Monthly Archives: February 2013

Hitting The Mark

I’m not a big bourbon drinker but I do enjoy it from time to time.  A friend of mine invited me to be a Maker’s Mark Ambassador a while back, which is a sort of frequent flyer program for the brand.  That’s given me a front row seat to something that’s happened over the last week and is a fantastic example of how marketing works these days.

Maker's Mark

Maker’s Mark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maker’s Mark has been doing an awful lot right with the brand, so much so that there is a shortage of product.  Earlier this month (about 10 days ago as I write this), the distillery emailed us that they were going to be reducing the proof of the liquor a bit.  Watering it down would be an apt description. Another bourbon brand did the same thing a decade ago and not much happened when they did so.  This time,  as one might expect, outrage ensued.  However, as we’ve discussed fairly often here on the screed, that outrage is now easily broadcast across the planet.   The negative response built on Twitter and Facebook and after three days there were thousands of posts which were amplified by others.

Maker’s Mark then did something very smart.  They listened.  They acted.  They sent an email to all of the Ambassadors.  Mine showed up yesterday morning and it said, in part:

Since we announced our decision last week to reduce the alcohol content (ABV) of Maker’s Mark in response to supply constraints, we have heard many concerns and questions from our ambassadors and brand fans. We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.

You spoke. We listened. And we’re sincerely sorry we let you down.

Perfect.  Take responsibility for your actions (don’t hide behind “mistakes were made”), express regret, and explain what you’re doing to fix it.  The positive reaction was immediate and loud – 16,000 “likes” on their Facebook page and a couple of thousand positive comments within a few hours.   This is how it works in the social age.  Listen, respond, be transparent, rinse, repeat.  This is how the Maker’s hit the mark after a big miss.  They’ll have to find another solution to their supply problem – once which doesn’t involve watering down the product (and the brand!).  It’s a good lesson for any brand.  Do you agree?

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A Peek Forward

I’ve written before about how the hardest job in digital media and technology is seeing over the horizon.

Image representing comScore as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

The folks at comScore try to be helpful in that regard and issue an ongoing study about trends and predictions.  As they put it, they “examine… the latest trends in social media, search, online video, digital advertising, mobile and e-commerce are currently shaping the U.S. digital marketplace and what they mean for the coming year, as comScore helps bring the digital future into focus.”  Exactly.

The latest version of the study – The 2013 U.S. Digital Future In Focus Report – came out last week and there were a few nuggets I thought you might find interesting. You can read the entire deck here.

The first has to do with something that content producers have dealt with for years – the perceived mindset that consumers won’t pay for content:

Digital Content & Subscriptions, a category predominantly composed of digital content downloads such as music, movies, TV shows and e-books, ranked as the top-gaining retail e-commerce product category for 2012, its second consecutive year to claim that distinction. The increasing proliferation of devices like smartphones, tablets and digital music players has accelerated consumer demand for digital content downloads, contributing to the 26-percent gain in the category.

So much for that myth.  As it turns out, people will pay for high-quality content delivered seamlessly to all devices.  The next tidbit is related to, or perhaps even drives, the previous finding:

Smartphones continued to drive the mobile landscape in 2012, finally reaching 50-percent market penetration in 2012. Smartphone media usage is dominated by apps, which account for 4 out of every 5 minutes spent on smartphones with mobile web usage accounting for the remainder. Despite Facebook’s leadership in the app market, Google apps dominated the rest of the list of top apps visited in the U.S., with Google Maps, Google Play, Google Search, Gmail and YouTube ranking as the most heavily visited apps next to Facebook.

Consumers are using these devices to access content but I think there’s an opening for some smart company.  Notice that 80% of the usage is not on the mobile web.  I’ve yet to run into a great mobile web experience (although there is a lot of B+ stuff) and so developers are having to support the two big platforms, often with very different degrees of success between the two.  It’s interesting to me that the top mobile apps are all, with the exception of Maps, continuations of a desktop experience.  Instragram (not a top app) is about the only exception to that.

Finally, just as the web became a valuable extension of media’s primary channels, so too mobile is becoming that for the web:

The average Top 25 digital media property extended its reach via mobile channels by 29 percent. Even those with a relatively modest incremental reach in the teens are recognizing that mobile channels represent more than a mere rounding error. The future revenue streams of these media companies depend on effectively delivering content and commerce to their consumers through these channels, and demonstrating why they are an important part of the marketing mix. Failure to meet consumer expectations and aggressively prove the value of these additional channels in 2013 could spell a very rocky economic transition by the time 2014 comes around.

There’s your peek over the horizon.  Now, what are we going to do with it?

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The Saying Vs. Doing Conundrum

Foodie Friday! Today I want to build on something discovered by the folks at The Hartman Group.

English: A common variety of gorp (trail mix) ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They have a site called HartmanSalt (which is not a site about ways to increase your blood pressure). They conduct regular surveys about food and food consumption.  I was checking out something on snacking which triggered a business thought.

As the results show, Americans love to snack.  We consume 2.3 snacks per day on average.  This tends to happen later in the day and generally at home.  What triggered the business thought were the next two data points.  57% of the respondents in the survey said it is important or very important  for the food and/or beverages to be healthy.  However the two most often mentioned snack foods are chips and soda. What we say doesn’t always align with what we do and that’s an important thing to remember in business.

That dichotomy is one of the things we find in focus groups – the things in which people express interest are not necessarily the things they’ll buy. Having done a few of them as a part of designing and building web sites, how users tell you they’ll use something and what they actually do as you observe them can be very different.   It’s a point we see in management all the time.  How managers say they behave and how they actually do are often out of sync.  No manager, for example, will tell you that they mistreat employees and they say that they always are there for their staffs.  Ask the folks on the other end if that’s true.

I’ve had friends who couldn’t understand why they were fat.  They said they ate carefully and watched their portions.  When they started keeping a food log (and there are some great apps for that!) they found out that what they said vs. what they did was showing up in their larger pant size.  It’s something all of us in business need to think about – are we listening to what people say or are we verifying it against what they really do?  How are we handling the conundrum the difference between the two?  That solution is often the key to success.

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Flying Into The Merger Wind

I see that American Airlines and USAir announced their long-rumored merger this morning. I’ve flown over a million miles on American so I know it quite well. Over the years I’ve flown USAir from time to time but it I’m certainly not as familiar with it. Why do I bring this up?

departing LAX

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been through several corporate mergers. I was with ABC when CapCities bought it and then again when Disney bought CapCities. I was at CBS when Viacom bought it. From those experiences I learned a couple of things that I think have broader implications even if your company isn’t getting bought.

Mergers fail.  A lot.  In fact, studies indicate that somewhere between 50% and 85% of mergers come up short.  I suppose that part of it has to do with the reason for the merger in the first place.  If a company is buying another to eliminate a competitor  the mission is accomplished no matter what happens to the acquired company.  Part of it may be the enthusiasm for the merger blinding those involved to the potential pitfalls or wacky financing.  But I think it’s primarily for another reason.

Simply put, culture.  Think for a second about new immigrants to this country.  They may not speak the language.  They are unaware of our customs.  They might not even know our laws.  All of those things create resentment – look at the news and you can find many examples of it.  It’s not that they’re bad people – their culture is different.

It’s no different when corporate cultures meet.  There are almost always differences in management styles.  How employees feel about the companies vary as much as do their benefits.  Lost in the shuffle is the fact that one company is not buying another – you’re acquiring people!  Those people may have been trained to have a different focus and how they measure success might not align exactly with your expectations.  As with the immigrant example, helping them to learn the culture and to speak the language is an imperative.

I’ll be watching this merger with interest.   I’m wondering if and how the cultural changes will manifest themselves to the flying public.  If the managers are smart , the next year will be spent making sure everyone is on the same page and understands the cross-cultural changes.  If they aren’t, like the vast majority of mergers, this one will fail.

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Mobile Data And Changing Habits

Let’s begin the day with a factoid:  last year’s mobile data traffic was nearly twelve times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000.  That nugget comes from the Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012–2017 which you can read by clicking the link.  Some of what it has to say – as with the growth of smartphone use, for example – isn’t all that surprising.  A few other points is kind of eye-opening:

  • Mobile network connection speeds more than doubled in 2012.
  • Android is now higher than iPhone levels of data use.
  • Mobile video traffic exceeded 50 percent for the first time in 2012.
  • By the end of 2013, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth, and by 2017 there will be nearly 1.4 mobile devices per capita.
  • Nonsmartphone usage increased 35 percent to 6.8 MB per month in 2012, compared to 5.0 MB per month in 2011. Basic handsets still make up the vast majority of handsets on the network (82 percent).

That last one is a little scary since it shows that there is still a lot of growth left.   Here’s the thing – a lot of this traffic was on cellular networks (as opposed to wi-fi), which is obviously why the telephone guys are upgrading like crazy.  I think the growth is as much about device growth as it is about the services and quality of the content available on them, and it’s this last little bit that I think will continue to drive things.  We tend to think of mobile devices as “second screen” but to me this study is evidence that they’re becoming a primary screen with respect to some content.  That primary usage builds habits, and one wonders when those habits will be reflected in viewing to what are currently primary screens.

Another nugget: the average smartphone will generate 2.7 GB of traffic per month in 2017, an 8-fold increase over the 2012 average of 342 MB per month.  How does that jibe with the bandwidth plans the carriers are selling?  If they’re refusing to sell an “unlimited” plan or throttling speeds over 2GB, how will consumers react?

We can see all of this happening already.  YouTube, for example, gets lots of views and while those views don’t eclipse the numbers that a major TV or cable network can deliver, they certainly are bigger than some of the second and third tier nets.  YouTube is not generally available in homes but is ubiquitous on mobile devices.  As YouTube behaves more like a cable content aggregator, one will see those numbers grow.  That’s what’s driving the numbers Cisco is predicting.  Is it driving you?

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The Meaning Behind The Words

If you’ve read the screed more than once or twice you know that in a past life I was an English teacher.  I’ve always loved words and so I read this post about 11 Words That Don’t Mean What They Sound Like with great interest.  Words such as “crapulous” and “nugatory” aren’t a part of my regular vocabulary although a couple of the words on the list are.  Whether you use them or not, there is a good business point to be made by them.

Some words with hwair (Ƕ, ), from Grammar of t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re expecting me to say “words matter,” you’re wrong.  It’s the meaning of the words that matter, which is something that the piece makes clear.  Sometimes we hear words and don’t understand what’s being said.  Oh sure, we think we do, but that’s where the issues arise.  It’s not even as simple as not understanding the definitions of the words as this article shows.  It’s getting the meaning along with the definition.

Part of that can be body language, which is why I’m a believer of in-person discussions whenever possible.  It’s easy in an age of instant communication to just send a quick email but email lacks nuance.  Part of it can be tone.  How many times has a significant other said “I’m fine” to you when their tone tells you they’re anything but fine?  That’s all part of meaning.

One thing I’ve learned from the dozens of lawyers with whom I’ve worked over the years is the need for precision in language.  Knowing the real meaning of every word can be critical to business success and can prevent misunderstandings down the road.  I’ll sometimes ask people with whom I’m discussing business issues to state them in another way.  It gets to the true meaning behind the words since words (to use one from the article) are considered fungible by many folks.  Often, they’re not.

Have you ever run into a situation where the words someone uses have meant something other than how you understood them?  Tell me.

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I Know They Suck At Business

We had a little snow here over the weekend.  You might have heard about it – all 30+ inches worth of it.  Fortunately, we hunkered down and made it through without any damage of loss of power.  By yesterday we had been plowed out and the streets were clear enough to venture out.  Besides getting some fresh air, I got a quick business lesson I’d like to share.  It’s the business equivalent of a poker “tell” – something a person does that is a dead giveaway as to how good or bad a hand they hold.  In this case it has to do with how good or bad they are at business and it’s something you can use as well.

Driving around we saw an incredible number of cars with snow on their roofs.  I’m not sure why but the majority of them seemed to be SUVs.   Oh sure, I understand that its difficult to get all the snow off of the roof when the car is six feet tall.  It takes a little extra effort and maybe a minute to find a broom.  Apparently, that was too much for the folks behind the wheels of these vehicles, none of whom looked to be older than me (so age and infirmity are no excuse).

I know they suck at business.  The snow on the roof is a dead giveaway.   Driving behind one of these idiots is dangerous – we must have seen six or seven explosions of snow and ice blow off of the roofs as we drove down the parkway.  Not that it makes a huge difference but this was not some dusting of snow that blew off – most of the cars had a least a foot of snow on them.  Fortunately, we didn’t see any accidents but we did see several cars hit their brakes or swerve.  Pretty dangerous.

I know they’re bad at business because they’re selfish and self-absorbed   They can’t possibly put the needs of customers or clients ahead of their own desires   They can’t stop thinking about themselves long enough to listen to an employees cry for help.  They can’t make products that appeal to others. They’re too “Me”-focused.  If they weren’t, they’d take the time to think about the drivers sharing the road with them.

An over-reaction on my part?  Tell me.

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