Hopefully, you’ve missed the screed enough over the last couple of days to wonder why I haven’t posted. I’m on the first full day of my annual golf trip with my happy band of a dozen brothers from various other mothers. I’m reposting something inspired by this group way back in 2009. A few things have changed – the social member doesn’t take the trip anymore (I can see how he might have got sick of the golf stories) and none of us hit the ball as far as we used to, but the love we have for one another has grown, as has the importance of what I wrote about in the post. The original was called The BOA, and what I wrote then I believe even more now. Enjoy.
I leave tomorrow morning on an annual trip I take to Myrtle Beach. In theory, it’s a golf outing but it’s more of a 5 day stay in a rest home getting my batteries recharged. 13 of us go, 12 of whom play golf. The other guy is a “social member” – most golf clubs have them – who enjoys the non-golf activities – cards, movies, and general guy banter. Like “Fight Club“, the first rule is we don’t really talk about it. However, what I can talk about that these are the guys whom I trust, to whom I can turn for advice, and who are honest – often brutally so – with me about everything from my golf game to my attitude. For all of the social networking tools available out there, nothing beats the face to face contact with this group for me. There is a business lesson in this as well.
Every businessperson needs a “board of advisors” for themselves, not their business. While your significant other is a great start, like a business BOA, you need multiple diverse points of view. My group has a few lawyers, an accountant, a few “money” guys, a restaurateur, another digital media expert – you get the idea. Ideally, these are people who can get past how you say things and hear what it is you’re saying. They are comfortable enough with you to know that their candor will be taken in the open, supportive spirit in which it’s offered. When their advice isn’t taken, they’re not offended and are smart enough to hold their tongues when it turns out their advice was right.
So off I go to meet with my BOA. I’ll try to keep posting over the next few days but if I don’t, please understand it’s because I’m in a Board meeting. When is your next meeting? Do you have a board to gather?
One of the most basic things we should do in business is to identify the group of people that is most likely to buy our product or service. That’s not a profound insight, I know, but because it is a “duh” moment, I wonder why more business people don’t really do it? How you define your audience is something that influences everything from marketing to product. Understanding how those customers and potential customers interact with your business is incredibly basic and yet it often goes undone.
One reason I hear for that, particularly among earlier stage businesses, is that it’s expensive. Putting aside what I’m about to tell you, it’s critical no matter the cost. While we may have self-driving cars, there are no self-operating businesses of which I’m aware. However, the cost isn’t really an issue. There is a lot of free infomration available from the government. Maybe you thought all the Census Bureau did was count us all once a decade – check out their free stuff and I’ll bet you’re surprised. Do you have analytics on your website? Google Analytics is free, at least until you become a high-traffic site (and you won’t mind paying at that point). Finally, if you’re a physical location, you can ask people to fill out surveys about basic demography. Heck, you can have an employee jot down who they see. Online questionnaires are easy to implement and also are free.
My point is this. I rail from time to time in this space about the overwhelming amounts of data we confront these days. It’s often hard to make sense of it and we often get conflicting information. That, however, is a far better outcome than having NO data. Getting to know our customers and their behavior, likes, media habits, who they are, where they are, and why they buy from us is an important part of business. It’s not optional!
Unless you’ve been off the planet for the last few days, you’re aware that Prince passed away last week. While the word “genius” is overused, it applies in his case. I hope you’ve seen some of the examples of his art – they’ve been everywhere as the tributes pour in. It’s one of those tributes I’d like to discuss today because it is instructive when it comes to business.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Before we get to that example, let me remind you that one aspect of Prince’s genius was his foresight in seeing how the internet and digital technology would disrupt the music business. This is an excellent overview of his relationship with the Internet from the Washington Post. While Price was an early adapter, appreciating how music could now be sold directly to fans without a record label, he also recognized how that very process could wipe out a revenue stream for musicians. As he put it: “Tell me a musician who’s got rich off digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?”
Prince recorded an unreleased song called “There’s Something I Like About Being Your Fool,” and that gets us to our business point today. One of the “tributes” to Prince came from AMC Theaters. They announced that they would play Prince’s film “Purple Rain” in their theaters this weekend to honor him. In my mind, this is the furthest thing from a tribute: it’s greed. There is no mention of AMC letting patrons see Prince’s work for free. They are charging full price. There is no mention that all of the admission proceeds will be donated to any of the numerous charities Prince quietly supported throughout his career. I might be totally off base here and AMC might be doing something honorable, but even if I am, the business point still applies.
As businesses, our motives can’t be questioned. It gets to the issue of trust, and trust is a critical currency these days. If we’re not believable, whether it’s with respect to our products, our customer service, or our alignment with our customers, we’re in deep trouble. Maybe AMC is letting people in for free or donating the proceeds but they’re being awfully loud about the film and quiet about the rest. Unlike the Prince lyric, people don’t like being your fool. Sure, show the movie, but don’t call it a way to honor anyone when you’re lining your pockets using a tragedy. I’m not that kind of fool. You?
Foodie Friday, and this week our focus is on wine. Like many of you, I enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner. Over time, that can add up in terms of keeping the cellar stocked, so I try to find inexpensive, well-made bottles. I’ve found it’s not hard to find quite a few that retail for under $12. Some of the better wine I’ve been drinking lately actually doesn’t come in a bottle at all – it comes in a box.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you’ve never tried box wine, you’re not alone. Box wine represents less than 5% of all wine sold here in the USA. Compare that to 20% in Europe and nearly half in Austrailia. What do they know that we don’t? Maybe that each box is generally the equivalent of 4 bottles and it will stay fresh for 3-4 weeks after you open it due to the vacuum sealed bags that are in each box. Unless you drink a typical bottle in a day or two, it oxidizes and the taste can become funky, no matter how well you reseal it. But there is a broader business lesson here as well.
Box wine is a win-win for both the wineries and the consumer. The numbers I can find say that the cost to produce the box is less than the equivalent 4 bottles and the carbon footprint is less than half. It is way more convenient (try to carry 8 bottles vs. 2 boxes to your car). Obviously, it moves more wine while providing a great value. Why hasn’t it caught on here? Maybe because some producers focus on making the wine as cheap as possible which often results in an inferior product. As a great article from Food52 said on the topic:
In the U.S., boxed wine is plagued by associations with Franzia and college drinking games; when the technology first came out, cheap brands seized upon the budget vessel and filled it with contents that fully deserved the terrible reputation they gained. And the reputation has stuck.
We all need to think about the “bad actors” in our business segment. How are they screwing it up for the rest of us? Sure, it’s easy to say “well, they make the rest of us look good by comparison,” but the reality is that a significant percentage of consumers paint with a very wide brush. While I think we all know great, honest lawyers, auto mechanics, advertising professionals, etc, those businesses have terrible reputations.
Consumers now assume box wine is low quality and won’t buy it, and because they won’t buy it, producers hesitate to make it. It’s too bad that what is an obvious win-win becomes everyone’s loss due to a few bad actors.
One of the interesting parts of The New York Times’ editorial makeup is the public editor. In addition to writing a few times a month, the public editor‘s role is to “handle questions and comments from readers and investigates matters of journalistic integrity. The public editor works independently, outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper; her opinions are her own.” Margaret Sullivan is leaving that role and penned her last column over the weekend. In it she cautioned the following:
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The old business model, based on print advertising and print subscriptions, is broken. A new one — based on digital subscriptions, new advertising forms, and partnerships with other businesses and media platforms — is in the works. There are hopeful signs, high ambitions and lofty plans, but certainly no guarantee of success.
I think we all recognize that. It’s interesting that the Times seems have reinvented itself as a digital media company that publishes a newspaper. That paradigm change affects everything – how content is created, the speed with which it’s made available, and most importantly, the business model. The Times isn’t the only organization to have done this. Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), for example, has always seemed to think of itself as a digital services company that has Major League Baseball as its primary client, and not just as Baseball’s digital arm. Having run a similar organization for a league, I can tell you that the differences in how business is done based on that thinking are stark. Perhaps it’s time you stepped back and had another think about your paradigm?
Ms. Sullivan also struck a cautionary note:
As partnerships, especially with Facebook, the social media behemoth, become nearly impossible to resist, The Times shouldn’t let business-driven approaches determine what readers get to see. In dealing with Facebook and other platforms and potential partners whose businesses revolve around algorithms, it’s critical that the paper makes sure the news that readers see is driven by the judgment of editors concerned about journalism, not business-driven formulas that may only reinforce prejudices.
In other words, be who you are and service your readers. Don’t let others control you and broaden your thinking about the best way to solve your customers’ problems. I think that’s a good mantra for any business. You?
I attended a workshop last week. It was through an organization that works with veterans of our military, teaching them a number of the skills they’ll need to succeed as entrepreneurs. I was pleased to be asked to participate and I was also pleased that a number of others were there to lend their support and knowledge to the vets who attended.
One point that I think became clear as the conversation progressed was that a great idea is not necessarily a great business. It also became clear that skills beyond hard work were key to turning a good (or great) idea into a wonderful business. While it was very evident that no one was going to outwork the vets in the room who had begun their business journey, it was also very evident that a bit of guidance could make those journeys more productive.
A few of the budding entrepreneurs presented their ideas to the group. They were given only 2 minutes, which is a challenging amount of time even for very experienced presenters to make their case. One person began with the problem and explained the solution his product provided, which is a spot on way to attack this challenge. Another told a dramatic story and told how she came up with the product but didn’t expand what was her compelling problem into a much broader need. The last presenter was just confusing. While he has a fantastic product that could revolutionize small farms, he couldn’t explain the problem and I was left (along with the rest of the audience) wondering what exactly it was he was selling and to whom. As an aside, the more senior folks in the room helped him craft his pitch to make all of those things more clear.
It’s not just a great idea nor is it a willing attitude and hard work. Passion is a prerequisite but it’s not enough. These vets were smart enough to know that and were taking the time to learn the skills required. They weren’t embarrassed to say “I don’t know” or “I need help.” Are you?