Monthly Archives: January 2018

Getting The Message

You may have read about a missile alert issued in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. A worker mistakenly believed that there was an incoming missile attack and issued an alarm. The initial report was that he had hit the wrong button on a drop-down menu. As it turns out, he had missed the part of the incoming alert message that said it was an exercise. The message itself also included the words “this is not a drill” (it shouldn’t have) which proved to be confusing at best and terrifying at worst.

As I read about this, I thought about how many times employees don’t hear the messages we send them. This particular employee had a track record, according to reports, of confusing real-world events and drills several times over the last decade. While I’m not sure this is the individual I would want in a critical role, that fact that he was should have reminded his management to be absolutely clear when giving him instructions.

You don’t think this kind of miscommunication could happen in your business? Well, maybe not, but let me ask you a few questions.

  • Do you ever tell your staff that it’s OK to fail and yet punish people who do so at review time?
  • Do you ever tell people to innovate and yet get mad when they don’t follow protocols you’ve established?
  • Do you ever tell anyone to work carefully and yet push them to make an unrealistic deadline?
  • Do you ever refuse to prioritize their work with them and instead tell them that “everything is a big priority”?

Those are the same type of confusing, conflicting messages as the guy heard in Hawaii, and just as in that situation the chances are good that the recipient will mishear and push the wrong button (or, as in this case, the right button at the wrong time). Putting aside the fact that the Hawaiians did themselves no favors by allowing one individual to issue an alert (they’ve remedied that – it now takes two to do so), or that the individual in question had made similar mistakes in the past,  the fault lies just as much with the supervisor who issued conflicting instructions (This is an exercise/this is not a drill). It’s a mistake no supervisor can afford to make unless they enjoy creating terror in their businesses. Now, who wants that?


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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Your Focus Is Fake

Over the weekend the NY Times published an article about a company called Devumi that sells followers. As the piece says:

Photo by Jehyun Sung

Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online.

Since social media is, well, media, an outlet’s ability to charge is based upon its reach. Since everyone has the ability to be a little piece of the media these days, having a bigger audience or the ability to demonstrate great influence by having hundreds of thousands of followers is a big deal. Take Facebook where:

up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform. These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations.

I’ve seen this happen first hand. I was working with a client and we were approached by someone (actually a pair of someones) who wanted to work with us. They proudly showed off their 1million+ Twitter followers as evidence of their ability to impact what we were doing. They seemed a little shady so I ran their Twitter account through one of the services that examine followers for signs that they’re fake. 95% of their followers were bots or fake accounts. No deal.

The Times piece is really excellent because the thing it points out to me is something that is important to you, or should be. The reason having fake followers works is that brands are too focused on reach and not enough on results. The thing those fake followers won’t do is to buy. Yes, you can buy fake click-throughs as well, but I’m quite sure that your conversion rate will plummet if you do so since no bot-master is going to spend a nickel going through your sales funnel. When celebrities (or celebrity wannabes) inflate their follower totals, it’s part ego and part to demonstrate their popularity. Does anyone look at real-world results that might point to those things? Ratings? Box-office? Ticket sales?

Have you ever heard anyone giving out advice (marketing or otherwise) tell you to be fake? Probably not. Authenticity is the underpinning of great marketing today. There is no incentive for Twitter or Facebook to fix this since their financial well-being is partially judged by how many people are on and use their platforms. It’s a shame, and if we did politics here we could talk about how this same problem has gone beyond marketing products and services and into influencing our political system. You can fix it, however, by measuring what matters. Reach doesn’t really matter. Results do. That’s how I see it. You?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

I Love This Bar

Happy Foodie Friday! Actually, it’s more like Boozie Friday since our topic today revolves around a bar. Not just any bar: my bar. No, I don’t own it, but I feel as if a little part of it is mine. Let me explain and why this has a lot to do with your business.

Over a year ago on a Friday afternoon, I wandered into a bar I had passed a number of times. It’s not part of some chain. It’s part of a vanishing species: the local watering hole. Vanishing? Yes. As one trade publication points out:

The number of what the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics calls “drinking places” — a subcategory of restaurants that is focused just on sales of alcohol — have seen a multi-year decline in number. The number of privately-owned locations dropped by nearly 4 percent between 2013 and 2016, from 44,599 to 42,961 establishments. Nielsen data from 2015 paints an even starker picture, stating that one out of every six neighborhood bars closed between 2004 and 2014.

My bar may or may not be a “drinking place” since they do serve food (much of which is quite good), but it seems as though every Friday each person who passes through the door is greeted by name as they approach the bartenders who already seem to know what they’re having. Yes, it’s the epitome of the “Cheers” experience: a place where everybody knows your name.

In many places, particularly outside of big cities, neighborhood bars are being replaced by what I’ll call chain bars although technically they’re probably called casual dining establishments. You know what I mean – Buffalo Wild Wings, TGIFridays, and their other corporately-run brethren. It’s a shame, and it’s not because they don’t have the same drinks and maybe even better food. What they don’t have is the atmosphere. I’m sure they believe they are in the hospitality business but it’s just not the same.

A great neighborhood bar – my bar – feels like an extension of drinking in someone’s home. It has a unique vibe to it. You’re among friends, not just among other customers. That sort of feeling is something that I think any business can and should try to precipitate and instill in everyone who comes in contact with it: customers, staff, vendors, and the community as a whole. That changes a “like” into a “love,” and who can’t always use a little more of that?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Retraining For Retaining

As usual, I have golf on the brain this morning. It’s probably because I’m in the midst of planning the annual soiree to Myrtle Beach that has been the highlight of my year for the last 23. I’ve written about how it’s my annual Board Of Advisors meeting and I highly recommend a similar trip – whether golf-related or not – to each of you.

With this much golf on my brain, I got to thinking about what’s going on in the golf world these days. As it turns out, it has a lot to do with what’s going on in nearly every business. If you have read anything at all about the golf industry over the last few years, you keep reading about the need to grow the game. According to the latest from the National Golf Foundation, interest in playing the game continues to grow but actual on-course participation has been flat at best. Much ink has been spilled over the need to make the game more accessible, lower the cost and speed up play so that new people will become regular participants. I suspect your business spends some time thinking about how to attract new customers too.

What some folks in the golf industry are beginning to realize is that they don’t spend enough time on customer retention rather than customer capture. You might have heard (you certainly could have read it on this screed!) that it costs five times more to get a new customer than to retain an old one. Why not focus on something that is 80% less expensive?

Let me put it in golf terms and I think you’ll see the parallels. If you go to some courses, particularly the high-end courses, you’re often treated like they’re doing you a favor for letting you play. It’s almost like the customer is a distraction rather than the sole reason for the business to exist. The course does nothing to help speed up play. If conditions are poor (shabby greens, standing water in fairways, etc.), that’s never said before you pay or even acknowledged after your round is done. How about stating that you’re sorry for the course not being in top shape and offering to buy a drink or lunch at the end of the round? How about a coupon to come back at half price when the course is in better condition?

You’d be shocked if you encountered some of the rude employees I’ve met in my years of golfing. There clearly hasn’t been an emphasis on customer service at some places. Instead, the emphasis is on holding their hands out for a tip. All they want to do in the shop is to sell you overpriced shirts, hats, and balls with their logo on it. None of that aids customer retention.

What they – and you – need to be asking yourself is what can I do to improve the customer experience? How can I get this customer to come back? Little things go a long way – it can be as simple as a towel on a cart or ice in the cooler or enough sand to fix divots. I’m sure you can think of little amenities you can offer – it can be as simple as a bottle of water on a hot day to customers entering your store or a personalized thank you note for a past purchase. What are the things that will help retention?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

The End Of The World Or Just A New Start?

You’d think that the world was coming to an end.

That was my thought as I read the response in the marketing and advertising trades over the last week since Facebook pulled the rug out from under publishers by making (yet another) algorithm change. What Facebook announced was that they are going to be prioritizing content from friends and family over public content posted by brands and publishers. Currently, they look at engagement metrics such as the number of likes and comments a post receives when determining where that post will appear in users’ News Feeds. That sparked publishers to create various forms of click-bait. This change will force publishers to create content that fosters engagement – comments, sharing, etc. – between friends to get the content shown more often.

Why is Facebook doing this? I’m assuming it’s based on two factors. The first is that by making it harder for brands to have their content displayed those brands will ramp up their ad spend on Facebook. That’s Facebook’s business, folks, and it’s hard to criticize them for that. In fact, I’d once again criticize those publishers who relied on Facebook for traffic rather than creating reasons for people to come to their content directly. Instead of spending resources trying to figure out how to game Facebook’s algorithm, maybe spending those resources on targeting specific audiences and bringing them to their content. Building a loyal audience of your own rather than being a remora of sorts on the back of another platform is smart even if it’s not nearly as easy.  If you’re focused on creating engaging content that sparks conversations, I think you’ll be just fine, both on and off Facebook and other social platforms. Facebook must satisfy their users so they keep coming back and stay on the platform (younger users are abandoning it in droves). They own the audience – you don’t.

The second reason I assume Facebook is doing this is to mitigate the effect of “fake news.” Generally speaking, news outlets and especially dubious news outlets will show up less often in the News Feed. I don’t know if the algorithm has been tweaked to evaluate the authenticity of some post but I’m sure that unless something is interesting enough for users to share and comment on it will be downgraded.

Has this been a bit of a bait and switch by Facebook? After all, it has spent years cultivating publishers to build their brands on the platform and now, suddenly, it’s saying pay me or you’re on your own. No, it’s not. Any marketer should have been wise enough to know that the Facebook audiences are generally fly-bys – they don’t engage very much and they certainly aren’t very loyal based on what I’ve seen in the analytics I’ve looked at. Paid audiences are different, and while the short-term pain will be there, over the long-term learning to build better engagement is a positive. I’m sure we’ll see all sorts of brand posts begging people to comment and share in yet another attempt to game the algorithm. That’s too bad.

I’m also not sure how this will affect Facebook’s business. Think of travel agents. The number of them has declined precipitously (down about two-thirds) in the last 20 years as online travel sites grew and people could book themselves. Maybe as publishers get back to doing what they were doing before Facebook – creating loyal engaged audiences on their own platforms – they’ll figure out that a paid Facebook audience need to be icing and not cake. Maybe this isn’t the end of the world but just a fresh start?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media


This Foodie Friday I want to talk about deglazing. It’s a very basic technique for sauce-making but it’s also a word that scares a lot of people when they see it in a recipe. As it turns out, it also has something to do with business.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, deglazing is nothing more than using some sort of liquid to loosen the bits leftover in a pan (called fond) after you’ve cooked something in that pan. Say, for example, you’ve made a roast and after you pour out the accumulated fat and juices, you see a lot of crispy bits clinging to the pan. You would deglaze the pan by heating it and pouring in a liquid. It can be as basic as water but wine or stock is preferable because you’re going to use the resulting liquid as the foundation for a sauce or gravy. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t deglaze your pans!

I suspect some of you out there just toss the fond – you scrape the remnants into the trash. Well, as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that’s where the business thought comes in. How many businesses have been built around taking what someone has discarded and finding a new or better use for it? The entire recycling industry is built around that notion. While we’ve been recycling things for centuries, especially during shortages of raw materials created by war, the modern industry is just about 50 years old and is a $500 billion enterprise.

The point today is to get you to ask yourself what might be incredibly useful and productive in your business that you might be discarding. It could be a person, it could be a product that’s underperforming because it’s not sexy and no one wants to work on it, or it could be an unexplored portion of the data you gather. These things might just be fond, and with a little deglazing they can be transformed. What do you think?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Snowing Our Ignorance

It’s snowing here in Central North Carolina. Again. Is that unusual? Well, the area usually gets less than 6 inches of snow a year and we’re about to get 4 or so. We also got a few inches several weeks ago. When we got a dusting (and to my Yankee friends I know that 6 inches are pretty much just a dusting) of snow last year – maybe half an inch – the area came to a complete halt and schools were shut for 4 days. You can imagine what 4 inches will do. Fortunately, by the weekend it will be near 70 degrees so the accumulation shouldn’t be around very long.

Photo by Catherine Zaidova

Other than venting about the golf courses being covered in white, why do I bring this up? Because it’s symptomatic of something which has business implications. Increased snowfall, extreme temperature changes, and other weather phenomena are indicative of something going on. It’s pretty clear that something has changed and yet there are those who turn a scientific and factual issue into a political one. Folks, you can call it climate change or you can call it Fred but no matter what you call it, it is real.

You know, of course, that we don’t do politics here on the screed and my point isn’t that we need to acknowledge that the weird weather everywhere is the result of climate change. The point is that any businessperson can give their own interpretation about what they see going on in the market and in their own enterprise. The problem is that sometimes their interpretation conflicts with the empirical evidence – the facts. A single data point isn’t a reason to change your entire strategy, but when you have enough data points to produce a reliable trend, attention must be paid.

There are some very famous studies that were conducted by Stanford in 1975. They showed how people’s opinions are often unmoved by facts. One need not go a heck of a lot further than your own Facebook feed to see one person trying to change another’s mind using some fact-based evidence and failing miserably. The cold weather and snow here remind me that you can deny the facts but that denial won’t keep the snow from falling. Question the sources of information, question the interpretation of information, but once those questions are answered, don’t deny the facts. You still will have to shovel up the aftermath regardless. Make sense?

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