Food And Doing Well By Doing Good

This Foodie Friday I want to chat about a couple of food-related things I read this week and how they might translate into some thinking about your business. The first is an article (seen here) about how Nestle has figured out a way to cut the sugar in its candy. The second is something businesses are doing in Japan to help with a problem on their roads.

Nestle Crunch in most recent packaging

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nestle says its researchers have found a way to structure sugar differently so that it uses 40% less. It claims this can be done without affecting the taste. As a former fatty who misses chocolate A LOT, this is good news. More importantly, it helps to address the epidemics of diabetes and obesity. Nestle is patenting the method which seems like a missed opportunity to open source something that can help a lot of people. Of course, once you file a patent the method is no longer secret so maybe others will find a way to do the same.

In Japan, as in many other countries including our own, the population is aging and the old folks are continuing to drive. My 91-year-old Dad refuses to give up the car keys and it’s something that keeps our whole family up at night. What they’re doing in Japan is to offer the super seniors discounts. In fact, nearly 12,000 seniors living in Aichi had voluntarily given up their licenses in exchange for discounted goods and services, and that was before one of the leading ramen chains (hence the food focus!) offered a discount for life to those who hand over their licenses. Since the proportion of all fatal accidents attributed to drivers over 75 has spiked from 7.4 percent to 12.8 percent, this seems like a pretty good public service.

In both of these cases, the motivation may not have been to do well by doing something good but I think that’s the effect. Who wouldn’t want to eat less sugar and not down a bunch of artificial sweeteners which are just as bad? Nestle ought to sell more candy. In Japan, safer roads help everyone, and the businesses providing the discounts can’t serve younger customers who’ve been hurt by an older driver, not to mention the older drivers themselves. Hopefully, the additional patronage more than makes up for the discount.

This is the sort of thing any business can think about. How can we do some good in our community and does that activity hold the promise of helping the business? As anyone involved in Corporate Socal Responsibility will tell you, the two things are not exclusive to one another, and I’m all for it. You?

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Digital Marketing 101

A friend and I were chatting about his business and he asked for my help in clarifying how he could do a better job of using digital marketing. Now while I’m not in the business of providing free consulting services, I figured I owed him at least a quick overview since I’d eaten a lot of his food over the years (and probably even more of his wine). Besides, I’m getting a blog post out of it, right?

We spent minute clarifying his business goals – what things did he want to improve and how could he make that happen? I asked him to tell me about his typical customers – personas in marketing terms – so we could focus his efforts a bit. I asked him to think about any research he had, customer lists, analytics, or even just his own impressions. Those two steps – goals and targets – lay the foundation for the marketing plan.

Next, we went through his current assets. Not the financial kind you’d find on a balance sheet. Instead, we filled out the three buckets of media – owned, earned, and paid. The first are things that are yours: your website, your social media profiles, a blog if you have one, etc. The second – earned media – are things that have been written about you – reviews, PR, word of mouth, etc. The third bucket is pretty obvious: what you are paying for at the moment, and includes things such as Search Engine Marketing, paid ads on social, etc.

After that comes the plan itself. I know that seems obvious but only about a third of businesses have a formal digital marketing plan. We talked about his business cycles and creating a marketing calendar that coincides with his needs. We put together a quick outline of a plan that listed priorities and the best channels to reach his target at the right time. Most important, we talked about how to measure the results and the need to adjust as you go. I stressed that measurement of things irrelevant to the goals we outlined was a waste of time.

I realize I just summarized an hour’s conversation in a post that took you a few minutes to read. I don’t mean to make all of this sound simple – it’s not –  but then again, what part of your business is? I can tell you that if you follow the process outlined above you’ll be a lot further along than many of your competitors. And, of course, I’m here to help if you need it!

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A Gift From The PR Gods

I received an invitation a couple of weeks back that I thought I’d share with you all today. It’s a wonderful example of so many things gone wrong that I hardly know where to begin. Sorry if I sound delighted, but I’m always happy when fodder for the screed pops into my inbox.

It begins innocuously enough:

This Friday, Keith, we are doing a last minute gift guide mailing to the top 30 influencers who need products for their short lead holiday gift guides and long lead Valentine’s Day gift guides and we thought Consult Keith, might be a good fit.

Let’s stop there and think for a moment. Does anyone give blogs as gifts? I certainly don’t but maybe I’m behind the times. Had I already done what I’ve repeatedly threatened to do and turn these 2,000 or so posts into a book, I might have something tangible to send along. Still, I’m always up for increasing the readership of this thing so let’s keep reading, shall we?

Next, there is a list of 33 media outlets (yes, 33, not “the top 30”) of various sorts which reach widely divergent targets. Some skew very female, some quite male, some fairly old and some quite young. Now while I get that a gift guide might contain things the target would buy for a different demographic, it strikes me as odd that this is as untargeted as it is. No offer to segment the list either. But what do I get?

And what do I need to give you?

  • 30 pieces of product (with a press release attached to each)
  • A paragraph descriptor of your product
  • Photo of the product on a white background

Nothing like getting included in a group of indeterminate size, right? The invite doesn’t mention any limit on how many products will be placed on the desks of these influencers, and one can only imagine how the 30 pieces of your product will be divided across the 33 names on the recipient list. Of course, given what I know about building security in New York (where many of these outlets are located), there is a very good chance that the “direct delivery” won’t happen, especially since the product is to be shipped to Los Angeles. The cost is only $849. Oh – plus the product cost. And shipping the product to LA. So if you have an item that costs you $35, that’s $1,050 in product cost plus shipping for 30 items (let’s figure $10 each) plus $849. So for just under $2,200, you can be included in a bunch of stuff that gets given to someone at a media outlet for possible review and/or mention. Such a bargain…

I don’t mean to be a total cynic here. PR is important, especially at this peak shopping time of the year. But I back up to the very fact that I received this invitation to send along product in the first place. My product is this blog or maybe even my consulting services. Neither are a fit for this, obviously, but the note calls into question how carefully this PR firm will execute the program since they can’t even screen the recipients of this invitation and the target list is a scattershot approach to messaging. They can’t seem to count to 33 either, and if PR NewsWire is the extent of the marketing they’re doing, I’m underwhelmed. Those are  pretty big red flags. Then again, we’d never do anything as off-target as this, would we?

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Feeling-based Vs. Fact-based

Before the Thanksgiving break, I did a free consultation with a prospective client (you can get yourself one too just by asking!). We talked about where the business has been and where he thinks it should be going. The problem we identified was that much of his information was feeling-based and not fact-based. I can hear  the frequent readers of this screed preparing for yet another rant on the value of data, so let me surprise you a little today.

English: Cyber analytics is the science of ana...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The hardest thing in business is seeing over the horizon. Oftentimes we need to shut our eyes and project ourselves forward in time, carried on the magic carpet woven from what we know so far and our own intuition. The reason is that in today’s business climate the future is often very different from the past and the analytics that reflect past behaviors have to be projected forward in the context of what might be the future environment. The more ambiguity the future holds for your business the greater the reliance on your own gut.

The issue for this business is that the leadership team was either young or inexperienced in business (they are scientists, mostly) or both. That’s why it seemed as if bringing in experience and intuition (that would be yours truly) made sense. You might not be in that situation but you might be feeling uneasy about your firm’s future direction even as you act in accordance with all the business measures you have in place.

Please don’t mishear me. If you have any sort of digital presence (website, social, email, etc) and aren’t using your analytics to inform you about traffic and how users are engaging with you, you’re not doing your job. If you don’t know or understand those things, find someone who does. If you can close your eyes and feel your typical customer, that’s fantastic, but if the reality of your data doesn’t match your feelings, you need to try again. You can’t let run a business making feeling-based decisions alone. Don’t over-think, but don’t under-inform. OK?

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Turkey Day

It’s time for the annual Thanksgiving post. Many years I’ve posted about the 3F’s that drive this holiday – family, football, and food. This year I’ve gone back to 2008 for a take that has little to do with business and a lot to do with why this is a special holiday. Enjoy!

My family loves Thanksgiving.  For the most part, so do I.  The entire family getting together is not something that happens with great regularity anymore – grandparents winter in Florida, kids are in college or living their own lives, brothers and sisters and other relations have busy schedules too.  So when 20 or 25 of us can pile into one location, it’s special, and each gathering is unique.  Except for one thing.Thanksgiving’s menu in my house is something that descended directly from the Pilgrims.  It is etched in two tablets made from the skin of the original bird (and we can have the discussion about whether that bird was in Plymouth or in St.Augustine another time).  Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and apricots, cranberry mold, cranberry bread, veggies, stuffing and gallons of gravy are pretty much it.

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cook every year and love to do it.  Except I can do it in my sleep at this point. I am under strict orders from all parties NOT TO FOOL (they use another word) WITH THE MENU.  The only choices I get to make are what kinds of stuffing and which veggies to serve.  But I don’t, really.

One year I caused a huge ruckus by announcing in advance (mistake) that I would be frying one of the birds (we usually have two).  The discovery of a cure for cancer would have caused less of a ruckus.  Of course, now a fried turkey is mandatory.  Another year I made four dressings – one a cornbread and andouille, one a sausage and herb, one an oyster, and one a vegetarian version that was very traditional.  Of course, only the last one was eaten up.  No more oysters (and don’t even start the discussion about that’s what the Indians ate) in the damn dressing and leave that andouille stuff south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Another year, I slow cooked the green beans with bacon.  “Darling, do you have any less cooked?  I’m not sure I know what I’m eating…”  Another year I served carrots with a tangerine glaze.  The next, I was berated for not serving carrots.

I’m writing this now because there are only two weeks to go and my Mom is asking if I’ve shopped yet (Mom is always ready well in advance).  I tell her I haven’t shopped because I haven’t planned the menu yet but who am I kidding?  The menu was done years ago.  I don’t have the heart to tell her I’m roasting the other bird in a Caja China and not an oven and that I’m seriously considering bringing back the cornbread thing.  But I’ll cook them whatever they want since having the family all together is more important to me than my exercising my chefly prerogatives.

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Can Overhead Mean Profit?

I was chatting with a friend the other day and he told me about some layoffs that were going on at his place. Many of the people being cut were what we euphemistically used to call the “non-revenue generating portion of our staff.” You might term them overhead. You know – sales assistants, secretaries, accountants – the people to whom direct revenue isn’t attributed. I told my friend that I think it was an incredibly short-sighted move and in an effort to help your business not make the same sort of error, here’s why I feel that way.

First and foremost, there is a decent amount of research that tells is that salespeople – the people who bring in the fuel that drives your business’ engine – spend only about a third of their time (36%) actually selling. You know – meeting or connecting with clients either in person or virtually. 64% of their time is spent on non-sales activity, and a good chunk of that is with administrative tasks (25%) and service tasks (16%). A great sales assistant can take over much of those tasks, freeing the salesperson up to do what only they can do. Is it cost-effective? If a salesperson is making $200,000 a year and you can boost their output, making them worth $50,000 more, then you’ve paid for the assistant, right?

The same can be said of other support people. A smart accountant or lawyer can help boost profits, even if they do nothing more than find a way to say “yes” in making deals happen. That’s not always the case – I’ve worked with internal lawyers who were a bigger impediment to business than a crappy marketplace. If there is an internal awareness of revenue goals and a commitment by everyone to making deals happen, there is no such thing as “overhead.”

Selling has changed, no matter your business. Focusing on customers’ needs, not trying to sell them products they don’t want or need, and being a trusted advisor are the key ingredients in sales (and revenue) success. The more people your company can put to that task on behalf of your clients, the better. Make sense?

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What’s My Name?

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week begins with a question. What do English Muffins, Vichyssoise, and Spaghetti and Meatballs have in common? I think if you asked many people they might answer that each is a “foreign” food that has become popular in the U.S. Actually, while the popularity piece is correct, each of those dishes was invented right here in America. You can add such “imported” dishes as Pasta Primavera, German Chocolate Cake, a Cuban Sandwich, and nearly every bit of what most Americans think of as Mexican food to the list. Each of these was created here despite their name or feel.

English: Spaghetti and Meatballs

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does that have to do with business? I dine a lot at a local Mexican spot. This is not the “Mexican” food of Taco Bell, Chipotle, or Qdoba. There are no English menus and while there are certainly tacos, burritos, and other familiar sounding dishes, there are fillings such as tongue and tripe instead of the ubiquitous ground beef and chicken. There are also dishes (iguana, anyone?) that are truly Mexican. No chimichangas here.

I bring this up because we often allow our preconceptions of something to dictate how we process information. We hear “pasta” or “spaghetti” and we believe something originated in Italy. We see a spreadsheet and assume that the numbers and formulas have been vetted when in fact there may be computational errors or typos. Much worse is some people’s tendency to hear a name and assume  a lot about the person.  You know what I mean – a Jewish name means someone who will be good with money, an Asian name means they’re great with numbers. It’s a long, unfortunate list.

So the next time you settle down in front of a fajita or a nice bowl of chili and appreciate their “authentic” flavors, just remember that the flavor comes from Texas and not from Mexico. When you next settle in front of a report or a spreadsheet, spend a minute to ask about its origins as well. You can even think about what the motivations where of the person who created it. Try to keep an open mind about the interviewee in front of you as well, whatever their name, It might just change your whole perception.

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