Pretty Pictures Or Perfect Food?

It’s Foodie Friday and I’m shaking my head today.  No, not at the fact that we’re still walking around the Northeast wearing sweaters entering Memorial Day Weekend but at something I read about a “marketing” effort being made by the folks at Chili’s.  This from the AP:

Chili's Grill & Bar logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chili’s says it’s spending about $750,000 a year for an egg wash that gives its burger buns a photogenic glaze. It’s part of an effort by the chain to get you to take pictures of its food and post them online.  In addition to using burger buns with an egg wash…the chain also recently started serving its fries in a stainless steel holder that “looks cool.” And ribs are no longer served in big slabs reminiscent of The Flintstones cartoons, but are cut into sections and stacked.

Hmm.  Why risk bad photos?  How about plastic food that’s perfect in each lobby?  Perhaps a little booth into which you can cart your burger and fries that’s perfectly lit?  Maybe the servers and bartenders need to be more photogenic while we’re at it. Even better – provide digital downloads via your free wi-fi so customers don’t risk getting their phones messy.  What’s that?  You don’t have free wi-fi?

This is not a great use of funds, but it’s also selfish.  This move is about Chili’s and not about their customers.  Chili’s wants to “go viral” with pretty pictures and good-looking food.  I wonder how viral really great food is.  Judging from what I pick up in my news feeds on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, great food gets posts (yes, I have a lot of foodie friends) and while some of the photos are lacking in composition or badly lit, I’d try anything my friends think is worth the calories.

In each of its past two fiscal years, sales at established Chili’s locations rose less than 1 percent.  Maybe better looking isn’t the answer.  I’m willing to bet better tasting, reasonably priced and served efficiently with a smile are ahead of it in line.  You know – that silly customer-focused stuff you’re ignoring in your quest for social traction.

What do you all think?

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Filed under digital media, food, Huh?

Faust And Facebook

You might be aware that Facebook has started yet another new program with a few publishers.  Called “Instant Articles”, the program lets a select number of news organizations publish stories directly to Facebook and the publishers keep the ad revenue. There are nine launch partners, including BuzzFeed, The New York Times and NBC News.  If you use the Facebook app on an iPhone you might already have seen it.

Facebook logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A number of news reports have used the term “faustian” to describe the program and I agree.  You’ll recall the legend of Faust and his deal with the devil – he got something he wanted in return for the devil owning his soul (and eternal damnation!).  While it’s a bit of a stretch to equate Facebook with the devil, it’s an apt metaphor.  All publishers – especially those whose business models are dependent upon lots of content views – want greater visibility.  Facebook is the largest platform and in this case the publisher can monetize those views.  Makes sense, right?

Not really in my view.  Sure, if you’re happy with “one and done” traffic it’s fine but this is no way to build a loyal audience.  Many of the publishers I know count repeat visits as a KPI.  This doesn’t build that.  It’s especially bad if any of your model counts on subscription revenue.  The breadth and depth of your content offering – the quality that drives the justification for the subscription – is negated.

Facebook controls the terms of this news-publishing deal.  Ask any brand if they’ve experienced Facebook changing the game in the middle of play and they’ll say yes.  After all, this is the platform that encouraged brands to build pages and followings and then took away news feed access while encouraging ad spend.  Who is to say that this program won’t change again in a few months?  It’s especially troubling that news outlets will be able to publish so-called “branded content” directly to Facebook.  I’ve made my views on native ads that are indistinguishable from your own news content well-known.  Embedding them on Facebook makes them even more difficult to identify as sponsor messages (and who is to say when Facebook will demand their cut).

Don’t misunderstand.  I see high value in using Facebook both for publishing and for advertising.  I just think that abandoning the efforts to drive users to your own platform is ultimately self-defeating.  When you think about it, Facebook doesn’t produce content. They produce a platform but users and brands populate that platform with the real value – content. Companies that don’t produce value in the long run disappear and if you’ve put your eggs in the Facebook basket rather than continuing your own efforts, it really may be a deal with the devil.

Make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

One Thing You Can Do Right Now For Your Customers

Attention business people! We have a problem. OK, many of us have more than one, but the one to which I refer is pretty important so listen up. In short, our customers don’t trust us. Think I’m kidding?

The latest Pew study is out and as the release about it said:

In the almost two years that have passed since the initial Snowden (former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden) revelations, the public has been awash in news stories detailing security breaches at major retailers, health insurance companies and financial institutions. These events and the doubts they have inspired have contributed to a cloud of personal “data insecurity” that now looms over many Americans’ daily decisions and activities. Many find these developments deeply troubling and want limits put in place, while some do not feel these issues affect them personally.

Some may not feel that but the vast majority do. Most folks believe it is important that they be able to maintain privacy and confidentiality in commonplace activities of their lives. Most strikingly, these views are especially pronounced when it comes to knowing what information about them is being collected and who is doing the collecting.  Compare that belief with the data:

  • 76% of adults say they are “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that records of their activity maintained by the online advertisers who place ads on the websites they visit will remain private and secure.
  • 69% of adults say they are not confident that records of their activity maintained by the social media sites they use will remain private and secure.
  • 66% of adults say they are not confident that records of their activity maintained by search engine providers will remain private and secure.
  • 66% say they are not confident that records of their activity collected by the online video sites they use will remain private and secure.

So what can you do right now to help?  Be transparent about what you’re collecting and why.  Don’t bury that information in your Terms of Service.  Explain who has access to the data, how it is shared (or not) with business partners, how long it’s retained, and offer to present the user with a copy of everything you have.  Most importantly, to the extent you can, allow the customers to opt-in and explain why that’s a good thing for them.  Turns out it just might be a good thing for your business too.

Do you do business with people you don’t trust?  Why should your customers?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Broken Strings And Business

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the passing of B.B. King. While I have been to hundreds of concerts in my life, at one point I had seen B.B. King more than anyone (yes, even Springsteen although that’s no longer true). He has been rightfully honored over the last few days by every guitar legend – Eric Clapton being the most prominent – as having been a huge influence on their music. When he wrapped his fingers around Lucille, his guitar, he could say more in three notes than most guitarists can say in an hour.

English: King performing at the Fox Theater in...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the dozens of times I saw him, one night in particular stands out and as it turns out there is a business point to be made as well. B.B.’s shows always began with the band playing a number or two and then the master would hit the stage. This particular night he played his first song and began his second when a string broke on Lucille.  It would have been incredibly easy for him to have signaled the band to stop because it was very apparent that a string had snapped.  Instead, as he continued to sing the lyrics, his right hand reached into his jacket pocket and out came a few strings.  Singing all the while, he proceeded to change the string, tune it as he played, and finished the song without missing a beat.  The audience stood as one when he finished, not because the song was a show highlight but because of the master class we had just seen.

The business point is one that I think we all know.  Strings break in all of our businesses from time to time.  The customers don’t really care even when they’re aware that something is amiss.  The broken string is your problem, not the customer’s.  How prepared are you?  Can you go about your business of providing an uninterrupted product or service of the expected quality or do you stop the band and make the customers wait?  B.B. King didn’t play a different guitar every other song.  He stuck with Lucille, so waving a roadie out to swap instruments wasn’t an option (and I could go on here about loyalty and consistency but you’re already there).  He probably had those strings in his jacket every show and rarely needed them (this was the only time I ever saw them come out in dozens of shows).  Do you have strings in your pocket or are you looking for a roadie to bail you out?

I’m sad The King Of The Blues is gone but thankful for all the joy he gave me and the inspiration he provided to many of the others whose music I love.  I’m also appreciative of his professionalism and have learned a little from his broken string.  You?

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Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud

Predicting The Unpredictable

You might be starting your work week pondering what new opportunities will present themselves. Then again, you might just as likely be sitting at your desk dreading those very same opportunities. For many folks, seeing and being ready for what’s just over the horizon is absolutely the hardest, most gut-wrenching part of their jobs. It certainly was for me and remains so as I work with clients on their behalf.

Part of what we probably ought to be doing is not thinking so much about what the next hot new platform is going to be and spending a lot more time on controlling the things we can.  Your immediate response might be “sure, all two of them” but there actually is quite a lot which can help mitigate the unpredictability of business these days. All we’re really trying to do is to change “predict” to “anticipate.”

We can anticipate a good customer’s birthday (assuming we’ve taken the time to gather that data) just as easily as we can anticipate them appearing in our place of business based on past behavior.  We can use that knowledge to send them a coupon or tweet birthday wishes to them.  I’m still surprised how few businesses listen to all of the social streams and attempt to cull knowledge from what they’re hearing.  The old-school megaphone mentality is still pervasive.  Most of us in marketing need to listen more, speak less, and react more quickly to what we’re hearing.  This isn’t so much predicting as it is reacting but unless you’ve taken the time to set up the processes and people required to be proactive (thereby predicting the need!), you’ll fail.

Here is my prediction.  The pace of change is going to continue to accelerate.  We see disruption in once unthinkable ways (the impending changes in the TV landscape, for one and the huge shift to mobile from the desktop for another).  Many of us will have meetings about the future and write “long-range” plans as we do our budgets.  Much of that is unnecessary.  Business has become more like driving a foggy road – you can only see so far out.    Pay attention to what’s visible with your past experience telling you what’s still hidden in the fog.  it will become clear eventually as long as you stay on the road.


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Our Foodie Friday Fun ventures into pizza today. You might have read or heard that Dominos has made it possible to order a pizza via Twitter. That’s right – no more picking up the phone and dialing. Now it’s just pick up the phone and tweet out an order. If you’re a regular, all you might have to do is send out a pizza emoji. According to this piece in USA Today, Domino’s Twitter ordering system will make it the “first major player in the restaurant industry to use Twitter, on an ongoing basis, to place and complete an order.”

Русский: Коробки для пиццы.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can laugh or shrug your shoulders, but this is important.  First, Domino’s focus is squarely on convenience for their customers.  One hears the word “frictionless” a lot when technology is being described and this is the epitome of making it easy for your customers to buy your product.  This isn’t new for Domino’s either. The company has invested tens of millions of dollars in technology and now employs more than 250 IT staff. A big part of what they do: trying to make it easier for consumers to order pizza.  It’s not just Twitter – they have ordering capabilities for a bunch of devices, including smart televisions and smart watches.

It may also be a seminal moment in social commerce.  Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms have been trying to figure out inoffensive and profitable ways to integrate commerce into social media.  While it’s not happening yet, one can easily see Twitter demanding a slice of the pie (see what I did there?)  from each order placed via their platform.

Most of what I like about this is that Domino’s is making the technology work for them and for their customers.  They’re not threatened by disruption – they’re embracing it.  No more Yellow Pages for listings?  No Blockbuster to partner with for dinner and a movie?  Move on.  As the USA Today article concludes:

Doyle says that Domino’s will continue to look at platforms “where people are spending time” such as Facebook and Instagram. “This certainly will not be our last platform.”

That’s their (smart) approach.  What’s yours?

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Data Collection Matters

There was a piece on MediaPost about how the broadband providers and their trade associations have gone to court to prevent the FCC from imposing some of the new rules on how those providers may behave. The specific ones upon which I’m focused today are the ones concerning privacy and data collection. The article explains the issue nicely:

They specifically complain that the FCC’s decision to treat broadband as a utility also empowers the agency to impose privacy rules that could curb its behavioral advertising efforts, which involve targeting ads to users based on the Web sites they visit.

“Today, broadband providers can lawfully use information about customers’ Internet access services and usage to develop customized marketing programs that benefit both the provider and its customers,” AT&T and the others say in their court papers.

On the surface, maybe they have a point.  After all, many of us prefer to see targeted ads and as someone who has made a living off of marketing programs I’m all for them.  There is, however, a broader issue and it’s one of which any business who collects data (that would probably be YOU, dear reader) needs to remain cognizant.

The amount of data your wireless and/or broadband provider has about you is staggering.  They know where you’ve been and when.  They know what you research and with whom you communicate.  This fabulous piece demonstrates what all of this data retention means.  Ad targeting is one very simple use, but what happens when some insurance company decides to work with a broadband provider to find speeders and raise their rates?

Honestly, I’d still be OK with all of it with a very big IF.  Ask yourself this: do you know what’s being collected and do you know how it’s being used?  I can can “yes” to the first question and a very big “no” to the second.  I’m not a tin-foil hat guy – I don’t think there are seriously nefarious things going on at the ISP’s involving data misuse (the government is another matter).  I do think, however, that data collection needs to be explained to consumers in simple language and with sample data.  I think we all need transparency and the ability to opt in, not the demand that we opt out.  Having some protections in place isn’t a bad thing.  After all, the brief history of the commercial internet is rife with bad actors (see ad injectors, malware distributors, browser hijackers, etc.) who will do just about anything to line their pockets.

How do you see it?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud