Category Archives: What’s Going On

Every Day Is April Fools

How many head-scratching headlines have you seen today? Google’s Files app now cleans your phone screen from the inside? Guy Fieri has been brought in to cater the Champions’ Dinner at the Masters? Roku announced a remote designed to be dog-friendly?

None of those things are true, of course. They’re just three of this year’s batch of April Fool’s jokes that seem to run rampant across the interwebs. Actually, HelloFresh’s announcement of a Unicorn Box, which they say is a “brand new, first-of-its-kind experience will let you eat like a mythical creature. Brush away the confetti to find a box full of farm-fresh rainbows, smiles, and joy right at your doorstep” sounds kind of yummy. It’s so obviously silly that you can ignore it safely. Others, like the Google video of the screen cleaner, are close enough to plausible to have you wondering if they’re a joke or a scientific breakthrough.

So you’re probably dialing up your BS detector as you surf around the digital world today. You probably have seen odd announcements from your friends on social media saying they’re leaving their jobs or investing in gold mines. You know they’re kidding but there is an excellent reminder in all of this.

Every day is April Fool’s Day. There is an awful lot of made-up garbage floating around out there and if we’re not skeptics we’re going to have the proverbial wool pulled over our eyes. Unfortunately, it’s rarely as obvious when something is fake the other 364 days of the year. Check facts using reputable fact-checking sites. Ask yourself who has an interest in what I’m reading being the truth and how does it affect them if it’s not? Read and listen carefully. What’s not being said? Does it seem as if a fine line is being walked with how the words are chosen and phrased?

If you can’t dazzle them with the facts, baffle them with your BS is my paraphrasing of the old W.C. Fields quote (he used brilliance instead of facts).  You need to remember that more people and businesses think that way than you’d expect. Make every day April Fool’s when it comes to picking up what they’re putting down. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Timed Out

I’m exhausted and I bet you are too. It seems as if there is just too many things screaming for my attention and it makes my brain hurt. More importantly, I and many others have maxed out on our ability to spend time with various things. This is important and has ramifications across many businesses, including maybe yours.

There are only 24 hours in a day. While many of us would like to follow the old Warren Zevon line about “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” (he is, by the way), we do need sleep and that cuts into those 24 hours. But the rest of the day is one demand for our attention after another. In fact, many businesses are built entirely around their ability to grab and hold our attention. Any advertising-based business certainly is. So are many subscription businesses such as Netflix or HBO. Video game studios need to hold us to justify the $50 price tag.

So what happens when we all are maxed out and have no more attention to give? It then becomes a land grab for share. We can’t make more “attention hours” during the day. This is from a media research firm called Midia:

Engagement has declined throughout the sector, suggesting that the attention economy has peaked. Consumers simply do not have any more free time to allocate to new attention seeking digital entertainment propositions, which means they have to start prioritizing between them.

They’re writing specifically about video games but it really applies across the spectrum of attention-based businesses. Attention does not scale. There is only so much time in the day and only so many ads one can see much less pay attention to. Yet ads are everywhere and that’s why they’re becoming less and less effective. We’re ad blind because it’s all noise. 99.5%+ of people don’t respond to banner ads and I’m willing to bet that some of those who do click do so by mistake.

So let’s start the week by asking ourselves how we get beyond the attention economy. Better service does. Better products too. Fortnight has by being a great experience that’s free. It’s not just a game – it’s become like the old virtual worlds we thought would be big back in the 1990s. E-sports are taking away from real sports, maybe because anyone can dunk in virtual basketball. We often see more fans watching people play videogames in person than we do attending real games. How are they winning the time-suck game?

Thanks for giving me some of your attention today. Who else is earning it and why? More importantly, how can your business do the same?

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

Five Feet From Where?

If you’ve been reading the screed on a regular basis of late, you know that my recent experience of purchasing and moving into a new home has provided wonderful fodder for my rants. Today will continue the trend.

One thing that I asked the builder to do as part of the deal was to put up a five-foot fence in the back yard. He agreed and yet another adventure in communication began. It dawned on me as this adventure progressed that there is a great business point contained within.

I live in a community that has an HOA – a homeowner’s association. I’d never lived with one before and so wasn’t really used to the fact that most of the people living in “neighborhoods” down here live with the fact that a board can tell them everything from what color they can paint their home to the type of trees they can plant to the type and height of the fences they can erect and where. To build my fence, I needed HOA approval, and that’s when the fun started. I couldn’t get that approval until I actually owned the home. Until then, the developer’s regulations applied, meaning the fence could only extend five feet from the side of the house and be no more than four feet high. I wanted to live with the HOA rule of the fence being five feet from the property line, not from the house, which in my case meant it would extend an extra eight feet from the house. I also wanted the HOA to approve a five-foot-high fence. You with me so far?

The builder was happy to put up the fence but he would have to do so within the builder regulations unless I wanted to wait almost 2 months, the time it would take to close on the house and go through the HOA approval process. I won’t bore you with the details, but I managed to get the approval much faster (it helps to have golf buddies with good connections). The fence was going up as of last Friday and should be done by Monday, move-in day.

I drove by the new house on Friday and sure enough, the five foot high posts were in the ground, exactly five feet from the house and NOT from the property line. Despite many emails and calls back and forth, somehow the point of the delay – to get a variance to get five feet from the property line and not from the house – was lost even though the message about extra height got through. The fence company was told five feet from the house and they were not happy when they got the call to reset all the posts. Of course, there were also emails asking for proof that the variance had been granted (they’d received the copies several weeks before). As of right now, I’m looking at posts five feet high sitting five feet from the property line (and 13 feet from the house) awaiting the rails and pickets to be attached, hopefully, today or tomorrow.

What’s the business point? No matter what you think you’re communicating to someone, it’s always a good idea to review it again, especially when it involves something that’s not easily undone. Have the person repeat the instructions back to you. Make sure that nothing was lost in the communication. In my case, “five feet” wasn’t the issue. Five feet from where certainly was and that’s what got lost somehow. Good teams are all built around great communication. So are good partnerships and great customer service.

Frost wrote Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. Apparently, that something is unclear instruction and faulty communication, right?

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

The One True Holiday

It’s Foodie Friday and it’s the eve of the annual national holiday called the Super Bowl. It’s America’s only true national holiday in my book. Oh sure – most Americans celebrate Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day and Veteran’s Day and even Thanksgiving, but none of those have the vast majority of the country focused on exactly the same thing at the same time. Only the Super Bowl does that.

Along with the game goes the food. Or, rather, THE FOOD, since inevitably there is a lot of it. Even those years in which I’ve watched the game by myself rather than at a party or a bar, I’ve managed to have copious amounts of generally not very healthy food by my side. Try to find a food site without a Super Bowl menu on it. Try to find a bar or a non-fine dining place that isn’t throwing a party.

Here was my take 8 years ago. Nothing has changed off the field (we won’t go into how the on-field experience has changed):

The Super Bowl is unlike any other sporting event from just about any perspective.  It’s watched by more people and is even covered by media people who wouldn’t know an H-back from Preparation H.  Hundreds of marketers, both authorized and unauthorized, try to tie in with “The Big Game” (for you ambushers) whether they’re selling food, TV’s, or anything else along the durable to non-durable scale.

So what do you do as a marketer? Do you try and fight city hall and run your own campaign not related to The Big Game? Do you pay the NFL’s or the broadcaster’s price tag (if your category is available) and use the marks or even just buy TV time in or around the game? Do you just stay quiet and begin your Valentine’s Day promotion after the game?

Tough question. If you’re in the food business, Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most popular takeout days of the year (1 in 7 Americans order takeout food for the game!). A third of Americans consume some sort of dip. Are you staffed properly if you’re a restaurant? Have you ordered extra dip and sour cream if you’re a market? If you’re not a food business, you need to account for this holiday – especially this holiday – in your marketing and content plans. Unlike any other sports championship, people watch The Super Bowl even when they don’t have a favorite team playing. They actually watch the ads. They generally participate in word of mouth and social media conversations. It is America’s holiday and if you market behind the others, maybe you need, as it says on many pizza boxes, to try the best since you’ve tried the rest. Make sense?

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Filed under food, sports business, What's Going On

Happy MLK Day. Dream On!

I think I got it right last year so I’m reposting it this year along with the introduction I wrote at the time. Happy birthday, Dr. King!

As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized than they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.

With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

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Filed under Growing up, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

Fixing The Food

This Foodie Friday, our subject is a bit more somber than usual. It’s a report put out by The Lancet, which is a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal. It is among the world’s oldest, most prestigious, and best known general medical journals, according to Wikipedia. The subject of the report is what healthy diets from sustainable food systems should look like. Unfortunately, where the world is at the moment is neither healthy nor sustainable.

If you’re so inclined, you can read the entire report here. It’s eye-opening. As the introduction says:

Civilization is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. For the first time in 200000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronization with the planet and nature. This crisis is accelerating, stretching Earth to its limits, and threatening human and other species’ sustained existence.

Not good right? We can discuss the causes (are the excess carbon emissions generated from red meat production inherent in the process or just in having to move the meat such great distances?) but we really do need to acknowledge that there is a problem and something needs to change. And that’s really the business point for anyone engaged in business.

Not only do markets change but circumstances do as well. I’m sure that it didn’t start out this way and there is a lot of cultural history behind it, but the report says people in North America eat more than six times the recommended amount of red meat, while people in South Asia eat half of what they should. Of course, shipping red meat to South Asia causes carbon emissions as well as provides a product that might not be affordable. What’s the solution? That’s for people way smarter than me.

Another example of changing circumstances. We’ve all seen businesses fail or have to move because of a huge increase in rent. That’s not a changed market and the business might be selling every bit as much as it was before. But short of raising prices, thereby possibly killing sales and destroying a customer base, what’s the solution? Usually, it’s to move and hope your customers move with you.

We can’t ignore things beyond the market. People are hungry – nearly 1 billion people are going hungry while 2 billion people are eating too much. There is demand for food. It’s a healthy market. But ignoring the circumstances that the business of creating it is destroying humans’ long-term prospects is short-sighted, something none of us in business can afford to be, right?

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Filed under food, Reality checks, What's Going On

Seven New Fishes

This is the last Foodie Friday post before Christmas and I’m writing it while sitting on a train heading north. Seven years ago (how is this for synergy), I wrote a piece about the Seven Fishes. You’ll read the original piece below.  In addition to the original business point it makes, this train ride is adding a corollary. With spotty wifi, I have quite a bit of time to reflect. One thing I’m anticipating is that while my family has its own holiday traditions, this year will be different. My sister has moved far away, so no Christmas morning with her family. We welcomed a new person into our family officially this past summer so the core family itself is different. The gifts have become less important; the family time way more so.

To put the end at the beginning, questioning why we do things in business needs to be done with the knowledge that like it or not, change is constant. We might as well control the change and not react to it. To those of you celebrating, Merry Christmas. To those of you just eating, enjoy.

Our Foodie Friday theme today is La Vigilia, the Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  Now what, you might ask, does a nice Jewish boy know about such things?  Well, having spent a great deal of my youth around my best friend’s Italian mother and grandmother while they cooked, I know quite a bit.  I know that they started to prepare this feast several days in advance, as they put salt cod into water to hydrate it (there was a running battle about using milk to do that).  I know that they spent many hours over the subsequent days preparing all manner of seafood – fried, broiled, and baked.  And I know that it all was mind-blowingly good.

There’s one thing I didn’t know, and still don’t, about the Feast:  what does it represent?  Everyone knows it came as a southern Italian tradition and there are lots of theories about the number 7.  But apparently no one knows for sure and that’s the business point to end the week.

All too often in business, we do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done.  When we ask why or what does it mean, there is much head-scratching and often there’s uncertainty but both are generally followed with a shrug of the shoulders and a supposition that someone higher up wanted it that way.  I used to tell new employees that they possessed a rare commodity: fresh eyes with which to examine all of our business traditions.  They were not supposed to take “because that’s how we’ve always done it” as a satisfactory answer if something didn’t make sense to them.  Sometimes as we dug down into the “why” we figured out a better “how.”

I’m not sure it’s important that we understand the “why” of La Vigilia, but that’s an exception.  In business, everything changes pretty rapidly and the traditional ways may no longer work.  Questioning the reasons why we do certain things is a critical item on the path to success and we should encourage it.

And now, it’s off to go find some fresh fish.  Buon Natale!

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Filed under Helpful Hints, What's Going On