Monthly Archives: November 2012

Substitute

Foodie Friday!  Today the topic is substitutes.  No, not the early song by The Who.

Butter and a butter knife

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a thought about the use of different ingredients when the things called for in the recipe aren’t available.  This is a little different from changing up the seasonings – using oregano for basil, for example.  Cooks often do that to vary flavors and that’s an integral part of one’s own cooking style and food profile.  In this case I mean the times when you go to get the unsalted butter and realize all you have is salted or when you decide to use skim milk to lower a dish‘s fat content instead of the whole milk (or heaven forbid CREAM!) the recipe requires.

Substitutions are tricky things. Take the salted butter example.  There is no standard amount of salt in salted butter and the amount of salt can vary quite a bit.  If you’re aware of that and don’t automatically salt your dish as usual you might be OK.  Another thing about it is that the water content in salted butter is higher which, depending on the amount of liquid in the dish can make a difference.  Not a big deal for most dishes but critical in baking.  By the way, this is why I’m not a baker – it’s way too specific!

I could explain the reasons why cream vs. whole milk vs. half and half in recipes will or won’t work but you’re probably wondering at this point what the business point is.  Well, it’s that people are very much like ingredients.  Many managers see tiny differences in staff members – salted vs. unsalted – but fail to consider the broader implications those differences bring.  An unanticipated resignation from a staff member forces a substitution, but thinking that all individuals are replaceable because substitutes with the same basic skill set are available is a fallacy.  Just as an improper substitution can ruin a sauce or a custard, failing to acknowledge and adjust for the differences in the human ingredients can spell disaster.

As managers, we need to be acutely aware of how each small change in our team can precipitate much larger issues.  People are our most important ingredients, and just as great cooks consider every nuance of what goes into a dish we need to examine our people and blend them appropriately.  Feeling as if we can substitute at will is short-sighted and can ruin our business.  Then again, a smart change can make it many times better.  Your choice!

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Until Someone Pokes Their Eye Out

With the holidays almost upon us, it’s getting to be the time when we all watch “A Christmas Story” for the umpteenth time.

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a parent, one line that always sticks out is the “you’ll shoot your eye out” phrase since it echoes something I used to hear as a kid. That was more like “it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye” but the meaning is similar.

There’s a business reason why I’m raising this as well. Many businesses routinely assign inexperienced staff to support their digital efforts. This happens particularly in the social space, where it’s easy to get caught up in the meme of the day. What’s a meme?  You know them – everything from LOLcats to “Mckayla Is Not Impressed” to “Binders Full Of Women.”  Some are short-lived, some endure.  Maybe it’s not that sort of activity but just someone trying to be proactive – there’s interest in something the company is doing, let’s foster it.  In either case, an employee trying to have the business engage with fans can do a great deal of damage, and it’s not just to a business’s reputation.

For example – let’s say your social admin decides to challenge your fans to a contest of some sort.  There are no written rules and one of the losers objects.  Lawsuit waiting to happen.  Let’s say another admin posts an image and encourages fans to do their own version.  Who vetted the theme (was it copyrighted someplace)?  Who approved the materials (do we have a license for the image as well as for any actors/others who are in the image)?  Or maybe you decided to use one of  the Cheezburger Network’s LOLcats sites to create a meme with an eye towards starting something viral. Did anyone make sure the materials you are using are free for commercial use or have been licensed for your specific purpose?

Any time we charge someone with speaking for our brand or our company we should hear the Mom in A Christmas Story.  You really can shoot out a lot more than your eye if you don’t understand the business and legal ramifications that are well beyond understanding the technology.  That’s when it stops being fun and games.  Any thoughts?

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Keeping It To Yourself

We have discussed privacy here on the screed several times. During many of those rants I talked about how companies need to think about their privacy policies (and being transparent about it is a great start) and how those policies will play with the folks whose data the companies are using. My theory is that young people have never really had any privacy (mostly due to hovering parents) and they’re less concerned about the issue than are people of my generation. However, there are netizens of every age who do care, and I suspect that as the “creepy” factor of ads following you around grows due to retargeting, etc., more people will begin to look into what data they’re sharing with the web overlords and how that data is used.

If you care or if you wonder if you should, the folks at Privacy Choice will be of interest to you.  Their research reveals that 20% of sites and apps reserve the right to share personal data freely for commercial purposes. Also, 60% of website privacy policies do not provide any written assurance that users can delete their personal data at the end of the relationship:

The most critical component of a privacy policy governs how a website or app handles personal data, which increasingly includes not only email addresses but also profile and other more intimate personal information gathered through social network integration…Nearly two-thirds of all policies examined (63%) provide assurance that personal data generally will not be shared with other companies, while another 10% promise not to share personal data for “marketing purposes.” However, one in five sites provide no assurance against sharing personal data with other companies.

If you are interested, I urge you to install their Privacyfix tool and the browser extension.  You can check a site’s tracking using this tool.  The results can be eye-opening.  It’s becoming obvious that companies are counting on us to take control if that’s what we want.  What do you think?

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What’s On Channel 2?

According to Pew’s Internet & American Life survey 27% of voters relied on both TV and Internet to follow the Election Night coverage.  When you put that in the context of 65% relying exclusively on TV, it doesn’t sound like it’s a lot.  Only 6% said they monitored results only on the Internet, so it’s pretty evident that our primary screen continues to be the TV, at least for the moment.  However, the more we segment the audience into the “digital native” realm, the more we see this behavior.

Use of dual screens was most pronounced among the 18- to-39-year-old segment, where 39% “dual screened” the election, as Pew calls it. As reported here:

In fact, for the under-40 crowd, it was almost as likely they would track returns on two screens as on TV alone (45%). And 28% of those ages 40 to 64 also used both media during the course of the evening. In fact, it was only in the 65+ segment where the dual-screen behavior was negligible (9%).  There is a sharp digital divide in two-screen behaviors based on educational levels. Dual-screening the returns was strongest among voters with college degrees (36%) and some college education (28%), compared to those with high school or less (14%).

People have always multi-tasked while watching TV.  They chat with someone in the room or on the phone.  Maybe they’re eating.  In my ind, this is different since either they’re ingesting the same content in a different way or perhaps they’re doing something else that requires a lot more attention – email, for example. It would be interesting to know whose content that 6% was following – the “traditional” providers of broadcast and cable news or newer sources such as Twitter so we could see if the shift in channel was joined to a shift in content providers.  Either way, as a recent eMarketer piece stated:

Consumers’ attention is more divided than ever as media multitasking becomes the norm.  Formerly linear consumption activity, defined by appointments with specific media, is now a tangle of simultaneous activities, some related, some not. TV remains at the center of this multitasking, but more often than not, there is another screen more directly in front of the viewer.

How are you planning your content and marketing to accommodate these changes?  Are you worrying about what’s on Channel 1 while the audience is watching Channel 2 at the same time?

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The Fine Print

Here we are again in the holiday season, which really means “primary spending time” both for consumers and retailers. The flyers bundled with my newspaper on Thursday had many more pages than did the paper itself. While they’re not as offensive as political ads, the frequency of ads for “Black Friday Deals!” on all programming was at week-before-the-election levels.  Numbing…

What bothers me about quite a few of these ads is not really restricted to this season but since everyone’s mind is on shopping I thought I’d put it out there today.  I have a huge distrust of fine print.  You know – the things about the stuff in big type that are written in tiny type and make the great deal not so great.  On radio ads it’s when the announcer starts talking very fast and unintelligibly.  As Consumer Reports pointed out, it’s getting a “free” download of antivirus software with a recent purchase. By the way,  free has a time limit — six months – and then you get billed for $49.99 after that if you don’t happen to cancel.  You might see it on a brand’s Facebook page – “like” us and get a coupon for $5.  Of course, the coupon is only good when you purchase $25 worth of stuff.  Book some hotel rooms online and you’ll probably miss the fine print about “resort charges” or “safe fees” that are positioned as optional but which are anything but.  I’ve never heard of anyone getting them removed from the bill.  My phone’s “unlimited” data plan allows me the use of unlimited amounts of data but after I get to some point the speed is throttled, making the plan limited in other ways.

I have to think that the revenues gained from these offers is offset to some degree (one hopes to a very large one) by the costs of customer service and refunds generated by the fine print.  Think for a minute about how we behave as individuals.  We don’t extend offers to our friends with fine print, at least not if we expect to keep them as friends.  “Let’s go to the movies” doesn’t come with “unless I can find a better option with someone else” or “of course, you’ll buy all the popcorn.”  Why would we behave differently as a brand?

Fine print, except as mandated by law, is a bad idea.  No fine print from me on that.  How about from you?

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Giving Thanks

Several years ago I wrote a pre-Thanksgiving post on the “three f’s” of the holiday.  You may recall that I described them as:

English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • “F” number one is Family. It’s the thing for which I am most thankful. Having them here at this holiday is a labor of love and I hope they’ll all keep showing up for many years more.
  • “F” number two is Feasting. We do ask everyone to bring something – an appetizer, wine, or a dessert, usually. Obviously it’s not because it lightens the work load very much but because it makes them a part of the process. It’s OUR meal as a family and our shared celebration. The word “feast” comes from the same root as “festival” (yes, it’s also the same root Seinfeld used for “Festivus“) and we try to make it one. All those days of prep come together in a 45 minute orgy of eating. This holiday is very much like Christmas or Hanukah in that way – you prepare for quite a long time and then it’s over way too quickly.
  • “F” number three is Football. This is America’s national sport and we’re very much a sports-oriented group. I’ll never forget my Uncle Harry who would sit with us every year and watch the games. “I don’t understand,” he would say, “they all fall down, they all get up, they do it again. What kind of game is this?” It could be paint drying – the point is that it’s a family ritual and through it we bond.

They haven’t changed.  Our family has been challenged this year by many of the same things that millions of other families face.  Illnesses, the economy, wacky weather, and the other day-to-day events that keep it…interesting…  Even so, we’re very fortunate and tomorrow will be a day to remember that.  If anything, the adversity has pulled us even closer.

I’m very thankful, among other things, for those of you that take the time to read the screed every once in a while.  I appreciate your comments when I hit home and even more so when I miss the mark.  Have a great holiday!

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The Four Minute Mile

Late post today so I’ll make it brief.  I was returning from some morning meetings (hence my lateness) and I heard someone talking on the radio about one crisis or another – geopolitical, financial – who knows.  They kept saying that a fix was “impossible” and spent the better part of the segment explaining why that was so.  I, of course, immediately thought of Roger Bannister.

 

IMG_3913

(Photo credit: I am I.A.M.)

 

Right up until that day in May of 1954, it was thought that running a mile in under four minutes was not humanly possible.  I’m sure there were a lot of sportswriters who pontificated much as did the person on the radio this morning about why that was so.  15MPH for that period of time?  No way.  I’m sure they were doing so right up until Bannister crossed the finish line in under four minutes.  To show it wasn’t some superhuman feat, John Landy finished right behind him – also under four minutes.  Suddenly, the common knowledge – and the mental barrier it imposed – changed.  Miles have been run hundreds of times under that barrier now and the record is 3:43, closer to three and a half minutes than to four.

 

We often do the same thing in business.  A sales goal is not achievable   A product can’t be built.  The person with the qualifications we really think are required for the job can’t be found so we settle on someone lesser.  Four minute barriers we can’t break.  Until we do.

 

I’ve used the Bannister example with groups before to get them to think about how our mental barriers hold us back.  What do you think?

 

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