Category Archives: Consulting

Back To Basics

I played a number of sports growing up. Thinking back on it, no matter which sport I was playing, when the season began the coach would inevitably talk about getting back to basics. He usually meant the building block skills that a team had to have in order to be successful. If you don’t think that’s important, watch one of today’s major league baseball players try to lay down a suicide squeeze bunt. That basic skill has almost disappeared.

No, today isn’t going to be yet another old guy rant about how the world has changed for the worse, Instead, as we approach the end of one year and the start of another, it’s a reminder that now is a great time to do a little back to basics thinking. It’s harder than you think because what often happens during the course of a year (or longer, depending on when the last time was that you did this exercise) is that the basics get forgotten in the heat of battle. So here are a few of the fundamental questions that I’d be asking myself and my team right about now.

First, what are we trying to accomplish? That sounds overly simple since making a profit is pretty much what every business is trying to do unless you’re a non- or not-for-profit organization. What are you trying to make happen? What problems that your customers have are you trying to solve?

Next, how are you measuring success? It’s not just the cash register ringing or the bottom line overflowing with black ink although clearly basic financial items are important. How many new customers did you attract? How is your reputation? What good have you done for your customers, your partners, your vendors, your employees, and your community?

After that, take a look forward. What do we need to do in order to be successful in this next year? How do last year’s results, both good and bad, direct us forward? What can we start doing and what should we stop doing, whether it’s meetings, products, reports, or something else? What could happen in the marketplace that will affect us, both positively and negatively? Do we have a disaster plan?

Finally, is the view you and your organization had of the world at the start of this year still the way you see it going forward? If you don’t think that things change that much, think back 5 years or even (gulp) 10. You wouldn’t have had a mobile strategy or a social media plan then. You probably didn’t pay a heck of a lot of attention to your website or online reviews. You sure had better be active in all of those areas today even if you’re not a digital business.

Those are some of the basics I see as necessary for success. What are some of yours?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Faddie Friday!

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic today is really Faddie Friday. What got me thinking about food fads was hearing yet another discussion about keto diets. You know – low carb, no carb, no fun. I’ve been doing a variant of this for many years (and lost a lot of weight) but it actually goes back to the invention of the Atkins Diet in 1972. I’m not a full-blown keto person but I do watch my carbs and try to cut out sugar and foods that I know are high on the glycemic index.

Atkins is far from the only food fad. At one time, fondue was all the rage. I’ll bet if you dig deep enough into a closet or your garage you’ll find a fondue set, maybe one your mom handed down. Nothing like a communal bowl of hot cheese, wine, and seasonings, right?

Now we have fads such as juice cleansing, kale, and bacon, which down here in the South is not so much a fad as it is a way of life. What’s interesting to me is that fads aren’t the same thing as trends. You can think of it in business terms. Fads are those two-day blips in your revenue while trends are the steady direction of those revenues. Fads are jagged, trends are smooth. Food fad – kale. Food trend – healthier eating. Got it?

You need to think in those terms as you approach your business and how you run it. I’ve lived through several management fads and they weren’t all as benign as kale. Ever hear of Six Sigma? How about Business Process Re-Engineering? Matrix Management? Or one of my absolute favorites, MBO – Management By Objectives. Even though it was created by one of my favorite management people, Peter Drucker, it was cumbersome, time-wasting, and not quick enough to react. Obviously, I agree with much of the thinking behind it but the actual implementation could bog you down.

I bring all of these up (and it’s far from an exhaustive list) to remind each of us that we have to watch out for fads. I was told by a senior executive many years ago that the internet was both a fad and a scam. He had a little trouble figuring out the difference between a fad and a fundamental change. Take the time to distinguish between the two and you’ll be far better off than those who don’t. Make sense?

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A Few Thoughts From My New Gig

As I mentioned in this space a few weeks back, I’ve begun a new line of consulting involving matching people who are looking to take charge of their business lives and invest in a franchise of some sort with the right franchise for them. So far it’s been interesting work and today I’d like to share a few things I’ve found in this work that I think are applicable to other businesses. By the way, if you’re one of those people who want to be a corporation of one, click here to check out how I can help (end of gratuitous self-promotion).

Many of the things that come up are points that apply when you’re hiring or interviewing for a position yourself. The first is that of shared beliefs. Nearly every franchise gives me a listing of what their ideal candidate looks like. In many cases, they’re not looking at a technical skill set. You can be taught how to refinish a countertop or to run an afterschool program. Instead, I see things such as “belief in helping a community of learners” or “possess a passion to own a senior-focused care company that largely stems from personal experience caring for others.” You can’t teach those things. When you’re hiring, ask yourself if you’re more interested in someone who knows Excel inside and out or someone who will be a supportive member of your team and play nicely with the other kids in the sandbox. I always opt for the latter since I can teach the former.

Another thing that comes up a lot is that of a franchise’s record of success. How well does their system work? What are the financial results that prove it? If you’re looking to take a job because it’s more money, you’re overlooking the fact that the company may be hiring because people are leaving a sinking ship. How long have the current employees been there? Have they come up through the ranks? Why have people left? It’s relatively simple to find out how a company is doing, both from a financial and an employee-relations perspective. Take the time to find out. A larger paycheck is of lesser value if you’re miserable every day.

Finally, I try to help the candidate set realistic expectations about what their prospective business will be about. Very few people like surprises in business. Don’t oversell the job or the company if you’re hiring. Hopefully, you have a great story to tell and you should let the facts and track record speak for themselves. Keep the promises you make. If your expectations don’t align with the company’s or the candidate’s, there’s going to be a massive problem.

I always remind candidates that franchises are awarded, not sold. It’s a mutual job interview, not a business for sale off a shelf to anyone with the resources to invest. Your staff and your career should be treated the same way, don’t you think?

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Why Does Anyone Buy Digital Ads?

Billions of dollars are spent marketing via programmatic advertising. Many billions more are spent paying for app installs – money that changes hands when an ad convinces a consumer to install an app on their smartphone. Ask yourself this: in what other business do you as a customer have a pretty decent chance of being defrauded? Off the top of my head, I can think of used cars and the investment world as places where customers should tread exceptionally carefully. Each of them has a certain subculture of ripping people off and there is a small percentage of bad actors who cause the bulk of the problems.

Try to wrap your head around these numbers. Somewhere between 3% and 37% of ad impressions were found to be from robots and not actually delivered to human eyes. That doesn’t seem bad until you do the math and see that over $6 Billion is spent on fraudulent ad impressions.

Do I have your attention yet? How about this from eMarketer:

eMarketer estimates that $7.1 billion will be spent on mobile app install ads in 2018, up from $6.5 billion last year…Several companies have conducted research that indicates how expensive install fraud is for marketers. Mobile marketing analytics firm Adjust estimated that between July and September 2018, 13.7% of app installs were rejected as fraudulent. According to Tune, app-install fraud cost marketers nearly $2 billion in 2017. DataVisor stated that for some ad networks, half of their app installs are fraudulent.

Is the industry trying to solve this? Of course it is, but it’s almost a Sisyphean task. One problem is solved and another method to defraud marketers and publishers pops up, and it’s been going on this way for as long as I can remember. Even among the legitimate ad service providers, there is an industry-wide reluctance to share the “black box” of how these systems actually do what they do. Do you think it’s only the little guys? It’s not. Facebook has been sued for overreporting how much time users spent watching videos. The suit says that Facebook knows that the majority of video ads on its platform are viewed for very short periods of time—users scroll right past. They claim that if advertisers were more widely aware of this fact, and in particular, if they knew that their advertisements were among those that were not drawing viewers’ attention, they would be less likely to continue buying video advertising from Facebook.

I tell clients that they need to be extremely careful if they go beyond search engine ads into other forms of programmatic. While I am well aware of how effective digital marketing can be, I constantly wonder if the bad actors are making that effectiveness almost impossible to achieve. I don’t know why anyone would enter the sewer that the digital ad world has become, at least not without full protective gear. Am I being too critical here?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Girls And Boys Just Want To Have Fun

One thing I learned after I began managing people many decades ago is that even though it’s called “work,” it doesn’t have to seem that way all the time. Since I was still pretty young (24) when I got my first managerial responsibility, I still placed a good deal of emphasis on having fun as well as getting the work done. In fact, most of the time when problems arose it was because I had failed to act in a way that would be how I would want my boss to act or that I’d forgotten that for most people, work is what they do and not who they are. Let me explain why remembering to have fun is just as important as remembering to get things done.

I felt I was running a benevolent dictatorship. What I mean is that most decisions were mine because I bore the responsibility for them to the powers that be whether I had made them or not. However, I rarely took those decisions in a vacuum. I got input from my team and always encouraged them to voice their opinions. They knew that I might not decide to do things the way that they wanted but that I’d listened and considered their thinking on the matter.

That’s part of having fun. It’s letting every member of the team feel valued. It’s taking what we were doing together seriously but not taking ourselves so seriously. I read somewhere that great leaders are ambassadors of happy. I like that, especially since I’ve worked for a few bosses to whom “happy” and “staff” were never words that intersected.

People have fun when they know what to expect from their leader. When leaders make a conscious effort to have fun, whether via silly signs or self-deprecating humor or through the constant appreciation of the good work of each person on the team. That’s when “work” becomes a place that’s a lot more than a job or a paycheck. Ask yourself, “are we having fun yet?” Ask your team too. Are you? Are they?

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Going Negative

It’s a bit less than a week before Election Day and I, for one, can’t wait for the elections to be over. That will mean that the political ads will end too, and that can’t happen soon enough.

Putting aside politics, the vast bulk of these ads are horrible marketing. One thing that marketers learned long ago doesn’t work is badmouthing your competition; yet damn near every ad I see across the multitude of channels I watch and stream is 30 seconds of negativity. These folks spend their allotted time distorting positions, taking things out of context, and flat-out lying in many cases. The candidate-produced ads are bad and the PAC-produced ads are even worse. You’d think they’d stop. In 2007, the Journal Of Politics did a study of negative ads. They found:

…that negative ads tended to be more memorable than positive ones but that they did not affect voter choice. People were no less likely to turn out to the polls or to decide against voting for a candidate who was attacked in an ad.

While campaign consultants seem to think that these ads work, science proves otherwise. Of course, there are many folks out there who don’t believe in science but that’s another screed…

It’s bad marketing. Going negative makes you look petty and unprofessional. Playing up your strengths always works better than bashing a competitor’s weaknesses. Good marketers explain how they are going to solve your problems. I think good politicians should do that too. I don’t want “small” people representing me. If you can’t run on your positions and your solutions, then how am I to trust that you can outperform the one running against you?

This applies to your business as well, obviously. Do you see a lot of non-political negative ads? No, you don’t. There are many good reasons for that. Do you see a lot of false claims in non-political ads? You sure don’t – there are laws against it. The FTC Act prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising in any medium. That is, advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers. A claim can be misleading if relevant information is left out or if the claim implies something that’s not true. It seems to me that many political ads do just that, unfortunately.

Politicians may be brands, but they sure don’t advertise as if they were. Going negative isn’t particularly helpful in non-political marketing and it’s just as bad in politics. That’s one man’s opinion. What’s yours?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

He’s Due

The World Series just concluded. Congratulations, Red Sox fans and boy, how it pains me to say that as a life-long Yankees fan. Watching baseball reminded me of something we used to say back when I played baseball. When a guy was in a hitting slump we’d often say “he’s due.” What we meant was that according to his batting average he had taken enough at-bats that it was time for a hit. After all, if his average shows he gets 3 hits every 10 times at bat and he hadn’t had a hit in 15 plate appearances, statistically he should get one now. We were convinced he was due.

That, dear readers, was our youthful display of The Gambler’s Fallacy. We were laboring under the misconception that what has recently occurred will affect what occurs next even if the two events are unrelated. For example, if flipping a coin nine times results in nine instances of “heads,” you might think “tails” is due. Sorry – probability still applies and there’s a 50 percent chance the tenth flip will be heads regardless of what has happened before.

Stop and think about how often you or someone you know in business makes the mistake that if something happens more frequently than normal during a given period, it will happen less frequently in the future (or vice versa). Salespeople refuse to accept higher quotas after a good year, holding back revenue projections which holds back hiring and spending which results in a missed opportunity.  Marketers keep spending against historically good targets after a few campaigns don’t result in the expected results rather than acknowledging that the market may have shifted. Financial people let their insurance lapse after a disaster figuring that if they had a hurricane hit in their area which rarely gets hurricanes, the likelihood of another one hitting is very low. As someone pointed out, the term “100-year flood” doesn’t mean a flood happens every hundred years; it means there is a 1% chance of it hitting during ANY year.

The odds of a disaster happening might be very low but we buy insurance and, more importantly, we make disaster plans. The failure to hit a revenue target after three bad quarters doesn’t mean “you’re due” to have a huge fourth quarter. It means you need to make adjustments. There is no question that luck plays some role in business success and failure but that’s not a business plan.

In the great baseball movie “Major League”, the manager brings in a pitcher to face a batter that has gotten many hits off of him in the past. When the catcher questions his choice, the manager says “I know he hasn’t done very well against this guy but I got a hunch he’s due.” That might be how you want to run your baseball team but it is NOT the way you want to run your business. It worked out in the movies but that’s not real life.

Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks