Monthly Archives: March 2013

Toasting The Barrel

The first Foodie Friday post of Spring, or maybe I should be calling it “Boozie Friday” given the topic.  Either way it seems as if Spring has taken forever to get here.  Now that it has arrived so too do some of my favorite sporting events, one of which is the Kentucky Derby.  There are many beloved traditions associated with the first Saturday in May but the one in which most people seem to indulge is the Mint Julep which of course means bourbon, Kentucky’s whiskey.

Bourbon is aged in barrels, specifically new, charred white oak barrels.  That’s right – charred.  Before the raw whiskey is put into them, the barrels are “toasted.”  The heat burns the wood which imparts flavor to the end product.  Which is, of course, the business point today.

Many managers spend an awful lot of time trying to avoid conflict.  In some cases, they legislate the conflict away – they make all the decisions and the staff is there to follow orders.  I disagree.  I think businesses need to be more like bourbon barrels.  No, I don’t advocate burning them down.  Applying heat to them in a strategic manner is, however, something in which I do believe.  People need to bat ideas around.  They need to have a good debate about product, marketing, resources, and anything else that affects the business and, therefore, them.  Those discussions will, by their nature, generate heat.  It can’t be allowed to set the entire enterprise ablaze (you want to char the barrel, not burn it up) and that’s part of the manager’s role.  Heat imparts flavor – you don’t hear of any foods that are frozen to impart taste (you cook ice cream before you freeze it, wise guys).

Don’t be afraid of conflict.  People will disagree and that friction can lead to better things if it’s managed properly.  Letting your team know that it’s ok to have differing points of view brought to the surface is important.  Ultimately the supervisor needs to help everyone reach consensus and if that’ not possible, to make a decision as to the final direction.  But even if a team member’s desired course of action isn’t the one taken, knowing that they had input which was considered as one option strengthens the team.  A little heat for a brief time added flavor and made for a better product.

Now where did I leave the mint?

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Word Count Zero

Some days it’s a pretty easy thing to crank out three or four hundred words here in the screed.  Other days it’s a struggle and today is one of those days.  Oh sure, there is plenty of research to write about and a few stupid business tricks about which I’m aware, but I’ve noticed you guys tend not to read the research-oriented posts (there will be fewer) and the stupid stuff the businesses are doing isn’t really taking the idiocy to a new level.  So I’m kind of stuck here at word count zero.

600x750mm sign intended to match the specifica...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe it’s a good day to write about inspiration vs. preparation.  I try to be prepared by clipping articles I think might provide good fodder for the screed on those days when the inspirational spirit is weak.  The process is one that many businesses use in product development   Find something that’s interesting, add your own twist (hopefully making it better in the process) and market the heck out of it.  The articles I’ve got clipped are fine but my own twisted thoughts seem to be lacking.

Maybe it’s a good day to write about that there’s not a lot to write about.  Businesses seem to be in a rut – there’s a lot of more of the same but not a lot of innovation.  Perhaps that’s because we’re finally on a more sound economic footing and business is getting a chance to see what works in a more normal economic environment.

Maybe it’s a good day to wish one of my dearest friends a happy birthday and write about how the lessons I’ve learned from our relationship over the last 20 or so years have helped me be better at business.  Too many of us tend to think that personal and business behavior should be different.  Not me.   In part that’s because he’s helped me to understand that people who are nice to you in a restaurant (business) and nasty to the servers (personal) are going to turn on you as soon as they no longer think you can help them.  All too true.

Then again, maybe I’ll expand each of those thoughts later on.  In the meantime, we’re done here today unless you have something to add.  Do you?

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Are You A Premium Brand?

I read something that the folks at OpenX released the other day in conjunction with Digiday.  It’s the results of a study on Programmatic Buying and how it affects premium publishers. Since 71% of publishers and buyers trade ads programmatically it’s a big deal. You can read the paper here.

Luxury Penthouse rental in downtown Telluride ...

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Having been a publisher of premium content I can tell you that I hated selling anything programmatically.  I wanted my sales folks involved directly with the buyer.  Not just so that we could get the premium CPM we felt we deserved but because we needed to earn that higher rate by doing a better job of meeting the needs of the client and delivering perfect service.  The study sums it up nicely:

Publishers, fearing the commoditization of the inventory surrounding their expensively produced content and painstakingly nurtured audiences, have every right to guard their investment. They want to make sure that any system that removes “friction” doesn’t also remove the distinction of their brand and the quality of their adjacencies, as measured by audience engagement. And, understandably, they want to preserve the professional relationships that forge the bedrock of their sustainable revenue growth.

Exactly.  But as the Digiday article states, premium is all in the eye of the beholder.  Which raised the issue I’ve been considering:  how do you define a premium brand?  Is it scarcity?  To a certain extent it is although there are plenty of Lexus cars around and that’s a premium brand.  Cost?  Maybe relative to other products in its class but coffee can be premium and it’s still relatively inexpensive.  One factor involved is positioning.  If you usually fly first class, being in business class seems cramped.  To a coach passenger, however, business class is premium.  Another is authenticity of some sort.  I was a publisher of hockey content – there are lots of people who do that.  I was the only official league outlet, however – that meant scarcity, authenticity, and in our minds a greater worth.

I could go on here for another 1,000 words but the notion of “premium” is one that’s going to become even more front and center as content becomes more commoditized.  I mean that not only in media buyers‘ minds but also in consumers’ minds.  It’s hard to ask consumers to pay a premium, either in money or in attention,  for an app or content or anything else if we can’t establish that premium status in their minds.

What do you think?

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What’s Wrong With Small Ball?

We’re getting close to the start of baseball season. It’s always felt like a time of renewal – Spring has arrived (despite snow on opening day from time to time) and that’s a very good thing in my book. I grew up playing the game and it’s always intrigued me how baseball metaphors run throughout life here in the US of A.

Matt Wieters blocks home plate from Derek Jeter.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the baseball terms on my mind these days is “small ball.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a strategy of getting men on base and advancing them through a series of hits or walks rather than placing an emphasis on home runs or big plays.  To me it’s a great business strategy these days and here is why. Business is filled with what I call “Rob Deers”.

In his prime, Rob Deer weighed about 210 and there were many seasons where he barely hit his weight.  Nevertheless, he was a valuable member of 5 different major league teams because he hit home runs.  A lot.  In fact, he would often appear as a league leader in both home runs and strike outs.  Go big or go home personified, I guess.  A lot of businesses think like Rob Deer.  They’re after the home run and while they might strike out a lot when they connect it’s a big win.  The problem with that is that there are also a lot of lean times in between.

I prefer to do business more like Derek Jeter.  Lead the league in hits and in runs scored.  That’s small ball personified.  Sure, hitting one over the wall is fun and almost everyone does that from time to time.  But unlike baseball, in business one isn’t assured of another game tomorrow if we don’t produce today.  Playing small ball in business isn’t heroic but it can be profitable.  The notion that it’s just as difficult to land a small order as it is to land a big one might be true but I’ve found that there are far fewer opportunities and far more competition as the size of the deal grows.

Don’t think for a minute this is about lowering standards.  It’s hard to play small ball well since it requires team work and a squad of folks who can hit the ball.  Managing that activity well requires someone special.  You?

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Believing The Seeding

I hope you spent at least some of the weekend watching the NCAA Men’s or Women’s Basketball Tournament.  The country seems to have a national obsession with brackets and as it turns out there was a lot of pretty compelling basketball behind the pools.  By the way – I find it kind of amazing that as the sports leagues and organizations – MLB, NFL, and NCAA among others – got comfortable with the fan-generated activities such as fantasy and bracket pools the viewership and engagement of the public grew.  The organizing entities spent a lot of time telling broadcasters and others to ignore those activities (heaven forbid we actually encourage engagement!) because they were gambling or worse.  Good lesson on listening and not getting in the way of people who want to love your brand!

English: National Collegiate Athletic Associat...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In any event, one thing I took away from this weekend was the power of positioning and how it can affect performance.  What I mean by that is the “upsets” we saw as low seeded teams – presumably weaker squads – beat high seeds – top teams from big conferences.  Then again, Gonzaga was a number 1 seed but came from a weaker conference and barely won their first game before getting “upset” by a #9 seed.  A few of the other #1 seeds barely got by.  Which is the business lesson.

So often we believe the seedings.  We’re told our company isn’t good enough or we don’t have enough experience.  The people who hire people or firms on that basis are believing the seedings that they divine from resumes or capabilities presentations.  Too bad.  Given the way business works these days there have been a lot more upsets than there have been results in line with the seedings.  There is a lot more parity.

More importantly, not one of the teams that upset a top seed felt as if they had lost before the game started.  Just the opposite.  Every one of them knew there were in the tournament because they had won a lot more than they had lost.  They believed in themselves and played as a team and not as the function of some mystical RPI equation.  In their minds the seeding was going to be done by the final score.

Don’t believe the seeding.  Sure, you or your firm might be the underdog, but you’re in the  game for a reason.  You with me?

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An Unleavened Week Of Business

This week’s Foodie Friday Fun is our annual reflection on Passover.  The holiday starts Monday night although in many homes the cooking will begin over the weekend.  What – you eat your brisket on the day it’s made?  Despite debates over what exactly species of fish is a “gefilte” (it means “filled, by the way), there are no debates that this seems to be the favorite holiday of many Jews as well as of the non-Jews who join in the celebratory dinner.

English: Passover plate with symbolic foods: m...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thing about Passover that raises a business thought today is that it’s a week of eating that’s out of the ordinary.  While the first question in the dinner service is “why is this night different,” it’s the week without leavened foods of any sort that’s the biggest change for many.  Some Jews won’t eat anything that swells up – beans, rice, etc. – as well as abstaining from bread and cakes made with leavening agents.  It’s a subtile reminder throughout the week that the escape from Egypt, the deliverance of the people, and the lessons learned from those events shouldn’t be forgotten.  Which is the business point as well.

What if every business designated a week during which something they did on a daily basis was changed?  Maybe they turned of internal email and made face to face conversations happen.  Maybe they let everyone work on projects that were important to the people involved rather than things important to the business.  Or just maybe they refused to let anyone use the word “can’t” or the phrases “bad idea” or “not do-able”.  I’m sure you can think of a few things that your organization could do differently for a time to cause everyone involved to focus on something other than the day-to-day routine.

The Jews spent 40 years wandering around in the desert after they left Egypt.  Many businesses spend a lot of time figuratively wandering around as well.  Maybe a week of change can provide a better focus and get you to your goals more effectively.  Worth a shot?

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The Bluetooth Runaround

Today we have yet another tale of consumer woe and multiple corporate failures.  This one is a doozy, since it affects a couple of popular products and is generating a lot of chatter on the interwebs.  In fact, one popular site has over a hundred comments on this topic and that’s just a subset of the problem.

Android invasion, Sydney, Australia

(Photo credit: Pranav Bhatt)

As our featured players we have a very popular phone, a couple of very popular families of cars, every cell phone carrier (notice I didn’t use the term “popular” with them) and a LOT of consumers.  Let me explain.

A coupe of months ago I upgraded my phone to the Galaxy SG3.  I love the phone – great display, very fast – no complaints at all.  It came with the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android and I use AT&T as my carrier.  When I got the phone I linked it to my car – a Nissan Altima Hybrid – using Bluetooth and was happily using the car’s built-in hand’s free system to chat and drive safely.

A month ago I became even happier when AT&T pushed an upgrade to Android, installing the Jelly Bean version.  The phone seemed even faster, I got Google Now, and  I was happy to be running a more current version.  Until I received a phone call in the car.  It sounded like an alien calling and I had to pull over to pick up the phone and talk.  I rebooted the phone, it connected to the car, but the sound was bad.  Unusable, actually.  I tried pairing it again to the car, hard resets of the phone and a few other tricks but the audio is completely garbled.

A search on the topic showed me that we have a multiple part blame game going on.  It is an issue affecting not just Nissans but VW/Audi, Inifinitis and a few other models.  Just this phone, every carrier, and only when the phone is upgraded to Jelly Bean.  The carriers say it’s Samsung’s fault.  Samsung says the auto guys need to upgrade the Bluetooth software in their cars.  They all blame Android for not making the Bluetooth version in Jelly Bean backward compatible.

Here is what none of them are doing:  taking responsibility for fixing it.  What they’re not seeing is that it’s costing them money as well as massive amounts of goodwill.  At a minimum  it’s hundreds of calls to customer service, each of which costs money   In the case of the carriers, many people are demanding new phones (which have the older version of Android) to replace the upgraded one.  That’s expensive.  Does any business have too many customers?  There are a lot of cars/phones/carriers from which one can choose, and while very few people are going to make an immediate change to their car or carrier, people don’t forget how they were supported when the time for that evaluation comes.

I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with this.  Maybe I’ll just try to use the phone’s speaker if I get a call while driving.  Maybe I’ll go get a new S3 and not upgrade it until I see this is fixed or they push another version of Android (the rumors are 4.2.2. fixes it).  I’m really interested to see if any party to this mess steps up and does something other than point fingers.  Why am I not surprised?  Isn’t that sad?

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