Category Archives: Helpful Hints

Intentional Mislabeling

Let’s start with a question this Foodie Friday. If I offered you two carrots, one of which was had a label that said “non-GMO” and the other didn’t, which carrot would you choose? “GMO” as I’m sure you know means that this food wasn’t made from genetically modified crops. Would that make a difference in your selection?

It’s a trick question, actually. There are no genetically modified carrots in the marketplace, at least not yet. Neither are there GMO strawberries. That won’t stop you from finding carrots or strawberries labeled as non-GMO though. You’ve also probably seen that many chickens are labeled as “raised without antibiotics” while others don’t bear that label. Does that influence your thinking? It shouldn’t: antibiotics have been banned on chicken farms for over a decade.

Some labels in food can be horribly misleading while others are not. “Organic”, for example, really does mean that the food was grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizer. It’s a legal term meaning that there are penalties for its misuse. You might think that non-GMO foods are organic and, therefore, better for you. Unless they also say they are organic, non-GMO foods are conventionally grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

Why I bring this up in a business blog is that the misuse of these and other terms in marketing is not due to confusion about them. It’s due to the willful deception of the consumer by an unscrupulous marketer who at best is just jumping on a bandwagon and at worst is looking to charge more for an inferior product. Your “cage-free” chicken still lives indoors in a jammed coop and those “free-range” chickens for which you pay a premium probably haven’t been outside either. It just means that they have access to go outside if they can find and get through one of the few doors in the henhouse.

I’m a fan of clear, enforceable labels in all products, not just food. What the hell does “skin organics? mean on a cosmetics label? Chemical-free sunscreen? Not possible, yet some brands are labeled just that way. The labels don’t write themselves and as marketing people, we need to hold our customers’ interests paramount. Their health too since it’s rather difficult to get a dead consumer to buy much of anything. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

No Strings

It’s Foodie Friday and it’s also the first day of Summer. Actually, it’s felt like July down here in the Carolinas since May, but I digress. In honor of the day, Dairy Queen is giving out coupons for a free soft serve ice cream cone. Yum! What better way to celebrate the new season?

Well, not to be the one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but of course, there are strings attached. You see, in order to get said free cone you need to purchase something else at DQ. Not that I’d generally mind doing so but that little bit of fine print sort of chills my enthusiasm (see what I did there?). Oh yeah, one other thing – in order to get the coupon you need to have installed the DQ app on your phone. I mean, who doesn’t want yet another app tracking you, sending data to who knows where, taking up room on your phone and hitting you up with “big announcements” every hour or so?

My point is a broader one that just beating up on Dairy Queen. I’ve always had an issue with seemingly benevolent marketing or charitable offers that are really self-serving. You know what I mean. How many offers have you seen for “buy this and we’ll make a donation to this worthy cause”? If the cause is so great, why don’t you just make the donation? Then there are those “free” offers that cost you in other ways. Opera, the browser company, offered “free” VPN a couple of years ago. Of course, you had to agree to let them track your usage and share the data with third parties.  Sure, it’s supposedly completely anonymized but if it includes a device identifier of any sort or location data, it’s not hard to merge it with other data.

Gift horses may, in fact, be Trojan Horses too. There are way too many “free” offers that are really scams. We’ve all seen the “free” product that involved paying shipping and handling charges that are detailed in tiny print and quite costly. Then there are the “free” products that require you to hand over a credit card, ostensibly so that if you make any “optional” purchases it’s a seamless transaction or maybe they’ve enrolled you in something that will charge you monthly once your “free” period is up. Illegal? Actually no, if it’s disclosed (you read all the mouse-type every time, don’t you). Shady as hell? You bet.

If you’re going to make free offers or do something nice for your customer, do so without strings. A gift involves altruism. If there is an ulterior motive lying within, it’s not a gift, right?

 

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints, Huh?

GSD

We’re starting down that road to another presidential election here in the US. There are a lot of people who want the job, apparently although having watched my way through “The West Wing” multiple times I’m not sure why. The plane maybe?

No, we’re not heading into the world of politics but one thing that struck me as I have been watching the various candidates making their cases is that there are an awful lot of good ideas being tossed around. Every candidate has a grand solution to one or more of the many things that can be improved here in the US of A. Of course, so did nearly every other person who has run for the office over the years. What they found is something that’s useful to any of us in business: good ideas aren’t enough.

I’m sure you’ve had many groundbreaking ideas in your business life. Maybe you even got the chance to try and bring them to life. The reality is that a good number of those ideas withered away because the strength of an idea isn’t really enough to make it happen. You need buy-in from all the stakeholders which means you also need some good persuasion skills. You might need money which means you need to be able to justify your brainstorm in dollars and cents for the money mavens. And of course, you need the leadership skills to make others understand your vision and work hard to implement it even if the value of that idea isn’t necessarily apparent to them until the very end.

Being great means Getting Stuff Done or as Elvis used to have on his belt buckle, TCB – Taking Care of Business. I had a boss who used to tell me I had 100 ideas a day and 99 were pure crap. I had to learn how to get that one great idea done. He was right (well, maybe more than 1 a day was pretty good). I became a much better manager when I learned not to fixate on the idea but to pay attention to the process so the idea could bloom. Yes, it’s like a garden – the great idea is just the seed and without a proper environment and lots of care it will wither and die.

So now you know that. I wonder how many of the candidates do?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Shared Interests

You can call shared interests believing your own BS or you can call them eating your own dog food. I like to think of it as having skin in the game, a phrase coined by Warren Buffet referring to a situation in which high-ranking insiders use their own money to buy stock in the company they are running. I use it in a much broader context and it’s something you should be looking for at every turn.

Photo by rawpixel.com

I can’t tell you how many companies paraded into my office when I was in corporate life promising to solve issues we might be having with revenue generation, audience measurement, or dozens of other common problems. Many of the offerings were actually quite interesting although not yet deployed in the real world to any extent. If I was interested but skeptical, I’d usually make an offer somewhat akin to this:

I like your product but it’s awfully difficult for me to stroke out a check on something that is promising but unproven. So let’s do this. You provide the product and service as you say and I will pay you a much lower fee (or nothing!). However, if you deliver the results you say you will deliver, we’ll set up a success fee that will pay you more than you’re currently asking. In fact, if your numbers are right, you’ll earn double what you are charging.

In other words, I wanted them to have skin in the game. I wanted our interests to be perfectly aligned and I wanted there to be consequences for us both if we didn’t achieve what we set out to do. The reality is that you should always ask yourself who has what skin where because most businesses do their damnedest to avoid any sort of risk by putting in some skin. Sure, they pay lip-service to the notion of entrepreneurship but there are few who have put their money where their mouth is and invested into the tech ecosystem or directly into startups. Pay attention – much of the time the investment comes only after the product has proven itself or is a direct ripoff of something that’s already successful. I call this the second penguin strategy (you don’t want to be the first penguin that jumps in the water since there may be predators lurking).

If you’ve ever played cards, inevitably there is a kibitzer around. You know – the person who looks on and often offers unwanted advice or comment. They have no skin in the game. There are kibitzers in business too – you can find them writing for many trade publications – and you might even have some in your company as partners or clients or even employees. Not many companies took me up on my offer to make them more money. The few that did were fantastic partners and I still speak with some of the executives from those firms almost 20 years later. Having skin in the game made all the difference. What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Ghost Kitchens In The Sky

Our subject this Foodie Friday is kitchens, specifically kitchens that service your takeout order. Think about it for a second. You place an order for a meal to go at your favorite dining establishment. In some cases, you go there to pick it up. In many other cases, even years ago, you’d order a pizza or some Chinese food and it would arrive at your front door looking just as it did when you picked it up yourself. You probably didn’t think about if it was actually cooked in the restaurant’s kitchen since it looked and tasted the same as when you ordered at the place. In fact, it almost certainly was cooked by the same hands that were serving the dine-in customers at the same time.

Fast forward to today. With the advent of food delivery services, many more establishments are offering food for delivery. Most sit-down places have experienced a big jump in takeout, so much so that it’s become a significant percentage of their business. I think it also has to do with our general impatience these days. Who can sit still long enough to enjoy a meal cooked to order? So, many places are asking themselves why not set up a kitchen specifically to handle the delivery business rather than expand the restaurant kitchen to handle the additional orders. Ghost kitchens have arrived.

As one article described them, ghost kitchens are delivery-centric cooking spaces without the added hassle of in-person dining that a traditional restaurant brings. Think of them as cooking-focused WeWork spaces. Lower rent, no front of house, no cashiers and no customers tapping their feet waiting for their food are all part of the appeal. As long as the food tastes the same, why would the customer care?

I could write another 1,000 words about ghost kitchens and the pros and cons but the point I want to make today is that they exist because restaurants are rethinking their businesses. If they can grow at better margins and lower costs by doing that rethinking, can’t you? Some pretty big players – Google Ventures among them – are getting involved, and you know it’s just a matter of time before Amazon through Whole Foods starts delivering all those great dishes you can buy at your local store for a take-home or to work meal.

Is it inconceivable to you to share accounting, legal, and other back-office functions with another business that’s non-competitive? A ghost kitchen for your business? How about having your sales staff pick up some lines that complement yours and offer both to customers that might be interested?

If you’re not thinking out of the box, the box might just become a coffin. Instead of a ghost kitchen, it might be a ghost business!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Consistently Human

It’s Foodie Friday and as we head into Memorial Day weekend here in the US, let’s pause a moment to remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy our meals this weekend.

One of the things I’ve written about with respect to restaurants is the value of consistency. One of the best compliments I can pay to a restaurant is in saying I’ve never had a bad meal there. It’s a reflection on consistency – of the raw materials, of the service and, of course, on how the chef has his team operating in producing the same dish to the same standard. In a weird way, many fast-food places are better at doing that than many restaurants even though the cooking staff tends to be younger and less-trained in culinary arts. Even weirder is the notion that some places have gone to robots to do some of the cooking.

One of my favorite hangouts is a restaurant here in town. The food is consistent even if there is sometimes an overcooked burger or a dish that wasn’t plated with enough care. I like that I can see that people were involved. This is what I wrote three years ago about that:

Business needs to be about people.  When I eat, I want to taste the cook’s soul. I like the imperfections and that my pizza is different from how it will be the next time I order it. I enjoy personal service and the quirks of every individual with whom I deal no matter what the business. We need to be responsive to each customer in a human way. It’s why customer service agents reading from a script are just as bad as automated menu trees in my book. Who doesn’t prefer speaking with an unscripted human?

Many of us in business watch the numbers like a hawk for any changes. We might not pay as close attention to the people who make those numbers happen. If you want to make improvements in your numbers you need to understand human behavior – that of your staff and that of your customers. The numbers are a reflection of that. They don’t just happen.

It isn’t machines or numbers we remember this Memorial Day. It’s people. Let’s stay human out there!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

You’re Missing The Target

Many of my friends are over 65. Most of them don’t act like it. Sometimes they – and I  – contemplate being younger but I’m always of the mindset that the only way I’d take back 30 or 40 years would be if I could keep the bank accounts and credit cards I have now. While it’s true it used to be a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning, it’s also a lot easier now once I’m out of it to pretty much engage in consumer behavior with a lot less care than I did all those years ago.

It’s baffling to me, then, why most marketing budgets ignore those of us over 55. In fact, according to U.S. News & World Report, we baby boomers control 70% of the country’s disposable income and spend $3.2 trillion a year. We provide over 50% of consumption and yet we are targeted by 10% of the dollars. My kids are millennials and while they’re both gainfully employed they don’t spend nearly what I do. Most millennials don’t spend like boomers yet they’re the target audience for a lot of marketers.

I don’t get it.  Not only is my generation spending more, but I think we’re also more available to be marketed to. We’re heavy digital users (got to keep up with those reunions!) and use Facebook and Instagram quite a bit. We also are still watching “traditional” tv and news. We read our email too. It’s like we’re begging to be sold.

Millennials tend to rent. That means traveling light – who wants to move a ton of stuff when the lease is up? And unfortunately, they’re also the first generation that entered adulthood in worse financial shape than their parents. They spend every dollar carefully.

Marketing has always been “square peg, square hole” to me. Unless your product can’t be used by older folks (pregnancy tests is about the only thing I can think of), the reality is that you should be targeting older folks. Yes, we’ve built up many years of brand preferences but hey, I just switched to a new toothpaste so you never know!

So why aren’t you marketing to boomers? Seems like an opportunity, no?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud