Category Archives: Huh?

Losing The Lottery

We’re all bugged. If you carry a smartphone, you may rest assured that it’s possible to identify that device as it moves through the world and interacts with various services. How difficult do you think it is, once someone has a device ID, to associate it with a phone number‘s owner?

I think none of that is a surprise to you, nor is it to me. I try to keep the list of organizations tracking me to a minimum and to a list of companies I trust. Unfortunately, that takes more effort that most people are willing to exert but it can affect you in more ways that you might know.

I uninstalled a lottery app this morning. It was doing a number of things that caused me concern. First, it alone was responsible for 65% of the data traffic from my phone when the phone was idle. The app was idle too, or so I thought. In fact, it was busy sending my phone number, my device ID, and several other very personal pieces of data (Facebook and Twitter ID’s among them) to…someplace. Who knows what happened to the data from there.

I installed this app a few months ago when the Powerball prize pool was ridiculously large. It seemed like a convenient way to input my tickets and get notified if I won anything. What I won, apparently, was the ability to be tracked as an individual and have my battery drained unnecessarily. Buh bye.

What’s the point today? I guess it’s a message for you as you’re on either side of the desk. As a marketer, we can’t violate our customers’ trust by using the permissions they give us to collect usage data and selling or sharing that data to companies with which the customer has no relationship. More than 70 percent of smartphone apps are reporting personal data to third-party tracking companies like Google Analytics, the Facebook Graph API or Crashlytics. Generally, those companies are there to improve the user experience. The problem is that in many cases, app developers that that permission as carte blanche to send the data anywhere. I’ve seen how that data can be used for profiling and targeting and believe me, it’s frightening.

As consumers, we need to pay more attention to privacy and where our data goes. It’s not just to keep your battery from running down. Given the role that our smart devices play in our daily lives, it’s quite possible that a bad actor could know way more about you than you’d care to share. I don’t just mean by monitoring your texts or any unencrypted data you send. It’s also tracking your movements. As a positive, location-based services can help us (you get an alert for a sale at a store you frequent as you pass within a quarter mile) but the possibility of an unscrupulous third party misusing that data is exceptionally high. Check your app permissions. Why would a game need to know your location or have access to your camera, for example? Turn off the permissions that don’t make sense.

I’ll be looking up the results of the money I risked on Powerball some other way since trying to make my life a little easier made it a lot more risky in other ways. It was a good reminder to let my devices work for me and not for people who want to spy on me. You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks

Actions And Words

I’m a believer in watching what people or organizations do as opposed to what they say. Words are too easy while actions are often difficult. Words can also distract from actions that belie the message the words are attempting to convey.

English: This icon, known as the "feed ic...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, that’s not a political statement (although feel free to take it as one). It’s more a response to a couple of things that happened this morning while I’ve been going through my morning email. Like you, I subscribe to quite a few newsletters as a simple way to stay on top of industry news and developments in technology. I also use a newsreader (Feedly, which I highly recommend) to digest dozens of websites in a brief period of time.

I was reading a newsletter from a respected site for digital mavens. It tries to help those of us on the digital side of things to grow our businesses. The lead article in this morning’s newsletter caught my eye. It was about strategy and leadership in data and actually was important enough for this organization to use it as the subject line in today’s email. I read the blurb and clicked on the “read more” button. In response, I got a “404 Not Found” error. The redirect URL was empty. I tried clicking the headline and that did, in fact, get me to the article, but the call to action wasn’t the headline. What happened here was just someone being sloppy.

The same sort of thing happened when I clicked on an article in my RSS feed. The article headline – about some people receiving promotions at a former competitor – got my attention so I clicked through to read the article. Whoever set up the RSS feed for the publication had this link click through to the publication’s homepage, and the article I wanted was nowhere to be found. I’m not sure if this is willful or sloppy but, as in the previous example, it’s a bad user experience and makes me less likely to click through in the future.

Broken links suck. Besides frustrating the reader they carry an SEO penalty. They’re also easy to check – there are several free tools to do so. Misleading links – or headlines/teasers for that matter – are just as bad. While they might not hurt your search ranking they will hurt your reader. Which really leads me full circle to actions speaking louder than words. If you claim to be a leader in digital marketing, you can’t put broken links into your newsletter. If you claim to be serving the advertising and marketing community, you can’t serve us by forcing us to look for the useful information with which you’ve teased us. The same holds true for any business, by the way. Customers see what you do and that makes it easy to discount whatever it is you say. Does that make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Offer Fewer Fries

This Foodie Friday, I want us to think about less being more. Specifically, it’s the balance between quality and quantity. I’m of the opinion that when it comes to food, high-quality ingredients expertly prepared are more satisfying than a large portion of bland, low-quality food.

Photo by Stephanie McCabe

For example, think about a bread basket that arrives at your table. Rich, dense bread slathered in high-quality butter is not something you’d eat much of. Compare that with a bunch of Wonder Bread and store-brand butter that you might have at home. The latter is tasteless and not satisfying and I’ll bet you eat more of it.

McDonald’s proved this point in 1990 when they stopped frying their fries in beef tallow. It was a knee-jerk reaction to people believing that trans fats were better than natural fats (turned out to be totally wrong). The fries never tasted the same and, more importantly for our discussion today, were not as filling. I’m convinced that the reason we have supersized portions is that the current fries are so unfulfilling. It’s probably why we have an obesity problem as well. I suspect there were cost-savings too, but are those savings worth ruining the reputation of your signature product?

Look at Europe. France and Italy, two fantastic food cultures, don’t serve you big portions and yet it’s hard to walk away from a meal in either place still hungry. The dishes are rich and tasty. High fat? Sure. Caloric? Yes, but you don’t eat as much. For the restaurant, this can mean lower food costs (smaller portions) which might be taken as higher margins or passed along to customers. You can’t really eat a huge portion of fries cooked in duck fat, believe me.

This is a principle which I believe any business can use. Consumers don’t want (or need) tons of low-quality products. Sure, they might be duped into thinking of them as great values (“Look at that portion!”), but over time your customers realize that they’re not really satisfied.

Example: think of Word or Excel. They are extremely complex products and yet most users take advantage of a tiny amount of that complexity. Why not offer a simpler product to the masses that cost less and save the complex version for those people who really need it (and charge them accordingly?). You can find articles dating back over a decade complaining about Word’s complexity and yet it wasn’t made simpler.

Less can be a lot more. Think about offering fewer, but much better, fries. People can be satisfied with less as long as it’s top quality at an affordable price. I’d rather be sated and healthy than hungry and sick. You?

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Filed under food, Huh?

Keeping It Real

Back in 2015, an engineer at Twitter asked his security team to look into fake accounts. He said he was stunned to find that a significant percentage of the total accounts created on Twitter had Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses and he also found that they were, for the most part, fake. They were “bots”.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

No, today isn’t a political rant about how our Democracy might just have been hijacked by a foreign power. Rather, what happened next, as told in this piece by Bloomberg, is instructive to any of us in business because it raises a few issues that are common to us all.

The engineer was part of the security team. That team was tasked with keeping the platform secure. He took his findings to another team – the growth team – which had the responsibility for increasing the user base. That user base number is critical for every business since how the business is valued is based in part on how many users (we can’t really say people in this case, can we?) are active. Discovering that a significant percentage of the user base was fake could have a negative effect on the business’ balance sheet, and in this, we begin to see the problem.

There is a misalignment of goals. If part of security is keeping the platform free from spambots, the people responsible for deleting the spambots can’t have any goals which make deleting those bots counterproductive. In this case, the engineer was told to “stay in his lane”. In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain – the reality of our user numbers – it’s not your job.

No organization should have these kinds of silos. No organization can base its public statements about growth and user engagement on numbers it knows are fake. It’s one thing for users to inflate their follower numbers by buying fake followers but it’s quite another for Twitter itself to be aware of these non-human accounts and to do nothing about them because they want to keep their user numbers up.

I don’t mean to single out Twitter. The same issue persists on Facebook and other social platforms and it’s way more insidious than research can find. There is a term – dark social – that refers to sharing activity among the network’s members that isn’t easily measured. Let’s say a fake account spreads a lie and maybe even buys an ad to do so. We can see how many impressions the ad had or how many followers the fake account has. What we can’t easily see is the network effect. I see the post and am outraged about it. I tell five friends, who tell five of their friends, etc., particularly when it’s shared off the network itself via email or text.

I am fairly certain that each of these networks could identify and stop this activity despite what you might have seen in Congress last week. Those were the lawyers testifying, not the engineers. The point for your business is to keep everyone’s goals in alignment, don’t build silos, and to be honest with yourself and with your investors. These are public companies who might just be committing fraud, but every company has the same responsibility for honesty and transparency.  You with me?

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud, digital media

Be Inefficient – It’s Better For Your Business

Representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been summoned to Capitol Hill to explain what they know about how Russia used their platforms to interfere in the last Presidential election.  Their testimony began yesterday, and there was a recurring theme that I think has implications for any business. It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with serving your customers.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may remember something from a few months back. There was a kerfuffle about Facebook using human editors on the News Feed who had a liberal bias. Whether that’s true or not is immaterial to our discussion. Facebook removed human editors from the “trending topics” feature seen in the news feeds of users. Given the decreased human oversight, gaming Facebook’s algorithm became easier, as demonstrably false news reports spread with increasing speed during the election. As Recode reported:

Sen. Jeff Flake is asking Facebook how it monitors its service — humans or artificial intelligence or both? Stretch (note: Facebook’a lawyer) said both, and explained a bit about how algorithms can detect non-human behavior, like someone creating many accounts in a very short amount of time. But while software can detect some of this stuff, humans often need to make a final decision on whether or not contents should be removed. Twitter and Google confirmed they have similar setups.

Fewer humans means fewer edits, apparently. What caught my attention yesterday was that each of the three platforms testified that putting in human-based solutions are inefficient for their business. What about the people on their platforms? A significant percentage of young people get their news only from Facebook. How can they be expected to understand the issues when the facts that are presented to them may be propaganda and not news or factual at all?

None of us in business can afford to make decisions solely on the basis of what’s good for the business. We need to stay customer and consumer-centric. After all, you wouldn’t want doctors in an ER failing to administer expensive drugs because it’s inefficient for the hospital, right? The restaurant that cuts the quality of their ingredients or service because they need higher margins won’t be around for very long.

Like most of you, I use these three platforms every day. Twitter is a cesspool, in my opinion, filled with trolls, hate-speech, and spam, but it’s also critically important. It’s a shame that they use the “free speech” argument to ignore that crap. There are limits on speech – try yelling “fire” in a theater and see what happens to you – and Twitter needs to clean up its act. All three of these companies need to quit using the profit motive and their responsibility to shareholders as excuses to let the bad actors do their thing. Be a little less efficient and more customer-friendly. Facebook admitted they knew something was going on and did nothing, allowing the “fake news” and propaganda to disseminate. That’s not consumer-friendly, is it?

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Filed under Huh?, What's Going On

You’re Bacon Me Crazy

This Foodie Friday, I come to you with a perfect example of how businesses often get things wrong. I hear you wondering how anything involving bacon can go wrong, but stick with me here and I think you’ll understand my distress.

English: Uncooked pork belly bacon strips disp...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was widely reported this week that scientists in China have created 12 healthy pigs with 24% less body fat. If you care to read all about it, the results were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I didn’t bother to read it because it makes me both sad and angry. From my perspective, most pork we get in this country is already too lean. Fat is flavor, and most of the pork we get has very little. The exception is bacon.

I use bacon the way many cooks do. Sure, I bake it and eat it as part of a full breakfast (put a little Old Bay on those bad boys before you bake them – a revelation!). Rendered down, it yields lovely fat in which to saute your aromatics and get any recipe off to a great start. Wrapped around a lean cut of meat, it prevents that cut from drying out. And who doesn’t love to toss some lardons into salads, omelets, pastas, grilled vegetables, or potatoes? Lean bacon defeats the entire purpose of the cut!

OK, most of the above was a little tongue in cheek, but there is a real point to be made here. When we try to “improve” a product we just might end up destroying it. Lean bacon is a solution in search of a problem, and that is the kiss of death to any offering most of the time. Putting aside the issues many people have with genetically engineered food (this was achieved using CRISPR), there are already many lean alternatives to bacon. OK, it might be a stretch to call them “bacon” but they exist.

None of us can afford to waste time figuring out a problem for something we’ve produced. The process works the other way around. Listen for problems that your intended customer base is having and then find a solution. Much of the time, successful entrepreneurs had the problem themselves, found a solution, and then helped others with the same problem. The camera phone, for example, came about when a new father wanted to send a photo from the delivery room (true story).

As you’re moving along in your business, ask yourself if you’re solving peoples’ problems or if you’re trying to find a use for your solution. Hopefully the former!

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Filed under food, Consulting, Huh?

They Don’t Make It Like That Anymore

This Foodie Friday I am going to run the risk of sounding like the grumpy old man I’m slowly becoming. Rather than admonishing you all to get off my lawn, I want to share the sentiment I had a week or so ago as I fired up my smoker. My smoker, or as it’s lovingly known, “The Beast”, was made by the New Braunfels Smoker Company at least 20 years ago, How do I know that? Well, that’s today’s food and business thought.

The Beast is made of heavy steel that’s quite thick and it weighs well over 100 pounds even without my usual load of meats inside. As I was cleaning up the old Rancho Deluxe to get ready for its sale, the smoker was one of the very few things that I was adamant about saving for the move. Why was that, especially when I also gave away or junked a Caja China and two other grills? In a sentence:

Because they don’t make them like that anymore.

The New Braunfels Smoker Company was sold to Char-Broil 20 years ago. Almost immediately, the quality of the products went downhill, and this was especially noticeable on the gauge of the steel. The steel was thinner and didn’t hold heat as well. When a rust spot developed, it was difficult to sand and paint it without almost going through the area that has rusted. The products were similar in design and name, but that was about all that was the same. The bbq forums, home to serious meat smoking aficionados like me, were deluged with negative comments and, more importantly to the business, better alternatives to what had been a superior line of smokers.

This is something from which any business can learn. We’re always under pressure to improve our margins. Some folks look to cheaper materials, other to cheaper, less-skilled labor, and still others to cutting customer service. Sometimes we just skimp on quality control. While margins might improve, there is a strong chance that revenues will decline as the customer base figures out that “you’re not making it like that anymore.” As an Apple user, I recently switched to a Chromebook because my Mac OS isn’t as smooth and there are glitches that were never an issue before. For you cooks out there, Pyrex changed their formula and “new” Pyrex is not as good. Recent Craftsman tools, once the industry standard, are now made in China and aren’t nearly as good. I can go on and I’m sure you can as well.

If you’re successful, resist the temptation to cut corners. People notice (so does your staff). Don’t be part of a conversation that claims you don’t make it like that anymore.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?