Tag Archives: Business and Economy

Top Posts Of 2018 #3

It has become an end of year tradition here in the screed that I use the time between Christmas and New Year to post the most-read posts written during this past year. You guys did a lot of reading – traffic was up 17% this year over last. Thank you!

Today I’m posting the third most-read post. Tomorrow will be #2. On Friday you’ll see the most-read Foodie Friday post and Monday will be the most-read of the year. Today’s post was written last August following my daughter’s wedding. It’s about decision-making, which is a hard thing for many people. Maybe that’s something to put on the resolution list I just know you’re writing now?

I had one of those wonderful Dad moments over the weekend. We walked our youngest daughter down the aisle to meet her true love under the wedding canopy. It’s one of those moments that really don’t hit you until you’re standing there at the back looking down the aisle. In my case, 28 years of this child’s (now woman’s) life came flooding back in a rush. I wonder what the pictures captured as we walked her forward?

Of course, the 48 hours preceding the wedding were a minor nightmare as family, friends, and others hustled to transform a huge empty space into a magical circus that could seat 130 for dinner as well as for the wedding ceremony. Place settings, table and site decorations, room for aerialists and fire-breathers (I’m not kidding), as well as dancing and food all needed to be pulled together. And that’s what leads to today’s screed because the entire process reminded me of one thing.

Nothing happens without someone making a decision. That sounds awfully basic but it almost crippled us as we set the wedding up. First, no one was really in charge and empowered to have the final call. Does the salad plate sit on the table or on the dinner plate? 10-minute discussion. Where should the dessert bar go? 10-minute discussion. Silverware rolled into napkins or placed separately? 10-minute discussion. Meanwhile, a dozen helpers are sitting idle and the clock is ticking.

It’s critical that decisions get made. It’s critical that there be firm deadlines set by which they’ll get made and that someone is empowered to make the decision at that deadline if one hasn’t been reached in some other way. The team needs to have a roadmap, a project plan with milestones. It’s a guide which can limit distractions (and emergency trips to the store!). Don’t go chasing every shiny object that presents itself and keep to the deadlines you set. Appoint a “benevolent monarch” whose word is law when those deadlines come.

As with most productions, there were things that didn’t go as planned and, as with most productions, no one in the audience noticed. The bride was gorgeous, the drinks were cold, and the dance floor crowded. The most important decision did get made: for two people to spend their lives together. We were all just lucky enough to watch that marriage happen. You, however, can’t run your business just on luck. Make some decisions!

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How Did We Get So Far Off Track?

I started working in the digital world in the mid-’90s. While I wasn’t exactly there for the dawn of the digital age, I was a relatively early member of the group of executives that began building businesses on the internet and on walled gardens like AOL used to be. A couple of things that have happened recently have me shaking my head, wondering how it’s all gone sideways.

First, I asked Twitter to send me something:

Keith Ritter, your advertiser list is ready! The list attached includes the advertisers that have included you in a tailored audience. These advertisers have included you in one or more tailored audiences. Tailored audiences are often built from email lists or browsing behaviors. They help advertisers reach prospective customers or people who have already expressed interest in their business.

I figured since I do a fair amount of cookie-blocking and other means to prevent tracking that I’d turn up in a handful of audiences and I was right. I appear in exactly 9 audiences. However, the rest of the 57-page document (not a typo) listed the similar audiences Twitter has decided I fit. They market me as a part of these audiences and I have no control over it. I can opt out and it will change the ads I see on Twitter. It won’t however, remove me from these audiences. I am included in over 1,000 of them, my data used and sold quite unwillingly.

Then there are the constantly apologizing folks at Facebook. This article in the NY Times is both frightening and disappointing. It talks about how Facebook “gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.”  Their privacy track record is abominable and every week it seems there is another apology and a promise to do better. Fool me once…

It’s taken years for the marketers and publishers to push back on the rampant fraud and abuse of programmatic ads. Social media is rife with “influencers” who buy fake followers and regularly violate FTC regulations on advertising. It seems that everyone under 30 is either a ninja or a guru. Fake reviews for products that are complete rip-offs are everywhere (run a link to an Amazon review through Fakespot if you don’t believe me).

All of this leaves one question: what the hell happened? How did the digital business world get so screwed up? At some point, Facebook and many other digital businesses decided that making money is way more important than serving their users is, I think, the basic answer. I’m all for making money, as my business track record shows. There are limits, however, and I have a fundamental belief that making money can only happen over the long term when you respect the customer. As the great David Ogilvy once said, “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.” Because most of the people who use digital have no concept about how they are tracked and marketed, most businesses treat them as morons and therein lies the problem.

I could rant on but I’ll end it here with a plea. To any of you who are in the digital world, please resolve to get back on track. Way back when in 1995, all we wanted to do was to amuse a few people and keep them engaged. Yes, we sold ads but we also didn’t track people once they left our domain. We didn’t treat them as numbers or rubes. You shouldn’t either. I get that the tools are more sophisticated and more powerful and that the world has changed. Basic business principles and human decency haven’t, have they?

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Filed under Reality checks, Huh?, What's Going On

Back To Basics

I played a number of sports growing up. Thinking back on it, no matter which sport I was playing, when the season began the coach would inevitably talk about getting back to basics. He usually meant the building block skills that a team had to have in order to be successful. If you don’t think that’s important, watch one of today’s major league baseball players try to lay down a suicide squeeze bunt. That basic skill has almost disappeared.

No, today isn’t going to be yet another old guy rant about how the world has changed for the worse, Instead, as we approach the end of one year and the start of another, it’s a reminder that now is a great time to do a little back to basics thinking. It’s harder than you think because what often happens during the course of a year (or longer, depending on when the last time was that you did this exercise) is that the basics get forgotten in the heat of battle. So here are a few of the fundamental questions that I’d be asking myself and my team right about now.

First, what are we trying to accomplish? That sounds overly simple since making a profit is pretty much what every business is trying to do unless you’re a non- or not-for-profit organization. What are you trying to make happen? What problems that your customers have are you trying to solve?

Next, how are you measuring success? It’s not just the cash register ringing or the bottom line overflowing with black ink although clearly basic financial items are important. How many new customers did you attract? How is your reputation? What good have you done for your customers, your partners, your vendors, your employees, and your community?

After that, take a look forward. What do we need to do in order to be successful in this next year? How do last year’s results, both good and bad, direct us forward? What can we start doing and what should we stop doing, whether it’s meetings, products, reports, or something else? What could happen in the marketplace that will affect us, both positively and negatively? Do we have a disaster plan?

Finally, is the view you and your organization had of the world at the start of this year still the way you see it going forward? If you don’t think that things change that much, think back 5 years or even (gulp) 10. You wouldn’t have had a mobile strategy or a social media plan then. You probably didn’t pay a heck of a lot of attention to your website or online reviews. You sure had better be active in all of those areas today even if you’re not a digital business.

Those are some of the basics I see as necessary for success. What are some of yours?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Searching For Answers

Happy Foodie Friday! It’s the time of year when many entities try to sum up what’s been going on throughout the year from their perspective. Google is one of those companies, and they issue their “Year In Search” annually around this time. I thought it might be instructive to look at what were the top food-related searches in 2018 according to Google. They were:

1) Unicorn cake
2) Romaine lettuce
3) CBD gummies
4) Keto pancakes
5) Keto cheesecake
6) Necco Wafers
7) Keto cookies
8) Keto chili
9) Keto brownies
10) Gochujang

The obvious question is what can we learn, both about what’s going on in the food world as well as what we can take away from our own businesses, from this list. Here are a few observations from me.

First, half of the searches were related to “keto.” For those of you somehow unaware, keto refers to a ketogenic diet.  That’s a very low-carb diet, which can help you burn fat more effectively. Many people have already experienced its many proven benefits for weight loss, health, and performance. It’s not without problems but clearly, it’s gone front and center with a lot of people this year. I try to follow a modified keto diet myself, limiting carbs and trying to eat only low-glycemic foods. What can that tell us that might help our business? If you’re in the food business it’s pretty obvious, but even if you’re not it demonstrates that consumers are paying a lot more attention to their health and their diets. Movie theaters, airlines, and other transportation companies sell food. Your company or your building may have a cafeteria that does the same. Understanding that consumer eating habits are changing is critical to maintaining those bottom lines.

“CBD Gummies” point to the changing way we’re looking at weed. These are gummies made with cannabidiol, just one of the hundreds of compounds hiding within the cannabis plant. Some have no THC, others very much do. The point I want to make is that the weed business is exploding, so much so that tobacco and drug companies are trying to figure out how they can become involved. Is CBD a fad? Maybe, but once again, we can’t ignore trends in the marketplace and we need to think through if there is an opportunity or how our business might be impacted.

The “Romaine” search term clearly derives from the e-coli scares with that green this year. A great reminder that we all need disaster plans in place.

If you’re not familiar with it, “Gochujang” is a red chile paste that also contains glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, salt, and sometimes sweeteners. It’s a thick, sticky condiment that’s spicy and very concentrated and pungent in flavor. Another reminder that not only are tastes changing but as our population base is changing, our eating, media, shopping, and other habits are changing as well. We need to pay attention.

Finally, “unicorn cakes” are just silly. They’re multi-colored layer cakes generally covered in a highly-decorated white icing. They’re a great reminder that we all need to take a little time to have fun and enjoy ourselves by indulging in something that’s totally unrelated to our work lives.

Those are the insights I take away from the list. What are yours?

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Filed under food, What's Going On

Those Pesky Joneses

You might have missed something in the financial news yesterday that reminds us of a really important business point. The good folks at Verizon wrote down the value of Oath, which is what they renamed their acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo. I’ll let the good folks at Bloomberg relay the facts:

Verizon Communications Inc. is conceding defeat on its crusade to turn a patchwork of dot-com-era businesses into a thriving online operation.

The wireless carrier slashed the value of its AOL and Yahoo acquisitions by $4.6 billion, an acknowledgment that tough competition for digital advertising is leading to shortfalls in revenue and profit. The move will erase almost half the value of the division it had been calling Oath, which houses AOL, Yahoo and other businesses like the Huffington Post.

For you non-financial types out there, writing down an asset is the accounting term used to describe a reduction in the book value of an asset due to economic or fundamental changes in the asset. In other words, something isn’t worth what you paid for it any longer. Oops. These were acquisitions that Verizon made to transition into taking on Facebook and Google as a content providing, eyeball-generating ad brand. This latest stumble comes on the heels of several others that Verizon has made over the last several years (a JV with Redbox, their failed news site, their awful app store and of course, V-Cast). When you basically spend $4.8 Billion and flush $4.6 Billion of it down the write-down toilet as they did the other day, you might need to rethink your strategic direction.

When you think about it, what Verizon did is not all that uncommon in business. They forget what their core competencies were and chased the latest shiny object. Big mistake. Where would we be now if all that capital had been invested in 5G networking or in WiMax? Video and advertising is something in which hundreds of companies are engaged. Yes, it’s highly profitable but it’s also dominated by two behemoths and subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer interest (whatever happened to MySpace anyway?). Why would you try to keep up with those Joneses?

It seems as if FiOS, their high-speed broadband service has been abandoned. They’re no longer expanding despite the fact that demand for very high-speed internet is everywhere. 5G is years away and technically challenging. Does anyone remember the dream of WiMax? Those are areas in which they are the Joneses and people have to keep up with them. None of us in business can forget what made our ventures successful because we think the grass is greener in some other business’ yard. Don’t chase the Jones’ success. Create your own.

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, What's Going On

Getting A Commitment

One of the hardest things I’ve encountered over my years in business is getting people to commit to things. It could be a firm time for a meeting. It could be a deadline. I’ve found that people are often unwilling or unable to lock in firm dates and times. Maybe they have a fear of commitment or maybe they just want to maintain flexibility in their schedules.

Once you can get someone to make a commitment to you, it affects their actions going forward. Those actions have to become consistent with the commitment they’ve made to you, whether it’s finishing a report or making a decision about something or even just arranging their calendars to fit their appointment with you. That refocus is a good thing, so what can we do to encourage people to make those commitments?

One thing I’m finding helpful is allowing and encouraging people to book their own meetings with me. I use one of the online calendar services and I am finding that one I can get people to lock in a time to talk they rarely blow off the meeting. They usually go back and change the time via the calendar, which is a lot better than a no-show. By the way, if you want to set up a meeting with me to chat about franchises or other consulting, you can click this link.

I think the best thing you can do to get people to buy in and commit to you on something is to remember that they will only do so when it’s apparent to them that you’re following their agenda. Your reasons don’t matter. You need to make sure they know you’re asking for their time and energy because you’re solving their problem. If they commit, what’s the win for them? I try to make that clear to them before I seek to lock them into anything.

How well do you secure peoples’ commitments? Are you making it clear to them that you’re asking for that commitment for THEIR reasons and not yours?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Faddie Friday!

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic today is really Faddie Friday. What got me thinking about food fads was hearing yet another discussion about keto diets. You know – low carb, no carb, no fun. I’ve been doing a variant of this for many years (and lost a lot of weight) but it actually goes back to the invention of the Atkins Diet in 1972. I’m not a full-blown keto person but I do watch my carbs and try to cut out sugar and foods that I know are high on the glycemic index.

Atkins is far from the only food fad. At one time, fondue was all the rage. I’ll bet if you dig deep enough into a closet or your garage you’ll find a fondue set, maybe one your mom handed down. Nothing like a communal bowl of hot cheese, wine, and seasonings, right?

Now we have fads such as juice cleansing, kale, and bacon, which down here in the South is not so much a fad as it is a way of life. What’s interesting to me is that fads aren’t the same thing as trends. You can think of it in business terms. Fads are those two-day blips in your revenue while trends are the steady direction of those revenues. Fads are jagged, trends are smooth. Food fad – kale. Food trend – healthier eating. Got it?

You need to think in those terms as you approach your business and how you run it. I’ve lived through several management fads and they weren’t all as benign as kale. Ever hear of Six Sigma? How about Business Process Re-Engineering? Matrix Management? Or one of my absolute favorites, MBO – Management By Objectives. Even though it was created by one of my favorite management people, Peter Drucker, it was cumbersome, time-wasting, and not quick enough to react. Obviously, I agree with much of the thinking behind it but the actual implementation could bog you down.

I bring all of these up (and it’s far from an exhaustive list) to remind each of us that we have to watch out for fads. I was told by a senior executive many years ago that the internet was both a fad and a scam. He had a little trouble figuring out the difference between a fad and a fundamental change. Take the time to distinguish between the two and you’ll be far better off than those who don’t. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints