Monthly Archives: November 2015

Getting Personal

At the tail end of last week, I received a mailing from the folks at Total Wine.  It’s one that comes along each week and contains what Total calls my “weekend recommendations.”  It shows me some highly-rated wines that are supposed to fit my tastes.  The problem is that they don’t.  There are several bottles of white wine listed and I don’t drink white wine.  There is some expensive champagne and I prefer prosecco.  I don’t believe I’ve ever bought pinot noir in the store and yet there is a pinot recommendation as well.  

I’m not surprised. Although I shop fairly regularly at Total and love the store, there is no system in place to associate customer purchases with customers.  There is no loyalty card, as I have with a supermarket or two, to record what I’m buying, how often etc.  Without that information, recommendations can’t be personalized.  It’s the difference between me walking in the store and having them greet me by name as opposed to a generic hello.

I think we’ve all become spoiled by personalization, so much so that I think the ability to personalize the customer experience is table stakes for any retailer.  Notice I’m not limiting that to online retailers either.  My supermarket personalizes every trip as soon as I use their scanner to shop by delivering instant coupons and savings on products I buy or might like based on past buying.  We’ve all used Amazon and seen their recommendations.  In fact, their algorithm is so good that it’s worth examining what they’re using to determine your personalized selections and deleting things that you don’t want to include (maybe you bought something as a gift that should not be included, for example).  Netflix famously paid a lot of money to scientists that improved their recommendations by 8.5%.

Any business needs to think about how to incorporate personalization, even those of us that are not in B2C businesses.  Still showing generic decks to potential customers?  Still have a standard rate card that you send out when people ask for price quotes?  Still think you’re in tune with customer expectations?


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You Do It 226 Times A Day!

It’s Foodie Friday, so let’s think about food and business.  Actually, you’ve probably thought quite a bit about food already today.  I make that statement and am supported by research.  You see, way back in 2007, Brian Wansink and Jeffery Sobal of Cornell University asked 139 participants about the number of food-related decisions they thought they made every day.  The average answer, off the top of the subjects’ heads, was 14.  However, when the participants were asked to break down a typical day and to think about how many ‘when’, ‘what’, ‘how much’, ‘where’ and ‘who with’ decisions they made for a typical meal, snack and drink,  it showed the participants made an average of 226 food decisions a day, 59 of which related to what kind of food to eat.

I doubt any of you reading the screed today are in a business that’s thought about 226 times a day by your customers.  If you are, please share how you managed to get that level of engagement and passion.  But if you’re like most of us, the challenge is to increase whatever the number of times a day we’re considered by consumers.  If you’re a food brand, apparently you have a head start on the rest of us.  But what is it about food that prompts this level of thinking?

The obvious reply is that food is necessary for our survival.  We get hungry, but as the study shows, we don’t really make mindless decisions about food despite our hunger (although I’m not sure why most of us aren’t more aware of how many food decisions we do make each day).  How to drive hunger for your brand?  It’s through many of the ways we talk about here – being responsive, building loyalty, being transparent, focusing on the customer’s problems and your solution, and, most importantly, listening.

I suppose we could try to piggyback on the 226 by running food-related ads even if we’re not a food brand.  Trying your brand at this time of year to family and food is fairly commonplace.  I think, however, that we’re better served in the long-term by fostering the brand hunger through the means I mention above, each of which we’ve discussed many times here (and we’ll continue to do so).  Great dishes excite and delight the diner – so do great brands.  Does yours?

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Ignored For The Holidays

As we turn the corner on Veteran’s Day, the next big holiday on the horizon is Thanksgiving.  For those of us in the US, Thanksgiving used to be the kickoff to the holiday season – Christmas, Hanukah, and other major holidays for most of us.   That, of course, is no long true, since as of September 2015, a staggering 59% of US and UK retailers had kicked off their annual holiday ad blitz.  More ads lead, hopefully, to more customers, and more customers means more inbound customer service messaging,  

The folks at Sprout Social looked into how well retailers are dealing with these messages, and the answer, unfortunately, is not very well:

Given that people are taking to Facebook and Twitter in droves to get answers about products and services, one might assume that retailers would allocate more resources to social customer care. In reality, retailers are choosing to ignore customers’ questions—answering only 1 in 6 messages promptly—while making the lucky few people who do get their attention wait an average of 12 hours for a response (up from 11 hours in 2014). This delay provides little relief during what is already a stressful time for many.

In other words, 83% of the time, the customer is ignored.  So if, as the study found, the typical retailer can expect 1,500 inbound messages from consumers, fewer than 300 of them receive a reply. What’s worse is that it’s not as if the retailers are ignoring the social channel.  Not at all.  Instead of replying to the customer complaints, what are they doing?  Why, sending out more messages about themselves, of course. Rather than focusing on people’s concerns, retail brands send out 3 times as many promotional messages, (deals, coupons and product merchandising,) as they do helpful responses.

There are so many things wrong here, and if you’ve been here on the screed before it will all sound too familiar.  Ignoring customer outreach  83% of the time is only the tip of the error iceberg.  Using a social channel – they’re made for conversation, folks – to send broadcast messages is bad.  Sending those messages more than 3 times as often as you actually deal with what is on a consumer’s mind is much worse.

If this is how retailers wish their customers a happy holiday, I’m thinking Scrooge is running their business.  Who is running yours?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

A Salute On Veteran’s Day

It’s Veteran’s Day once again, and once again I’m posting what I felt at the time was a screed reflective of the day. I decided I couldn’t improve my thinking so I’m letting the post loose on you all once more.  I hope you share my thinking, both about the post and the day.  Back to the usual raving tomorrow.

Often when a national holiday approaches I’ll go back over my posts to see what I’ve written about the day in the past.  I’ve written about Veteran’s Day, which we celebrate today, here, here, and here.

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I vet...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Feel free to go back and read them but I noticed a common theme that I want to repeat and  pretty big omission that I want to correct.

In each of those posts I thank our men and women who served to protect and defend this country.  I do again.  “My war” would have been Vietnam just as my Dad’s was WWII.  He served when his time came because he was needed; I didn’t since the war was winding down and the draft was ending.  Putting the politics aside is almost impossible when discussing the differences between those two conflicts but the service given by those who went is indistinguishable.

I also draw an inelegant analogy between those folks selfless service to us and how businesses ought to be dedicated to serving their customers.  I also touch upon the teamwork needed to succeed.  A long time ago Fast Company published an article which cited an interesting study:

After World War II, the US military commissioned S.L.A. Marshall, a Harvard historian, to do a remarkable study. The question he was asked to research was, literally, why are men willing to die in war? Marshall was allowed to advance and test a variety of explanations. Patriotism – people would die for their country. Or family – men would fight and die to protect their wives and children. The answer that finally emerged was small-group integrity. In a group of people where each is truly committed to the others, no one will be the first to run. So they all stand and fight together.

You know I’m a big proponent of teamwork and believe it’s critical to business success.  The article goes on to talk about managerial courage and how it’s tested and that brings up the omission I want to correct.  Too many of us talk about business as war from time to time, just as we do comparing sports to combat.  We need to stop that.  I used to say that the best part of what I did was that when I screwed up nobody died.  Protecting one’s country for a lousy salary and risking a life can in no way be compared to playing a game for a lot of money or running a business for an obscene amount.

So to my Dad, my other family members, schoolmates, and the millions who stepped forward when their time came to serve I say thank you.  We voted last week – you made that possible.  Think about that as you conduct your business the rest of this week and you serve customers. clients, and commercial causes, hopefully as well as the Vets served us.

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Filed under Reality checks, What's Going On

Are You Marketing To Goldfish?

If you are like many people I know, you spend a fair amount of time curating your feeds. What I mean by that is separating out all the stuff that really isn’t important to you so that what you’re reading is meaningful. On Twitter, for example, you might do as I do and use lists. I rarely look at the firehose of my main feed, relying on those carefully constructed lists and the odd specific search to help me stay informed via the service. I do the same thing on Facebook – build specific lists of people – to use the service efficiently.

Why do I bring this up? Because that is the same thinking that should be going into your brand’s marketing these days. Consumers’ attention is a scarce resource. If you think I’m kidding, check out the results of a study from the folks at Microsoft:

Humans have become so obsessed with portable devices and overwhelmed by content that we now have attention spans shorter than that of the previously jokingly juxtaposed goldfish.

Microsoft surveyed 2,000 people and used electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor the brain activity of another 112 in the study, which sought to determine the impact that pocket-sized devices and the increased availability of digital media and information have had on our daily lives.

Among the good news in the 54-page report is that our ability to multi-task has drastically improved in the information age, but unfortunately attention spans have fallen.

In 2000 the average attention span was 12 seconds, but this has now fallen to just eight. The goldfish is believed to be able to maintain a solid nine.

You have very little chance of having your 8 seconds of attention continue unless you’re curating the feed (read that as your marketing messaging) with a customer focus in mind.  How are you helping solve their problem today?  What added value are you bringing into their lives?  If you can’t answer those questions, you might as well be marketing to goldfish.  At least you get a little more of their attention.

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Batman In Half The Time

It’s Monday, and one of my little treats on Monday evenings, prior to football, is watching Gotham.  It’s a prequel to the Batman story with which most of us are familiar.  As a subscriber to the philosophy that one should always be Batman, it’s must-see TV for me.  Unfortunately, last Monday, I was engaged in a client phone call and couldn’t watch the show.  In an on-demand world, that’s really not a big deal.  In addition to the on-demand service my cable provider offers, I am a Hulu subscriber.  Catching up on the missed episode happened the next night, and while I was watching it a little light went on. I’d like to share my thought with you and see what you think.

My former colleagues in television bemoan the shift of viewing to streaming sources.  They think it has to do with convenience or maybe with some cord cutting.  That may be true, but as I was watching Gotham, this is what dawned on me:

Gotham on Fox – 60 minutes. Gotham on Hulu – 33 minutes.

We wonder why people are watching alternative sources?  Its’s the same reason people use ad blockers.  It’s a faster, less cluttered experience.  The thing that drew us to whatever we are doing is constantly being interrupted. Ads are not why we watch.  They’re our part in the attention/value exchange.  Unfortunately, that equation has become unreasonably weighted to broadcast and cable television providers, who are making excessive demands for our attention.  If I can get my Batman fix in half the time, the few bucks a month that it costs is well worth it.

Having been a publisher as well as involved in broadcast programming, I understand the pressures for monetization.  The problem now, however, is that the uniqueness of nearly every channel has been stripped away.  The content that made a channel unique is everywhere, and in general,  consumers will access that content with as few distractions as possible.  Annoyed consumers will seek out channels that are less annoying.

It’s not just TV.  If site A offers me news or scores or stats with a healthy dose of auto-start video, pop-ups, and full-screen takeovers, I can assure you that I’ll find a site that offers that content in a less-monetized environment.   If I can enjoy one of my guilty pleasures in half the time, why wouldn’t I?  Hulu and Fox both show ads, both show promotional spots, and both show the same program.  Fox, obviously, chose to show a lot more non-program material.  That may have paid their bills in the near term, but in the future, I’ll be watching on Hulu, so I guess it ultimately was a bad choice.

Why are people moving to other channels?  Do you really need to ask?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Being There

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week revolves around a question that keeps getting asked in foodie circles: do you care if the chef is in the kitchen? Many of the top chefs in the country have multiple restaurants, and obviously they can’t be in each kitchen every night. Does it make a difference and, moreover, does it say anything to us about how we run our businesses?

Augustin Théodule Ribot: The cook and the cat

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my mind, it’s immaterial. The chef is responsible for the overall menu and for developing the recipes. Once that’s done, the chef needs to hire and train an Executive Chef or Chef de Cuisine, or Sous Chef to execute those recipes to the chef’s standards each and every time. From there, maintaining the standards (and changing the menu once in a while) is the main thing that should be required.

I think people get more upset when they know the namesake isn’t there in the restaurant business than in others. Surely they don’t think that the fashion designer is walking the factory floor as clothes are made. In music, have you ever heard a really good cover band? For example – The Dark Star Orchestra plays set lists from Grateful Dead shows and on many nights they play them better than The Dead did originally. They are executing the recipes to perfection, much as a well-trained brigade does.

What does this have to do with your business? Let’s use an example I hear a lot in consulting. A big time firm comes in to pitch a potential client with a top-tier crew of executives. Generally, there is no chance those people will be working on your business. They key question, then, is what sort of training and tenure do the people who will be handling your business have? Many Sous or Executive Chefs have been with the “name” chef for years. Many of these consultants are fresh out of school.

You see the same thing with ad agencies and in other sectors. My feeling doesn’t change from the kitchen – the “name” being there isn’t critical if, and only if, the staff has been properly trained and is constantly checked on maintaining standards. You’re not going to eat the chef; you’re going to eat his or her food. Your clients, partners, and customers are expecting your business’ “food” to taste the same no matter who prepares it.

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