Monthly Archives: September 2012

Heat

For our Foodie Friday topic today, let’s have a cup of coffee.  Actually, let’s get some inspiration from one – specifically from Jerry Seinfeld‘s new web series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.  If you haven’t seen it, Jerry goes out for coffee with another funny person – Michael Richards, Carl Reiner, and Larry David among them.  It was in the Larry David episode – Larry Eats A Pancake – that we get today’s food – and business – point.

Jerry remarks that as a pancake gets cold it becomes less appealing   “Once it cools off it loses its allure.” Why is that?  “Heat doesn’t have any flavor…what does it do?”  Larry’s response – “it warms you” is very Kramer-ish.  But it’s true – heat doesn’t have any flavor although it certainly does affect the things that do.  Many dishes are best served at or near room temperature while some foods are disgusting at that temperature.  Food that’s too hot loses flavor, as does food that’s not quite warm enough (putting aside things such as ice cream, of course).  It’s not just the intrinsic flavor of the food that affects the perceived quality.  It’s also the intangible value of the right temperature.

The same holds in business.  It’s the difference on the customer experience on Jet Blue vs. that on Spirit air.  Two discount airlines with many of the same features and requirements (there’s a charge for everything!) but the “heat” of one is perfect and make it delicious while the other is served cold and isn’t something I’ll go near again.

We need to pay attention to the “how hot” as much as we do to the “what.”  Heat can “warm you” or it can burn you.  It can mask flavors or enhance them.  Focus on the “heat” factor you’re generating and you’ll be surprised how appealing the same old stuff can seem.

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Atonement

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. For those of you unfamiliar with the holiday, it concludes the 10 day period at the start of the Jewish calendar – Rosh Hashanah – head of the year – during which all Jews are supposed to reflect upon the past year and examine how they’re going to change their lives going forward. One also seeks forgiveness from those against whom he has transgressed – both those of this earth and higher powers. There is a lot of other imagery connected with the period – inscription in the Book of Life being a big one – but I think there’s something each of us can take as a business lesson in a non-denominational way.

We all get off track.  Sometimes it’s in little ways like eating badly or drinking too much.  Sometimes it’s in big ways like alienating our families or hurting friends who love us.  The concept in Judaism of repentance is called Teshuva  which means “return”.  I love the notion of coming back to one’s self as well as to the basic human tenets that are common to all religions and peoples.

We can take a period of reflection and “return” in our business lives as well.  The most obvious way is for us as individuals   Whom have we alienated this year?  What client have we taken for granted?  But it a bigger opportunity.  How has the business diverged from the mission?  Why have we stopped getting better and are just marching in place?  What can we be doing to grow our people but are ignoring?

We ask those kinds of questions from time to time but I guess I’m suggesting that it become a more formal process.  Set aside a period every year for “return” thinking.  A period of repentance?  Maybe, in some cases.  But in all cases a chance to change.  A chance to regret past bad actions and to vow not to repeat them.  Most importantly (this is true in the religious sense as well), to correct the transgression.  To apologize.   To make restitution.  Whatever is right and lets everyone move forward with a clear conscious and a vow to do better.

Sound like a plan?

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I’m Sick

This may be a bit more incoherent than usual today.

Common cold

Common cold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a foggy brain, a stuffy nose, and body aches.  That’s right – a common cold.  Not unusual, you think, but it really is for me.  Since I stopped commuting to work and flying all over the place, I’ve been sick exactly one other time.  That’s right – one cold in five years (until now).

I’m not sure where I got it although I was in a lot more large crowds over the last week than normal.  Maybe the guy with whom I slapped palms at the Springsteen show last week had a cold.  Maybe it was someone I greeted at the wedding we attended.  Maybe it was someone I was near at the market.  Who knows?  However, it’s good business point.

You can’t (and don’t want to) avoid interacting with other people.  I’m not sure how you do business without doing so.  However, it turns out about 80% of contagious diseases are transmitted by touch.  That’s right – the best protection from the common cold and flu is frequent hand washing.

Our businesses run the risk of infection – something that disrupts their normal functioning – if we don’t take the time to make sure they’re “clean” – that we’re not off-track, that the team is all in sync, and that the contact with outsiders hasn’t done something to disrupt that.  Think of staff meetings or check-ins with your team as a good hand scrubbing.  That sort of communication can prevent a lot of  what ails many businesses.

Now I’m going back to bed.  After I wash my hands….

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Golf Economics And You

Here we are at Monday again and of course I spent a chunk of the weekend playing golf.

United States Golf Association

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As you know, I think we can learn an awful lot about business (and life) from the game and I came across an article this morning that’s a perfect example of that. It’s on the USGA website and was written by an agronomist about course care in challenging times.  What caught my eye is that he writes about a new business model for the game and of course that sort of thinking is exactly what we try to do in this space.

If you’re not familiar with what’s going on in the golf business, it’s a mirror of many others.  The number of folks playing (the customer base) is down, those who do play are playing less (consumption), and the costs of maintaining and operating the business are always going up.  Sounds like a lot of other industries.  So let’s see if what he suggests might help some of those businesses.

First, he talks about making a difficult game easier.  The USGA has a “tee it forward” initiative which encourages players to play from tees more appropriate to their skill level (which also speeds up play).  The piece also gets into removing long rough and getting rid of many bunkers (sand traps) that make it hard for less-skilled golfers.  While I have mixed feeling about that as a golfer, I do think that any business needs to take a hard look at barriers to usage.  Playing golf badly is no fun just like spending hours trying to decipher a PC problem or fix an issue with your car can make veins pop out of your neck.  Game manufacturers have long known this – almost every game offer the ability to set the difficulty level.  How can you do that in your business?

Next he talks about controlling costs.  In golf’s case it’s actions such as not cutting grass in some areas – there are out-of-play areas adjacent to tees that are mowed, irrigated and fertilized and acres of turf can be removed from many golf courses without altering the golf experience.  It reminded me of a legendary story about the early days of Capital Cities Communications and how they were so cost-conscious they only painted the sides of the buildings that faced the roads.  Where can you look at costs without impacting your product?  It needs to be a regular evaluation.

Finally, he talks about using alternative grasses which will cut maintenance and stand up better to heat, etc. which provides a better play experience.  This too is a great point for any business.  While the product may not change (the game is the game!) making it a better user experience is a constant.  No one likes to play a burnt-out golf course jut like no one likes any experience that doesn’t meet the brand promise that got them to the product n the first place.  Lt’s put that on our “to do ” list as well.

What else can you come up with?  Do you like what the author is saying?

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Taste

 

It’s always a challenge cooking for others. For me it’s not really the quantity of food or even timing the meal so that all the dishes are ready for the table at the same time. The hardest part is anticipating people’s’ tastes. For example, when I make jambalaya, I like a kick beyond that of some good andouille sausage. Finding a well-seasoned chunk of tasso along with a fairly liberal dose of cayenne can do it for me but there are very few people for whom I cook that like that sort of heat. A splash of hot sauce at the table isn’t the same thing – it’s a sharp “forward heat while cooking the spices into the dish is a slower, more mellow burn. Still, one has to know one’s consumer (as I always remind us here) so I tone it down in most cases.

Taste isn’t just something that applies to food.  It’s easy enough to season a dish in a way that makes you happy as a cook, but unless you’re a well-known chef who has developed a palate that others find appealing, you’re probably going to under-season and let people add salt, pepper, hot sauce, or whatever else makes them happy (I just shuddered as I recalled a niece pouring ketchup over a delectably spiced dish years ago). As businesspeople, we have to assess our tastes continually and remember that there are as many permutations of it as there are people.

Very few business leaders can impose their tastes on others.  Even a guy like Steve Jobs failed to do so from time to time (remember the antenna debacle on the iPhone, which was a design issue?  Customers got fed up with the dropped calls even if it looked pretty).  Listening to the social sphere, reading your data, getting regular customer service reports, sentiment analysis, and lust plain talking to people is a critical part of assessing taste.

How’s your palate these days?

 

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Political Polls And Your Business

It’s election season and there are multiple new polls released every day.

Description=Opinion polling by state for the U...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a lot of data and the media jump on each tidbit to proclaim the outcome of an event that’s still many weeks away.  Each new glimpse of the situation is treated as if today was Election Day until the next piece of information surfaces and the cycle begins again.  Sound like your business?

It’s a very instructive situation and points to something I tell my clients all the time.  A data point isn’t really important in and of itself.  What IS important is the trend of that data and what it reflects about your business.  Continuing the political example, Romney’s poll numbers over time have been declining while Obama‘s have been trending up.  Many polls are still within the statistical margin of error about which candidate is winning (a fact often overlooked since these are results based on samples).  Still, the data points to a sense of things, especially when you get past the top-line numbers and dig into segments and qualitative questions such as readiness for job, feelings about the person, etc.

If these were your web analytics, you’d want to do the same sort of thing.  Get past the top line stuff – visits, page views – and dig into segments.  Are visits from organic search up or down?  Are we seeing new and relevant search terms creating visits or is everything limited to searches on your company name indicating a narrow audience?  What are the different usage trends among new and repeat visitors?  How is social impacting your audience?  Are entrances coming to many pages or just one?

Don’t worry about any one day, worry about trends and you’ll be on a much more actionable track.  Rolling averages and trends don’t cause daily fire-drills to fix something that might be a blip.  Panic over a one-time occurrence usually does way more harm than good, whether it’s a poll, an analytics report, or a financial statement.

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Should You Abandon Your Website?

I came across an interesting article on Marketing Profs the other day.  Called “Four Reasons to Jettison the Traditional Website and Go Social it advocates a point of view that I’ve discussed with clients and would like to throw out to you today.  The author puts it out there like this:

Everywhere around me now, I see companies dispensing with the traditional website in favor of integrating the most popular social networks right into the website and communicating with customers in real-time via tweets and Facebook posts. Big players like Skittles and Coca-Cola have completely bought into social, as have savvy small mom-and-pop shops.

He then goes on to explain why brands might not need websites any more, including reasons such as “it’s fresh, it’s affordable,” and others.  I disagree with his point of view.  First, brands need a home base.  As you might have noticed, the social world isn’t exactly a unified place.  Sure, Facebook is the main place consumers go, but they don’t really go there to interact with brands (and as we discussed a while back, brands haven’t figured out how not to behave like brands).  How many companies took a step back in their social effort when Timeline was deployed?  That’s an example of why you need to control the platform as well as the content.

The author also does a disservice to his readers with this statement: “Compared with the cost of building a website from scratch, plus maintaining it, establishing a business presence on a social network is ultra affordable.”   This perpetrates a mindset too many clients have about social – it’s cheap and easy.  Neither could be further from the truth.  Sure, anyone has access to Facebook for free, but many of the support tools needed aren’t free and you still need humans to support the effort.

The gist of his argument is that big brands are very focused on social and they don’t do anything without testing and retesting to make sure it works so you should do it too.  Putting aside the “follow them off the roof” mentality, I agree that everyone needs to be including social elements in their marketing although I don’t think we can simply say get on Facebook and Twitter and be done.  A well-designed and supported website can accomplish a lot more for your brand than can a social front door.

I won’t be advising my clients to shut off or redirect their web efforts any time soon.  What about you?  What do you think?

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