Category Archives: Huh?

Thanks For Nothing

I get emails all the time urging me to win something. In a previous life, I used to send those emails as well. Because of that, I became very well acquainted with the rules that govern sweepstakes and contests. I’ve had multiple lawyers explain the three-legged stool of chance/prize/consideration to me on more than one occasion, and I’ve never run afoul of the gaming laws either here in the US or in Canada.

I thought about those rules as I reviewed an email from an electronics company this morning. The email urges me to “Get Rewarded For Sharing Your Opinion.” I had a couple of immediate thoughts that might just be pertinent to your business, whether you’re running a contest or not (BTW, I know the difference between a “contest” and a “sweepstakes” but I’m lumping them together today, OK (damn lawyers…))?

My first thought was to wonder if asking someone to write a review isn’t consideration? We used to wonder if asking for a photo or a video as part of an entry constituted consideration. My take is that even if it’s not deemed to be such by a lawyer, it is still asking someone to take some time and write a review. For some of us, writing is like breathing but for many people, cranking out a couple of hundred coherent words is grueling. Asking them to do so for a CHANCE to win a $500 gift card with nothing else as a consolation (a coupon, you cheap bastards?) seems like an unfair trade-off.

More importantly, the headline on the company‘s landing page is “Your Thoughts, Our Thanks?” Really? Unless you dive deeply into the fine print of the rules, you might not realize that unless your review contains a very specific phrase it won’t be counted as a contest entry. That won’t, of course, stop the company from using it in advertising and by entering, you’ve signed away all rights to it as well as the right to contest the company’s use of it and your name.

The bigger point is that the company is positioning this as a “win-win“:

Write an honest review and you’ll automatically be entered for a chance to win $500*. How’s that for a win-win?

It’s not, actually, You win. You get the content you can use to sell your products. A consumer might win but the vast majority of them will send off the review and get bupkis, maybe not even an entry if they haven’t read the rules carefully. You’re awarding cards every two months (and by the way, your entry doesn’t count after the two month period in which it was received). $3,000 over the course of a year for an important type of social proof – consumer reviews seems awfully cheap on your part, particularly when most of what you’re selling costs hundreds of dollars.

We can’t ask our customers for something beyond buying our products without offering something in return. Don’t hype a relatively low-level reward that’s not universally available to everyone supporting your brand when all you’re really offering is a fuzzy “thank you.” Your thanks? Thanks for nothing in this case. Do you agree?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Intellectual Laziness

I’m sure your Twitter and/or Facebook feeds are filled with articles and discussions from and among your friends. Mine certainly are, and what strikes me about many of them is how intellectually lazy they’ve become. That’s odd, since most of my friends are anything but. They tend to be smart and able to see nuance, yet my feeds are filled with blanket generalizations and narrow perspectives, not to mention the unchallenged fake news.

I think that laziness is becoming more pervasive in business too. Maybe it’s that our brains have been taken over by the manner in which we think in the social media space or maybe it’s just easier to paint with broad strokes since there is so much information coming at us every single day. I think that’s a rationalization. More importantly, it’s dangerous.

When we make use of generalizations and blanket statements we negate things that don’t fit into the underlying assumptions, schemas, and stereotypes of our business. This intellectual laziness is also used to maintain the status quo.

Think about how often a good idea has been crushed by someone using the words “always” or “never.” Those terms are overly broad and prevent new thinking about old problems. instead, we’d all be better served by maintaining a beginner’s mind and listening more than we speak.  It’s pretty much truism that you’ll learn more from listening than you will from talking. Taking what we hear and synthesizing new ideas in the context of the business environment is how we move forward. More importantly, it’s the antithesis of being intellectually lazy.

I think people who are intellectually lazy are toxic both in business and in the world at large. I’m making more use of lists in my social feeds to weed out those toxic folks so I can enjoy the critical thinking of others and make myself a little smarter each day. You?

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Staying Alinged

One thing that bad golfers do (and I’m speaking from personal experience here) is to misalign themselves. They might point the clubface at their target but they fail to get their hips, shoulders, and knees properly aligned. When they go to hit the shot, inevitably the ball goes someplace other than where the golfer desires.
I thought of that this morning as I read the results of a study on marketing compensation. Conducted by MediaPost, the study found that:

Agencies and their clients are far apart in terms of what they deem to be the most fair method of compensation, according to findings of a survey of advertiser and agency execs conducted recently by Advertiser Perceptions for MediaPost. While labor-based fees are the No. 1 method preferred by agencies (45%), incentive methods were the top choice among marketers (40%).

You might not be a marketing agency or a marketer, but there is something to be taken from that for whatever business you’re in. Think of a car’s four wheels. When they’re properly aligned, the car is easy to hold on the course you set. If one wheel is out of alignment, the car pulls left or right and you’re constantly having to fight to keep it heading where you want.

Your business is no different. Your goals and your customers’ goals have to be in alignment. So too do yours and your team’s. Being paid fairly is a critical part of the employer/employee relationship, and no one is going to do their best work if they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly. I’ve known agencies who’ve resigned clients because they felt that they were losing money servicing the account. I actually had a client who hired me to complete a project over a few weeks. When I presented the completed work in a little over a week, they asked to reduce what I was being paid since “it didn’t take as long as we thought.” In that case, it was my fault for not being sure that their expectations (how long it would take and the value of that time) were in alignment with how I did the work and the value of the project regardless of the time spent. Sure, I could have sat on the completed work until it was due, but that has no benefit to my client and only helps me justify what they’re paying.

All the wheels need to be aligned. The club face and your body need to be aligned. The goals and expectations of everyone in your organization need to be aligned, and that alignment must extend to your customers as well. Hard to do sometimes, but always worth it, right?

 

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Nobody Knows Anything

I’m going to start the week by running the risk of bumming you out. At least we’ll have the rest of the week to recover, right? I was looking at some analytics data this morning and as I looked at it, I realized that much of it is wrong. So is a lot of the other information this client is using to make decisions. Yours is too, by the way. I’ll explain why but along with the realization came an insight that I think will be helpful to your business.

When I began in digital we used server logs to track traffic. They were pretty accurate although pretty limited as well. Web analytics came along and the quantity and quality of the information we got about who was coming to our web sites, how they got there, and what they were doing improved quite a bit. As business people, we were able to make content and marketing decisions based on the data we were getting.

Things have grown quite a bit more complex over the last 20 years and that complexity has obscured much of the good, useful information. Anyone who knows analytics will tell you that much of the referral data you see (where traffic comes from) is wrong. “Direct” traffic is way overstated. “Referred” traffic is encumbered by referrer spam. A lot of so called direct traffic is really dark social traffic (I send you a link). Transfers from HTTPS to HTTP sites report as direct as well. Keyword data is “not available.”

I’m not trying to make your head hurt nor to get really wonky. The point is that if you’re relying on that data to make decisions, you’re really just guessing. It’s the same with much of your ad data. I’ve written before about the lack of transparency in the programmatic ad markets and that opaqueness obscures the validity of the data as well.

I can add search data, email data, and more to the list of what probably isn’t what you think it is, but all of this fostered a thought: what do we really know that’s truly actionable?

I can answer that. We can know how our products and services are really differentiated and how much better we are at solving peoples’ problems. We can know (yay review sites!) how good our customer service is. We can know how our revenues and costs and changing and we can ask why.

I’m the last guy to say we should ignore that large and growing amount of data every business gets each minute. But maybe the time has come to act on what we KNOW and less on what we really don’t. What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?, Reality checks

Tolls

As you might have guessed from the name of my company (Keith Ritter Media), I’ve spent a great deal of time in the media business, both as a marketer and as a publisher. The business model used to be pretty simple. Create something about which people care, make them aware that you’re offering it, get them to read, listen, or watch it, and aggregate those people into a saleable audience. You hired salespeople to meet with the representatives of your real customer – the advertiser. Usually, these representatives were media buyers from an ad agency. You with me so far?

In TV, we’d offer a unit of time at a “gross” price and asked the agency to remit a “net” price, which was usually the gross minus 15%. That commission was the toll we paid to get the revenue. Obviously, how much of that the agency kept was between them and their client but it wasn’t really our concern. We did our budgeting on the expected net revenues we’d get which was pretty much a straight line derivative of the gross monies sold. Other media had similar models but in every case, the dollars received by the publisher were directly and clearly tied to the size and desirability (to marketers) of their audience.

That statement in no longer true for digital publishing and the fact that it isn’t has serious negative implications for other media as they shift to a more programmatic sales model. I have no idea how digital publishers are able to do financial plans since they can’t project revenue from audience size. That’s because they’ve allowed themselves to generate billions of dollars in ad revenue while only capturing somewhere around a third of what is spent. The 15% that used to be paid in tolls is now more like 67% although some estimates are even higher. More importantly, it’s usually impossible to predict the net revenues received from the gross revenues sold. Digital audiences are growing while publisher revenue is declining.

Where is the money going? A sponsor pays $1 for an ad impression. The agency still takes their commission, but added to the toll-takers are trading desks, DSP providers, data providers, supply side platforms, ad serving platforms, verification services (viewability, etc.) and who knows who else. In some cases, it’s the agency double-dipping, but most of the time these are third parties. Most of these ad services have no interest in either the publisher’s or the marketing client’s success. They aren’t about a quality ad environment. They facilitate a transaction. In some cases, a platform that connects both buyers and sellers charges each side a separate fee without disclosing that they’re doing so. In short, publishers, agencies, and marketers have created a system that works for no one but the VC’s that fund these ad tech companies. What happens when programmatic spreads to other media such as TV?

Publishers have many other challenges. Facebook, for example, makes more money off of some publishers’ content than do the publishers themselves without paying the publishers a dime. But the real threat to a healthy media environment is the toll-takers. When you create great content and grow your audiences, you should be the entity that benefits and not some opaque service provider. More eyeballs used to mean more money to the bottom line. Can we make that equation true again?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Who Cares?

Somewhere along the line, I”m willing to bet you’ve heard the term fake news. Like the news itself, the term is everywhere these days and over the last 48 hours or so there was an incident around a news story that helps to make a great point about business.

You might have heard about the story CNN got wrong. Actually, we’re not sure that they got it wrong but we do know that they didn’t follow their own protocol for vetting information. The story concerned a claim that Congress was investigating a Russian investment fund with supposed ties to The President. For our purposes today, that’s immaterial. What is important is that CNN, like all professional journalism outlets, has standards in place with respect to the number of sources required to run a story (among other things) and this story didn’t meet them. They ran the story (only on their website – it never made air ) and then retracted it after they realized they hadn’t met their own standards. The reporters who wrote the story resigned.

Those standards are what differentiate professional news organizations from the real “fake news” outlets. You know – people who just make stuff up to further their own purposes or who selectively report certain facts to advance their arguments. Those standards are why The Wall Street Journal dismissed a reporter who was doing secret business deals with one of his contacts. And those standards are our business point today.

I always make it a habit of asking “who cares” when I get information. Whose agenda is served by the news? Who is the source? Are there multiple, independent sources on this or is it just rumor mongering? In the CNN case, I take the incident as a positive. The system worked and whether the story is right or wrong is immaterial. It came from one anonymous source, and that’s just not good enough for a professional organization.

When you get business information, you need a similar system of vetting the story. Who cares that you have the information? Whose agenda is advanced? Asking those sorts of questions can save you from having to issue your own retraction or worse. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Huh?

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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