Gadgets can still offer value – just don’t call them that

mosaic-gearta-582x437NY Times writer Farhad Manjoo had another excellent column this morning “The Gadget Apocalypse Is Upon Us”.

I agree with the idea that gadgets are losing the battle to software.   Consumer behavior plays a critical role in determining the success of gadgets not to mention mobile applications. As a Fitbit user over the past twelve months, I can tell you from personal experience that my daily activity behaviors have changed. This has happened because I’ve become keenly aware of my day-to-day activity. Or sometimes lack thereof.

As a naturally competitive person I am competing most days to – outdo myself. I think about walking anywhere I can, taking stairs instead of elevators when possible, and I think more about the calories I am (continually) consuming, and even have started feeling less energy on days that I don’t move around as much. With more intimate knowledge behaviors have more opportunity to be changed.

I’ve written about health apps as it pertained to first Samsung’s SHealth app, then again when I tried the Pebble Watch (and this week what’s left of Pebble is being acquired by…Fitbit).

I still feel that the ultimate health app is something that goes behind your ear (a tab or patch, not noticeable sort of like a tiny hearing aid) that monitors your health 24/7. Sleep, steps, vital signs etc. Having a fitness monitor that people take on and off (like a watch or Fitbit One in my case), is counterproductive to the mission of truly monitoring one’s health.

Semantically the word gadget suggest something fun yet inconsequential. A 24/7 health-monitoring device may look a little like a gadget but provides resounding utility. Are you worried about having your sensitive personal health data hosted on an app and in the cloud? I have my concerns but not enough to offset what I feel will be the benefits of having a chance to review and better understand my own personal health baselines and trends. I suspect my doctor would feel similarly.

The 1970’s began a time when gadgets became both fun and sometimes useful. As Mr. Manjoo writes, the iPhone changed everything and now functional mobile apps are where innovation is flying. But the combination of useful hardware (NOT gadgets!) and application based data collection point to the ways consumers will behave in the future.

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Gap learns a few things from Zara – me too


I read a very interesting article in this week’s Wall Street Journal – As Gap Struggles, Its Analytical CEO Prizes Data Over Design

Khadeeja Safdar’s November 28th WSJ article:

I was quite surprised to learn that in terms of market value, Zara is four times the size of Gap. From Steven Rosenbush’s WSJ November 28th blog:

“Gap’s market value has shrunk to about $10 billion, from roughly $40 billion at its 2000 peak and revenue has stalled at about $16 billion—flat from a decade ago, the WSJ says. The company faces a new generation of successful rivals such as Zara, owned by Spain’s Inditex SA. “Zara, by comparison, sends small batches of apparel to stores and waits for consumer reaction. Using real-time data, the company airlifts additional products to stores within days to meet demand. The chain is also known for few markdowns,” the WSJ reports. “Orders at Gap require corporate approvals, while Zara permits an employee or agent to authorize new stock on the spot, according to a supplier who makes garments for both companies.”

In response, Mr. Peck is putting more emphasis on data and establishing mechanisms for faster response. He has shifted some manufacturing from Asia to the Caribbean and he also wants to stagger product releases throughout the year and shorten the time it takes for items to go from the drafting table to stores to take into account the most recent data trends, according to the WSJ. “

The ever more challenging brick and mortar retail environment has become all about speed.

 Again from the article:

 “Executives still see the company as a cut above. Mr. Peck recently announced plans to ramp up marketing, including the first national TV ads for the Gap brand since 2014. Banana Republic is revisiting its catalog tradition. “I think the product is better than the business right now in Banana Republic and Gap,” said Mr. Peck on a conference call with analysts. “Not perfect by a long shot but better than our business.”

Mr. Peck’s comment does not inspire confidence.

One final but telling quote from a Millennial shopper:

 “Gap’s brand is not terribly cool, and it’s overpriced,” said Andrew Martin, 24, a shopper from Los Angeles. “If I’m going to splurge on clothes, I would be so much more likely to buy things I think are cool.”

At $10 billion in market value it’s not as if Gap is on life support. Many companies apparel and otherwise would be happy with 10% of that kind of market value. But when it comes to investors the future is what it’s all about – but probably not more than three or six months is the ‘future’ when it comes to investors. Clearly the investing future isn’t what it used to be.

Can Gap return to its former glory? I wouldn’t want to bet on it. Would you?

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Bad data is worse than no data

bad-data1Last week’s Election Day here in the United States was a bad day for data modelers, not to mention data overall. One thing that interested me (and many people) very much was that almost EVERYONE got it wrong. As we know the data leading up to the election did influence both candidate (Hillary Clinton felt she had Wisconsin in the bag) and voter behavior (the support for President-Elect Trump was under-reported as was the lack of overall enthusiasm for the Clinton campaign).

Imagine if there had been little or no data regarding the electability prospects of the candidates. Do you think they would have campaigned differently? Haven’t you always been a bit questioning of exit polls and their validity?

As data-driven business strategists and marketers, we absolutely LOVE data. Flying blind is never a good business strategy. Yet at the same time we’re also careful to question the validity of decision-driving data. Is the sample size large enough? Were time frames truly long and comparable enough? Can we truly have confidence in the conclusions we are making on the basis of the data we’re collecting?

I’ve always maintained a certain amount of skepticism when it comes to data and statistics. After last week it’s even more the case (if that’s possible).   I don’t love data any less, it’s more that I now want to dig deeply into the question – “what if the data is wrong?”

Bad data is comparable to disinformation. It often leads to the wrong conclusions and outcomes. No data is just that. In the absence of data all that is left are hypotheses. Those hypotheses without supporting data then become the launch pad for a series of tests to try to determine the potential success of one over the other.   That’s inefficient, not easy and will generate a lower level of success.

It is often heard in financial circles that ‘past history is no guarantee of future results’. Of course we use past history to help guide our future decisions. That’s never going to change. But taking all data at face value is dangerous and maybe more importantly not doing the entire job of vetting the prospects of success.

Here’s the irony. I am counting on data reporting and correlation to continue to improve and will never turn away from knowing more about what’s going on in order to aid strategic business and marketing decisions. But after last week my eyebrows arch a bit higher than they did previously.

Do you have the same, more or less confidence in data reporting today than before the U.S. Election of last week?


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Be uncompromising but willing to compromise

compromise-settling-our-differences-in-agreement-thumb19097297Having a personal value system is how individuals make decisions on what to do and what not to do. From a very young age we’re taught to be uncompromising when it comes to your core values. I could not agree more with that concept. At the same time there’s a big difference between being uncompromising yet having the ability to compromise on individual issues in order to reach an acceptable solution to a problem or situation. It seems to me that there are more people than ever before that have difficult in understanding the difference.

A few things that I am uncompromising about:

  • Being a good husband, father and uncle
  • Being on time
  • Avoiding any physical violence at all costs

Yes there are more but let’s take those three as simple examples.  The more complicated ones are just that.

Being a good husband, father, and uncle:

While I am uncompromising when it comes to my overall sense of what I need to do to achieve the above, there are compromises I make all the time in order to keep my family life on track.

Sometimes (ok probably more that that) I have had to work late and in doing so I did not make a family dinner or event, or a dinner with my wife or children. One could interpret being uncompromising in this area to mean that you’d NEVER miss a family meal or event on the way to being that good husband, father or uncle. Impractical as it may seem there are people that can only see things in black and white.

Being on time

This is truly important to me. And I’m good about it more than 95% of the time. But sometimes, unexpected things happen and I’m late for one reason or another. If the option is to drive at 90 miles an hour to try to deliver on my uncompromising ideal, the outcome could be that my life is compromised! So I don’t do it. My ideal remains uncompromised but sometimes the result has to be a compromise.

Avoiding physical violence at all costs

This does not mean I will not fight. But I will spare no effort to try to solve a problem or situation without violence. A friend of mine who’s a black belt in Tae-Kwan-Do told me once that he was taught that if you are in a fight you’ve already lost to a degree, but if you find that you are in a fight –fight to win. Fortunately I’ve had little occasion to have that play out in my life. Again I am uncompromising in my ideal but acknowledge that there could be a situation that my ideal has to be set aside out of necessity.

It’s impossible to discuss compromise without making a political reference. In the United States the political climate has been incredibly polarized for the past seven plus years (and longer than that really). The idea of compromise appears to have become a four-letter word to so many politicians. For that matter changing one’s mind is somehow an anathema even after receiving and assimilating additional information that offers a path to a more informed decision.

I want me to be, my friends and family to be, and our leaders to be…uncompromising in their ideals and beliefs. However, I also think it’s critical that all have the ability to understand that a compromise to achieve a mutual agreement is not a bad thing, and in fact it’s the way that things actually get done. I don’t expect anyone and everyone to agree with me on any given subject, particularly a sensitive one. What I hope for is that parties on opposite side of an issue can acknowledge there are different points of view so that there’s the possibility of reaching some sort of agreement. It’s called compromise and without that getting things done become nearly impossible.

Do you agree there’s a difference?

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Direct Sales and Direct Response – they are not the same thing

peopleinvolvedindirectsellingShould you market your great new product or service via retailers or sell direct to the consumer? That’s a question that gets asked every time an entrepreneur considers how to bring their product or service to market.

On one hand, having a retailer sell your product is easy or easier in that you make the product or deliver the service and the retailer (or in some cases the distributor) is there at the point of sale to the customer. No individual orders to fill, less inventory headaches. But the retailers take a hefty cut of your profit in providing that service.

On the other hand, direct sales puts you in control of the customer relationship in every way. From customer acquisition, delivery of product/service, to customer satisfaction and a future customer relationship.  Direct selling also includes (but is not limited to) multi-level marketing companies such as Amway, Young Living, and Herbalife to name three.

I have often found that people really do not understand that direct sales – (i.e. selling directly to consumers or corporations organizations or institutions with no retailer involved), is an overall “strategy”, whereas direct response as a practice employs specific strategies and tactics such as claims, offers, guarantees etc. to generate customer response and sales.

You can use direct sales without using direct response strategies and tactics. Let’s say you have your product up on A potential customer finds your product, purchases it, and you ship it (or have it shipped FBA – Fulfillment by Amazon) to the customer.

How did the customer find you? Good question! That’s where the marketing comes in. Of course you don’t have to market the product or service. You can put up a website with some nice photos or your great product, a cool story, have your own Amazon store page, and wait for the customers to find you. Good luck with that.

When coming up with the idea for this great product or service, there were clear reasons for doing so. There had to be distinct advantages or innovations that made your idea viable and potentially desirable. This is precisely where many entrepreneurs fall down. Here are six examples how and there are many more:

  1. The company does not find ways to talk about the POD’s (points of differentiation), or promote the benefits to the consumer or corporation.
  2. There aren’t product or service claims (the only, largest, fastest, most elegant etc.) that help explain the value proposition to the prospect so they can make a more informed (and better) decision.
  3. There’s no offer or guarantee of customer satisfaction, (and yes I understand that REFUND is a four letter word to many companies).
  4. There’s no-follow up strategy for unconverted leads.
  5. There’s no effort to increase the size of the customer purchase and CLTV (Customer Lifetime Value).
  6. There’s no re-engagement strategy for lapsed customers.

Smart direct response marketers know that the days of YELL and SELL (think Billy Mays and I wrote about that almost seven years ago) are over. That does not mean that creating your brand and positioning your product/service for direct sales should ignore direct response marketing strategies and tactics.

And contrary to popular belief, your direct response marketing does not have to be cheesy. The techniques noted have been successful and will be successful because they acknowledge the way people behave and process ideas.

In creating your new product or service you’ve done the most amazing thing – coming up with it in the first place. A direct sales model can be the right approach for many brands. Using direct response marketing strategies and tactics is essential to helping you achieve the goal of having a successful business.

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Marketing 101 – Use evidence of success to drive decisions

evidenced-based-decisionsData-driven marketing, Big Data, and all the related terms should be at the forefront of the minds of marketers.  73% of all digital spending in 2016 will be purchased programmatically.

Do more of what works, less of what doesn’t. Today while marketing attribution of exactly knowing where success is being found is better than ever (but still not perfect), evidence-based decisions offer the most consistent path to marketing success.

I have the pleasure of talking to many entrepreneurs who all became entrepreneurs because they had passion for an idea or cause. It’s one of the most interesting things I get to do on a regular basis. Often entrepreneurs are doing many things in order to get their venture to the next level and marketing is considered a necessary or unnecessary endeavor depending on the business and individual.

A typical conversation might go something like “So we came up with this great idea to create X which will revolutionize industry Y. People love it and are buying it already. But we are having trouble scaling and getting the word out to enough people. We don’t know a great deal about marketing so that’s why we’re talking with you. The budget is limited but if marketing success can be proved there will definitely be more money to invest in marketing. How might you approach helping us”

Our answer as marketing consultants that execute plans is always the same. We will deeply research the category (if we are not familiar), make certain the ‘house’s’ brand is built on a solid foundation with an excellent user experience whether online or at retail, and emerge with a plan that enables us to test hypotheses, measure effectiveness and make changes based on what’s working and what is not working.

It’s always important to keep in mind built-in bias (even on my own part) which can negatively impact what and how ideas should be tested. Sometimes taking the outlier strategy is the best path, yet there are other times it’s critical to be compared to others in the category. When considering how to most quickly get evidence that will enable more refined testing, I often consider whether I myself am employing System 1 or System 2 (System 1 and System 2 are two distinct modes of decision making: System 1 is an automatic, fast and often unconscious way of thinking. … System 2 is an effortful, slow and controlled way of thinking) as depicted in his excellent book Thinking Fast and Slow by behavioral economist Daniel Khanamen. Keeping our own biases under control is a critical aspect of idea development.

It’s also important to remember that evidenced-based marketing decisions do not eliminate the need for creativity. Understanding the behaviors of people in the context of why they might be interested in your product or service and how to convey the value allows the creative approach to have a much better chance for success. There are times when a great creative approach can prompt people to try a product. Of course if the product does not live up to customer expectations there will not be an opportunity for lasting success. I had a business partner once tell me “You can’t polish a turd.” Too true.

I don’t want to leave out that when I talk with businesses and don’t end up feeling that there’s a high likelihood of success given their product and its potential in the competitive landscape, I either try to help find a path to a higher likelihood of success before marketing or pass on the opportunity altogether. See my comment in the above paragraph.

Of course you could just wing it. Good luck either way.

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SO busy. Dropping in just doesn’t work any more

so_busyIt’s gotten to the point where less and less frequently I call someone without arranging it beforehand. Do you schedule your calls with clients and prospects too? That happens with face-to-face appointments now almost exclusively. A far cry different from when I started in business in the 1980’s when you would just ‘drop in’ to see a client or prospect. You know what was interesting about that – the clients liked it and prospects would actually sometimes see me on a ‘drop-in’.

I did not have many arranged ‘play dates’ when I was a kid. We lived in a great neighborhood and after school the guys from the neighborhood would get together and most often play whatever sport was in season. But as we all had our own children the idea of arranged play dates became the standard. Not necessarily because the neighborhoods got any worse – some did and some didn’t, but because everyone was SO busy.

I propose that this spilled over into the professional world. When I was a young salesman, prior to the widespread use of mobile devices, people would call, there would not be caller ID in the office, and then believe it or not, you’d pick up the phone and have to talk to someone that you wished hadn’t called. That doesn’t happen today. Caller ID is pretty much the standard on mobile devices and even on many office phone systems.

In order to be sure you get to have that important conversation, people now ‘schedule a call’. More often these days people use a call-in number if there are multiple people on the call, or conference in others while on the phone with the first person called. The idea of an impromptu phone call to say how are you doing and to cover a few things is becoming a relic of my past.

The same is true of dropping in to see a client. Granted, in the 1980’s and 1990’s security in office buildings was pretty much non-existent (as well as unnecessary) save for companies like Exxon and Rockefeller Center/NBC in New York as I recall. You could walk into a building, take the elevator to a floor and canvas companies that were on your target list as future clients. Today for the most part, if you were to show up at an office building you likely could not even get upstairs without the security desk calling to announce your arrival. That does not work well even when you are doing business with the company as it somehow signals that you do not have respect for other people’s time. SO busy.

I am not being nostalgic here in pointing out that times have changed and so should approaches. Having scheduled appointments and phone calls accomplishes a very important business objective – actually having the meeting or call. People know when they are expected to be at the meeting or on the call and with a little luck have even thought about it and are prepared. Taking it one step further by preparing an agenda will make those meetings and calls even more productive. You need not necessarily send the agenda, just follow it so that there are come concrete outcomes. Then if you really want to go the extra yard, follow up with a summary of any pertinent thoughts or issues that occurred along with next steps.

There are aspects of dropping in that I do miss. The congeniality and ability to get to know people by seeing them frequently and not always so formally was beneficial as far as I am concerned. But those days are over and in the constant drive to be more efficient, random interruptions of people’s packed schedules are less desirable than ever. I admit that today I am no different.

I’m allowed to miss it a little bit right?

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