Monthly Archives: February 2014

All That You Have…

TunesDay, and today I’m actually inspired by a novel I’m reading called The Circle. I know – a book?  We do music today and we’re going to. The book, however, is what got me started down today’s path so let’s give credit where it’s due, shall we?  It’s the story of a young, idealistic woman who goes to work for a large social network company – sort of an amalgamation of several in my mind. As the blurb says:

What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

I won’t ruin the story for you but the quote that kept popping into my head was the one from Matthew: For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? That’s what led to our song today – from Tracy Chapman:

In particular, there is a point here about which every business person should think:

I thought, thought I could find a way
Beat the system;
Make a deal and have no debts to pay
Take it all, I’d take it all, I’d run away
For me myself first class and first rate
But all that you have is your soul

As you probably know if you spend any time here on the screed, I’ve never understood marketers that promote false claims nor service businesses that don’t provide service.  The notion of “beating the system” by cutting corners, stealing ideas, or burying hidden fees in the fine print is a very foreign one to me.  I’m pretty sure for every insurance claim that someone goes out of their way to deny in order to maximize profit a human somewhere hurts just as much as an employee gets rewarded for improving the bottom line.  Businesses don’t make decisions: people do.

If we want to, as she says, “wake in the world with a clear conscience and clean hands” we need to earn a fair profit through great products and wonderful service.  We need to deal with customers, partners, and employees as if they’re friends and family, not rubes or marks. Sounds simple enough, right?

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Happy President’s Day!

Today we celebrate the birthday of George Washington and of course since the government decreed this a holiday it will never occur on his actual birthday (true!).

1795 - 1823

1795 – 1823 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many places, the holiday also celebrates Lincoln’s birthday – these two men were born on dates only 10 days apart although separated by 70 years or so.  Since today is a holiday for many of you, I thought I’d get in the “day off” spirit by reposting something from 2009 that still is good advice – Washington’s, not mine!

It’s no surprise that almost 282 years after his birth, George Washington has some business thoughts.  Now before you click to the next blog, let’s remember that this is the man who predicted the European Union a long time ago except that he called it the “United States of Europe“.  His open letter to the American People, written as he left office, raises themes that are even more true today.  He urged Americans to unite for the good of the whole country, to avoid permanent foreign alliances, particularly in Europe, and to keep morality first and foremost in government.

Turns out he had some pretty good business advice as well although I’m not sure he intended it as such.  So, let’s follow his advice to “Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive” and look briefly at a few quotes.

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.

We’ve discussed that point many times in this space.  It’s impossible to do good business while doing bad things.

My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty… it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein.

Right-sizing, in other words, but also giving people responsibility and the freedom to act.  I suspect that he knew a lot about conservation and deployment of resources from his time near the Delaware.

Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble.

Oh boy.  Is there a better quote to sum up all that has gone down in the housing and mortgage industries?  Don’t do bad deals and you’ll sleep better!  And finally:

Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.

For whom you work and with whom you do business say a lot about YOU!  So Happy Presidents Day and let’s remember the people behind the holiday as well as what they had to say.

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Chef? What Chef?

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week coincides with Valentine’s Day.

Chef preparing food 2

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us will be taking our valentines out for a special meal to celebrate.  It’s nice to have someone else do the cooking every so often and hopefully that food is of a higher quality and more sophisticated that what we’d prepare ourselves.  Then again, it might just be frozen vegetables and a microwaved entrée.  Think I’m kidding?

Anyone who has ever watched any of the “kitchen rescue” shows – Restaurant Impossible or Kitchen Nightmares – knows that some lower quality places substitute the microwave for the stove, presenting reheated frozen food as freshly made.  However, as a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out, even high-end places in France serve food that has been cooked elsewhere.  In fact, of the 80,000 table-service restaurants in France, fewer than 10% have labels certifying that most of their ingredients are fresh and that the dishes are cooked on site.  The reasons they cite are high labor costs and high food costs.  Who needs a chef when you have a factory?

The reasons behind this aren’t the point today.  Instead, let’s think about the diner.  When most of us go out, there is an expectation that we’re paying for convenience, sure, but also for food that’s prepared on site.  As with any business, when the business knowingly delivers something that differs widely from what the customer is expecting, that business is teed up for problems.  Put aside the fact that you’re deceiving the customer.  If all the restaurants serve the same frozen food from the same factory, what is it that distinguishes their product from the competition?  Service and decor to be sure, but is that enough to keep a customer in the face of the guy across the street with the same food at a lower price?

The message for all businesses is pretty clear in my mind.   If we cut corners, do everything cheaply, and sacrifice quality for margin, what are the long-term prospects?  Someone else can always find a cheaper way (hello, U.S. electronics industry, car industry, etc.) to do what we’re doing.  Instead, we need to provide value, quality, and something uniquely our own.  We need to honor the expectations WE set in our customers’ minds.  Deception is a self-defeating business practice.

I’d be angry if I found the exact same meal for which I paid $25 in the frozen food case for $4, and question going back to that restaurant again.  Wouldn’t you?

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Smart Can Be Stupid

I’ve written a number of times on the subject of hiring smart people.

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Raw intelligence and a natural curiosity about the world are two qualities I’ve found to be universal in the great executives I know and I always spent a lot of time when I was interviewing new hires trying to uncover those qualities in the candidates.  As I thought about the search for that brilliance the other day I realized that it’s just not enough.  No, I’m not retracting my statement.  I do think, however, I’m doing you folks a disservice by not providing context.  Let me do so now.

Suppose you knew a really smart ten year-old.  He is constantly asking questions about the world and more often than not can hold his own in a discussion with adults.  His logic is impeccable; his ability to express himself is superb.  Would you hire him?  Of course not (although you might tee him up for an internship in five or six years).  While he has two of the skills one can’t teach, he lacks many critical skills for success.  Emotional maturity is probably first on that list; the ability to contextualize (or not) is the other.

What do I mean by that?  When we get too caught up in a moment we need to have the ability to stop, take a step back, and see the forest as well as the trees.    That’s contextualizing. Math teachers would explain it as probing into the referents for the symbols involved – I like that.  Great businesspeople can also do the opposite – decontextualize – maybe even at the same time.  That’s the ability to abstract a situation and think about it symbolically without all the immediate pressures of what’s going on.  These abilities – as well as other critical thinking skills – take time and experience.  It’s why older executives such as me have value that our younger peers don’t: we’ve made the mistakes already and have learned.

Smart people can be stupid.  They need experience, a grounding in facts,  and the emotional maturity that comes with time to be successful in business.  We all know the brilliant jerk – the very smart executive who everyone respects and very few like.  They can crush a company. Our challenge is to find the qualities in addition to smart and curious that make for greatness.  You up to it?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

The Kid On The Bicycle

We didn’t get our newspaper this morning.  Not the end of the world, I know, but humans are creatures of habit and one of mine is skimming the paper while I have my breakfast.  We didn’t get it yesterday either.  These are not weather-related issues; other than the bitter cold, the weather is fine.  I reached out to the NY Times yesterday – they had another paper here by early afternoon.  Hopefully that repeats itself today.  I also let them know that these two incidents have become more common of late and I’m getting concerned.

Why am I telling you this?  No, it’s not my usual ranting about some slight.  There is a business lesson in here.  Strangely, I used to use this exact thing as an example many years ago when I would meet with advertisers to talk about media planning.  I’d talk then about the newspaper business and how many millions were spent hiring reporters and editors, salespeople and printers.  I’d talk about the money invested in paper and in presses and in ink.  I’d mention the thousands of people who print and publish and distribute a newspaper.  Which is then given to a kid on a bicycle to get to the home.  My point then was about the junior people were entrusted with taking marketing plans and advertising strategies and making them happen efficiently without a clear understanding of everything that had gone on previously.

The point today is a similar but broader one.  I’ve subscribed to home delivery of the Times, according to my account, since 1992.  My lifetime value to them is already into the tens of thousands of dollars.  The kid on the bicycle (ok, it’s a guy in a car that needs a muffler) has me wondering if I am better off just buying the paper and maybe not every day.  By comparison, the other papers I take have come every day without fail.  The last link in a huge business but the one that has a long-time customer questioning the product’s value.

We all need to think about who rides the bicycles in our businesses.  A beautiful office can seem less so if the receptionist is rude to guests.  The aforementioned junior person who executes plans by rote with no real understanding of “why” is that same weak spot.  As managers we need to ride along behind, checking off each delivery.  We need to make sure the delivery kid knows the route and we need to motivate them to do their job as well as we do ours – maybe even better (don’t throw the paper in the mud, kid).

Who rides the bicycles in your business?  Who is the last link between your brand and your customer?  When was the last time you paid attention to that link?  Any thoughts?

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B.B. And Your Business

TunesDay, and today it’s a visit from the King Of The Blues, Mr. B.B. King.  Anyone who has picked up a guitar in the last 60 years that has been influenced by his playing, even if indirectly. Number 6 on Rolling Stones’ 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time, B.B. King would be cited by each of the 5 ahead of him as critical in their learning. A member of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (1987), he is one of the most influential musicians of all time.  Having seen him dozens of times I can also tell you he puts on a great show.  Today, we’re going to learn a little bit about business from him.

In 1969, he recorded an old (1931!) song called “The Thrill Is Gone.  It was his biggest hit and remains his signature tune.  I’ll get to this in a second, but first I want to focus on the title track of an album he released in 1972 called “Guess Who.”  It’s a perfect marketing lesson in under a minute and a half:

This is exactly the message brands and businesses need to convey:

Someone really loves you
Guess who, guess who
Someone really cares
Guess who

So open your heart
Oh, then surely you’ll see
That the someone who really cares is me

We need to be asking ourselves if that’s the message we’re putting out there or is it all “buy this”?  Contrast that lyric with the message B.B. reminds us is on every customer’s mind:

The thrill is gone baby
The thrill is gone away
You know you done me wrong baby
And you’ll be sorry someday

Yes indeed.  Consumers have never had so many choices – and so many brands competing for their attention and dollars – as they do now.  As long as we keep those two songs in our minds, those choices will be made in our favor.  Ignore them and it’s you who’ll be singing the blues.  You with me?

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Is Social Commerce For Real?

It’s Monday and it’s time to get our brains revved up for the week.  Let’s start with some thinking about Social Commerce.  This is a term used to describe marketing strategies that incorporate social media to make online buying and selling of products and services happen.  It’s actually what I write about a fair amount here on the screed since it’s separate and apart from the click to buy marketing (Free shipping this hour only!  50% off mukluks!) we see so often.  It’s really the more “conversational” part of marketing.   If you check in here from time to time you know that I’m a big advocate of that sort of stuff.  Then again, I could be terribly wrong and it might all be a waste of time.

Turns out that the good folks at UMass Dartmouth looked into it.  As they said:

This study, conducted by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is an in-depth look at current purchasing habits and trends of Millennials using three of the most widely used social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest).  In an effort to discern what turns a like, follow or pin into a sale, this study explores and analyzes lead conversion tactics as identified by Millennials themselves.  Also included is a look at mobile technology and its role in online purchasing by measuring percentage of sales conducted through smart phones versus tablets.

So what did they find?  They focused on Millennials.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are defined as the folks born between 1980 and 2000.  Not surprisingly, they found that social media did drive purchase.  62% of respondents currently like at least one brand on Facebook.  Twitter has 23% of respondents following a brand and Pinterest has 11% of Millennials pinning a brand (Nike is the most liked/followed brand).  But those actions can lead to revenue and not just online.

  • Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest contribute to both online and in-store purchasing.  Seventy-seven percent of Facebook users, 66% of Twitter users and 63% of Pinterest users are multi-channel shoppers.
  • Of those who reported they had never purchased something after liking, following or pinning it online, offering a coupon or discount was the most frequently cited lead conversion tactic for Millennials.  Respondents indicated this is the top motivator leading to a sale.  Similarly, Millennials indicated that companies giving exclusive offers or appealing to their interests were more likely to see an increase in sales as a result of online interaction.

You can read more about this study here but the “news” is this:

Millennials are leading the social commerce movement.  They are more likely than any other group to like/follow/pin companies and brands.  They are enticed by coupons and discounts, purchase hair/beauty products and apparel, often using mobile phones and tablets.  They are multi-channel shoppers, buying both online and in-store.  This cohort is active online in ways that allow them to connect, organize, stay informed and shop.  They spend more money on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest than other groups making them the ones to watch as social commerce surges forward.

In other words, engaging your audience, particularly your younger audience, is a valuable antecedent to making a sale.  So yes, Social Commerce does exist.  Aren’t you relieved?

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