The coming “Revolution”

It’s coming, and it’s coming fast. No…not of the political, but of the electronic.

Apple’s new iPad will be hitting the shelves soon. They are already in the hands of the test market so any kinks can be vetted before major release. I think this product is a game changer, but I’m not sure if the media that needs it most will adopt or exploit it like they should. My reasoning for this? The iPod.

In a perfect world (business that is)  a breakthrough product or service will be implemented by the company that benefits the most from its creation. Most think there is some type of Skunk Works area residing in the bowels of all corporate companies with people huffing, and fussing. All just trying to implement better products, better service, and so on. Well sorry to say, there isn’t, but deep down you knew that anyway, didn’t you?

The ones that should have been the early adopters, and exploiters of the iPod was of course the music industry. However that was not the case. They did have many secret areas for huffing and puffing, but it was primarily for  complaining and nothing more. Last time I looked, I think they were still arguing about Napster. Go figure.

iPad in my estimation could be the biggest breakthrough for magazines, and newspapers. Yes you read correctly, that’s who I think can benefit the most. I believe the iPad if utilized correctly can be the driving force in reinventing that media, and delivering a better product that’s profitable for the industry as a whole. However, if history is any guide, the industry who could benefit the most will likely be the ones complaining the loudest about how unfair the fight is, and why they need to protect their turf and stand pat.

To sign up and volunteer for this fight…..Just log into iTunes!

Mark

***Look for the podcast edition of “Thinking Aloud” coming soon for more thoughts on this subject.

Will a Historic Vote clarify…or cloud more issues?

Last night was a historic night indeed. No matter what side you’re on, the passing of the Health Care Reform Act changes the game in ways that most think they understand. I firmly believe most don’t.

If you’re an employer, I know you’re nervous about the implications, and your seeking advice before you make a move (as so you should). If you’re an employee, you’re hoping this helps you, but you really can’t tell as of yet. (and that creates more anxiety than you had before its passage). So what is one to do? Right now, the answer might be the worst of all possible outcomes,…nothing! That’s correct, nothing, and here’s why…

If I employ people, I have no idea what that employee will cost me today or in the future. No matter what’s in the press…No One knows! If you’re looking for work and need a job that’s not good news because even if someone needs your services, they are not going to hire quickly, nor hire by chance, period! To make this point clearer think of it this way. If a building was on fire and you needed a fireman, logic dictates you’ll hire the first one who applies so that the fire can be subdued as quickly as possible. Save the building first, worry about the rest second. That’s not what you’ll find as of today. It will be more to the effect of, Do we really need that building after all? Does it make sense to pay for all that equipment to save it, or the man power to contain it? What are our liabilities for letting it burn in comparison to paying personnel that expands the payroll to fight it? All the while, the building continues to burn, maybe to the point where any decision no longer matters. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? However…Is it really that far off from reality? Think about it.

Mark

Thinking Aloud… Episode 1 “Stock Market Highs?”

Thinking Aloud is a new addition that features spontaneous insights (or rants) hosted by Mark on current events. They’ll be posted here once or twice a week. Maybe more…maybe less, but for those who’ve asked, “I wonder what Mark thinks?” well..here’s the place to find out. These are short, poignant off the cuff podcasts, or vidcasts that are delivered in typical Mark fashion. No holds barred, no retakes, just … “Mr. Engineer….Please Hit Record!”

https://markstcyr.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/thinking-aloud-3162010mp3.mp3


Forget about “This Time it’s Different”………..

This time is not only different, but it will be unlike anything anyone has seen never mind remember.

Many have argued that the recovery is now on firm ground. Others are tripping over themselves to point at so-called leading indicators. However what I truly find fascinating is that when I speak to someone about their own circumstances on spending, vacations, investment, or work just to name a few, they seem nervous to down right scared. That is…. if they are over the age of 40. If they’re under the age of let’s say 35…maybe even 30…they have no understanding or frame of reference with economic hard times.

I watched on television the other day where a young woman who had recently graduated from college and was job searching decided after 6 months she was “quitting the job search routine” because in her words … she was worth far more than anyone was offering, and spent much to long acquiring her degree to just get a job. (I’m paraphrasing but you get the point.) She is currently living in her parent’s basement apartment, and she plans taking the summer off to see what happens in the fall. I was speechless! And that’s saying something for me.

We have come to a juncture where not one, but possibly two generations of young adults have no understanding of economic uncertainty. They only have a reference in which parents always have extra money to loan or give them. Parents always have a home they can move back into. Jobs are plentiful, and they don’t have to apply themselves, just show up and you’ll be paid great wages, and get great perks. That is not today’s environment, and it will catch many of these younger adults off guard to say the least.

I believe more than ever, it’s time to sit the kids down and explain what is really going on. If the young adults have no frame of reference, or no true understanding of economic uncertainties, than it’s all of our responsibility to try and explain without sounding like the proverbial adult who shouts “ When I was younger, I walked to work 10 miles barefoot in a blizzard, and uphill both ways, and enjoyed it.”

Mark

Manners?…We don’t need no stinkin’ manners!

My apologies to the characters in the movie “The Three Amigos” for a little word play on their classic spoken line, but it just seemed to put everything into context.

Is it me, or has anyone over the age of let’s say 45 noticed that no one, and I mean no one displays anything that resembles simple manners? Hold the door open for you as your entering a store just 3 feet behind them? Nope, the door just about cracks you in the nose. Someone walks into you while they are texting or fumbling with today’s newest electronic gadget? Nope! They look up at you as if to say ” Why weren’t you watching where I was walking?” I could go on and on, but you get the point. It really has become a forgotten aspect of common decency. It also demonstrates to everyone except the perpetrator, they’re just classless.

Whether your rich or poor, simple manners are a prerequisite in demonstrating to others that your parents might have tried to bring you up properly. My Mother never “hit” me as a child, but the crack across the back of the head to show I was being ignorant doesn’t qualify as “hitting” in my book. It was called “Mind your manners!”….and I’m grateful she did. Having manners are not only a reflection on me, but more important on my Mother.

Thanks for reading,

Mark

10 Billion Downloads…..and they still don’t get it!

Last week iTunes announced it’s 10 Billionth ( yes that’s a B!) music download. The funny thing is, iTunes charges for every single one. That little fact seemingly falls on deaf ears, and those ears belong to the music industry itself. The so-called “Industry” no longer exists as it once did, but listening to them you would think otherwise.

Yes, I understand piracy, I understand protection from thievery, I get all that , and I’m a proponent of artist rights and compensation, again I get it! Whats been the downfall for the “Industry” is while they’ve spent their time complaining, a company unaffiliated with the industry turned it on its head, and found a way to not only charge, but to get customers to pay.

There’s a great lesson there for anyone who will listen.

Mark

(P.S. I thought it was fantastic the download was for a Johnny Cash song!)

Brag what you Can Do..Not what you know!

It’s one thing to attend a highly credited school and learn the disciplines of architecture, medicine, accounting, etc. Having a  fundamental understanding is needed before venturing out and putting people at risk. I think you understand my thoughts on this without delving any deeper. However, a PhD in Liberal Arts with NO work experience is not getting you anywhere in today’s business environment.

Most haven’t noticed the paradigm shift taking place in the working world. Everything from this day forward will be results, and results only, Period! If you can demonstrate you’re a producer, you’ll have the equivalent of writing your own ticket, even in the most challenging of times. You want to be one of the highest paid and most coveted employees in this new world? Be a sales person and produce. Want to move up the ladder of corporate America? Do the work or tasks that no one else will. Never let into your vocabulary the words “That’s not my job.” Keep a running tab on projects you’ve worked on, problems you’ve solved that increased revenues, or decreased expenses. Be a student of learning, and learn anything you can apply to generating revenue. If you find yourself working for an employer that doesn’t appreciate your going above and beyond, fire the employer and find a new one, or create the company yourself. Nothing else is now going to matter except results, results, results! There just wont be any time nor room for anything else, because nearly everything else will mean bankruptcy for most.

Mark

“Initial Quality Awards” don’t count as your final grade.

Let’s take a trip shall we? Let’s go back in time. A time when one company dominates the business landscape, and another young upstart comes onto the scene trying to get noticed. Yes, it’s a David and Goliath story (most are!) appearing near futile for the seemingly weaker upstart. The newcomer is seriously out-gunned. It hasn’t the marketing power, nor does it have the economies of scale, let alone anything else that might compete against the behemoth market brand dominator. But it does have one thing, and that’s the once again found commitment to the customer. I did not say the company, I said the customer! Here’s why that is so important……

You hear all the time ” Brand X is committed to company excellence” Countless books are written and dedicated to making companies more efficient and profitable for the sake of the company, not for the sake of the customer. TV ads run with slogans ringing of pride throughout. They flash red white, and blue. They play great background music. They spend millions if not billions trying to make you feel wonderful about the company. Executives beam from ear to ear looking upon the business landscape as mighty victors who have conquered the marketplace, resolute in their opinions of supremacy backed up by data supplied from sales. Then…..It happens……What I see as the ….“Roh Ro”…. moment.

Out of seemingly nowhere a problem arises. It could be anything from a quality defect such as a touch or feel issue ( think paint or button feel) or the issue could be far more serious such as safety. In the case of an electronic device a hardware crash, or any number of  peripheral issues. With that being said it’s not the problem that’s the problem. It’s how the company responds to the problem, and to what lengths will it go to fix it.

Customers have a great sense of value. The old adage of “Build it and They will come” has validity. What companies forget is a customer Pays Upfront for the perceived value in a product. They pay on demand, at the point of sale. They pay for what you said your product is, and does. Congratulations! Your marketing worked, you have a customer. However, what a fancy smansy marketing campaign can never do, is reverse the negative sentiment or impression the customer gets when they feel you no longer have their best interest at heart. True customers understand, you get what you pay for, but if they paid for something that is no longer inherent in the product because of cost cutting, profit maximizing, corporate mismanagement, they’re gone! Quite possibly gone forever. Even if they do return, they will never again give your product or service the benefit of any doubt, whether it be price, quality, or problem resolution, ever!

Remember I asked you to take a trip back at the beginning? Do you remember the Tylenol (R) incident, or you heard of it? It’s pretty much the Holy Grail of how a company should react to a problem. It was masterful and genius both, and was truly the right way to handle such a monumental problem for both customer, and company combined. To this day, I still pay up for the Tylenol (R) brand on the store shelf. Here’s another case in point that I had personally. I purchased my niece an Apple iPod (R) for her birthday a few years back. After over a year of use, it just froze and became unusable. She was heart-broken. With no receipt, she walked into an Apple (R) Store in a mall where she lives. It was not purchased there, nor was it purchased by her. She didn’t lie and tell them she just bought it or anything like that ( also she was only 14 and that usually results in a disregarding tone to be used by corporate decree!). She was only looking to see if someone at the store might know why, or know a trick to unfreeze the device. The clerk took the item into the back and showed it to others, but no one could figure out why it had frozen. Without any crazy stories, or any other song and dance routine, the clerk stated that they needed to send the device back to their labs for testing to find out why. Then, the clerk simply placed a brand new iPod (R) into her hand and said, Sorry for the inconvenience,  but thank you for buying an Apple (R). She left not having to fill out any paperwork, or sign any claim forms, nothing! Just walked out with a brand new one.

How can you tell when a brand has become company focused rather than customer focused? When problems arise the “Company focused” entity runs behind closed doors hoping the problem resolves itself…..The “Customer focused” entity, swings the doors wide open in an effort to resolve the problem for its customer and itself.

On a side note, as I replace my computers and other gadgets, if they weren’t Apple (R) to begin with…They are now. Regardless of the price. Maybe they’re onto something over there that others should take note of.

Mark

When Reality Bites…..It Bites Hard!

Excerpt from my article July 14, 2009 “They’re on TV so they must be smart”

You know what the difference is between an Economist/Analyst…and a Businessman………When a Businessman makes a prediction on his business and predicts wrong……The business could wind up in Bankruptcy……..When the Economist/Analyst makes a wrong prediction…..They just make another prediction.

When you’re in a place such as I, that people actually pay you for advice or insights, you inevitably have to deal with the so-called “Smart Crowd” These are the people who try to disprove everything you say based on what I call psycho dribble. This is not to say that I am always right. It’s not to say I don’t make mistakes. Trust me, I’ve made more blunders than most and have paid dearly for them both financially, and personally. With that being said it’s also the basis for some of my insights or forecasts. The difference between myself and  others is that I learned from my mistakes. I understood that the best made plans no matter how well thought out, can still go awry. The so-called “Intelligentsia” crowd doesn’t. They are the ones who argue the  pie in the sky forecasts of others, have no original thought on positions,  and they just take their cues from what they see in the newspaper and on TV. Only to regurgitate it as if it was all based on their own life experiences. Conversations ( that usually turn antagonistic, but not by me) with this type usually start like this……..

“Well Mark, did you ever add into your hypothesis that Mr. So and So on TV said that we could experience a blah, blah , blah…and he’s considered one of the smartest people on such matters?”

To which I respond….” why is Mr. So and So regarded as an oracle in your estimation. It is my understanding that he has “Never” worked outside academia, and until recently has just started making guest appearances on the  financial news shows. I ‘ve listened to his views, but they all come from theoretical positions on business , not real business acumen.

It could be funny if it weren’t sad. What usually happens next is now equal to a steel cage death match by the other party trying to defend the status of their oracle, not the wisdom of following their advice.

Back in August of last year (2009) I wrote 2 other articles. Below are 2 excerpts…….

“Party like it’s 1999″……August 6, 2009

“Some  commentators on the financial talk shows have now declared ” We have entered a New Bull Market!”. I heard one state… “Dow 15000 here we come!” and on, and on. So now you’re asking, but didn’t I see on the cover of a national magazine that they declared the recession over?….Yes you did!…and that’s why I feel the worst is yet to come.”

“On the Record for the Record”….August 23, 2009

“But once again…The experts all touted…” A sure sign you’re in a new Bull Market is when it can shake off bad news.”…..I say…Oh Really?…I heard others stating…” Well the stock market is a forward-looking indicator”….again I say ” Oh Really?’….When the market was falling at a rate not seen since the Great Depression, what was it predicting then Hmmmmmm? I guess I’m suppose to not believe the account statements, and 401k statements my friends were howling about because…The market didn’t understand then…It’s sorry now, and wants to make amends….I say Rubbish!”

Back then a lot of people couldn’t wait to show how wrong I was, and how their so-called “oracles” really understood the big picture. If you go back and read my articles, I think one can say my views have demonstrated a more reality based hypothesis than the opinions relayed on TV, or other “Financial News” articles.

As of  today being February 13, 2010. The stock market has nearly wiped out all the financial gains since August 2009 ( Dow fell below and closed under 10, 000 during the week. 10 trading days to obliterate 5 months of profit or gains) and I believe poised for a further decline that will leave all the so-called “Smart Crowd” scratching their heads wondering why this took place. Or a better metaphor might be “scratching their chin”. I heard you do that if you want to look serious, or look like an intellectual. I’m just saying.

For me, I would rather deal with reality, leave the chin scratching for the classroom. Besides, reality is where the classroom gets the funding to theorize. Without solvency, there is no time to ponder what ifs.

Mark

“How Not to Increase Sales”……Part 2

Death of a Business……

“First, the business forgets its customer…….

Then, the customer forgets the business.” ……..Mark St.Cyr

I originally wrote of an experience I had with a vendor that in some cases teetered on the brink of foolishness. I have changed my opinion, and want to state clearly so there’s no misinterpretations. Foolishness was a little light. A better term would either be, ridiculous or just plain stupid. Let me explain…..

I originally wrote about how I tried to buy an item online from a vendor (you’ll remember, I PAY a membership fee for the privilege!) and in that transaction I noted they were allowing anyone to receive the same pricing as their best customers, and how that affected someone like myself who had to pay for the privilege, and the repercussions it might entail for the company. (read the January archived article for the details.) I thought it was over and couldn’t get worse. Boy was I mistaken.

Since the last article here’s what happened in chronological order….

1. I cooled off after a couple of weeks and decided to order the book anyway. ( I’m a fan of Seth Godin, and this was his latest book, more why this is relevant as the tale unfolds.)

2. I receive emailed discount coupons (remember I pay for the privilege) so  I decided maybe I should use it on the purchase. At least it would be a token to make me feel better since now anyone gets my price.

3. At check out I enter my coupon, low and behold it accepts it. Only problem is, if I used my super secret, double decoder ring membership special pricing, it increases the price! That’s right, because it takes the price down cents below the free shipping price. So now I have to pay more than anyone else. Makes one feel just special, don’t you think?

4. At this point I’m mashing my teeth through this ordeal and decide I’ll use the convenient “Pick it up at the store” option. Maybe since now there’s no shipping, they’ll possibly, and I mean possibly let me use my discount. Trust me I was not holding my breath, but it was worth the shot.

5. I get to the store and wala..They have the book reserved. (Read archive for why this was a surprise.) I take the book and decide while there I will shop for a few other things.

6. I go to the register with not one, but three more items only to find out…..wait for it……….Not only do I have to pay more than the anyone who is breathing price, and more than the screw you “Mr. Sucker Membership Holder” price, but yes,…………..Even more!

You can not make this stuff up, and here’s the kicker. This epic tale is about trying to purchase a book by the author Seth Godin (who’s marketing insights I respect.) and who recently wrote on his blog insights why he believes the so-called “Book Stores” might be dead, and the fact this story revolves around trying to buy one of his products is just plain ironic.

So to wrap it up here’s the lesson. If you want to just kill your business, and tick off your best customers in these economic times, or any time ……..

Step 1. Make them feel like Suckers for Paying for a privilege of getting discounts that you’ll in turn give to anyone for FREE.

Step 2. Show them over and over in as many ways possible that they are “Suckers” not “Preferred” customers, as often as you can across all your P.O.S. (point of sale) outlets or platforms.

Step 3 . Have many manager and staff meetings to ponder the reasons why sales are down.

Step 4. Implement more foolish sales gimmicks because they sound good.

Step 5. Keep all your front line store clerks in the dark so when it’s explained to them by a ticked off “Membership paying” customer, they can either agree with how moronic your gimmick is, or they’ll just stand there like deer in the headlights signaling they don’t care, because they don’t. They’re not empowered to do anything about it, so they’ll just have to stand there and listen. They’ll shrug their shoulders agreeing with how foolish the policy is, and hope there isn’t another customer to wait on so they can get back to texting, or yakking it up with another non-empowered employee.

Step 6. While planning your companies great “Marketing and Sales” strategies, don’t give any thought about your bread and butter clients because you wont need to. They’ll all be there at the “Going Out Of Business Sale”. Because nothing attracts a crowd, like a crowd. Now that’s marketing you can stick with. Don’t worry about my consulting fee. It’s the least I can do for one of my “Preferred Clients”…   Right?

Mark