Category Archives: Huh?

There’s A Little Cafe…

Foodie Friday and we’re heading overseas this morning. To Vienna, specifically, where, as The Boss wrote about San Diego, “there’s a little cafe.” Now I don’t know if they “play guitars all night and all day” but I do know one thing they do. They charge customers who plug in their phones or laptops to recharge them. As the Reuters article on this quoted the owner:

Austria, Vienna, Hundertwasserhaus

Hundertwasserhaus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tourists – always electricity, electricity, electricity. Sorry but who is going to pay me for it?” said Pokorny, owner of the Terrassencafe in Hundertwasserhaus – located inside a colorful patchwork of apartments designed by artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Customers who charge up during a 15-minute coffee can still do so for free, she said. An hour, however, is beyond the pale.

On the surface, a reasonable business practice, right? Electricity costs money, and if each of the outlets is in use most of the day incurring costs that aren’t built into the charge for the coffee, it seems reasonable to pass those costs on to the customers who incur them, right? Maybe, except for a couple of things.

First, someone figured out that it costs about $.84 (that’s 84 cents) to charge a smartphone for a year. That’s using an overnight charge but one can assume timewise that’s comparable to an outlet being in use for a full day. This cafe is charging customers 1 Euro (which is about $1.06 at the moment) if they plug in for more than 15 minutes. In other words, this is more of a profit center than the owner is letting on.

Put that aside. It not customer friendly. Cafe culture in Europe is about sitting and enjoying, not about grabbing a coffee to go. This owner knows that – she offers free wifi. Is it not part of the same welcoming, customer-centric mindset to offer free electricity as well? If your customers are sitting and enjoying, is it unreasonable for them to plug in and charge up while using the free wifi you offer?

I wrote earlier this week about misleading statements in marketing materials. Offering free wifi and charging for electricity feels as if it’s the same type of insult to your customer. Unless this cafe’s coffee is a cut above anything else nearby (and there is almost always decent coffee nearby in Europe), they’re being extremely short-sighted. If the coffee is that good, raise the price a few pennies to cover the cost of whatever electricity seems to be used. Don’t insult your customers by sending mixed messages or by nickel and diming them.

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Unlimited Gall

You might be aware of the battle going on in the wireless provider space which revolves around “unlimited” service. Yes, I meant to put unlimited in quotes because as it turns out there is no such thing. I’ll explain the details in a second but what this represents is mirrored in other businesses too and is a ridiculous bit of anti-customer behavior in which none of us should engage. Let’s see what you think.

First, the phone war. Verizon and T-Mobile are the primary protagonists. Verizon announced it was bringing back unlimited data so you could stream video on your mobile device to your heart’s content. Of course, as one article reminded us, unlimited is actually not:

“Unlimited” data also continues to be a misnomer. If you use more than 22GB of data, Verizon may throttle your connection. You also only get the $80/month price if you sign up for Autopay. If you don’t, it will cost $85/month. While this includes the $20 fee for adding a line, it doesn’t include your phone’s payment plan, so if you want to pay monthly to buy a phone, it will cost more.

T-Mobile responded with changes to their own so-called unlimited data plan. While the plan was unlimited previously, it added on charges for video quality over 480p (that’s not great). It also charged you extra to use your phone as a high-speed (meaning 3G quality) hotspot. It slowed the data down before. In the new plan, those limits are gone but T-Mobile says subscribers who use more than 28GB of data in a given month may see their speeds reduced due to “prioritization” in congested areas. In short, using the word “unlimited” is crap. There are still limits, and if you’re a consumer you have the right to expect that there really aren’t.

The phone companies (and Sprint and AT&T aren’t much better) aren’t the only businesses that do a form of bait and switch. It’s no secret that what you’re quoted as an airfare is also only part of the story since there are fees for bags, boarding passes, seats, and just about anything else depending on your carrier. The airlines say the fees are optional. Yeah, sure. And pay the fee at the airport and there is a fee to pay the fee!

Ever buy tickets to a show online? Convenience (whose convenience?) fees, printing fees, etc. Ever book a hotel room? Resort fees, safe fees, service fees, and more. My bank charges my business account a monthly admin fee even though they make money off the money I have in the bank. My cable operator charges me for sports channels I can’t refuse to take.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that businesses need to be upfront about their true costs to consumers or face a backlash when their dishonesty is discovered. I’d much rather know the true cost of something than to feel as if I’d been ripped off later. Wouldn’t you? Isn’t that how we need to treat our customers?

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Smoke And Mirrors

I wrote last week about magic and distractions. Another magically-themed post today about the smoke and mirrors magicians use in their acts. That expression has come to mean something that’s deceptive or fraudulent, and a couple of pieces about the marketing business got me thinking about that term today. Even if you’re not a marketer (but who isn’t!), there’s something to take away.

One piece on Digiday dealt with ad-buying technology. You’re probably aware that the majority of digital ad buying (which will soon cover TV as well!) is done programmatically. No humans are involved other than to create the platforms on the vending end and choosing the ones to use on the buying end. The Digiday piece contains the following statements from an ad tech software developer:

I can say from first-hand experience that a lot of it is taped together stuff and nowhere near the sophistication that’s talked about…It is really easy to put up a website and mention “algorithms,” “machine learning” and a bunch of buzzwords. Nobody knows how that works. You can’t actually look into it, it is all just black boxes. But underneath, there is no real special sauce for a lot of these companies.

In other words, smoke and mirrors. Billions of dollars are spent this way and marketers are (finally) demanding to know how their money is really being spent. They’re turning on the lights and blowing away the smoke. Which leads to the second piece from MediaPost. It mentions “the terrible murky waters of rebates and contracts” and the same lack of transparency to which the other piece alludes. P&G is demanding more transparency, insisting that media agencies show that they are using providers that apply industry standards in measuring viewability and fraud. Ogilvy and Mather is reorganizing under a single P&L accounting structures for clients and thereby boosting transparency. Both of these moves are sending the magicians home.

We all need to ask ourselves about smoke and mirrors in our businesses. We need to challenge sources behind reports and assure ourselves that what we’re reading or hearing is rooted in fact and not someone’s fiction. A good practice outside of business too, don’t you think?

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The Cobra Effect

If you heard any news this weekend, you probably are aware of the Executive Order banning folks from certain countries from entering the United States. I expect that the folks who issued the order felt that they were doing something pretty straightforward. Instead, they ended up preventing workers with visas, legal residents with green cards, and a host of others who have all their legal certifications in order from traveling here.

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Fa...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we’re not a political blog, I’m going to put aside humanitarian concerns and politics and instead focus on what one must assume are unintended consequences of the order. It’s the “Cobra Effect” come to life yet again. Unfamiliar with that? It got its name based on what happened when the Indian government offered rewards for dead cobras in an effort to cure a plague of them. Rather than decreasing the number of cobras, people began breeding them and killing them for the reward money. When the government figured this out they stopped paying for them. People released the cobras they no longer needed. Net effect? More cobras and lots of wasted money. Unintended consequences personified!

So how do we avoid the Cobra Effect in our businesses? Not by preserving the status quo since that’s rarely an option. It’s actually as simple as taking the time to think through what possible effects a particular action might have. “If we do this, that might happen.” Don’t be bashful about throwing out absurd conclusions, either. There are many examples those absurdities becoming reality (you gain more weight when you skip meals? Really?).

I guess my thinking is to go fast but do so slowly. Push for change and evolve your products, services, and business, but do so in a manner that thinks through as many of the potential effects those changes could bring about as you can imagine and avoid the Cobra Effect. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

A Law Against Being Dumb

We all hate it when people say negative things about us. Obviously, if you’re a business and this happens, the odds are that the mean things are posted in some very public places, which can be damaging to your business. I’ve written a few times about various tactics a business can use to respond to negative reviews or comments: ignoring them, denying them, addressing them in a positive manner, or suing the person who posted them. This last tactic, which is, in my mind, the least effective and most dangerous, is no longer an option.
One of the last things the outgoing Congress did was to pass H.R. 5111 – The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016. This law, in its own words:

makes a provision of a form contract void from the inception if it: (1) prohibits or restricts an individual who is a party to such a contract from engaging in written, oral, or pictorial reviews, or other similar performance assessments or analyses of, including by electronic means, the goods, services, or conduct of a person that is also a party to the contract; (2) imposes penalties or fees against individuals who engage in such communications; or (3) transfers or requires the individual to transfer intellectual property rights in review or feedback content (with the exception of a nonexclusive license to use the content) in any otherwise lawful communications about such person or the goods or services provided by such person.

In other words, businesses can’t sue someone because they impose a form contract that prohibits the customer from making negative comments and it forbids businesses from slapping fees on customers who do so. We’ve seen this done by several businesses over negative Yelp reviews. Then there is the case of the company that bricked a users software after he posted a negative review (and I’m unclear if the Act actually prohibits this!). As you’re reading this, I’m hoping your response is “why do we need a law to stop businesses from being stupid?”

Good point. That said, some consumers have spent many hours and thousands of dollars defending themselves against voicing their honest opinions which are based in fact (the law doesn’t by the way, negate existing libel or slander laws). But let’s not stray from the important point: how to handle negative reviews.

  1. Apologize. Do so loudly and in the same forum where the consumer voiced their opinion. It doesn’t matter if they’re dead wrong.
  2. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if there are grounds for the complaint. Be honest. Is this a one-off or have others complained about similar issues?
  3. Ask to take the discussion offline into a private forum – email, phone, direct messages, etc.
  4. Make it right – no “buts” and don’t “try.” That doesn’t mean you should accept a ridiculous offer from them (lifetime free meals because they found a hair in their salad) but you should compromise on something that is reasonable and lets the customer know they’ve been taken seriously and not ignored.

We shouldn’t need a law to help businesses from being dumb but until many of us wise up and quit suing our customers for voicing their opinions, this one is on the books. Thoughts?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Digging Out Of A Hole

Let’s begin the new year with some (more) sobering news. People think marketers suck and don’t trust us. Actually, that’s not a recent development according to the Gallup folks who conduct an annual poll about various professions and how they’re perceived. Since Gallup has been conducting the survey (as far back as at least 2001), “advertising practitioners” have always appeared near the bottom of the professional rankings:

When it comes to rating the honesty and ethical standards of people in various professions, American adults rate medical professionals highly. But advertising practitioners? That’s a different story. In fact, just 11% of adults rate advertising professionals highly for their honesty and ethics.

That’s from the Marketing Charts summary of the poll. You can see the chart listing the various professions off to the side. Is anyone shocked by these results? Let’s think for a minute about many of the prominent ad stories of the past few years. They’re a litany of theft and fraud but those don’t really affect consumers. The big consumer ad story is probably the rise of ad blocking which is a response to irresponsible behavior on much of the advertising/publishing ecosystem.

That’s just the online world. Offline, one needn’t look very far to find examples of “free” offers that require one to submit a credit card, businesses suing their customers for accurate but negative comments on social media, and just about any political ad this last year. Each of these things further reinforces the negative perception that this study finds.

It’s a new year, and every new year brings the possibility of fresh starts. Maybe this is a good time for any of us who make a living within the marketing community to start digging out of this perception hole? We can do so by reminding ourselves that our families and friends are the consumers we’re pitching. Would you try to run a scam on them? Would they find the ad you’re running offensive? For those of you not engaged in the ad business, you’d do well to ask yourself the same types of questions. My guess is that we’re going to hear a lot about ethics this year. Let’s try to make our profession a better example of the right kind of ethical behavior. You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, Huh?

Top Posts Of The Year #1

What follows is the most-read post I published during this past year. We’ll have the most-read Foodie Friday post tomorrow. Originally titled “Why I Might Have Unfollowed You,” I wrote this right after Election Day. I was sort of hopeful at the time that a lot of the vitriol and outright lying that had lead up to that day would stop. It didn’t and hasn’t, but having unfollowed a number of the worst offenders in my feed has helped. I’m also gratified that the concerns over “fake news” have grown large enough that they’re finally being addressed. Of course, I’m not sure some people branding The NY Times or other legitimate news outlets as fake moves the discussion forward. In any event, I’m glad that this was the most read post because it was really one of the most heartfelt ones I wrote this year.

I have been at this blogging thing for over 2,000 posts and 8 years (May of 2008, actually) and I’ve yet to write a political post. Today may be the closest I’ve come although obviously, I’ve used politics to help us appreciate some business points along the way.

I’ve stopped following a few people on Facebook in the last few days, something I’ve rarely done and usually only when the accounts get filled with spam. The folks I unfollowed are people I know personally – I tend not to be Facebook friends with most business associates or random friends of friends. I unfollowed them because this election has brought out the worst in them. I don’t mean that I disagree with their point of view. Many of my closest friends and I hold diametrically opposed political views. I mean that they’ve stopped supporting their views with any sort of facts and are choosing to ignore the facts when they’re presented to them. They are living in the horrible confirmational bias reality that tells them sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism are not only OK but the real voice of America as evidenced by this election.

They go on to criticize people for exercising their First Amendment rights to assemble and protest in vitriolic hateful posts. They continue to post outright lies which are easily disproven with a brief search. They dismiss sources such as CNN and the NY Times as biased and won’t believe anything they report, mostly because they disagree with them. They forget that a majority of America voted for a woman and a liberal agenda. Rather than contemplating how to be inclusive of that agenda as we move forward, they post about “taking back” the country, I guess from the majority who voted the other way. They fail to condemn miscreants who bully, threaten, and harm fellow citizens. Their children behave the same way in school. This is shameful, and denying the facts doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

So I unfollowed them. I welcome the opportunity to discuss politics with folks of all sides as long as we stick to the facts and don’t engage in ad hominem attacks. Hypocrisy is a no-no as well (look up what our newly-elected President was saying four years ago about the unfairness of a popular vote win not translating into an Electoral College win and how people should be marching in the streets!). Those are things I try to do in business as well and so should you. In the meantime, let’s remember that our system doesn’t deny the minority party any ability to influence policy (witness the last 8 years of Republicans slowing/changing/denying Obama‘s policies) and that in two years there’s another chance to change things again.

I’m sorry for using this platform to get his off my chest. I hope you’ve not had to unfollow folks and your friends are more rational than some of mine seem to be. I’m hoping everyone will just calm down a bit and work to be the change each of us wants to see in the world while not building walls. I don’t mean on our borders but those between our fellow citizens and ourselves. The people I unfollowed were doing just that and I’m not having any of it. You?

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