Monthly Archives: January 2015

Home Cooking

This week our Foodie Friday Fun revolves around home.  In particular around Mom’s home cooking.  Some moms aren’t great cooks.  Some moms (like the one who taught me how to cook – not my own, mind you) could open a restaurant and it would be packed every night.  It really doesn’t matter how good their food is.  What matters is that whatever they produce comes from your home and that experience is imprinted on your senses.

I bring this up because of the thought that was triggered last night while I was watching “The Taste.”  Chef Marcus Samuelsson said “Food can give you a sense of home” and it really resonated.  It immediately brought to mind a couple of dishes that bring me back home no matter where I encounter them.  A great pot of Sunday Gravy, filled with meatballs, sausage, and braciole.  Beef flanken nestled in a dense broth.  They, among others, transport me to a place filled with happy memories.  If the dish is spectacular, so much the better.  Even if it’s just OK I give it extra points.  It’s the memory of comfort that’s important.

I read a quote once that every cuisine has a soul food or a food that makes the people of that ethnic group’s soul sing.  I believe that.  I also believe that it a great thought for any business.  We need to ask ourselves if there is a way to tap into the collective sense of home that our consumers have.  How do we make their souls sing?  How do we elicit happy memories even though our product is new or innovative?  The second level of Maslow’s hierarchy is safety.  How do we bring that feeling to our customers?

It can be done.  There is a humorous ad campaign out now from Ally Bank that taps into this.  Every spot revolves around the typical sort of fears we face each day in the modern world and how you can depend on Ally no matter what.  The spots are generally pretty funny and I think they tap into that notion of the safety home brings.

We need to work on bringing that sense of home to our brands.  Up for the challenge?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

The Crap Experience

I’m going to let you in on a little secret today. Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about how we can attract new customers and retain all of our existing ones. That’s as it should be. There is, however, one thing you might not be thinking about. That’s the little secret.

The consumer experience today has been dumbed down. I don’t mean that in the intellectual sense. I mean crap experiences have become the norm. As a result, consumer expectations are pretty low. Let me explain.

Think about traveling via airplane. 30 years ago you walked through the airport. There was a cursory security check but you could carry your coffee through and your shoes stayed on your feet. You had a reserved seat with decent leg room, even in coach. You could stow your bag, you got a hot meal, and the price of these things was part of the fare you paid. Does any of that sound vaguely familiar today?  Nope.  We expect a horror show at security and the fare we pay bears little resemblance to what we’ll spend to make that trip.  In short, air travel sucks and we expect it to.  If the flight lands roughly on time we call it a good flight.  The crap experience is the norm.

Another example?  Maybe you spent $50 on a new video game.  You get an hour in and it crashes or the characters don’t render or you can’t move them because a “wall” has mysteriously appeared on all sides.  Think I’m making this up?  Ask anyone who bought the latest Assassin’s Creed game.  We just wait for the patch.

You can find crap experiences all over.  Hotels, restaurants, online retailers – heck, it’s hard to find one business segment that’s not riddled with them. So while our goal should always be to reach the highest standards possible, the key to success these days may lie in just three words:

Just. Don’t. Suck.

That’s a little step forward that will immediately put you above the norm.  Not sucking means you are running down the road from the crap experiences consumers have been forced to accept. Can you do that?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Hitting The Bullseye

I spend a lot of my day working with clients on tech.  If it isn’t about how to implement the latest and greatest platform in other marketing efforts, it is about using the data we’ve gathered via web, social, and other business analytics to improve tactics and guide strategies.  We look at a lot of numbers and at a lot of methods with which to gather more.

One of the things I feel it’s critical for me to do is to play the role of a Cassandra of sorts – to see the future but to hope I’m believed a lot more than was the figure from mythology.  The one thing I keep “prophesying” to them is that we can stay on course and out of trouble if we keep our eyes focused on the customer.  They can’t become just aggregations of data.  They’re not just numbers.  They are the reasons why we’re in business.  They have names, faces, significant others and maybe even children.  They’re us!

Much of the ad and marketing technology today has little to do with the customer.  You might think that odd since much of it is based on getting to know the customer on a very granular level.  That’s true, except the focus is on the technology and data, not on the customer.  Thinking about social media is important but only after we’ve spent time thinking about the customer.  Are they on social platforms?  Why?  What are their expectations when they use them?  How do they want to interact with brands in that space, if at all?  Sure mobile is important but a discussion of mobile apps needs to begin with an investigation of how your consumer base behaves on that platform.  “Build it and they will come” is tech centric, not human centric.

Start with your business objectives and your consumer needs.  Move to technology and data after that.  The consumer is the bullseye, not the platform.  Thoughts?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media


You might have seen some news stories about CES over the course of the last week.  It’s a huge tech trade show that starts every year off with a glimpse of what technologies are down the road.  In many cases, not very far down the road either.  One of the tech area that was most prominent last week was automotive; specifically, autonomous cars.  While you might have heard about Google’s work in the area of self-driving vehicles, many other automakers – Audi, Mercedes, and others – are quite far along in developing this technology and Audi even let a car drive itself to Las Vegas from San Francisco to show how well their prototype works.

Honda-like steering wheel vector graphic

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe you find that creepy.  Maybe the thought of sitting down in a vehicle that moves along pretty quickly and letting that vehicle control itself scares you.  I guess you haven’t flown lately, since most airplanes do exactly that.  Some even land themselves.  So what is the business point?

This thinking isn’t new.  Way back in the 1990’s engineers were re-thinking the automobile and the way in which humans interact (or don’t) with it.  The Saab folks designed and built a car without a steering wheel.  The driver used a joystick instead. As the Wired folks reported:

It turns out that the steering wheel is an excellent way to steer a vehicle, and really tough to improve upon. That’s why they’ve been used on ships for centuries. The key to controlling any vehicle is to make smooth adjustments to keep it going where you want to. Steering wheels allow this. Most turn 1,260 degrees—3.5 turns—from lock-to-lock, that is, from all the way left to all the way right. That allows the driver to make very precise corrections to get the car pointing the right way, or quickly make big corrections to, say, avoid hitting something.

There were other problems too but the business point is this.  All of us need to constantly challenge our paradigms.  Maybe we don’t need people to drive the cars, or even BE in the cars.  BMW showed a car that you could “call” to you and which would go find a parking space for itself and park once you were done with it.  That redefines how a designer might think about the vehicle.  So the real question is this:

How have you challenged your paradigms today?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Wine And Winning

Foodie Friday! I don’t know about you but I enjoy a glass of wine with my meals when I dine out. Unfortunately, there is no faster way to run up a restaurant bill than to order wine. I’m pretty familiar with many of the better low-cost wines from around the world and I tend to seek them out when I’m dining out. Usually they cost anywhere from 2 to 3 times what I know I would pay at retail.

This image shows a red wine glass.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This sets up a classic problem. Restaurants make a good amount of profit on selling wine and liquor and I certainly don’t begrudge them that. I would rather, however, pay them a lot for a really great dish that I know I can’t possibly make at home or for spectacular service. Paying $35 for a $12 bottle offends me, frankly.  The restaurant’s priorities are out of sync with mine and that’s never good in any business.  As a result I (and a number of my wine-loving friends) have made it a habit to seek out BYOB restaurants.  We bring our own wine and spend our money on food.  That’s a missed profit opportunity for the establishment, especially since we avoid “corkage” charges religiously.

Lately, quite a few nearby restaurants have done a very smart thing.  On what are their slow nights they offer half-price bottles.  Has this enticed us out on a Wednesday night?  Yes it has.  Which points to how we all need to solve business problems no matter what our business.

In this case the restaurant is selling the wine at a small markup, nothing like the 100%+ they usually charge.  More importantly, they have more covers on slow nights, and their overhead doesn’t change if they restaurant is full or empty.  As a customer I think of it as a big win, and going out Monday or Wednesday is fine with me, especially since it is generally slower, the service is better, and the kitchen usually more attentive.  I might even buy a much better bottle than usual which helps the turn over the wine stock or order an additional dish.  In other words, it’s a big win for everyone.

Isn’t that how every business dilemma need to be resolved?

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Filed under Consulting, food

Getting A Chance

English: Food2u running on an Android phone. E...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone who has played sports has had the thought about getting a chance to prove their worth.  If I could only get a few more at bats, I know I could show what I can do.  I need more shifts on the ice. Throw the ball my way.  I suspect many of us hold the same thinking when it comes to our products or services.  If I can only get a sample in the consumer’s hand, they’d be a convert and a customer for life.  How do I get their attention?

The odd thing is that marketers are getting those chances more now than ever.  The sad thing is that many of us haven’t adjusted our strategies and tactics to take advantage of it.  It’s almost like the coach says “get in the game” and we are taking a nap on the bench.  Here is what triggered my thought.

The Harris Interactive poll discovered years ago in a survey of US adult smartphone owners that 63% of female respondents and 73% of male respondents don’t go an hour without checking their phone.  Much of it is messaging as Pew found that cell phone users between 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on an average day, more than 3,200 per month.  A lot of it is in apps.  An academic study of Android users’ app-habits revealed that while users spend nearly one hour on their devices a day, the average app session lasted only just over a minute.  Both messaging and apps hold the potential for communication to consumers.  The issue is that many marketers ignore those opportunities or use them badly.  You only get so many strikeouts before the coach decides the bench is a better place for you.

Example.  Ever see ads on your phone?  Most are cheap-looking banners reminiscent of the web in 1999.  Others interrupt your experience and as the above data points out these user sessions are brief, implying a time sensitivity.  We need to embrace the micro-experience and add value.

The above is easier said than done, I’m well aware.  The thing we can’t do is complain that we’re not getting any chances.  Instead of complaining about micro-segmentation and new technologies/platforms, let’s embrace them.  Consumers are more connected to one another and to us than ever.  How are we going to use that opportunity?


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Filed under Thinking Aloud

The Future At The Gates

Over the holidays I spent time catching up on a lot of video content I had missed.  Not unusual, I know, but what was different was how I accessed it.  Some I watched using the VOD capability of my cable provider.  Some I streamed via an Xbox and either Hulu, Amazon, or Netflix.  That video came via my internet connection which was not through my cable provider.   It got me thinking about the gatekeepers, both current and future, and why the battle over Net Neutrality is so critical.

You probably haven’t read the latest PWC study on how consumers are using video.  You can read it here – it’s an excellent study.  The term they use is “videoquake” and I think it’s apt:

This is a wake-up call not just for cinemas and film studios, but also for traditional cable and satellite players and anyone involved in video content production and distribution. The shift is here—alternative forms of video content will continue to rock not only what we watch, but how, where and with whom.

Most of us don’t have more than one high-speed internet provider from whom we can buy service.  There is very little competition and, therefore, no market pressure for many of these ISP’s to upgrade their services.  In many cases it’s the cable TV provider who is also the ISP.  Part of this has to do with the legacy of how cable came to be.  The companies were granted local monopolies in return for building out the systems.  Seemed like a fair trade at the time.  Data to the home was not on many people’s radar when this went on and today these systems are under no obligation to allow anyone else to access their poles or wires.  Building out a competitor is extremely difficult.

You might be aware of the impending FCC rule making on net neutrality.  I won’t write to 3,000 additional words it would take to explain it but in brief many are calling on the FCC to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. The popular belief is that Title II classification would allow the FCC to protect net neutrality by regulating against paid prioritization.  You can read a longer explanation here.

While I’m not sure that’s the right answer (rules from 1934?  Seriously?), one effect this would have is to require access to those poles making build out much easier.  If you’re a business that has made money (a LOT of money) from a monopoly on bringing content into the home via coax (cable TV) or ethernet (internet service), you can hear the future at the gate and it’s banging rather loudly. Imagine what happens when not just Google Fiber but companies such as Apple or Yahoo offer internet service (everything old is new again – AOL, anyone?) via their own pipes.

With more and more content being delivered on a stand-alone basis via our internet connections, the gatekeeper (now the wireless carriers or the cable companies in most cases) will collect not just the monthly fees but the data associated with the usage.  That data might be even more valuable (hmm – a free high-speed internet provider who just sells data?  Investors?).

Are you hearing the banging at the gates too?  What are your thoughts?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud