Category Archives: Reality checks

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 I posted something on Facebook the other day about an action the Senate took to restrict press access (since rescinded).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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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 digital media, Reality checks

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 Reality checks, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

A Matter Of Trust

If you’ve eaten recently you might want to wait to read today’s Foodie Friday Fun. As always on Friday we look at something going on in the food world and attempt to broaden the lesson beyond food. Today’s topic is food-tech. I’m not talking about the robots who are making burgers or pizzas (we’ve already visited with them). Today it’s the food itself and how technology is changing the very nature of food.

Specifically, I want us to think about food made in the lab. Not new flavors of Pringles or the latest batch of Triscuit varieties. I mean things such as chicken and beef made in a lab with cells from living animals. Yes, such stuff exists and while it still costs about $9,000 a pound to make, in five years the scientists believe they’ll have the costs down to be comparable to what we now pay for chicken.

I’m also talking about GMO‘s – genetically engineered foods like the “impossible burger” that “bleeds” yet is made from plants or the apple that won’t brown when cut due to a gene beings removed. There are next to no studies on if these foods are safe over the long term nor are the few regulations able to keep up with the fast-changing developments in the field. So what we’re left with is “trust me”, and that’s something any of us in business need to think about.

Do I think consumers are begging for apples that won’t brown? No, but I do think there is ample evidence that they want their food to be safe as well as to know where it comes from and how it’s made. That same principle applies to your business as well. Consumers will trust you up to a point. In the case of food, they believe that the FDA and other governmental organizations are protecting them (which is laughable but another topic). In your case, it might be that you’ve built up trust over a number of years. In fact, trust is one of the most important assets a company or brand has. When it’s lost, as in the case of the Volkswagen diesel fiasco, the company risks disappearing. There are many excellent pieces how brands are losing trust – I’d encourage you to read this one as a start.

From my perspective, food companies should spend less on developing GMO’s and more on transparency. Educate us, don’t feed us stuff that might not be safe. Build trust. Sound like a plan?

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Filed under food, Reality checks

Getting Elected Isn’t The Win

The big news at the end of last week had to do with the withdrawal of a bill that would have changed the laws regarding health insurance in this country. If you’ve been here in the screed before you know that we don’t do politics, so I’m going to refrain from any commentary for or against what happened. There is, however, a pretty good business (and life) lesson to be taken from Friday’s activities.

One thing you heard over and over was that the folks who wanted to change the existing law had 7 years to come up with a plan that would be better. It took them 7 years to control both Congress and The White House, thereby assuring that their plan would become law, assuming, of course, that it was palatable to the members of their party. It wasn’t, and so it hasn’t (become law, that is).

What can we learn from this? That it’s easier to win an election than it is to find the consensus you need to run the government. Winning is easy; governing is hard. The same thinking applies to managing a business. Becoming a manager is easy; managing the business is hard.

I met with a potential client last week who had recently been promoted into his job. He’s a smart, young highly motivated guy. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was having some trouble adjusting to his new role and was finding it difficult to get things done as quickly and efficiently as he wanted. I told him that I had suffered from the same thing 35 years ago when I was handed my first department to run. Getting the job was a lot easier than doing the job.

What does that mean for you? If you’re looking for that next promotion, you might want to focus on the challenges of preparing to do the actual work rather than the challenges of getting a promotion. Trust me: the powers that be will appreciate your focus on execution and that will increase the chances of that promotion.

If you’re running your own business, a focus on execution is a good thing as well. Satisfied customers are more important that finding lots of new ones. There are tons of studies that show that using resources to keep existing customers happy is more profitable that spending resources on finding new customers (it costs 5x more to find a new customer than to retain one!).

Getting elected or promoted to a position isn’t really the win. Getting stuff done, whether it’s in your cubicle or on the floor of Congress, is the real test, don’t you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

My Totally Fake Life

I came across an article last week that I found disturbing. I don’t think it’s news to any of you there that it’s possible to buy fake followers on the various social media platforms. You can buy hundreds or thousands of “followers” on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook fairly cheaply. I had assumed that this was something that some (dumb) businesspeople did to make their metrics look better. More on that in a second. The article set me straight.

What it said was that researchers at:

Huron University College in Ontario, Canada, who surveyed around 450 participants ages 18-29 through an online polling platform, and found that 15% admitted to buying “likes” from Web sites for their Instagram profiles…25% of respondents said they engaged in digital plastic surgery before posting photos.

Yikes! I guess these people figure that by having large numbers of people following them on some platform that they appear to be more influential. The reality is exactly the opposite because it takes very little effort to figure out that those people are fakes. Running a Twitter handle through Twitter Audit showed me that some person who claimed his million plus followers as a reason to do business with his had, in fact, 96% fakes in that million. It’s ego gratification, the same reason why people lie about their age or their weight or name drop, and it makes for a serious level of insecurity. And yes, there are other tools for other platforms to help spot fakes.

The same can be said when we do this in our business profiles. Some warped social media person will buy likes to show the boss that they are becoming more popular and that the efforts they’re making to garner new followers are paying off. Of course, engagement rates will drop off to nothing (those fake names don’t interact), and in fact, could do your brand harm by becoming spammy through your account.

It’s a little frightening that many of us feel the need to live a totally fake life online. The study found that 31% of respondents said they edited out all the boring details to make their life seem more exciting, and 14% said they specifically craft their profile page to make it seem like their social life is much more active than it actually is. Maybe it’s possible that the people who are posting the most are actually living the least glamorous lives?

Maybe one benefit of getting older on a personal level is the realization that the only one with whom we’re competing is ourselves. More “stuff” – cars, clothes, or followers – can mean less happiness. On a business level, more can be great but fake never is. Your thoughts?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

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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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud