Category Archives: Thinking Aloud

Known Side Effects

I watch a lot of news on TV. If you do that, you are inundated with ads for drugs that promise to cure everything from asthma to zits and everything in between. One thing that most of these ads have in common is that a significant percentage of each ad drones on and on about potential known side effects. The side effects often are quite serious and death is sometimes one of them. Then again, I guess death cures the disease.

I thought about side effects this morning as I was reading my usual collection of articles about the media and marketing businesses. There have been an awful lot of changes, some for the good, many for the bad. Nearly every one of them has some side effects too. On a most basic level, it’s great to stay in touch with family and friends via social media, but a known side effect is the reduction or disappearance of your privacy. It’s wonderful to have a communications device on you but a known side effect is that you’re tracked everywhere by your phone provider and everything you do with that device is watched and recorded. But those aren’t business issues.

Take, for example, what’s going on in TV sales at the moment. The digital revolution brought with it programmatic buying and selling. In theory, this made the entire process quick and way more efficient. It also had the side effect of advertisers and publishers paying huge “tech taxes”, fees to the providers of the technology that runs the process. Another side effect is rampant fraud and an overall increase in the number of bad actors who suddenly found a way into what had been a relatively closed process.

TV buying and selling are suddenly undergoing the same sort of change. Having sold TV for many pre-digital years, I think many of the same side effects will manifest themselves as the closed, carefully run process opens up. Of course, the biggest side effect will be yet another purge of salespeople and the failure of many rep firms. As eMarketer reported:

Overall, 46% of respondents felt that the tech advancements happening in the TV industry are a threat to their organization’s existence. Again, the fear was highest among reps, with 87% saying that tech changes threaten their firm. There is no doubt concern that the expansion of programmatic TV could extinguish traditional methods of brokering inventory.

TV reps as coal miners? Who would have thought that? Then there are the so-called influencers. The movement to trusted voices as sources of product information is, I believe, generally a good one. The problem is that word “trust.” Fake reviews run rampant. Since influence is often measured by the number of followers, fake followers and/or bought followers are a massive problem. The side effects of establishing trust are numerous and can potentially make the marketing challenge worse if they’re ignored. 

The cure is sometimes worse than the disease. It’s worth remembering that and searching out the possible side effects as we make our marketing and media plans. It’s great to become more efficient but not at the expense of killing the patient. Make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

Bourdain

This is a tough way to end our week with a food-related post here on Foodie Friday. As you’ve probably heard by now, Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in his Paris hotel room yesterday. For those of us who loved his use of food as a way to explore and understand this world of ours, it’s a massive loss. Sure, there are other programs that attempt to do what he did, but none as literate nor as beautifully executed.

The question to which we’ll never have an answer is “why.” Here is a person who seemingly “had it all” despite rough patches in his life: drug addiction and failed marriages among them. His successes should have outweighed his failures and yet something inside him made him end it all.

I’ve written before on suicide. Back in 2015, a friend of mine killed himself. His life had spiraled downhill physically, financially, and personally. It was a lot easier to grasp why he did what he did than it is with Bourdain. In that post, I quoted something I had written 2 years prior and I want to state it again:

We all know a person who displays symptoms of things not being right in their lives. Those symptoms could come in the form of substance abuse or a big weight gain. Maybe their personality has changed – gone from light to dark. If you care about that person, you probably think about a way to say something that asks about what’s going on. It’s hard – people have feelings, after all and they are probably just as aware as you are of what they’re doing. Probably more so.  The ensuing discussion can be hard for both of you.  Sometimes it can derail a friendship.  More often, it begins a healing process, but only if you care enough to say something.

I don’t know if those closest to Tony knew he had a darkness overcoming his light. Maybe you do know someone who has that issue. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is  1-800-273-8255. They also have live chat. Help your friend get help.

I’ll miss Bourdain’s acerbic insights. I’ll miss the snarky personality that contrasted with his big heart. Both came through loud and clear in his work. What didn’t, neither in his work nor, it seems, in his friendships, was something fundamentally wrong that drove him to something this desperate. He once said:

“We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions,” he said, “we tend to get some really astonishing answers.”

Maybe someone should have asked him, particularly the first one.

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Tomatoes, Bugs, and Nannochloropsis

Foodie Friday, and today we’re having a think about the food of the future. I don’t think it’s news to anyone who pays the least bit of attention to the world that humankind’s ability to support itself is in peril. CNN said it well:

We’ve gotten ourselves into some trouble. Our dining habits are a big part of the problem. The average American male consumes 100 grams of protein daily — almost double the necessary amount. This overconsumption isn’t sustainable. The United Nations projects food production will need to increase as much as 70% by 2050 to feed an extra 2.5 billion people. To survive, we need to reinvent the way we farm and eat.

Exactly, except that some of that reinvention, while packed with nutrition, is…well…gross. I know that I’m applying my American diet standards here but how would you describe eating bugs or algae? We have plenty of both, both are sustainable sources of protein, and both reduce the impact we’re having on our planet. Cricket anyone (and I don’t mean the game!)? How about a nice plate of nannochloropsis?

There’s a great business lesson in this. To understand it, let’s look at another food that was once anathema to most Americans: the tomato. That’s right. Until the early 1800’s, the tomato was grown purely for decoration in this country because it was considered poisonous. What happened to change its reputation and make it a mainstay of our diet? There are several theories, including one involving Thomas Jefferson’s promotion of dishes using the tomato. I think it has to do with immigration and the fact that European immigrants used the fruit (you know it’s a fruit, right?) in their cooking. Whatever it was, people overcame their fears and began consuming tomatoes en masse.

If I were marketing bugs and slime (OK, it will probably be protein derived from those things made into other food products), I’d do a few things. First, I wouldn’t deny that there might just be a perception problem. No brand can deny its past. I would aggressively try to control the conversation and the message. That means a lot of marketing, especially through influencers and social channels. I’d research the heck out of consumer attitudes on a continual basis and I’d avoid making emotional responses to misperceptions, focusing on the data. Mostly, I’d do everything I could to get the products sampled and I’d use the testimonials along with the overall message that these products are saving the planet by decreasing the need to rely on other protein forms that are inefficient at least and detrimental at worst to the environment.

When I was a kid, the notion of eating raw fish in this country was nonexistent. I’ll bet many of you did just that this past week. There just might be a bug in your future once some smart marketers get to work. What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

What Are Your Limits?

What can’t you do? If you’re a child of my children‘s generation, you’ve probably been told since you were born that you can do anything. You have no limits. Does anyone really believe that’s true – that there isn’t anything we can’t do if we try really hard and practice a lot?

As you know if you’ve spent any time in this space, I play golf. I’m not horrible at it although I’m far from really good. I do practice and I might just try too hard. That said, there are shots I just can’t hit and never will be able to despite knowing how to do so and practicing them (you go ahead and hit that 225-yard shot over water and a bunker into a tight pin on a narrow green without landing in trouble).

Knowing your limits is important both in life and in business. We all want to help the team but learning to say “no” when you’re asked to take on more work than you can possibly do well really IS helping. Everyone hits the wall at some point and taking on too many projects or work that you’re not qualified to do well is a great way to hit it bang on.

Many ski areas have signs that remind you to ski within your limits. There is a sign at Bethpage Black, a golf course which has hosted the U.S. Open, that, in essence, asks you to know your limitations as a golfer and respect them.

Many people want to learn and to grow. Most people want to take on a new challenge. While you do need to push your limits to do this, at the same time, you need to be conscious of your abilities and approach any new goals appropriately. In golf or skiing, we can take lessons. How many businesspeople invest in courses to improve their skills?

In skiing and riding, we wear protective gear. The problem is that sometimes we get a false sense of security and push too far. In business, we rely on data from dodgy sources or only those surveys that tell us what we want to hear to give us that same false sense. Instead of recognizing the limits of the information, we believe it.

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 10. I still can’t play like Clapton or Page despite well over 10,000 hours of practice. It may be some sort of physical ability I don’t have which they do. Then again, I probably have some mental abilities that have let me learn many skills they don’t have. Learning what you can and can’t do even with practice, instruction, and perseverance is key, and accepting those limitations, disheartening as it can be, can help make you better, not worse. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Mistakes Were Made

Foodie Friday, and I’ll bet that a number of you will be going out this weekend. We’ve all had the problem of placing a food or drink order and what you ordered isn’t what you get. It’s really a problem when you’ve ordered delivery. What’s more frustrating than your vegetarian pizza showing up with pepperoni or your steamed dumplings arriving fried?

Mistakes happen. I used to run an online store that fulfilled tens of thousands of orders each year. Mathematically speaking, if we performed perfectly 99.9% of the time, there are still 100 screwed up orders out of every 100,000 (and we did way more orders than that). What I used to ask my folks was to listen to the customer (and put aside their heated and often unpleasant language), apologize for the problem (even if we didn’t cause it), and solve it. Maybe they clicked on a wrong key or maybe our inventory system didn’t react in real time, telling them that something was in stock when it wasn’t. It doesn’t matter. They are customers, and it’s easier to retain a customer than it is to find a new one.

Let’s go back to our delivery example (since today is food-related!). Suppose the cook forgot to pack the drinks ordered with the pizza. How can you catch this before the customer even knows there’s an issue? Make every person in the chain responsible for checking the order. Does it match the ticket? As an aside, I always ask the restaurant to read me back my order when I place it and I’m always surprised when they don’t ask to do that themselves. If the ticket isn’t right, no matter what steps are taken along the way, the order is wrong.

But let’s suppose there is a failure and the food goes out without the sodas. When the customer asks where they are, you have a few options. Send out a second delivery person (if you have one), make a second trip (if you don’t), or empower the delivery person to hit a store near the customer and buy what’s missing. My guess is that this is the fattest, least expensive solution since it minimizes the time to correct the mistake. Another option when the customer calls to complain might be to credit back the missing items as well as some or all of what was delivered. The reality is if they care enough to call you need to care enough to keep them.

Any business is a team effort. No one can think, much less say, it’s not my job to take responsibility for making a customer happy. Whether you’re a food business or not, read back what a customer is asking. Say something if the order is right but something seems off (“oh, you DON’T want chocolate on the pizza, you want chocolate cake!”). Most importantly, be prepared for mistakes. They’re going to happen. The real challenge, beyond preventing them as best you can, is making a customer happy when they occur. How are you doing with that?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Well Aren’t You Special

I came across a quote in a report that prompted a thought about one thing I think has gone wrong in many of our businesses. Actually, it’s less about the businesses themselves and more about those of us who operate them. The study was GroupM’s annual “State Of Digital” report which I always find very informative. The quote is this:

In a statement, GroupM global CEO Kelly Clark listed automation and talent as the “big themes in advertising’s current revolution.” “One of the downsides of specialization is the increase in specialists who know more and more about less and less,” Clark said in the statement.

That’s a big problem in my eyes, and it’s not limited to the ad business.  Let me explain why, both from a personal and a professional point of view. First the personal. It’s great if you become the “go to” person on a very narrow subject. You may know a particular operating system inside and out or you may be the country’s leading subject matter expert on something else. That’s fantastic as long as nothing changes. What happens when it does? You just might have to start over if your particular, narrow skill set is no longer in demand. If you do one thing very well but no one needs that one thing, then what?

From a business perspective, having a team of specialists who can’t crossover is equally bad. Their siloed skills make cross-functional conversation difficult if not impossible. You want a team that has flexibility. Putting aside the ability to cover for other team members during vacations or peak demand periods in some area, having people with a broader knowledge base makes for a better product. Having multiple people weigh in who can consider the big picture and not just a slice of things makes for coherent, complete, well thought out solutions.

It’s incumbent on each of us to grow our skill set. In my practice, I’m called upon to provide thinking on everything from strategy to analytics to SEO to sales. Each of those is an area of specialization for some people and I know I might not be as well-versed in each of them as some of those specialists. What I do have, however, is a broad perspective (to go along with my broad experience) that lets me guide my clients. I have very deep knowledge in some areas and shallower in others. Not specializing makes me special!

If you’re not learning, if you’re not widening your range of knowledge beyond your specialty, then you’re probably setting yourself up to be less resilient when the need arises. That’s not good business thinking, is it?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Ghost In The Machine

Foodie Friday and my question for you today is have you ever been to a ghost restaurant? I’d say probably not, because the entire point of a ghost restaurant is that there is no restaurant there. Huh?

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is one explanation I read:

A ghost restaurant is a “restaurant” that people can’t actually physically visit. For us, it involves using our existing space, kitchen equipment, and staffing to execute a menu that’s not served in our normal restaurant. Customers place their orders and we deliver.

The key is the different menu. A normal takeout order from someplace would be the same food. Many of the “takeout” places I’ve patronized have a table or three even if the business is focused on preparing orders to go or for delivery. You probably would think of many Chinese or pizza places. Ghosts, however, don’t have to worry about decor or servers per se. Front of house is non-existent. Imagine a sit-down steakhouse that was also delivering pizza out of the same kitchen but not serving it in the restaurant other than as the odd special. Two restaurants, one of which is virtual operating our of one kitchen.

The beauty of this model is that it can overcome bad weather (which might keep people at home and not dining out) as well as maximizing the use of the kitchen, perhaps with the addition of a few more kitchen staff. You can close one restaurant at 9 while continuing to deliver from the other until midnight. Like on-demand grocery delivery, on-demand food service is a growing business and a ghost restaurant opened in an existing place can tap into that demand by formulating a menu that is delivery-friendly even if it doesn’t align with the base restaurant at all. I would never order eggs or a steak or pretty much anything fried because they generally don’t travel well (soggy fried food is gross).

Why do I bring this up and what does it have to do with your business? It’s a great example of out of the box thinking. How can you expand what you’re doing without major capital expenditures? What’s the worst, least efficient part of your business? In this case, while there is a nice margin in serving customers drinks, they tie up tables and require servers. What happens if you keep the customers but eliminate the need to have them linger or be served? A ghost restaurant eliminates the inefficiencies while retaining the base business and it doesn’t compete with it because it’s a different menu. What about your business can be “ghosted”?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud