Category Archives: Reality checks

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

Buy Less, Get More

I recently bought a Chromebook that has a touchscreen. I’ve been using a MacBook Air for half a dozen years as my primary computer but it has slowed to a crawl and work was taking much longer to get done. I debated replacing the Mac but then I took a hard look at what functions the laptop served. Over the last few years, nearly everything I have been doing is done in the cloud and having a device that’s basically a glorified web browser actually seemed like a good idea. I moved my accounting to a cloud-based system and started using the Google suite of office programs (Docs, Sheets, etc.) in lieu of the programs on my Mac. I’ve been a lot more productive and I got a large Android tablet out of it to boot (the Chromebook flips around to be a tablet!).

There are a few other things that I noticed. First, this device reminds me of the Mac when I first got it. The thing just works. It updates itself, it’s safe from malware, battery life is good, and it’s easy to add extensions to customize it to my liking. I can run any Android app the will run on a phone (admittedly, that’s often a so-so experience) and that opens up a ton of additional software on a bigger screen than my phone.

This isn’t a screed to get you to buy a Chromebook. The point, rather, is to get you to think about why you buy, build, hire, or otherwise add to your organization. Another Mac would have been overkill based on what I needed the device to do. I saved money (the Chromebook cost about half of what a new MacBook would have cost) and I’m more productive. We often spend our precious resources on unnecessary things and that’s bad management.

Some examples. Most of the people who buy Microsoft Word have no clue how to use most of its features. The same with Excel. They are both wonderfully powerful programs but there are so many features that they become difficult to use and simple tasks can become daunting. There are free programs out there, and there are some great alternatives to the Office suite that have 99% of what most of us will ever need. You buy less and get more.

Another one. I worked with some managers over the years who would always put new positions into their budgets. Did they need them? Nope, but since other departments were growing, they felt as if they had to grow too. A corporate form of keeping up with the Joneses, I guess. We can’t manage our businesses to impress other people or out of jealousy. We can’t spend on a Rolls Royce when all that’s called for in order to get the job done is a Volkswagen.

Buying less can often get us more. It certainly did in my case. Give it a try?

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints

Independence Day Once More

I’m going to be a little lazy today since I have a sneaky feeling that many of you are off having fun for the extended holiday weekend. My laziness is taking the form of reposting this piece from July of 2008. As I reread it, It struck me that it’s even more appropriate now than it was 9 years ago (have I really been at this for that long??). No, it’s not an election year, but the rest of it struck a chord with me. You?

It’s going on July 4th and to all of us raised on the Red, White, and Blue we know it’s a day (OK, a long weekend) during which we can celebrate the fundamental principles that make the US of A what it is.  No, I’m not going to venture into politics (although it IS an election year and there’s a LOT to talk about).  What I do want to write about is the contradiction of the “independence day” term.

The Constitution (I know – a bit after the Declaration) begins with the word “we.”  We The People.  Not “me.”  The independence rightly celebrated this weekend is, to me, about the specific rights and freedoms we have to be ourselves as a people, with all the quirks that make us unique.  WE are independent of other folks (Great Britain, specifically, long ago) but NOT from one another.  I’ve spent the last 30+ years learning how critical having a strong bunch of folks around you is as well as setting the bar high in terms of with whom you do business as best you can.  Why?  Because the better they are, the better you become.  As I’ve transitioned from corporate life to consulting, the friends and business friends I’ve made over the last 30 years have been an unbelievable support network, even for a guy who is now independent.

Jack Ingram puts it well in his song “We’re All In This Together“:

We all think we’re special
And I hate to have to say
There’s a bunch of us on every corner
Of any town U.S.A.
We all got our problems
We all pay our dues
So if you’re thinking no one understands
I’ve got news for you

Chorus

We’re all in this together
Whether we like it or not
So we might as well have a good time
With the little piece of time we got
Life’s too short to fuss and fight
So we might as well be friends
‘Cause we’re all in this together
Together till the bitter end

So Happy July 4th.  Enjoy being independent.  Together.

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

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?

I Almost Did Something Stupid

I’ve mentioned before here on the screed that I have friends of all political persuasions. By definition, that means that some of them diverge quite a bit from where I stand on various issues. I posted something on Facebook the other day about an action the Senate took to restrict press access (since rescinded). While my post had to do with the need for our First Amendment rights to remain unimpeded, a friend replied with a long comment that was a litany of hate speech the left wing had spewed. I suspect he was reacting to the horrible shootings in Alexandria last week.

He had missed my point entirely but that’s not my topic today. Instead, I want to reflect upon my immediate response and why it can be a horrible mistake in business. Within a few seconds of reading his rant, I had flipped over to the place on Facebook where you can block someone. After all, I don’t want my page to be filled with half-truths and venom. Fortunately, I took a breath and remembered a couple of things. First, this guy is a friend of over 20 years, and I know he has a big heart even if his head seems to interpret the world very differently from mine. Second, he and I have had many chats about politics and we’ve actually found that we agree on a lot more than you might expect. But it was the last thing I thought about which is relevant to you and to your business.

One of the biggest problems anyone in business can face is incomplete information. The other thing is that they live in an echo chamber, a place where all they hear is their own voice reflected back at them. Some people like it that way – I’ve worked for guys who never heard anything that contradicted their world view because they made it intolerable for anyone who brought them that sort of information. Closing off your mind to divergent points of view doesn’t improve your decision-making nor does it reflect the reality of the world. If you believe that all your customers are happy and totally satisfied, you’re delusional. Shooting the messenger or writing off the negative reviews is short-sighted. Ignoring data that point to a different direction than the one you’re taking is simply fostering ignorance. When I thought about blocking my friend and his divergent thinking from my page, I was heading down a very dangerous road (and infringing on his First Amendment rights too!).

As I’ve written before, I’m a firm believer in anyone’s ability – inside or outside of business – to express their opinions. I insist, however, that those opinions be grounded in fact. Is that how you approach things? Do you welcome new ideas and new thinking? Are you keeping an open mind?

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Filed under Reality checks

Death By 1,000 Cuts

When I was in the TV business, the most sought-after demographic was always young adults. While they often weren’t the key to the heaviest volume of product sales, it’s when we’re young that we build consumption habits and establish brand loyalty. Let’s keep that in mind as we look at some recent trends in media.

You’re probably not surprised to hear that cord-cutting – consumers ditching their cable or satellite TV subscription in favor of streaming and.or over the air services – has continued to accelerate. As the Techdirt blog reported:

MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett has noted that 2016’s 1.7% decline in traditional cable TV viewers was the biggest cord cutting acceleration on record. SNL Kagan agrees, noting that traditional pay-TV providers lost around 1.9 million traditional cable subscribers. That was notably worse than the 1.1 million net subscriber loss seen last year.

They also noted that those numbers don’t tell the entire – and much worse – story. Those numbers report those who canceled an existing subscription. When you take into account the youngsters moving out of their parents’ houses or graduating from college and forming their own household for the first time, there are around another million “cord nevers” who are missed sales by the traditional cable and satellite providers. It really doesn’t matter what business you’re in. When you stop attracting younger consumers, you have a problem.

Why is this happening and how can we learn from it in any business? Techcrunch, reporting on a TiVo study, said that:

The majority of consumers in the U.S. and Canada are no longer interested in hefty pay TV packages filled with channels they don’t watch. According to a new study from TiVo out this morning, 77.3 percent now want “a la carte” TV service – meaning, they want to only pay for the channels they actually watch. And they’re not willing to pay too much for this so-called “skinny bundle,” TiVo found. The average price a U.S. consumer will pay for access to the top 20 channels is $28.31 – a figure that’s dropped by 14 percent over the past two quarters.

There is also the matter of convenience and personalization. Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services do a great job in making recommendations and offering you programming based on your viewing habits. Has your cable operator done that for you lately?

We can learn from this. Cable operators who focus on broadband and “throw in” the TV offerings aren’t doing much better than those who don’t, since the overall out of pocket is sullied by broadband caps and other, often hidden, price increases that help the bottom line but only prolong the inevitable. It also just makes it easier for a lower-priced competitor to enter the market. I know enough about how the TV business works to recognize the issues with skinny bundles (it’s hard to offer channels on an ala carte basis due to contractual restrictions). We’re seeing more and more offerings that bundle channels outside of the traditional providers and that’s going to exacerbate the aforementioned trends as well.

What’s needed is a rethinking of the business model. Getting local governments to preclude more broadband competition isn’t a long-term solution (look at the wireless business!) nor it is the “free and open market” to which most businesspeople pay homage. Listen to your consumers and give them what they want, especially the young ones. Cord cutting isn’t some far off fantasy that naysayers have dreamt up. It’s here, and it’s killing you by 1,000 cuts. The rest of us can learn from this and, hopefully, not make some of the same mistakes. You agree?

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Filed under Reality checks, digital media

Slow Play

Another Monday, another golf-related rant. But as with most things golf-related, there are points to be made about life well beyond the links.

An animation of a full golf swing displaying t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I played a couple of rounds over the weekend (you’re surprised, right?) and both were slow. By slow, I don’t necessarily mean any specific time. It’s more about the general pace of play when compared to the conditions. I also accepted something I have learned about younger (Millenial) golfers. Both have implications for your business.

I’ll admit upfront that I play more quickly than many golfers. I also tend to play early in the morning when the course tends to be empty. When I play 18 holes by myself, it generally takes about two and a quarter hours; two and a half if I’m stinking it up. My regular Sunday game with another gentleman takes up about 2:45 to 3 hours. My regular foursome used to take about three and a half hours. Those are fast times but they’re also times made by doing a few simple things. Keeping up with the group in front of you. Being ready when it’s your turn and not waiting for someone else to hit if they’re behind you but looking for their ball. Lining up your putts while someone else is putting, parking the cart so you never have to walk backward to it, and a few other things that make a few seconds’ difference that add up to many minutes saved in a round.

So what have I learned about many Millenial golfers? I play with them all the time and they are slow. I hate to generalize, but they are. Rather than socializing while traveling between shots, they stand on the tee, staring at an empty fairway, and talk rather than tee off. They are very polite and allow the golfer farthest back to hit even if that golfer isn’t ready. Why aren’t they ready? Another thing: they take forever to make up their minds. They take multiple practice swings. They park both carts together to watch someone hit rather than splitting up, dropping one golfer by their ball and moving on to be ready. In short, they’re not focused on making decisions and on getting things done, and because of that, they fall behind. We played in over four hours yesterday and were never held up once by anyone in front of us. Arrggghh….

What does this have to do with your business? We need to do what faster golfers do. We need to assess the situation, make a decision, and go. We can’t wait on others, we can’t take forever to think, we can’t make endless practice swings (read that as internal meetings and discussions). Golfers have GPS devices and laser yardage readers to help them know where they are on the hole. Businesses have analytics, financial data, and staff meetings.  I’ve yet to play with any golfer who played better because they lollygagged around the course nor have I met many businesspeople who were more successful because they fell behind.

Golfers find a rhythm as they go and so too do businesses. Slow play disrupts that rhythm whether it’s golf or business. The PGA Tour assessed its first slow-play penalty in over twenty years yesterday, this despite 5+hour rounds being routine on tour. That’s ridiculous (and a bad influence on young golfers!). Let’s all speed it up on the course and in the office, ok?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud