Category Archives: Consulting

Back To The Bar

(Only cropped, no other editing.)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I’m inspired by something the folks at Bacardi are doing because it’s something every company ought to be doing in some form. In the case of Bacardi, they’ve called it “Back To The Bar” and the reason for what they’re doing is nicely explained by their CEO and reported by MediaPost:

“Back to the Bar is our version of ‘walking the factory floor,’” said Mahesh Madhavan, CEO of Bacardi Limited. “It puts our people in touch with what’s happening in our business in real life and real time — something you can’t truly understand behind a computer screen, sitting through a presentation, or dissecting a spreadsheet.”

What every employee is being encouraged to do is to go hang around bars. In fact, they’re shutting down the company to allow employees to do so. While they’re in those bars, they’re to connect with customers and encourage them to try cocktails made with Bacardi. I imagine they’ll also get a lot of feedback on the product, consumer approaches to drink selection and other information which, as the CEO says, you can’t get behind a computer screen. It’s a fantastic idea.

Think about your own business. First, I hope you’re eating your own dog food – that you’re a regular user of your own product or service. If not, why not? As an example, over the years I’ve worked in sports with a few people who didn’t really watch sports or know a heck of a lot about it. How they got hired baffled me. I also worked with a TV executive who said he didn’t ever watch some very popular shows because he “wasn’t the demo.” I get that but I think if your job entails marketing to a particular target you need to understand the target and that includes their likes and dislikes even if they don’t mirror your own.

Next, Barcardi is getting first-hand feedback. They’re talking to people who are in a relaxed environment, probably a cocktail or two down the road, and the chances of getting uncensored feedback are excellent. It’s not a written survey or a focus group. It’s way better than those. Most importantly, it’s first hand. I have always loved the old United Airlines commercial from the late 1980’s in which Ben, a senior executive whose company lost a long-term client that morning, is handing out airline tickets to his managers and tells them to go visit clients. Ben himself is going “to visit that old friend who fired us this morning.” It’s a spectacular reminder not to lose touch with people. Don’t rely solely on email and telephone. You probably see this issue even in how your own office works if you still work in one. People don’t visit – they communicate via email or Slack or some other messaging service, even with the person in the next cubicle.

People thrive when they connect with other people. Your business thrives when it really connects with customers. When was the last time you went back to the bar?

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A Not So Super Formula

Super Bowl Sunday is not only a celebration of the NFL championship. It’s also a day celebrating commercialism is in its glory. While some forms of it are heinous (think of the price-gouging going on in and around the stadium), I think most of us enjoy checking out the commercials each year. Some are funny, some are just dumb, but all of them are selling us something.

Photo by Andrae Ricketts

The commercials got me thinking about another form of selling that made news this weekend. You’ve probably heard about the memo released by a member of Congress concerning the investigation into how Russia interfered in our election. Putting aside the politics (we don’t do them here), it provides a very instructive thought about marketing.

Much like the release of a new movie or any other product, the memo was preceded by a campaign to raise awareness of it. There was a hashtag used to build that awareness along with demand and various friendly outlets promoted the fact that the memo was something all Americans should see. That’s where things go off the rails a bit since the reason given why we should all see this document was that it contained new, critical information. The promise was that once we all saw this information, our perception of how the investigation was being run or even its entire existence would be called into question. That, dear readers, is the lesson.

The memo was released and while to some it was a big deal, the general response to it was that it’s a big dud that contained nothing new and was somewhat misleading. In fact, some of the folks who were hyping its release are now backing away. What it shows us is the problem with overselling.

Overselling in its simplest form is selling more than you have to offer. If you’re an airline or hotel, you sell more seats or rooms than you have because there are usually cancellations or no-shows. It another form, overselling is going well beyond the substance of what you have, teeing up the consumer for disappointment when they find you’ve underdelivered. It’s an extremely dangerous thing to do.

Isn’t hyperbole part of selling? I don’t think so. In fact, I think great selling is about helping a prospect gain clarity about their situation while hyperbole is about obstructing reality to a certain extent. Overpromising and underdelivering, whether in releasing a report or running an ad in the Super Bowl, is a formula for failure in my book. Yours?

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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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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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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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Looking For The Truffles

This Foodie Friday I’m going to run the risk that I’m going to burst a balloon. If you received some truffle oil as a holiday gift, the odds are overwhelming that there isn’t any truffle in your truffle oil. That’s right: much like true extra virgin olive oil, which is generally often neither “virgin” nor “olive oil,” truffle oil is generally some sort of oil infused with something called 2,4-dithiapentane. Sounds yummy, no? As Tony Bourdain said, truffle oil is “not even food! About as edible as Astroglide and made out of the same material.”

Norcia black truffles.

Norcia black truffles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I should not really be the real bearer of bad news here. As far back as 2003, publications were reporting on this and the NY Times did a piece last September on it that was widely read in foodie circles. You might think I’m going to use this as the jumping off point for another rant about deceptive advertising, and as appealing a thought as that is, I’m heading in another direction. Much like the “Where’s The Beef” question, seeing truffle oil on a grocery shelf (heck, even Walmart sells EVOO with “truffle aroma”) makes me wonder where exactly the truffles are. Real truffles in oil don’t last long, you know, so they’re probably not in things that sit on a shelf.

Come to think of it, vanilla extract has the same issue. Much of what you see in the stores isn’t real vanilla and there’s no vanilla in most vanilla things, but vanillin, a chemical compound. Unlike truffles, you probably can buy the real thing at your local store but it’s not 98 cents a bottle, believe me.

What does this have to do with your business, other than making you feel as you did when you found out there isn’t a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny? More than you’d think, actually. When you put up a sign or create a website that announces you as a service provider of some sort, people have an expectation that you can, in fact, provide said service. When you advertise a product, customers expect that the product will do what you say it will. They don’t want to have to look for the truffles nor do they expect that what they’ll find will be fake or something that mimics the real thing. If you’re selling your expertise, have some, even if it’s narrow. I’m surprised sometimes when I speak with people who claim to know something about a piece of this crazy business world how little they actually do know. They might have read a book and can fake their competence, but there really isn’t a truffle there.

A vanilla-flavored extract isn’t the same as vanilla extract. Truffle flavored oil assuredly has no truffles. Make sure there is validity in whatever you’re claiming to be or much like olive oil brands and truffle oil distributors are being sued (there were “four class-action lawsuits filed in New York and California accusing Trader Joe’s, Urbani Truffles, Sabatino and Monini of fraud of ‘false, misleading, and deceptive misbranding’ of its truffle oil products'” you’re heading for big trouble.

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The Razzie Goes To…

I went to see a movie Saturday afternoon and ended up seeing a lot more than I had intended. It became a great learning experience about trying to solve one problem and creating a much more severe issue in the process.

The movie itself was fine (“Darkest Hour,” a little long but great performances). It was what I saw going on several times in the lobby which provided the learning experience. Apparently, this theater has a policy that kids under age 17 cannot attend a movie Friday-Sunday after 4pm without an accompanying adult. That’s right – any movie, even a G-rated one. It’s a relatively new policy too since there were several people there who had thought they’d go into one theater while their teen-aged kids went to see something else. They were engaged with the person taking tickets as well as with the customer service desk and someone I assume was a manager. The exchanges weren’t going well.

A few things from which we all can learn. First, this policy is nowhere to be found on the theater’s website or Facebook page. From the comments on the Facebook page, some parents had even dropped off their 15-year-old kids only to be called to come back since they weren’t being admitted to a PG-13 movie. If you’re going to make a change in your policies, make them loudly and often. Obviously, people do check movie times before showing up – how about making sure that every time your theater displays that your new policy does as well? BY the way, there is still no official announcement of this on their Facebook page despite numerous (negative) comments about it.

Second. This theater could not care less about customer service. How do I know? Two ways for starters. The person at the customer service desk was doing anything but serving the customer. They had a “take it or leave it” attitude and when I heard someone say “we won’t be back to this theater” his dismissed it with a “that’s fine.” He also said the policy was a safety issue and when one mom pointed to her three 13-year-old girls, asking if they looked dangerous, his response was “yes.” Really?

The other thing that this theater does it to respond to every Facebook comment, good or bad, with exactly the same cut and paste copy. There is no acknowledgment of the specific issue nor anything beyond a link to their corporate customer service page (they’re part of a chain) which is basically kicking a local issue into a much larger, less likely to be served bin. The funny thing is the copy: We strive to give you the best experience and would like the opportunity to give you a 5-star experience, next time. Not so much, and why would anyone with an issue come back?

I do understand why this policy is in place. The theater has had trouble on Friday and Saturday nights with teenagers acting up: making noise, throwing food, using their phones to take pictures, etc. As with most things, it’s a very small group that causes the problem and the theater’s management has chosen to paint with an extremely wide brush in an attempt to solve it. In the process, they’ve alienated many customers. There is another multiplex showing most of the same movies not very far away. Which would you choose as a parent?

I wonder if they did a cost/benefit analysis? What would it cost to hire extra security on weekends? How about a few more ushers? How many admissions and concession sales are lost to the new policy? Moreover, what is the value of the goodwill seeing the extra security vs. the negative effect of this? What 16-year old wants to be told they need to have Mommy go with them to the movies?

They give out The Razzies to films or acting performances in films considered to be the worst of the year. I’d give this theater one for their “problem-solving” and customer service performances. You?

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