What Do You Know

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I want to reflect on an experience I think many of us have had. I’m not quite sure what to call it – an awakening? An education? It’s what happens when you have your preconceptions of what a food is blown away by a much better version. It’s what happens, for example, when you take someone whose idea of Mexican food comes from years of eating at Taco Bell or whose conception of pizza has been shaped by Papa John’s to an authentic taqueria or to a pizza place that uses great ingredients and a coal-fired oven. I’ve had that experience with a friend, who now refers to two kinds of pizza: pizza and real pizza.

English: Picture of an authentic Neapolitan Pi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The point of this isn’t that they had low standards or unsophisticated tastes before they experienced the real deal. They just didn’t know, and that’s something that’s applicable across many businesses. It becomes especially more relevant as your product gets closer to a commodity. Consumers probably have an existing opinion that’s based on something that’s usually fairly mainstream. Our job as marketers is to help them to know that there is a difference and why our product does a better job than what they might believe is possible.

How do we do this? Sampling is the most obvious answer. That’s not just giving out food samples on the street. It’s free trial periods of services. I thought that most online accounting software was the same, for example, until I needed to get some customer service help during my free trial period. One company was head and shoulders above the others I tried and they now collect $15 from me every month. They helped me to know.

My favorite taco place is just down the street from a Taco Bell. The menu is in Spanish, they offer goat, tripe, and lengua tacos along with some of the best fish tacos and tortas I’ve ever had. Would you know that as you drove past on your way to Taco Bell? Not unless I took you there. Our job as marketers is to help people know. Are you doing that?

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Filed under food, Consulting

A Lesson From Junior

I’m a fan of NASCAR, specifically of its top tier, now called the Monster Cup Series. For my non-gearhead friends and readers, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, preferably in person (bring earplugs!).

      NASCAR.com

Some big news came out of the NASCAR world yesterday and it prompted a thought that is applicable to any of us in business. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring after this season. Only 42, he’s been NASCAR’s most popular driver ever since his dad died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001 and leads an enormous fan base known as Junior Nation. Full disclosure: I’m a member. He’s really the spiritual leader and one of the last remnants of the NASCAR of old. As a USA Today article on his retirement stated:

A kid of means sent to work in an auto dealership by his father until he began racing, Earnhardt Jr. spoke the language of the fan, in a Carolina accent pleasing to the grassroots folks, was sponsored by a beer company and projected enough hell-raiser vibe to endear himself to the masses. A historian of the sport, he cited the exploits of Cale Yarborough or Richard Petty or Darrell Waltrip with a sharp recollection of fan and provided a generational and cultural bridge for NASCAR.

In other words, Junior isn’t corporate, is authentic, and because of that, is beloved. That’s really a lesson for any of us. Consumers adore personalities but only if they believe that what they’re seeing isn’t an act. Any of Junior’s interviews will show you that he’s real. His language is sometimes salty, often grammatically incorrect, and is definitely not the creation of some media trainer’s badgering. Consumers can tell when a brand is inauthentic just as any of us can see it in a person.

This is why I rant sometimes about engaging in conversations with and not in advertising to our consumers. It doesn’t mean boasting about how “real” you are but it does mean defining what your brand means and sticking to it. The definition should be expressed in the language of your consumer and be relevant to why they’d engage with you in the first place. It means participating in social interactions with your fans, not in demanding or leading them.

I guess I’ll need to figure out where my driver loyalty heads next. It seems that NASCAR needs to figure that out as well. As a long-time fan, I’ve watched them migrate from their Southern roots and identity to something much more vanilla, at least that’s how I see it. Junior is the last bastion of the old, authentic NASCAR. Wherever they go next, I hope it at least half as real as he is. Now ask yourself if you’re “being real” too.

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Filed under sports business, Thinking Aloud

Writers And Editors

I frequently collaborate with other consultants on both projects and proposals. While our skill sets often overlap in some areas, generally we bring different things to the project. One thing I’ve noticed about the process is that some of us are writers and some of us are editors and I think it’s important for any business to have a mix of both. Here is why.

Writers create things. Those of us who think we can write (and I hope 2,000+ blog posts show you that I can!) are right-brain oriented, in my opinion. We see things or hear things and are moved to put our own spin on them. When it comes to business, we can look at or listen to a situation and ideas begin to germinate. In my case, it’s often analyzing the situation at hand and synthesizing a plan based on situations from the past. Sometimes a totally new concept emerges and I write it up as fast as I can because ideas are butterflies – they are beautiful but fleeting.

Editors, on the other hand, seem to be more left-brained. They can take a writer’s ramblings, see the central idea, and make it better. How? By asking questions raised by the writing and demanding answers. They can add structure. Since the ideas are not their own, they have neither a vested interest in protecting anything written nor any insight into what’s being communicated if it isn’t on the page. I think while we need t be passionate about our creations in business we also have to understand that our ideas need to be understood by our audience. Editors make that happen.

As a writer, I’m happy to be edited because a great editor can make me look better than I am. Writers make connections between things and editors make those connections more clear. To a certain extent, writers “do” and editors “help”. And to be clear, I don’t think one is necessarily one or the other. I like to think of myself as a writer who can edit. On these collaborations I referenced, I will frequently put out the first draft for the team but once that’s out there, everyone becomes an editor, refining the proposal or project until it sings.

So where on the spectrum do you fall – more a writer or an editor? Do you have both or your team?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud

A Matter Of Trust

If you’ve eaten recently you might want to wait to read today’s Foodie Friday Fun. As always on Friday we look at something going on in the food world and attempt to broaden the lesson beyond food. Today’s topic is food-tech. I’m not talking about the robots who are making burgers or pizzas (we’ve already visited with them). Today it’s the food itself and how technology is changing the very nature of food.

Specifically, I want us to think about food made in the lab. Not new flavors of Pringles or the latest batch of Triscuit varieties. I mean things such as chicken and beef made in a lab with cells from living animals. Yes, such stuff exists and while it still costs about $9,000 a pound to make, in five years the scientists believe they’ll have the costs down to be comparable to what we now pay for chicken.

I’m also talking about GMO‘s – genetically engineered foods like the “impossible burger” that “bleeds” yet is made from plants or the apple that won’t brown when cut due to a gene beings removed. There are next to no studies on if these foods are safe over the long term nor are the few regulations able to keep up with the fast-changing developments in the field. So what we’re left with is “trust me”, and that’s something any of us in business need to think about.

Do I think consumers are begging for apples that won’t brown? No, but I do think there is ample evidence that they want their food to be safe as well as to know where it comes from and how it’s made. That same principle applies to your business as well. Consumers will trust you up to a point. In the case of food, they believe that the FDA and other governmental organizations are protecting them (which is laughable but another topic). In your case, it might be that you’ve built up trust over a number of years. In fact, trust is one of the most important assets a company or brand has. When it’s lost, as in the case of the Volkswagen diesel fiasco, the company risks disappearing. There are many excellent pieces how brands are losing trust – I’d encourage you to read this one as a start.

From my perspective, food companies should spend less on developing GMO’s and more on transparency. Educate us, don’t feed us stuff that might not be safe. Build trust. Sound like a plan?

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Filed under food, Reality checks

Fast And Furious Means Fail

I bet we’ve all been there. An incoming email triggers a strong response and we let those strong emotions turn into something we regret sending later. It’s not a bug – it’s a feature, one we need to learn to turn off since inevitably we spend a lot more time cleaning up the mess then we would have spent had we just taken 10 minutes to calm down, reread the initial email, and respond with a clear head.

I’ve been on the receiving end of one of those. A client who owed me a lot of money reacted badly when I asked to be paid. Having waited nearly two years, I thought I was not over the foul line for asking. In fact, I offered to reduce the amount owed if they would begin paying immediately. Rather than engaging in a discussion about how we could resolve the issue, I received a nastygram unlike any other I’d received in business. My response wasn’t to respond. Instead, I did something I’d not done in 10 years of consulting: I turned the debt over to a collection agency.

That’s one personal example. I’m sure you have a couple, hopefully on the receiving end so you don’t have to clean up the mess. We can’t “react” to emails. The blessing of email is that it’s fast, with immediate delivery and often a quick response. That’s its curse as well, along with the fact that there is no nuance. My philosophy has always been that if there is a problem I’d rather try to resolve it over the phone so I can judge the tone of voice as well as to be sure that what I’m saying isn’t misinterpreted somehow. I realize it’s harder to get many people on the phone but the investment of time in doing so can often avoid a series of increasingly infuriating emails.

Don’t “react.” Don’t assume that someone hasn’t responded because they’re disrespecting you. They might just not be the bearer of good news and are struggling to find a way to say what needs to be said. Remember that everything you send is preserved and you have no clue who will end up reading what you write. Finally, call if you can or, even better, buy someone coffee and talk things over face to face. Old school? For sure, but maybe some of these old school ways are why some of us old folks have done well. Your thoughts?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Lose The Ego Or Lose The Customer

It bewilders me that some businesses can’t put their customers‘ needs ahead of their own. I’m going to tell you yet another horrific tale of business stupidity but first, a little data to support my point.

The folks at Marketing Sherpa did some research and they found the following:

When asked about the marketing of the company they were highly unsatisfied with, the top way unsatisfied customers described the company’s marketing was — not customer-first. This description was more frequent than complaining about privacy issues or intrusive, boring or irrelevant marketing. “The company does not put my needs and wants above its own business goals” was chosen by 35% of unsatisfied respondents.

With that as context, let me show you this in action. A friend of mine bought a car recently from a car dealership with which she had done business in the past. Her previous experience was good enough that she went back to them to buy from them again. This time, things were quite different.

The car died in her driveway after a few weeks of use. The battery died and the car wouldn’t jump-start. When she bought the car, she was told to bring the car to the dealership in the event of any issues and they’d take care of her. She did as she was told and had the car towed to the dealership. Despite the lip-service paid to a customer-centric focus, the service department said they’d charge her $165 for a new battery even though the car is still under warranty. If she wanted it fixed under warranty, it would have to be moved to a Ford dealer. Strike one.

The dealership said they’d arrange for the car to get to the Ford folks “as a courtesy.” That was Thursday. It’s now Monday morning and the car still hasn’t moved. Strike two. My friend has been calling and emailing to no avail. She is in the process of renting a car – the dealership didn’t mention a loaner. Strikes three and four.

I’m beginning my search for a new car – do you think this dealership is under consideration? Do you think my friend will tell her friends to rush over to purchase from these folks or will she caution them to avoid the dealership like a plague? The dealership had its main need addressed – they sold a car, in part by doing a great job in addressing the customer’s needs and wants at the time. They are unwilling or unable to focus on the customer beyond the sale nor can they put the customer’s needs above their own goals (servicing a car that’s under warranty takes time and reduces margin). This is a perfect example of what the research cited above shows since in my mind customer service (or lack thereof) is part of the marketing mix – a critically important part. Do you see the problem?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Bilkies And Bunnies

Handmade shmura matzo

Image via Wikipedia

It’s Foodie Friday, and this year I’ve decided to repost something from a Foodie Friday in 2009. Originally titled “Jewish Thanksgiving,” I’m putting it back up because many of you are new readers since 2009 and because my family is gathering this evening to celebrate. That means I’m busy making bilkies. Making what? Read on!

This week’s Foodie Fun Friday post is dedicated to all of you who won’t be using the bathroom for the next week.  You know who you are.  But the gentiles out there are wondering “what could he possibly mean?  What could possibly stop someone up that badly?”  Well, dear readers, Passover started Wednesday night and by now, most Jewish homes have had two Seders. With those Seders goes matzo and when we say hello to the matzo, we say “buh-bye” to regularity.

As some of you know, my view is that most Jewish holidays can be summarized thusly:

Someone tried to kill all the Jews;
The Lord saved us;
Let’s eat.

Passover typifies this more than any other holiday. It’s really Jewish thanksgiving with brisket substituted for turkey and various other beige and brown foods substituting for the rest. Passover is a great culinary challenge on many levels.  Think about how often you use breadcrumbs or cornstarch when you cook and you’ll begin to understand.  Sure, matzo meal and potato starch are substitutes but they change the flavor, consistency, and appearance of the food in which they’re used.  Oy!

One dish that’s made in our family is something I’ve not seen elsewhere.  We call it a “bilkie or bilky” – not sure of the spelling.  It’s sort of a knish without the outside.  One cooks down some onions in schmaltz (don’t ask – these are really delicious and really not healthy) and adds them to mashed potatoes.  Some more schmaltz, matzo meal, and some eggs to bind.  Then one forms patties, glazes them with egg wash, and bakes them at 500 degrees until brown.  I usually make a few dozen of these and there are NEVER any left – my relatives put what they don’t eat in their purses, which isn’t easy since they’re the approximate size and weight of a compact car hubcap.   I’d love to know if any of you have ever heard of anything similar?

I love this holiday and love that it coincides with Easter.  Everyone has a reason to eat even if we can’t exactly share a lot of the desserts.  And in a week when we go back to eating as we regularly do, we all hope that the rest of us becomes as regular as our eating habits.   On to Memorial Day, the next great pig-out!

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Filed under food, Growing up, What's Going On