Category Archives: Consulting

Opening A Can Of Mistrust

It’s Foodie Friday and I want to talk about a widespread fraud this week. If you cook Italian food every so often, you might have been a victim of this common deception, and of course, it has implications for your business (or else why would I bring it up here?). I’m talking about the lies told by many companies about what lies within a can of tomatoes labeled as “San Marzano.”

If you’ve been to Italy you’ve tasted the difference in what they have there vs. what we commonly use here, and one of the biggest differences is the true San Marzano tomato. Grown in the volcanic soil that surrounds Mt. Vesuvius, these plum tomatoes are protected by an official designation – DOP – which certifies that they are the real deal. Many other types of products receive this stamp which certifies that they are locally grown and packaged in the specific region according to strict standards – balsamic vinegar and mozzarella di bufala are two of the best known along with these tomatoes.

If you walk through your local supermarket, you will find many cans labeled “San Marzano” and yet there is a high likelihood that they are nothing of the sort. 95% of the tomatoes sold here as San Marzanos are fake, at least according to the person who certifies them. If you see crushed or diced San Marzanos, they’re fake, since true ones are only sold whole. If they are grown in the US, they’re fake. If it doesn’t have the DOP seal and the seal of the consortium that sells them, they’re fake. Some unscrupulous packagers put a DOP-looking seal on their cans; some don’t even bother, knowing that the words “San Marzano” are enough to confuse shoppers.

Why do I raise this? First, it bothers me that so many retailers are complicit in perpetuating this fraud. You wouldn’t see a legitimate store knowingly selling fake Dior bags or knockoff golf clubs with high-end labels. Why do supermarkets allow this? Can I trust that the wild-caught fish you’re selling at the fish counter isn’t farm-raised? Second, some fairly big time packagers engage in this, which calls into question what’s in the cans of other products they produce. Are those really organic peas or are you just charging more for the same stuff that’s in the non-organic cans? Lastly, and most importantly, it reiterates the point we’ve made often here in the screed. The most important thing any business gets from customers is trust. Losing that trust can be fatal, no matter how good your service or pricing might be. Knowingly perpetuating a fraud on your customers is way over the foul line.

I don’t want to make too big a point about a can of tomatoes. Most shoppers don’t look for San Marzano tomatoes – they buy whatever is on sale. It only takes one customer, however (like me?), who figures out that you’re profiting off of the deception to put a crack in your reputation. That’s not the type of sauce you want to be serving, is it?

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Filed under food, Consulting, Huh?

Is There Anybody Out There?

Over the years, I’ve been privy to a lot of data. My own business analytics (my website, blog posts, social presences, etc.), as well as those of my clients, kick off a lot of information. Combine that with the ongoing streams of data from the various marketing campaigns – both search Engine ads and social media ads – I’ve administered over the years and I’ve seen a lot of information about how readers are captured and interact.

Except I don’t believe much of it anymore. Let me explain why and what it means to you.

A few weeks ago, there was a report that Facebook was breaking up an “extensive fake account scam” targeting publisher pages with false “likes.” The idea was to obtain more “friends” for the scammers they could later spam. USA Today was the biggest page hit, losing nearly 6 million “likes.“ because they were fake accounts. Facebook also came under fire for giving publishers and advertisers faulty metrics to evaluate audience reach. Even in the last day, Facebook found an error in how its video carousel ads were reporting and is having to give back cash to advertisers. I don’t think it’s news to anyone that a huge percentage of Twitter accounts are bots, and impressions generated against those bots are a complete waste.

If you read web analytics, you’ve probably encountered “referrer spam.” This has the effect of goosing your visitor numbers up while providing no value. It skyrockets bounce rates and kills conversion rates among other things, but the worst part of it is the added time it takes to address, either through filtering or other means.

Programmatic advertising, which is now nearly all of display and other ads on the web, is rife with fraud. The industry is struggling to verify if ads are seen by humans or even if they’re visible at all. Middleman after middleman “clips the ticket” as money moves from advertiser to publisher, and with over 2/3 of those dollars going to just two entities (Google and Facebook), it’s slim pickings in the publishing world. That means the pressure is on the generate big numbers and bigger results. Of course, if you can’t believe the numbers, how can you evaluate anything anymore?

Here’s how. I know I’m old school and what I’m about to say isn’t as efficient as a trading desk’s programmatic solution, but it actually works. First, take the time to look at the only results that matter. It may be revenue, it may be downloads or app installs, it may be the phone ringing, it may be physical store traffic. I used to worry about conversion rates but since we don’t really know who’s a human out there, the conversion itself is what’s key. Make friends with the sales reps from key publications. Have face to face meetings. You don’t want your sales rep to be a bot either. Pay premiums for premium content and premium results. Programmatic is a race to the bottom, even after you cut through the fraud and waste.

We need to rely on people and only upon the data that can’t be subverted or corrupted. Yes, there are people out there. Let’s go find them.

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Adding Value

I think most of us can distinguish between cost and value. Buying something at a lower price improves the cost, but if the item breaks and needs to be replaced in a month, the value of what we bought at that lower price is quite low. Smart shoppers do that cost/value equation in their heads as they shop, which places the onus on us as businesspeople to provide superior value no matter what business we’re in.

How can we do that? It’s not just by lowering the price, although if what you’re selling is a commodity, the price differential becomes pretty important. To a certain extent, that’s something I deal with as a consultant. You might have noticed, there are a lot of us out here. What I need to do, when talking to potential clients, is to help them to understand why I’m worth the premium I charge when compared to many others out here. I do that by adding value in some of these ways:

  • Understanding their perspective. I see my business through their eyes which means I must research them, ask a lot of questions, and then present myself in a way that is meaningful and valuable to them.
  • Giving them something for nothing. Sometimes it’s just a series of articles I’ve found that are relevant to them but those articles demonstrate how part of my service to them is to help them stay informed and ahead of the competition.
  • For existing clients, I’ll often do many of the “little” tasks that end us distracting my client from their main purpose. That can mean writing up brainstorming sessions, breaking our their web analytics, or updating their website. That helps them by reducing anxiety, by keeping them focused, and because I’m generally not as rushed and more experienced than they are, improves the quality of those lesser tasks.

Adding value needs to be as basic as breathing for any of us in business. The real challenge is in making the type of value you add correlate to the needs of each customer. How will you do that today?

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Considering The Optics

The President fired the Director of the FBI yesterday. Even though such a thing had only happened once before (when the FBI Director was accused of using funds for personal stuff), it is well within the rights of the President to do so. In fact, the head of the FBI, like US Attorneys and White House staff, serve at the pleasure of the President (which always brings to mind this scene from The West Wing in which the staff pledges loyalty to the President using exactly that phrase).

No, I’m not (finally) wading into politics, but there is a tremendous business point to be taken from yesterday’s action. The FBI is investigating if and how the President’s campaign was (is?) tied to Russia. Firing the man who is heading an investigation into your campaign is bad optics, especially when you do so on the day when subpoenas go out. It’s also bad optics to give as a reason something for which you praised that same person a few months earlier.

Bad optics is a phrase typically used in politics which describes when politicians fret about the public perception of a decision more than the substance of the decision itself. It has little to do with right and wrong and a lot to do with the perception of right or wrong. We’ve seen a few cases of this in business very recently:

  • United Airlines kicked doctor off a plane and he was beaten up when he refused to go. Were they within their rights to involuntarily bump a passenger? Yes. But the optics, both in front of other passengers and, since everyone has a camera, the rest of the world are horrible.
  • When public schools refuse to give a hot lunch to a child or give them a cheese sandwich instead of what the other kids have because the kid’s family can’t afford to pay, are they within their rights? Yes, but the optics…
  • When a business asks workers to train their (foreign) replacements, they’re helping their bottom line but killing their reputation because the optics are so bad.

One thing we all need to do as part of our decision-making process is to consider the optics. How will this appear, regardless of the right and wrong? It does little good to be in the right when you seem to be very wrong. You with me?

 

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

False Pretenses

It’s Foodie Friday and it’s also Cinco De Mayo. Contrary to popular belief, what’s celebrated today is not Mexican Independence Day. Rather, it’s a celebration of the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, which came after Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Mexican-American War, and the Mexican Civil War. It centers around Puebla which, coincidentally, is really the heart of Mexico’s food world.

Coat of arms of Mexico. Español: Escudo Nacion...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as there really isn’t a lot of corned beef and cabbage eaten in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, so too is this not a day of taco and frozen margaritas in Mexico. Not that it stops damn near every “Mexican” restaurant in this country from pushing those things today. Hitting a Taco Bell up to celebrate doesn’t happen in Mexico. In fact, Taco Bell doesn’t exist there (they tried; Mexicans won’t eat there). Instead, the cuisine of Puebla features moles (the sauces, not the critter), chalupas, and Chiles En Nogada, a stuffed poblano pepper with a walnut and pomegranate sauce.

Why do I raise this? Because it raises an issue that applies to any business. Actually, it’s sort of the “fake news” issue. Just as political entities will raise money based on a widely believed, but false, narrative, so too are all of the places serving tacos and margaritas selling a lie of sorts. The question is should we as businesses engage in that?

Some people might say that “ethical marketing” is an oxymoron. A lot of marketers are happy to bend the truth if in their minds what they’re doing is inconsequential. In this case, I suspect that the perpetrators don’t even know they’re misrepresenting the facts and, frankly, I’m not very sure that it matters. But it raises a point that very much does matter. If a business is willing to stretch the truth on things that don’t matter, at what point do they cross the line and do so when it really does?

We’ve all seen ads that lie. Ads for “male enhancers,” cures for the common cold, or even just photoshopped photos are rampant. While promoting a frozen margarita to celebrate something that didn’t happen on this day is far from an outright lie, you take my point. There’s nothing wrong with selling and using the language of sales to promote but we need to remember that we live in a world where information is easily found and lies are rapidly debunked and the truth disseminated. And with that, I’m off to find a torta for lunch!

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What Do You Know

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I want to reflect on an experience I think many of us have had. I’m not quite sure what to call it – an awakening? An education? It’s what happens when you have your preconceptions of what a food is blown away by a much better version. It’s what happens, for example, when you take someone whose idea of Mexican food comes from years of eating at Taco Bell or whose conception of pizza has been shaped by Papa John’s to an authentic taqueria or to a pizza place that uses great ingredients and a coal-fired oven. I’ve had that experience with a friend, who now refers to two kinds of pizza: pizza and real pizza.

English: Picture of an authentic Neapolitan Pi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The point of this isn’t that they had low standards or unsophisticated tastes before they experienced the real deal. They just didn’t know, and that’s something that’s applicable across many businesses. It becomes especially more relevant as your product gets closer to a commodity. Consumers probably have an existing opinion that’s based on something that’s usually fairly mainstream. Our job as marketers is to help them to know that there is a difference and why our product does a better job than what they might believe is possible.

How do we do this? Sampling is the most obvious answer. That’s not just giving out food samples on the street. It’s free trial periods of services. I thought that most online accounting software was the same, for example, until I needed to get some customer service help during my free trial period. One company was head and shoulders above the others I tried and they now collect $15 from me every month. They helped me to know.

My favorite taco place is just down the street from a Taco Bell. The menu is in Spanish, they offer goat, tripe, and lengua tacos along with some of the best fish tacos and tortas I’ve ever had. Would you know that as you drove past on your way to Taco Bell? Not unless I took you there. Our job as marketers is to help people know. Are you doing that?

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The Right Fielder

There’s an old song by Peter, Paul, and Mary that contains a few lines that were 100% true when I was a kid:

‘Cause the fastest, the strongest, played shortstop and first
The last ones they picked were the worst
I never needed to ask, it was sealed,
I just took up my place in right field.

The kid whose fielding skills were weakest ended up playing right. The thinking was that most batters, if they got it out of the infield, would have to pull the ball and nearly everyone seemed to hit right-handed. Ergo, the right fielder would not have a chance either to make a play or to make an error.

Right fielder position on a baseball diamond

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does this have to do with business? I suspect that some of us look at our teams and mentally assign one or more of our team members to right field. Rather than demanding that every player meets the high standards needed to play any position, we stick them in a place where we hope nothing important get hits their way. Needless to say, this precipitates an entire series of problems.

First, the rest of the team knows who the weaklings are and can’t understand why they’re still on the team. After all, when the team wins a championship, everyone gets a ring, including the player who was more of a liability than an asset. That breeds resentment.

Second, the weak players are often held to a different standard. There is a lack of accountability since they aren’t as skilled. That’s a huge mistake as well. A team has one set of standards, not different standards for each person. If your business unit is to function as a team, it must be one and not just a collection of individuals.

There are going to be balls hit to right field, wherever right field might lie on your particular field of play. As managers, our job is to be sure that there are no weak spots anywhere and that each member of the team is on the same page, communicating clearly and backing one another up. That’s how we win, right?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints