This Foodie Friday, let’s consider the Red Delicious apple. Until very recently, it has been the dominant apple in orchards all around this great nation of ours. According to the US Apple Association (as quoted in the NY Times), it has recently lost its dominant position to the Gala, and Granny Smiths are closing fast. You can probably hear Honeycrisps off in the distance too.
I know what you’re wondering: is this some sort of tangent brought on the by the start of football season (Go Blue!) and, therefore, the fall apple season? Not really, because there is a business lesson in the fall of the Red Delicious that can be used by any of us.
Have you ever eaten a Red Delicious apple? If you’re not sure, buy one the next time you’re at the market. They will be easy to spot. They’re very pretty – your prototypical apple. It’s a lovely deep red and their skins are generally unmarked. If you were trying to find an apple to use in an art class, the Red Delicious would top your list. So what’s the problem?
Bite into one. What do you get? Not much. They are bland and almost flavorless. That skin is so beautiful because it’s too thick to bruise. Oh sure – you get a blast of sweetness but there really isn’t much of a flavor there, especially when you compare it to pretty much any other apple. While people do eat with their eyes, at some point what they’re eating gets to their mouth and the food needs to deliver on the promise made by how it looks. That’s true of any product or service. Nice packaging, wonderful design, or a fancy sales brochure may attract a large consumer base but if what’s delivered doesn’t fulfill the promise made, it will be one and done. Either you’re solving the customer’s problem and providing superior value or you’re not, and it doesn’t matter how pretty you are.
Don’t be the Red Delicious of your business sector. It may be nice to be number one (and it’s probably pretty profitable for a while), but over time, it’s unsustainable if all you are is pretty. Substance matters, don’t you think?
According to a piece published by the BBC, scientists have found that goats are drawn to humans with happy facial expressions. There was a study done in which researchers showed goats pairs of photos of the same person, one of them featuring an angry expression, and the other a happy one. The goats overwhelmingly went to the picture of the happy face. They also spent more time examining the happy face photo (we social scientists might call that better engagement!).
Notwithstanding whatever application this has to working with goats, all I can say is DUH! Who among us walks into a bar and heads for the person with a scowl on their face when there are smiling people about? My grandmother would call them farbissinas – sour pusses – and it was about the worst thing she ever called anyone.
Happy people are better businesspeople. Happy people tend to be honest, they tend to be nice, they tend to cooperate, and I think they have more emotional intelligence. All of those things make for better team members. They play well in the sandbox with the other kids, which is one of the most important things I used to look for when hiring.
You can’t be happy if you hold on to grudges. By doing that you’re focusing on the past rather than on today. It’s hard to be happy if you worry about every little thing (sweating the small stuff) when you should be focusing on the things that matter and that you can control. There is nothing wrong with being detail-oriented (in fact, it’s a great trait!) but the details should pertain to those big things. Optimists are generally happy, even in the face of bad things happening. People who attack the problems that arise as challenges and not as…well…problems tend to be happy too.
All of those characteristics make up the kind of folks we should want on our teams. Maybe I’m more of an old goat, but I gravitate to happy people. You?
I was reading an article about an emerging form of advertising the other day. It’s a form in which people who view ads are paid for having done so. You can read the article about it here but one thing in the article got me thinking and I hope it has the same effect on you.
The CEO of the company that’s doing this – AdWallet – was asked if this was just “slackers” trying to put a few extra bucks in their pockets. What he had to say was this:
They’re not Millennial slackers looking to earn money on the side, he says. Instead, the average AdWallet user is 45 years or older and earns more than $100,000 a year. The main reason they have been using the platform, he says, is not the money, but the sense of being valued (emphasis added).
That’s something that often gets lost in the marketing process, especially when expressing value to our customers takes a backseat to making more money off of them. For example, many companies are using chat-bots for customer service. Nothing infuriates me more than when I have a problem and, after having tried to solve the problem myself, I call customer service only to reach a phone tree. Reaching a bot instead of a human using many companies’ “live chat” help feature is just as bad. The message I get is “we value profits more than we value you.”
It’s almost as bad as when I get a human and they have no insight at all as to who I am. I give them account information or order numbers and they have no record of past transactions or the fact that I might have called in the past with an issue. I had this experience recently with one of the large ticketing companies. I was supposed to get a CD with at ticket purchase and the code they sent didn’t work. I spent 20 minutes reaching a human who promised me to get back to me with an answer. It’s been two months: No CD and no explanation. Message received: “we are so damn big that we don’t have to care.”
I’ve had similar issues with financial service companies (almost an oxymoron there since their “service” is non-existent) and many others, as I’m sure you have. Yes, I sometimes express my frustration via social media and here on the screed. More often than not I do whatever I can do to avoid interacting with this company again, taking my business elsewhere is at all possible.
When I was running an online commerce store I used to remind our customer service types that I didn’t expect them to solve every problem that arose. What I did expect, however, is that every single customer knew that we valued them, were listening. and would do whatever we could to rectify the issue even if it meant we’d sacrifice some margin by expending time and resources to do so. It’s always easier to retain and up-sell an existing customer than to find a new customer. You do that by letting them know how much you value them on a regular basis. What was the last time you did that?
This Foodie Friday, I want to write about something that’s been on my mind for the last month. It was about a month ago that I made my initial – but definitely not my last – visit to Skylight Inn. If you’re not familiar with the place, it’s the premiere BBQ joint in North Carolina and certainly one of the best in the country. It specializes in whole hog, eastern North Carolina BBQ, which is chopped meat combined with a vinegar and pepper sauce. It’s simple food but incredibly difficult to do well, and very few anywhere do it as well as this place.
Why has it been on my mind for a month? Because I had an experience which has only happened once before in my life. The food was so unbelievably good that it brought me to tears. I’m not kidding. The last time this happened was in Venice and my poor daughter had to endure me running into the kitchen to hug the chef while weeping praise in my bad Italian. While I didn’t run to the pit this time, I did run back for another plate.
The question I’ve been asking myself since my Skylight visit, besides when I can find the time to go back, is what other consumer experiences have brought about a similar reaction. I couldn’t think of any, which is unfortunate. While I realize that there is something multi-sensory about food (we see it, we smell it, we touch it, we taste it), I think it’s an interesting question for any business to ponder. How can what we offer prompt an overwhelmingly good feeling in our customers? How do we get them to be thinking about their interaction with us a month or more after it takes place? How do we instill that goal into every person and every touchpoint that engages with a customer or potential customer?
We may never send our consumers running to the kitchen weeping with joy but it’s not a bad goal to have, is it?
I had one of those wonderful Dad moments over the weekend. We walked our youngest daughter down the aisle to meet her true love under the wedding canopy. It’s one of those moments that really don’t hit you until you’re standing there at the back looking down the aisle. In my case, 28 years of this child’s (now woman’s) life came flooding back in a rush. I wonder what the pictures captured as we walked her forward?
Of course, the 48 hours preceding the wedding were a minor nightmare as family, friends, and others hustled to transform a huge empty space into a magical circus that could seat 130 for dinner as well as for the wedding ceremony. Place settings, table and site decorations, room for aerialists and fire-breathers (I’m not kidding), as well as dancing and food all needed to be pulled together. And that’s what leads to today’s screed because the entire process reminded me of one thing.
Nothing happens without someone making a decision. That sounds awfully basic but it almost crippled us as we set the wedding up. First, no one was really in charge and empowered to have the final call. Does the salad plate sit on the table or on the dinner plate? 10-minute discussion. Where should the dessert bar go? 10-minute discussion. Silverware rolled into napkins or placed separately? 10-minute discussion. Meanwhile, a dozen helpers are sitting idle and the clock is ticking.
It’s critical that decisions get made. It’s critical that there be firm deadlines set by which they’ll get made and that someone is empowered to make the decision at that deadline if one hasn’t been reached in some other way. The team needs to have a roadmap, a project plan with milestones. It’s a guide which can limit distractions (and emergency trips to the store!). Don’t go chasing every shiny object that presents itself and keep to the deadlines you set. Appoint a “benevolent monarch” whose word is law when those deadlines come.
As with most productions, there were things that didn’t go as planned and, as with most productions, no one in the audience noticed. The bride was gorgeous, the drinks were cold, and the dance floor crowded. The most important decision did get made: for two people to spend their lives together. We were all just lucky enough to watch that marriage happen. You, however, can’t run your business just on luck. Make some decisions!
Foodie Friday! I came across a piece recently that got me thinking. Even though it’s food-related (or we wouldn’t be discussing it today!) I think it touches upon a subject that is common across other areas of business. Let’s see what you think.
The article was in The Guardian and it seeks an answer to the question “why are we so fat?” The author had stumbled upon a picture from 1976. It showed beachgoers and the first thing he noticed was that there weren’t any fat people. He wondered why into his social media channels and every answer he got was wrong, much to his surprise. It wasn’t because we eat more or are less active (thanks, Internet) or due to antibiotic use or less exercise or even due to chemicals in our food. What seems to be the cause is:
While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed. As some experts have long proposed, this seems to be the issue.
The main reason there is sugar in damn near everything (start reading labels more carefully if you don’t believe that) is that sugar is addictive. It defeats our natural appetite regulators. We aren’t eating more but we’re eating lower quality and getting more of our calories in the form of sugar and the food producers are doing this knowing that it will trick us into eating more than we need. They want us addicted and constantly hungry. We eat more; they sell more.
You think food folks are the only ones doing this? Tobacco manufacturers are cited in the article as doing pretty much the same thing. You might be doing it as well if you’re constantly focusing on “engagement”. The job of the product people at Facebook and others is to get you to keep coming back for another dish. All those little alerts on your phone are the digital equivalent of your gut saying “I’m hungry – feed me!”
If there is anyone in your business whose job it is to break down consumers’ self-regulation, you might want to think about if you want to be in the same business as a drug peddler. Many food companies are pushing an ultimately fatal addiction. So are many tech companies. Are you?
I’m in training now to expand my consulting practice. I’ll have more about what exactly that means in another week or so, once I’ve officially completed training and can begin working with clients. The training has been two or sometimes three 90-minute training sessions a day for the last week or so. It’s pretty intensive, and while much of it isn’t highly technical and involves some business knowledge that’s common to what I’ve learned working in other areas over the years, it’s still a lot. I’m enjoying it, in part because it’s been quite a while since I’ve had to absorb this much information about a topic that is totally new to me. Always good to get those old synapses firing, isn’t it?
One thing it’s reminded of is the difference between learning and doing. Maybe I should phrase that as knowing and doing, but they’re different. In any event, one is certainly not the other. I can explain to you the elements of a great golf swing and I can probably point out what in your swing is causing you problems. I know what a good swing looks like. Can I perform one myself? Oh hell no. I’m a great caddy – I can club you correctly and discuss strategy. Can I hit the shot I’m describing? Not consistently well.
That’s knowing vs. doing. Learning vs. doing is having the information as I now do about this new business area but really nothing more. I can tell you the rules, I can tell you the best practices, I can even tell you the mistakes you’re likely to make. What I can’t do is to give you any first-hand experience nor any nuance nor anything particularly insightful from that which you could get from anyone else. That last part is where any of us add value to what is, in essence, a textbook view of the world. A kid coming out of graduate school with an MBA (yes, 28-year-olds are now “kids” to me) has a ton of education and knows an awful lot but they have very little experience. The good ones that I’ve worked with know that and are anxious to add to their education by doing. The less good one think they already know it all thanks to their learning.
I know I can be effective in my expanded area right away although I’ll be even more effective as time passes and I learn the things one only learns by doing. Part of why we see some problems in the business world, particularly in the tech world, is that we have CEO’s who got to those jobs by being founders. They don’t have real-world experience because they’ve not done the series of jobs and learned from each that traditionally gets one into a CEO chair. Without a bunch of doing, a little learning can be a dangerous thing, don’t you think?