Monthly Archives: March 2015

How I Write

I was speaking with someone last week about this blog. They were kind enough to ask about using some of the content and in the course of the conversation they said something to the effect of “I don’t know how you are able to write five days a week” so I thought that maybe I’d attempt to answer that question. As I do so I’m hoping it provide a little insight into some business thinking you can use.

The hardest part for me is finding a topic each day. I mean it’s not just what pops into my head but also is what pops in aomething that might be of interest to anyone other than me and, more importantly, does it have a broad enough business application to be relevant to you, the reader, no matter what your business might be. As I’ve written many times, it’s about your customer, not you.

As part of my daily routine I scan over 1,000 articles each day. I do this to stay on top of tech, marketing, social media, and other business and media trends because these are the topics with which my clients need help. That content ranges from the sort of stuff you might also pick up in “mainstream” media down to granular topics such as web analytic and SEM. These articles will generally provide a starting point.  You’ve read screeds on research, on things happening in social media, and marketing trends.  Most of those posts came from reading something that sparked a thought.

Sometimes (yesterday for example) something going on in my own life prompts a post.  We forget sometimes that our own narrow perspective may have application to other folks’ lives and as we were taught in education class you work from the known (what happened to me might have happened to you) to the unknown (what happened related to a broader business theme).  There are also posts that are just fun for me – Foodie Friday tends to be that way as was the TunesDay stuff I wrote about music each Tuesday.  Which brings up another point.

I stopped writing those posts because they were the least read.  I also have cut back on some of the research-related posts since they too tend to drive less readership.  Again, it’s about what interests you, not just me.  I don’t write about politics other than when something in the political sphere has non-political takeaways for us.  Why not?  Because inevitably one side or the other gets angry, justifiably or not, and might stop reading.

Finally, I keep an ongoing list of topics.  Links to articles, random thoughts, and even photos which prompt a thought are posted in a drafts folder as I go throughout my day.  When I’m ready to write that folder is my first stop. The hard part is making the point that came to me while telling a compelling story of some sort.  Then it becomes a matter of presenting it to you in a concise, clear manner.  Mechanically, I write in WordPress, I add an image, I proof twice, I check spelling, and I edit.

Since this is now about 100 words longer than my usual rant, I’ll stop here.  Hopefully you can apply that methodology to your business.  Look for things that might prompt a thought – new products, new platforms, new practices.  Consider them for a moment, hold them if they resonate, act on them when you can.  Any questions?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud

Loyalty Isn’t Stupidity

We’ve been customers of a particular heating oil company almost since we’ve moved into this house. That was in 1985. Sure, on occasion we’ve asked around to see if we’re getting hosed on heating oil prices (not usually) and we’ve found them to be pretty reliable when there is an issue. The service techs show up quickly and are generally pleasant. Given the cost of fuel and the amount we use along with the annual inspections and tune-ups, the last 30 years of our business has probably been worth at least $100,000 to them. We won’t be renewing our contract in a couple of months. Here is why and it’s instructive for any business.

A few weeks ago we noticed some water on the basement floor near the water heater.  Our water heater is just a tank – the furnace actually heats it – so we called the oil company to come take a look.  Admittedly we told them we suspected a leaky water tank which they replaced.  The next day, water on the floor.  Repair comes back – it was a faulty circulator which they replaced.  Of course, that inexpensive part might have been the problem all along but no one actually ever checked it before pulling the tank.  New tank, new circulator and a dry floor.

That stopped after another couple of days.  More water in the same area.  We had the annual boiler inspection scheduled for three days later so we waited to see what it might be – hopefully not a furnace issue.  The inspector came and found the leak – it was a relief pipe and the leak was probably caused by an old or faulty valve.  The water tank?  The circulator?  No, they were fine.  The furnace was fine too.  Phew!

When we woke up the next day the house reeked of oil.  I thought it was just the residual smell from the burner cleaning.  The Mrs. went to look and found oil all over the floor.  Our fourth visit in a week from the fuel company to fix the problem (the cleaner had forgotten to shut something) resulted in a floor now covered in oil-absorbing kitty liter which they just called to come clean up in a few days.

In a sentence – the customer reported a problem which you misdiagnosed twice, selling them thousands of dollars of stuff they might not have needed.  You also screwed up a routine cleaning and now the customer is once again inconvenienced (the smell, having to be home for more service calls, etc).  This customer’s patience and loyalty are at an end.

That’s the lesson for all of us.  No matter how loyal a long-time customer has been, every interaction is an opportunity to win their business again.  When we take that loyalty for granted and are sloppy (a nicer word than dishonest), we make withdrawals from our loyalty bank account.  This company overdrew – we’re closing the account.  Our intention is to explain exactly why to them as we don’t renew.  Who knows – maybe I’ll just send them this link.

Lesson learned?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, What's Going On

Easy Recipes

This Foodie Friday will involve a trip to the store for me. I like to avoid the markets over the weekend so Friday mornings are sometimes spent reviewing and searching for recipes. A little menu planning in advance means just today’s trip to the stores.

Pulled pork in BBQ sauce sandwich with slaw

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I was going through a few food sites looking for ideas it struck me how many recipes involved the word “easy.” I suspect part of that is an appeal to the time crunch all of us seem to be under and part of it is to make cooking less intimidating for those whose kitchen skills involve a microwave and opening a can.  The recipes are indeed easy – dump some stuff in the slow cooker, walk away for 6 hours, voilà! Supper!  While I love my slow cooker and have made, say, pulled pork in it, I’m not going to tell you that the end product is anything like, or near as good, as what I produce from my smoker.  The smoker is a tricky beast to use and requires a lot of attention. Which is, of course, the business point.

I’m not going to tell you that we need to make things as difficult for ourselves as we can.  In fact, I think quite the opposite.  What I won’t do or ask my clients to do as part of making things easier is to denigrate the quality of their offerings.  That’s where “easy” tends to become hard.  Maintaining the greatness of your brand, your products, your services isn’t easy nor will it ever be.  It requires constant vigilance and a proactive mindset.  You can’t just set the cooker and walk away.

So here is the easy recipe for this Friday.  This is the one that gets us to great while being relatively easy. As a person, learn the basic skills you need and practice them.  That’s true in the kitchen and the office.  Possessing those skills – critical thinking and communicating first and foremost – and getting them right makes using them easy.  As a manager, hire and train only those people because when every member of the team gets the basics right every day the end product will be easy AND great.

You in?


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Filed under Consulting, food

Get Out Of My Face

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going to a web page and having a video autoplay. It’s one of the most annoying things publishers do, in my opinion. Putting aside that it can be a bandwidth hog, chew up your mobile data plan and hang a page as it loads, inevitably you’ve forgotten to mute your machine or phone and a blast of unanticipated noise can be startling at best and embarrassing at worst. Yecch.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s in that context that I read something this morning from an AdAge and RBC study on marketing. I’m sure you’re aware the Facebook has rolled out autoplay video ads. Oh joy. Well, according to the study (as reported via eMarketer):

While just 9% of US marketers said they already purchased autoplay video ads on the social network, the majority were somewhat (33%) or very (21%) likely to purchase such placements in the next six months. This put the percentage of respondents who viewed autoplay video ads positively at nearly two-thirds. The strong interest supports RBC research released at the end of August 2014, which estimated that Facebook would sell $700 million worth of autoplay video ads this year alone.

I love that 2/3 of marketers view the ads positively.  Where is the research on how consumers feel about them?  Yes, I’m aware that you can turn off the autoplay (click here to learn how) but the default on both the web and the app is to let them play.  It’s not just Facebook either.  Twitter, YouTube, and others are testing the same thing, albeit just autoplay videos (no ads – yet).

Maybe it’s my New York attitude but to publishers offering autoplay content or ads and to the marketers who buy them I say “get out of my face.”  Make your content interesting and engaging, not intrusive and annoying.  Romance me, don’t assault me.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who longer visits certain sites due to their use of autoplay nor the only one who has disabled the feature wherever I can.  I’m still not sure why I should have to do that in the first place.

What are your thoughts?


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Filed under digital media, Huh?

It’s A Mobile World

Some new numbers from the eMarketer folks caught my eye this morning. They released their projections for digital ad spending for the next few years and they show that in 2015, mobile ad spending in the US will increase 50.0%, reaching $28.72 billion and accounting for 49.0% of all digital ad spending. By 2019, mobile ad spending will rise to $65.87 billion, or 72.2% of total digital ad spend.  As they put it:

Next year will be the tipping point where mobile ad spending surpasses desktop. And while desktop advertising will remain a significant portion of marketers’ budgets—approximately $25 billion in each year throughout eMarketer’s forecast period—mobile will continue growing in the double digits to gain more and more market share while desktop spending remains flat.

If you’re doing business outside of the US it’s pretty safe to say that mobile has already passed desktop since most populations outside of North America don’t really have desktops/laptops and rely almost solely on their mobile devices for internet connectivity.  Why is any of the above important to you?

If your business model relies on selling audiences of your content and you haven’t optimized every touchpoint for your content, you are going to be missing the boat.  If your mobile experience is inferior or if you’re depending on mobile web as opposed to investing in an app, you probably ought to revisit your thinking.  Now!

Google has recently updated the search algorithm to rank pages by how mobile friendly they appear. If all you’re doing is porting your desktop experience to mobile, you’re not being smart.  In mobile emphasis needs to be on performance and speed.  Get rid of large header images and use minimalistic design with flatter images.  OK, I won’t get too wonky but the point is you need to ask about this stuff if you’re not the technical expert.

When 3/4 of a market sits in one sector, I want to do everything I can to be participating in that segment.  I’m one of a lot of people who have written before about the need for mobile-first thinking.  Have you been paying attention?  What have you done about it?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

Willie Sutton And TV

Let’s start this week with a little history lesson. You probably haven’t heard of Willie Sutton. According to Wikipedia, William Francis “Willie” Sutton, Jr. (June 30, 1901 – November 2, 1980) was a prolific American bank robber. During his forty-year criminal career he stole an estimated $2 million, and eventually spent more than half of his adult life in prison.

English: Willie Sutton (1901-1980) Source http...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a famous quote attributed to Sutton (he swore he never said it) who reputedly replied to a reporter’s inquiry as to why he robbed banks by saying “because that’s where the money is.” I’ve always remembered that because it’s a great way to stay focused when shiny new business options emerge.

One shiny new option these days is the plethora of Over The Top video services. You have probably heard about the one forthcoming from Apple, and HBO, CBS, Sony and others are already in the marketplace. The short version of why these things exist is so one can cut the cable cord, freeing oneself from the “bundle” of unwanted but paid for TV networks. If I’m a cable TV provider – most of whom are also internet service providers – I’d welcome these services with open arms and some of them are. Cablevision, for one, is offering the new HBO Now online service to its internet customers, even though the service could persuade more people to drop their cable TV packages.

Keeping the Sutton Rule in mind, where the money lies is in providing high-speed bandwidth at a reasonable price.  It costs the ISP pennies per gigabyte.  Charging a customer $50 a month for something that costs you maybe a tenth of that is a pretty good business.  Compare it with providing cable TV where you’re charging a little more but your margins are much smaller due to having to pay most of the networks you provide a monthly fee per customer.  You still pay ESPN $8 a month for each of those grandmas with cable who never tune it in.

I’m assuming for a moment that the customer service and install/repair costs are a wash.  You’re going to have those techs and phone banks no matter which service you support.  The real question in my mind is when will some cable company get out of the TV business and go ISP only.  Will that kill the content providers?  Nope.  One could argue they will come out ahead too since many of them receive far less on a per user basis from the cable guys than they might charge direct to the consumer albeit to a smaller but more engaged base.

The interesting times keep coming, don’t they?

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Filed under digital media, What's Going On

Let Me In

This Foodie Friday I’d like us to have a think about accessibility and food.  No, I don’t mean wheelchair ramps into restaurants or menus for the blind.  Maybe a better word might be “pretense.”  Let me say what I’m thinking about and you can fill in the blanks.  Either way, it relates to business as well (what a shock!).

I watch a lot of cooking and food shows.  Some of them feature chefs who give off an air of superiority – they know a lot more than you do.  That may be true about the methods but it’s not true about the taste.  Any of us knows what we like and dislike and I, for one, am not going to let some dolt with a few years for cooking school under his belt tell me what tastes good.  Let’s face it – many of us probably know as much about cooking techniques as they do.  What really good chefs have that we might not are moments of inspiration through which they transform food into something etherial.

I don’t want to paint with too wide a brush.  As this piece pointed out:

Plenty of big name chefs are popular in large part because of how accessible they want food culture to be (Anthony Bourdain has made an entire career of sharing his love and understanding of food), or how they want to share their knowledge rather than lording it over us simple peons (Wiley Dufresne is as much an enthusiastic Culinary Biophysicist as he is a Chef). Chefs who want to join in the conversation rather than control it are myriad, and they’re a vital part of the discussion.

All of this is applicable to you no matter what business you’re in.  We need to spend time making what we do accessible – to our consumers, to our partners, to our team.  What I mean is that we need to demystify it – take the very complex and help others to understand it so they in turn can engage in the conversation.  It may mean a meeting to explain the types of data you’re gathering.  It could be a video inside your factory to explain how a product is made.  It’s all really a recognition that the benefits of letting others in and engaging in conversation far outweigh the downsides.  No chef is going to tell me what I like.  No brand is going to either.  Be accessible – ask me the question and I’ll answer and hopefully you’ll respond.

That’s my take.  Yours?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints