Category Archives: Consulting

The World Cup Of Business

The biggest sporting event on the planet began its final phase last week. Soccer’s World Cup, which began its qualifying process over three years ago, is down to the final 32 teams and will crown a champion over the next month.

I’ve been very lucky in my life to attend almost every big sporting event at one time or another but nothing compares to this tournament. For those of you less familiar with the world football scene, The World Cup is national teams playing one another. Football (it’s only called soccer here in the U.S.) is by far the sport played everywhere and it incites passion like no other. What’s most interesting about this is that most of the world football leagues are very international in composition. A club might have half its players from the “home” country but an equal number who play for a different national team.

Take, for example, the Spain/Portugal match of the other day. Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugal’s star and is beloved there but he plays for Real Madrid in the Spanish League (La Liga) and is equally beloved there. Some of the players on the Spanish team are his club teammates but they were tasked with stopping him the other day.

What does any of this have to do with your business? If you’ve ever worked in a medium to a large company you’ve probably seen the internecine warfare that often develops between departments. The sales department might be fighting with finance, marketing might not have any love for research, and legal often has nasty things to say about everyone. I liken it to a national league. All the clubs (departments) live in one country (business) but they are extremely competitive and want to be seen as the winners. There has to come a time, however, when the rivalries take a back seat to the “national” interest, in this case, The World Cup; in the case of a business, maybe it’s when other businesses or marketplace circumstances (countries) are on the attack and the entire enterprise is threatened.

Part of managing in an environment where the departments are extremely competitive is keeping the mindset nationally-focused and not club-focused. You need to let your team know that undermining another area serves no common purpose. It’s dangerous and unproductive. Set a World Cup mentality and then try to inspire the same sort of national fervor that the tournament does. You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting

Facebook, Sears, and Kodak

When I was a lad several decades ago, many Americans did their shopping at Sears and took their pictures with Kodak film (I can explain “film” to you youngsters if need be). More recently, my kids might have shopped at American Apparel or Claire’s. What all of those formerly huge companies have in common is that they are all nearly dead. The reasons for that range from bad management to dumb financial deals to changing tastes to the digital revolution. In every case, however, I think there is a common thread of a failure to understand their customers in the context of the customers’ changing world.

We have something similar going on in my mind with Facebook. It’s huge and seems invulnerable but one might have said the same thing about Kodak or Sears 50 years ago. First, think about how the world is changing for their customers. Privacy has moved from something that digital folk like me were babbling about many years ago to something that is on everyone’s mind. In an April survey of 1,051 US adult internet users by Janrain, most respondents said they are not in favor of websites or apps using what they learn about them online to target ads. In fact, 70% of them want some very restrictive laws, similar to the E.U.’s GDPR, passed here. I don’t think there is any doubt that a tech backlash is going on and the more consumers and lawmakers find out about the sloppy (at best), invasive, and maybe criminal (at worst) data use by large tech companies, the greater that backlash is going to become.

Facebook’s entire business is built around invading your privacy. Two points from eMarketer:

More people are becoming suspicious of sharing data through third parties. In a March 2018 survey from Raymond James, more than eight in 10 US internet users said they were at least somewhat concerned about how their personal data is being used on Facebook. Similarly, in a Gallup survey of 785 Facebook users in April 2018, 43% said they were very concerned about invasion of privacy. That’s an increase of 30% in 2011.

What has resulted is that people, especially young people, are sharing less content. The entire reason Facebook is valuable for most people is that content that their friends, classmates, and family post. It’s the network effect – that value of the network relates to the number of people on that network.

I’m not shorting Facebook stock today but I’m not so sure that unless they get their privacy house in order that won’t be a bad play down the road. Less content means fewer active users which leads to less revenue. Will they all move to Instagram (a Facebook company)? Maybe, but probably not since that’s not what’s occurring now. As each day brings a new headline involving a bad actor and data, another nail gets pounded into the coffins of companies that don’t respect their customers’ privacy and wishes. Privacy and data use are no longer just food for geek chats. They’re on the front page. How long can Facebook or any company last if they don’t figure this out? Longer than Sears or Kodak?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Reality checks

Tomatoes, Bugs, and Nannochloropsis

Foodie Friday, and today we’re having a think about the food of the future. I don’t think it’s news to anyone who pays the least bit of attention to the world that humankind’s ability to support itself is in peril. CNN said it well:

We’ve gotten ourselves into some trouble. Our dining habits are a big part of the problem. The average American male consumes 100 grams of protein daily — almost double the necessary amount. This overconsumption isn’t sustainable. The United Nations projects food production will need to increase as much as 70% by 2050 to feed an extra 2.5 billion people. To survive, we need to reinvent the way we farm and eat.

Exactly, except that some of that reinvention, while packed with nutrition, is…well…gross. I know that I’m applying my American diet standards here but how would you describe eating bugs or algae? We have plenty of both, both are sustainable sources of protein, and both reduce the impact we’re having on our planet. Cricket anyone (and I don’t mean the game!)? How about a nice plate of nannochloropsis?

There’s a great business lesson in this. To understand it, let’s look at another food that was once anathema to most Americans: the tomato. That’s right. Until the early 1800’s, the tomato was grown purely for decoration in this country because it was considered poisonous. What happened to change its reputation and make it a mainstay of our diet? There are several theories, including one involving Thomas Jefferson’s promotion of dishes using the tomato. I think it has to do with immigration and the fact that European immigrants used the fruit (you know it’s a fruit, right?) in their cooking. Whatever it was, people overcame their fears and began consuming tomatoes en masse.

If I were marketing bugs and slime (OK, it will probably be protein derived from those things made into other food products), I’d do a few things. First, I wouldn’t deny that there might just be a perception problem. No brand can deny its past. I would aggressively try to control the conversation and the message. That means a lot of marketing, especially through influencers and social channels. I’d research the heck out of consumer attitudes on a continual basis and I’d avoid making emotional responses to misperceptions, focusing on the data. Mostly, I’d do everything I could to get the products sampled and I’d use the testimonials along with the overall message that these products are saving the planet by decreasing the need to rely on other protein forms that are inefficient at least and detrimental at worst to the environment.

When I was a kid, the notion of eating raw fish in this country was nonexistent. I’ll bet many of you did just that this past week. There just might be a bug in your future once some smart marketers get to work. What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Why Is Right So Hard?

A long post today – please bear with me. I’m sure you have heard about the cancellation of Roseanne after the show’s namesake sent out a racist tweet. There was about a two-hour delay from when the tweet went public until ABC pulled the plug on the program. During that time, I wondered if ABC and parent company Disney would do the right thing. They did and it’s a great example to any of us in business about something that I’m passionate about.

You know we don’t do politics here. This isn’t political – it’s all business, people. Let’s look at this from a business perspective and let me explain why I’m so proud to be an ABC alumnus today.

First, the business background. This piece from Variety explains the issues ABC has had for years on Tuesday nights. In Roseanne, they finally had not only a hit program but a show around which they could build a solid night of programming. While they had not reaped a huge financial windfall from the show (it was a midseason replacement), they were poised to use it in the negotiations for ad time during the upcoming season. The way things work is that if you want to buy a hit you generally have to buy other programming too to get the best pricing. In other words, the loss is more about what might have been rather than existing dollars. Still, it is a financial hit.

Which leads me to the point about which I’m passionate. ABC made a decision to do the right thing no matter the financial cost or how disruptive it may be to their business. I’m sure they also looked to the potential cost to the Disney brand if they were to give tacit approval to what Roseanne tweeted by doing nothing. They looked to the long-term and to take action in accordance with their own principles and not the easy road. While there is never a good time for something like this to take place, this is probably about the worst possible time, given that the upfront selling season is beginning and ABC just announced their schedule, which will now have to be remade, two weeks ago.

Why is it so hard for companies to do the right thing? A heck of a lot don’t. Insurance companies who spend more effort finding ways to deny claims than to pay them.  Oil companies who fund fake studies to promote climate change denial rather than working to find clean energy. Food and tobacco companies that know about the problems with their products but who fight efforts to make the public aware. Those are just a few examples and I’m sure you can think of many more.

Contrast ABC’s quick, decisive action with other media companies who protected bad behavior by big-time talent. It didn’t require multiple meetings or in-depth analysis. The right course of action was obvious. I’d argue it was as well in other recent cases where the company failed to do the right thing. Equifax knew they had a hacking problem months before they told the public. In that time, executives may have sold $1.8 Billion in shares. Someone at Wells Fargo must have come up with the plan to charge half a million consumers for insurance they didn’t need. Why didn’t someone say “oh hell no” and fire the person on the spot? Even Apple failed to do the right thing by not telling customers it was slowing down their phones even though customers asked.

Any of these things could have been prevented if the businesspeople involved had acted honorably. By that, I mean in a way that would stand up to public scrutiny when measured against ethical and moral standards. Someone knew, someone could have nipped it in the bud, and someone could have used it as a teaching moment to explain why doing the right thing is important.

I know not everyone shares exactly the same standards, but I do believe that placing customers’ needs about profits, thinking long-term, and behaving as if the customer were your Mom or Dad rather than a “mark” is better than maximizing revenue. Shareholder value comes from long-term customers with high lifetime values and a sterling reputation. You get those by opting to do the right thing.

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Filed under Reality checks, Consulting, What's Going On

Dealing With An Intolerance

Happy Foodie Friday! It’s an especially good one as we head into Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of Summer and the grilling season for many of you. I have a friend who will be a lot more circumspect about what she is grilling this weekend because she found out the other day that she has a bunch of food intolerances. What are they and what do they have to do with business?

Food intolerances are different from food allergies. You’re not going to die from the former while you just might from the latter. Instead, your symptoms develop over time as you keep eating things for which you have an intolerance. Maybe you get headaches or stomach aches. Maybe you retain fluids. Maybe you develop a cough that won’t go away or hives or a runny nose. All can be symptoms of a food intolerance.

They’re caused by several things, one of which can be a chemical – caffeine, amines, salicylate – which occur naturally but to which your body is sensitive. The ones you hear about most often are gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance but there are as many intolerances as there are foods, it seems. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to live with a food intolerance as long as you’re willing to adjust your diet and avoid things that you’ve identified as problematic. It’s less easy to fix an intolerance in business.

I’m sure that every manager has a story or two of employees who can’t get along. I certainly do. It can be a huge problem for a business, especially if the employees are managers themselves. There are a lot of reasons why two adults can’t tolerate one another. One feels the other isn’t pulling his or her weight. One gossips. There is a perceived inequity in titles or salary or responsibility. I’ve run into each of those along with the most basic reason for a business intolerance: they just don’t like one another due to some perceived slight that was never corrected.

You cannot let this situation fester, and the key to fixing it is to identify the real problem. Telling them to “grow up” won’t fix anything nor will telling them to “work it out.” You need to speak with the parties involved individually and together and you must follow up your discussions with action. You can’t have a chat and assume the matter is solved. Like a food intolerance that won’t kill you, two employees who can’t tolerate one another won’t destroy a business but they can make things pretty miserable. Also as with food, identifying the source of the problem and following it up with action and monitoring is how you make the problem go away.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Consulting

Well Aren’t You Special

I came across a quote in a report that prompted a thought about one thing I think has gone wrong in many of our businesses. Actually, it’s less about the businesses themselves and more about those of us who operate them. The study was GroupM’s annual “State Of Digital” report which I always find very informative. The quote is this:

In a statement, GroupM global CEO Kelly Clark listed automation and talent as the “big themes in advertising’s current revolution.” “One of the downsides of specialization is the increase in specialists who know more and more about less and less,” Clark said in the statement.

That’s a big problem in my eyes, and it’s not limited to the ad business.  Let me explain why, both from a personal and a professional point of view. First the personal. It’s great if you become the “go to” person on a very narrow subject. You may know a particular operating system inside and out or you may be the country’s leading subject matter expert on something else. That’s fantastic as long as nothing changes. What happens when it does? You just might have to start over if your particular, narrow skill set is no longer in demand. If you do one thing very well but no one needs that one thing, then what?

From a business perspective, having a team of specialists who can’t crossover is equally bad. Their siloed skills make cross-functional conversation difficult if not impossible. You want a team that has flexibility. Putting aside the ability to cover for other team members during vacations or peak demand periods in some area, having people with a broader knowledge base makes for a better product. Having multiple people weigh in who can consider the big picture and not just a slice of things makes for coherent, complete, well thought out solutions.

It’s incumbent on each of us to grow our skill set. In my practice, I’m called upon to provide thinking on everything from strategy to analytics to SEO to sales. Each of those is an area of specialization for some people and I know I might not be as well-versed in each of them as some of those specialists. What I do have, however, is a broad perspective (to go along with my broad experience) that lets me guide my clients. I have very deep knowledge in some areas and shallower in others. Not specializing makes me special!

If you’re not learning, if you’re not widening your range of knowledge beyond your specialty, then you’re probably setting yourself up to be less resilient when the need arises. That’s not good business thinking, is it?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Soap To Soda To Gum

It’s Foodie Friday and today we’re going to raise a glass to chewing gum. Well, not to the gum itself, but to the founder of the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company, Mr. William Wrigley. While he made his fortune selling gum, he started out to do something quite different and therein lies the thought I have for us today.

English: Doublemint gum Photo by User:Hephaest...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mr. Wrigley began selling soap. Like many of us in business, he tried to distinguish his brand by giving his customers a little something extra which would help distinguish him and his product from the competition. In his case, he would give away baking powder. After a time, he figured out that his customers liked the baking powder more than the soap and so he started to sell baking powder. Along with the baking powder, he gave away two packages of gum. You can guess what happened next.

There are two things in his story that I think are relevant to any of us in business. First, giving the customers what my Creole friends call a “lagniappe” – a little something extra – always pays dividends and sometimes they’re huge. I don’t know if Mr. Wrigley’s soap (or baking powder) were premium-priced to cover the cost of the extras he gave away, but the outcome certainly negated any cost. Always ask yourself how you can do more for the customer.

At some point, Wrigley realized that he had to pivot his business because his sideline was more successful and popular than his main business. He’s not alone in this. WeWork grew out of a baby clothes business renting unused space in their building. Instagram was something that grew out of the users of a whiskey lover’s app posting photos. The founders recognized that the photo sharing was more important to the users than the whiskey information. When Justin.Tv began letting users stream videos, (having started as just one guy streaming his own life) the “gaming” channel blew up and Twitch was born.

We need to keep an open mind when we see opportunities. Yes, we can’t always be chasing the new shiny new thing, but when one aspect of our business is screaming to be given a lot more attention, we need not be afraid of making a pivot. Mr. Wrigley pivoted (twice) a century ago, and while technology has changed, the basic business acumen he displayed hasn’t. Ruminate about that!

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