Tag Archives: Business model

The Maine Event

You may or may not know that in addition to your phone or your web browser tracking your every move that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) does as well. Naturally, they use the data themselves to sell ads or they sell it to others who do so on their behalf.

Last June, the good legislators of Maine passed a bill that prohibits the practice. It’s not revolutionary. Until the current administration took office in 2017, there were Federal regulations that prohibited it as well. To make up for this, in June 2019, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a law designed to prevent ISPs from “the use, sale, or distribution of a customer’s personal information by internet providers without the express consent of the customer.” The law had bipartisan support and passed the state senate unanimously.

I’ll let MediaPost take it from here:

Broadband carriers are suing to block a Maine privacy bill that requires Internet service providers to obtain consumers’ opt-in consent before drawing on their web activity for ad targeting.

“Protecting customer privacy is a laudable objective that ISPs support,” the major broadband industry organizations write in a complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Maine. “But Maine has not shown — through evidence in the legislative record — that ISPs’ privacy practices are causing any harm whatsoever to consumers.”

Here is where I come out on this and it’s something that might just apply to your business as well. First, privacy is going to become THE issue over the next couple of years as more people become aware of just how ubiquitous tracking is in their lives. There was a frightening report in the Times a couple of weeks ago that detailed just how much information was being collected. Does it seem unreasonable that some folks would like to take back a modicum of control? WE need to respect people’s wishes, or at least make a cogent argument about why they should let us have their data in return for the services we’re providing. I’d gladly give my ISP data if they’d cut the price of my internet service in half. But at least ask me for permission to track me and make me aware of what you’re collecting and why.

Second, ISP’s make an insane amount of money selling broadband access. Don’t buy their stuff about how much they invest in infrastructure – it’s trivial. Do they really need to sell ads on top of this? I’m a capitalist but I’m also a customer-advocate. Know when to say when people. When you’re already drunk on cash from your basic business, maybe it’s time to step away from the bar when you’re starting to treat your customers as a commodity.

When you’re suing to overturn this law, you’re suing your customers, plain and simple. Do any of you believe that having all of your personal data out there for anyone to purchase and use (and it’s out there) isn’t causing harm as the ISP’s allege? It’s a similar situation to the growth of ad blockers – the limit of consumers’ tolerance was hit and suddenly they revolted. This might be a good time to buy stock in VPN companies and the ones that still make dumb phones – text only, minimal tracking. We’ll see, won’t we? But I know for sure that suing and otherwise abusing your customers is a bad idea for any of us.

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

Tasks And Experiences

Happy Foodie Friday! This article came into my news feed this morning. It’s about Walmart’s store of the future, where robots can fill grocery orders up to 10 times faster than humans. Pretty spiffy and it’s an interesting read, but it also got me thinking about a pretty important distinction about which I think you may want to ruminate.

When I go to the grocery store (every Thursday!), I have a list of things I want to buy. Most of the things on that list are there because I’ve planned out meals for the week and I need things to make those meals possible. It’s a pretty straightforward task. Other things are on the list because I use them in general and they’re on sale. Maybe I have a coupon that for them that is expiring. Maybe they’re on sale AND I have a coupon (can you feel the excitement?). Again, it’s pretty cut and dry – here’s the thing on the list, buy it and bring it home.

That’s really only half the trip, however. Inevitably, I find things to buy that aren’t on the list. I’ve found them as part of the shopping experience. Maybe it’s an unadvertised sale, maybe some local produce came in and looks spectacular. This is experience-oriented shopping versus the aforementioned task-oriented shopping.

Back to the article. It’s lovely that Walmart (and Amazon and others) are extremely efficient in servicing these orders, but they’re only serving the task-oriented shoppers. In-store discovery is impossible when there is no in-store experience. That’s why you always see “people who bought (the thing you’re buying) also bought (another thing).’ I think it’s also why Amazon is moving into physical stores, both through Whole Foods and their own “register-less” stores. Obviously, serving the task-oriented shopper is only half the battle.

I think it’s the same in other businesses.  Almost every business interacts with customers, partners, vendors, and employees in a task-oriented framework. When you stop and think about it, good businesses make sure there is an experience-oriented aspect to the relationship as well. What I mean is an experience that the participants can enjoy for its own sake and not as a means for accomplishing a task or achieving an extrinsic goal. Maybe it’s just drinks after work with no agenda. Maybe it’s a round of golf. All of my best business relationships had both task-oriented and experience-oriented aspects.

Think about how you interact with your customers. Is everything a task where items get ticked off a list or is there an experience that’s part of the relationship? How can you bring that balance?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

I’m Sick Of Scammers

Another year, another scammer surfaces. I’ve written many times in this space about marketers who try to take advantage of people’s limited attention spans and fear of all things “official”. The mail delivered another example of one to my doorstep the other day and I want to tell you about them. Admittedly, part of this is venting but another part is a very real concern that many marketers have lowered their standards to a point where they’ll do just about anything to drive business. It’s even worse when the business itself is a scam.

North Carolina, like many states, requires that all businesses file an annual report with the Secretary Of State. If you’ve never done that, it’s a very easy process that can be completed online in about 3 minutes. I had to do the same thing when my LLC was registered in Connecticut and the process was equally easy. You check a few boxes and pay the fee. Easy peasy.

In the mail the other day was an official-looking document – 2020 Annual Report Instructions Form.  The blanks in the form were already pre-populated with my LLC’s information. It also contained the language from the general statutes about having to file an annual report. I thought it was something the state had sent until I gave it more than a cursory look.

In a different typeface was a sentence that said this was being sent by a third-party who would file my report for me. Just send along the $292 fee and that would be that. Of course, the filing fee is only $202 – the other $90 was what this company was scamming me for. The grift IS the business – there is very little, if any, work involved otherwise.

My first thought when I saw the form was, oh, I’ll do this online, as I do pretty much everything. My next thought was “wait, this isn’t the state, this is a scam.” The thought after that was “some percentage of business owners are going to fall for this.” It has all the right information and it’s very official-looking. Of course, anyone can get that information on the state’s website and matching the state’s form and typeface isn’t exactly rocket science.

I admit there are a couple of disclaimers that the company is not affiliated with the state but why should anyone have to read very carefully to avoid being taken advantage of? Are they providing a service? I suppose so, but why not offer the service in a clear manner instead of trying to obfuscate that you’re charging $90 to save someone a few minutes’ work?

If you market a product or service, the road to profitability isn’t made easier by misleading or scamming your customers. Let’s not do that. Even better, let’s shine some sunlight on those scammers who do.

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Concessions

Let’s go to the movies this Foodie Friday. I did the other day. If you’ve been spending time at home streaming your entertainment and none at the theaters, you might not be aware that things have changed dramatically at the old cineplex with respect to food. I happened to go to my local Alamo Drafthouse, which features recliners as well as a large menu of food and beverage.

You are probably aware that theater owners make more money from concessions than they do from admissions. You might have noticed that most movie concessions are high-margin items such as popcorn and soda. Still, I generally didn’t spend much more than $10 on food and beverage. Boy did THAT change at the Alamo. Even factoring in the additional labor costs for the servers bringing the food to my seat, I’m pretty sure that the theater owner netted a heck of a lot more from me than they might have in the past.

The Alamo overall is an interesting model. There are fewer seats in the theater but that really only reduces the take from admissions. My guess is that the concession net more than makes up for the fact that there are fewer bodies in the seats. Of course, my Alamo also has 10 theaters under one roof, ranging from 50 to 100 seats. What I like about this from a business perspective is how they’ve rethought the business model and focused on the part of the business that makes an owner money. The concessions are a significant upgrade. There are craft beers, top-shelf cocktails, and even a vegan menu. Sure there is popcorn but it’s served with real clarified butter. It’s also a bottomless bowl. There is also an herb popcorn that is tossed with that same butter and fresh herbs. Do I give a second thought to paying $8.50 for it? Nope – it’s delicious. So are the sandwiches, pizzas, and salads. $45 on drinks and food? Even at a 20% margin, my concession purchases yield the business owner as much as my previous bill might have been in total.

Any business can learn from what the Alamo and other theaters are doing as they transform their business models in the face of unlimited streaming options. It’s the Wille Sutton Rule – go where the money is.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Something For Nothing

I went to one of the warehouse club stores yesterday to make some bulk purchases. If you’ve ever been in one of them – Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, etc. – you know that one feature of walking around the place is that there are usually free samples. You can taste the latest and greatest in meats, cheeses, and frozen things to cook while you’re too busy to make something yourself. That got me thinking about the fact that you really don’t see a lot of sampling elsewhere.

I’m a fan of the free trial. It gets customers walking through your door and using your product. What I don’t particularly like are those “free” trials that require you to fork over your credit card. Free means without strings, right? In particular, if you’re a business that is built around what I think is the gold standard – recurring revenues – you ought to be spending a good chunk of your marketing dollars on free trials.

It’s relatively simple math, right? What’s the lifetime value of a customer? What does it cost you to offer up a free trial – a visit, a free month, whatever? What is the conversion rate of those freebies – how many of the trials become regular customers? Recurring revenues are predictable and generally pretty stable. I bet you’ve signed up for subscriptions of some sort and forgotten you’ve done so or don’t use them as often as you thought you would. For a business, that’s a customer without costs, and that’s a nice margin!

When I talk to people who are looking at franchise opportunities and who don’t have a particular brand or industry in mind, I usually talk to them about the businesses with recurring revenue models. Things like cleaning services. Not a sexy business, but very profitable and that, in part, is because of the recurring revenues. Same thing with spa businesses or some hair salons that feature memberships. Are those businesses that can offer a free trial? Maybe if you’re an out-of-the-box thinker. Giving a converted customer the ability to give away a free trial to a friend is another great way to expand your base at very little cost.

Here is the thing about free trials leading to recurring revenues. As with any business, you have to maintain a high level of customer service. After all, when someone’s credit card is getting dinged each month and your business appears on their statement, it’s an opportunity for them to reconsider.  If they walk away, no amount of free sampling will get them back most of the time. Everyone loves something for nothing. The opposite – nothing for something – is very much NOT true!

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Filed under Consulting, Franchises

McRib And You

The big news this Foodie Friday is the return of the McRib sandwich. It’s only going to be around for a limited time and only at select McDonald’s stores (which is about 10,000 of them). If you’ve never had one of these babies, it’s a pork patty formed to look like pork ribs (but boneless) on a bun with pickles and onions and a fair amount fo a sweet barbeque sauce.

I’d be very dishonest if I said this concoction appalls me since I’m a fan of the thing, or at least I was before I both quit eating a lot of carbs (45g in this baby) and lived in a place where real BBQ pork sandwiches are easier to find than a decent deli. When it hit the market back in 1981, it was a dud. It’s been released every so often since into a limited number of outlets and it sells out.

There is something any business can learn from the McRib or the pumpkin spice craze at Starbucks or Dunkin’. It’s the smart tactic of giving customers a reason to come back. There is a restaurant here in town that I patronize on a regular basis. The food is quite good but there are rarely any specials. It gets boring, frankly. I’ve tried pretty much everything on the menu. Something special might get me to make a special trip as opposed to the every 10 days or so when I want a really good burger.

There is something else. Here is a quote from a marketing professor at Northwestern:

For fast-food chains in particular, which rely on familiarity, holiday items can offer consumers some variety. “You need consistency because that’s the brand mantra,” said Chernev. “But no matter how much you like something, consuming something different … increases the enjoyment of what you consumed before.” Chernev says it’s a neat marketing ploy: Although a specialty item may be exciting on its own, it can also remind consumers how much they like the basics.
In my mind, it’s like how being on vacation often reminds you of how much you like being home if that makes any sense. In any event, every business needs to think about how a special product promotion (vs. a sale price promotion) can provide an overall lift to the business.  Got it?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

For Yourself, Not By Yourself

I left corporate America at the end of 2007. In the dozen years since I’ve worked for myself. Oh sure, I have always considered the clients for whom I consulted to be my bosses, but at the end of the day, I was on my own.

If any of you have been, or are, in a similar circumstance, you know that it’s both a liberating and terrifying feeling. There is the freedom to spend a beautiful day at the beach or on a golf course instead of working. After all, you’re the boss. Along with that freedom, at least for me, there was always guilt that I had taken the day to play or run errands rather than grinding it out as I had done for the 30+ prior years of my business life. I guess the Protestant work ethic applies even to Jews…

While I’m still working for myself, the last year I’ve not been BY myself. As a franchise consultant, I’m a part of a much broader network of several hundred other coaches. We share information, I have access to ongoing education about franchises and how to do my job more effectively, there is someone doing collections for me, and the network actually even finds leads for me if I want. I’m in business for myself but not by myself, as is the case with any franchise.

Candidates (people considering investing in a franchise) sometimes ask why they should go with a franchise instead of using their capital to start up their own business. The statistics answer that question for me. 90% of new businesses fail in anywhere from the first five years to as little as the first four months. 90% of franchises are still in business after five years. There is a reason for that, which is that you’re investing in a proven concept. The mistakes have been made, the operation has been refined, marketing plans have been tweaked, and all of that is being handed to you as part of your investment along with training that can last from a few days to weeks, with ongoing mentoring and education for much longer. Pretty spiffy, and a route I wish I had taken a dozen years ago instead of trying to figure it all out on my own.

So what can go wrong with a franchise? I think the two biggest sources of problems are when franchisees don’t follow the model or when they are undercapitalized. In the first case, ignoring the model is basically throwing away what you paid for and diminishing your success rate quite a bit. In the second case, ANY business will fail if it’s undercapitalized no matter how well-run it is. Counting on immediate cash flow to support the operation (or your ability to eat!) is short-sighted. That’s why franchising makes even more sense since there is a track record of what capital is needed to get the business up and running for the first few months. It’s actually so clear that the franchises put those costs in their Franchise Disclosure Document (item 7) and those are numbers I have and discuss with folks as they are looking at investing.

Being in business for yourself is great. It’s even better when you’re not by yourself. I can show you how to make that happen for you. Just click here and let’s get started.

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Filed under Franchises, Thinking Aloud