Tag Archives: Consulting

Everyone’s Got A Deal

A very wet Foodie Friday here but that won’t deter me from posting a few thoughts about what I think is a post-value world. What I mean by that is that value seems to be more of a given today that it did a few years ago. I also hope by now you’ve learned the difference between value and cost because your customers certainly have.

In the food business, you see this playing out in spades. Everyone has a deal, whether it’s $1 menu items or $5 foot long subs or free cheeseburgers from using an app to order. I suspect that many of these items are loss leaders. They certainly can’t be maintaining the margins which are already slim in the restaurant business. They’re designed to build traffic and that traffic will buy other, more profitable items.

The problem with this is the restaurant business is one where the supply has outstripped the demand. Chain restaurants are growing faster than the overall population and there aren’t enough hungry folks out there to support them all. Because deals are so prevalent, it actually frees the consumer to decide if they place more value on the price of the meal or if they value higher quality ingredients or better service or just the overall dining experience an establishment offers. More often than not these days, the price is less of a concern. Why? Because everyone’s got a deal!

What does this mean for your business? It means you’ve got to continue to get beyond thinking about cost in terms of how your customer values your product or service. The health of the business depends on more than a lot of customers. Fewer, more profitable customers seem better to me than a lot of slim-margin ones. Ask K-mart, whose profitability peaked in 1992,  if the low-margin, high volume strategy can work over the long term. Someone can always compete on price (Walmart).

The “deal” I try to offer to my potential clients is the highest level of value. That value is defined in THEIR terms, not mine. If all they’re after is a low price, I’m probably not going to be working with them. If what they want is a profitable result that advances them to their goals, well, that’s my deal. What’s yours?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Learning And Doing

I’m in training now to expand my consulting practice. I’ll have more about what exactly that means in another week or so, once I’ve officially completed training and can begin working with clients. The training has been two or sometimes three 90-minute training sessions a day for the last week or so. It’s pretty intensive, and while much of it isn’t highly technical and involves some business knowledge that’s common to what I’ve learned working in other areas over the years, it’s still a lot. I’m enjoying it, in part because it’s been quite a while since I’ve had to absorb this much information about a topic that is totally new to me. Always good to get those old synapses firing, isn’t it?

One thing it’s reminded of is the difference between learning and doing. Maybe I should phrase that as knowing and doing, but they’re different. In any event, one is certainly not the other. I can explain to you the elements of a great golf swing and I can probably point out what in your swing is causing you problems. I know what a good swing looks like. Can I perform one myself? Oh hell no. I’m a great caddy – I can club you correctly and discuss strategy. Can I hit the shot I’m describing? Not consistently well.

That’s knowing vs. doing. Learning vs. doing is having the information as I now do about this new business area but really nothing more. I can tell you the rules, I can tell you the best practices, I can even tell you the mistakes you’re likely to make. What I can’t do is to give you any first-hand experience nor any nuance nor anything particularly insightful from that which you could get from anyone else. That last part is where any of us add value to what is, in essence, a textbook view of the world. A kid coming out of graduate school with an MBA (yes, 28-year-olds are now “kids” to me) has a ton of education and knows an awful lot but they have very little experience. The good ones that I’ve worked with know that and are anxious to add to their education by doing. The less good one think they already know it all thanks to their learning.

I know I can be effective in my expanded area right away although I’ll be even more effective as time passes and I learn the things one only learns by doing. Part of why we see some problems in the business world, particularly in the tech world, is that we have CEO’s who got to those jobs by being founders. They don’t have real-world experience because they’ve not done the series of jobs and learned from each that traditionally gets one into a CEO chair. Without a bunch of doing, a little learning can be a dangerous thing, don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Wanting And Needing

If you hang around the candy aisle of the supermarket long enough, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll hear some kid yell at their parent that they “need it” with a large bag of candy in their hand. At that moment, I think the kid believes it. Hopefully, the parent explains the difference between “needing” and “wanting”. Hopefully, that’s something you can recognize in your business life too.

A need is something you must have to survive. As humans, water, food, and shelter are about the extent of those needs (I put clothing and warmth under the shelter heading). As a business, the fundamental need is to make a profit. Without that, no business can survive over the long term. In order to make those profits, you need money coming in, which means you also need customers who will pay you for your product or service. As with any need, once we have satisfied it we can move on to the “want.” You want customers who are happy so they stick around. You want customers who are pleasant so you can interact with them without drama. You need to have people working with you who are loyal and knowledgeable so they support your customers. You want them to stick around for the long term at a reasonable cost to the business.

The hard part for me when I began consulting was that I think I probably spent too much effort helping clients get the wants and not enough time focused on the needs. Rookie mistake, one I don’t make now. I’m not surprised when a client and I get into the need/want discussion and there is a bit of a disconnect. With early-stage companies especially, you have to get the needs shored up.

I try to focus on telling clients what they need to hear, which is not necessarily what they want to hear (see what I did there?). I did the same when I was part of a larger organization, sometimes to my detriment, I’ll admit. I did learn that the people who can hear things that are true but sometimes unpleasant are the ones with whom you want to work. They have learned that the bag of candy is a want, but those wants might not be affordable or necessary. They might even be detrimental. Make sense?

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David And Goliath

I’d like us to think about David and Goliath this Foodie Friday. In the food service world, there are a few Goliaths – McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks to name a few. There are far more Davids – everything from mom and pop restaurants competing in the same quick-service space to regional chains. It’s interesting to see how the little guys try to compete with the big ones and there is a lesson in that for any of us in business.

I’m often surprised at how some Davids think they can just “me too” their way into success by following the strategies and tactics of the big guys. I guess the thinking is that one wouldn’t have to grab a whole lot of share from a big guy to have a wildly successful business. They drop pretty large crumbs.

I was reading something recently that reinforced my surprise. It’s a study by Sense360, a restaurant consultancy. It found:

McDonald’s has been admired for its value-oriented strategy that’s led to its market dominance and resurgence. Many QSRs have tried to replicate McDonald’s winning strategy, with little success. That’s because they’re copying the wrong things and not taking away the key lessons that would lead to a better result.

What McDonald’s and other Goliaths do is to formulate very detailed customer personas. They identify key consumer attributes and build their strategy around attracting the core customers they’ve profiled again and again. Those personas are NOT the same across different brands, so trying to use strategies designed to attract them may not fit your customer profile at all. For example, the quality of food at McDonald’s is, according to the study, a very minor reason why their customers go. Advertising the quality of your food as a way to grab a McDonald’s customer is going to fall on deaf ears.

Obviously, the Starbucks customer has different concerns and priorities than the McDonald’s customer, which is exactly what the study found. Therein lies the lesson for any of us. What we all need to be doing is looking internally and see what we can do well that is different from what our competitors are doing and which resonates with OUR customers, not theirs. What will give my business and my brand an opportunity rather than going head-to-head with someone who has more resources than me, often moves faster to adapt to market changes, and has a different customer anyway.

David beat Goliath because he managed to hit him in a weak spot and not because he went after his strength or waited for him to tire. That’s the sort of thinking we need to incorporate in our business planning, don’t you think?

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Messing Up Moviepass

Do you have MoviePass? I do and I think it’s fabulous. For roughly $10 a month (about the cost of a ticket here) you can go see one movie a day as long as they’re not IMAX or 3D. Too good to be true? It really seems that way but I’ve never had an issue using it.

You might be asking yourself how do they stay in business? Lots of other folks are asking the same question since I gather they have to pay the theater the full price of admission when you use the pass. I go to an average of one movie a week (4/month) which I gather from this article on Recode is more than average. They’re recently starting charging a premium if you want to see a very popular movie right as it’s released, but that’s a minority of what’s out there. Still, they must be losing money on most users so how do they stay in business?

In a word, data. I go to see some movies in the theater that I might ordinarily wait to see on pay cable or via streaming. I often hit the concession stand, which is where the theaters make most of their profit. Good deal for them, right? Where Moviepass is thinking they’ll make their profit is from understanding the moviegoer and selling that data. That’s why they’re so inexpensive – to scale quickly – and they’re hoping to become so ubiquitous that they end up getting a cut of the increased attendance they are generating (the 3 extra trips to the theater I make in a month!). With me so far?

A friend of mine also has a Moviepass that she was given as a gift. Her 6-month gift ran out the other day and she went to renew. Here is where the fun begins and where we all can learn a little something. There is no way to renew a gift subscription. Seriously. She wanted to convert the gift to a regular subscription on her own credit card and Moviepass won’t let her. Instead, they require that you start all over and create a new account using a different email. Let’s think about how many things are wrong here.

First, you’re a data company. By demanding an existing customer start all over, you’re blowing off all the data you’ve collected on them to date. Second, since Moviepass requires a physical card to work, you now must issue a new card. Besides being an expense for you (create the card, ship the card, etc.) it’s extremely inconvenient for the customer. Third, I’m anticipating that since an account is married to a device, there will be an issue when she gets her new account and tries to tie it to her existing phone. You can’t use your pass without using the app and the app is tied to a device and your card. There isn’t a single reason I can think of that makes this a smart policy.

This silliness has forced many customers to reach out for customer service (a cost!) and from the heated postings on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and elsewhere, it’s resulted in a lot of lost business for Moviepass. One of the main advantages of the digital world is how there is far less friction in many transactions. Online commerce brings your shopping to you and you never leave the house to lug stuff home unless you care to. Moviepass seems to have found a way to increase friction among its existing customer base – those who received gifts and want to remain as customers. Not very smart in my book. Yours?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Old Bay Bacon

It’s Foodie Friday! A friend of mine made some bacon a while back that might have been the best bacon I’ve ever had. It wasn’t so much that it was a nice thick cut nor that it had been perfectly cooked although both were true. Something had been added to the bacon that enhanced its overall porkiness (bacon fans know what I mean) and threw in some extra flavors for good measure. I was smitten.

I asked what was done and the answer was Old Bay. Yes, that Old Bay, the one you have hiding in the back of your spice rack to add to the shrimp and crabs you never quite get around to boiling. While the chef used the same technique I do for bacon (400-degree oven, bacon on a sheet pan for 20 minutes or so, maybe on a rack if you’re feeling ambitious about clean-up), they had sprinkled the raw bacon with Old Bay. It was transformative.

You might not be familiar with Old Bay if you don’t live here in the eastern U.S. It’s a spice blend long associated with Baltimore. Invented in 1940 by a German immigrant fleeing the Nazis, it became ubiquitous in the Chesapeake area and is one of my favorite spice blends. Celery salt, mustard, pepper, bay leaves, cloves, pimento, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon, and paprika – 18 spices in all – make up this magic dust.

There’s a business point or two to be made here. First, we can’t be afraid to try new uses for old products or people. I would never have thought to put Old Bay on bacon but it’s magic. Maybe you haven’t asked a senior member of your staff to do UX testing on your new digital presence, but why wouldn’t you? If someone who, in theory, is less adept at the digital world can appreciate what you’ve done, odds are that your real target will like it as well. Or take an old product like a tape that was invented to keep ammo cases dry, change the color, and voila! Duct tape. Or maybe a heart medicine that had an unusual side effect in many men and suddenly, Viagra.

Second, to my knowledge, Old Bay’s recipe has never been changed. There’s always a tendency out there to tinker with successful products through line extensions or even wholesale revamps of the product. Resist it. Look at Craig’s List – it’s still pretty much the same as it was when it launched 23 years ago. No bells and whistles, no streaming video, just classifieds and a whole lot of success. Create new things but don’t dilute the brand and don’t ever jeopardize the cash cow. There is Old Bay flavoring in many products, but the core product – the spice blend – has never changed.

Sprinkle a little Old Bay on something – bacon, a Bloody Mary, popcorn, almost anything – and remind yourself that greatness can endure even as we find new ways to incorporate it into our businesses.

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Well Aren’t You Special

I came across a quote in a report that prompted a thought about one thing I think has gone wrong in many of our businesses. Actually, it’s less about the businesses themselves and more about those of us who operate them. The study was GroupM’s annual “State Of Digital” report which I always find very informative. The quote is this:

In a statement, GroupM global CEO Kelly Clark listed automation and talent as the “big themes in advertising’s current revolution.” “One of the downsides of specialization is the increase in specialists who know more and more about less and less,” Clark said in the statement.

That’s a big problem in my eyes, and it’s not limited to the ad business.  Let me explain why, both from a personal and a professional point of view. First the personal. It’s great if you become the “go to” person on a very narrow subject. You may know a particular operating system inside and out or you may be the country’s leading subject matter expert on something else. That’s fantastic as long as nothing changes. What happens when it does? You just might have to start over if your particular, narrow skill set is no longer in demand. If you do one thing very well but no one needs that one thing, then what?

From a business perspective, having a team of specialists who can’t crossover is equally bad. Their siloed skills make cross-functional conversation difficult if not impossible. You want a team that has flexibility. Putting aside the ability to cover for other team members during vacations or peak demand periods in some area, having people with a broader knowledge base makes for a better product. Having multiple people weigh in who can consider the big picture and not just a slice of things makes for coherent, complete, well thought out solutions.

It’s incumbent on each of us to grow our skill set. In my practice, I’m called upon to provide thinking on everything from strategy to analytics to SEO to sales. Each of those is an area of specialization for some people and I know I might not be as well-versed in each of them as some of those specialists. What I do have, however, is a broad perspective (to go along with my broad experience) that lets me guide my clients. I have very deep knowledge in some areas and shallower in others. Not specializing makes me special!

If you’re not learning, if you’re not widening your range of knowledge beyond your specialty, then you’re probably setting yourself up to be less resilient when the need arises. That’s not good business thinking, is it?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud