False Pretenses

It’s Foodie Friday and it’s also Cinco De Mayo. Contrary to popular belief, what’s celebrated today is not Mexican Independence Day. Rather, it’s a celebration of the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, which came after Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Mexican-American War, and the Mexican Civil War. It centers around Puebla which, coincidentally, is really the heart of Mexico’s food world.

Coat of arms of Mexico. Español: Escudo Nacion...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as there really isn’t a lot of corned beef and cabbage eaten in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, so too is this not a day of taco and frozen margaritas in Mexico. Not that it stops damn near every “Mexican” restaurant in this country from pushing those things today. Hitting a Taco Bell up to celebrate doesn’t happen in Mexico. In fact, Taco Bell doesn’t exist there (they tried; Mexicans won’t eat there). Instead, the cuisine of Puebla features moles (the sauces, not the critter), chalupas, and Chiles En Nogada, a stuffed poblano pepper with a walnut and pomegranate sauce.

Why do I raise this? Because it raises an issue that applies to any business. Actually, it’s sort of the “fake news” issue. Just as political entities will raise money based on a widely believed, but false, narrative, so too are all of the places serving tacos and margaritas selling a lie of sorts. The question is should we as businesses engage in that?

Some people might say that “ethical marketing” is an oxymoron. A lot of marketers are happy to bend the truth if in their minds what they’re doing is inconsequential. In this case, I suspect that the perpetrators don’t even know they’re misrepresenting the facts and, frankly, I’m not very sure that it matters. But it raises a point that very much does matter. If a business is willing to stretch the truth on things that don’t matter, at what point do they cross the line and do so when it really does?

We’ve all seen ads that lie. Ads for “male enhancers,” cures for the common cold, or even just photoshopped photos are rampant. While promoting a frozen margarita to celebrate something that didn’t happen on this day is far from an outright lie, you take my point. There’s nothing wrong with selling and using the language of sales to promote but we need to remember that we live in a world where information is easily found and lies are rapidly debunked and the truth disseminated. And with that, I’m off to find a torta for lunch!

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Filed under Consulting, food

You Calling Me A Liar?

The screed is a little late today because I’ve been tied up on the phone trying to get the central air conditioning fixed. This saga started a week ago when I noticed that the house seemed rather warm. While the vents were blowing air, it was not cold air. I called the American Home Shield folks with whom we have a warranty and they set me up with a local repair firm. This is where the fun – and today’s business point – begin.

Last Wednesday, I set up an appointment for yesterday. They were supposed to arrive between 3 pm and 5 pm. I was not happy that it would take them almost a week to get to me, but I was told that’s the first appointment. On my calendar it went (not knowing that AHS has a 48-hour service policy, by the way, and that I could have asked them to set me up elsewhere. Doh!).

At 4:30 yesterday when no one had arrived or called to say they’d be arriving, I called the repair folks. The customer service rep had my info from AHS but didn’t have my appointment. In fact, she said they’d tried to call me, failed to reach me, and never set anything up.Obviously, someone screwed up and didn’t write down the initial appointment. I was told that after 8 minutes on hold, a hang-up, and calling them back. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy, but I became far less happy when I was told that the next available appointment was next week sometime, two weeks after I initially set up a repair with them. The manager got on the phone to inform me that I was making the whole appointment up. I offered to email him screenshots of my phone’s call log, showing that I spoke with them twice last week but he didn’t care. I asked him if he was in the habit of making up appointments and adding them to his calendar because I certainly wasn’t. He wasn’t either. I asked him if he was calling me a liar and he said he didn’t know what I was but I certainly never had an appointment. Finally, I mentioned that I wrote a business blog and that he was providing me with great material for what a business shouldn’t do and he laughed and said: “as long as you tell the truth.”

So I’m here to tell you the truth. None of us can ever call our customers liars or make them feel that way. None of us can ignore evidence that someone on our end screwed up and blame the customer instead. None of us can shrug our shoulders and tell a customer who has been harmed to get to the back of the line. Finally, none of us can ignore the potential social media backlash. Not that the screed is read by millions, but it only takes a few readers to start a backlash against your business. Hey – don’t you know who I think I am? The odds are you don’t know anything about the megaphone any of your customers hold but you should know that it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of writing to do a great deal of damage to your reputation.

AHS reached out to these bozos this morning. They again denied I ever spoke to them. We set up an appointment with another repair company, who called me 10 minutes after I spoke with AHS. By the way – when the new guys couldn’t see me until next week, AHS escalated my issue to a unit they have that will call all the area vendors to find someone who can cool me off (in both the physical and psychological sense at this point) in 48 hours or less.

So to the folks at Modern Mechanical HVAC, hopefully this will help you see why you can’t call your customers liars, along with the bad Yelp review, the link to this screed I’ll be posting on Nextdoor (a local bulletin board), and a bunch of other local information and review sites that will advise people to stay away from you. I’m just doing as you asked: telling the truth.

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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

What Do You Know

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I want to reflect on an experience I think many of us have had. I’m not quite sure what to call it – an awakening? An education? It’s what happens when you have your preconceptions of what a food is blown away by a much better version. It’s what happens, for example, when you take someone whose idea of Mexican food comes from years of eating at Taco Bell or whose conception of pizza has been shaped by Papa John’s to an authentic taqueria or to a pizza place that uses great ingredients and a coal-fired oven. I’ve had that experience with a friend, who now refers to two kinds of pizza: pizza and real pizza.

English: Picture of an authentic Neapolitan Pi...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The point of this isn’t that they had low standards or unsophisticated tastes before they experienced the real deal. They just didn’t know, and that’s something that’s applicable across many businesses. It becomes especially more relevant as your product gets closer to a commodity. Consumers probably have an existing opinion that’s based on something that’s usually fairly mainstream. Our job as marketers is to help them to know that there is a difference and why our product does a better job than what they might believe is possible.

How do we do this? Sampling is the most obvious answer. That’s not just giving out food samples on the street. It’s free trial periods of services. I thought that most online accounting software was the same, for example, until I needed to get some customer service help during my free trial period. One company was head and shoulders above the others I tried and they now collect $15 from me every month. They helped me to know.

My favorite taco place is just down the street from a Taco Bell. The menu is in Spanish, they offer goat, tripe, and lengua tacos along with some of the best fish tacos and tortas I’ve ever had. Would you know that as you drove past on your way to Taco Bell? Not unless I took you there. Our job as marketers is to help people know. Are you doing that?

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Filed under Consulting, food

A Lesson From Junior

I’m a fan of NASCAR, specifically of its top tier, now called the Monster Cup Series. For my non-gearhead friends and readers, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, preferably in person (bring earplugs!).

      NASCAR.com

Some big news came out of the NASCAR world yesterday and it prompted a thought that is applicable to any of us in business. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring after this season. Only 42, he’s been NASCAR’s most popular driver ever since his dad died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001 and leads an enormous fan base known as Junior Nation. Full disclosure: I’m a member. He’s really the spiritual leader and one of the last remnants of the NASCAR of old. As a USA Today article on his retirement stated:

A kid of means sent to work in an auto dealership by his father until he began racing, Earnhardt Jr. spoke the language of the fan, in a Carolina accent pleasing to the grassroots folks, was sponsored by a beer company and projected enough hell-raiser vibe to endear himself to the masses. A historian of the sport, he cited the exploits of Cale Yarborough or Richard Petty or Darrell Waltrip with a sharp recollection of fan and provided a generational and cultural bridge for NASCAR.

In other words, Junior isn’t corporate, is authentic, and because of that, is beloved. That’s really a lesson for any of us. Consumers adore personalities but only if they believe that what they’re seeing isn’t an act. Any of Junior’s interviews will show you that he’s real. His language is sometimes salty, often grammatically incorrect, and is definitely not the creation of some media trainer’s badgering. Consumers can tell when a brand is inauthentic just as any of us can see it in a person.

This is why I rant sometimes about engaging in conversations with and not in advertising to our consumers. It doesn’t mean boasting about how “real” you are but it does mean defining what your brand means and sticking to it. The definition should be expressed in the language of your consumer and be relevant to why they’d engage with you in the first place. It means participating in social interactions with your fans, not in demanding or leading them.

I guess I’ll need to figure out where my driver loyalty heads next. It seems that NASCAR needs to figure that out as well. As a long-time fan, I’ve watched them migrate from their Southern roots and identity to something much more vanilla, at least that’s how I see it. Junior is the last bastion of the old, authentic NASCAR. Wherever they go next, I hope it at least half as real as he is. Now ask yourself if you’re “being real” too.

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Filed under sports business, Thinking Aloud

Writers And Editors

I frequently collaborate with other consultants on both projects and proposals. While our skill sets often overlap in some areas, generally we bring different things to the project. One thing I’ve noticed about the process is that some of us are writers and some of us are editors and I think it’s important for any business to have a mix of both. Here is why.

Writers create things. Those of us who think we can write (and I hope 2,000+ blog posts show you that I can!) are right-brain oriented, in my opinion. We see things or hear things and are moved to put our own spin on them. When it comes to business, we can look at or listen to a situation and ideas begin to germinate. In my case, it’s often analyzing the situation at hand and synthesizing a plan based on situations from the past. Sometimes a totally new concept emerges and I write it up as fast as I can because ideas are butterflies – they are beautiful but fleeting.

Editors, on the other hand, seem to be more left-brained. They can take a writer’s ramblings, see the central idea, and make it better. How? By asking questions raised by the writing and demanding answers. They can add structure. Since the ideas are not their own, they have neither a vested interest in protecting anything written nor any insight into what’s being communicated if it isn’t on the page. I think while we need t be passionate about our creations in business we also have to understand that our ideas need to be understood by our audience. Editors make that happen.

As a writer, I’m happy to be edited because a great editor can make me look better than I am. Writers make connections between things and editors make those connections more clear. To a certain extent, writers “do” and editors “help”. And to be clear, I don’t think one is necessarily one or the other. I like to think of myself as a writer who can edit. On these collaborations I referenced, I will frequently put out the first draft for the team but once that’s out there, everyone becomes an editor, refining the proposal or project until it sings.

So where on the spectrum do you fall – more a writer or an editor? Do you have both or your team?

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Filed under 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