. You?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Unhealthy Salads

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week comes to us courtesy of the folks at McDonald’s. I happen to like fast food as much as the next person even if I rarely eat it anymore. It’s not a shock to anyone that fast food generally isn’t the optimal way to eat, even if it provides good value for the money. As the trend toward healthier eating has spread, companies such as McDonald’s have seen large sales declines. To their credit, McDonald’s has reversed that problem, mostly by serving their breakfast menu all day long.

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other way that McDonald’s has tried to fix the sales problem is by offering healthier menu choices, and that’s our subject today as well as our business point. While they’re still testing some of the new items in this country, in Canada they’ve rolled out a full line of salads featuring kale. After all, what screams “good food choice” more loudly than a salad, right?  Unfortunately, the screaming hasn’t been very positive, as these articles demonstrate.  In fact, when the CBC took a look at the nutrition contained in the new salads they found that:

Some of its nutrient-enhanced meals are actually comparable to junk food, say some health experts. One of McDonald’s new kale salads has more calories, fat, and sodium than a Double Big Mac.

They also found that the Fruit and Maple Oatmeal has close to the sugar in a can of Coke.  Of course, it’s possible to remedy some of the problem by using less dressing on the salad (that’s where a lot of the calories and fat lie) or skipping McDonald’s completely.  But that is neither the problem nor the business point.  Those are about living up to the promises we make.

What McDonald’s is trying to do is to draw consumers in with the promise of a healthier food choice at a great value.  The reality is that most consumers won’t realize that they’re better off eating a Big Mac.  They hear “kale” and “salad” and assume they’re making a healthy choice.  Is that false advertising?  Not exactly, but it sure seems misleading.  That is a big no-no is my book.  Sure, they’re trying to be transparent – the nutritional information of all of their menu items is available – but why should consumers have to double-check?  As marketers, we need to be sure that the messages we send are accurate, even if they’re subliminal.  I think these salads fail that test.  You?

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My Bat, My Ball

A long time ago I had a boss who used to recite a little rhyme when he’d get into a discussion with other managers about how something ought to be done. It’s stuck with me: 

My bat, my ball
My ass, my call

In other words, as the person in charge of our division, I’m the one who answers to top management if things go wrong, so I get to decide how things are going to get done. I thought of him as I read the results of a survey by General Electric (GE) and Edelman Berland, which asked respondents to choose their three most challenging best practices to implement for enabling innovation  This was reported by eMarketer.  There were two best practices which the respondents found most difficult to implement.

The first was creating a connected culture where idea-sharing is facilitated and where all the contributing parties are recognized and rewarded.  The second was creating a set of metrics to decide which product or service should be funded or killed, as well as having a clear process and structure in place to manage innovation.  These we cited by over 40% of the survey respondents. What struck me about that, and how it relates to my old boss’ saying, is that both are about control.

With respect to the first point. If you’ve worked in any organization larger than a handful of people you’ve probably come across the dreaded silo effect.  You know what I mean: people not allowing anyone outside of their immediate group to see into their area and the lack of communication and cross-departmental support often found in large companies.  As a boss, you can mandate that people play nicely with other departments but the reality is that unless you proactively facilitate it and monitor it, it doesn’t really happen.  The second half of the point about reward is also about control since rewarding subordinates is often how managers keep people in line.  Shocking news: managers often play favorites irrespective of some folk’s contributions.

With respect to the second point.  That same boss had another saying: let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story. Again, a control issue.  He wanted to decide what we did and how we did it.  We would innovate HIS ideas and we’d kill something when HE decided, irrespective of the data we had.

The real challenge these points raise is that of being adult enough to relinquish control in order to gain control of the business.  Turning a dictatorship into a benevolent monarchy is hard, but necessary.  Are you up to the task?


Filed under Consulting

The Wily Old Veteran

Courtesy Jeffrey Beall

The Super Bowl is this Sunday and if you’re not going to be watching it you are a member of a small minority in this country. It’s been hard to avoid hearing about the upcoming tilt for weeks, and it has become almost impossible this week. That’s not a complaint, by the way. I’m a huge fan and while it’s sad to see the NFL season end, this year’s game offers us something of a business lesson as part of the deal.

Amidst all of the hoopla, you might have heard Peyton Manning’s name more than once. If you follow the game at all you’re aware that he is a guaranteed first-ballot Hall Of Fame player who might be playing in his last game. You might also be aware that he missed a significant part of the regular season with a foot injury. In his place, Brock Osweiler came in and lead the team to a number of victories. He is clearly Denver’s quarterback of the future. Even after Manning got healthy, Osweiler had the starting job and was only back on the bench after Denver stumbled in a late season game and Manning came in. So why is Manning starting the Super Bowl?

You might say “oh, it’s a tribute to his wonderful career and that must be respected.” The real answer is the business point today. As an article written about the game said

Manning, not Osweiler, will start Sunday against the Carolina Panthers after reclaiming the job he lost to foot problems and turnovers earlier in the season. The five-time MVP‘s experience outweighed his limitations for the stretch run on a Denver team that relies on the running game and defense.

Experience isn’t something that you can teach – it’s something you need to gain over time. As I tell clients – most of whom are younger than I am – you hire me in part so that you don’t make all the mistakes I’ve made over the years. While you can stay up all night to work through a problem, I have probably faced the same problem multiple times over the last 40 years.  It might be possible to read about business and to learn (and I encourage you to do so!), but there is no substitute for living through business situations.  That takes time, patience, an open mind, and a willingness to accept that there might be many valid solutions to the problem you’re facing.

I will be rooting for the wily old veteran to have a good game no matter how his team does.  Every team needs one to help lead them into battle.  How about yours?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud