Getting Fitted Correctly

I hope you all had a relaxing Labor Day and were able to indulge in one or more of your favorite activities. I did, and doing so reminded me of some very basic things each of us needs to keep in mind as we leave Summer and get back to business.

I spent $99 for a process known as a full bag fitting. Yes, it’s golf-related (hey – you write what you know, right?). It’s a process in which you go through the various types of clubs in your bag while hitting balls using a launch monitor. I’m not going to get technical but it’s basically a tool that shows you everything you’d ever want to know about how the club is performing and allows you to change club brands and components to improve the results. My fitting was scheduled for two hours with a wonderful Irish golf pro named Martin. Here are some of the things I noticed that apply to you and your business.

  1. Go beyond expectations. I’ve gone through this process before and it was fairly clinical. Hit the ball, watch the result, change the club a little, rinse, repeat. Martin was personable and non-judgemental (there were quite a few horrible shots). Where he really went beyond expectations was in giving me little swing tips as we went. A minor grip change and a slight change in my address position had me striking the ball more solidly. I went to have my clubs checked and fitted and he went beyond that by checking me too.
  2. Be human. We hear a lot about bots – automated processes – taking over a lot of tasks these days, particular customer services. I suppose as I think about it, this process could have been fairly automated as well. The bot could have used the numbers to have me change out club shafts or heads until the numbers were optimized. What it couldn’t do was give me the feedback Martin did. He ignored data from what were occasional bad swings and only used the numbers from the normal ones. Most importantly, by the time we got to hitting driver, the last type of club left, I had hit close to 300 shots. I was tired and my swing was breaking down. Martin saw it after I was unable to hit anything normally. Rather than continue and give a good analysis of a faulty, tired swing, Martin suggested I go away for a couple of hours and recover. At this point, we were already over the 2 hour time but he said we’d do the driver analysis later for no charge. That’s something no bot would suggest.
  3. Communicate effectively. The monitor spits out a lot of very complicated data. Even though I know what most of it means, Martin took the time to be sure that I was interpreting the data correctly and understood how the changes we were making were improving the result, even when the visual representation of the ball flight looked off.

After two trips to the monitor bay and a total of three hours, I left with a list of club specifications that will hopefully translate into better play. More importantly, I left with an appreciation of how any of us can keep customers happy and solve the cost/value equation. Make sense?

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Weenies!

It’s the start of the college football season this Foodie Friday and that means weenies. You may call them pigs in a blanket but my daughter and I, who are aficionados of them, refer to them as weenies. One football Saturday several years ago we heated up a tray to watch our favorite team play (Go Blue!) and have never looked back. They are a staple of our game day experience and we’re so serious about them that we have tried just about every brand we could find. We learned a few things, some of which have to do with your business as well.

The first thing we learned was that these are one of those foods that are just as good bought frozen as making them yourself. It’s not that they taste appreciably better from the store but the effort required to roll out the puff pastry and properly size either the cut pastry or the hot dog doesn’t yield a dramatic improvement over the best of the store-bought products. That’s an important business thought as well, as we return to the old cost/value equation. For consumers to choose to use your product or service to solve their problem, you need to provide a better return on their investment of time and/or money. In this case, the final results of our homemade weenies took a fair amount of effort that wasn’t a significantly better solution.

Next, we learned that not everyone’s concept of what a weenie should be is the same. We bought versions that were bland hot dogs in buttery puff pastry. Some pastry was dense, almost biscuit-like. Some had parmesan cheese rolled in. Some folks even try to pass off a bagel wrap as an acceptable option. Ha! None were perfect. We found that we loved one brand’s hot dog and another brand’s pastry. Yes, it crossed our minds to buy both and combine the best parts, but our top choice has decent enough pastry to negate the Frankenweenie from happening. But the business point is that you can call your product whatever you want, even a fairly common name, but not everyone is going to think of it in the same way. I think the IHOP even calls sausages wrapped in pancakes pigs in a blanket. That’s definitely NOT what we have in mind to munch whilst watching college football.

Present your product clearly. Excel at solving the cost/value equation from the consumer’s perspective. That’s a dish worth eating every time.

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You Can’t Be Half Pregnant

It’s nice that more companies are paying attention to what’s going on around them in the digital world. Many more brands are becoming actively engaged in listening and responding to consumers. Unfortunately, just as many brands are paying lip service to doing so, and that’s a real problem. Let me rant about a couple of examples I’ve seen lately and you’ll see what I mean.

First, some research. A recent study by Sprout Social found that:

When we asked how social has driven that accountability, people highlighted the power dynamic between individuals and brands, with 80% saying that social helps uncover instances of businesses treating people unfairly and 65% noting the power of social to amplify issues, not only through posting your own complaints but through sharing others’ posts.

In other words, social media makes consumers feel empowered. They can stand up to the man! They can rain fire and brimstone on brands which they perceive have wronged them in some way. I suspect that isn’t news to you, either personally or professionally. After all, who hasn’t posted a review or commented on a friend’s social post about a customer experience, either good or bad?

So brands have learned to respond. The problem is that the study also found that :

An unhelpful response from brands is sometimes considered worse than no response at all. In fact, 50% of those polled said they would never buy from a brand again if it responded poorly to their complaint. Nearly as many said a bad response via social media increased the possibility that they would share their experience with friends.

Let me give you a couple of examples. I was recently researching a vacation. The place I had under consideration had many recent reviews, mostly good. The GM of the property has taken the time to read each one because he responded to them. Unfortunately, he seemed to have two canned responses – one for good reviews and one for negative reviews. On occasion, he’d go a little beyond the basic comment but for the most part, there were two responses. Had I received one of those, it wouldn’t have taken me long to notice everyone else got the same response. I would not be happy.

On the other side of the fence is a company (OK, a bank) with which I had an issue. I posted something on social media and got a response within 10 minutes. They asked me to send them an email address and a phone number, and they called within half an hour. We discussed my issue and I received a detailed email resolving the problem later that day.

The first company is half pregnant in social; the latter one is fully engaged. With which one would you rather do business? More importantly, which company are you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, digital media

School’s In!

Today is the first day of school around here. If these kids are like many of the ones I’ve met over the years (and maybe even the two we raised), at some point the inevitable question pops up:

Why do I need to go to school?

As they get older, the question changes a bit (probably because they enjoy seeing their friends at school every day):

Why do I need to learn this stuff? 

That’s our topic today, and I think it’s something that applies to the business world as well. The answer to the first question is pretty obvious, and it’s not just because your parents are exhausted after driving you around all summer and need you gone for a bit. I’m a lot more interested in the second question because I think that most students, parents, and teachers get the answer wrong. You don’t need to learn “this stuff.” I can’t think of a single instance in my adult life where understanding differential equations or the structure of the carbon atom has been required.

So as a public service, I’m going to give you the answer to the second question which hopefully also answers the first. I’ve given it out before but hey, it’s the first day of school and the questions might come up again so you’re welcome.

You go to school to learn two things.

  1. How to locate and verify pieces of information (let’s call them facts) in order to formulate your thoughts.
  2. How to express the thoughts you formulate both orally and in writing to communicate your thinking.

That’s it. Learn those two things and you can pretty much do anything you choose to do in this world. Ask yourself how many business people you know who can do those two things successfully and I’ll bet you also have a list of the best business people you know. In an era when “fake news” is a term thrown around like beads at a Mardi Gras parade, understanding how to determine what news is really fake and what’s just being labeled as such to distract you from facts is critical. Not everything you read in your school books is accurate, but if you don’t have a well-developed BS detector as well as the skills to track down the truth, how will you create accurate thoughts from inaccurate information either in school or beyond?

Please feel free to print this off and hand it to your kids, large or small, who are wondering about school. Feel free to ask yourself if you managed to learn those things along the way as well. If not, maybe it’s back to school for you too?

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Hot Dog! It’s Friday!

It’s Foodie Friday! I spent many years working in the sports business and because of that, I was privileged to attend hundreds of sporting events around the world. One of the best parts of those experiences was the food. Inevitably, there was some down time which allowed me to wander about the arena or stadium and sample the food. I am a big believer in what I consider the truism (as the late great Frank Deford wrote) that a hot dog tastes better at the ball park. I’m such a devotee of having a dog (or 3) at the game that I usually have one before I even get to my seat. But why is that, and, more importantly for our purposes here, what does that tell us about our business?

A cooked hot dog garnished with mustard.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might suppose that it’s the particular brand of dog served. I’ve purchased the identical brands served at various places and they never taste the same when I prepare them at home. I’ve boiled them, steamed them, grilled them, or some combination of methods and yet while the taste is similar, it’s not the same. It’s not the condiments or the bun (steamed, grilled, toasted, or right out of the bag – doesn’t matter!). No, dear readers, it’s the environment.

Many studies have demonstrated the effect that environmental elements have on our perception of food. Obvious things such as lighting and less obvious things such as the music playing have been proven to change how we perceive food tastes. One obvious example is food eaten on an airplane, where the pressure is lower and the noise is higher. Our taste buds don’t function as well at 35,000 feet so airline chefs overseason their dishes (the combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods by around 30%, according to a 2010 study conducted by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics). What does this have to do with your business?

A lot. The environment we create in our offices or stores or even our digital presences can affect how workers and customers “taste” what we’re offering. If we demonstrate a commitment to openness and trust, we create an environment where everyone perceives that things are better than elsewhere even when they’re common events. We can yell and scream while we eat at the ballpark. The food tastes better because we’re having fun. Are you encouraging that kind of fun in your place of business? Most concession stands offer condiments so you can have your food the way you like it. Do you offer the same kind of personalization to your workers or customers? Do you take their personal lives into account and offer some flexibility in hours or remote work?

Think about why the same dog you prepare at home tastes way better at the stadium as you think about how you approach your customers and your business. You’ll be on the way to standing out from your competitors, even if they’re offering a similar product or service.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Living In A Potemkin Village

I’m not sure if the story is true (historians disagree), but back around the time of The American Revolution, Russia had fought a war to annex Crimea (talk about history repeating itself!). The governor of the region, Potemkin, was trying to impress the empress and the ambassadors from other countries as they toured “New Russia.” Although the region was devastated, Potemkin set up “mobile villages” which were populated by his men dressed as peasants. As the barges with the VIP’s passed by, they’d be impressed by how lovely it all seemed. Once they were gone, the villages would be dismantled and moved to the next location. The term “Potemkin Village” has come to mean any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it is.

The term (as well as a key plot element in Blazing Saddles!) came to mind as I read an article about a new app that allows businesses employing it to summon “its ideal crowd and pay the people to stand in place like extras on a movie set. They’ve even been handpicked by a casting agent of sorts, an algorithmic one that selects each person according to age, location, style, and Facebook likes.” Presumably, when you see the line, FOMO kicks in and you are overcome by an insatiable desire to join the crowd.

I’m not naive. I worked in TV for a long time and know how laugh tracks are used and how stage managers will fire up a crowd to applaud as a show goes to and returns from a commercial break. I get enough press releases to recognize hyperbole and the need to surround something very common with an uncommon sense of excitement. The use of this app by a business, however, reeks of opacity when transparency is a critical element in marketing these days. In my mind, it’s as bad as any other kind of “fake news” that is manufactured out of the air to advance an agenda.

How would you feel if you found out that most of the other people attending a party were paid to be there? Deceived, I’ll bet, and that feeling generally leads to anger and a determination never to go back. Is that how you want your customers to feel?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, Reality checks

The First 15 Words

Humans generally read at a rate of about 300 words per minute. That works out to about 5 words per second. If those numbers are correct, you’ve already spent that long reading this far. Thank you! There’s a reason why I’m happy about it: you’ve stayed with me beyond the average length of time any of us have to grab someone’s attention.

Research from the Statistic Brain Research Institute found that 17 percent of pages are viewed for less than 4 seconds. It also shows that the average reader’s attention span has declined to 8.25 seconds in 2015 from 12 seconds in 2000. This is, as I wrote a couple of years back, is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish. And while I might be able to get half of you to read my short posts (I lose half of you at 111 words), only a quarter of you will stick with me to the end of a long (593 words) post. That’s why I rarely write a screed of more than 450 words.

Any of us who create content of any sort – ads, articles, videos, or whatever – need to be cognizant that attention spans are going down just as the number of things screaming for that attention go way up. That means we need to personalize our messaging wherever possible and to be sure that whatever messages we’re sending make sense. Be brief and make sure that those first 15 words count. If you have an offer, particularly if you’re giving the reader something, make that offer and give that gift up front. That chances of you earning some reciprocity (they’re giving you attention!) increase that way.

Attention is the currency of marketing and content. The ability to gain and keep that attention is extremely valuable. You’ve got less than 8 seconds and maybe only about 15 – 20 words to get it. Go!

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