Monthly Archives: June 2019

Intentional Mislabeling

Let’s start with a question this Foodie Friday. If I offered you two carrots, one of which was had a label that said “non-GMO” and the other didn’t, which carrot would you choose? “GMO” as I’m sure you know means that this food wasn’t made from genetically modified crops. Would that make a difference in your selection?

It’s a trick question, actually. There are no genetically modified carrots in the marketplace, at least not yet. Neither are there GMO strawberries. That won’t stop you from finding carrots or strawberries labeled as non-GMO though. You’ve also probably seen that many chickens are labeled as “raised without antibiotics” while others don’t bear that label. Does that influence your thinking? It shouldn’t: antibiotics have been banned on chicken farms for over a decade.

Some labels in food can be horribly misleading while others are not. “Organic”, for example, really does mean that the food was grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizer. It’s a legal term meaning that there are penalties for its misuse. You might think that non-GMO foods are organic and, therefore, better for you. Unless they also say they are organic, non-GMO foods are conventionally grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

Why I bring this up in a business blog is that the misuse of these and other terms in marketing is not due to confusion about them. It’s due to the willful deception of the consumer by an unscrupulous marketer who at best is just jumping on a bandwagon and at worst is looking to charge more for an inferior product. Your “cage-free” chicken still lives indoors in a jammed coop and those “free-range” chickens for which you pay a premium probably haven’t been outside either. It just means that they have access to go outside if they can find and get through one of the few doors in the henhouse.

I’m a fan of clear, enforceable labels in all products, not just food. What the hell does “skin organics? mean on a cosmetics label? Chemical-free sunscreen? Not possible, yet some brands are labeled just that way. The labels don’t write themselves and as marketing people, we need to hold our customers’ interests paramount. Their health too since it’s rather difficult to get a dead consumer to buy much of anything. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

The Fundamentals

I was watching the College World Series the other night. My Wolverines are in the final with a chance to win a very surprising national championship (they weren’t supposed to get this far). Go Blue!

Many of the articles attributed their success to great pitching and that’s something whose importance you can never overstate in my opinion. However, there is one other factor I noticed in watching this team that’s applicable to any business. This team has been well-coached in the fundamentals. Let me explain.

Bunting is a lost art in baseball. It’s attempted in many of the major league games I watch and is rarely executed perfectly. Maybe I’m yearning for the age when Phil Rizzuto would school the Yankee teams on bunting (he was among the best ever at it) but I’ve now seen Michigan lay down several perfect bunts on the correct side of the plate based on the situation and the defense. That’s knowing and practicing the fundamentals.

They run the bases well and don’t make bad decisions. Sure, a coach is involved in the decision, but if you don’t hit the bases in stride and run with your head up you’ll miss the “stop/go” signal. They are not too anxious at the plate, often running the pitcher deep into the count. Over time, that has an impact and the more pitches you see, the greater the likelihood that you’ll get one you like. Again, these are fundamentals.

The same holds true in your business. How well schooled is your staff – or are you – in the fundamentals of your operation? Does everyone understand how you are creating value for your customers and your enterprise? Since, as Eisenhower said, the plan may be useless but planning is essential, is everyone involved in that fundamental process? You probably use a lot of industry-specific terms in your office. Does everyone fully understand them and speak your language fluently?

As managers, our job is to make sure that the team has the skills to perform and that skill almost always relies on some fundamentals. Teach them, practice them, and make sure that they’re executed perfectly every time. Like this Michigan team, you’re probably going to overperform and get unexpectedly great results. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

No Strings

It’s Foodie Friday and it’s also the first day of Summer. Actually, it’s felt like July down here in the Carolinas since May, but I digress. In honor of the day, Dairy Queen is giving out coupons for a free soft serve ice cream cone. Yum! What better way to celebrate the new season?

Well, not to be the one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but of course, there are strings attached. You see, in order to get said free cone you need to purchase something else at DQ. Not that I’d generally mind doing so but that little bit of fine print sort of chills my enthusiasm (see what I did there?). Oh yeah, one other thing – in order to get the coupon you need to have installed the DQ app on your phone. I mean, who doesn’t want yet another app tracking you, sending data to who knows where, taking up room on your phone and hitting you up with “big announcements” every hour or so?

My point is a broader one that just beating up on Dairy Queen. I’ve always had an issue with seemingly benevolent marketing or charitable offers that are really self-serving. You know what I mean. How many offers have you seen for “buy this and we’ll make a donation to this worthy cause”? If the cause is so great, why don’t you just make the donation? Then there are those “free” offers that cost you in other ways. Opera, the browser company, offered “free” VPN a couple of years ago. Of course, you had to agree to let them track your usage and share the data with third parties.  Sure, it’s supposedly completely anonymized but if it includes a device identifier of any sort or location data, it’s not hard to merge it with other data.

Gift horses may, in fact, be Trojan Horses too. There are way too many “free” offers that are really scams. We’ve all seen the “free” product that involved paying shipping and handling charges that are detailed in tiny print and quite costly. Then there are the “free” products that require you to hand over a credit card, ostensibly so that if you make any “optional” purchases it’s a seamless transaction or maybe they’ve enrolled you in something that will charge you monthly once your “free” period is up. Illegal? Actually no, if it’s disclosed (you read all the mouse-type every time, don’t you). Shady as hell? You bet.

If you’re going to make free offers or do something nice for your customer, do so without strings. A gift involves altruism. If there is an ulterior motive lying within, it’s not a gift, right?

 

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

GSD

We’re starting down that road to another presidential election here in the US. There are a lot of people who want the job, apparently although having watched my way through “The West Wing” multiple times I’m not sure why. The plane maybe?

No, we’re not heading into the world of politics but one thing that struck me as I have been watching the various candidates making their cases is that there are an awful lot of good ideas being tossed around. Every candidate has a grand solution to one or more of the many things that can be improved here in the US of A. Of course, so did nearly every other person who has run for the office over the years. What they found is something that’s useful to any of us in business: good ideas aren’t enough.

I’m sure you’ve had many groundbreaking ideas in your business life. Maybe you even got the chance to try and bring them to life. The reality is that a good number of those ideas withered away because the strength of an idea isn’t really enough to make it happen. You need buy-in from all the stakeholders which means you also need some good persuasion skills. You might need money which means you need to be able to justify your brainstorm in dollars and cents for the money mavens. And of course, you need the leadership skills to make others understand your vision and work hard to implement it even if the value of that idea isn’t necessarily apparent to them until the very end.

Being great means Getting Stuff Done or as Elvis used to have on his belt buckle, TCB – Taking Care of Business. I had a boss who used to tell me I had 100 ideas a day and 99 were pure crap. I had to learn how to get that one great idea done. He was right (well, maybe more than 1 a day was pretty good). I became a much better manager when I learned not to fixate on the idea but to pay attention to the process so the idea could bloom. Yes, it’s like a garden – the great idea is just the seed and without a proper environment and lots of care it will wither and die.

So now you know that. I wonder how many of the candidates do?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Vendors And Partners

President Reagan has been quoted as saying “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” are the most terrifying words in the English language. One phrase I used to hear a lot that was just as terrifying to me was “we want to be your (fill in the blank) partner.” That could be a tech partner or a marketing partner or whatever. The thing was that most people have a tremendous amount of difficulty distinguishing between a partner and a vendor. The sad truth is that very few people or organizations that you’re in business with want to be the former and that’s a shame. Vendors are a dime a dozen while good partners are rare.

How do I distinguish between the two? Vendors send you bills while you usually end up sending a partner their share of your joint profits. Vendors come into your office and tell you how great their product or service is, even if you’re using it or them. They tell you their story and ignore yours.  Instead of telling you what they are doing for you specifically, they tell you about the latest success story they’ve had, usually with some other “partner” of theirs.

It’s always easy to spot the vendors and the potential partners almost from the second they walk in the door. Partners will talk about you and your situation and tell you specifically how they can help. They’ll ask for reasonable compensation but also volunteer to share in the upside because they believe in their product and its ability to help you. Vendors come in with a canned, generic pitch. Their rates are fixed in stone and they don’t share the risk and so don’t have any interest in sharing the rewards.

I’ve always felt that my goals and those of my business partners were very much aligned. I can’t say the same of many of the vendors I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve also always tried to do business with my consulting clients and franchise candidates in that way – as a good partner and resource rather than as a vendor. Is that a difference without a distinction? Not in my book. How about in yours?

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Finishing In Style

Let’s think, this Foodie Friday, about how dishes are “finished.” No, I don’t mean how you eat every last bit off of your plate. Instead, I mean those last few things you do as a cook when the dish is done but you’re adding what I would call a lagniappe of sorts – a little something extra at the end, almost a gift.

For example. Let’s say you’ve just cooked your guests some perfect steaks. Now you could certainly just let them rest and present them to your hungry diners or you could finish them in style. Maybe you make an herb butter which you allow to melt over the warm steak, adding another layer of richness and flavor. Maybe you provide a container of truffle salt, adding heady umami to the dish.

We’ve all been offered grated cheese to go on our pasta. That’s finishing in style in my book, especially if the cheese offered is correct for the dish itself and not just the same cheese for everyone (and heaven forfend that’s it’s grated ahead of time!).

Finishing in style can be as simple as offering a drop of true balsamic vinegar for aged cheese or even ice cream (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). What I think it really shows is that the cook is willing to go the extra steps to make a meal memorable.

It’s the same in business. When was the last time you hand-wrote a thank you note to a customer for an order or sent a gift to a new client to welcome them aboard? When I joined my franchising network and finished training, a lovely bonsai tree showed up at my house to congratulate me. Did it make me work any harder? No, but sure showed me that I had exercised great judgment in joining the group that I had. That was finishing in style.

Business today is way too competitive for any of us not to think about the lagniappe – the something extra. How can we finish each transaction – each dish we prepare – in style?

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Misaligned Interests

Did you happen to hear about (or read!) the NY Times article on how a young man got “sucked into the vortex” of radical videos on YouTube? It’s an interesting and scary read. It’s about how a person goes to YouTube to watch a video on one thing and ends up multiple videos later watching something completely different and often dangerous.

As the article says:

YouTube has been a godsend for hyper-partisans on all sides. It has allowed them to bypass traditional gatekeepers and broadcast their views to mainstream audiences and has helped once-obscure commentators build lucrative media businesses.

As usual, we’re not here to rant about the politics of these videos. It’s just as easy for the videos to be dangerous and non-political and even though YouTube specifically bans harmful or dangerous content, they can’t catch everything.

The real issue here is YouTube’s – and many other platforms’ – business model. They make money by keeping you engaged and the way that they do that is often via a recommendation engine. That engine uses an algorithm that rewards videos that have lengthy watch times by promoting them more often. Of course, the more engaged you are, the more ads you’ll see and that’s really the problem. Most of the popular platforms follow that business model and their interests don’t necessarily align with yours. They all have some sort of algorithm which on YouTube, as the article says, is

the software that determines which videos appear on users’ home pages and inside the “Up Next” sidebar next to a video that is playing. The algorithm is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site.

Of course, you can turn off the recommendations. You can also delete your search history, pausing it going forward, and your watch history which will prevent the algorithm from determining what you usually watch. If you haven’t hidden the video suggestions (it’s in your settings) at least you’ll see lots of pretty neutral offerings. More importantly, you’ll take back control and realign their interests with yours.

It would be easy for YouTube and others to prevent a host of problems by killing off the recommendation engine but they never will because it’s the thing that drives their business model. In a perfect world, every business’ interests would align perfectly with those of their customers. Maybe it’s because the big platforms are out of alignment with us that there is so much anger directed toward them?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?