Monthly Archives: April 2018

Touch Me, Feel Me

I was cleaning out some old stuff on my computer this morning when I came across a receipt for something I had purchased online in 2005. I knew I had been an online shopper for a long time. I can’t recall the last holiday season during which I stepped foot into a retail store. I mean, I don’t like to so shop for anything on the weekend due to crowds and lines so I’m rarely in a physical store between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Given the explosive growth of online commerce, apparently many other folks prefer not to hit the stores either. I mean, the share online represents of global retail sales has almost doubled from 2015 to 2018, and is projected nearly to triple by 2021. It’s booming! That said, online is still less than 15% of retail and will be less than 20% even 5 years from now. There’s a reason for that and it’s not just shipping costs or the difficulty in finding a product.

Most people – almost 75% according to a recent study – visit stores to touch and feel products. If you’re browsing and come across an unfamiliar brand of shoe or clothing, how comfortable are you buying it without examining it for quality and fit? I’m certainly not, and I share that feeling with the vast majority, apparently. Sure, the return process isn’t as difficult as it used to be with many online stores, but who wants to deal with it? I want to see the product, which I can do on or offline, but I also want to feel it, touch it, and check it for quality.

That’s a significant advantage that brick and mortar stores have, one that they should exploit to keep market share. They can merchandise product in a way that online stores can’t. They can use in-store displays. More importantly, as we’ve said many times here on the screed, they can offer a level of personalized customer service that no online store can offer.

Try it yourself. Before you go on a shopping trip, hit the store’s online presence first. See if the two experiences are equal. If the retailer’s physical presence is doing things right, there won’t be a comparison. Shopping for a golf club or a bat or a racquet online at Dick’s Sporting Goods is nothing like going to my local Dick’s store and swinging it. I can browse through a lot more books in a shorter time at my local Barnes and Noble vs. their online store. I’m on my own online. There are pros in golf and tennis to help me in-store.

I don’t think brick and mortar is dead, not by a long shot. I do think stores will fail if they don’t take advantage of the built-in advantages they have. Cutting staff, not investing in merchandising, and simply becoming warehouses where people pick up their online purchases won’t cut it. Does that align with your thinking?.

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

NECCO Wafers, Sky Bars, And Misplaced Effort

Sky Bar

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our topic this Foodie Friday is the plight of The New England Confectionary Company, makers of NECCO wafers (did you know the name was an acronym?), Sky Bars, and Sweethearts, among other well-known candy brands. There is a fair chance that the 120-year-old company will soon be out of business. Their factory was sold and the company is actively looking for a buyer. The company has notified the city and state that layoffs may soon be coming. The situation is pretty dire.

Even though most of their brands are not really great candies (Sky Bar being the exception in my book), panic has ensued among fans of NECCO wafers. An article on Grubstreet highlights how fans have responded to  one candy-selling website:

The site says that during the month of March, after the panic began, it received 253 emails and 167 phone calls from customers looking for Necco-brand candies. Twenty-nine people offered to pay at least double the going bulk rate, and three reportedly said they’d perform free labor in exchange for priority treatment. One woman wanted 100 pounds of Necco’s glorified Tums, which she planned to vacuum-seal to keep her prepper stash fresh “for years.” (A standard 24-wafer roll weighs 2.02 ounces, so she was requesting about 800 packs.) Another woman said she’d trade her late-model Honda Accord for all of CandyStore.com’s remaining Necco candy.

There is a lesson in this for any business since these hard-core fans seem to be preparing for a funeral rather than figuring out how to cure the disease. All of their panic buying is misplaced effort since what they should be doing is trying to get the company the capital it needs to continue operations. While 420 people may have asked how to buy candy, only 73 people have donated to a GoFundMe campaign the CEO has organized. He, by the way, is apparently clueless about the difference between donation crowdfunding and equity crowdfunding since he had to amend his campaign to say he can’t offer stock:

We have been informed by several people that we cannot offer shares in the company in return for your donations. We are sorry, we do not know if they are right or wrong but we can’t take the chance . If you would like us to return your donation just let us know.

He is apparently in panic mode too and hasn’t sought advice from anyone who is familiar with equity crowdfunding or maybe even an initial coin offering.  Running scared will do that to you, although I know $20 million isn’t just laying around the street anyplace. I’d rather find customers than investors.

Worrying about the symptoms instead of the disease is generally a futile exercise in the long-term. I recognize that when someone is bleeding out you have to staunch the flow before you can worry about what caused it, but in this case, the efforts that have been made by fans of the company (buying up all the product) won’t be as effective as sending the money directly to the company. The company, for its part, hasn’t been very proactive. The factory was sold a year ago and this situation has been coming ever since. I don’t know how they involved their supply chain and their customers in stabilizing the situation, but the fact that they’re down to asking for money on GoFundMe (and it would be among the largest non-blockchain crowdfunding projects if it works) tells me that a lot of time was wasted.

Stay tuned!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

Flying Blind

I almost called this post “Nobody Knows Anything” but that might have been overkill. I’ll say what I have to say and let you be the judge. Let’s say that you buy a friend’s newborn a gift. You have it shipped to your house. The data says, correctly, that you bought an infant gift. That might also lead to an inferred piece of data that places your household into the “presence of infant” bin, leading to you seeing lots of ads for diapers. If you’re the one placing the ads for those diapers, you’re wasting money.

Lots of the data marketers routinely use is of that sort. It’s inferred. You can see that some thinking at work if you’re a Netflix user: the recommendation engine infers what you might like based on your past viewing. Of course, if your kids or someone else in the house watch something in which you have no interest, the accuracy of those recommendations is diminished (which is part of why there are separate profiles available when you log in). Inaccurate data is, sadly, more the norm than an aberration. Since this data is really what’s behind personalization and targeting, that inaccuracy is a big problem. Any business that buys data from third parties – and an awful lot do so – may be putting garbage into their system. Unfortunately, most don’t know that because there is little transparency in the data business and it’s impossible to verify what’s good and what’s not.

What should you do? Invest in collecting your own, first-person data. You can also demand transparency in any other data you use (good luck with that) with respect to how it was gathered and what it really represents. Is it inferred or does it come directly from consumers (did someone tell you they had a baby in the house or did you guess they did because they bought one infant item?). Who owns the data and was it gathered with the consumer’s permission?

When Facebook tells its customers (marketers) that they have data on 41 million adults aged 18-49 in the US and there are only 31 million of those adults living in the US, you know much of the data is inferred and also that we have a problem. A recent study that found that 70% of marketers believe that the customer data their organizations are using for marketing is low quality or inconsistent. Why bother to market at all when you’re just flying blind?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Tribute Bands And Your Business

Over the weekend I saw the Dark Star Orchestra. For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they’re one of the leading tribute bands out there and they play the music of The Grateful Dead. I’ve seen them several times and oddly enough each time I do it reminds me of a few business thoughts.

I played in several bands as I was growing up. We always felt we were a cover band. We were playing someone else’s songs but doing so in our own way. Most tribute bands go beyond that and attempt to recreate the sounds and often the appearance of the original artists. If you’re any sort of fan of The Dead you know that their performances were very hit or miss. The DSO is way more consistent and they sound just like The Dead on a great night each and every time. So what does this have to do with business?

I think imitation is more than just the sincerest form of flattery. I think in many ways it’s better than innovation despite the fact that we often hear of the “first mover advantage.” Innovation is great, but by not being first the flaws in the original product or service become way more clear. The fact that you’re building later lets you correct for those flaws and get beyond the original. That usually is something you can do much more cost-effectively too.

What do I mean? The iPod was not the first music player, just the most successful. Anyone who looks at Instagram knows both that they weren’t the first of their kind and that most of their “new” features these days come right from Snapchat. You could video chat someone long before Skype came around and Amazon was not the first retailer on the web. Each of those companies, and other such as Spotify and eBay, were not first movers. They were imitators – tribute bands if you will, who took the best of the pioneers and made it better.

Is it easier to get funding for a copycat? Probably – the business model has been proven and, therefore, investor risk is reduced. Japan, and now China, built economies on imitating successful products and making them better and/or cheaper. A tribute band has a pre-built fan base. If you’re a Beatles fan or an Oasis fan or a fan of The Band, you have no chance to see the original but you can spend a night with their music. If you’re a business, you don’t have to be the original if you can make the original better and capitalize on their fan base. The DSO do it brilliantly. Can you?

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Filed under Consulting, Music, Thinking Aloud

A Slice Of Menu Advice

It’s Foodie Friday and our fun this week derives from some things I took away from an article on pizzeria menus. I know – what is a guy whose consulting practice focuses on strategy and media doing reading an article on how to write a best-selling pizza menu? Well, as I’ve often mentioned, one never knows from where a great insight will spring and so it’s incumbent upon us to look under every rock and (pizza) stone, don’t you think?

The article, from Pizza Today, talks about a number of things that can drive more sales from the same menu. I think a number of those things are applicable to most businesses, food-related or not. First, there is such a thing as TMI – too much information. If the menu details every bit of information about each ingredient in the pizza (local mushrooms grown in special caves, organic, non-GMO cheese from a particular type of cow, etc.) it’s likely that the customer‘s eyes will glaze over and they’ll stop reading. I don’t need to tell you about information overload – most of us suffer from it and despite the often-cited false information that our attention spans are now shorter than those of a goldfish, I do believe our tolerance for excessive information has vanished. We’re all too time-challenged, so respect your customer by providing enough detail so that they can make an informed decision (it’s pecorino cheese)  but know that too much and they turn off (it’s pecorino, a hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese from Lazio).

The piece also talks about changing the menu a few times a year. One owner mentions that he

changes 25 to 30 percent of the menu about four times a year, “which we need to do as a neighborhood restaurant. It gives us a story to tell customers — why we have changed it up. That keeps customers excited and chefs stimulated and allows us to serve seasonal food.”

That’s a good thought regardless of your business. It’s imperative that you keep in touch with your customers but to do so you really need to have something to say. A new product or service or the fact that something that customers are used to seeing in your offerings will be discontinued is news. Too many businesses post what amounts to spam and make their user bases less like to engage when they really do have something to say.

Finally, the article mentions how the menu should call out information that is important such as gluten-free and dairy-free items along with upcharges. Recognizing that some customers have special needs and that most customers aren’t happy when they get it with fees they weren’t expecting is just common sense for anyone in business. We’ve been over the mess the airlines have made of doing fare-comparisons because almost no airline sells you a ticket without some sort of extra fee. The same is true of concert tickets, hotel rooms (those resort fees!), rental cars, and many other businesses. Are you happy when they pop up on your bill? Neither are your customers.

That’s what I learned from a pizza menu. You?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Zuckerberg Unbound

Philip Roth wrote a series of books in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The middle one is called Zuckerman Unbound and deals with the relationship between an author (Roth’s alter-ego Zuckerman) and his creations. It’s not a great relationship although it is a pretty good book. Roth’s character seems to express regret for the books his younger self brought into the world, and at one point he finds out that a book he wrote has caused his mother a great deal of pain and suffering.

English: Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Fac...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought about Zuckerman as I watched (and am watching as I write this) another Zuck – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook – testify before Congress about how his creation, designed to bring people together, has morphed into something that has blown many people and institutions apart. I doubt any of you reading today’s screed touch billions of people every day the way Facebook does, but I think there are some lessons to be learned here.

One thing that rings hollow for me is the apology offered to the committees. I and many others have been writing about Facebook’s lack of privacy and transparency for years. This isn’t something new nor is it something about which Facebook was unaware. One might suppose that they, like so many others in business, were of the mindset that it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Bad call, and they’ll be doing a lot of begging as the inevitable new regulations on the use of data are put into place. That’s lesson one.

My favorite moment of yesterday’s hearing came when one senator informed Mr. Zuckerberg that Facebook’s “user agreement sucks.” It does, but it’s far from alone. I’d also argue that any “simple” agreement that links out to a dozen other pages for further explanations of things not explained in the initial policy is far from simple. I doubt I could pass a quiz on what Facebook can and can’t do with my information and I’ve been on the platform since 2006. Anyone that generates data that you’ll use to benefit your business should understand what they’re giving you and why. Lesson two.

I do know that Facebook gives the user a lot of control over who sees what although it really doesn’t do so by default. I’m less clear as to what they gather although I’ve downloaded my data and gone through it. Some of what is in there comes from activities off of Facebook, probably either through my use of a Facebook ID to log in or via the Facebook Beacon. How many users understand that they might be tracked EVERYWHERE by Facebook and not just when they’re using the service? Facebook would argue that you’re using the service when you use your Facebook ID to log in elsewhere but I think that’s specious. Yet another lack of transparency, and lesson three.

I wonder where Facebook goes from here. As far back as 2010, it’s been under attack for its privacy failures. It’s a business founded by a man who called users “dumb f^&ks” for giving him their information. Maybe like Zuckerman, he’ll come to realize that he needs to be unbound, cut loose from everything that made him what he was and fix the problems in a way that fulfills the promise of connecting the world that he espouses. At the moment, it appears that others may step in and take steps that alter his world forever.

What’s your take?

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Marketing To The Middle

I watch a fair amount of news programming. I guess maybe I need something to keep my blood pressure sky-high or something to justify my frequent yelling when there aren’t kids on my lawn. I don’t really think it matters which side of what issue you’re on these days. There’s always a panel “discussion” (since I guess yelling at one another now constitutes discussion) somewhere on the dial that hits all the talking (yelling?) points on each side.

There isn’t any doubt in my mind that we live in a highly-polarized place. Everything is either a 1 or a 10 when it comes to our feelings – there is very little middle ground. That said, I think that one lesson we can learn from the current environment can be exceptionally useful when it comes to how and to whom you market your products or services. No, I don’t think you should yell. I do think, however, you should focus on the middle. Let me explain.

As I was watching MSNBC, which is more liberal-leaning that some outlets, I saw an ad for a book about the so-called Deep State. I’m well aware that the term is often used by right-wing pundits to talk about opposition to the current administration. While the term actually has no political right or left leanings, the title of the book involved the “fight to save President Trump.” I’m not sure that many MSNBC viewers are ready to sign up for that fight. I’m also thinking that when the media buy was made, they looked at both news viewers and audience size as desirable targets. Hence the buy.

Look at the media you and your friends create on social media. I’m willing to bet that the folks who argue issues most vehemently are also unwilling to change their points of view. Has anyone ever won a social media fight? I haven’t seen it, but I have learned from it as well as from the example above and others. What I’ve learned is this.

Every product or service or issue has a core group of supporters. You often hear of a politician speaking to “the base.” That’s his or her core group and every product has one too (think about a brand you won’t change even if a competitive brand is half the price). You’re not going to change the base’s thinking. Every product or service or issue has people who are just as committed as the base but on the other side. This is the opposition. I won’t fly a certain airline no matter what, even if the fare is less and the schedule better. Marketing that brand to me is useless.

We need to market to the undecideds – to the middle. It’s easier to find those folks when the product isn’t a politician and that’s what we need to do. Basic demography won’t do it nor will broad assumptions about an audience. It involves digging and understanding a lot more than age/sex/geography. The undecided middle is where our marketing battles are won and lost. The question is how each of our businesses finds it. Any ideas?

 

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Filed under Helpful Hints