Tag Archives: Reality checks

Bad Boys And Brands

Happy Foodie Friday! There’s been a food-related story making the headlines this week and I think it reflects something that can be useful to any of us in business. The founder and chairman of Papa Johns Pizza had to step down this week after he admitted to using the N-word in a company conference call. It has sparked a public relations crisis and it’s not the first one his actions have caused. You might remember that he also weighed in on the controversy surrounding NFL players and their kneeling during the national anthem. While he certainly wasn’t the first sponsor to criticize a league, doing so over an issue that went way beyond the league itself resulted in a public relations issue for the brand.

While I’ve never been a fan of Papa John’s pizza, his bad behavior made me all the more certain I’d never eat it again. One person whose food I am a fan of is Mario Batali. Even so, I’ll not be going to any restaurant associated with him. His bad behavior caused him to “step back” from his restaurant empire following the first public allegations of sexual misconduct. That was followed up by a 60 Minutes story. Even so, he hadn’t completely divested himself of a financial interest, and that certainly affected the brand, so much so that three of his restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip are set to close even though they were doing well.  The local partner in these restaurants, Las Vegas Sands Corp., decided to end the relationship with Batali’s organization.

Why do I bring this up? Because every one of us in business is a celebrity on some level. We might be nationally known or maybe it’s just our customers, partners or employees who consider us famous. Our actions can enhance or damage our personal and corporate brands every day and we need to remember that no incident remains quiet or hidden for very long. Nearly every person is holding a camera and a video recorder in their hands and bad behavior rarely goes unnoticed or unpublicized.

There was a restaurant I patronized on a regular basis. The food was OK if unextraordinary, the prices were reasonable but the owner was a great guy. I loved spending a little while with him every time I went and I kept going back because he took great care of me as well as did good things in our community. We are our brands, and how we act can damage that brand as badly as a misplaced ad or a faulty product. Enjoy your weekend!

 

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Quit Nagging Me To Death

I’ll state at the outset that I’ve always had a thing about being nagged. It’s probably a mother issue that stems from my tendency to procrastinate or maybe I’m just a rebel at heart. Either way, I don’t like being nagged. You probably have some sensitivity to it yourself.

With that in mind, I’m here to remind all of us that nagging is just as bad as a marketing tactic. Instead of the desired result (a sale), it might lead to the exact opposite (a cancellation, a return, or a vow never to do business with you again). Let me give you an example.

I received yet another email the other day from one of the golf publications to which I’ve subscribed for at least a decade. The email said in big bold letters that

This is your LAST CHANCE to renew your subscription and give a FREE gift.

OMG! I don’t want to miss an issue so I’d better renew right now! Except it’s a lie – my subscription doesn’t expire for well over a year. I went back and looked in my email trash and on average, they send me an email every 3 days urging me to renew. This is on top of the physical mail they send enclosed in an envelope with each month’s magazine as well as the occasional piece of stand-alone snail mail. Enough! Basta! Genug!

Fortunately for them, I enjoy the publication so I’m not going to cancel, but there are a few things any of us can learn from their constant nagging. First, I’ve become numb to whatever they send me. I toss the snail mail and I delete the emails, unopened. I can read the mailing label to see when my subscription really does need renewing. Second, the offer they’re extending really doesn’t benefit me. It’s not a particularly different renewal rate and none of my golfing friends are musing that their lives would be better if only they had a subscription to this magazine. It only benefits the publication – they get a renewal and a new subscriber at a low cost of acquisition. Presumably, they’ll start nagging my friend soon after the first issue arrives.

This publication is far from the only nagger in my life. Amazon’s daily emails, several golf schools, and many others continue to send me nagging messages every day. I do unsubscribe, of course, but new naggers seem to take their place. The messages seem cold and impersonal to me since most of them aren’t personalized beyond the name. I appreciate that people who put things in shopping carts and leave your site might need a little reminder to finish their order or that when you truly have something special going on it’s to the consumer’s benefit to know, but the daily barrage of crap just makes people numb at best or angry at worst.  Deliver value to the consumer. Educate them about your product without nagging them to buy. Explain the benefits in their terms. And don’t nag. After all, nagging is the leading cause of divorce and you can’t have customers divorcing you! What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks

Eating At Mom’s

This Foodie Friday, I’d like you to think of your favorite restaurants. How many of them are national chains and how many of them are family-owned? How many of them serve “fancy” food and how many of them serve great versions of something you might find on your grandmother’s table? I’m willing to bet that most of your favorites are local and cook what your Italian or Chinese or Jewish grandmother might make.

Independent restaurants are growing twice as fast as chains, and there are reasons for this, according to Pentallect a research firm. Consumers rate independent restaurants as more superior on 12 of 15 attributes studied. Consumers see the independents as sharing consumers’ values and offering quality food and better service. They’re special, community-oriented and offering personalized service.

There’s a breakfast joint I go to. It’s a little cafe in the small downtown area here. Yes, there are franchised diners, Waffle Houses, and the breakfast offerings of many chains around, but you’ll find me eating at this place for precisely the reasons found in the study. Two visits and from then on I’ve been greeted as if I’ve lived here forever. I’m asked about my golf game and Michigan Football. The food is quite good but not at all fancy. What does this have to do with your business?

Unless they’re going out for a big, fancy meal, I think people like to feel as if they’re eating at Mom’s. It’s nice when you’re traveling that you can count on a chain to offer you exactly the same experience no matter what but the food is usually bland, a dumbed-down example of the good stuff. Pastrami at Subway? No thanks. You need to convey both the authenticity and good feeling one gets when pulling up a chair at a great local joint. It’s not fancy, it’s just good. You’re welcomed as family and not with some script developed back at corporate. Let your customers take their time. I find I’m rarely rushed at a local place while the chains are focused on “turns.” Would Mom kick you away from the table?

How does your business make customers feel like family? How are your products different from what the big guys offer? How are they better? Those are the things that I’ll bet make the local joint you thought of when I asked the question your favorite. How can you be that for your customers?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Can We Distinguish Fact From Fiction?

How good are you at distinguishing fact from fiction? As I’ve written before, I think that is one of the two most important things anyone can learn in their professional (and personal) lives, with the ability to express your thinking clearly orally and in writing being the other. The folks over at The Pew Research Center studied whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it. The results aren’t particularly surprising but they also are a good reminder to any of us in business.

First, the results. I’m summarizing here but you really should read the entire study – it’s fascinating and gets to a lot of what’s going on in the country today:

The main portion of the study, which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion…Republicans and Democrats were more likely to classify both factual and opinion statements as factual when they appealed most to their side.

In other words, confirmation bias comes in quite a bit of the time.  I raise this because I think it happens all the time in business as well. We receive data that doesn’t support the direction in which we’re taking the business but we reject it as biased. We get complaints from customers but dismiss them as opinion even when there are facts to support the customer’s unhappiness. It all comes back to what the study measured – many of us can’t distinguish fact from fiction.

We need to pay attention to the source of what we’re hearing. Does the data come from an unbiased, third party or is it an opinion? Is the person who is telling you something doing so based on first-hand experience or are they just repeating something they’ve heard elsewhere? Do multiple sources independently report the same information (not quoting one another, in other words) or are you basing a business decision on a single source? If you’ve spent any time in business, you know that even “trusted” sources – your analytics, your financial reports and others – can be manipulated. Always seek the unvarnished, fact-based truth and learn to ignore opinion unless it’s labeled as such. It’s hard to do that, but you’re up to the task, right?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, Reality checks

Known Side Effects

I watch a lot of news on TV. If you do that, you are inundated with ads for drugs that promise to cure everything from asthma to zits and everything in between. One thing that most of these ads have in common is that a significant percentage of each ad drones on and on about potential known side effects. The side effects often are quite serious and death is sometimes one of them. Then again, I guess death cures the disease.

I thought about side effects this morning as I was reading my usual collection of articles about the media and marketing businesses. There have been an awful lot of changes, some for the good, many for the bad. Nearly every one of them has some side effects too. On a most basic level, it’s great to stay in touch with family and friends via social media, but a known side effect is the reduction or disappearance of your privacy. It’s wonderful to have a communications device on you but a known side effect is that you’re tracked everywhere by your phone provider and everything you do with that device is watched and recorded. But those aren’t business issues.

Take, for example, what’s going on in TV sales at the moment. The digital revolution brought with it programmatic buying and selling. In theory, this made the entire process quick and way more efficient. It also had the side effect of advertisers and publishers paying huge “tech taxes”, fees to the providers of the technology that runs the process. Another side effect is rampant fraud and an overall increase in the number of bad actors who suddenly found a way into what had been a relatively closed process.

TV buying and selling are suddenly undergoing the same sort of change. Having sold TV for many pre-digital years, I think many of the same side effects will manifest themselves as the closed, carefully run process opens up. Of course, the biggest side effect will be yet another purge of salespeople and the failure of many rep firms. As eMarketer reported:

Overall, 46% of respondents felt that the tech advancements happening in the TV industry are a threat to their organization’s existence. Again, the fear was highest among reps, with 87% saying that tech changes threaten their firm. There is no doubt concern that the expansion of programmatic TV could extinguish traditional methods of brokering inventory.

TV reps as coal miners? Who would have thought that? Then there are the so-called influencers. The movement to trusted voices as sources of product information is, I believe, generally a good one. The problem is that word “trust.” Fake reviews run rampant. Since influence is often measured by the number of followers, fake followers and/or bought followers are a massive problem. The side effects of establishing trust are numerous and can potentially make the marketing challenge worse if they’re ignored. 

The cure is sometimes worse than the disease. It’s worth remembering that and searching out the possible side effects as we make our marketing and media plans. It’s great to become more efficient but not at the expense of killing the patient. Make sense?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, digital media

Facebook, Sears, and Kodak

When I was a lad several decades ago, many Americans did their shopping at Sears and took their pictures with Kodak film (I can explain “film” to you youngsters if need be). More recently, my kids might have shopped at American Apparel or Claire’s. What all of those formerly huge companies have in common is that they are all nearly dead. The reasons for that range from bad management to dumb financial deals to changing tastes to the digital revolution. In every case, however, I think there is a common thread of a failure to understand their customers in the context of the customers’ changing world.

We have something similar going on in my mind with Facebook. It’s huge and seems invulnerable but one might have said the same thing about Kodak or Sears 50 years ago. First, think about how the world is changing for their customers. Privacy has moved from something that digital folk like me were babbling about many years ago to something that is on everyone’s mind. In an April survey of 1,051 US adult internet users by Janrain, most respondents said they are not in favor of websites or apps using what they learn about them online to target ads. In fact, 70% of them want some very restrictive laws, similar to the E.U.’s GDPR, passed here. I don’t think there is any doubt that a tech backlash is going on and the more consumers and lawmakers find out about the sloppy (at best), invasive, and maybe criminal (at worst) data use by large tech companies, the greater that backlash is going to become.

Facebook’s entire business is built around invading your privacy. Two points from eMarketer:

More people are becoming suspicious of sharing data through third parties. In a March 2018 survey from Raymond James, more than eight in 10 US internet users said they were at least somewhat concerned about how their personal data is being used on Facebook. Similarly, in a Gallup survey of 785 Facebook users in April 2018, 43% said they were very concerned about invasion of privacy. That’s an increase of 30% in 2011.

What has resulted is that people, especially young people, are sharing less content. The entire reason Facebook is valuable for most people is that content that their friends, classmates, and family post. It’s the network effect – that value of the network relates to the number of people on that network.

I’m not shorting Facebook stock today but I’m not so sure that unless they get their privacy house in order that won’t be a bad play down the road. Less content means fewer active users which leads to less revenue. Will they all move to Instagram (a Facebook company)? Maybe, but probably not since that’s not what’s occurring now. As each day brings a new headline involving a bad actor and data, another nail gets pounded into the coffins of companies that don’t respect their customers’ privacy and wishes. Privacy and data use are no longer just food for geek chats. They’re on the front page. How long can Facebook or any company last if they don’t figure this out? Longer than Sears or Kodak?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Reality checks

No Applause, Please

There is a solitaire game that I play on my phone. When you “win”, you get a round of applause most of the time. Sometimes, you don’t. There is just silence, probably because you didn’t solve the hand quickly enough. In a weird way, the lack of applause feels as if you’ve not won if that makes any sense.

That, in microcosm, is a very dangerous thing, both in business and in life. Expecting applause for work well done creates expectations that are infrequently met, and that leads to all sorts of bad places. Anger, frustration, and jealousy all begin to rear their ugly heads as some members of the team begin to compare the applause they receive with that others receive. It may not be literal applause but everything from mentions in a staff meeting to promotions to raises all count.

I’m not against giving applause – far from it. I’ve worked for bosses who made it clear that almost no applause would be forthcoming because they believed that employees were fungible. When applause was given, either literally or figuratively, it generally went to the higher-ups and not to the folks who really were responsible for the good work. As managers and teammates, we need to do what we can to support those who deserve recognition (I’m not in favor of “participation awards” for everyone, though). What I do approach with caution is the expectation we have that we’re going to receive some figurative love when it’s warranted.

Doing what you do for the applause creates false expectations. It makes us buy into a belief system that may not be our own. For example, you may not care about making a lot of money but when you see others doing so who do less or inferior work, you may wonder why you’re not getting rich too. People get “rich” in all sorts of ways. Teachers, ministers, first-responders and many others generally aren’t well-paid nor do they get much applause on a daily basis. Most of the folks I know who work in those professions have adjusted their thinking to take satisfaction in their own accomplishments and not in others’ recognition of those things. They spend their lives doing good work and not seeking applause. How about you?

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints