Old Cooks, New Cuisines

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I want to report on a business point I learned at supper last evening. IMG_20140801_092530It was a lovely, small Italian restaurant and the food they were serving was really excellent. High quality ingredients were used which always makes a difference but the skills the cook showed were impressive. He had a firm grasp on southern Italian fare.

I chatted up the owner who, as it turned out was both Italian and the wife of the cook.  I mentioned how much I appreciated his skill and apparent knowledge of Italian food and techniques.  I then asked where he was from, wondering as I asked it if he was from the north of Italy or the south.  As it turned out, the answer was south as is VERY far south.

As in Morocco.

They had met in New York  and she had taught him Italian food.  He was already an accomplished cook when they met and he was able to translate what he knew into another form.  After all, what is couscous if not a cousin to acini di pepe or pastina?  Many of the spices and seasonings are the same and the basics – knife skills, etc. – never change.  What does this have to do with business?

We tend to pigeonhole people.  This one is an accountant, that one is a fabulous assistant.  We don’t spent enough time thinking about how the skills they have can be used elsewhere in other contexts to make the business better.  There was a shrimp dish last night which had an extraordinary broth.  The cook had added a bit of his marinara – just enough to make the “usual” scampi broth a lovely light pink.  That sort of addition is more common in his native cuisine than Italian and, with the addition of some scallions it make for a great dish.  We need to let smart people with excellent skills use them in new cuisines and see what emerges.  As I found last night, the result is often surprisingly good.

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Don’t Leave Home

One of the classic ad lines is”don’t leave home without it” which David Ogilvy penned for American Express 40 years ago.  I asked myself how the line would have been written today as I read a study from Accenture on shopping and retailing.  It’s called From Retail to “Me-tail” and you can read it here if you are interested in their take.   These points really caught my attention:

• Stores as we know them will no longer be relevant—many shoppers will never even visit one
• Consumers will be able to shop seamlessly across multiple channels—and expect to find relevant content on all of them
• “Fast fashion” will be the de facto industry standard—with dramatic consequences for store inventory levels
Supply chains will be optimized across the full product lifecycle—right through to disposal
• Consumers themselves will help form the communities of talent required to service a vast diversity of new and constantly shifting demands

That first point has profound implications.  What will take the place of retail outlet?  I can’t see Main Street populated by warehouses or shipping centers.  The truth is that as my family’s shopping habits have shifted to online, we leave the house far less often to hit the stores other than the supermarket.  Ogilvy’s classic line works less well when consumers don’t leave home at all, at least not to shop.

What can retailers do? I like one site’s take on the study:

Ensuring consumers are comfortable and confident wherever they make purchases is critical for brands as they bridge their online and offline experiences. The comfort of brick and mortar stores can easily be replicated online with the right tools and tactics. And, brick and mortar will continue to become more like online via their use of analytics and in-store digital tools that enhance the customer experience. Once these types of strategies are in place, customer satisfaction will improve along with the retailer’s bottom line.

That makes sense to me.  You?

 

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Trusting Sponsored Content

We’ve explored the subject of branded content or advertorial or deceptive editorial or whatever you want to call it here on the screed a few times.

English: Example of a variable data tear sheet...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some data on the subject that I came across from Contently is worth a minute of your time.  They were spurred to do the research by a statement from the CEO of Chartbeat, an analytics company, who claimed that only 24% of readers were scrolling down on native ad content compared to the 71% of readers who scroll on “normal content.” Since that content is advertising that is supposed to integrate seamlessly with the site’s other content and, therefore, get the sponsor higher brand engagement, that number is pretty disturbing.  For my money, not quite as disturbing in some ways as what the subsequent study found.

Putting aside that most of those surveyed disagree about what exactly qualifies as “sponsored content”, some of the other findings were:

  • Two-thirds of readers have felt deceived upon realizing that an article or video was sponsored by a brand.
  • 54 percent of readers don’t trust sponsored content.
  • 59 percent of readers believe a news site loses credibility if it runs articles sponsored by a brand.
  • As education level increases, so does mistrust of sponsored content.

In fact, the study found that people would rather have to deal with banner ads than sponsored articles, and the more education the consumer has the greater chance they feel deceived by a piece of branded content.  The fine print labeling it as something not quite the same as other editorial does nothing to change consumers’ views.

Way back in October of 2012, this is what I had to say on the subject:

I’m not a fan.  Obviously I’m a big fan of ad-supported media – I worked in it and sold it for decades.  I do think, however, that doing this in digital in particular is an issue since there is so much content out there and users’ expectations of editorial integrity…are not met when the line is crossed.  It calls into question all of the legitimate reporting.  I get that people might ignore advertising but pay attention to this.  They need to know it’s not the same as other content.

My views haven’t changed.  Have yours?

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Where Are The Kids?

Suppose you produce something that is widely consumed.

Braun TV

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day you notice that your customer base is getting older in composition. “Duh,” you’re saying – people age. Of course, but if there continues to be an influx of newer and younger consumers, and if product usage remains steady in the younger segments, there isn’t a problem.

So you do a little digging and find out that use of your product by younger people has dropped off. In fact, use among 18-24 year olds is declining at a fairly rapid pace and over the last 3 years it’s down 18%. What now?

This isn’t a hypothetical case.  Welcome to the world of television.  Nielsen put out their quarterly viewing report and here is how one post summed up the results:

In the space of 3 years, Q1 TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropped by a little more than 4-and-a-half hours per week. That’s equivalent to roughly 40 minutes per day, says the report. In percentage terms, traditional TV viewing among 18-24-year-olds in Q1 2014 was down by almost 7% year-over-year. Between Q1 2011 and Q1 2014, weekly viewing fell by almost 18%.

I suspect that if you took sports out of the mix the declines would be even larger.  The younger segments haven’t stopped consuming some of the content but they do so using on-demand video both on the traditional TV screen and alternate screens such as their phones, tablets, and computers.  They’re also off playing games and watching others do the same.

I recognize that the TV business in which I grew up is dead.  How can you sell audiences that don’t exist?  Without the dual revenue stream of payments from cable and satellite operators for the programming I suspect we would have seen some TV companies go dark.  Interesting times just keep getting more interesting in the media business (he said echoing the old Chinese curse).  What’s your take?

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Pretty/Useless

This Foodie Friday I have restaurant marketing on my mind. That’s the result of some close encounters with restaurant websites.

English: 0

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From time to time I’ll check out places to eat in cities where I’m heading. Of course I use the review sites as a first source of recommendations.  Inevitably if a few places seem to be of comparable quality and hold potential I’ll go to the establishment’s website to do a deeper dive on the menu.  This is where things begin to break down in a couple of ways and there are some broader points which come out of the experience.

Many of the sites are beautiful.  Clearly, someone spent many hours creating a multimedia site complete with music that plays while you experience the site, flash movies that auto-play, and dozens of pictures of happy customers.  Unfortunately, most of these sites are painful to use and are a huge waste of money.  I’ll go even further to say that they do more harm than good.  In the case of restaurant sites, no one cares how the site looks.  Visitors want information, not to be entertained.  They’re pretty and useless.

Think about it.  Why do you visit the site?  Probably, first and foremost, to check out the menu.  Many of the sites I visit force a download (it’s easier to update one file than several pages of the site) and some of those downloads are huge.  Next, I may want to make a reservation so I need to know where the place (Google Maps link!) is and some means of doing so – a phone number or a direct link to Open Table or whatever service the place uses.  Finally, the hours they’re serving and maybe a listing of the specials would be good.  That’s it.  Designers need to focus on the business goals and not on “pretty.” The most important factor in the design of a website is that the website makes it easy for users to find what they want.

The problem isn’t restricted to restaurants.  If you’ve built a site and not had a discussion with the design and coding team about business goals for the site, target audiences, analytics you’ll be using to measure activity and success, or how you’ll be marketing (SEO implications), you’ve missed the mark.   Unlike the restaurants with crappy sites, there probably aren’t lots of review sites driving people to your business (most review sites contain a modicum of the critical information).  Maybe now is a good time to take a look at your site through a visitor’s eyes?

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We Need Smarter Social Thinking

Sometimes it feels as if it’s one step forward and two steps back with respect to marketers and social media.

English: Southwest Airlines 737-300 N310SW. I ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The latest example of this comes from a company that generally has a consumer friendly reputation, Southwest Airlines.  I’m willing to cut the home office a little slack in the tale of woe I am about to relate.  But only a little.

Southwest, like every airline, has a top tier of frequent passengers.  These are generally heavy business travelers and are the ones any airline executive will tell you really pay the bills since they’re often flying full fare and doing so frequently.  They receive perks, and in Southwest’s case one of them is priority boarding.

One of their “A-list” flyers was traveling from Denver with his young children (ages 6 and 9) and wasn’t allowed to board early because they don’t have VIP status.  We can debate if that was a mistake by the gate agent or bad corporate policy but what happened next is really the point.  He told the agent ‘Real nice way to treat an A-list. I’ll be sure to tweet about it,’” according to  WCCO.  He went on to do just that.  According to him, it was “Something to the effect of, ‘Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA.’”  Here is where things get interesting and, from a social marketing perspective, just silly.

Southwest’s social crew does a great job listening.  As an aside, they thanked this same traveler for a nice tweet about an agent a month ago.  They saw the tweet and must have called the gate agent about the unhappy customer.  The agent proceeded to remove the man from the plane (upsetting the children) and to demand that he delete the tweet to be allowed to travel.  He did so and according to all involved there was no bad language and threats made by him.  The agent did threaten to call the cops.

Since this incident (for which Southwest has apologized to the traveler) there have been TV stories, newspaper articles, and many screeds such as this.  The guy kept tweeting about it too.  Southwest offered the guy three $50 travel vouchers.  He has said he’ll never fly them again.  So much for an A-list passenger’s business.  I suspect the social crew at Southwest didn’t intend for the agent to take the action she did but someone should have thought about that being a possibility.  I mean you call someone up and say they pissed off a top status passenger and now it’s on Southwest’s “permanent record” and what do you expect?

As marketers we need to have thicker skins when we’re in the social stream.  If you were speaking with a number of business partners and one said something a bit off-putting, you’d probably make a mental note and let it go.  At worst you’d say something privately later.  This just threw gasoline on an already lit fire.  That fire has gotten brighter as it gets more oxygen from all that’s being written about the incident.  It’s hard enough to develop an A-list customer.  Retaining them should always be a top priority, maybe even if it means bending the rules (like expanding priority boarding to kids under 18) from time to time.

Thoughts?

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How Do You Like My Tie?

There is an old joke about an egocentric sales guy rambling on and on about his life and success.  He sees the recipient of his boastful rant glazing over and says “But enough about me.  How do you like my tie?”  I was reminded of this as I read about a study conducted by the Online Marketing Institute, who teamed up with Forrester Research and the Business Marketing Association to understand how well B2B marketers gauge their content development skills and maturity.  The headlines aren’t so wonderful:

While 51% of B2B marketing leaders rate their content marketing practices as very mature, an overwhelming 85% fail to connect content activity to business value — and, as a result, fail to retain customers or win their long-term loyalty. In fact, when asked to look back at the past 12 months and rate the effectiveness of content marketing efforts, only 14% of those surveyed gave their content practices high marks for delivering value back to the business.

One wonders sometimes who exactly is in charge at these companies.  If 86% of the executives surveyed think they’re sucking at content marketing, what are they doing about it? 71% of surveyed marketers say their content features case studies or customer stories, but only 3% admit this is a primary focus of their efforts.  Hello?  How is this any different from the sales guy in the joke?

All marketing is about adding value and solving problems.  Hopefully everything you produce does both but it must do one or the other.  Obviously, as the study concludes, B2B marketers have more work to do when it comes to using content to consistently deliver a valuable exchange of information with prospective buyers.  That starts with a mindset to do just that and part of the process is evaluating what you’re producing in that context.  This last bit is the clearest indicator of that.  The study talks about how the content these businesses are producing:

Focuses on closing the deal, not on building relationships. While more than three-quarters of respondents say they frequently communicate to their customer base, only 5% make this a priority, proving that marketers are too focused on acquisition rather than long-term loyalty.

That’s the issue.  What are they (and you!) going to do about it?

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