Monthly Archives: September 2016

Squashed

It’s Foodie Friday, and this week, boys and girls, I’m not having any fun. I’m experiencing feelings I haven’t had since I found out about the Santa thing many years ago. I’m sorry to end your week on a down note, but I found something out that I need to share. It is, of course, helpful to those of us in business, but it’s really a bummer.

English: A slice of homemade Thanksgiving pump...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know those cans of pumpkin you use to make pumpkin pie this time of year? That orange goo that turns into warm spice wonderfulness? It turns out that it’s not pumpkin. Nope. It’s squash. In fact, it’s multiple kinds of squash (Butternut, Hubbard, and others) blended together and labeled “pumpkin. The Libby’s people actually have their own variety to replace actual pumpkin, which apparently is too watery and stringy when canned.

I’m sorry if I just ruined Thanksgiving for you. But it points to a broader issue, which is that of transparency. The can says “pumpkin.” I suppose not many folks are lining up to make squash pie, but a lot of folks do think they’re paying top dollar for one species of fish and they’re getting another. They also think they’re buying organic when they’re not.

Trust is among the most important things we try to develop wth our customer base. Once we violate that trust, it’s almost impossible to get it back, and consumers have enough choices that they can move on to someone more trustworthy pretty easily. When you’re pushing pumpkin pie that turns out to be squash, Boston Cream isn’t that far behind. Oh wait – that’s not a pie at all – it’s a cake, technically. OK, apple then.

Don’t serve squash and call it pumpkin, no matter what it is you’re selling. Please?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks

57 Channels

Anyone with whom I speak these days has a lot to say about competition. Every business seems to have many more players going head to head for customers, and I suspect that nowhere is that more true than in the media business. The Boss wrote about “57 Channels And Nothing On” a couple of decades ago. He characterized it as having been “Shot back in the quaint days of only 57 channels and no flat screen TVs”, and 25 years later the average home can receive nearly 206 channels, according to Nielsen. What is instructive to anyone is business, however, is that they watch fewer than 20, or under 10% (19.8 channels, to be precise).

Obviously, consumers are spending just as much, if not more, time with video content. It’s not a matter of the video business being imperiled. What is a problem, however, is the manner in which the traditional business model operates. Video providers have bundled together dozens (hundreds!) of channels and sold them to consumers who really had very limited choices in breaking the bundle of channels apart. You’re beginning to see “skinny bundles” which focus on a few popular channels. Although I’m not aware of any “roll your own” packages in which a consumer can choose any channels and create their own bundles, they aren’t far off. Rest assured that if the cable and satellite guys don’t offer them, someone will.

Consumers aren’t rejecting TV – they’re rejecting a business model which forces them to pay for TV they don’t watch. That’s something that isn’t unique to cable and satellite. Fast food does it. You might end up paying more for something if you don’t want the fries or soda and, therefore, buy ala carte. Software companies do it. The music business did it (an album was always cheaper than buying the best songs on that album as singles). 5 years ago, researchers found that consumers might actually value a bundle less than they would value the individual component products. There was a “negative synergy” associated with the bundle. The key to successful bundling it seems is to provide an option to buy the individual components or the bundle. When that option isn’t there, sales actually declined significantly.

We can’t sit on existing business models anymore no matter what business we’re in. We certainly can’t force consumers to pay for things they don’t really want to get those things they do want. I’m watching the changes in the video business with great curiosity (and some degree of thanks that I’m no longer in it!). You?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

The “Debate”

If you have any interest in presidential politics or are the kind of person who can’t look away from a trainwreck, then you probably tuned into the shouting match between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton last evening. It was billed as a debate but as we’ll see in a second, it was anything but. It did, however, teach us something about business.

Debates between presidential candidates have been going on for centuries. You’ve heard of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. While those weren’t about a presidential election, they are fine examples of classic debating form. This is an excellent definition from the International Debate Education Association:

Debate embodies the ideals of reasoned argument, tolerance for divergent points of view and rigorous self-examination. Debate is, above all, a way for those who hold opposing views to discuss controversial issues without descending to insult, emotional appeals or personal bias. A key trademark of debate is that it rarely ends in agreement, but rather allows for a robust analysis of the question at hand.

Was that what we watched last night? I think not. But it’s something to keep in mind as you bring together people in business to debate ideas. How often are ideas discussed freely and openly in your place? When a boss is in the room, how free do the subordinates feel to oppose his or her point of view? Do facts surface that allow for the robust analysis which is the goal, or are people entrenched in the positions with closed minds?

Imagine if last night had been a moderated discussion, based in fact, of how to fix a problem our country is having. The goal isn’t to convince people to vote one way or the other but to surface the different, well-reasoned points of view about approaches to an issue and allow the voters to make their minds up on that basis. Nice dream, right?

Now think about trying to do that in a business setting. Maybe it’s the person or persons who need to make the decision that moderate. I suspect the decisions taken after such a debate will be sounder than those that follow free-form arguing, politicking the boss, or emotional exchanges. Maybe we should debate it?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

The King Is Dead

It would be impossible for me to let the passing of Arnold Palmer go by without comment. This isn’t another golf screed. It’s some thinking on a great businessman who used golf as a jumping off point to demonstrate some behaviors all of us ought to try to emulate as we go through our business lives.

English: Arnold Palmer, taken by Hospital staf...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arnold Palmer passed last night at 87. A lot of what you need to know about him was captured in something Time Magazine wrote in 1962:

“When God created Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer,” it wrote, “He turned to Nicklaus and said, ‘You will be the greatest the game has ever seen.’ Then He turned to Palmer, adding, ‘But they will love you more.’ ”

Palmer’s achievements on the course were substantial. He won 62 times on the PGA Tour and those wins included 7 major championships. He did so with an “everyman” swagger, a swing that was uniquely his (and was far from classic), and an attitude of going for broke on every shot. But it was off the course where Mr. Palmer’s lessons for all of us begin.

He considered golf a personification of basic life principles. As he wrote:

“Golf resembles life in so many ways. More than any game on earth, golf depends on simple, timeless principles of courtesy and respect.”

He was legendary for taking time to sign autographs for fans. Each of those signatures was legible because he felt that he should show respect to those who asked for one. You won’t find a picture of him shaking hands where he isn’t looking the other person in the eye. In short, he was beloved because he reciprocated that love.

He was able to turn all that love into a business empire. It’s often said that Mr. Palmer didn’t invent sports marketing but that he perfected it. Endorsement deals with Pennzoil, Arizona Beverages, drug companies, and dozens of others, along with his golf course design business generated a lot of money. But he gave back, and his charity work was an important part of who he was. He also mentored younger golfers and wrote a note every week to whomever won on the Tour. He also answered all of his fan mail. In short, he was among the best on the course and unequalled off the course.

What can you learn from him? First, performance counts. The basic product needs to be among the best to make all the other activities important. Second, show respect for your customers and reciprocate their affection. We talk a lot about engagement, and Mr. Palmer engaged the fans, speaking to them directly and not through press conferences. Third, never let anything you do potentially harm your brand. If you lend your brand to another via licensing or joint venture, be sure that the end result enhances what you do and can’t possibly denigrate your good work to that point.

I know of very few people in the sports business who are universally beloved. Mr. Palmer was at the top of that very short list. Rest easy, sir, and thank you for a lifetime of excellence.

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Filed under sports business, What's Going On

Following The Competition

This Foodie Friday I’d like us to think about something you’ve probably seen happen in your town. A restaurant will offer a dish that becomes insanely popular and suddenly everyone is offering their take on it. Cronuts, dishes with foams instead of sauces, or even stuffed burgers (Juicy Lucy’s) are examples. It’s not just restaurants either. One soda brand goes “clear” and suddenly everyone has a “clear” or “crystal” or something similar. The supermarket is stuffed to the gills with innovative products and the several follow-ons produced by competitors.

What does this show us? That businesses pay attention to their competition and are tracking what the other guy is doing. That’s good and important. After all, listening is a fundamental skill. Listening, however, isn’t necessarily reacting. Tracking isn’t following.

It’s not just in the food business. When Ecco had huge success with their hip spikeless golf shoes, suddenly every shoe company had a version. Of course, what the other guys missed was Ecco’s fashion sense, and some of the products were as bad as just wearing tennis shoes to play golf. Microsoft wasted a lot of time and money following Apple everywhere and producing their own versions of Apple products. Still using your Zune?

If you’re going to do your version of a competitor’s product, the impetus for that should be your customers’ expressions of need and not some knee-jerk reaction to what the competitor is doing. First, you might not understand how well the product is selling for the competition. Second, you don’t know what their costs are to produce the dish. Third, even if you do know the previously mentioned data points, you might produce an inferior version which damages your reputation and enhances that of the competition. Finally, and most importantly, follow your customers. Are they defecting to some other brand? Why? Is it to the new product or because you’ve taken them for granted in your haste to follow the other guy rather than them?

Paying attention to what the competition is doing is important but following them can be fatal. Follow your customers, not your competitors.

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Filed under Consulting, food

Winners Rethink

At one time in my life, I had aspirations to do music as a career. Even though I no longer have either the band or the hair required to be a rock star I still listen to music and follow industry developments. Because of that, an article on the music industry caught my eye this morning. It comes from MediaPost and its headline reads “Streaming Music Enjoys Revenue Uptick to $3B.” It goes on to report that:

Revenues from streaming services continued to grow strongly both in dollars and share of total revenues. During the first half of the year, streaming music revenues totaled $1.6 billion — up 57% year-over-year. This accounted for 47% of industry revenues, which compares positively with 32% in the first half of 2015.

Impressive growth and reflection on how the business has changed. Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and others have changed how people consume this product. What hasn’t changed, however, is how the music business works. In fact, a business model that was written into some laws a century ago still governs how the business operates for the most part. As a result, as Fortune reported a couple of months ago:

Based on almost every metric that matters, Spotify is the most successful streaming music service in the world, with almost 90 million subscribers and close to $2 billion in annual revenues. Yet its recently-released financial results show that despite its massive success, it is still incapable of making a profit—and because of the way the music business works, it may never make one.

You won’t have to search very hard to find many articles detailing how little money artists make from digital music either. So where are these record (pun intended) revenues going? You can probably guess. The people at the record companies wrote the business model, and there are still payments to those companies for things such as “breakage”, physical discs (fragile vinyl when the clause was written into standard agreements) that didn’t make the trip to retail intact. Recently, “New Technology Clauses” were added which charges the artist to ready an album for digital distribution and which are completely unnecessary.

The point today isn’t to rage against the record machine. It’s to point out that this industry and almost every other business has been totally disrupted over the last 20 years. Middlemen serve very little purpose other than to act as legally-protected gatekeepers. Rather than rethinking the business model with an eye toward how to provide value to the customers (the artists and consumers) they serve, the record companies dig in further. They haven’t quite figured out that if they starve the artists and bankrupt the new distribution systems, they too will die.

So ask yourself if the business model in which you operate has been rethought in the last few years. You can watch it happening (finally) in the TV business and countless others if you need inspiration. Winners are rethinking everything. Losers dig in. You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Music

Who Is Smarter Than You?

One thing that I’ve found over the years is that it’s impossible to stay on top of my game if I’m not continuously learning. I make a concerted effort to do so. I have an RSS reader that’s loaded up with the feeds of dozens of sites. Many are tech sites so I can stay on top of the latest technical developments for my clients. Others are media sites so I’m aware of changes in the marketing world. Still others are more personal – golf sites, food sites, sites that report on social media changes, sites about the analytics world and the sports business. The reader fills up with over a thousand new articles every day and each one is an opportunity to learn something new.

Despite that volume of information, one thing that helps me more than anything else is when I can find a person who is better informed about a topic than I am. I also seek out people whose minds I respect. Many of us don’t like it when we realize they’re not the smartest person in the room. I welcome it with open arms.

That philosophy needs to carry over to hiring. Obviously, the earlier in a candidate’s career we encounter them the less knowledge of the technical aspects of a business they’re going to have. The won’t have a ton of real world experience either. What they can show you, however, is basic intelligence and the other things that we can’t teach. They should demonstrate a capacity to synthesize information and if they’re really smart, they’ll end up making you smarter too.

So who is smarter than you? Ideally, you know many people who are, since interacting with them will make you smarter. I’m sure you’ve run into people who need to believe that they are the smartest person in the room. I certainly have, but it’s a lot more interesting when you encounter someone who clearly smarter than anyone else but never makes anyone feel that way. Better informed is a stepping stone to smarter, but well-informed with an ability to develop new ideas and express them clearly is what’s smart in my book. Yours?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks