Monthly Archives: February 2014

Pickles And Pizza

At last it’s Foodie Friday Fun time.  Today I want to contemplate pickles and pizza and how they relate to your business.  I’m a fan of each of those foods although I will admit to being rather fussy about the latter.  That stuff they serve in a pan in Chicago isn’t pizza.  It’s good, but it’s not pizza.  I’m careful when I choose to eat one – thin crust, great sauce, and whatever I choose to put on it needs to be fresh and/or of high quality.  I’m less fussy about pickles although I don’t really care for sweet ones.

Since you’re already wondering about the business point it’s this.  Even if you got your perfect pizza and a jar of your favorite pickles, you probably wouldn’t put the pickles on the pizza.  I’m told that in some parts of the country people do but pickles are probably not the first pizza topping that comes to mind.  Business is like that.

We do our best to find the best ingredients – great staff, a fabulous product or service, a superior business model – but we don’t often think about if they’ll go together.  Moreover, there is a tendency that once you realize that you have pickles and pizza to panic.  Maybe even to start over.   I think that’s a mistake in many cases.  Am I advocating a pickle pizza?  No.  I do think, however, we need to broaden our thinking.  Pizza is basically a grilled cheese sandwich with the tomato soup in which they’re often dunked already on the sandwich.  You’d eat a pickle with that, right?

We can also think about the pickle.  One can pickle any vegetable pretty easily – pickling liquid is just a spiced brine, after all.  Why pickled cukes?  Maybe peppers – you have those on pizza all the time.  Or cabbage – kimchi is a pickle and I have seen that on pizza.  That’s how we need to think in business.  How can I change whatever frame of reference has my business not performing optimally?

Business isn’t about looking at pickles and pizza and throwing your hands up in disgust.  It’s about rethinking each piece  – dough, sauce, seasoning, pickle – and finding a way to make it work.  How can I make things or people or markets that just don’t seem to fit work together to make something in which the flavors mesh and everything is balanced?  That’s how I see it.  You?

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Getting Twitchy

You might have read recently about the deal between Comcast and Netflix.

English: The Xbox console with the S controlle...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s screed is not about that, but since part of the reason the deal came about is Netflix’s use of streaming bandwidth, it raised a question in my mind.  If Netflix is number 1 in terms of using internet bandwidth and is not making deals with ISP’s directly to serve as their CDN‘s (content delivery network), what other companies are in a similar situation?  Who are the top five contributors to internet traffic?  The answer surprised me and reminded me once again of an important business point.

You probably got the next couple on the list correct:  Google (which is YouTube), and Apple are numbers 2 and 3.  Who’s next?  Hulu?  Amazon?  Facebook?  Good guesses since they are all major video sites and do come after number 4.  Give up?

The answer is Twitch.  No, that wasn’t a command.  Twitch is a site that broadcasts people playing video games.  I’m sure you’ve had the experience of sitting around a living room while someone plays a video game.   This is just a bigger room.  A MUCH bigger room.  So big that Twitch recently hit one million users broadcasting each month during prime time hours with 45 million monthly unique viewers who watched, on average, 106 minutes of video a day.  That means each month, viewers watch 13 billion minutes of video.  With the Twitch app coming to the Xbox (it’s only been on the Playstation 4) one can expect that the number of “broadcasters” will grow and the number of people watching will as well.

There are more people watching programming on Twitch than are watching most cable networks.  I’m willing to bet that the audience for this is bigger than many broadcast programs as well.  How many programmers are sitting around thinking about how to take away the viewing not just from people playing video games but also from people WATCHING people play video games?  That’s the business point.  We can’t continue to think about our businesses in “traditional” terms.  Our SWOT analysis need to be much broader and contain a lot of “out of the box” thinking.  The threats are everywhere.

They call it “blindsided” for a reason!

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Salt Of The Earth

It’s TunesDay and time to pause from our work day to celebrate a bit of music.  Since it’s a business blog, work will be our subject today and the Rolling Stones will be our instructors.  There was a lovely moment during the concert following the 9/11 disaster during which Mick and Keith came out to play a song from Beggar’s Banquet.  It spoke loudly to the audience of police and firefighters as well as to any of us who have ever gone to work:

The “salt of the earth” line comes from the Bible, of course, but it’s the “salt” imagery which prompted the thought today.  Salt has always been incredibly valuable throughout human history.  Once people could begin to preserve food, they could begin to explore and travel long distances without worrying about having enough to eat or to go hunting or foraging.  Certain cultures used it as currency and although Roman soldiers were not paid in salt (they were given money with which to buy salt), it’s the genesis of the expression “worth his salt.”  People fought wars over it and many cities were built on mining, producing, and trading salt.  Impressive for something so common and inexpensive now.  Which leads to my thought.

In a time when technology has made productivity incredibly high, I think many of us tend to devalue work and workers.  Specifically, some managers believe that the people who provide that hard work are interchangeable pieces, common and inexpensive like salt.  However, it’s those hard-working people that keep businesses going.  To carry the salt analogy a bit further, when a dish lacks salt, the flavor isn’t fully developed and the dish lacks brightness.  When we devalue the labor force, our businesses turn out the same way.

Mick and Keith put it very well:

Raise your glass to the hard-working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads
Let’s think of the wavering millions
Who need leading but get gamblers instead

Given the economic crisis and part of the reason it happened, that’s quite well put, especially 40 years before the crisis occurred!  Regardless if you’re the chef or the cook, the boss or the intern, I’m raising a glass to the hard work you do today.  Who’s with me?

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Rain Delays

I’m a fan of motor sports and yesterday was one of the biggest events in racing: The Daytona 500.

English: Cars coming the the line to start the...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Say what you like about NASCAR beginning their season with their Super Bowl, but the race generally lives up to its “Great American Race” nickname. Yesterday the rain came to Daytona and stopped the race a bit after it had started. In 21012, the race got delayed until Monday, so rain in Florida is not that unusual a circumstance (despite what the Florida Tourism folks would have you believe). Which of course got me thinking about rain delays.

When rain hits a live sporting event, many people are affected.  The broadcasters who have to fill the time with interesting programming so they don’t lose their audience.  The athletes who have to maintain their mental focus and stay physically loose until they can get back into competition.  The facility which has to handle an influx of fans who have nothing to do but eat and drink while they wait and expect the concession stands to be able to handle the increased traffic without a hitch.  I was always amazed during my years in sports broadcasting how well the producers and crew had prepared for the rain.  Not just the programming they had ready but also how the crew had the proper rain equipment to function without a hitch.  Which is the business point.

Every business faces rain delays.  Clients who ask you to come to a meeting to do a deal but whose lawyers suddenly have a bunch of new issues.  Vendors who didn’t get a shipment of product in from overseas and who, therefore, can’t replenish your inventory.  Then there are the literal rain delays that cause construction to be behind schedule.  The analyst who is very good but who takes FOREVER to get you critical numbers (better known as a human rain delay).

We can’t control the weather.  We can only control our preparation and how we deal with it.  Champions are the ones who keep their focus and proceed as if the rain had never happened.   Are you ready for that?

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Casual Dining Isn’t A Casual Decision

For our Foodie Friday Fun this week let’s think about dining out.

Guess what type of restaurant we photoshooted

(Photo credit: A&A Photography Services)

In tough economic times, that’s not an easy decision for many people and the restaurant industry has felt that over the last few years.  More on that in a minute.  Where to eat?  In many places there really aren’t many alternatives to the big national chains.  As with booksellers, coffee shops, and clothing stores, many of the little guys have been undercut by the chains, at least when it comes to price and in many cases quality.  So you’d think that the national chains, particularly the casual dining chains, would be doing well.  You’d be wrong.

As a recent article stated:

The casual-dining industry has largely worn out its welcome. Customer traffic to these restaurants has declined in nine of the past 13 years, according to retail-research firm Black Box Intelligence. Even as the U.S. economy began healing and consumer spending recovered, beginning in 2010, same-store sales were stagnant, based on Black Box estimates.  In December, industry-wide sales at restaurants open at least a year slid by 2%, even as the unemployment rate hit a five-year low and the stock market hit all-time highs. For sure, harsh weather didn’t help, but that can’t account for tepid nationwide results.

This raises a few instructive questions in my mind.  Turns out that in the process of upscaling fast-food and undercutting fancier local places on price these chains – Applebees, TGIFridays, Red Lobster and others – left a niche that’s suddenly being filled by Chipotle and others.  They’re getting beaten not just on price (a relatively easy thing to fix) but also on quality of ingredients and food served.  As we’ve seen many times here on the screed, if price is the only thing you have going for you, you’re in trouble.

The reality is that casual dining out is not a casual decision these days.  Cooking at home can be an attractive alternative when one figures in time and cost but who wants to clean up?  Even those of us who are dedicated cooks like a night off.  Most folks prefer to spend that night in a welcoming environment with interesting food.  The chains seem to be duplicating what a decent home cook could do (and generally in a less-healthy manner but that’s another rant).  Consumers also see that they raise prices by offering smaller portions or offering cheaper, lower-quality meals.  Charging for every drink refill may help margin but angers customers (especially if you don’t tell them you’re charging until the bill comes).

Any business needs to give customers a reason to buy.  That means a great product that meets customers’ desires that’s priced fairly and supported by great service.  That’s how I see it.  You?

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Experienced Thinking

I was driving home the other day and passed a local pub.

aldous huxley

This place often puts a quote on a blackboard outside and when you get stopped at the traffic light you have a chance to read it.  The quote the other day was from Aldous Huxley and read as follows:

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.”

Think about that not just in terms of your own personal experience but that of your business as well.  Many businesses have had the misfortune to figure out their business model is wrong or that they misjudged cash flow.  Some go under; some rethink how they’re doing what they’re doing or even if what they’re doing is right.  They’re the ones that dealt with what happened and gained experience.

This morning the news is filled with Facebook‘s purchase of What’sApp for $19 Billion.  There are also copies of the founder’s tweets that he sent when he didn’t get hired at Twitter or at Facebook.  Many people have had that happen.  He took those rejections and did something with them.  That experience made him a very wealthy man.

You can get knocked down and lie there or you can get up and fight again.  Your call.

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Native Speakers

Think back to when you first learned English.  If English is your first language you probably can’t remember learning the rudiments of it.

english language

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh sure – when you got to school you learned to improve your grammar and spelling, but you could already speak the language pretty well.  You think in English too.  You’re a native speaker.

Compare that with any other languages you might speak.  I speak a few and it took me a long time to learn them.  OK, maybe not to learn a bunch of words and basic grammar, but a long time to learn which version of a word was appropriate and to develop an accent that sounded more natural for the language.  The hardest part is getting to the point where you can think in the language so you’re not constantly translating, in my case, from English.

Think about communicating with a non-native English speaker in English:  you can hear the unsure vocabulary and the accented speech.  Now think about your business.  Odds are if you’re using digital channels for communication, you’re not a native speaker.  You probably are translating many of the marketing or other business lessons you’ve learned into digital.  As with other languages, you might be speaking with an accent or using the wrong word.  In fact, unless you’re under the age of 15 or so you’re not what some folks call “digital native.”  That notion is having some big impacts and many more are on the way.

One example is the Google Chromebook.  These inexpensive computers are making their way into schools and kids are learning to live with cloud-based software.  No hard drives, no program updates, no ongoing software expense.  If you’re Microsoft that’s a killer.  There are other things digital natives do that are changing things over time.  Cord-cutting is one we’ve discussed quite often.  Traditional TV is based on programming and counter-programming to draw in the biggest number of eyeballs all at once so you can sell advertising against broad demographic targets.  What happens when the cord is cut and people are their own programmers?  They’re very comfortable doing this – how has the language they’re speaking changed your business?  How has the technology of programmatic media buying and advanced behavioral targeting changed the need to aggregate those broad demographics?  If you’re trying to get women 18-49 and the market demand is for people who have looked at a mommy-blog in the last week, aren’t you speaking a different language?

The point is this: digital natives speak technology just as you speak English.  They grew up with it and don’t know a world that existed before it.  If your business model isn’t taking that into account or if you’re not becoming fluent in that language, you’re heading for failure.  Maybe you need a great translator but do not assume that this is the equivalent of going to a place on vacation where they speak enough English for you to slide by for a little while.  The digital natives are restless – have you learned enough of their language to address them in an understandable manner?

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