Monthly Archives: August 2014


It’s the Foodie Friday before the Labor Day weekend so what better topic than those who labor in the food business? We talk a lot here on the screed about cooks and cooking. Today we’re going front of house to talk about servers.

Waiter in Vienna, Austria.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you think about it, being a server is one of those jobs that many people don’t want. It’s what some people fall in to while they’re trying to do something else – be an actor, finish school, etc. While many high-end restaurants train and keep their wait staff for a long time (I’ve seen some pretty old guys schlepping trays at a few fancy steakhouses), much of the industry is people in transition.  It’s hard work, demanding both physically and  psychologically (you try dealing with a demanding drunk jerk who is showing off for his equally drunk friends).

Some of the challenges restaurant managers face with servers are instructive for other businesses.  Training is the first.  Once a server is trained they become very attractive to other businesses.  Obviously not training the staff isn’t an option since you want customers to have the best experience possible.  How, then, do you retain employees?  Having trained many junior people in my day, that problem applies everywhere.  We can’t usually match the extra money a new job will offer.  Why, then, would they stay?

In any industry, I think that’s done by sharing the vision of where the business is heading along with a value statement you live by and use to make decisions.  Letting the staff in on your goals in a specific fashion (grow revenues 10% without raising prices, turn 5 more tables an extra time each night) gives them ownership of where the business is heading and why.  The next step – execution – is all on the manager’s shoulders. They need to  manage the staff and the business towards the goals.

I know that servers have a reputation for behaving in ways that rarely happen outside of the restaurant world more than once.  Showing up drunk or stoned or calling in sick at the last-minute are symptoms of what I wrote about above.  When your job is just a step to someplace else you tend not to treat it seriously, which is especially dangerous when that job is the primary point of contact with the customer.  Paying well, training well, being demanding but fair, and sharing the goals and visions of the business can help every employee take the business as seriously as you do, whether they’re servers, accountants, marketers, or sales reps.



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Learning From Silliness

A little good news for a change emerging from all of the silliness that is the Ice Bucket Challenge:

As of Wednesday, August 27, The ALS Association has received $94.3 million in donations compared to $2.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 27). These donations have come from existing donors and 2.1 million new donors.

Having known people who’ve suffered with this horrible disease (as well as being a lifelong Yankee fan and admirer of the Iron Horse),  working to beat it is a worthy cause.  That said, there are a few things which we can take away from the videos of the last month which might be instructive in our own business endeavors.

First, let’s think about lemmings.  We humans often behave collectively, like lemmings. Once the pack starts in a particular direction, particularly one that seems appealing, many people just go along.  I’m not sure many of the folks who have participated in the meme gave a lot of thought to where the money was going.  I mean, who looked up the ALS Association’s records?  How much are officers paid?  How much do they pay for fundraising?  What are their lobbying expenses?  Most importantly, how much of the money they receive actually goes to grants and research?

As it turns out (yes I looked it up), they’re a very fine organization on all those counts (you can read it here).  The point is that once something reaches a critical mass, many people will participate even if it’s only due to Fear Of Missing Out, without digging too deeply into the thinking.  In this case, everyone from kids (who I doubt understand the disease) all the way to former presidents went along.

That raises point 2.  How to reach that critical mass.  This challenge happened almost entirely via social media, specifically Facebook.  I think it’s a seminal moment and points out how media has changed.  What implications does it have for marketing?  The big one, besides the use of “new” media to activate a consumer base, is that organic growth bests anything we can manufacture.  The ALS Foundation didn’t start this – a consumer did.  How do we get our influencer bases to do the same?

We can enjoy the silliness of the Ice Bucket Challenge in the face of a horrible disease.  We can learn from it too.  That’s my take.  Yours?

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The Only Two Numbers That Matter

Everyone in business has heard talk about “big data.” It Takes 2!There is no question that we know more about our customers, their buying patterns, their media usage – heck, just about anything – than ever before. It’s easy to get trapped into micromanaging all that data which will overwhelm even the best systems and the smartest analysts.  So today I’m going to try to get you to follow some great advice from Thoreau:

I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.

He wasn’t exactly talking about big data, but he might have been.  In my mind there are really only two numbers that matter.  While I’m going to speak of them in web terms the reality is that they apply to every business as I will explain.  They are:

That’s it.  Multiply those two and you get a measure of success.  The first is how many opportunities you have to create a successful interaction; the second is the rate at which you do so.  That successful interaction can be a newsletter sign up, a sale, a social share of some content – you will need to define it.  Taking the number of times that successful thing happens and dividing it into the number of people who potentially might have done it (your traffic) gives you a conversion rate.  Simple!

You would be surprised how many of the analytics accounts I’ve looked at over the years haven’t set up goals, and without goals there are no conversions.  It’s not just web-based businesses that can do this.  Retail can count foot traffic and numbers of sales, for example.  Numbers of customer service calls with a successful (in the customer’s eyes) resolution.  Once you’re focused on measuring traffic and conversions, you can place everything else you do in marketing in those contexts.  More traffic without conversions is useless.  More conversions from the same traffic is fantastic.

Big data is great and I use it all the time.  As with all things, however, start with the simple, which often gets overlooked – the necessary and the real, as Thoreau says.  You agree?

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Dead Ninjas

As you might expect, I know quite a few other consultants.  One thing with which I think each of us struggles is our positioning statement:  what is it that we do and why is how we do it different (and better) and others.  My friends in the marketing agency business face the same challenge.  There are many firms chasing the same pieces of business.  How are we to stand out?

What I’ve seen over the last decade has been the rise and fall of various segments.  Consultants and agencies focus on the next shiny niche.  There were SEO specialists and then SEO changed.  There’s far less one needs to do on an on-going basis (other than create great, interesting content) to warrant an investment in SEO over time.  Paid search is a sector that continues to flourish but increasingly it’s more part of the “traditional” marketing mix.  Does one really need a specialist who may or may not understand the entirely of the marketing mix?

The ones that bother me the most (I’m not sure why, but they do) are the “ninjas” and “gurus.”  It’s amazing how they shift from new segment to new segment as marketing evolves.  Maybe they really are ninjas – they move very fast and somehow always seem to be selling the next shiny thing.  Of course, as things are evolving there is no real right or wrong and it’s hard to know what demonstrable results are expected.

You can see this today.  Content marketing seems to be the flavor of the month.  How many of the folks selling content marketing were selling SEO two years ago?  How many of the loudest voices were just as loud on another topic when that topic was emerging?  I don’t mean to single out my consulting or agency brethren.  Conferences, software vendors, and others are just as guilty.  What we all need to be doing is thinking about the fundamental principles of marketing and business.  In my 35+ years in business those things haven’t changed very much.

Self-promotion and “hot” positioning are great.  Fantastic, measurable results are even better.  I think maybe we need to kill off a few ninjas and deal with people who practice sound business. What do you think?

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What Do You Mean, BBQ?

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week is about barbecue. I mean, we’ve reached late summer and I haven’t posted anything about one of my favorite foods. Then again, I can spend the next few hundred words writing about it and we might be thinking about two completely different things since “barbecue” means different things to different people. Therein lies today’s business point as well.

English: Central Texas Style BBQ from Pearland...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, when some people hear the term (BBQ for short), they think it means food cooked on a grill, as in “fire up the BBQ and let’s get the steaks on.”  That is NOT what I mean.  The term in my mind always refers to food cooked low and slow in the smoke from a wood fire.  Notice I didn’t say “over” a fire since BBQ is indirect heat cooking at its finest.

Second, there are many different types of BBQ.  Pull into a BBQ joint in Raleigh and you’ll be getting whole hog chopped up with a vinegar and pepper sauce.  Go further west and you get just pork shoulder chopped with a tomato-based sauce.  Kentucky serves up mutton barbecue served with “dip,” a Worcestershire-based sauce, in the western part of the state but pork in the east.  An order in Tennessee will get you a Memphis style dry rub on ribs.  The whole hog in South Carolina adds mustard to the sauce while in Texas you’ll get beef brisket.  Finally, in Kansas City you might get any or all of the above.  One order, many potential results.  Which is, of course, the business point.

How many presentations have you seen in which fairly generic terms are used?  How many times have you been shopping on the web and come across a product page that has lots of flowery language that sells the product but very little specific information as to how the product is differentiated from anything else?  One mistake we all make in marketing from time to time is assuming our audience knows what we mean.  While we all know our products inside and out, the consumer might not.  Even worse, by using common terms without making sure we’re putting them into the correct context, we run the risk of having the consumer pass on ordering since they might assume something that’s not true.  Even worse, they might order and be very unhappy with what they receive.

We can’t be in the business of selling “BBQ.”  We need to sell “chopped whole hog in a vinegar and pepper sauce.”  We want to use language that puts an indelible image into the consumer’s mind while making clear what exactly it is we’re selling.  Don’t assume everyone knows what BBQ or anything else means.  Have a great weekend – that’s clear, right?

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Results, Stupid

You probably get a lot of “news” in your Facebook feed.  You know – really critical information that tends to end with “you won’t believe what happened next” which is begging you to click through to see.  If you take the bait and do so, you probably consume the content and forget about it within a minute.  The result the post was looking for was the click.

The Marketing Metrics Continuum provides a fra...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marketers do that a lot.  They get focused on you seeing the message, maybe clicking through to see “what happens next”, but they seem to be forgetting that the result they’re after is either a direct business result such as a sale or a deepening of the ongoing relationship with the consumer.  It’s the relationship – the emotional connection – that leads, once again to a measurable result: sales.

I was sort of surprised, therefore, when I came across the results of a survey from the Korn Ferry Global Marketing Center of Expertise.  I’ll quote from their release here:

The survey indicates there’s growing pressure among marketing executives to demonstrate that their work directly contributes to bottom-line results. Fifty-seven percent of CMOs cite the inability to directly connect marketing efforts to tangible business outcomes as the top factor behind low CMO tenure…Only 27 percent of marketing executives cite connecting marketing to bottom-line results as the top concern keeping them up at night. What plagues CMOs the most is the ability to create sustainable and engaging customer relationships while improving the customer experience (34 percent). Also, 27 percent say staying ahead and taking advantage of the latest digital technology trends is a main concern.

Hmm.  It’s great to create those relationships but if nearly 3/4 of these CMO’s are focused on something other than results it’s no wonder that they’re not lasting very long in their jobs.  The last point about focusing on the latest and greatest tech concerns me a lot.  This goes against my basic mantra that the focus needs to be on the business and on measurable business outcomes, not on the tools.  A business can’t do tech (or anything else) because “it’s cool.”   Sales are cool.  Profits are cool.  Tech is a series of tools which may or may not be appropriate (or cool)  for the given situation and desired outcome.

You wouldn’t cut a board with a screwdriver.  You’d select the right tool with the desired result in mind.  If over half the CMO’s surveyed aren’t connecting with those results, their brands and businesses have a big problem.  It’s not a surprise to me that Facebook is cited as the top channel for consumer connection but I wonder if the CMO’s who use it realize how little connection is really going on between “fans” and brands?  Facebook or any other tool are neither good nor bad.  They have to be measured in the context of results, otherwise they’re just the latest shiny object.  We can’t build a long-term business on those shiny things, can we?


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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Tracking The Trackers

Footprints in sand. Marinha Grande, Portugal.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another day, another web site (well, portal in this case) comes out in favor of ignoring the express wishes of its user base.

AOL‘s new privacy policy states that it will not honor the do-not-track requests that users send through their browsers. I’ve written about this before and as someone who is very customer-focused, I can’t understand this decision.

Here is how one of the companies (the Network Advertising Initiative) administering a Do Not Track program explains it:

NAI members are committed to transparency and choice. The NAI opt-out tool was developed in conjunction with our members for the express purpose of allowing consumers to “opt out” of the Interest-Based Advertising delivered by our members…Following an opt out, (members)… cease collecting and using data from across web domains owned or operated by different entities for the purpose of delivering advertising based on preferences or interests known or inferred from the data collected (Interest Based Advertising or IBA).

Pretty clear.  The  browser you’re using right now probably offers do-not-track headers, which tell publishers and ad networks that you don’t want to be tracked. But the header doesn’t actually prevent tracking. Instead, ad networks and publishers are free to ignore the signals. Of course, when you combine users opting in to the do not track program with them setting their browser to tell sites that they do not wished to be tracked, you’d have to be pretty dumb not to get the message.  Yet of all the hundreds of sites out there, only 21 have committed to implement this program and only 2 (Twitter and Pinterest) are what I would consider major sites.

In AOL’s case, as is the case with Yahoo and damn near every other publisher, they get the message.  They’re just ignoring it.  They use excuses like “no one else is honoring them” or “the standards aren’t set yet for what can and can’t be tracked.” I read that as “our business interests supersede your desire not to receive targeted ads.”  This is short-sighted and will, I believe, result in more users doing as I do:  blocking analytics, ads, and everything else publishers use to make the content they offer better for the user.

As someone who works with clients to make money off of their digital efforts I know how vital data is.  I grew up in the ad business so I support free content paid for by your attention to ads.  But the value exchange needs to be transparent.  I think there is a huge potential for backlash as what and how users are being tracked, as well as what’s done with their data, reaches the mainstream.  What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?