Tag Archives: business thinking

Overdoing It

It’s Foodie Friday and I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve all lost our collective minds, at least with respect to some of the food trends I see out there. Everywhere one looks you see food that seems to echo one of the favorite phrases from my youth:

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing!

Let me give you a few examples. The dozens of flavors of Oreos, ranging from candy corn to Swedish fish to watermelon, and hot chicken wing and wasabi Oreos have hit stores in China. Buffalo Fried Cornish Hens. Kimchi Salsa. Jerk Chicken Pizza. All the different flavors of chips (because who doesn’t want a chip that tastes like a lobster roll?), and of course, Strawberry Lemonade Beer. Now I’ll admit that I actually liked a cucumber beer that I had last summer but at some point, don’t we need to draw a line? It’s bad enough that most people drink “coffee” that’s flavored with everything from hazelnuts to birthday cake. It may be a lovely morning pick me up but it’s not coffee.

This kind of thinking is how we got some of the great food fails. Bacon soda. Coca-Cola Blak. Orbitz Drink. It’s instructional no matter what business you’re in. Let’s say you make a pain-relieving cream and you say to yourself “Hey! We can fix the pain in other ways!” Voila! Ben-Gay Aspirin. Maybe you own the women’s magazine market and think “hmm…women eat yogurt, maybe while they’re reading. Let’s make yogurt!” Cosmopolitan Yogurt was off the shelves in 18 months. Coors Spring Water? No thanks. Each is an example of overdoing something that not only is worth doing but is something you’re doing quite well. Right up until you decided to do more.

There are some things you can’t overdo. Great customer service. Being grateful to customers, vendors, partners, and staff. Taking most good products and blurring that goodness with too many things that too few people want isn’t helping. Don’t overdo it!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Servers And Small Customers

I wasted some money the other day. I thought I was being smart and using my knowledge of social media marketing to promote my franchise consulting business. I was looking to acquire some new candidates who are ready to change their lives so I created an audience of folks whose demography matched that of most of the candidates with whom I’ve been working. What I found weren’t leads but I did get a great deal of information and I want to share some of that with you today.

One truism I’ve always sworn by is that you can tell someone’s character by how they treat people who can do absolutely nothing for them. Servers, for example. Oh sure, they can bring you your order but they’re not going to help your career along. Receptionists are another example. When you treat people who you perceive to be in a subordinate role like dirt, it shows an awful lot about your personality and character.

The same holds true for how big companies treat little customers. The big guys get all the attention because they have all the dough. What’s forgotten is that the big guys were once little guys, either in sum or in their spending with you. To cultivate budget growth you need to treat every customer as if they are the most valuable.

So why the rant? My lead campaign generated several leads from Facebook. The cost per lead was substantially better than I usually have to pay to generate a lead. The problem is that when I went to download the information from Facebook I received a file that contained digital garbage. I don’t mean bad leads; I mean unreadable digital garbage. I sent a note to support to ask if I’d done something wrong. Crickets. A few days later, I sent another note which is still unanswered, not even with an autoreply letting me know that my message was received. I’m assuming that if I were one of their big customers (the Russian Internet Agency maybe?) I’d have a dedicated rep who would get back to me immediately. As a self-serve slob, I’m pretty much on my own.

Any business can learn from this. Sure, millions of small customers can’t each have a personal rep, but you’re a tech platform, dammit. Put some of those technical smarts to work and figure out how to support the little guys. If you’re not a tech platform, find one that can help you and use the reporting it will offer to make sure you’re treating the little guys the same. After all, you’re nice to the person who serves you your meal, aren’t you?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints, Huh?

The Mysteries Of Food

It’s Foodie Friday and today I’d like us to consider some of the things about food that I, for one, find mysterious. As usual, there’s a business point we can take away from these questions as well.

Let’s start with an easy one. What are the different flavors of Froot Loops? Purple in food tends to imply grape and yellow, at least in cereal, makes me think banana. Well, as it turns out, there is exactly ONE flavor and it’s neither strawberry red or blueberry blue. Why do the loops taste different to some folks? It’s a mystery.

Why are French Fries called that? No one knows, exactly, although there are a few theories. They’re “frites” in France and “chips” in Britain. The History Channel attempted to get to the bottom of the question but came up without a definitive answer, just theories.

Why are deviled eggs called that? I know that “devilling” originally meant making it spicy or searing it over high heat. What changed in the interim? Why is steer meat “beef” and pig meat “pork” but chicken is…well…chicken? Why are the holes in Swiss Cheese disappearing?

I could go on but I’m trying to show you that even the most basic things that we take for granted can raise questions, and those questions often don’t have definite answers. We find that all the time on business but we have to be willing to ask the questions first. One of the most formidable business weapons is an inquiring mind. A mind of that sort which is open to having their assumptions rebutted is an even greater tool. This happens in science all the time and that’s where many great discoveries are made as knowledge grows based on questioning the world around us.

You might not know what’s in surimi (it’s fish, not crab) but you can enjoy it just the same. Still, you might ask why “Krab” or “Froot Loops” or “Cheeze Whiz” are spelled that way. That first question leads to many others (not the least of which is do I really want to eat this). We need to constantly question thing in business too, don’t you think?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

By Any Standard

I have to admit it – I’m a sucker for the major award shows. Watching the Oscars last night made me think about some of the “awards” many companies give themselves. You can usually find them talking about them as they sell themselves. You know the drill:

    • We have world-class customer service
    • Our employee benefits are the best in our field
    • Our products are cutting-edge

And on and on. Now, having come from the sales world I’m not necessarily averse to a little hyperbole, but there is a line, one which is often crossed because there aren’t any standards. It’s an issue that affects businesses in a lot of ways, some small and some pretty egregious. It’s often the small ways – the little white lies we tell ourselves in planning or product meetings – that lead to the big ways – the hyperbole we broadcast in our marketing and set false expectations among customers, partners, vendors, and others.

Think about the differences between Consumer Reports and Amazon reviews. Consumer Reports has rigorous testing standards. It maintains editorial independence and accepts no advertising in the magazine. It buys the products it reviews and pays retail prices for them. While they’ve been sued over bad reviews they’ve never lost a case. Their reviews are objective and all products in a category are held to the same standards.

Compare that to Amazon or Yelp or Google reviews. The reviewer has no objective standards for the most part. They have no idea if common standards for a product category exist nor how to measure or apply them. The JD Power surveys try to aggregate the consumer point of view in a way that reduces personal bias which is better than pure subjective reviews. After all, who hasn’t felt like broadcasting a bad review of something to the world? Maybe the product was fine but you had a nasty experience with customer service so you trash the product as well on your review.

Many businesses do the same thing in their marketing. They don’t use objective standards and end up setting false expectations. I think many industries would do themselves a favor by objectively assessing how well individual brands meet reasonable performance expectations. I remember we used to take an annual survey of media buyers in the TV industry. On the face of it, we did a good job of assessing ourselves and our competitors objectively. The truth was many of the sales guys knew when the survey was being fielded and would wine and dine the buyers to make sure we got good reviews. Subjective standards don’t work.

How do you market yourself? Do you have enough information about your performance on an objective basis? Can you get some?

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

A Second Opinion

This Foodie Friday, it was an old Rodney Dangerfield joke that got me thinking:

My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.

OK, so what does that have to do with food and, of course, with business? These days, much like Rodney’s psychiatrist, everyone’s a critic. There is a huge problem with that since constructive criticism implies that the critic knows something about the subject. Unfortunately, with the internet offering everyone with an opinion a place to express that opinion, the assumption that the critic knows anything about the subject is often proven to be completely wrong.

Think about a professional restaurant critic. They dine out several times a week at a minimum. They are exposed to many different types of cuisine and usually many different chefs cooking each type of those cuisines. They can distinguish between types of pizza or BBQ and write knowledgeably about what makes one execution better than another. Before they write about a place they will usually dine there a few times both so they can sample more of the menu and to make sure that their impressions with respect to service and the dishes are correct.

Now take your typical Yelp reviewer. They may go to a place once. Their experience with many cuisines is limited and the examples that they’ve sampled might not actually be representative of a great execution (think someone who stumbles on to real Chinese food vs. the American Chinese food served nearly everywhere). Maybe they had to wait 10 minutes past their reservation time and got angry so they wrote a bad review. In short, they often criticize based on limited information and out of spite, exactly the opposite of what any constructive criticism should be.

As a reader trying to figure out where to go for dinner, I look for a second opinion. One thing I do is to only look at the 1- or 2-star reviews. Generally, they have very little in common with one another which tells me that they might have been posted out of anger or a single bad experience. Maybe everyone thinks the desserts are awful but since I don’t eat dessert that’s not relevant to me. When things are apparent across the bad reviews, I trust that information. Ignore the false criticism and get a second opinion.

It’s the same in business. You can’t just listen to the praise directed at you, of course. You need to hear the criticism so you can grow. That said, you need a second opinion much of the time. Don’t take it personally, don’t listen to the tone but only to the words, and ask yourself what you can learn. Then go ask someone you trust – someone with enough experience both with you and your work – about the validity of the bad review.

Yes, opinions are like asses in that everyone has one. But they’re not all created equal. Get second opinions before you make changes, just as a smart restaurateur does. Value the informed critics and ignore the trolls. Can you do that?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Stew

It’s nearly 80 degrees here on this Foodie Friday and one might think that winter is gone. Not so fast – it will be in the mid-40’s tomorrow so we’re not yet past stew weather. Stews are a winter staple and since there are endless variations of them, one can’t really get bored with making them.

Some folks think of stews as a thick soup but I think that vastly underrates the dish. I wouldn’t serve soup over noodles or mashed potatoes, would you? As it turns out, they teach us a bit about managing too.

One thing that’s great about stews is that the longer they sit, the better they get as long as you don’t raise the temperature too far. You need to choose your protein – generally meat – wisely. You want the inexpensive cuts that really aren’t good for much else since they contain a lot of connective tissue. They require lengthy cooking (pressure cooking excepted) so that tissue can break down and the meat can transform into tender loveliness.

The meat needs to be seared properly. That means you can’t overload your pan or the meat with steam and not brown. You don’t want to put too much flour on the meat or into the stew to help thicken it or you end up with a gloppy mess. Let the collagen from the meat do its job. If you need more thickening, use gelatin (look it up!) which does the job without changing the flavor or adding lumps.

So why is this appropriate for our business blog? Your team is your stew. You need to find the right ingredients, which are often the overlooked cuts. The best stew meat comes from the muscles that do a lot of work but need help in transforming into dinner greatness. Dig deeper for people, especially the ones who’ve been working hard but maybe not getting the recognition they deserve. You need a sturdy pot that can hold the heat. That, dear readers, is often you, the leader of the team. Great stews have lots of individual components, each of which needs to be added at the right time or it will get mushy. This speaks to the need to pay attention to the individuals on your team to bring out the best in each of them. Pull things together, apply some gentle heat, and give it time. Your team is a magnificent stew!

Here is a list of stews. It is quite varied, but the dishes have a lot in common while still being quite distinctive. Your stew – your team – will be too. Go out and pull it together.

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

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