Pretty/Useless

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

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(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 ...

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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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A Tale Of Two CSR’s

It was the best of experiences, it was the worst of experiences to paraphrase the famous beginning of ” Tale Of Two Cities.”

Customer services

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The next, little remembered part Dickens’ actual text is “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” With a nod towards that, let me relate two experiences of the last 24 hours and you get a couple of good examples of customer support done at either end of the spectrum.

First, Cablevision. My wife was having issues with the cable TV yesterday. The issue was it wasn’t working. Someone in the house has run her through the troubleshooting protocols any number of times (ahem) so by the time she called customer service she knew that the problem was on the cable end and not something in the house.  The rep informed her there was no trouble in the area nor was anyone working on the lines nearby so she’d have to send out a technician.  She set an appointment for 24 hours later and basically washed her hands of the problem.  My wife then headed out to do errands.  Lo and behold, not one but three Cablevision trucks were on the road working on the lines.  The crew informed her they were doing maintenance and apologized for the brief outage.  By the time she got home, the service was fine and she cancelled the appointment (without speaking to a human, by the way).

Second, AT&T.  Our internet service kept failing yesterday afternoon.  The modem showed the DSL connection was fine but there was no internet.  The rep pinged the modem and said there was definitely an issue but wasn’t seeing any issues except in a town 5 miles away.  She asked me to hold while she escalated the issue to the tech support supervisors.  3 minutes later, she came on the line to explain what was being done and asked me to hang on.  She came back every couple of minutes to update me.  Finally, she said that there did seem to be an outage in the area, gave me a support ticket number and told me when the problem would be solved.   There was a lot more detail about what tests we ran but the important point was that she actively looked for information and kept me informed about what she was doing to solve the problem.  The service is fine today.

Contrast the two.  One rep seemed to want to do nothing but get my wife off the phone as quickly as possible.  She gave little information and what she did give was just dead wrong.  The other one was proactive, communicative, and apologetic.  Why isn’t Cablevision my internet provider too?  Duh.

Customers expect reps to treat them as the VIP’s they are.  While there aren’t a lot of choices about TV or internet providers in any area, there are a few.  I know I can get higher-speed internet from Cablevision.  Think I’m going to make that move?  Would you?  Part of being a good marketer is remembering that any touchpoint the business has with consumers is part of marketing.  It all needs to be executed at the same high level.  If you’re ignoring the customer service reps in your marketing thinking you’re missing the boat, as these examples make clear.  You agree?

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Following The Audience

One of the biggest things one can learn in the business world is how to adapt to changing environments.

English: American family watching TV (cropped)

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I suspect that a lot of executives believed they were good at it until they faced the challenges of the last decade.  It’s relatively easy when you’re in start-up mode to pivot the business from one model to the next.  Once you’re a mid-size enterprise or a public company (much harder since every move is public and scrutinized by analysts and shareholders).

The better media companies can and have done this.  For example, most of the traditional television networks have accepted that their role has changed.  They once were programmers who decided what the audience would watch based on time of day.  Audience flow created by content choreography was a big deal.  Today they are curators.  They have learned to buy or create programs and to present them in a channel-agnostic fashion.  Why?  To survive.  37 percent of U.S. consumers now own a tablet, a smartphone and a laptop, which is a whopping 42 percent increase year-over-year. Women comprised 35 percent of this group two years ago; now they account for 45 percent of the group.  Failing to address this change in consumer habits could have been fatal.

We live in an A.D.D. world.  Everyone’s brain is focusing on something for a few seconds and then it’s on to the next bit of information or device.  86 percent of U.S. consumers multitask while watching TV, yet only 22 percent of these activities relate to the program being watched.  If you’re a marketer, how can you become part of the conversation that’s occurring around the program, even if it’s only a quarter of the audience? If you’re the content provider, how do you grow the 22 percent? Binge viewing is another concept pretty much unheard of until recently.  What has this done to overnight or even weekly ratings and do they tell even half of the true audience story?

The media companies have learned to survive on smaller segments aggregated into massive audiences.  Those audiences are spread out over time and across multiple platforms.  I’d say it’s been a pretty nice demonstration of how to change to follow your audience’s tastes, which is something at which they’ve always been good.  What are your thoughts?

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Chef Pepin And Reality TV

Foodie Friday, and this week I read an article written by Jacques Pepin, one of my culinary idols, which serves as the basis for today’s screed.

English: Photograph of chef Jacques Pépin at A...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing for The Daily Meal, Chef Pepin took off after the antics commonly seen in “reality TV” kitchens.  You can read this piece by clicking through this link and it’s worth your time.  It seems as if his primary complaints were specifically addressed to “Hell’s Kitchen” and Gordon Ramsay although he never calls the latter out by name.  I think a fair amount of what he says is accurate and, for our purposes, applicable outside of the kitchen to other businesses.

His first issue is that the shows portray the restaurant kitchen in a chaotic and negative light.  Putting aside the fact that there is very little real about reality TV, it’s very difficult to show something on TV which isn’t actually happening.  The fault isn’t of the medium but of the person in charge.  The best managers with whom I’ve worked over the years will raise their voices and verbally kick someone in the butt, but generally the team runs efficiently and with minimal stress.  In every case they’ve been quite good at specifying what it is they expect in general and excellent at making the specific mission clear.  They were also superior teachers, making up for the staff’s lack of knowledge on a topic with guidance and patience.

Chef seems to love quiet in the kitchen, as he states “A real, well-run professional kitchen has dignity and order.”  I find quiet disquieting.  I like to hear the team interacting, bouncing ideas off one another and helping move the team forward.  Dignity always; order is more a controlled chaos.  After all, one needs to break a few eggs in order to create a soufflé.

This is my favorite part of the piece and something I think we all need to keep in mind in the broader business sense:

Julia Child used to say that you have to be happy when you cook for the food to be good, and you also have to be happy in the eating and sharing of the food with family and friends. Otherwise the gastric juices will not do their job and you won’t digest the food properly. I agree with her assessment. It is impossible to enjoy food when you’re angry and tense.

That’s really a key point today.  If you hate your job, whether you’re the lowest level employee or the boss, it will come out in your work.  The disorder of the kitchen or any other workplace is reflected in the final product.  If you’re running a team, maybe a little introspection is the seasoning your product needs.  If you’re a line cook and you’re that miserable, perhaps it’s time for a change.

Thoughts?

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Being Accountable

Here is something to ponder as we get to the end of the week.  No real answers today, but an important question for us.

justice #2

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We’ve all seen instances of companies facing consumer backlash from their business decisions.  For example, many people boycotted adidas products over the company’s use of kangaroo hide in a line of soccer shoes.  A number of companies (Wal-Mart, Nike and others) have faced boycotts over their alleged use of sweatshops to manufacture their goods overseas.  These consumer actions are not particularly new.

What is new, however, is consumers taking action over not a “what” but a “who”.   The personal (non-business related) activities of executives are now seen as fair game in assessing one’s willingness to do business with a company or, in extreme cases, organize people to avoid the company.  A few recent examples:

  • LGBT rights activists called for protests and boycotts of the Chick-fil-a when it became known that the CEO had made a series of remarks opposing gay marriage.  In addition, the company’s charitable arm had made millions in donations to political organizations which oppose gay rights.  Counter-protestors rallied in support by eating at the restaurants. National political figures both for and against the actions spoke out and some business partners severed ties with the chain.
  • After learning that Condoleezza Rice was joining Dropbox’s Board of Directors, many people loudly and publicly (by web standards) deleted their Dropbox accounts.  Some also deleted the Mailbox app from their phones.
  • The incoming CEO of Mozilla (which oversees the Firefox browser) stepped down from his new position after news of his support of a 2008 anti-gay marriage campaign came to light.

There are many more I’m sure you can cite but the business question is this:  how far into a person’s political and religious beliefs do companies have to go in hiring?  How do we reconcile wanting to do careful checks to prevent external response with the laws that are in place precisely to prevent discrimination in hiring over someone’s beliefs?  Is it “fair” (whatever that means) for companies to be held accountable for the non-business activities of an endorser or a hire?

Weigh in!

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