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

When Quitting is Better than Winning.

That’s right, I made no mistake in the headline. There are times when one must “throw in the towel” to win. Sounds a little convoluted, but if you read on a little further you’ll find it’s not, and why sometimes quitting can also save your sanity.

How many of us remember an argument we had with either a customer, family member, friend, or dread the thought…an In Law, where you remember the discussion becoming let’s say….testy. Then it became almost combative, because all of your response is against verbal accusations that weren’t even part of the original discussion. As the argument progresses you realize you’re trying to defend, defending yourself! Once you realize this moment, you must cease and desist. You will never win the argument, and more often than not it’s your sanity that’s weakened, not theirs. Here’s an example of a typical ( but not limited to) discussion that goes awry.

You’re speaking with ____________ (fill in the blank) and they say, “Yes, but you think that way because you’re a jerk.”  You respond to  defend yourself, but now you’re a little more combative in your answer because you feel insulted. The other person now elevates their assertiveness, and begins to argue about how rude or ticked off they now feel because of your combative way, the whole time they’ll insist that it was you that started things. As you try to remind them they insulted you first, they respond with lines such as..”You were the one raising your voice, I didn’t!”..or something to the tune of..” I called you that in response to you raising your voice, don’t you think raising someone raising their voice for no reason is a jerk?” Let it go…You’re dead in the water. You clearly know how it started, and the other party has now proved either they don’t care, or they’re to self-absorbed to understand. Concede to the futile nature and leave the discussion respectfully however you can.

A lot of this article came to mind as I was watching television over the weekend. For any political junkies that might be reading, or anyone who was watching the Sunday news shows, there is a big brew ha ha going on about the President’s State of the Union speech, and how he addressed (or undressed) the Supreme Court at the event.  Let me put the political disclaimer in..It’s not a Left, Right, Dem, Rep, Martian, or any other life form, right side, wrong side argument OK? It’s about learning from a situation, and applying its lesson in ones daily affairs, no matter where the lesson comes from if one gains insight.

I watched a panel remarking on how the President appeared to take a shot at the Supreme Court on a decision they made. One member said they believed it was beneath the President to do such a thing. The other panel member shot right back with how undignified it was for one of the Justice’s to mutter under his breath at the President, and didn’t they think that it was wrong for that to happen? The panel then broke out into a which came first, the chicken or the egg discussion worthy of a Saturday Night Live skit.

In situations like this save your breath, and save your sanity. Just move on.

Mark

“Marketing made Stupid”…I mean simple.

It never ceases to amaze me on how the new age of advertising ( via the web ) has everyone believing that all one has to do is get a placement on Google’s search engine and …..wala!   Sit back and wait for the money to roll in. I have a better idea…Keep thinking like that, and just sit back and stay waiting. Sure you might have hundreds, maybe thousand of hits, but so what.

In today’s world of data mining and everything done with data, what never changes is how much money it puts in the bank. You can manipulate data and its cause and effects more ways than you can count votes for an upcoming election cycle. But, No Voters… No win! The same goes for money. Manipulate all you want, but  No money in… No money out! What I’m stating to some will seem as heresy. So be it, and here’s why.

Unless your product or service is of the type where you get paid when you can sell so-called “hits” to an advertiser, or for vanity’s sake you want the perceived relevance of a high hit count, does the proverbial “Hit” really matter? A more relevant thought or question would be… Does it really help establish your brand, or help enforce your marketing position? Think about it before you allow a knee jerk reaction. Does it matter if your site gets  hundreds or even thousands of hits, but none translate into a sale? Or is it better to have 1 hit, and that 1 hit generates a sale?  If you’re truly a business person the answer is obvious. If  not, you’re a process person.

Thousands of hits might sound great, but that wont pay the bills will it. This is where most forget it’s about having your brand  establish a  significance so it will create sales that generate net profits, Period! Anything that doesn’t reinforce your brand to generate tangible sales results is not only useless, it may be harmful.

Think I’m a little off base? Here’s a test you can do on your own. Just type into a search engine like Google this phrase……..

Get Rich Quick Schemes

You’ll see at the top the greatest marketing banner ever sold to people who just don’t get marketing. How would you like to not only be the TOP in that group, but also have to pay if someone making that search clicks on your ad? How is that good for your brand, and do you think it would generate a sale? And if it did, is that good business, and marketing?

Don’t ask me……You be the judge.

Mark

A case for “How Not to Increase Sales!”

Today’s marketplace has many challenges. That being said, I am a big proponent of showing there are great opportunities if one knows where to look, and more to the point….how to look!

If you have built your business around rewarding your best customers ( It amazes me I even would have to mention that!) with exclusive discounts because of their loyalty, and you charge those same customers for that exclusivity, it can be lucrative for both you and your customer. However, here’s a great way to make sure you’ll not only defeat the purpose on the exclusivity pitch, but will also tick off the same customers you need desperately to buy your wares consistently.

The market place is rampant with the calls of one business model dying and a new one thriving. Books and book stores are the latest. With devices like the Kindle and others, it’s ringing with the same overtones music stores sent when the iPod gained popularity. Recently I read an article that was announcing the death of the book store. I thought it was a bold call being made very early in the new electronic medium cycle, but none the less I would keep an open mind to the possibility because all mediums today can turn on a dime. Low and behold I saw what I believe is a very, very foolish and short-sighted ploy for sales.

I went online to my retailers site to order a book. Here’s what happened:

1. I found a book and chose the option “Reserve at your local store.”

2. It shown it was in stock.

3. Just before leaving I checked my email one last time: A message from the retailer stating “Not in stock at your local store order on-line.”

4.In checkout process online it states: “Everyone receives member discounts for a limited time” ( I pay a yearly membership for that so-called privileged discount.)

5. Decided not to buy the book, and will look for something else at another store in my area that I frequent that sells the same books for less than 1/2 the price when they buy the unsold inventories from that better known retailer.

6. Now I’m contemplating if I should ever renew my membership.

If you find the need to discount do it, but do it in a way that doesn’t violate the value of membership to your better customers. Offer an extra discount for them. It doesn’t need to be much, even a token in some cases will do, but Something! When you don’t, subliminally what you’re saying is ..It was all just a gimmick and you fell for it…Sucker. I don’t know a better or faster way to kill a business, especially in today’s marketplace.

Maybe if I can wait a little longer and I can get it at a 95% off  “Going Out Of Business Sale” I’m sure will happen…That would really be a sales promotion, and I wouldn’t need to pay extra for the that privilege!

Mark

They’re Baaaaaaaack!

They’re back and they just want to let it be known to one and all…”They’re from the Government and they’re here to help you!”

Whew!…or maybe that should be….Oh Ohhhh!

Yes those nice people who came in to fix the financial crisis. The ones that said…..Here, take the money, pay it back, no strings attached, we need you solvent. Well it seems they’ve decided to add a little more to the vig. ( That’s old school for interest.)

This is exactly one of the problems that I had mentioned last year in why I felt a recovery will be so hard to sustain in the coming year. Regardless of your political leanings, or if you feel it’s fair, and they deserve it. That doesn’t matter. I’m speaking purely from a business or enterprise side of the coin. If you’re an entry-level employee, or you’re the CEO of one of the worlds largest institutions you should be analysing the happenings that are taking place now, once again in real-time.

No one can run a business, or make decisions if the rules of the game change in midstream or at any time. You can’t run your own household budget that way so how could anyone expect that a business could. Oh..Sorry about that, The Government does, and that’s exactly why the opposite of anything they are trying to stimulate will not only stagnate, but just might wither and die.

The administration just announced today that it is planning on imposing a…Wait for it………$120 BILLION DOLLAR surtax on the banks, regardless if they paid back their TARP with interest or not. Once again this is not about right, left,middle. It’s about business. If you think they weren’t lending before i.e: the Banks, wait till you get a load of how little they’ll lend with that over their heads. Stock prices?…For Get About it!…Probably sooner than later any institutional plan that has invested in the financial sector thinking their might be some gains left to help repair all those 401K’s or other pension plans.        (That would be You if your still invested in one…Remember if you’re invested the term Greedy Wall St. applies to you also, just doesn’t have the same ring as Fat Cat…I personally like that one!) These crazy people will try to, well I don’t want to sound silly or make you laugh but, they might just sell to protect your investment causing the shares of these so-called “Fat Cat Bankers” stock to go down, drawing everything else with it.

Oh yes, and just for kicks, let’s throw on top of it any other company who thought they were immune from such happenstance, looks like your matching Taxes for your employees might be going up, and might be retroactive, for when you think the coast is clearer later during the year. Oh yes, hire as many people as you can, but don’t worry about the cost, they’ll let you know…Trust Me!.. (pun intended.)

I know, all this sounds a little crazy or full of hyperbole, but I guess you could say they have the knowledge and the instinct to get business moving, and focus on the economy. It’s not like they would try to ban salt to keep your blood pressure down, and make up for the intrusion by spending a few million on pamphlets on how to properly take illegal drugs like heroin? No that would be nuts, I’m crazy right?

Mark

The Decade of the “Disclaimer”

Listening to the radio this morning I was nearly knocked out of my seat when I heard 2 commercials followed by what now has become the norm….The Disclaimer!

The first commercial was for a car..( I wont say which one… but let’s say..They needed a little help to stay in business..wink..wink) The commercial was what we’ve all come to expect. It had the prerequisite ” The new ______, We’re better than ______, Customers pick us over _______, and so on. Then came the ” Winner of the prestigious ____________ Award for __________. Then came………The disclaimer.

The disclaimer seemed  longer in length than the real commercial. It seemed to cover reasons that if the sun rose 5 inches higher in the sky tomorrow than it did a week ago last Thursday, then the award would not be representative of the award that was awarded when the award was awarded. See Black’s Law dictionaries for further clarifications, subject to revisions of the 1832 witness protection act, see coupon for details.Void where prohibited by law, or any other planet that might find this statement vague. I  understand you’re reading, and re-reading saying..”What did he say?” and that’s how I felt listening to the radio.

At first I was laughing at the absurdity, then I became appalled. I don’t know which is worse. A company feeling the need it has to add such a thing, or the idea if  it doesn’t is equal to creating  a lottery ticket. But wait there’s more!

Then came a commercial for a 16 ounce coffee. Alright you say, was it the generic disclaimer..Caution , Contents are Hot?   Not quite….The commercial ended with… “16oz refers to the average fill content of a 16oz coffee”……Huh? Have we really come to the point of leaving room for cream if the server had not asked be reason for a class action lawsuit?

It’s one thing to protect yourself both personally, and in business. But if you’re marketing consists of a reading of a chapter from one of Blacks Law books, I’m here to tell you  “Save your money, and Save your breath..No one is taking you serious.” If you truly want to get ahead of the competition both in business and in life I suggest the following:

1. If you advertise…Drop the disclaimer speech. A quick statement that rules and regulations can be viewed on a website or such will suffice.

2. In your life and your business do what you say, and deliver what you promised. Forget the farce of 110%…That creates unrealistic expectations, 100% is the best anyone could do, If you do that alone you’ll be ahead of anyone else.

3. Get it into your gut and into your business, you’re not truly judged when you do what you promised. That’s what one expects, or that’s what someone paid for. It’s how you handle a problem when it happens. Problems happen no matter who you are. If it happens Fix it! Fix it correctly, fix it to the BEST of your ability.Replace, renew, whatever, but do it, and do it honestly!

4. Remember…Not all customers or people can be pleased no matter what you do. Understand that’s life and move on.

The Golden Rule is the standard because of its truth. Follow it and you’ll find yourself not needing a disclaimer for life or your business. That being said I would like to finish with……….

Disclaimer: The above text is an opinion and should only be taken seriously if you’ve arrived on the planet Earth between the years of 1927 and 2001. If during space travel you donned a tinfoil cap at anytime during or preceding the flight will cause nullification of the above statements. Future performance is not indicative of future results. Void where prohibited. See participating space doctrine for clarification. If you experience an…….OK that’s enough.

Mark