Category Archives: Consulting

Learning And Doing

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?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Wanting And Needing

If you hang around the candy aisle of the supermarket long enough, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll hear some kid yell at their parent that they “need it” with a large bag of candy in their hand. At that moment, I think the kid believes it. Hopefully, the parent explains the difference between “needing” and “wanting”. Hopefully, that’s something you can recognize in your business life too.

A need is something you must have to survive. As humans, water, food, and shelter are about the extent of those needs (I put clothing and warmth under the shelter heading). As a business, the fundamental need is to make a profit. Without that, no business can survive over the long term. In order to make those profits, you need money coming in, which means you also need customers who will pay you for your product or service. As with any need, once we have satisfied it we can move on to the “want.” You want customers who are happy so they stick around. You want customers who are pleasant so you can interact with them without drama. You need to have people working with you who are loyal and knowledgeable so they support your customers. You want them to stick around for the long term at a reasonable cost to the business.

The hard part for me when I began consulting was that I think I probably spent too much effort helping clients get the wants and not enough time focused on the needs. Rookie mistake, one I don’t make now. I’m not surprised when a client and I get into the need/want discussion and there is a bit of a disconnect. With early-stage companies especially, you have to get the needs shored up.

I try to focus on telling clients what they need to hear, which is not necessarily what they want to hear (see what I did there?). I did the same when I was part of a larger organization, sometimes to my detriment, I’ll admit. I did learn that the people who can hear things that are true but sometimes unpleasant are the ones with whom you want to work. They have learned that the bag of candy is a want, but those wants might not be affordable or necessary. They might even be detrimental. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

David And Goliath

I’d like us to think about David and Goliath this Foodie Friday. In the food service world, there are a few Goliaths – McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks to name a few. There are far more Davids – everything from mom and pop restaurants competing in the same quick-service space to regional chains. It’s interesting to see how the little guys try to compete with the big ones and there is a lesson in that for any of us in business.

I’m often surprised at how some Davids think they can just “me too” their way into success by following the strategies and tactics of the big guys. I guess the thinking is that one wouldn’t have to grab a whole lot of share from a big guy to have a wildly successful business. They drop pretty large crumbs.

I was reading something recently that reinforced my surprise. It’s a study by Sense360, a restaurant consultancy. It found:

McDonald’s has been admired for its value-oriented strategy that’s led to its market dominance and resurgence. Many QSRs have tried to replicate McDonald’s winning strategy, with little success. That’s because they’re copying the wrong things and not taking away the key lessons that would lead to a better result.

What McDonald’s and other Goliaths do is to formulate very detailed customer personas. They identify key consumer attributes and build their strategy around attracting the core customers they’ve profiled again and again. Those personas are NOT the same across different brands, so trying to use strategies designed to attract them may not fit your customer profile at all. For example, the quality of food at McDonald’s is, according to the study, a very minor reason why their customers go. Advertising the quality of your food as a way to grab a McDonald’s customer is going to fall on deaf ears.

Obviously, the Starbucks customer has different concerns and priorities than the McDonald’s customer, which is exactly what the study found. Therein lies the lesson for any of us. What we all need to be doing is looking internally and see what we can do well that is different from what our competitors are doing and which resonates with OUR customers, not theirs. What will give my business and my brand an opportunity rather than going head-to-head with someone who has more resources than me, often moves faster to adapt to market changes, and has a different customer anyway.

David beat Goliath because he managed to hit him in a weak spot and not because he went after his strength or waited for him to tire. That’s the sort of thinking we need to incorporate in our business planning, don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, food

Pay What You Want

There is a new kind of restaurant that’s opened here and it’s our topic this Foodie Friday. It’s called A Place at the Table and here is the concept as reported in the local newspaper:

A Place at the Table puts its mission at the counter, inviting patrons to pay what they can afford: the suggested donation, a little extra, pay for someone else’s meal or pay one’s way through volunteering. Volunteer jobs could include sweeping, wiping tables and bringing food to guests.

It’s not fancy and it’s only open for breakfast and lunch, which of course will have the effect of keeping the total bill down anyway. In my mind, that makes it less painful for those of us who can afford it to in essence overpay. It’s an interesting business model, don’t you think? Apparently, they’re doing pretty well as well as doing a lot of good. They’re not the only ones doing this, of course.

As far back as 2014, there were many of these restaurants in business around the world. Now you might think that most people would try to eat for free but the opposite is really true. Most people tend to pay at least the prices listed on the menu and many pay more. In addition, these businesses are often supplemented by grants, donations, and free labor to offset their costs.

The restaurant business isn’t the only one where the pay what you can model is in place. Music has become another one, with several artists releasing albums and asking the public to pay them what they think it’s worth although some folks distinguish between pay what you can and pay what you want. In my mind, anyone who is willing to offer their product up for judgment and to allow the user to asses the value is operating under the same model.

We see it in software and video games. It’s even expanding to fashion and amusement parks. So here is my question for you today. How much would your typical user pay you if they were setting the price? Is it enough to cover the cost of the product? Enough for you to make a profit? Or do they find less value in what it is your offering than you’re currently charging them? If you think the last response is closer to the truth, you had better look around because it won’t be long before a competitor figures that out as well and undercuts you. If you’re already competing on price and you’re still answering with the last response, you had better spend some time on figuring out how to add value so customers will gladly pay what you’re asking.

Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Messing Up Moviepass

Do you have MoviePass? I do and I think it’s fabulous. For roughly $10 a month (about the cost of a ticket here) you can go see one movie a day as long as they’re not IMAX or 3D. Too good to be true? It really seems that way but I’ve never had an issue using it.

You might be asking yourself how do they stay in business? Lots of other folks are asking the same question since I gather they have to pay the theater the full price of admission when you use the pass. I go to an average of one movie a week (4/month) which I gather from this article on Recode is more than average. They’re recently starting charging a premium if you want to see a very popular movie right as it’s released, but that’s a minority of what’s out there. Still, they must be losing money on most users so how do they stay in business?

In a word, data. I go to see some movies in the theater that I might ordinarily wait to see on pay cable or via streaming. I often hit the concession stand, which is where the theaters make most of their profit. Good deal for them, right? Where Moviepass is thinking they’ll make their profit is from understanding the moviegoer and selling that data. That’s why they’re so inexpensive – to scale quickly – and they’re hoping to become so ubiquitous that they end up getting a cut of the increased attendance they are generating (the 3 extra trips to the theater I make in a month!). With me so far?

A friend of mine also has a Moviepass that she was given as a gift. Her 6-month gift ran out the other day and she went to renew. Here is where the fun begins and where we all can learn a little something. There is no way to renew a gift subscription. Seriously. She wanted to convert the gift to a regular subscription on her own credit card and Moviepass won’t let her. Instead, they require that you start all over and create a new account using a different email. Let’s think about how many things are wrong here.

First, you’re a data company. By demanding an existing customer start all over, you’re blowing off all the data you’ve collected on them to date. Second, since Moviepass requires a physical card to work, you now must issue a new card. Besides being an expense for you (create the card, ship the card, etc.) it’s extremely inconvenient for the customer. Third, I’m anticipating that since an account is married to a device, there will be an issue when she gets her new account and tries to tie it to her existing phone. You can’t use your pass without using the app and the app is tied to a device and your card. There isn’t a single reason I can think of that makes this a smart policy.

This silliness has forced many customers to reach out for customer service (a cost!) and from the heated postings on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and elsewhere, it’s resulted in a lot of lost business for Moviepass. One of the main advantages of the digital world is how there is far less friction in many transactions. Online commerce brings your shopping to you and you never leave the house to lug stuff home unless you care to. Moviepass seems to have found a way to increase friction among its existing customer base – those who received gifts and want to remain as customers. Not very smart in my book. Yours?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Building A Disaster

Have you heard about the Build-A-Bear fiasco? Build-A-Bear Workshop declared last Thursday “Pay Your Age Day.” Customers could come in and build a bear at its workshops across the U.S., Canada and the U.K. for the price of their age rather than the $50+ it normally costs. Not a bad deal if you’re an 8-year-old or even a 35-year-old parent. The response was overwhelming, with mile-long lines in some places. According to The Washington Post, some waits were seven hours long.

It’s great that there is a large, enthusiastic audience wanting to build these bears, but that’s about the only ray of sunshine here. Some stores gave customers who were turned away a $15 voucher. As a parent, I can tell you that the voucher does little to placate a disappointed child. They were counting on a new furry friend. Many of the ones turned away were members of their Bonus Club, a frequent buyer program, already and others had to join to get the discount. In other words, their best customers. Yikes!

The CEO went on TV and said: “There was no way for us to have estimated the kind of impact, those kind of crowds.” He added, “We did put a notice out for people that we thought the lines could be long, and we worked with the malls, but it was beyond anything we could’ve ever imagined.”

That’s the point for any of us who run promotions. You need to imagine what an overwhelming response will do to your operation. In this case, maybe they should have had people sign up to take advantage of the promotion in advance (and get their emails as a bonus) to get places in the line, much as one does at a concert to get in “the pit”. Maybe extend the promotion for a few days to let those people into the store at predetermined times. Heck, maybe take space in unrented stores in the mall and add capacity. Be creative, consider lifetime customer value, and spend what you need to in order to prevent a disaster.

No good deed may go unpunished and companies that disappoint their best customers rarely go unpunished as well. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

The Company We Keep

I’m sure you heard the same thing from your parents as I did. Don’t hang around with a “bad” bunch of kids because you get known by the company you keep and their lousy reputation will stick to you whether or not you’ve engaged in the same bad behavior. You probably haven’t thought about that quote in terms of your business but there are some things going on these days that might cause you to do so. Let me explain.

If you’re a brand (and every company is) and especially if you’re the person responsible for marketing that brand, you’d have to be under a rock not to be aware of what’s going on with social media and data protection. I’m not talking about hacks in which data is stolen. I mean the willful use of your private data by these companies as part of their business model in ways that you never contemplated nor to which you explicitly agreed. I received an email the other day from the folks at Business Insider which contained some of the results of a study of confidence in social media companies’ ability to protect users’ data. The study was conducted among their “BI Insiders” (disclosure, I’m one of them) and the results aren’t great news for Facebook in particular:

Over half (56%) of Facebook users have zero confidence in the platform’s ability to protect their data and privacy. This was the lowest level of confidence of all platforms and highlights the uphill battle Facebook faces to regain the trust of its users. To be fair, users weren’t all that confident in the other platforms either, but the gap between Facebook and the others is significant — at least 18 percentage points from all other platforms. Meanwhile, LinkedIn came out on top for the second year in a row.

The problem for you is that your mom was right: you’re known by the company you keep, and if your brand is active on these services, your reputation is damaged as well. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer study...

Consumers are not forgiving when it comes to brand safety. About half of the survey’s respondents said that it was a brand’s own fault if its advertising appeared alongside hate speech or other inappropriate content online; 47 percent said that the points of view appearing near advertising and marketing are an indication of that brand’s own values.

This is what I found to be of great importance to any brand:

70 percent of digitally connected people around the world think brands need to pressure social media sites to do more about fake news and false information proliferating on their sites, and that 71 percent expect brands to pressure social media platforms to protect personal data.

In other words, if you’re keeping company with social media and they’re misbehaving, you need to exert the influence you have as a client and get them to change. Leave the platform if you must to get their attention – that’s what consumers are doing. If you don’t, you’re risking getting blamed for their bad behavior.

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Filed under Consulting, digital media