Monthly Archives: May 2015

Big Food

This Foodie Friday, let’s talk about Big Food. No, not the somewhat passé trend of stacking a dish’s components into a tower. Big Food – the large food processors who account for a lot of what we have in our homes and, eventually, in our stomachs. There is a revolution going on and it’s one that provides some guidance for all of us no matter what our business may be.

You saw another manifestation of the revolution in this week’s announcement by Taco Bell and Pizza Hut that they will be phasing out artificial ingredients in their food. McDonald’s is getting rid of antibiotics and Subway will be making their bread without some unpronounceable substance which has been called the “yoga mat chemical”. I’m assuming those things got there to begin with in an effort to make the products more consistent, less expensive to produce, and more appealing. All of those reasons are kind of selfish when you think about it. They help the company while putting the long-term health of their customers at risk.

If you want an in-depth discussion of what’s going on with Big Food, Fortune has an excellent, well-researched piece which you can read here. It contains this quote from a Hershey executive:

Research had found that 68% of global consumers wanted to recognize every ingredient on the label, and 40% desired food made with as few ingredients as possible. “There is a connection in consumers’ minds between overall health, wellness, and knowing exactly what I’m eating,” says Hershey’s head of global R&D Will Papa. “Consumers want treats, and they want to know that the treat is really good and wholesome.”

Consumers are not just giving that lip-service. Organic food sales more than tripled over the past decade and increased 11% last year alone to $35.9 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. And one analyst said that the top 25 U.S. food and beverage companies have lost an equivalent of $18 billion in market share since 2009.

Why is this important to your business? It demonstrates how we all need to be in lock-step with the changing priorities of our customers. It might be easy to write off a decline in sales to a bad quarter or the weather. It takes foresight and guts to recognize a shift in tastes (pun intended) and to disrupt everything from product formulation to your supply chain.  Good companies might look to maintain sales and profits by cutting costs or running promotions.  Great companies listen to their customers and respond.  Which are you?

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Working For Free

Given my topic this morning, this could be the shortest post ever. With respect to doing work for prospective clients or others without being compensated, it’s a one word proposition:

Don’t.

Let me explain, after my 7 years in consulting, why I feel this way. Yes, I do some pro bono work but that’s different. Helping out a charity or other worthy cause is different from helping a for-profit. Similarly, I try to be a resource for my friends, and have looked at many friends’ business plans, websites, social media plans, and analytics over the years with zero expectation of reciprocity (I know they will be there in a heartbeat if I need something).

What I’m talking about today is spec work. Obviously I realize you need to discuss the prospective client’s business issues with them ahead of time in order to figure out the scope of work. You might even want to begin to do a bit of a deep dive so you can pinpoint how best to move their business forward. That’s an exercise for ME, so I can establish a mutually beneficial working relationship and we (the client and I) make best use of the time they’re buying. Over time the focus of the work always changes as the business changes and grows, but you need to have a starting point.

That said, there is a difference between identifying the issues and opportunities and providing a roadmap to a solution. When clients demand lots and lots of spec work, I politely but firmly say “no.”  Much of why people hire me is for the expertise that comes from experience.  The strategic and tactical documents I give clients are roadmaps.  They probably believe they can find people with less experience and knowledge to follow that map.  They forget that the business road usually takes unanticipated turns after which it’s easy to become lost.  Who gets the blame?  The map maker (me!) so I’d like to be in the car with them to get them pointed back in the right direction.

A client paying for your advice is their skin in the game.  It also makes them pay attention.  I don’t like to spend my time providing guidance and observations that, ultimately, get ignored.  Inevitably the recipient makes the mistake(s) that I warned were going to be the outcome of their direction or decision. It is a waste of both of our time.

Your job is to remind them of the value (NOT the cost) of what you bring them and then to deliver.  The old saw about free advice usually being worth what you pay for it rings true to most clients.  To me as well.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

TV And Disruption

I have been thinking about a conversation I had with someone about the future of TV. OK, to be totally accurate, the chat was about the massive disruption that’s going on across all legacy media – newspapers, magazines, and radio as well as TV. I said that while that disruption is just now really beginning to be felt on a mass scale by TV, the TV industry seems to be learning from the mistakes made by newspapers and radio. I thought those learnings would help mitigate the disruption somewhat. Let’s see what you think.

Over the last year you’ve probably watched less live TV (other than sports and breaking news) than you have in the past. You’re not alone – live viewership of broadcast TV is down 30 percent since 2008 according to some measures. Time-shifted viewing is up quite a bit, however. Obviously it’s not a lack of interest in the programming but a desire to watch it on the viewer’s own schedule via whatever device is handy at that time.

Unlike the newspaper folks, who vigorously resisted the “what I want, where and when and how I want it” reality of the digital transformation, TV seems to be getting it. In fact, total overall consumption of video based content is skyrocketing. Admittedly some of that is from non-TV content sources (YouTube channels, etc) but as more TV content becomes easily available to cord-cutters and cord-nevers, I suspect what we’re seeing with CBS (CBS primetime is generating more viewers now than it did in 2003) will be true of most TV networks.

Some of my former colleagues in TV are finding ancillary benefits as well.  None of us were ever delighted with the Nielsen ratings system and the vast amount of viewing and audience information that’s now accessible through other channels is incredibly useful from both a programming and a sales perspective.  Frankly, the TV set is the viewing channel from which we get the least data and what information we do get is probably the least accurate.

All of the above is a long way of saying that despite my occasional jabs at TV clinging to their old business ways and traditional business model, I do recognize that they’ve quietly been changing and adapting to the new realities of digital disruption.  It’s encouraging and a good lesson for any business.  Do you agree?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

Pretty Pictures Or Perfect Food?

It’s Foodie Friday and I’m shaking my head today.  No, not at the fact that we’re still walking around the Northeast wearing sweaters entering Memorial Day Weekend but at something I read about a “marketing” effort being made by the folks at Chili’s.  This from the AP:

Chili's Grill & Bar logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chili’s says it’s spending about $750,000 a year for an egg wash that gives its burger buns a photogenic glaze. It’s part of an effort by the chain to get you to take pictures of its food and post them online.  In addition to using burger buns with an egg wash…the chain also recently started serving its fries in a stainless steel holder that “looks cool.” And ribs are no longer served in big slabs reminiscent of The Flintstones cartoons, but are cut into sections and stacked.

Hmm.  Why risk bad photos?  How about plastic food that’s perfect in each lobby?  Perhaps a little booth into which you can cart your burger and fries that’s perfectly lit?  Maybe the servers and bartenders need to be more photogenic while we’re at it. Even better – provide digital downloads via your free wi-fi so customers don’t risk getting their phones messy.  What’s that?  You don’t have free wi-fi?

This is not a great use of funds, but it’s also selfish.  This move is about Chili’s and not about their customers.  Chili’s wants to “go viral” with pretty pictures and good-looking food.  I wonder how viral really great food is.  Judging from what I pick up in my news feeds on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, great food gets posts (yes, I have a lot of foodie friends) and while some of the photos are lacking in composition or badly lit, I’d try anything my friends think is worth the calories.

In each of its past two fiscal years, sales at established Chili’s locations rose less than 1 percent.  Maybe better looking isn’t the answer.  I’m willing to bet better tasting, reasonably priced and served efficiently with a smile are ahead of it in line.  You know – that silly customer-focused stuff you’re ignoring in your quest for social traction.

What do you all think?

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Filed under digital media, food, Huh?

Faust And Facebook

You might be aware that Facebook has started yet another new program with a few publishers.  Called “Instant Articles”, the program lets a select number of news organizations publish stories directly to Facebook and the publishers keep the ad revenue. There are nine launch partners, including BuzzFeed, The New York Times and NBC News.  If you use the Facebook app on an iPhone you might already have seen it.

Facebook logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A number of news reports have used the term “faustian” to describe the program and I agree.  You’ll recall the legend of Faust and his deal with the devil – he got something he wanted in return for the devil owning his soul (and eternal damnation!).  While it’s a bit of a stretch to equate Facebook with the devil, it’s an apt metaphor.  All publishers – especially those whose business models are dependent upon lots of content views – want greater visibility.  Facebook is the largest platform and in this case the publisher can monetize those views.  Makes sense, right?

Not really in my view.  Sure, if you’re happy with “one and done” traffic it’s fine but this is no way to build a loyal audience.  Many of the publishers I know count repeat visits as a KPI.  This doesn’t build that.  It’s especially bad if any of your model counts on subscription revenue.  The breadth and depth of your content offering – the quality that drives the justification for the subscription – is negated.

Facebook controls the terms of this news-publishing deal.  Ask any brand if they’ve experienced Facebook changing the game in the middle of play and they’ll say yes.  After all, this is the platform that encouraged brands to build pages and followings and then took away news feed access while encouraging ad spend.  Who is to say that this program won’t change again in a few months?  It’s especially troubling that news outlets will be able to publish so-called “branded content” directly to Facebook.  I’ve made my views on native ads that are indistinguishable from your own news content well-known.  Embedding them on Facebook makes them even more difficult to identify as sponsor messages (and who is to say when Facebook will demand their cut).

Don’t misunderstand.  I see high value in using Facebook both for publishing and for advertising.  I just think that abandoning the efforts to drive users to your own platform is ultimately self-defeating.  When you think about it, Facebook doesn’t produce content. They produce a platform but users and brands populate that platform with the real value – content. Companies that don’t produce value in the long run disappear and if you’ve put your eggs in the Facebook basket rather than continuing your own efforts, it really may be a deal with the devil.

Make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

One Thing You Can Do Right Now For Your Customers

Attention business people! We have a problem. OK, many of us have more than one, but the one to which I refer is pretty important so listen up. In short, our customers don’t trust us. Think I’m kidding?

The latest Pew study is out and as the release about it said:

In the almost two years that have passed since the initial Snowden (former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden) revelations, the public has been awash in news stories detailing security breaches at major retailers, health insurance companies and financial institutions. These events and the doubts they have inspired have contributed to a cloud of personal “data insecurity” that now looms over many Americans’ daily decisions and activities. Many find these developments deeply troubling and want limits put in place, while some do not feel these issues affect them personally.

Some may not feel that but the vast majority do. Most folks believe it is important that they be able to maintain privacy and confidentiality in commonplace activities of their lives. Most strikingly, these views are especially pronounced when it comes to knowing what information about them is being collected and who is doing the collecting.  Compare that belief with the data:

  • 76% of adults say they are “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that records of their activity maintained by the online advertisers who place ads on the websites they visit will remain private and secure.
  • 69% of adults say they are not confident that records of their activity maintained by the social media sites they use will remain private and secure.
  • 66% of adults say they are not confident that records of their activity maintained by search engine providers will remain private and secure.
  • 66% say they are not confident that records of their activity collected by the online video sites they use will remain private and secure.

So what can you do right now to help?  Be transparent about what you’re collecting and why.  Don’t bury that information in your Terms of Service.  Explain who has access to the data, how it is shared (or not) with business partners, how long it’s retained, and offer to present the user with a copy of everything you have.  Most importantly, to the extent you can, allow the customers to opt-in and explain why that’s a good thing for them.  Turns out it just might be a good thing for your business too.

Do you do business with people you don’t trust?  Why should your customers?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Broken Strings And Business

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the passing of B.B. King. While I have been to hundreds of concerts in my life, at one point I had seen B.B. King more than anyone (yes, even Springsteen although that’s no longer true). He has been rightfully honored over the last few days by every guitar legend – Eric Clapton being the most prominent – as having been a huge influence on their music. When he wrapped his fingers around Lucille, his guitar, he could say more in three notes than most guitarists can say in an hour.

English: King performing at the Fox Theater in...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the dozens of times I saw him, one night in particular stands out and as it turns out there is a business point to be made as well. B.B.’s shows always began with the band playing a number or two and then the master would hit the stage. This particular night he played his first song and began his second when a string broke on Lucille.  It would have been incredibly easy for him to have signaled the band to stop because it was very apparent that a string had snapped.  Instead, as he continued to sing the lyrics, his right hand reached into his jacket pocket and out came a few strings.  Singing all the while, he proceeded to change the string, tune it as he played, and finished the song without missing a beat.  The audience stood as one when he finished, not because the song was a show highlight but because of the master class we had just seen.

The business point is one that I think we all know.  Strings break in all of our businesses from time to time.  The customers don’t really care even when they’re aware that something is amiss.  The broken string is your problem, not the customer’s.  How prepared are you?  Can you go about your business of providing an uninterrupted product or service of the expected quality or do you stop the band and make the customers wait?  B.B. King didn’t play a different guitar every other song.  He stuck with Lucille, so waving a roadie out to swap instruments wasn’t an option (and I could go on here about loyalty and consistency but you’re already there).  He probably had those strings in his jacket every show and rarely needed them (this was the only time I ever saw them come out in dozens of shows).  Do you have strings in your pocket or are you looking for a roadie to bail you out?

I’m sad The King Of The Blues is gone but thankful for all the joy he gave me and the inspiration he provided to many of the others whose music I love.  I’m also appreciative of his professionalism and have learned a little from his broken string.  You?

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Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud