Monthly Archives: June 2013

Mixed Messages

Today we’re going to have a little Fast Food Friday Fun.



(Photo credit: roboppy)


I hardly ever eat it any more (strange how my waistline seems not to miss it) but there is one outlet that I hit up every time I’m near one – Fatburger.  For those of you who live East of the Mississippi, this chain is located mostly in California, Nevada, Washington, and Arizona but there are outlets in a few other places.  Unfortunately for me, New York City just became one (but it’s in an area in which I rarely go so I hope to stay away…mostly…).


Why I love their burgers is pretty simple and is right there on their website:


Fresh, lean beef.  Never frozen patties, Cooked-to-order.


And they’re topped with a selection of the usual stuff – cheese, bacon, chili, a fried egg – as well as other things – grilled onions, jalapeños  yellow peppers – that one doesn’t generally find readily available but which make it possible to get the burger tuned perfectly.  Have it your way indeed!  It’s a fantastic brand promise – one to which the food adheres.


So you ‘re wondering why the love note on a business-blog (even if it is Foodie Friday)?  Because of the Fatburger truck tour and that:


The national food truck tour coincides with the introduction of Fatburger frozen beef patties in more than 3,100 Walmart stores, which will be arriving in stores by the end of June.


I understand why they’re looking to sell patties through the biggest retailer in the country.  What I don’t understand is instructive for any brand.  I love this place because it’s not “fast food.”  The beef is not some iced over hockey puck slapped on a grill.  What they’re selling at Walmart is a Fatburger in name only.  As an aside, I wonder if it really is the same product that goes to the restaurants or if it’s just a licensing deal with a supplier that has no connection   Be that as it may, while  they’re expanding sales they’re cheapening the brand, at least in my mind.  It’s an inferior experience.


Fatburger isn’t alone in making this mistake.  Starbucks instant coffee, for example, is the antithesis of the heady, fresh brew that one gets from a barista.  Luxury brands doing GroupOns has the same effect.  While driving revenues is always a goal for any brand and every business, that can’t come at the expense of the brand image or experience.


Let me hear your thoughts.  Maybe it will distract me from wanting a Fatburger in the worst way right now…


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Guest Post: Expiration Dates

My friend Robin is lawyer but I don’t hold that against her (he said, alienating a fair number of his friends…).  She had some really interesting thoughts on the topic of holding on to the past that I asked her to share.  Hopefully you’ll find them as thought-provoking as I did.
Why is it that very few of the finer things in life have never-ending shelf lives? The old vintage bottle of wine…it stays safe and protected, buried deep down in the wine cellar until you decide to dig it out and pop the cork. Then its days are numbered. The time starts ticking away. A lovely French cheese, fresh fruit, and even bright light bulbs, they are all destined to burn out sooner rather than later. Even though you can replace these things, are they as good the second time around?
Why is it that so many things in life are perishable, only at their peak for a short while? More importantly, why do we seem to hold on to things that have long since reached their expiration dates? We know that using expired products is recipe for disaster. It is toxic and unhealthy. We understand that with food, but why doesn’t it click in other areas of our lives – business, relationships, or even wearing that old worn out pair of shoes that hurts our back? Do we honestly need a “good if used by” stamp on everything in our life so we know when to let things go? Would we be better off if there were some predetermined formula to tell us when it’s time to let go?
As I am cleaning out my office, I am amazed at all the “stuff” I have amassed. Most of it has long since expired, even if only in theory. I’m purging the outdated and irrelevant to make room more new possibilities, better opportunities. Why have I spent so much time and energy holding on to things that never really mattered? It is just because there was no expiration date? Because I didn’t know its shelf life? It’s much easier to discard something that has surpassed its expiration date than to make a conscious choice to throw something away without the guidance of a date. That date is like a security blanket.
With dates, there’s no questioning, no second guessing. You just know. You could enjoy things for the time they’re available, regardless of how long or short.  Why do I still have an address book from 2000 and a Rolodex from 2003 (Yes, I trashed both of them)? My office has moved four times since then. Did I seriously cart these things around? They are irrelevant.
If there’s any purpose to carrying around this much baggage, I have no clue what it is.
I think we all can probably do a little cleaning out of our offices and homes, don’t you?  New “stuff” awaits – you just need the room to let it into your life!  Thoughts?
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Chief Customer Officers

How do you serve the needs of your customers when you don’t know what those needs entail?

English: A business ideally is continually see...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Moreover, how does that situation get rectified when there is no one who is focused on discovering and voicing those needs?  “Oh,” you say.  “That doesn’t seem possible.  After all, we have entered a time when customers share their thoughts freely and the tools for engagement are widely available.”  I know – that was my response to the questions too, except I asked them after looking at a piece of research from the Economist Intelligence Unit, reported by Marketing Profs.  A little disturbing:

Only six in ten senior business leaders view their companies as customer-centric, and only 56% report a clear understanding of customers’ tastes and needs…only 19% of CMOs play a leading role in connecting customer-facing functions.  21% of the respondents believe it is a shared responsibility across multiple roles. A plurality, however, believe the CMO should represent the “voice of the customer.

Maybe that’s the problem – “marketing” officer is by definition focused on advancing the goals and messages of the organization.  Perhaps we should instead be calling someone the CCOChief Customer Officer.  Their job is to be focused on advancing the customer’s needs.  They can use research and social tools to discover what’s on customers’ minds and translate those insights into goals and tactics for the organization.

As it turns out, such a position does exist in some companies.  It’s relatively new but I think it’s an area that will become critical across most businesses over time.   I’m sure there will be the usual delays as corporate infighting takes place as the roles become redefined.  Too bad – it’s a missed opportunity.  I thought this bit from the MediaPost article was interesting:

Customer insight, data-driven analytical capabilities and social media expertise are among the CMO skills that respondents say are becoming increasingly important. These and other technical skills are critical because they help CMOs justify marketing investment based on facts, not assumption, enabling them to build credibility throughout the organization.

In a phrase, OMG.  So we want to get in touch with our customers so we can be more credible and so we can increase our marketing spend?  In my opinion, not so much although I do agree with the first part of the statement.  The best way to justify any expenditure is through results, and the best way to get those results is to be in lock step with your customers.  The CCO role can help make that happen. Do you agree?

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Finding Feasibility

Ever been a part of a feasibility study?  You know – a bunch of people have a bright idea and it’s good enough that there needs to be a serious investigation into whether it can be done or not.

The former York to Hull Railway -

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A team is put together (hopefully including those whose idea it was in the first place) and questions are drawn up.  In some ways those questions are like a mini business plan.  What’s the potential market for this idea?  What are the resources needed to bring it to life?  What sort of on-going support will it require?  Can it be done in a reasonable time frame or will it take so long that the potential evaporates?  And of course, what are the legal ramifications if we do what we’re proposing to do?

I want to focus on that last little bit because I think it’s illustrative of a broader point.  Lawyers are trained to protect their clients (which are, by the way, the companies for which they work  and not YOU, dummy).   To many of them, the status quo is a lovely place (assuming the company is not tied up in litigation).   That’s not really the best place, however, for many businesses.  In fact, in some businesses such as tech, the status quo is a death sentence.  When the feasibility of something new is brought up, I’ve worked with some lawyers who were fabulous at finding ways to say “no.”  The could spot a potential problem long before any of us could and they didn’t hesitate to cite those problems are reasons not to proceed.

Here is what they – and you – need to keep in mind:

Obstacles are huge and opportunities are small:  one often hides the other.

How many people underestimate what’s feasible since obstacles can be readily apparent but the opportunities hidden behind them get missed?  We need to do what the better lawyers (and executives) I’ve known always did:  spot the opportunity and find a way to remove the obstacle blocking your path.  Some feasibility efforts are the business equivalent of the blue screen of death:  the system has reached an issue it can’t handle and throws in the towel.

I’m a believer in almost anything being feasible as long as there is flexibility, some tolerance for risk, and a willingness to adjust as you learn.  People – and businesses – have done things a certain way for years and in most cases it’s working for them.  Trying something new or doing things in a new way might not seem feasible and it’s not if there is a predisposition towards allowing the obstacles to obscure the opportunity.  But I’ll bet you can tell me about a time when you tried to do something in a new way – you shut your eyes and didn’t see the obstacles but visualized the opportunity – and succeeded.  So tell me!

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Radiant Marketing

Ever seen someone who you might describe as “radiant”?  You know what I mean – filled with light.

049e that inner glow

(Photo credit: jjjj56cp)

Glowing.  Beaming.  The immediate image that comes to mind is of a bride on her wedding day or a parent watching their child do something that makes the kid beam and the parent glow even more brightly.  Radiant.  It’s pretty easy to read these people – that glow just shines through all the layers of defenses in which we adult humans often wrap ourselves.  You can’t fake it.

The same thing is true about businesses.  Consumers can see when a company has that “inner glow” and when it’s faking it.  Think about brands you know that seem to have a core confidence and I’m willing to bet that you can pick up that “radiant” vibe.  It’s not that they don’t ever commit missteps or do anything that wouldn’t cause them to be “perfect.”  In fact, quite the contrary.  They have the inner peace to admit when they’re wrong and they don’t stray from their centers to “fix” an emergency.

Why I raise this is  that more and more businesses are spending time engaged via social media with their customers and they’re putting out all sorts of messages.  The thing that gets lost is that customers can tell when it’s a marketing program and when it’s a reflection of a centered, radiant brand.  Some brands – Patagonia and Apple are the first two that pop into my head – have become enormous because they “found” themselves and stay true.  They don’t pander.  They radiate.  Everything they do glows.  When companies try to mimic that what they fail to realize is that it’s replicable only to the extent that a company can find its own core.

Consumers are people.  They’re used to spotting fakes and once in a while they see someone who radiates light.  They can sniff out when you’re trying to foster “engagement” when what you need to be doing is looking within and sharing what you find (hopefully there IS something to find) with them.  Maybe it’s allowing them to bask in your glow.

Finding and marketing that radiance is not marketing at all, in my book.  It’s a key to success and one that your fans will love to share.  After all, don’t we all love it when your friends have it?  Isn’t it catching?   Tell me.

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Green Tea

Let’s contemplate green tea to begin our Foodie Friday Fun rant this week. Many folks – myself included – drink green tea because it’s chock full of really good stuff such as antioxidants. While it used to be that green tea was the specialty drink of Japanese and some Chinese restaurants, it really has become a mainstream drink here in the U.S. – 10 Billion servings a year by some estimates.

Good mornig,guys! Why don't you drink with me?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because of the popularity of the drink, Consumer Labs did some research on bottled green teas as well as loose tea used to brew at home.  Their research showed that brewed green tea can vary widely from one cup to the next even when prepared in the same way. Some bottled varieties appear to be little more than sugar-water, containing little of the good stuff that gives green tea its solid health reputation.  Overall, the tea in bottles was far less healthy than tea made fresh.  The bottles are more convenient but the product is of much lower quality.  This, of course, got me thinking about business.

There is always a trade-off between convenience and quality.  Look at “fast” food.  I think most of us know we’re giving up a lot – flavor for one thing – when we choose to save time and patronize a quick-service restaurant.   It’s the same when we  buy prepackaged  baked goods instead of  taking the time to find a bakery where things are fresh-made (or make them ourselves – even better!).

Thoreau put it well.  “The cost of a thing,” he wrote in Walden, “is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”   People choose the convenient product because in their minds they’re getting back a little time, a commodity that’s becoming quite rare for most folks.  The real secret to being successful in business is to strike that balance more in favor of quality while offering some cost-savings in terms of time.  The green tea example shows up it’s not even a money thing – people pay more for the less healthful tea in bottles because it’s ready, not because it’s better for them.  I’m not sure that’s even a conscious choice since the bottled teas position themselves as healthy in many cases.

How do you solve the time/quality/convenience equation?  The answer to that might just be the key to your success.

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Want Them To Shop? Get Social.

I spoke the other day at a meeting on the topic of search engine optimization.

Empty Store Front (Dixon, IL)

(Photo credit: wayne’s eye view)

The folks in the audience were neither SEO professionals nor particularly interested in the field.  They were, however, smart enough to recognize that good SEO, particularly local SEO, can be a huge boost to their clients.  Like all good salespeople, they knew that if something mattered to their clients it needs to matter to them.

It turns out that their focus on becoming more visible in local search is a critical element in retail success.  I’ve come across a couple of things that demonstrate it.  The first is a KPMG study:

Asked which technology-related trends are having a significant impact on their business, a leading 71% of retailers pointed to social media, with a majority also citing mobile/online shopping (52%) and mobile/online promotions and coupons (51%) as significant influences, per results[pdf] from a KPMG survey. The researchers note that “brick and mortar stores are now viewed with newfound potential,” largely as a result of new social and mobile technologies.

This is reinforced by research conducted by comScore for UPS:

Mobile and social channels continue to change the way consumers shop – 46 percent said they are less likely to comparison shop when using a retailer’s mobile app, and 47 percent said they want a retailer to send a coupon to their smartphone when they are in-store or nearby. Not surprisingly, 84 percent of online shoppers use at least one social media site. Among Facebook users – the most popular channel – 60 percent “like” a brand to receive an incentive or promotion.

Obviously, being discoverable, particularly in mobile search is important.  However, if retailers – especially small businesses – aren’t actively working to boost their social presence, which is a factor in local SEO along with reviews and listings, they’re missing a huge opportunity.  As I’ve written before, actively supporting social and doing it well can be a huge time suck for a small business (or any other business for that matter).  These businesses are unlikely to use an automated product (which is probably a good choice anyway).  I’d think of it as spending an hour doing customer service, even if that hour is spread out over a few 15 minute sessions.  It’s too good and important an opportunity to ignore, both for SEO reasons and for the opportunity to stay front and center with your customer base.

Any local businesses you know doing a good job on this front?  Does it make a difference to you?

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