Category Archives: Reality checks

How About A Bowl Of Sugar?

Foodie Friday, and this week I’m revved up about a food issue which also raises an issue with every business. You are probably aware that there is an epidemic of diabetes in this country. According to the Centers For Disease Control, 1 in 3 adults in this country has pre-diabetes (elevated blood sugar) and over 9% actually have the disease. This incidence is much higher here in the South with some states having well over 11% of the population affected. Having spent a few years here I can tell you that there is a lot of sweet tea and other sugar-added foods sold everywhere.

What’s got me off on this rant today is what I would call yet another nail in the coffin of those who will contract the disease. Apparently, some genius at Post Cereals felt it would be a good idea to make a cereal named after Sour Patch Kids, a candy. I guess we can commend them for dropping all pretense for most breakfast cereals being anything other than candy and just calling it what it is. You think I’m hyperbolizing? You can literally pour a bowl of some breakfast cereals and half of what you pour is pure sugar. Golden Crips cereal (called Sugar Crisp when I was a kid) is almost 52% sugar. Honey Smacks (formerly Sugar Smacks) is over 55%. You would be better off feeding your kid a Snickers bar – it’s only 45% sugar.

There is a greater question here for anyone in business. Post isn’t the only company doing this. General Mills sells cereal with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on the front. I refuse to believe that the folks at Post or General Mills don’t have an understanding that what they’re selling is fostering an epidemic. It’s easy for them to shrug their shoulders and say “well, responsible parents will let their kids eat this only in moderation.” So why change the names of the aforementioned cereals to delete “sugar? Why isn’t the nutritional information for Reese’s Puffs on the General Mills website? These are dangerous products, folks, and they raise the greater business question. Should we make products that we know are doing great harm? Just because we can do something, should we? Isn’t it possible to sell the healthier alternatives you already make to kids and stop pushing something that you know puts these kids on the road to diabetes?

It doesn’t have to be that way. When scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer and attributed it to the use of CFC’s, many companies that used CFC’s as the propellant in their spray products changed to something else. The products are less dangerous and the hole is healing. Having a conscience to go along with having a bottom line isn’t inconsistent nor bad business. It’s quite the opposite. Selling kids bowls of sugar under the guise of “making your day better” really is a sad way to make a buck, don’t you think?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

He’s Due

The World Series just concluded. Congratulations, Red Sox fans and boy, how it pains me to say that as a life-long Yankees fan. Watching baseball reminded me of something we used to say back when I played baseball. When a guy was in a hitting slump we’d often say “he’s due.” What we meant was that according to his batting average he had taken enough at-bats that it was time for a hit. After all, if his average shows he gets 3 hits every 10 times at bat and he hadn’t had a hit in 15 plate appearances, statistically he should get one now. We were convinced he was due.

That, dear readers, was our youthful display of The Gambler’s Fallacy. We were laboring under the misconception that what has recently occurred will affect what occurs next even if the two events are unrelated. For example, if flipping a coin nine times results in nine instances of “heads,” you might think “tails” is due. Sorry – probability still applies and there’s a 50 percent chance the tenth flip will be heads regardless of what has happened before.

Stop and think about how often you or someone you know in business makes the mistake that if something happens more frequently than normal during a given period, it will happen less frequently in the future (or vice versa). Salespeople refuse to accept higher quotas after a good year, holding back revenue projections which holds back hiring and spending which results in a missed opportunity.  Marketers keep spending against historically good targets after a few campaigns don’t result in the expected results rather than acknowledging that the market may have shifted. Financial people let their insurance lapse after a disaster figuring that if they had a hurricane hit in their area which rarely gets hurricanes, the likelihood of another one hitting is very low. As someone pointed out, the term “100-year flood” doesn’t mean a flood happens every hundred years; it means there is a 1% chance of it hitting during ANY year.

The odds of a disaster happening might be very low but we buy insurance and, more importantly, we make disaster plans. The failure to hit a revenue target after three bad quarters doesn’t mean “you’re due” to have a huge fourth quarter. It means you need to make adjustments. There is no question that luck plays some role in business success and failure but that’s not a business plan.

In the great baseball movie “Major League”, the manager brings in a pitcher to face a batter that has gotten many hits off of him in the past. When the catcher questions his choice, the manager says “I know he hasn’t done very well against this guy but I got a hunch he’s due.” That might be how you want to run your baseball team but it is NOT the way you want to run your business. It worked out in the movies but that’s not real life.

Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Consulting

Ethics And Profits

A bit of a rant today. Suppose you had a friend who lied about things. Maybe they told you that they had a great way to help your business when, in fact, their plan was to use your money to build up their own business. Maybe you gave them money to invest and they lied about the returns. Maybe you tell them information about yourself that you don’t really want public and they tell people anyway. Maybe you let them use your phone or your computer for a few minutes and they installed malware that spied on your constantly. Some friend, right?

Welcome to doing business with Facebook.

Now before you accuse me of hyperbole, let me remind you of the incredible breaches of trust that Facebook has committed over the years. If you look up “Facebook apologizes,” you get over 17 million results. They, like many companies, seem to be focused on one thing: shareholders. As one person put it in speaking about the fall of Sears:

“What’s happened is that shareholders’ interests have squeezed out other stakeholders,” said Arthur C. Martinez, who ran Sears during the 1990s and was credited with a turnaround. “The mantra is shareholders above all else.”

What happens to workers doesn’t matter. Amazon gave raises with one hand and took away stock grants with the other. What happens to partners doesn’t matter. Facebook begged marketers to use their platform to distribute content and then, once the platform had grown to an unimaginable size, cut off marketers who didn’t pay them from access to their audience. What happens to users doesn’t matter. Alphabet, Google’s parent, has over 88% of mobile apps gathering data for them whether users know it or not. Ever wonder how the ads Google serves you with a search seem to tie to something you were doing on a news or productivity app that had nothing to do with Google or search or even ads? Here’s a study that will explain it.

Why is it so hard to follow a moral compass to profitability for many companies? If the bulk of non-tech people truly understood how their data is gathered and used, they’d go back to flip phones. Why not put your customers first and treat them as you’d expect to be treated as a customer? Why not reward employees so that they’re doing better as you’re doing better? Why not put partners’ interests on a level footing with your own so that deals are equitable and profitable for you both? Why not allow vendors to make an honest profit? Without those four things – customers, employees, partners, and vendors – what the shareholders have will be worthless pieces of paper and not an interest in a profitable, growing enterprise.

My friends don’t lie to me and I don’t lie to them. We’ve had our share of messy moments because of that but we’re still friends because of that honesty. We need ethical standards in business every bit as much as we need profits; probably more so. OK, rant over, but do me a favor and think about that, won’t you?

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By The Numbers

Foodie Friday at last! I went out for breakfast this morning and as I watched my server typing my order into the Point Of Sale system, I wondered what was coming out the other end. No, not if my order had been captured correctly or if the ticket would print out correctly. I wondered if the owners of the place actually used the data that had just been gathered. Restaurants generate a phenomenal amount of data although I’d be willing to wager that a minority of them actually look at, analyze, and employ it to improve their business. Then again, I’d be willing to bet that many non-food businesses suffer from the same omission.

Think about it. A restaurant gets information from their POS system – what’s selling and how much does it cost. They see if something is more popular at lunch than at dinner. They can look at their reservation system to know when they’ll be busy and their seating record to know how many covers they’re selling. Smart ones look at how many parties of which size were kept waiting (maybe we should turn the 6-top into a 4- and a 2?). They know what drinks have been ordered. Their suppliers have data for them – what’s available and what does it cost? Then they have their own internal accounting – labor costs, etc. Each of those things relates to the other. But there’s more.

What’s posted on social media? Whats the most-photographed dish? What’s liked and shared? How many reviews and are they positive? What are they about? There’s a lot of data to collect from a multitude of sources – OpenTable, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Urbanspoon or Instagram. All of the former data is very structured and it tells you “what.” The social stuff, along with any loyalty data you might have is unstructured and it can help you to understand “why”.

Maybe if you overlay the daily weather during service hours you can infer a causal effect on any of the above. You can adjust what’s displaying on your drive-thru board when it’s busy to show the menu items that may be lower-margin but quicker to prepare in order to speed the line. If you collect emails (your reservation system does!), you can use Facebook or some other data provider to build out profiles so you can know your customer and better target your marketing.

My point is that every business has a similar capability these days. We might not have reservation systems but we do have online commerce or websites or apps. We need to be less intimidated by big data and more proactive with respect to learning about our customers and how they interact with our offerings. Does that make sense?

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There’s No “I” In Storm

One more bit of thinking today as Hurricane Florence approaches the Carolinas. While it’s easy to see the eye of the storm in the satellite photos, the message here on the ground is that there is no “I”. Let me explain and tell you why it’s relevant to your business as well.

Riding this thing out seems to be a communal effort here. My neighborhood has a closed Facebook group and it’s been overwhelmed with offers from neighbors offering to help one another with everything from cleaning up yard waste to clearing storm drains to fixing generators. There are constant reports of where there is bottled water or gas available to buy (both are hard to find) as stores’ stocks are replenished. In short, while everyone is looking after their own storm prep, they’re doing so with an eye to the community as a whole.

That’s something that gets lost in business sometimes. Each of us is very focused on our own success and we sometimes lose track of the whole. I don’t just mean the entire enterprise (how well is the business doing) but also of our co-workers (how well are the people doing). Too many of us are selfish. We spend time self-promoting. We try to climb over others on our way up the ladder, not recognizing that doing so creates the envy and resentment that can poison an organization.

The truth is that while of course business is competitive, at its best it’s also collaborative. You can’t succeed, either as an individual or as a business, without the trust and support of others.

We’ll get through this storm just as we did the last one. That, in part, will be due to good preparation and help from one another. As with the storms that happen in business, it’s much better than trying to ride it out alone, don’t you think?

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Mental Images, Mental Mistakes

Shut your eyes and picture the typical “All-American” family. Go ahead, I’ll wait. OK – have that picture in your mind? What does it show? Mom, Dad, and a couple of kids? My guess is that if you’re Caucasian so is your picture, and I’ll bet the typical family is also quite heterosexual.

Here’s the problem with your mental image. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, only one in four American families matches that description. That was almost a decade ago and I think we’re all aware of the changes that have been happening with respect to familial, and societal, composition.

If you’re in marketing, that mental picture has some fairly important implications. It might impact how you make creative for your campaigns, how you plan your media, and how those decisions provide relevance and meaning to consumers. For an example, the folks at HP brought together 13 Chicago families of different races, ethnicities, ages, genders and sexual orientations. They were split up and another group of people was asked to reassemble the families.

Guess how many people could put the families back together? Exactly none. In general, they tried to find groupings of the same race, different gender, and heterosexual. Oops. But this has implications even for those of you out there who aren’t in marketing. It speaks to the broader issue of preconceived notions and how we can’t just form opinions without adequate evidence. Some folks are seemingly determined never to let the facts get in the way of a good story, whether they’re reporting something to their boss or just ranting among their friends. It’s really a bad idea.

How often do a new employee or a business prospect walk into the room and you make a snap judgment before they’ve even uttered a word? We all do it, unfortunately. In fact, it’s sort of a “truism” that hiring decisions are made quickly. Well, according to a research study, some of the interviewers did make snap decisions about candidates. Roughly 5% of decisions were made within the first minute of the interview, and nearly 30% within five minutes. I think that has to do with the preconceived notions in the interviewers’ minds about who they saw in the job as well as who they saw in front of them.

Rip up those mental pictures as best you can. Do the research, seek the facts. and THEN form the pictures. Ready, fire, aim rarely works, don’t you think?

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Red Delicious

This Foodie Friday, let’s consider the Red Delicious apple. Until very recently, it has been the dominant apple in orchards all around this great nation of ours. According to the US Apple Association (as quoted in the NY Times), it has recently lost its dominant position to the Gala, and Granny Smiths are closing fast. You can probably hear Honeycrisps off in the distance too.

I know what you’re wondering: is this some sort of tangent brought on the by the start of football season (Go Blue!) and, therefore, the fall apple season? Not really, because there is a business lesson in the fall of the Red Delicious that can be used by any of us.

Have you ever eaten a Red Delicious apple? If you’re not sure, buy one the next time you’re at the market. They will be easy to spot. They’re very pretty – your prototypical apple. It’s a lovely deep red and their skins are generally unmarked. If you were trying to find an apple to use in an art class, the Red Delicious would top your list. So what’s the problem?

Bite into one. What do you get? Not much. They are bland and almost flavorless. That skin is so beautiful because it’s too thick to bruise. Oh sure – you get a blast of sweetness but there really isn’t much of a flavor there, especially when you compare it to pretty much any other apple. While people do eat with their eyes, at some point what they’re eating gets to their mouth and the food needs to deliver on the promise made by how it looks. That’s true of any product or service. Nice packaging, wonderful design, or a fancy sales brochure may attract a large consumer base but if what’s delivered doesn’t fulfill the promise made, it will be one and done. Either you’re solving the customer’s problem and providing superior value or you’re not, and it doesn’t matter how pretty you are.

Don’t be the Red Delicious of your business sector. It may be nice to be number one (and it’s probably pretty profitable for a while), but over time, it’s unsustainable if all you are is pretty. Substance matters, don’t you think?

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