Rubbernecking

Is there anything more frustrating than rubberneckers? You know who I mean. Drivers who slow down to gawk at an accident thereby causing traffic jams behind them. Make a note: they’re one of my pet peeves. They’re also something from which we can take a business thought.

Wikipedia reminds us that according to a 2003 study, rubbernecking was the cause of 16 percent of distraction-related traffic accidents. I’m sure you’ve had that sinking feeling when someone behind you isn’t paying close attention to the fact that an otherwise wide open lane has come to a screeching halt.  Maybe it’s due to someone changing a tire on the other side of the road and a police car has pulled in behind them to flash lights for safety. More than once I’ve heard the screech of tires as the dolt behind me is trying to slow down and waited for impact.  You wish the cop would deploy a massive screen, upon which is written “nothing to see here – move along.”

I’ve never understood the phenomenon, either in a car or in business.  It manifests itself in a couple of ways off the road.  First are those companies and brands that try to create a rubbernecking situation where they do something to cause partners and/or consumers to slow down and gawk.  One could argue that, in fact, the old-school way of thinking about marketing was exactly that.  Think about your response on the road, however.  How angry are you when you discover that there is NOTHING causing the situation that’s keeping you from getting where you want to go?  Our messaging needs to add value not be a distraction.

The other way rubbernecking impacts business is when we allow our efforts to get distracted by something going on elsewhere.  Maybe you are spending time rubbernecking what your coworkers or other departments are doing.  Slowing down to look at the next new thing probably is just keeping us from the destination we’ve chosen.  Most of the time there is nothing to see.  Obviously I don’t mean we ought to operate in vacuums.  We can’t let situational awareness become a distraction what brings our movement to a crawl.

Don’t rubberneck in your car.  It’s even worse in your business life.  That’s my take.  Yours?

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Ready – Fire – Aim

Yet another piece of research that caused an eyebrow to rise up bubbled up in my news stream yesterday.  This one is from the Ascend2 folks via MarketingProfs and concerns strategy in digital marketing.  Two thirds of the marketers survey think they’re doing an OK job with another quarter believing they are doing a great job.  It’s what they identified as challenges that piqued my interest and which is our topic today:

Marketers say a lack of effective strategies is the biggest obstacle to success in digital marketing… More than half of marketers surveyed (51%) cited strategy issues when asked to list the major factors preventing them from fully achieving their digital marketing goals. Budget constraints were the second most cited obstacle (picked by 38% of respondents); lack of training/experience was next (32%), followed by inability to prove ROI (30%), and useless metrics/analytics (25%).

Budget is an issue for everyone it seems no matter what your company or role.  Given the constantly changing set of tools, I can understand the lack of training.  The other items on the list are more concerning.  First and of greatest concern is that over half feel they lack a strategy that works and yet they seem to be executing anyway.  That’s firing without aiming.  This finding doesn’t really shock me given experiences I have had with clients.  There is an appetite to jump into new spaces without giving much thought as to why or how.  What’s of interest as well is what happens when marketers are asked about what does seem to be effective:

Some 54% of respondents rate email as one of their most successful digital marketing tactics; 48% rate websites as a top tactic; 47% search engine optimization; 43% social media. Email is also seen as a relatively easy digital marketing tactic to execute, with only 11% of respondents rating it as one of the most difficult channels.

No surprise – email is well understood by most companies since it’s been around for a long time.  It’s also in wide enough use that one can benchmark and learn from the mistakes of others.  Much easier to aim before firing, right?

“Why” needs to come before “how”.  Aiming needs to come before firing.  After all, no brand has that many chances with consumers and if you can’t hit the mark the first time there might not be a second.  You agree?

 

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

You Sowed It – Now Reap!

If you’re in the business of marketing, the latest report from the Adobe folks ought to scare the heck out of you.  It their 2014 Adblocking Report and the findings are neither welcome nor unsurprising.  In 17 slides the document raises questions about why any marketer that wants to reach a young, tech-savvy audience would bother to invest in digital ads.  Let me explain.

There are 144 million active ad blockers installed around the world.  That’s a smallish percentage of the total web usage base but among certain segments the number has reached critical mass.  27% of US web users report using ad blocking software and among 18-29 year olds the number rises to 41%.  The software is mostly installed on the Chrome browser as well as other user-installed browsers.  One would think that those who don’t use the pre-installed big 2 – Internet Explorer and Safari – are probably more technically literate and I’m guessing they are a desirable audience.

Why do people install ad blockers?  Nearly half say they just don’t want to see ads but a third of folks are open to seeing ads, just not in the obnoxious and intrusive ways many sites display them.  Another big reason is a concern about privacy. In fact, this sums it up quite nicely:

The majority of adblock users do not object to advertising in principle. They are acting out against a number of ad formats that make it harder for them to access content. Many adblock users also cite practical or privacy reasons for adopting adblock. There is an opportunity to acknowledge all these concerns with advertising that respects the user’s privacy and hard-earned attention.

 

In other words, why is the ad world so dead set against opt-in ads?  We tend to take privacy concerns for granted and now it’s coming back to haunt us.  We believe people so want our content that they’ll sit through a 60 second video to watch a 15 second clip.  We pop things up, under, and over.

We’re reaping what we’ve sown.  As a marketing community we cannot escape the consequences of our actions. Maybe it’s time to have another think about how we monetize content before this sort of software moves to mobile, which is where the audience is heading.  Thoughts?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Reality checks

Food For Thought

The folks at Eater provide our food for thought on this Foodie Friday.  They ran an interesting piece on 72 ways food can change the world.  It’s a collection of brief articles from chefs, farmers, scientists, and others.  It’s worth your time.

One piece that got me thinking was an interview with a food scientist from Washington State University.  This quote, in particular about working outside of the mainstream commodity system, resonated:

If you had a big truck with twenty tons of wheat and went to the grain elevator they would look at the stuff we work with and say, “That’s purple, that’s a different shape, and that doesn’t work for the commodity systems,” which are built on the notion of a huge amount of virtually identical, interchangeable product. By focusing on non-commodity varieties, we can pay attention to things like nutritional value and flavor—things that that big commodity farmers and programs tend to not care about. For them all that matters is yield.

There’s a great business point in there for all of us. The farmers with whom the professor works think about the game differently.  Rather than allowing the vagaries of the market to dictate their product they bypass the large, proven markets and focus on aggregating niche markets.  They control their product and find buyers as opposed to bowing down before the commodity system.  This gives them the freedom to improve the product – grain in this case – since they are not growing to product specifications imposed on them.

Over time, one or more of those niche markets may, in fact, become mainstream.  In other markets we might call them “early adopters.”  It’s not hard to remember when a high-definition television, a tablet computer, or a hybrid car were niches.  The “farmers” behind them didn’t try to make a mass-market product out of the gate.  They made something better knowing that if it was good enough the market would come to them.

Food for thought!

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Filed under Consulting, food

The New Year And Business

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditional...

A shofar made from a ram’s horn is traditionally blown in observance of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish civic year. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy New Year!  When I posted this last year for the second time I said I was thinking about making this post an annual thing.  I guess it now officially is.  As Jews around the world celebrate Rosh Hashanah, I thought I’d try to put what the holiday means into a business context.

Last night marked the start of the Jewish New Year.  I didn’t go down to Times Square to see if they were dropping a giant knish at the stroke of sundown – probably not.  L’Shana Tova – a happy and healthy New Year to all of you.

One of the things Jews do over the next 10 days (or at least are supposed to do) is to reflect on the year gone by and think about where it took you on life’s journey.  It’s not really as much about looking back in my mind as it is about looking forward.  Oh sure, one is supposed to think about where one strayed from life’s path in terms of dealing with other humans and human codes of conduct.  We get a day of fasting next week to get that sorted out.  But it’s also a time to think about a fresh start.  Which, of course, promoted a business thought.

When do businesses stop and enter a period of reflection?  It’s obvious when they’re changing – witness Facebook last week – but I, for one, certainly wonder sometimes if those changes happen due to the momentum of previous (maybe not so good) decisions or if they’re the result of a pause, some reflection, and a willful thought by the entire organization as to the direction.  Often, I fear, it’s the former.

Jews are to use the next ten days for reflection and repentance.  I like to think of them as ten days of self-improvement.  I’d also suggest that it would do many businesses a lot of good to build the same sort of period into their corporate calendars.  Some do – they call it the budget process – but I think that’s too selective in terms of participants and goals to do much good.  Some smart CEO needs to declare it New Year’s Day for the company once a year and get everyone to do the same sort of professional reflection that many of us do on the personal side.  Identify your sins (figuratively speaking) and atone.  Faulty customer service, weak brand identity, bad employee relations, products that aren’t optimal, fostering an atmosphere of fear – these are all good places to start.

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

The Walk To The Next Cube

Tonight marks the start of the new year in the Jewish calendar.  I thought, given the occasion, that some of you might have resolutions on your mind so here is a thought and maybe something we can all resolve to do a bit better.

While our world has never been more connected I can’t recall a time when it seems as if people who work together seem very disconnected.  What I mean is that people come in to the office and log on to their computers, put in their earphones, and do their things.  When they need to interact with someone else on their team or elsewhere in the company they send email or instant message.   That often applies even when the person to whom they are “speaking” is on the other side of an office wall or in the next cube.  As a manager, this drove me crazy.

Maybe I’m very old school.  I learned the interpersonal parts of business long before there was IM, email, or even computers on every desk.   The nature of interpersonal communication these days, particularly among younger people is quite different.  I appreciate that having unlimited texting trumps unlimited voice.   However, when you think about it the one skill that many younger workers lack is the ability to read people.  Email and IM are faceless and can’t communicate nuance.  You can’t be sure you’re hearing tone accurately.

That was why I used to tell the folks with whom I worked that my expectation of them was that when they had need to communicate with a co-worker that they would get up and walk to the next cube.  I thought it was important especially if that cube was located on another floor.  Your presence means you are giving the matter a lot of attention and they should too.  If they can’t go in person (it’s not easy to walk to the cube in another building or city), then call.  Hear their voice.  Gauge their tone.  Learn to listen.  If those things fail, then email.

That’s the thing I’m suggesting we resolve to do.  Be more human as the world gets less so.  Walk to the next cube instead of writing yet another email.  I’m going to try.  Will you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Why Should They Bother?

If you’ve spent more than a few minutes here on the screed you’re aware of my unbridled passion for golf. As any golfer will tell you, when all else fails and your game hits rock bottom, it’s time for new equipment.  As sure as the sun will rise it’s always the tool and not the carpenter. From where does one buy that new driver that is going to solve all of one’s issues? The answer to that is actually instructive for most businesses.

A golf ball.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In general, one either goes to the pro shop at your local club or to a golf store. Of late most of those golf stores are located in cyberspace. This has hurt the big brick and mortar golf chains badly. In fact, not long ago Dick’s laid off 500 PGA Pros and is scaling back its golf business.  After all, the irons are the same not matter if you’re buying them from the manufacturer (who will sell direct), a big box retailer, the golf store, eBay, or your pro shop.  Suddenly, while every brand of club is different, once you’ve decided on the make and model the club itself is the same no matter which source you choose.  This has placed pressure on margins.  In this case, as is the case in many other businesses, the internet wins every time.

The real question is why should a consumer bother going to the golf store?  In the case of Dick’s, they did exactly the wrong thing.  eBay can’t do proper club fittings – making sure the length, lie, and swing weight are right for you.  Sure, you can get golf lessons from YouTube but that’s not nearly as good as having one on one instruction.  The shop at my club will put new grips on my existing clubs, extending their life.  I’m certainly not going to mail them someplace to have that done.

In other words, every business needs to figure out why consumers should care about them – why they should bother.  Price works for businesses without a human touch.  In fact, the move toward more personalization for web-based businesses points directly to the advantage any real-world business will have: the human touch.  We’d rather speak with humans.  Don’t automated customer service lines frustrate you?  I don’t want to press 3 if my issue involves an odor of gas – I want to talk to a person NOW!

We need to think about how our brands and businesses can get consumers to care.  Otherwise we’re completely vulnerable to someone who will do what we do and sell what we do for a dollar less – free shipping included.

Make sense?

 

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks