Monthly Archives: July 2015

Scrambled Eggs

For our Foodie Friday Fun this week, let us consider scrambled eggs. They can tell us a few interesting things about business, as it turns out, and I’d like to spend a moment reviewing those things today. As an aside, you might not know that the original title of the classic song “Yesterday” was “Scrambled Eggs” and the verse began “Scrambled Eggs/Oh, my baby how I love your legs” (sing it; it will make more sense).

Scrambled eggs in the microwave

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In any event, back to our topic. You might think of scrambled eggs as one of those incredibly simple dishes that’s not worthy of investigation. I mean, has anyone ever asked you for a recipe or instructions on how to make them? Probably not. But everything is not as simple as it seems.

Some choices: do we season the eggs with salt before they go in the pan, immediately thereafter, or once they’ve firmed up? Do we add liquid? Is that liquid water, milk, cream, or something else? Is our intended texture runny, soft, fluffy or firm? Those decisions influence the heat we use for cooking, the adding of butter, and starting with a hot or cold pan. Finally, are we adding things to our eggs because some things (mushrooms, for example) need to be cooked first so the liquid they release doesn’t affect the intended egg result.

In case someone asks you for advice on how to cook scrambled eggs, those are but a few things you need to consider. It’s much the same when discussing business. There are layers of questions and no one right answer. It all depends on the results you’re after.  That’s why I don’t often tell clients what to do.  I ask them about their intended results and lay out the options.  Part of my job is to help them see what the recipe they’re using will produce, hopefully before they have wasted a lot of resources making something that they will find unsatisfying.  Even if you’re not a consultant, that’s sort of your job too as part of your team, isn’t it?

There are not a lot of times in business that there is only one way to reach your goals, just as there are many different ways to cook a delicious dish of scrambled eggs.  It’s important to take the time before you crack open the first egg or spend the first dollar to think about the end result.  That’s what drives the recipe!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

What Motivates You?

A friend and I were talking about a few things the other day. He’s considering a new position and we were going over the pros and cons of the opportunity when he asked me a pretty basic question that really doesn’t have a simple answer. Let’s see what you think.

English: Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Resized,...

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question was “what motivates you?” What he meant was why would I, or anyone, get out of bed in the morning and go to work. He wasn’t looking for a rehash of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs since I think everyone understands that we have to earn money somehow in order to live (unless you’re already wealthy). He was more interested in what would have to appeal to me in a position for me to want to spend as many hours as we all spend working doing that job.

I’ve found over the years that there is no one answer.  Some of the folks with whom I’ve worked are motivated by the need to prove themselves, either to a parent, a significant other, or maybe to a teacher or coach who told them they couldn’t do something.  It’s really an external motivation.  Others are self-motivated – they feel a deep desire to achieve.  Other people just fear failure, while still others are after material rewards.  It probably doesn’t matter since every one of those root causes can produce an excellent worker who feels fulfilled by their job.

I thought about my answer.  It really has changed over the years.  At first it was just the self-motivation to do a good job and to learn as much as I could.  Over time, not wanting to let down my team became really important.  I suppose that some of the other motivations mentioned above were part of the mix as well.  Thinking about it now, I’m at the point where it’s about the challenge itself.  How will it push me?  What will I learn?  How will I grow?  That sound strangely like the self-actualization that Maslow mentions.  Who knew?

So what motivates you?  If someone were to approach you about a new job, as they did my friend, what would be the first question you’d ask and why?

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Filed under Growing up, Thinking Aloud

Don’t Pitch

Every business needs customers, and along with acquiring those customers inevitably comes the need to make a sales pitch. Think for a minute: how many sales pitches have you seen over the years (and yes, ads are pitches too) and of those, how many were really memorable? I’m willing to guess not many.

I want to focus on the personal kind of pitches today – generally those in some sort of business-to-business context. Maybe what I have to say applies to ads as well but they’re generally shorter. This is one of the things with which clients seem to need a good deal of help for a number of reasons and I’d like to lay out some of the guiding principles we discuss.

First, don’t pitch. While some of us who have been in sales enjoy watching someone sell, most people don’t seem to find “being sold” very appealing. The nature of marketing has changed. Prospects want to have a conversation, so take it easy on the superlatives as you’re describing your product or service.  If you make a claim (we reduced costs and increased profits for our clients), back it up with specifics.  Prospects are skeptics and verifiable hard data goes a long way to changing that.

Before you get to that product or service description, however, you need to explain the problem you’re solving for them. In order to do that you need to demonstrate that you’ve taken the time to research their business and to understand the challenges they face. I realize that’s difficult as an outsider, but it turns out this internet thing makes research really easy if you’re willing to spend the time and to ask the right questions.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, assume that your prospects can read.  If you’re going through a deck with them, remember that it isn’t a bedtime story and that they’re not children.  Do not read the thing verbatim off the wall or page and expect that you’re going to hold their interest.  They can read faster than you can speak and their minds are elsewhere while you are on bullet point #6.

The plan is this: research the target, solve their problem, and tell them a story in a conversational tone.  I’ve found that method to be pretty effective.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Dumb and Dumber?

I did something kind of dumb the other day. I’m hoping that my bank doesn’t compound my stupidity, but I’m not hopeful. Let me give you the details since they’re a good example of how any business gets opportunities to build customer loyalty and how they often whiff on the chances.

Dumb and Dumber

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, my dumb thing.  I paid a bunch of bills via my bank’s website.  I had plenty of money in one account but had failed to transfer it into the bill paying account.  Fortunately, I realized this when many of us remember stuff: just as I was going to bed.  However, since there had usually been a lag time in between when I “paid” the bills and when the bank actually transferred the money, I figured I’d do it first thing in the morning.  I got up and my bank account showed it was overdrawn.  I transferred the money from another account (in the same bank) to cover the bills and figured I was ok since I hadn’t received the email from the bank that they had paid the bills.  This is now when the bank’s opportunity began.

Just to be on the safe side, I called customer service.  The person who helped me looked at the account history and said “oh, you’re going to get hit with overdraft charges.  The good news is that even though you paid 10 bills, you max at out 5 charges at a time.”  At $37 each, that’s not such good news, actually.  She said that since the charges had not hit yet she couldn’t remove them but asked me to call back after 2 when they should be on the account and someone else would help me.  Apparently, the bank debits the money immediately even though they don’t notify you that they’ve paid the bill.

When I called back and asked to speak with a supervisor, I was told that there was nothing she could do since it was my mistake.  Let me now put this chance into context.  The supervisor saw that there was plenty of money in another account.  She saw that we have multiple checking, savings, health care, IRA, brokerage accounts and a safe deposit box with the bank.  I have a bank-issued credit card as well.  Oh – we’ve also been customers since 1981.

How was this loyalty reciprocated?  With $185 in fees.  After a few minutes, the supervisor credited back 2 of them, saying she wasn’t supposed to do this.  She suggested I call my branch and maybe someone there could help.  By now it was late on Friday and while I did speak with someone at the branch, they suggested we chat today since the managers had left.

So how did my dumb mistake lead to the bank being dumb?  First, how can a customer service supervisor not have the authority to do what she believes is best for the customer?  Either she hadn’t been empowered or she was lying to me – neither is acceptable.  Second – one thing for which my town doesn’t lack is banks.  If the $111 in fees is worth more to them than my business over 35 years, so be it.  Maybe the 3 banks literally across the street feel differently.  Ignoring the fact that banking has become commoditized to a large extent and not providing a service edge is dumb.

Great customer service means great customer retention.  Over-delivering on customer expectations and rewarding loyalty are tow of the most basic tenets of that.  I was dumb – they’re being dumber, so far.  We’ll see how I fare at the branch.

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

I Wanna Go THERE!

Foodie Friday, and today we’re going to vary from the usual routine.  Most Fridays, I rant about some dish or bit of cooking trivia and attempt to relate it to your business.  This week I want us to have a think about some information I read about the food business and how it markets itself to children.  After all, what better way to get a family into your dining establishment than to have a kid demanding to go!

The folks at Media Post reported on a study by the folks at Packaged Facts, which does research in the food, beverage, consumer packaged goods, and demographic sectors.  The study, called Foodservice Marketing Trends in the U.S.: Technology, Mobile, and Social Media, examines how restaurants and others in the food service industry can grow their businesses based on the trends uncovered by the study.  So far, so good.  It’s what they put in the press release that concerns me:

The family demographic is important for restaurant marketers to target. Almost inherently, acceptance by kids strongly influences parent choice in where to dine and parties with kids aged 12 and younger account for almost $18 billion in annual restaurant spending. However, it’s often easy to overlook kids as vital consumers of digital marketing. Successful modern day restaurant strategies often leverage digital entertainment to increase brand engagement with kids.

It goes on to talk about what several firms are doing to market themselves to kids in order to have the kids ask the parents to take them to the dining establishment.  These activities include downloadable apps using a QR code on the menu, branded tabletop games (which cost the adults money so the kids can play – no pressure there), and the ability for kids to upload things they color or make to their Facebook pages – guess no one told the restaurants that kids under 13 aren’t supposed to have a Facebook page.

My real concern is that there are a number of laws that have been put in place to protect kids.  There is something called CARU – the Children’s Advertising Review Unit – that works with the marketing community to protect kids.  It issues guidelines.  There is also COPPA, which is a law that protects kids’ online privacy.  I couldn’t find any specific guidelines for mobile, but I wonder if the general online guidelines are being followed.  These include:

  • Reasonable efforts, using all available technology, should be made to establish full disclosure and choice exercised by a parent or guardian when a site wishes to obtain personally identifiable information from children for marketing purposes.
  • Advertisers who maintain children’s sites should not knowingly link their sites to pages of other sites not in compliance with CARU’s guidelines.
  • Advertisers who communicate with children via e-mail should remind and encourage parents to regularly monitor their children’s e-mail and online activities.
  • Information collected for the purpose of obtaining verifiable parental consent should not be kept in retrievable form by the site if consent is not received in a reasonable amount of time.

In other words, just because kids are a good set of influencers, the food industry – and all of us in other industries as well – have some rules that we ought to follow.  In the rush to grow sales, it’s never a great idea to grow legal liability at the same time.  Marketing to kids is tricky business, and I wonder if the people who focus on that target are as focused on the laws and guidelines that apply here.

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Filed under food, Huh?

Stirring With A Fork

One of the things I work on with clients is using the appropriate tools to solve their needs.  We also focus on using those tools in the right way, which means using the right tool in the right manner to solve the issue.  Failing to do so is the equivalent of stirring a big pot of soup with a fork.  Sure, you can sort of get things mixed up that way but there are more appropriate tools (a spoon) that are better suited for the task and which will result in a better, more efficient result.

I thought of that as I read the report on a study by Regalix.  They surveyed senior B2B marketers to understand current trends in social media marketing and the challenges faced by them in implementing a social media strategy.  While much of the data showed progress, certain results made me raise an eyebrow.  Let’s see what you think.

According to the study, 94% respondents choose increasing brand awareness as the key objective of their social media marketing efforts.  I find that interesting since many of these same marketing types denigrate the use of banners as being only suited to raising awareness and their focus is more on generating click-throughs and other direct actions.  Frankly, there are other tools more suited to the awareness task as well.  I wholeheartedly agree with this point, made in the Research Brief report on the study:

Given the power of social media to engage with customers, it is surprising to find brand awareness overwhelmingly top the list of key objectives, says the report. Perhaps, opines the report, a reflection of the fact that most organizations still largely use social media as a broadcast or advertising medium, and not as much for meaningfully engaging with customers.

Exactly, and there is our fork stirring the pot.  If all you’re doing is switching the megaphone from broadcast media to social, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have much, if any, success. How do you think you’re going to generate actionable insights from social data when you’re doing very little to engage your audience? 71% of organizations said they were either not able to measure the ROI of their social media campaigns or were not sure how to. Only 29% said they were able to measure it.  That’s not surprising since there probably hasn’t been much to measure given the inappropriate manner in which they’re using the social channels.

I have nothing against forks, but I never use them to stir the pot.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

Plans Etched In Sand

So, marketing compatriots. Let me ask you: what are you plans for MySpace this year? Or Orkut? What role does Friendster play in your brand strategy? While you may be giggling about the ridiculousness of those questions, you might have taken them quite seriously a few years ago. As an aside, I remember that when I met with the MySpace folks at the height of their popularity I was surprised both by the outrageous demands they were making and by their refusal to acknowledge that nothing seems to last forever in the digital world.  Oops.


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The business planning cycle tends to begin at budget time and if you’re a media or marketing person you’re often asked for a fairly detailed plan of attack.  I always prefaced my presentation with a broad disclaimer.  “What I am presenting is accurate and true for right now but I can’t promise you that it will be the best plan of attack in a month and certainly not in six months.  I can live with the budget requests I am making but please allow me flexibility with respect to the channels and media we use.”  Most of my bosses were great about that.

There is no way a social media plan you’ve developed a year prior is accurate. As with the examples above, circumstances change.  While I don’t believe most companies can support a major presence on EVERY platform which emerges, I do believe that it’s important to be aware of all of them and to test.  It’s really OK to cross-post great content every so often! Those tests need to be done with your key performance indicators in mind, and if an emerging platform doesn’t give you the ability to measure them, it’s probably not worth your time.  What’s very important is not to dismiss anything as “a fad” or “for kids.”  Remember that Facebook began as something for college kids and once it opened up the brands that were early adopters had an advantage (well, at least they did until Facebook destroyed a brand’s ability to engage their fans easily without paying).

The message today: don’t follow the plan; let the plan follow your customers.  Those plans should be etched in sand and not in stone.  Are yours?


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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints