Monthly Archives: October 2017

The Real Magic

I bought a ticket yesterday to see the Michigan Wolverine basketball team play North Carolina. It’s a chance to see a team that I root for in person, and since I don’t live close to Ann Arbor, those chances don’t come very often without significant travel. It wasn’t cheap – over $100 to sit in a so-so seat – but as I’ve written many times, cost and value aren’t the same

Yes, the game will be on TV and I could just stay home and watch it, as I do many of their other games. In fact, as a person who made a living in the sports TV business, I often ask myself why people both going to games now at all. After all, it’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and the viewing experience is often much better sitting at home. I know from my time at a league that clubs are well-aware of this and they try to make the game-day experience worth the time and money, and many do. But the real reason I and other fans go to the game is something that any of us can bring to our business: authenticity.

I’ve been to hundreds of sporting events. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts. They’re often forgettable – your team getting shellacked or a bad night for a band. But every time the experience is real, and part of that is sharing it with thousands of others. Some bands forget this – they use a lot of recorded sound in their show, often including vocals. Some teams come out tired and slow – maybe it’s their third game in four days. No magic there because in neither case are we seeing the real deal – an organization performing at its full potential. The fans know it too – there’s no electricity in the building (and in sports, there’s often a lot of negative energy expressed as booing). People want experiences, and especially experiences they can share.

This is something any business should remember. Customers want something real. They can tell when we’re “fake nice” or when we’re being unresponsive. They want consistency too. The fan who pays for the “off night” goes away unhappy and is unlikely to return. As our lives get more virtual, I think we all crave genuine things, experiences and businesses among the things for which we hunger. You?

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Filed under sports business, Thinking Aloud

You’re Bacon Me Crazy

This Foodie Friday, I come to you with a perfect example of how businesses often get things wrong. I hear you wondering how anything involving bacon can go wrong, but stick with me here and I think you’ll understand my distress.

English: Uncooked pork belly bacon strips disp...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was widely reported this week that scientists in China have created 12 healthy pigs with 24% less body fat. If you care to read all about it, the results were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I didn’t bother to read it because it makes me both sad and angry. From my perspective, most pork we get in this country is already too lean. Fat is flavor, and most of the pork we get has very little. The exception is bacon.

I use bacon the way many cooks do. Sure, I bake it and eat it as part of a full breakfast (put a little Old Bay on those bad boys before you bake them – a revelation!). Rendered down, it yields lovely fat in which to saute your aromatics and get any recipe off to a great start. Wrapped around a lean cut of meat, it prevents that cut from drying out. And who doesn’t love to toss some lardons into salads, omelets, pastas, grilled vegetables, or potatoes? Lean bacon defeats the entire purpose of the cut!

OK, most of the above was a little tongue in cheek, but there is a real point to be made here. When we try to “improve” a product we just might end up destroying it. Lean bacon is a solution in search of a problem, and that is the kiss of death to any offering most of the time. Putting aside the issues many people have with genetically engineered food (this was achieved using CRISPR), there are already many lean alternatives to bacon. OK, it might be a stretch to call them “bacon” but they exist.

None of us can afford to waste time figuring out a problem for something we’ve produced. The process works the other way around. Listen for problems that your intended customer base is having and then find a solution. Much of the time, successful entrepreneurs had the problem themselves, found a solution, and then helped others with the same problem. The camera phone, for example, came about when a new father wanted to send a photo from the delivery room (true story).

As you’re moving along in your business, ask yourself if you’re solving peoples’ problems or if you’re trying to find a use for your solution. Hopefully the former!

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Filed under food, Consulting, Huh?

Business Tourists

When I worked in Manhattan a long time ago, one thing that regularly made me crazy was tourists. They weren’t hard to spot. They weren’t moving along with the general flow of pedestrian traffic. In fact, they often weren’t moving at all as they stopped to gawk at the big buildings or waited until the light turned green before crossing a street that had no traffic.

At holiday time, it was worse. Not only did they stare at the decorations but there were LOTS more of them. They had to have the photo of the Rockefeller Center tree while the rest of us had to BE SOMEWHERE.

It’s become worse with the advent of smartphones. Now, it’s not just the tourists that walk around without purpose. One is constantly bumping into people. We used to have an expression at the NHL: don’t skate with your head down. It meant one should pay attention to the surroundings to avoid nasty collisions. Smartphone users inevitably walk with their heads’ down.

I see that Honolulu, another tourist mecca, has passed a law that will fine you up to $35 if you’re caught staring at your phone when crossing the street. Get caught a second time and it’ll cost you up to $75. Nailed a third time and the fine is $99. Of course, by then you’re probably in a hospital, having been hit by a car. Still, there is a business lesson in this.

It’s way too easy to conduct business with your head down, fixated on what you’re doing while ignoring your surroundings. Heck, many places encourage it, as employees sit in front of computers wearing headphones. That’s a worry (how are people to interact?) but the big concern is ignoring the changing market or new opportunities that emerge. No, we can’t go chasing every shiny new object, but we do need to be aware that they’re out there so we can evaluate if they present a new opportunity or just a distraction. When we’re locked in – whether to a computer screen or a smartphone or to our own internal goings-on – we’re business tourists, out of sync with the pace of business and unaware of our surroundings. Head’s up!

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Getting Social

You might think that after a decade or more of social media as a legitimate channel through which marketers can engage consumers we’d be doing a decent job of it. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s true for the bulk of the marketing world. In the interest of improving both results and the quality of the messages with which we’re all deluged, here are a few things I’ve found to be helpful when engaging in social media marketing.

First, research has shown that the vast majority of brands today invest most of their paid social media budgets into brand awareness marketing. I get that the sales cycle has to begin with lead generation and that begins with awareness, but if you’re spending all of your budgets on the news feed and not enough on conversion, retention, and service than you’re doomed to massive churn rates and ultimate failure.

Next, ask yourself how engaging you really are. The news feed, whether Facebook, Instagram, or elsewhere, is a place where consumers go to interact with their friends and to be entertained. It’s also becoming a primary news channel for many. Nobody is there to interact with you. Let me repeat that. Nobody is there to be sold to; they are there to be entertained. Are you doing that or are you the guy at the cocktail party who keeps asking all the guests if they have car insurance because that’s what he sells?

Whatever messages you’re sending out, how are you deciding about targeting? The holy grail of marketing is the right message to the right person at exactly the right time. It’s extremely tailored. If you’re buying big, untargeted audiences (Men, Women 18-34, People living in Maryland), you’re using a wrench as a hammer. It’s a misuse of a tool.

Finally, are you being you? Has your brand created a distinctive personality or is it all corporate ad speak? People don’t want to engage with robots so don’t sound like one. Be real and listen a lot more than you speak. Let your customers guide your marketing. Don’t respond to a question just with a “that’s on the FAQ page of our website.” Use it as the basis for your next blog post which then goes through the social channels.

I’m a fan of social media marketing even as I recognize that it’s full of landmines. You don’t want to be the company that “goes viral” for the wrong reasons (DiGiorno, Red Lobster, and many others) due to some social media faux pas. You want to be unique, interesting, relevant, inspiring, authentic, and entertaining while staying focused on your target audience and your own goals. Doable?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

They Don’t Make It Like That Anymore

This Foodie Friday I am going to run the risk of sounding like the grumpy old man I’m slowly becoming. Rather than admonishing you all to get off my lawn, I want to share the sentiment I had a week or so ago as I fired up my smoker. My smoker, or as it’s lovingly known, “The Beast”, was made by the New Braunfels Smoker Company at least 20 years ago, How do I know that? Well, that’s today’s food and business thought.

The Beast is made of heavy steel that’s quite thick and it weighs well over 100 pounds even without my usual load of meats inside. As I was cleaning up the old Rancho Deluxe to get ready for its sale, the smoker was one of the very few things that I was adamant about saving for the move. Why was that, especially when I also gave away or junked a Caja China and two other grills? In a sentence:

Because they don’t make them like that anymore.

The New Braunfels Smoker Company was sold to Char-Broil 20 years ago. Almost immediately, the quality of the products went downhill, and this was especially noticeable on the gauge of the steel. The steel was thinner and didn’t hold heat as well. When a rust spot developed, it was difficult to sand and paint it without almost going through the area that has rusted. The products were similar in design and name, but that was about all that was the same. The bbq forums, home to serious meat smoking aficionados like me, were deluged with negative comments and, more importantly to the business, better alternatives to what had been a superior line of smokers.

This is something from which any business can learn. We’re always under pressure to improve our margins. Some folks look to cheaper materials, other to cheaper, less-skilled labor, and still others to cutting customer service. Sometimes we just skimp on quality control. While margins might improve, there is a strong chance that revenues will decline as the customer base figures out that “you’re not making it like that anymore.” As an Apple user, I recently switched to a Chromebook because my Mac OS isn’t as smooth and there are glitches that were never an issue before. For you cooks out there, Pyrex changed their formula and “new” Pyrex is not as good. Recent Craftsman tools, once the industry standard, are now made in China and aren’t nearly as good. I can go on and I’m sure you can as well.

If you’re successful, resist the temptation to cut corners. People notice (so does your staff). Don’t be part of a conversation that claims you don’t make it like that anymore.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

Do We Really Want Mullets?

Anyone remember the mullet? You know what I’m talking about: the haircut that’s “business in the front, a party in the back.” I think the last time the mullet was popular was when it was sported by members of the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won The Stanley Cup in the early 1990’s. Since then, it’s become more of an object of ridicule than a hairstyle to be admired. I think we’ve come to recognize that we can’t be both businesslike and a party at the same time.

I thought of the mullet the other day when I read that Facebook was testing resume-building features so that users can share their work history with their Facebook friends. They’re obviously trying to hone in on a space dominated by LinkedIn. The curious thing is that your “resume” doesn’t really display. It seems as if Facebook is simply gathering the information which one can assume they’ll use to fuel a service for headhunters and active job seekers. There’s actually a couple of points we can think about here.

The first is that most of the people I know (myself included) use different social sites for different purposes. Many of my Facebook friends are not work-related. We’re not generally connected on LinkedIn. I don’t cross-post (other than the screed) content on the two sites since I don’t especially think my business contacts care about what food I’ve eaten or what concerts I’ve attended or my political views. Conversely, I don’t bore my non-work friends with the three or four business-related articles I might come across that I find interesting.

From what I can tell, most users can distinguish between the appropriate content for the two sites. Frankly, I think Facebook knows way too much about each of us anyway, and I’m not sure that I want them to know much more about my work life, my contacts, or anything else I keep in the workplace. I certainly don’t want potential clients considering anything other than the professional qualifications available to them on LinkedIn – not my musical tastes, not my politics and not my sad attempts at humor with friends.

More importantly, every business needs a focus. Facebook, in particular, seems to have decided that anything is fair game. They’re trying to out video YouTube, to out marketplace Amazon, and to compete in areas such as food delivery. In the meantime, they can’t even decide if they’re a media business (hint: they are).  Each of us needs to figure out what business we’re in so we can channel our resources, focus on our competition, and understand what problems our solutions can solve to serve our customer base. Chasing the next shiny object or growing beyond our core competence generally is more trouble than it’s worth. That’s how we end up with a mullet and is that what we really want?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Winner Winner

Monday for is a day of some reflection since it inevitably follows a weekend of sports watching. This time of year one can watch just about any sport being contested at the highest levels. College and pro football are in full swing, as is world soccer. Baseball is in the playoffs as is NASCAR. The NHL and NBA seasons are just getting started, as is the new professional golf season. Not a Saturday or Sunday passes without a bunch of winners.

Business has seasons but they’re generally not as cut and dry as those in sports. It’s pretty much a year-round effort, but it does have quite a bit of winning and losing that goes on. Every day can bring about a victory: a new contract won, a great new hire, a new position or job, or an improvement in the bottom line that the entire team worked to bring about. It’s important, however, to think about what winning means to you. What does it mean to win?

That implies a few other questions you should be asking yourself and your organization. Why are you doing what you’re doing? That question gets at your purpose and begins to provide the measuring stick for victory. We succeed by effort and by striving to reach a goal or goals. Defining what they are is an important piece for each individual and for the common goals your team needs to have.

As businesspeople, we need to remember that winning is different for everyone. We need to foster an environment where each person can win by their own definition. How can we help one another to improve? How can we put ourselves and our organizations in the best position? The answers to those sorts of questions are what fills up sports TV pregame shows and the analysis of how well each player and team accomplished what they set out to do is postgame fodder. Maybe we ought to do pre- and post-game interviews in our places of business since it would become fairly obvious if we’ve defined winning and set ourselves up to achieve victory. What do you think?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud