It’s The Solution, Stupid

One of the great meme/clichés since 1992 has been the form based on James Carville‘s famous slogan for the Clinton presidential run:  The Economy, Stupid.  The popular version always adds “It’s” upfront, as I have done above.  The point of his slogan was to keep Clinton campaign workers focused on the main points the campaign was trying to make (it was one of three).  My point is to keep you focused on the marketing you should be doing. That introduction out of the way, let us address my point – it’s the solution.

The first point on all three lines L 1–3...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with clients and listened to their spiels to potential investors or customers and come away not understanding why either of those groups would give the client any money.  I used to wonder the same thing from the other side of the desk when I was listening to people pitch me new partnerships or technologies when I was at the NHL.  In both cases the person speaking would explain the features of their product or company but they’d miss the most important point: how what they had solved a problem.  Actually, how it solved MY problem.

If you’re a marketer, you can’t assume your audience has any clue what your product does or what problem it solves.  I’m amused by the brands that go straight to paid search marketing or other immediate calls to action, never having done any brand building.  The classic framework for marketing (AIDA) begins with “attention.”  Branding campaigns get that attention and build awareness.  That’s the time to educate the audience on one thing: how the product solves a problem and why that solution is the best one for the audience.

So it’s the solution, stupid.  Identify the problem you’re solving, make sure it’s a big enough problem (one that a large number of people have, even if they don’t know it yet) and then market the solution. Advertising the product, not the solution, is a recipe for disaster.  Make sense?


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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Old Food

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week is centered on aging. I realize that the topic of “old food” might not seem very appealing, but the reality is that you want some things to be old. OK, I guess “aged” seems a nicer way to put that.

Very few red wines, for example, are meant to be consumed “young.” Spare me the lecture on how winemakers these days can regulate the tannins to make reds drinkable not long after vintage. Really good reds need some time to mellow and develop flavor.

English: A glass of red wine.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You’d rather eat “old” (read aged) beef. Most great steakhouse dry-age beef. They expose big cuts to air so dehydration can further concentrate the meat’s flavor. It’s expensive: the meat loses weight from dehydration, and it also must be trimmed of its completely dried exterior before cooking. The process develops flavor and allows enzymes naturally present in the meat to break down the muscle tissue.

We eat “new” cheese – there is nothing better than fresh mozzarella di buffala. That said, one cheese place I go asks you what you’re doing with the mozzarella (eating it as is or cooking with it) so he can give you the cheese of the correct age. Older, drier mozzarella is better for cooking, after all.  You wouldn’t want to eat most other great cheeses right after they’re made.

So why all the thinking about old food? Because there is something to be learned from it that can be applied to business. We live in a time when things happen really quickly.  There are tons of new ideas that become new businesses.  There is a lot to be said for letting those ideas age a bit before acting on them.  I realize that sometimes there is a limited window of opportunity, but think about how often we put out version 1.0 of something (and I mean that in a broader sense than software) only to realize we could have made it better or found more bugs.  Had we let the product age, it probably would have been better.

We do that with people too.  We cherish the new (read young). Speaking as a veteran (aged!) executive, we tend to have broader perspectives that have been formed through both success and failure.  While it’s often said that one business or another is a young person’s business, most of those young people have older advisors, especially in their early and mid stages.

I know that foods have expiration dates and that they become unpalatable if not inedible.  A little aging – a little time – does, however, seem to help most foods and ideas.  Let that thought age a bit…

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Rusty Tanks And Being Ripped Off

20 or so years ago, we installed two large propane tanks to power our cooktop and a new furnace. Since they have an expected lifespan of about 15 years, we asked someone from our propane company to come take a look at them. We had noticed they were rusting a little, so better safe than sorry, right? Sure enough, they need replacing. How this leads to us replacing the propane supplier as well is a tale from which any business can learn.

English: 2 larger propane tanks, one with a re...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have been very happy with this company. Service has always been prompt, they deliver on a regular schedule and we’ve never run out of propane. That was the case when we called this time to come have a look at the tanks – they were there the next day and came back to us with a proposal to replace the tanks. We made an appointment for later this week to have the work done.

Just out of curiosity, we made a couple of phone calls to other suppliers. What we found out enraged us. Not only was what our supplier proposing to charge us to remove and dispose of the tanks way out of line with the market, but what they had been charging us for propane over the last decade was substantially higher as well. I’m talking about higher to the tune of over $1 a gallon, and when you’re using several hundred gallons a year, that’s a big difference.

In addition, these guys never offered us the ability to “lock in” a price for a heating season. Our oil supplier, as an example, sends us a letter every year with three different lock in options. It shouldn’t surprise you that when our supplier called to confirm the appointment, we cancelled it, informing them that we’re talking to other suppliers and had discovered that we were being ripped off for years.

10 minutes later, the phone rang. Suddenly, the cost to remove the tanks had vanished. Our rate for propane had dropped a lot, and we could lock it in for the year if we so chose.  While we still might stay with them, our opinion of them has changed substantially.  Customer service isn’t just about answering the phone and handling issues when they arise.  It is caring for your customer even when they don’t know that they need care.  Would we pay a little more for great service?  Probably.  The propane is a commodity so the difference is service.  That needs to have transparency, and now that we see what that service has been costing us, we are angry.

There are no secrets anymore.  Yes, it’s our fault for not asking about pricing and plans, I suppose.  That, however, demonstrates the value in keeping customers happy.  We didn’t ask because we were happy with them.  Now that we have asked and have realized that this has meant the overpayment of thousands of dollars over the years, we are far less content.  If you’re keeping customers happy by keeping them in the dark, you had better be damn sure there isn’t a rusty tank out there waiting to expose the issue.  Is there?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Gagging Your Customers

I love the Streisand Effect.  You know – some person or company takes umbrage at what someone else has written somewhere and decides to “fix” things.  Usually, that fix creates even more awareness of the original negative  item and so the attempt to hide it has just the opposite effect.  Some genius at a Florida company that sells weight loss products decided to solve the negative item problem in a different way.  It allegedly made false claims for their products, and then threatened to enforce “gag clause” provisions against consumers to stop them from posting negative reviews and testimonials online.  How great an idea was this?

Seal of the United States Federal Trade Commis...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a complaint filed in federal court, the FTC alleges that Roca Labs, Inc.; Roca Labs Nutraceutical USA, Inc.; and their principals have sued and threatened to sue consumers who shared their negative experiences online or complained to the Better Business Bureau, stating that the consumers violated the non-disparagement provisions of the “Terms and Conditions” they supposedly agreed to when they bought the products. The FTC alleges that these gag clause provisions, and the defendants’ related warnings, threats, and lawsuits, harm consumers by unfairly barring purchasers from sharing truthful, negative comments about the defendants and their products.

Hmm.  Maybe not such a good idea after all, huh?  Telling consumers that they would be subject to $100,000 in damages for posting reviews isn’t exactly embracing the customer.  In fact, I can’t really imagine a circumstance where preemptively threatening to sue a customer for anything short of non-payment makes any sense.  In this case, not only has the Streisand Effect kicked in but so too has a stream of legal fees and, potentially, fines and damages.  As it turns out, the FTC alleges that the product’s weight-loss claims are false or unsubstantiated – you know, the stuff they’re selling just doesn’t work. That will move a lot of product, right? Just to kick them a little while they’re down, the FTC also charges that the defendants failed to disclose that they compensated users who posted positive reviews.

The takeaways (none of which are news to anyone who has read this screed before): don’t threaten your customers, don’t lie about your products, don’t pay for fake reviews and don’t actually follow through and sue them when someone posts a negative comment (these guys did file a number of suits).  Sure, if someone is spreading out-and-out lies, you need to respond but hopefully not in court.  If what they are saying contains a fair amount of truth, however, the fault isn’t the customer’s.  Agreed?

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No Clue

You are probably aware the there is a war being fought in the world of digital advertising.  Unfortunately, the combatants are publishers and their readers who use ad blockers.  With the release of iOS9, which supports ad blockers within Safari, the fighting escalated to another level.  I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, why users are using blockers, and how screwed up the advertising-supported world of digital media has become. This is not going to be another one.  Instead, just as every war has “collateral damage”, I want to focus on a side effect this war is having, one that is causing harm even to sites (like mine) that are ad-free.  

Simply put, ad blockers have the effect of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  They often will “break” sites, leaving them unreadable or unusable.  More importantly, even if the sites render correctly, ad blockers will often block the analytics – Google Analytics or Adobe Omniture – that most sites use to measure traffic and other things.  That means that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to get an accurate measure of which content users like, what’s useful, how the site is performing technically, how to optimize the viewing experience based on browsers, etc.  Publishers have no clue.

I’ve admitted before that I use both Ghostery and Privacy Badger.  That said, I do whitelist Google Analytics and Omniture so that sites I visit know that I’ve been there. I’m not proud that I block most of the ads, but I’m also not a fan of what many sites have done with respect to commercial loads, pop-ups, rendering speed, and  constant remarketing.  If, as is being talked about in some places, many publishers band together to collectively block their sites to people who don’t want to give some value in return (check out The Washington Post’s actions), I’ll either make a site by site judgement with respect to whitelisting them (as I do some ad-supported sites now that carry reasonable ad loads and aren’t a mess) or I will find the content elsewhere.  I understand their position; hopefully, they care about mine.

Where I do draw the line, however, is with the analytics, and if you use an ad blocker I’d ask you to think about letting sites measure traffic.  Your privacy is still maintained (yes, I’m aware it’s possible to track individuals across sites but that’s the exception) and you’re providing some value in return for the content you’re receiving. It’s a small step towards avoiding collateral damage while this war rages on.  You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

AV Gee Whiz…

If you own a Windows computer, chances are you’ve installed some sort of anti-virus program.  At least I hope you have.  One of the more popular programs of this sort is AVG Anti-virus.  I have it on my old Windows machine and I’ve installed it on my parents’ laptop.  AVG recently updated their privacy policy and it’s caused a bit of a fracas.  It also raises some important issues for the rest of us. 

Let me say at the outset that the manner in which AVG presents their new policy should be a model for the rest of us.  You can (and should) read it here.  It is clear, written in plain language that doesn’t require the reader to be either a lawyer or a technical person. Not only do they explain what data they are collecting but also why they are collecting it.  I bet you can’t find another privacy policy that does so as well as this one does.

So what has happened as a result of AVG trying to be good corporate citizens?  They are getting reamed.  There have been many negative articles and thousands of negative posts written (this thread on reddit is particularly nasty).  You see, AVG made one large change in the policy, which is that it now involves keeping the browsing history of its users and selling the data to third parties.  They actually were collecting most of this data before except there was no mention of selling it to anyone for commercial purposes.

The PC World piece on the controversy summed it up nicely:

AVG’s new policy illustrates exactly why companies tend to drown their data collection practices in legalese. There’s no penalty for doing so, and being transparent only invites more outrage. In that sense, AVG at least deserves credit for helping users make informed decisions. Still, the idea of an anti-virus program tracking and monetizing your browsing history is unnerving, and if anything AVG ought to clarify that point further as it finalizes its new privacy policy.

So I’m at a loss here.  Is it a better idea to confuse your customers?  Is it good practice to be a little less transparent?  I don’t think either of those are true.  Are we all still so naive that we believe all the tracking information companies gather about our every move (and this is true about your mobile device usage too!) is just for their own information so that they can make our user experiences better?  Sure, AVG makes it possible to opt out of some of this, but do we really think most people will read the new policy and do so?

I guess the real question becomes is honesty still the best policy?  What’s your take?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Searing Off The Truth

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week revolves around searing meat.  One thing I was told early on in my cooking education was to sear off meat before using it in a dish.  This would have the effect of locking in the juices so that the meat doesn’t get dry during cooking.  I guess this was cooking “knowledge” that had been put forth a hundred or so years before I heard it.  If you’ve ever heard the term “cauterization” you’ll understand the thinking.  Just as a doctor can cauterize a wound, burning the flesh to seal it shut, so too did a cook lock in juices by searing off the meat, creating a barrier that kept the meat moist.  

If you go back in cooking history, you hear this “truism” repeated over and over.  As you can tell from my use of quotation marks, the truism isn’t remotely true.  No, this is not going to be another screed about not trusting all the so-called truths, especially not in a world where everything you knew yesterday might not be true today.  Instead, I’d like us to think about how a food scientist named Harold McGee figured out that the “truth” wasn’t.

I’ll quote from a book called The Food Lab (which, by the way, is quite a wonderful read if you’re a combination of geek and cook):

You’d think that with all that working against him, McGee must have used the world’s most powerful computer, or at the very least a scanning electron microscope, to prove his assertion, right? Nope. His proof was as simple as looking at a piece of meat. He noticed that when you sear a steak on one side, then flip it over and cook it on the second side, juices from the interior of the steak are squeezed out of the top—the very side that was supposedly now impermeable to moisture loss!

In other words, he looked at the facts and came to his own conclusion about things.  He didn’t rely on what others had to say on the matter; he gathered his own information and came to his own conclusions based on what he could observe with his own eyes.  The answer was staring him in the face.

That’s how we all need to be doing things in business (and, with an election looming, in the non-business world too!).  We need to be open to the answers that become obvious as we look into things ourselves.  Who knows – we might lose some intellectual baggage while gaining valuable insight.  Worth a shot?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud