Tag Archives: Reality checks

Unlimited Gall

You might be aware of the battle going on in the wireless provider space which revolves around “unlimited” service. Yes, I meant to put unlimited in quotes because as it turns out there is no such thing. I’ll explain the details in a second but what this represents is mirrored in other businesses too and is a ridiculous bit of anti-customer behavior in which none of us should engage. Let’s see what you think.

First, the phone war. Verizon and T-Mobile are the primary protagonists. Verizon announced it was bringing back unlimited data so you could stream video on your mobile device to your heart’s content. Of course, as one article reminded us, unlimited is actually not:

“Unlimited” data also continues to be a misnomer. If you use more than 22GB of data, Verizon may throttle your connection. You also only get the $80/month price if you sign up for Autopay. If you don’t, it will cost $85/month. While this includes the $20 fee for adding a line, it doesn’t include your phone’s payment plan, so if you want to pay monthly to buy a phone, it will cost more.

T-Mobile responded with changes to their own so-called unlimited data plan. While the plan was unlimited previously, it added on charges for video quality over 480p (that’s not great). It also charged you extra to use your phone as a high-speed (meaning 3G quality) hotspot. It slowed the data down before. In the new plan, those limits are gone but T-Mobile says subscribers who use more than 28GB of data in a given month may see their speeds reduced due to “prioritization” in congested areas. In short, using the word “unlimited” is crap. There are still limits, and if you’re a consumer you have the right to expect that there really aren’t.

The phone companies (and Sprint and AT&T aren’t much better) aren’t the only businesses that do a form of bait and switch. It’s no secret that what you’re quoted as an airfare is also only part of the story since there are fees for bags, boarding passes, seats, and just about anything else depending on your carrier. The airlines say the fees are optional. Yeah, sure. And pay the fee at the airport and there is a fee to pay the fee!

Ever buy tickets to a show online? Convenience (whose convenience?) fees, printing fees, etc. Ever book a hotel room? Resort fees, safe fees, service fees, and more. My bank charges my business account a monthly admin fee even though they make money off the money I have in the bank. My cable operator charges me for sports channels I can’t refuse to take.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that businesses need to be upfront about their true costs to consumers or face a backlash when their dishonesty is discovered. I’d much rather know the true cost of something than to feel as if I’d been ripped off later. Wouldn’t you? Isn’t that how we need to treat our customers?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Eating At The Buffet

Our topic this Foodie Friday is buffets. Las Vegas is renowned for the lavish and enormous buffets but they can be found almost anywhere across this great land of ours. There are dedicated buffet restaurants, most hotels offer a buffet option for breakfast and many bbq joints offer something similar so you needn’t choose between the 4 or 5 varieties of meat and the 7 or 8 sides they serve. Grab a plate, pile it high, and it’s on!

A Chinese buffet restaurant in the United Stat...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One could make the argument that a traditional dim sum place is a buffet in reverse. Instead of you going to fill your plate from a variety of choices, the variety of choices are wheeled out to you and you choose as they go by. I don’t put salad bars into the buffet category since by definition they have a more limited focus.

My buffet strategy is to skip the “normal” foods (corn, mashed potatoes, cold cuts, etc.) and to focus on the more indigenous specialty items. I don’t want to fill up on food I could get anywhere while missing whatever makes this experience unique. After all, while I have a healthy appetite, I can’t eat everything, right?

That’s business point today. I remind many of my clients that they need to “step away from the buffet.” When you are a growing company and you have a smart, visionary leadership team, there is a tendency to want to try everything on the buffet table. In business, that means chasing down every apparent opportunity in an effort to grow. The reality is that no early- or mid-stage business can afford to do that. Resources are too precious and the time to get to profitability is ticking away. Stepping away from the buffet means having a business plan that’s focused on whatever problem it is that the business is solving for your market segment and sticking to it. Don’t take that to mean that you can’t adjust based on what you’ve discovering on your journey:  you must! But you also can’t keep changing direction as you spot another new hot plate being added to the buffet.

Like a large buffet, business can present an overwhelming number of choices. Our job as managers is to find the best of those choices that align with our business goals. It’s one thing to overeat at breakfast. It’s quite another to run out of resources before reaching sustained profitability. Step away from that buffet!

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Filed under Consulting

The Stain On Your Back

I’m going to be a little self-serving today, but it’s based on a comment someone made to me the other day. You’ll probably be able to figure out what the comment was as you read on.

Imagine that on your way to an appointment a drop of something – coffee from someone’s cup, condensation from an air conditioner – spills onto your shirt. You’d see it and deal with it immediately if it was on the front of your shirt. If it spills onto the back, you’d probably not even notice it until some kind-hearted soul mentions it. That, dear readers, is why you need people like me.

When I grew up in the business world, I had a lot of people coaching me. My immediate boss and his boss were always ready to encourage me (and not always in the nicest of tones) and help me to grow. They let me know where the less-visible (to me) stains were. That situation is less common today in a world where there are a million corporations of one as opposed to a large company. Today’s smaller companies have much less institutional memory from which they can draw as well as less personal experience on the part of the founders and employees.

Part of what I do is to coach. I’ve run into some potential clients who tell me that they don’t need coaching, just more hands to do the work. While the latter half of that statement is assuredly true, they also need someone to point out the stains on their backs. Most consultants I know don’t have a political agenda. We’re not after your job nor are we burdened with your past or present. We are charged with helping you and your business to grow. No, you can’t do the latter without doing the former. A business is only as good as the people managing it. My peers and I are there to look at your situation and to help you reach your goals.

I’ve been doing “business” for almost 40 years (yikes!). In that time I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve seen a lot of others do the same. I’ve seen great managers and horrible managers. Part of what clients pay me for is an insurance policy of sorts. My experience ensures them that they won’t have to make the same mistakes I did. They get the benefit of the learning without the pain of the experience. What I and my peers bring is why football teams have coaches up high in the stadium – to get a broader perspective.

Most professional golfers have swing coaches. All sports teams do too. The coaches aren’t caught up in the second to second physical involvement that sport requires. They can see and protect your back. I can do that too, by seeing the parts of you and your business that you can’t or won’t see and by letting you know what’s going on in those blind spots. Call me?

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Filed under Reality checks, Consulting

Misdirection (It’s Magic!)

When I was a kid I became fascinated with magic. As I attempted to learn trick after trick, what became clear to me was that the primary skill of the magician wasn’t so much manual dexterity as it was the ability to draw the audience’s attention to something very specific. One magician called it “the manipulation of interest”. I think of it as misdirection and as it turns out there is a really business point to it as well.

Top hat as an icon for magic

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a magician is trying to do is one of two things: either to get you to look away from what he is really doing for a split second or to reframe your perception so that you focus on a different reality, thinking that something has a lot to do with what’s going on when in fact it has nothing to do with it.

We see this in business all the time. Sometimes it’s benign, as when we’re distracted by a phone buzzing during a meeting. Sometimes it’s not so benign, as when the fine print of a deal is overshadowed by a blaring headline and attention-grabbing photo. I’ve been in meetings in which someone was completely unprepared for the topic of the meeting but managed to get the group distracted onto a side issue and he was never found out. You’ve probably witnessed something similar.

We can’t let distractions draw our attention away from what’s really going on. We can’t look at the obvious while the real business is going on elsewhere. More importantly, we can’t let others draw our attention away from something they’re doing that might have an impact on our business. We can’t let a nice suit distract us into thinking someone is successful – look at their track record. We can’t let someone’s ridiculous initial offer draw us away from our negotiating plan – maybe they’re trying to distract us through the misdirection of anger. We can’t let someone tell a lie as a distraction without correcting it but that also means we need to have facts at hand to avoid the misdirection.

Some folks are masters of controlling how others feel about and deal with them by controlling others’ focus. Don’t fall for it.

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints

Dreaming Again

I’ve posted what follows each year for the last few on the days we celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. This was written in January of 2009 as we prepared to put President Obama into office. Last year I expressed my disappointment that we hadn’t come further over the last few years, given the election of our first African-American President. Like many, I’m doing my best to remain hopeful for the immediate future, despite some troubling incidents. But we keep dreaming, right?

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week was actually Dr. King‘s birthday but since we’re celebrating it today I thought I’d add my two cents. I’m old enough to remember him and while he didn’t light the fire of the civil rights movement in the US (I’d say Rosa Parks is that hero), he certainly brought the fire to life and tended it well until his assassination (and I remember that as well – how horrible a day it was!).

What inspired me, a young (then) white kid was his notion of bringing a dream to reality. OK, the words and delivery were pretty inspirational too, even when you read them off a page. Yesterday the Inauguration Committee had a concert on the very place where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech to celebrate, nearly 46 years later, a big piece of that speech coming to reality. One can’t help but wonder what Dr.King would have felt and said – he certainly should still be alive – he’d just be turning 80.

Robert Kennedy said “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  I think that’s great business advice as well, even if George Bernard Shaw had the notion before Bobby.  Mark Twain wrote that Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

So today, I celebrate Dr. King’s dreaming of a better world and making it happen.  Tomorrow, we can watch it become real.  What are you dreaming of?  Can it be real?  Why not?  Or better – why not!!

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Filed under Reality checks, Growing up

Digging Out Of A Hole

Let’s begin the new year with some (more) sobering news. People think marketers suck and don’t trust us. Actually, that’s not a recent development according to the Gallup folks who conduct an annual poll about various professions and how they’re perceived. Since Gallup has been conducting the survey (as far back as at least 2001), “advertising practitioners” have always appeared near the bottom of the professional rankings:

When it comes to rating the honesty and ethical standards of people in various professions, American adults rate medical professionals highly. But advertising practitioners? That’s a different story. In fact, just 11% of adults rate advertising professionals highly for their honesty and ethics.

That’s from the Marketing Charts summary of the poll. You can see the chart listing the various professions off to the side. Is anyone shocked by these results? Let’s think for a minute about many of the prominent ad stories of the past few years. They’re a litany of theft and fraud but those don’t really affect consumers. The big consumer ad story is probably the rise of ad blocking which is a response to irresponsible behavior on much of the advertising/publishing ecosystem.

That’s just the online world. Offline, one needn’t look very far to find examples of “free” offers that require one to submit a credit card, businesses suing their customers for accurate but negative comments on social media, and just about any political ad this last year. Each of these things further reinforces the negative perception that this study finds.

It’s a new year, and every new year brings the possibility of fresh starts. Maybe this is a good time for any of us who make a living within the marketing community to start digging out of this perception hole? We can do so by reminding ourselves that our families and friends are the consumers we’re pitching. Would you try to run a scam on them? Would they find the ad you’re running offensive? For those of you not engaged in the ad business, you’d do well to ask yourself the same types of questions. My guess is that we’re going to hear a lot about ethics this year. Let’s try to make our profession a better example of the right kind of ethical behavior. You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, Huh?

Top Posts Of The Year #1

What follows is the most-read post I published during this past year. We’ll have the most-read Foodie Friday post tomorrow. Originally titled “Why I Might Have Unfollowed You,” I wrote this right after Election Day. I was sort of hopeful at the time that a lot of the vitriol and outright lying that had lead up to that day would stop. It didn’t and hasn’t, but having unfollowed a number of the worst offenders in my feed has helped. I’m also gratified that the concerns over “fake news” have grown large enough that they’re finally being addressed. Of course, I’m not sure some people branding The NY Times or other legitimate news outlets as fake moves the discussion forward. In any event, I’m glad that this was the most read post because it was really one of the most heartfelt ones I wrote this year.

I have been at this blogging thing for over 2,000 posts and 8 years (May of 2008, actually) and I’ve yet to write a political post. Today may be the closest I’ve come although obviously, I’ve used politics to help us appreciate some business points along the way.

I’ve stopped following a few people on Facebook in the last few days, something I’ve rarely done and usually only when the accounts get filled with spam. The folks I unfollowed are people I know personally – I tend not to be Facebook friends with most business associates or random friends of friends. I unfollowed them because this election has brought out the worst in them. I don’t mean that I disagree with their point of view. Many of my closest friends and I hold diametrically opposed political views. I mean that they’ve stopped supporting their views with any sort of facts and are choosing to ignore the facts when they’re presented to them. They are living in the horrible confirmational bias reality that tells them sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism are not only OK but the real voice of America as evidenced by this election.

They go on to criticize people for exercising their First Amendment rights to assemble and protest in vitriolic hateful posts. They continue to post outright lies which are easily disproven with a brief search. They dismiss sources such as CNN and the NY Times as biased and won’t believe anything they report, mostly because they disagree with them. They forget that a majority of America voted for a woman and a liberal agenda. Rather than contemplating how to be inclusive of that agenda as we move forward, they post about “taking back” the country, I guess from the majority who voted the other way. They fail to condemn miscreants who bully, threaten, and harm fellow citizens. Their children behave the same way in school. This is shameful, and denying the facts doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

So I unfollowed them. I welcome the opportunity to discuss politics with folks of all sides as long as we stick to the facts and don’t engage in ad hominem attacks. Hypocrisy is a no-no as well (look up what our newly-elected President was saying four years ago about the unfairness of a popular vote win not translating into an Electoral College win and how people should be marching in the streets!). Those are things I try to do in business as well and so should you. In the meantime, let’s remember that our system doesn’t deny the minority party any ability to influence policy (witness the last 8 years of Republicans slowing/changing/denying Obama‘s policies) and that in two years there’s another chance to change things again.

I’m sorry for using this platform to get his off my chest. I hope you’ve not had to unfollow folks and your friends are more rational than some of mine seem to be. I’m hoping everyone will just calm down a bit and work to be the change each of us wants to see in the world while not building walls. I don’t mean on our borders but those between our fellow citizens and ourselves. The people I unfollowed were doing just that and I’m not having any of it. You?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks