Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Pimp Of Shrimp

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week comes to us courtesy of “Restaurant Startup“, a show on CNBC. If you’ve never seen it, the people behind two restaurant concepts pitch for an investment. One is selected, given a budget, and has 24 hours to produce a pop-up version of that concept. If all goes well, they receive an investment. This week’s episode featured a fast-casual concept restaurant serving South African food. What struck me as I watched the show is something from which any business can learn. 

The restaurant is called Peli Peli Kitchen and the food was really good according to the people who tried it.  Of course, many people had no idea what the food was as they were ordering it because the menu descriptions of this unfamiliar cuisine (can you name a South African dish off the top of your head?) were terrible.  One dish was described as “the pimp of shrimp”.  Say what?

The issues with the descriptions were pointed out to the guy producing the menu early on.  He did a very smart thing as he was editing.  He had his young son read the menu and tell him what the food was.  Of course, when he asked the kid if he knew what “the pimp of shrimp” was, the kid had no idea.  I’m not sure if the writer was in love with his alliteration, but he didn’t change the description.  Not surprisingly, when the hosts and potential investors asked diners who were waiting in line if they knew what the various dishes were, based on the description, most said no.

The point is pretty obvious.  We can’t do things in business that confuse our customers.  We can’t be so in love with our own clever marketing that we lose sight of that marketing’s main purpose: to inform consumers about the product so that consumers become customers.  I realize that some marketers like to cause confusion – think placing sugary fruit juices near the fresh fruit as an example – but I’m not a fan of that technique.  If we need to cause confusion to sell a product we probably ought to rethink the product.

The menu confusion, in this case, wasn’t a deliberate attempt to mislead.  It was just dumb.  Then again, how many pimps of shrimp are on your marketing materials?

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Filed under Consulting, food

Feeding The Spiders

As happens from time to time in this space, today’s post might seem a little geeky. Please bear with me – there is a broader business point that emerges from the somewhat technical premise! 

I was discussing Search Engine Optimization with a prospective client the other day. For those of you who don’t know what that is, you can think of it as the process through which web pages are optimized to rank highly in search for particular terms. As you know from your own use of a search engine, ranking on the first page of results tends to get you more clicks than being on page 3. It used to be a highly technical process, and while there are still some fairly technical pieces to it, the best practice I follow when working on it with clients is pretty simple: create a great user experience.

Oddly, it helps to think of the search engine spiders (the robots that comb the web for pages and organize them) as people. If you create a great user experience for a person, odds are that the spider will find it attractive too and ingest the information properly. What do I mean? Great content is a great user experience. So is a site that’s easy to navigate with clear buttons and no broken links. Content that has been proofread and is error free makes a great user experience. While there are some technical things – title tags and back links to name two – that require attention, it’s the user experience that it driving SEO these days.

We can say that about any aspect of business, I think. A great user experience – a pleasant, functioning environment married to great customer service – is the most basic requirement. Solving a customer’s problem and providing great value while doing so (notice I didn’t say at a low-cost!) is the recipe for success.  Thinking about how best to feed the search spiders can help create a better business experience overall. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Ends And Means

The cynics among you believe that as a brand or as a company behavior matters far less than a low price and a quality product. If you provide a great service or a good product and price it as low as possible, consumers will buy. It doesn’t matter if you pollute the air or pay lousy wages. Consumers just want to know what’s in it for them. The good news, from my perspective, is that you are wrong. Here is the evidence to back it up.

The Havas folks did a study to understand how corporate social responsibility has evolved over the past decade. They looked at how are companies responding to consumer pressures to work toward the common good and what those consumers now expect from their brand partners. Most importantly, the studied how critical these expectations are to their purchase decisions.

As it turns out, consumers are extremely interested in this. Half of mainstream consumers and two-thirds of Prosumers (a term coined by futurist Alvin Toffler – a consumer who produces and consumes media – and who doesn’t?) avoid buying from businesses deemed to have a negative social or environmental impact. As the study states: “People still want bargains, of course, but it’s even more essential that products and services offer some sort of enduring value.”

Some other points from the study:

  • When we asked respondents how important it is for a company’s CEO to do certain things, paying workers a fair wage and providing a pleasant work environment received higher scores than earning profits or even being environmentally conscious.
  • People aren’t looking for businesses to act as quasi-governments. On the contrary, around two-thirds of our global sample actually fear the power big corporations already wield. What they want to see are all the world’s players—governments, corporations, NGOs, citizens—working together to tackle problems that no single entity can solve alone.
  • Two-thirds of our global sample agreed that businesses actually bear as much responsibility as governments for driving positive social change, and 62 percent said they’d like their favorite brands to play a bigger role in solving social problems.

The point is that if you believe that your brand or company can let the ends – revenues and profits – justify any means, you’re sadly mistaken.  The study shows that companies that do good are more likely to do well.  Isn’t that the end we’re all after?

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Still Not Worthy

I’ve written before about an annual survey conducted by the Gallup folks. They ask people to “tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields – very high, high, average, low, or very low.” I’m sure it’s not shocking to you that nurses top the chart with respect to the percentage of people who respond their ethics and honesty are high or very high. It might, however, be a shock to you where businesspeople – and ad people in particular – fall on the scale.  

Just 1 in 10 US adults rates the honesty and ethical standards of advertising practitioners as high or very high.  While ad people did manage to surpass car salespeople (8% rating as having high or very high honesty and ethical standards), members of Congress (8%), telemarketers (8%) and lobbyists (7%), it’s still not very good.  In fact, it’s sad.  But is it a surprise?

Unfortunately, I don’t think so.  Not when we can read members of the ad community advocating disguising ads as content.  Not when we knowingly allow robots to access our sites so it appears that we’re serving up more ads to people than we really are.  Not when influencers talk about something they like without disclosing that they’ve been paid to mention the product.

It’s not just the ad business.  Business executives overall were well thought of by only 17% of the respondents.  That falls behind lawyers (21%) and labor union leaders (18%).  Again, not a shock, given the almost daily news reports of unsafe products (hoverboards, air bags to mention just two) that the manufacturers knew had a problem but which were sold anyway.

2016 is only a few weeks old. Maybe instead of resolving to lose weight or to quit smoking, those of us in business need to resolve to up our ethics and honesty?  Maybe we should be focusing on doing right for our customers and not for our shareholders?  What are your thoughts?

 

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Ripe

It’s Foodie Friday and this week’s post is inspired by my breakfast. My weekday breakfast almost always involves a banana, and this morning’s banana looked yummy until I actually bit in. It was not really ripe enough. The texture that too hard for my taste and the flavors hadn’t really matured. In fact, it was kind of tasteless and quite unsatisfying. The banana would definitely have benefited from another day or two of ripening. 

Despite my day not being off to a great start, a business point popped into my head. Many businesses suffer from the same phenomenon as the banana (although honestly I am not blaming the banana for being eaten too soon). We don’t let things ripen and we move overly fast. I see this with some clients who forget the original business plan when a new opportunity presents itself, losing sight of what had got the business to this point. That sort of action – moving too fast away from what was a good idea – does nothing but engender short-term thinking.

Failing to let the business ripen also means you’ve not got enough customer feedback. It takes time to scale, and even if you enjoy explosive growth, it takes time for both the business and your customers to figure out what feedback is meaningful based on repeat engagements, etc. You would much rather hear from a customer who has purchased and used your product several times that a one-time experience.

You need to ripen to assess the right size of your staff. You need to ripen to estimate what your real operating costs are and will be. To the extent scale improves product costs, you need to ripen in order to make that assessment. Finally, you need to ripen to ascertain what your real capital needs are. Early cash flow won’t be as promising as it will become down the road (hopefully) but those needs don’t present themselves right away.

I am all for moving quickly, particularly when a company is young.  Haste, however, can make waste when that speed and a failure to let things ripen means a loss of focus.  Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Pew, Privacy, and You

I think we all know that Big Brother is watching.  Putting aside what the government may or may not be doing (no politics here!), most people are aware that every move of their digital lives is cataloged, analyzed, and might be sold to someone.  The Pew folks released a study about how we (Americans) feel about that.  In Pew’s words: 

While many Americans are willing to share personal information in exchange for tangible benefits, they are often cautious about disclosing their information and frequently unhappy about what happens to that information once companies have collected it… Many people expressed concerns about the safety and security of their personal data in light of numerous high-profile data breaches. They also regularly expressed anger about the barrage of unsolicited emails, phone calls, customized ads or other contacts that inevitably arises when they elect to share some information about themselves.

Let’s drill down a bit.  The phrase “context-specific and contingent” is a good one to guide us as we think about how to set up a mutually beneficial relationship with the consumer.  First, what benefit is the visitor deriving from giving me their information?  Is it content?  If so, is that content so unique and of such high-quality that they feel it’s an equal exchange or is it just commodity content, something reprinted from some other source?  That contextual decision isn’t yours, by the way: it’s the consumer’s.

Second, what happens to that data after the consumer surrenders it?  Do consumers feel you are a trustworthy repository for their information or are you selling it to anyone regardless of what that third party’s intentions are? The consumer’s initial value exchange with you might be fine, but the subsequent actions by someone else may render that satisfaction null and void. Even if you’re retaining the data, are you doing “creepy” things with it such as constantly remarketing to the consumer so they feel as if they have a stalker in their lives?

While people are used to the notion that privacy is a disappearing concept (for better or for worse), that fact doesn’t mean that they don’t care.  As Pew found, they do care.  I think there is always room for a company to gain an advantage by being transparent and respectful about how they are using the data consumers share with them.  You?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

You Need Scouts

I don’t think there has been a baseball movie made that didn’t feature some weathered old guy seated in the bleachers somewhere.  He usually utters undecipherable baseball jargon while taking copious notes.  This, dear reader, is the baseball scout, who used to be how talent was discovered.  If you’ve seen or read Moneyball, you know that the scout is an endangered species.  This article from USA Today last week talks about how many pro scouts are still unemployed one month before the start of spring training.  The reason?  Data.

Photo by Justin Lafferty 00:19, 7 December 200...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Baseball is in the throes of the Moneyball movement.  Teams have been laying off scouts and turning to sabermetrics, which Wikipedia defines as the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity.  Baseball has fallen in love with data.  Maybe your business has too.

Here is the problem, both for you and for baseball.  There are certain things that don’t show up in data.  A player’s leadership qualities in the dugout aren’t quantifiable.  Potential can often be visible but not measurable.  That’s true in your office as well.  The data may show you what it happening but it’s hard for it to show you what could be happening.  That requires humans: scouts.

We all need scouts.  We need people who use the data as a tool but who also have the experience and wisdom to know when the data is missing something.  That doesn’t mean projecting one’s wishes into the numbers nor distorting the story those numbers tell.  It is, however, an acknowledgment that there is often a bigger picture than what’s inside the frame.

Here is a quote from a scout:

I’ve got 23 years in the business,’’ Wren said, “and now clubs don’t want that experience? I look at teams now, and they’re hiring guys who aren’t really scouts. They’re sabermetric guys from the office, and they put them in the field like they’re scouts, just to give them a consensus of opinion.

That’s dangerous for a baseball team.  It could be fatal for you.  You’re up!

 

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, sports business