Playing With Tops…This One’s Not for Kids

Spinning tops are the mindless time wasters of old. All you do is give one a spin and whammo, instant mindless distraction. But you had better pay attention when tops in markets are being spun so fast in the verbal realm of the “smart crowd,” that even the toys themselves get jealous.

As some of you know I’ve said more than once I feel this whole stock market move over the last few years has been suspect. Although I’m absolutely comfortable in being proved wrong of late. It’s a cross I gladly bear. Yes I don’t mind being wrong, but I’m not wrong in how I came to my conclusions. I’m being proved wrong possibly in my timing, but my reasons why are still in play and have yet to be erased to the point of irrelevancy. How I came to my decisions, and why I wont turn my back on such conclusions is where I differ from most. (Some are utterly gleeful if they can point and say, see…see!) It’s too long to go into here, but it’s all in the archives on where I stand. I wont run and hide. But happily being proved wrong in this case means side stepping the possible chaos for markets, business, wealth, and so on. Trust me, I don’t want to be right. I live here too!

Imagine yourself trying to explain to someone why they shouldn’t step onto a frozen lake because you believe the ice is far to thin. Everyone you warn says “C’mon your wrong. Nothings happened. We do this all the time.” But you’ve been watching the thermometer. the glare from the sun, the way it hasn’t frozen all the way to the edge, and more. But, as long as no one has fallen through, even though everyone hears the cracking underfoot, you’re wrong! So I ask, do you want to be proven right?

Today the market feels like its hitting its head against a top. Who knows. Maybe we race to Dow 15 thousand, 20 thousand, a million, who knows. However when I start hearing financial guru’s and alike lining up on television to spout why no one should worry about oil prices, bond markets, inflation, and more because, (hold on to your seat!) “This time, it’s different!” I begin looking for the fall out shelters. Call me crazy, but it sends a chill up my spine. It’s the same wonderful insights they all gave right before oil went to $147.00 a barrel. They said don’t worry then also. Dow was around 15 thousand or so back then. Remember how that all worked out?

Maybe I better bring a yo-yo, and a top to the basement if they’re saying don’t worry, be happy again. But that’s just me I guess.

Mark

 

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Why Advertising Models need to Change

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and stay that way far too long. If there was ever a needed caveat to the old mantra, I believe I just said it. In today’s world of niche marketing, niche markets. micro-markets, and on and on, one thing seems constant, businesses of all types will try to attract clients based on models that either worked once before, or they’ll try and apply it to their business regardless of the absurdity. What seems obvious to me is just because some form of advertising seems inexpensive, (or should I say cheap) they think it’s better than no advertising at all. I firmly, and thoroughly disagree. Sometimes none is the better choice.

Television, radio, and print advertising is all in a state of flux. No longer can your prized commercial or ad be placed in full view of potential customers and quantify the ROI. (return on investment) Google proved the real value of mass advertising over the last few years. It worked at first, but as the internet is growing in age, so too are the ROI’s of buying banner ads and most other ways of drawing attention. They just aren’t worth it. (and they are really, really, really cheap now!) However most think theirs will be different so they spend anyways. In the end they find out they weren’t. But they feel like they did something, and you have to do something. Right? Besides you can always say to someone, “Did you see our ads?” You have that for a consolation prize.  Makes you feel like you did something useful I guess.

Here’s an example of what I think brings this point home. I received a mailer the other day. It came from a direct marketing campaign done by no other business than my local funeral home. Here’s an excerpt from the mailing:

“Win a Free iPad! Come visit us at ___________Funeral Home for a buffet style luncheon, and cocktails. We will have live entertainment featuring the ___________ String Quartet. Just register, and view our facilities for your chance to enter and win a free iPad the week of………”

If for some strange reason you think this was money well spent, and the message was helping the underlying business because you are saying to yourself, “I bet someone went!”, my guess would be you’re in the direct mail business. But wait, that’s a dying business so I guess they really are a good match. Right?

Mark

 

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

The Danger of Self-Imposed Isolation

People or tastes changing from generation to generation is of course a given. But today here’s what I find strange. As instant connectivity has brought people together in ways unimaginable just a few years ago, it seems more and more these same people are choosing to live and interact in isolation. Here are just a few examples: Cars, social networks, personal stereos, smart phones, etc. And now to bolster my thesis, Discos with headphones! Yes, a disco where everyone has their own set of headphones so one can tune into their own music mix. Take the headgear off and all you’ll see are people dancing, and all out of step with one and other like a bad dance film. Scarier still is the dance hall is glaringly quiet. It’s an odd scene to say the least. It would seem the shared experience appears to be morphing into the experience of synchronicity. And that’s a problem.

I can hear some of you saying, “Hold on. How can social networks be used as an example? That’s interaction. How can that be isolation?” Well, here’s how I see it. Just because you post or text a message to someone doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is the same as talking across a table to one and other. Social interaction is a face to face experience, not something connected by wires. Oh sure, you can tell your friends about last nights party, but you can also put embellishments on the details without the questioning of validity that you would get in a face to face conversation. That’s a polite way of saying, you can lie easier. The flip side is you can be much more vehement in your dislikes of someones opinion on a subject, or of their tastes or beliefs. Again that’s another polite way of saying, you can be a jerk much easier than ever before. Another thing that seems to be prevalent is the act of vicariously living through ones home page on these networks. Everybody seems to  have some story book life by what they’re posting, but I believe it to be more fairy tales than anything else. Call me cynical, but I bet I’m closer in my observation than the people actually posting their own “status.”

The ability to interact is not something that should be looked upon as some old tradition. It’s a necessary skill that must not only be developed, but continually honed. Manners, proper attire choices, small talk with strangers just to name a few, are skills that can make all the difference in moving up the ladder, or sliding down the chute. They’re not only important, they’re paramount in mastering if one wants to get ahead.  You can not learn or practice these skills in an isolated environment, you must interact face to face and put yourself in there no matter how uncomfortable you might feel. Personally I still feel uncomfortable at social events, but I can interact with anyone I meet regardless of the venue. It’s a necessary life skill not to be taken lightly. Besides, as you learn and get better in these interactions, you can always update your wall stating, “Had a great time, can’t wait to do it again!” even if you didn’t.

No man is an island, nor should any dance floor sound like a morgue.

Mark

 

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Supply and Demand, All You Need to Know

The old adage “Fool me once shame on you, Fool me twice shame on me!” might have far more consequences than most care to ponder. In financial markets or for that fact, any vehicle that has the aura of “You can get rich” attached to it, does not adhere to the same principles or rules that one assumes to be in play. Everyone believes that the law of supply and demand works for all markets the same way. Guess what? They’re wrong. Let me show you why.

Basic assumption: Create a widget, as more consumers buy pricing goes lower because of savings or efficiencies in manufacturing, distribution, and so on. More brands come in to compete based solely on the “I can work on smaller margins than you can.” mentality, which drives prices down even further. A great example is the flat screen TV revolution. Remember when they were $3000.00 or you go home with nothing? Supply and demand model at work as most understand it. However, let’s use something else that flies in the face of what you think to be true all the time. Financial products.

Here’s where everything gets turned upside down. I’ll use the stock market for this example. As a stock comes to market there are the early adopters, the first ones in. They get in with the assumption that their purchase is at the bottom of the price curve, or the discounted end, and the supply is sharply limited. As a demand from others begins to take place in their wanting to purchase, supply begins to get added to the market. (adding shares to be sold to the public) Guess what? Prices don’t go down, they go UP! The more they produce, the higher they go. Why? Because it’s not a widget based formula, it’s an emotional based formula. And the two are not the same. It’s counter intuitive for most to grab hold of which is why it can be so financially devastating to the unsuspecting investor. The higher it goes in price, the more people want in on the deal. Double, triple, quadruple the offering and it seems you can’t make enough supply to feed the emotional buy in…Till it hits the wall!

The wall I refer to is that point when everyone who could buy, did buy. And here is where the wall meets the fan. And it’s usually not pretty. If you now want to cash in those profits you have to sell, but now you’re surrounded by hordes of bag holders just like yourself looking to get someone to take their bag first before you have a chance to sell yours. Now the rule of supply and (No) demand comes into play. And because it’s all emotionally based, panic starts to creep in feeding upon itself with a rush not to be the last person holding a bag. The final result usually ends with not only many people holding bags, but they now have to pay some refuse company to take it away. Remember Enron? There were people still trying to sell their bags after the company declared itself out of business. That falls into the “Greater Fool Theory” and that’s for another column.

So when trying to grasp different theoretical models just keep this in mind. The difference between the two models is this. If your wrong or early in buying a TV you still may have the TV to watch, but if you’re wrong or early in financial products, you may not have any money to pay the cable bill. And the models worth watching are on cable.

At least that’s what I hear others say.

Mark

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Protests at Home or Abroad…and What it means to Your business.

This is not about whose right, wrong, or anything else of that nature. This is about your business. Doesn’t matter what you do, whether you’re a CEO of a large global corporation, or an employee with an entrepreneurial mind-set. Either way you have to look at these events in a very different manner than most. No, not to capitalize on them, but how to avoid possible financial ruin or other disruptions because of them.

As we’ve seen over the last few weeks things can change at any time, and for many reasons that seemed near improbable. The problem for many in business, is they can find themselves smack dab in the middle of protests, fighting, looting, and a host of other things that one never dreams of happening, till it does!

Many coveted retail or office locations are right in the heart of any city and that’s usually where any gathering or protests will be. What happens to your business, your employees, your retail stores, your customers if for no reason than just being at the center causes damage to your infrastructure, or people?

We are seeing today like at no other time in history technology has enabled connectivity en mass. If you’ve been following the news as of late, you can’t help but be awed in the speed and power of such demonstrations. But I need you to change your thought process and water cooler subject from, “Have you seen the news?” to “Do we have a contingency plan for our business if disrupted?” Trust me, I’m not trying to be callous. The reason for the events are for others to discuss, I want you to be pragmatic in how you can protect either your people or business. If a protest broke out in front of one of your locations would you or could you shutter it down? Who would be in charge of such an undertaking? Would you be reliant on the cleaning crew to make sure the doors were locked? Would you send senior staff, or a combination there of? I hope you’re getting my point. If you have, or are in business, you can no longer leave such a discussion as, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” because what is being demonstrated is there may be No bridge!

As professionals one must always hope for the best, but plan for the worst. That’s not to say you create some committee derived, bullet pointed, and bound code book that must be signed off by top staff and the cook who carries the secret decoder ring. What is far more important is that you have an honest roundtable discussion with either yourself, or some pertinent staff members that can theorize some sort of outline. It needn’t be perfect because situations such as these are always fluid, but it’s far easier to direct the water if you have an understanding where the banks might be.

If technology can demonstrate how fast it can bring about disruptive change, than the same must be viewed on how you can use technology to step aside of that disruption and try your best to protect your people, or your property.

Not only might you be thankful for being ahead of the crowd, but so might everyone else that depends on your products, or services. And that’s smart business.

Mark

 

© 2011 Mark St.Cyr  All Rights Reserved

Sorry to See, but there it is!

First let me start with one of my axioms:

Death of a Business……

“First, the business forgets its customer…….

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

Over a year ago, I wrote an article about my experience with a bookstore chain that I had been a “customer” of for years. The experience in my last visits were not only frustrating, but as time past seemed down right comical. Now it’s just a sad tale of squandered business opportunities for the retailers of books. ( Here are the direct links to the original articles… Article Part 1 ….. Article Part 2 )

Today it was announced the book store chain Borders was filing for bankruptcy. Although I’m saddened, I’m not surprised. Are you? Since I wrote the original articles over a year ago I have not been back to visit or buy another book. Not only have I not purchased anything in the store, I have not bought anything online with them either. As a matter of fact, I receive more discounts or coupons that I can use today than when I was an active customer. Not only do I not use them, I no longer even visit their website. I just don’t care. What’s really the final illustration of this point? I’m stating this as I hold a gift card in my wallet that was a gift that I have yet to redeem. I really could care less. Some may be asking themselves “ that shouldn’t make you stop reading?” Point is..I haven’t. I’ve read, and purchased dozens of books since my last visit there, just not with them, and remember, I have a gift card in my wallet.

Say what you want about hard economic times, format changes, changes in taste, changes in what ever. The change that made a great retailer change from profitable to insolvent was the change in strategy from a customer driven focus, to just some policy driven focus.

The glaring lesson to be learned from their story is it looks like they kept the customer service manuals either in the mystery, or science fiction section. But we all know how this thing turns out in the end. To bad it’s now an obituary.

Mark

Consistent Inconsistencies

Say what you will about the economy, say what you will about the stock market, say whatever you like about my warning calls, but what you can’t say is “I have no clue.” Have we now entered Bizarro World, or has everyone lost the ability of critical thinking?

I am stunned at how people will verbally contort themselves into rationalizing what they don’t understand into what they believe must be true. It’s as if 2008 never happened, it’s as if everything is back to normal. They’re acting as if ” only they get it..everyone else is too dumb.” If you pose a question to ask a legitimate point in reference to their statements, you might as well have insulted their mother, because that’s how you’re going to be treated. Lucky for me, I’ve seen this movie before.

Being on the forefront or cutting edge of anything is not for the faint of heart. Having an opinion is one thing, but having or creating plans of advice that are actionable or workable is quite another, and for that you need verifiable data. All this brings me back to a statement I wrote in Harry Potter tongue in cheek fashion. “That which shall not be spoken…The numbers don’t add up!

A few years back I was asked to speak and participate on a panel. Attending were some of the largest companies in the U.S. who were rolling out new marketing ideas and commercials that were to splash across all forms of media nation wide that year. At the time, everyone in attendance was giddy about recent sales and market share. Things looked very compelling from an outside view, however what they were no longer interested in talking about was the doldrums they had been in for years before this event. Before the event many were barely profitable, and even more had closed or gone bankrupt, but all were now convinced the “Good Times” were here again and the past be damned. I thought that was foolish, and said so. The response to my statement? ….(insert cricket chirps here.)

As I have stated over, and over again, I hope the economy is on the right track. I hope that the happy feelings that some are feeling never leave, however I can’t drink the “KoolAid” If all was well then why must the Federal Reserve continue with QE2 or else all Armageddon will happen? (there’s now talk of QE3!)  If everything is just ducky, then why was a drop in unemployment looked upon with skepticism? If all is just grand, why are we worried about Municipal Bonds or States defaulting? Another point to remember is the SEC in their investigation of the so-called Flash Crash found nothing nefarious or mechanically wrong that triggered it, so the possibility of it happening again is still on the table. (most have forgotten or ignored that one.)  All this is just scratching the surface, but it’s falling on deaf ears or worse, closed minds.

No one knows the future, and those who say they do should be viewed with a skeptics eye. But what you can’t ignore is data as if it never happened, that’s just stupid in my book. As for that conference I was asked to speak at? Weeks later their market fell apart, their profits fizzled, and a few made headlines in some of the largest corporate bankruptcies in the U.S.

So much for avoiding the punch bowl I guess.

Mark

Why Leaders Matter, and Followers Just follow

Leading is a hard job. Leading during tough times is even harder. Cross both of those with a leader with vision, and you have rare talent indeed.

Steve Jobs of Apple doesn’t follow, He Leads….Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. doesn’t follow, He Leads. Apple has become the second largest company per market cap in the United States. News Corp. is dominating media market share, and profitability while everyone else is near insolvency, or even worse, irrelevancy. All currently being done in the so-called worst of times to be in business.

The continuous pounding over the air waves and papers of the economy not doing all that well, unemployment high, government actions being scorned in the business world, doesn’t seem to be effecting these two greats like the rest. Want to take a guess why? It’s because…They Lead, They Take Control, They Find a Way or Make one!

Just about everyone on television and around business tables scoffed at the iPad. All fell into that “group think” and laughed about its funny name and how it would be a flop. As some of you that have followed my work know, I was not among them. As I stated right here on this blog back on March 6, 2009, “I believe not only will the iPad not be a flop, but it will be revolutionary!” I also had written a response to some comments from one of my articles in Forbes.com …CEO Network on some complaining about being a CEO in these tough times. I wrote December 6, 2009… “Rupert Murdock the famed business mogul is currently in the so-called “worst of times” when every other business is hoping, and praying that revenues wont fall, or that the turmoil is subsiding enough for them to make the case why they shouldn’t be fired, Mr Murdock is taking the boldest of action stating in no uncertain terms to such juggernauts like Google and others that if you want to carry anything linked to his business, you’ll have to PAY…or stop linking to it…Period!” No other leader had dared make such a declaration.

It is apparent to me today on this February morning 2011 that one of the most important themes dominating business today is, How can we get in on that?

If that’s your most important question, you’re not in the Leader category.

Mark

Wet Blankets…More useful than most think!

Wet blankets can apply to its obvious namesake, but it can also apply to a moniker  such as “That guy is a wet blanket.” Most will avoid the so-called wet blanket like the plague. In most cases I totally agree. There is no sense in hanging around or being influenced by someone who’s nothing more than a doom and gloomer. The caveat that needs to be applied for many is this…are they truly the… Doom and gloom personality type?..or …They counter point everything I say type?

Try this thought experiment, what would happen to a company that was made up of no one else but pure sales people? I can hear many of you saying “YES!” but would it really be as wonderful as we might think? Sales people either by nature or nurture are the most optimistic among us. They have to be, if they weren’t, they would be burned out in a heartbeat. That said, salespeople can also justify using every last resource a company has to make a sale. Sales people can project how they will make it all back on the “next” sale. But would that be good all the time, and unbridled in its usage?

There are times when we need someone to say “lets just think this through”, There are also times when someone needs to say “we’ve already spent enough.” Then there are the important times when someone must say “did we get paid yet, and did the check clear?” All wet blanket statements, all needed at certain times for the good of everyone.

Keeping the flame lit in the go-getters heart is important for both a company, and the person. Letting a flame turn into an uncontrolled wild-fire that threatens to consume every last resource is not in anyones best interest. It’s always been a balancing act, it’ll always be a balancing act. Without proper controls, burnout happens both with people and with resources.

Stoke the fire, keep the precautions handy, you’ll need both.

Mark

When Things You May Need…becomes…The Clutter You Keep

Unless you’re a devout follower of the minimalist lifestyle, I’ll bet…you’ve got some.

Let me be the first to put my hand up… Hello, my name is Mark…and I have a hard time getting rid of anything I believe can come in handy, ever! All joking aside, there comes a time when the move from being thrifty or prepared moves to the realm of hording junk. Trust me, I can look at the twist tie that came on my loaf of bread and think, hmm I might need that to hold some cables together. Yep, just being thrifty…not!

I’m one who takes pride in being prepared. I enjoy the feeling that if I need something in an emergency that I have something  I can work with till I’m able to get what I really need. (My wife calls me Boy Scout) But at some point it can become counter productive, here’s an example…

Years back I had a conversation with a coworker who said “I bet you’re one of those guys who has cans of saved nuts and bolts.” I replied..yes I do. In which he returned with “I bet I can go to the hardware store and get the exact one I need in less time than it takes you to sift through all your saved ones, and mine will be brand new.” I had to admit it’s a good point. However I said to myself, what happens when the stores are closed, and you need it now? I chalked one up for me, but when I returned home his words were still ringing in my head. Just how “right” was he I asked myself. My conclusion, 90/10 because what I did was discard 90% of the saved items and kept 10% for the “just in case” day. In reality that was all I really needed. It cleared valuable shelf space, allowed me to quantify what I truly had on hand, and also made the space look a lot more spiffy, and I was still prepared for an emergency. Not too shabby I thought to myself.

Many of us keep clutter around that makes us less productive than we notice. We purchase another file drawer to hold papers that we will never need. We hold onto older laptops because “you never know.” We have desk drawers full of things that one has to rummage through like a prospector mining for gold. Last but not least, how many useless email addresses, computer files, discontinued or broken bookmark links and alike are sitting on your machine right now at this moment?

Clean up the clutter, give away the older mp3 players that you’ve stuck in the drawer, give away the 2 laptops that are sitting in the other room unused. Donate the books you’ve read that you know you’ll never read again. There’s nothing more freeing than getting clutter out of your life, but you only realize the benefit after you’ve cleaned house.

So what are you waiting for?

Mark