Monthly Archives: October 2016

Some Important News You Might Have Missed And Why You Should Care

There was a bit of news that broke last week which you might have missed since it seems that the election drowns most other news out. The FCC told Internet Service Providers to be much more explicit concerning what information it collects and shares with others, and provide (mostly) clear “opt-in” requirements on some of that data collection. Hopefully, you realize that more than any other entity in the digital age your ISP (and that can be your wireless provider as well) know pretty much everything you do on the internet.

Not surprisingly, there were immediate outcries from both the broadband providers as well as from the Association of National Advertisers. “The FCC’s new sweeping privacy rules decision is unprecedented, misguided, counterproductive, and potentially extremely harmful,” the advertisers’ organization said in a statement.

This comes on the heels of Google changing their policy related to how it connects DoubleClick advertising to other data that it has about you, allowing the company to actually link your name and other identifying information to you as you surf the web. The real issue is that Google isn’t being very clear about how this information is going to be used. At leat, however, they do give you the ability to opt-out and to clear your history. Your ISP gives you no such option. Be that as it may, having to opt out is far different from granting permission by having opted in.

Obviously, the ad industry is upset because less useful data means diminished ability to track and target consumers. Having spent a career in the media business I know that this could be bad for content providers as well as marketers. But I can’t understand why explaining clearly and transparently what you’re collecting and why as well as allowing consumers control over how their data is collected and used is a bad idea. Failing to do so leads to ad blocking or worse.

What could be worse? Check out Sudo. As this article explains it, Sudo allows you to create:

nine “virtual identities,” each of which is associated with a phone number, email address, credit card number, and even profile picture. They’re digital nom de guerres, in essence — fictional profiles for services, websites, and apps to which you’d rather not supply your personal information…Sudos live as long as you want. You can delete one after a week, or devote a profile to activities like online shopping, social networking, or calling.

That, in my mind, is worse. Data is collected and associated with a false person who just disappears. So if I decide to label myself as a 35-year-old woman (which is quite different from my much older male self), marketers will waste money promoting products to me I won’t care about. When I get sick of that persona, I’ll disappear her.

Being transparent and honest with your customers isn’t optional anymore. You can fight legislation but fighting consumer desires is much harder. I suspect that the ISP’s will get around these rules by burying the information they’re forced to disclose in some click-wrap agreement. Nobody reads them; they just click “agree” and move on. I think this is a missed opportunity for the ISP’s to change their behavior, their business model, and their relationship with their customers. You?

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Filed under digital media, What's Going On

Respecting The Process

It’s Foodie Friday and that has me excited because the weekend is upon us and I can spend more time cooking. Oh sure – I cook during the week but the weekend is when I get to stretch my culinary legs a bit since I don’t have work distracting me. I can watch my usual plethora of sports while chopping stuff but it’s hard to get any work done while sauteeing.

Not everything I make takes a lot of time. My kids are tired of hearing my tell them that it’s possible to make a number of dishes from scratch in less time than it would take to prepare their frozen counterparts in the oven. The weekend, however, allows me to make dishes that do take more time. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t rush certain things. You have to respect the process the dish requires. You can’t, for example, smoke a brisket in a couple of hours nor speed up the time it takes to bake a decent loaf of bread. Using higher temperatures to speed up the process will probably ruin either of those. As one of my technical team reminded me on more than one occasion, you can’t get nine women to make a baby in a month.

It’s a good business lesson. While the temptation is always there to go faster and push people to finish, certain things just take time. I’ve found that most mistakes happen when people are rushing or when they’re tired from being pushed and are stressed out. Respect the process. While I believe in Parkinson’s Law that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” I also believe in setting reasonable deadlines. If the deadline requires adjusting your thinking about what the completed work is, so be it. Sure, there are times when the team has to work overtime to stretch the “available timeframe” but like most cooking cheats (using store-bought pie crust or stock), the results are never quite as good as when we have the time to honor the process.

You know I believe in investing in the best tools in the kitchen and the best people in the workplace. Either of those can help expand your time available by allowing you to be more efficient. We still, however, need to acknowledge that even with the best tools, the best ingredients, or the best people things do take time. Enjoy that – it’s almost meditative – and have a good weekend.

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Not Your Best Behavior

I can’t wait for this damn election to be over. The back to back to back to back political ads in which one candidate demeans the character of another is just horrific. I’m not surprised though and something that’s manifesting itself in our politics has been creeping into our business lives for a while. A survey bears out my thinking and the results are incredibly disturbing. The Zogby Survey on Civility in U.S. Politics was commissioned by Allegheny College and reveals chilling trend lines for civility in America.

This isn’t the first time they’ve conducted this survey and the trends are bad. For example, in 2010, 89% of respondents said commenting on another’s race or ethnicity in a political engagement was not okay. Today that number has dropped to 69%, a full 20 points. Similarly, 81% said commenting on someone’s sexual orientation was not acceptable. Today that number is 65%. And the percentage of voters who believe elected officials should pursue personal friendships with members of other parties plummeted even more precipitously, from 85 percent to 56 percent. In other words, civil discourse and reasonable people disagreeing reasonably are dying. 80 percent of 2016 respondents said they believe civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy, compared to 95% in 2010. And 77% of 2016 respondents said it is possible for people to disagree respectfully, compared to 87% of 2010 respondents.

I think it’s impossible for people to exhibit a deviant behavioral pattern when it comes to political issues and not have that pattern carry over into business. In 2010, 77% of respondents thought is was not ok  to interrupt someone you disagree with in a public forum. You know – like a business meeting. Todat that number is just over half – 51%. 86% thought is was rude to shout over someone with whom you disagree during an argument. Today that number is only 65%. One need only turn on any cable news “discussion” to know the 65% might just be too high.

“When examining the state of civility among adults who were surveyed, based on the survey questions that were asked both in 2010 and 2016, there seems to be less emphasis on, and a decrease in, acts of civility among adults nationwide,” said Jonathon Zogby, CEO of Zogby Analytics. I see it in business, as I’m sure you do. People can’t finish stating their thoughts before someone jumps on their sentence. People don’t return phone calls or emails. People are late to appointments and meetings for no particular reason. Call it rude or call it dumb; it’s offensive no matter what you call it.

If this election results in nothing else, hopefully, once it’s over and we all take a deep breath, a return to civility in both our politics and our business behavior comes about. I have many friends with whom I disagree vehemently on political issues but we always hear one another out. I have been in meetings where I know that a speaker was dead wrong in their facts or their approach but I listen with an open, respectful mind in case I’ve missed something before I state my case. The trends found by this research are both sad and dangerous. Let’s change them. You in?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

The Hardest Part

As I’ve written before, I work with a number of startup companies. As part of my consulting practice as well as throughout my career, I also have worked with some very large organizations too. What struck me the other day as I was listening to a discussion between a founder and some other folks on the team was that the hardest part of being a startup isn’t necessarily finding the resources to keep the venture afloat until it reaches sustained profitability. It’s actually having to make a lot of decisions without a lot of certainty. Let me explain.

When I became a manager at the ripe old age of 23 many years ago, I worked under a guy who gave me some input but also let me figure things out for myself. I was working with a net in case I fell off the wire. When I reached a point where I really wasn’t certain about the “right” call, I consulted him. He, in turn, had bosses with whom he could consult if he wasn’t certain either. Over time my decision-making skills became better and my areas of expertise broadened, although there were still times when I ran for the help that was usually available to me. By the time I was managing managers I could make decisions fairly rapidly and I generally only hesitated when I thought the decision would involve corporate politics affecting more than just my department.

Most founders don’t have that luxury. Oh sure – the smart ones have a board of advisors that they consult regularly and that can help with the big decisions. But if you’ve ever managed you know that your day involves a lot of little decisions too. Should I let employee A take a vacation with a big project looming? Why is employee B struggling with an assignment? What is the best was to  help employee C learn something? Even things like what font works in the newsletter or how big should a headline be in an ad often require the boss to decide. Those aren’t things that you ask your advisors and yet those decisions are the ones that take away your focus on the main business of the venture: customers, revenue, expenses, and profits.

There isn’t an easy answer here. Yes, hire people like me (or even better: hire me!) to provide the kind of on-going sounding board that one gets in a big organization until such time as your feet are on solid ground across many areas. When you do, be sure that the consultant you hire sees your world through your eyes and understands your point of view but also adds a broader perspective. I never try to make decisions for my clients but instead I try to guide them to a sound one themselves so they can understand the process, the factors involved, and all their options. If they’re heading down the wrong path I speak up. We often find a better path together and get through the hardest part as a team. You?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Good Eggs

For our Foodie Friday Fun this week we’re having eggs. I love eggs. I also have a daughter who gags at the mere mention of them, so I’m well aware that my admiration of them isn’t universal. Too bad, because in addition to being part of many of the great dishes in the food world, eggs also provide a few insights into hiring.

Deviled Eggs shot during the Inaugural Portabl...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think for a second about the role an egg can play. A fried egg placed on a burger certainly isn’t meant to be the star of the show and often the burger is just fine without it. The egg, however, adds a richness and provides a secondary sauce, almost transforming mayo (if you use it) into a hollandaise. The egg is in a supporting role that makes the entire production better.

Then there are the dishes in which the egg is an equal player. A bacon, egg and cheese sandwich (one of the world’s great dishes, IMHO), plays the various flavors and textures off against one another and weaves them into a harmonious whole. No one flavor should dominate, and in this context we see the egg holding its own but playing nicely with the other components. Huevos Rancheros or Chilaquiles are other examples.

Finally, we have the egg as the star. Deviled eggs, egg salad, or some perfectly cooked scrambled eggs are dishes in which the egg must be front and center and in which lesser eggs means a lower quality dish. As it turns out, a few studies have found that it doesn’t really make a difference in taste or quality if you buy regular old supermarket eggs instead of from your local farm stand (but you should support your local folks anyway – it may not taste better but you’ll feel better).

What does this have to do with business? I want to hire employees who are good eggs, and I mean not just in temperament. I want people who can play any role from supporting to leading. I want people who work well with others. I want people who are versatile. I want them to be of high quality. In short, I want people who are as wonderful as an egg. Don’t you?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Not As Pretty As A Picture

I used to have an occasional disagreement with a few of our sports TV producers back in the day. They were often reluctant to include certain sponsor things in the program, whether it was signage, a sponsored feature or adjusting the graphics to be sure the sponsor’s name and logo were a bit more prominent. Their complaint had to do with the aesthetics of the program and I certainly respected their point of view. That didn’t, however, prevent from reminding them that we were a commercial television entity and our jobs were to make commerce, not art.

I was reminded of that as I read some data on the importance of user experience. Clutch and Brave UX conducted a study of heavy Internet users – defined as those who use the Web for 4+ hours per day – to get a glimpse into how these Internet users interpret the user experience  of popular websites. They asked about why people use the sites and how user-friendly the sites were. What they found is interesting although not particularly surprising.

In response to a question about how important certain factors are in the decision to keep using the site, the top factor was the site’s content. 94% said that they kept using the site because they found the content valuable. Right behind it, however, was the site’s ease of use. 93% of users cited that as important. Far fewer – 66% – cited how the site looked (the website is beautiful or attractive). It’s a good reminder that we’re making commerce and not art. A pretty website that’s unusable is a waste of money. Moreover, in my mind, a site that’s not designed with a great analytics implementation behind the world-class user experience is also a waste.

I’ve had clients who have spent hundred of thousands of dollars on a great looking site that’s fairly useless from a business perspective. Purchase funnels that can’t be tracked properly, no site search and the use of multiple subdomains were all wrapped in a gorgeous – but useless – package. We don’t need everything to be pretty as a picture. We need it to be valuable content presented in a highly usable manner, one that can be measured and improved upon. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Negative Campaigning

It’s that time of the year when it seems that the vast majority of the ads we see are for some politician. I don’t know anyone who isn’t quite tired of all of the political noise by election day and I suspect that has a lot to do with the content of the ads themselves as much as it has to do with the length of the campaign. There is a lesson for all of us who do marketing contained in our politics (OK, given the number of posts in which I draw learnings from politics, maybe more than “a” lesson). To understand it, let’s pretend we’re a candidate.

You have one opportunity every 2-4 years to sell your product. If you don’t close the sale by a date certain, your window to make the sale disappears for years. No pressure, right? Given that, would you spend the time badmouthing your competitors? I sure wouldn’t. I’d focus like a laser beam on my customers’ needs and how I was going to meet them. I’d be as specific as possible and explain all the facts I could compile about the customer’s situation and deliver a well-reasoned solution that solves their problem(s).

Compare that with what we’ll see in watching any evening’s worth of political ads. The consumer – the electorate – is hardly found in any of them. Instead, we hear about criminals, liars, or worse. The tone is generally negative but often veers into the threatening. “Facts” are things seemingly found on the internet (where we know everything is true). Have studies shown that we treat our politics differently from our products as we make purchase decisions? This is from Scientific American:

A comprehensive literature analysis published in 2007 in the Journal of Politics examined the effects of political ads. The authors reported that negative ads tended to be more memorable than positive ones but that they did not affect voter choice. People were no less likely to turn out to the polls or to decide against voting for a candidate who was attacked in an ad.

The lesson is pretty obvious in my mind. Saying negative things about a competitor doesn’t work to influence a sale although it does stick in the consumer’s mind. It’s funny how we prohibit the kind of unsubstantiated mudslinging we routinely see from campaigns in every form of comparative product advertising but politics. I think that if we are to be the world’s model for democracy we should do at least as good a job in marketing our leaders to “buyers” as we do in selling soap and cars, don’t you?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On