Reducing Email Risk

One of my company’s customers drove to a large amusement park, valet parking at the main entrance. As he was leaving hours later, he learned two important facts. The park didn’t offer valet parking, and his car was gone.

This crime wasn’t an elaborate conspiracy involving high-tech gadgetry or extensive planning. It relied on a few parking cones, an official looking vest and human nature. He simply handed over the key, as instructed.

Everyone occasionally follows directions before exercising critical thinking.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where thieves steal more money with a few keystrokes than John Dillinger and Willie Sutton ever did with a gun, and without fear of being shot or thrown into the Eastern State Penitentiary. (I worked two blocks away for years. But I’ll save those stories for later.)

This insidious and increasingly resourceful breed of cyber criminals rely on human nature. Just like the car thieves, they’re counting on someone acting before they think.

Socially-engineered emails attempt to deceive us into downloading malicious software by clicking on a link or opening an attachment. These emails often appear to be work-related, masquerading as having been sent by a co-worker or other known person. As recent headlines demonstrate, once unleashed they can destroy or hold critical data for ransom, or take down entire networks.

The first line of defense against this criminal activity is us. Two techniques at our disposal when defending against email attacks are:

1. Maintain an air of professional skepticism. Be appropriately suspicious and act accordingly;
2. Think before you click!

Here are a few points to remember:

• Never open email or attachments from senders not familiar to you.

• Don’t open email or attachments from people you think you know if the contents appear suspicious.  Virtually imperceptible changes can trick even the most vigilant email user into thinking they recognize the sender. For example, replacing a lower case “L” with an upper case “i” or inserting an extra letter in an already long email address is easily overlooked.

• If the email asks you to click on a hyperlink, run your cursor over it. If it goes to a drop box or google box…it’s MALICIOUS.

• Before clicking, ask yourself:

  1. Is the email work related and is the subject appropriate for me?
  2. Are the links in the email relevant to its purported content?
  3. Were you expecting the email or have you previously received emails from the sender?

• Don’t open attachments with the following file extensions: .exe; .bat; .com or .zip

Finally, when in doubt, delete the email or “go old school”. Pick up the phone and call the sender.

FINDING THE RIGHT DOMAIN NAME

There is an often-told story (disputed by many historians) that the head of the U.S. Patent Office once sent his resignation to President McKinley, suggesting the office be closed because “everything that can be invented has been invented.”

You might think you are encountering a modern day equivalent situation when trying to select a domain name for your business or blog. After all, Google announced seven years ago that it had already indexed over 1 trillion unique URLs.

Securing a good (notice I did not say “the perfect”) domain name can be frustrating. Your selection must be unique, the single road by which the world must travel to your ecommerce doorstep.

It is therefore essential that you secure the best available domain name for your business. Simply recognize and accept in advance that it is usually a classic example of satisfying a process, not optimizing it.

Consider the following points:

  1. Begin by preparing a prioritized list of acceptable names. Avoid unprofessional sounding domain names unless they are somehow related to or descriptive of your business. Variations of your name should be safe bets.
  2. The next step is to search your list on any domain registrar. The largest and best-known registrar in the United States is GoDaddy. Network Solutions and Netfirms are also popular. Prices vary widely. Since you will probably use the same company to host your website and email, consider the entire cost of the package, not just the cost of name registration.
  3. Don’t throw in the towel just because your first choice has been taken. Enter it into your browser and see if it is actually being used. If not, there is an active aftermarket for domain names. Free services such as www.Whois.net and www.Better-Whois.com will show the registrar and, depending on the account’s privacy settings, the name and address of the registrant. You can then contact the owner and inquire whether the name is available at a reasonable price. The same services will tell you when the registration expires and (for a fee) notify you if the registrant fails to renew.
  4. A cheaper alternative is to construct a similar name. Perhaps the insertion of a simple hyphen, using an abbreviation, substituting numeric symbols for words and so on will accomplish your goal. The only limitation is the one imposed by your creativity. Whatever name you choose, try to keep it as short as possible, preferable 10 characters or less.
  5. The most widely used domain extension is .com. If it is unavailable, other options include .net, .biz, .us and .info. Although originally intended for nonprofit organizations, many commercial ventures now use the .org extension. Most registrars will automatically show you other available options if your preferred extension is taken. With the continued expansion of the Internet, the inability to reserve .com no longer carries much of a negative marketing connotation in most situations.
  6. Finally, after you have decided on a domain name and extension, consider reserving other available extensions to keep them out of the hands of current and future competitors. For example, you might buy mycompany.net, mycompany.biz, mycompany.US and mycompany.org as companions to mycompany.com. Additional domain names can be purchased without a hosting package for as little as $10 each, per year. You can also direct inquiries to these companion extensions to your primary web address.

© 2015 by CFO America, LLC

TACTICAL SOUP WON’T CURE MARKETING WOES

SoupMotivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen created an entire industry with the 1993 introduction of their Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. They have since sold over 100 million copies, and inspired countless authors of every genre. A recent search of Amazon generated 35,024 hits of titles beginning with “Chicken Soup for the.”

One could easily get the impression soup has magical powers to cure just about anything.

However, there is one soup not good for anything except unnecessary costs and market failure. That is a steaming bowl of tactical soup. What is tactical soup? Princeton, NJ consultant Gordon G. Andrew describes the recipe this way:

“Tactical Soup occurs when firms get bogged down in a flurry of marketing activity without placing enough emphasis on how it will help generate revenue and profitability.”

Tactical Soup is served up regularly in businesses where activity is too often mistaken for results, where the urge to “early adopt” the latest craze eagerly overlooks cost-benefit analysis, and where the rush to hop on the newest social media bandwagon precludes any thought of whether your target market is similarly enamored.

To squander limited marketing resources in a valueless caldron of tactical soup is a recipe for disaster. It can be avoided by asking three simple questions:

  1. Where will I find my market?
  2. What is the total cost of the proposed marketing tactic?
  3. What incremental sales volume is necessary to justify the cost?

Marketing is about connecting with the right audiences in whatever communication channel they select, always a moving target. There was a time when most audiences were found through ads in the Yellow Pages, roadside bill boards  and the Sunday newspaper. Finding new customer prospects today is far more complex, and depends on demographics such as age, sex, income and education levels.

Question 2 is the easiest, provided indirect and allocated costs are added to the initial design costs, price concessions, monthly hosting and other recurring expenses.

The final question requires a basic understanding of your cost structure. While cost accounting is too complex to explain here, of primary concern in implementing marketing tactics are the average gross profit (sales price less cost of goods sold) and what volume of sales can be expected from new customers. A product or service with a $100 gross profit is cost justified at a much lower new sales volume than one with a $3 gross profit. Likewise, a service that typically enjoys 6.3 sales per customer supports a higher marketing budget than one where repeat sales are negligible.

Answers to these three simple questions will provide the focus, discipline and accountability to maximize return on marketing efforts and avoid the waste and disappointment of tactical soup.

© 2014 by CFO America, LLC

Eight Secrets from a Serial Blogger

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Have you been thinking about blogging, but are concerned whether your writing skills will translate into effective online communications?

Increase your chances of success in getting your message to the right audience by avoiding the mistakes of others. This article offers eight simple suggestions its authors learned in the preverbal “school of hard knocks”.

Here they are:

1. Stick to a schedule. The correct blogging frequency is whatever connects with your audience. For some blogs that might be daily. For others, once a month is sufficient. The optimal blogging frequency is not critical. What is critical is to decide on a schedule, communicate it to your readers and stick to it! Avoid the temptation to over-commit. While most bloggers enjoy writing, it can be grueling.

2. Expand and enhance. Supplement your usual content by periodically sharing relevant quotes, articles and tips from others. You can also try using guest writers, treating your readers to different areas of expertise and points of view. A generous introduction to your guest author may result in them reciprocating on their blog, further expanding your following.

3. Keep posts short. Readers are looking for tidbits of actionable information, not detailed research. Keep posts short, preferably under 600 words. The average American reads less than 300 words per minute. Studies suggest 65% of visitors spend less than 2 minutes on a website. Therefore, an entry longer than 600 words will not be read in its entirety, if at all.

  • A better alternative to lengthy articles is to split them into multiple parts, posting them in consecutive entries. Begin each post with a review of what was discussed in the previous entry, and end with what to expect in your next post and when it will be shared.

4. Promote your blog. Add your blog’s web address to business cards, print media ads, letterheads, email signatures and so on. Adding a Quick Response Code to business cards and other medium is gaining popularity. A QR code allows Smartphone users to find your blog easily.

5. Use social media. Post summaries of blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Exercise care to comply with each platform’s unique character limitations.

  • Since you will always end with a hyperlink to your blog, use a free URL shortener like https://bitly.com/ if pressed for space.
  • Post blog entries on SlideShare or other article marketing sites by uploading a pdf file. The last paragraph should be a brief “About the author” with a hyperlink to your blog.
  • Blog posts can be featured in your monthly newsletter to customers and friends.

6. Support online sharing. Add plug-ins or widgets on your blog to promote article sharing through Facebook, Twitter and other social media vehicles you believe are likely to help capture your target market. Allow readers to bookmark your URL to their list of favorite sites with the click of a button.

7. Encourage feedback. Always thank readers who post comments. Be respectful of opinions and suggestions, even if you disagree with them. While it is perfectly appropriate to delete spam (an inevitable byproduct of successful blogging) or comments with inappropriate language, deleting reader comments simply because you disagree discourages feedback. Periodically end posts by asking readers for comments, suggestions and ideas for future articles.

8. Don’t give up too quickly. Some experts believe it takes about 100 posts before you begin to build a following. Most bloggers become discouraged and give up before reaching that milestone.

© 2013 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

You Can Count on a Guy in a White Hat

whitehatAs an entire generation who grew up watching Gun Smoke, The Lone Ranger and a long list of other television westerns knows, good guys always wore white hats!

One of the greatest Hollywood clichés of all times, it is deeply ingrained within each of us that you could count on a stranger in a white hat! They were sure to be honest, kind, generous, courageous, moral and chivalrous.

That leaves the other guys, the ones in the black hats. Just as good defines evil, they were the anti-hero of every storyline, the exact opposite of guys in white hats. A man in a black hat was surely dishonest, cruel, self-centered, cowardly, immoral and boorish. Good guys and bad guys were always on opposite sides of an issue. Fortunately, good always triumphed in the end.

So it is not surprising that when it came time to pick names for two broad categories of search engine optimization (SEO) practices, a baby boomer somewhere choose white hat and black hat to describe the opposite ends of a long spectrum of internet marketing techniques and philosophies.

The stakes are high in this modern day gunfight. Fair or not, a potential customer who has never heard of your company has no choice but to equate your search engine results and the quality of your content with the prominence of your company among your peers and the value of your products or services!

A study of December 2010 Google searches for B2B and B2C businesses found the top 3 search engine rankings got 60% of all click throughs, with the first position enjoying a click through rate (CTR) of 36.4%. Page one listings got 8 times more clicks than page 2. CTR differences by ranking were even more dramatic for key words with more than 1,000 searches per month.

What then are the distinguishing characteristics of these opposing marketing camps? They hinge on the answer to a single question. Does the marketer play by the largely unwritten and frequently changing rules of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing control over 95% of the market) or not?

Just like the old Code of the West, white hats follow the rules. They focus on engaging and informing readers rather than manipulating search engine algorisms. Their procedures include writing key word rich text (without meaningless repetition), link building and paid advertising using pay per click ad words.

Black hats still refuse to play by any rules. Their techniques include email spam, keyword stuffing, article spinning (posting substantially similar content in multiple locations) and using hidden text to trick search engines.

What are the rewards for playing by the rules of this 21st century Code of the Internet? White hat marketing can be expected to produce slower but longer lasting organic search rankings. Black hat techniques will likely eventually be penalized by search engines, reducing rankings or eliminating the listing from their database.

What color is your hat?

© 2013 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

Ever Wonder Where Google Got Their Name?

mathMost people probably assume Google, the Internet search engine giant made up their name. Actually, they borrowed it from the fields of mathematics and sub-atomic physics.

A googol is a very, very, very big number. More specifically, it is 10 raised to the 100th power, or the number 1 followed by 100 zeros.

Who do you think came up with the term googol? Perhaps a Silicon Valley college-dropout billionaire or an obscure university professor trying to estimate the width of the solar system in millimeters?

Not hardly. It was coined back in 1938 by 9-year-old Milton Sirotta. Little Milton was the nephew of an American mathematician.

It turns out a googol is also known as ten duotrigintillion, ten thousand sexdecillion and of course ten sexdecilliard.

I’ll bet if Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page had chosen one of these terms, well let’s just say neither of them would be worth the $20 billion (that’s a 2 followed by 9 zeros) they are now.

 

Lessons from Cool Hand Luke: Failures in Business Communications (Part 2)

Last week, I discussed the potentially dire consequences of using the wrong channels when communicating with customers. Paul Newman’s famous line from Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate” served as my theme.

I outlined nine milestones in communications, from the printing press to the Internet. Today, I conclude with a follow-up on how each of those communications channels has fared over the years.

More recent developments in the nine communication mediums include the following:

1. The days of printed books and newspapers may be numbered. Consider the following:

  • Although Amazon keeps its sales figures close to its corporate vest, reports by Bloomberg and other sources suggest it likely sold over eight million Kindles in 2010. Amazon’s January 27, 2011 press release reported, “Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the Company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books.” Those sales were achieved in spite of stiff competition from the Apple iPad and other eReaders.
  • In an industry financed by advertisers, newspapers now cost more to reach a similar audience than radio, magazines, or websites. The Newspaper Association of America expected ad revenue to drop 9.7% in 2009 after falling 16.5% in 2008.

2. In a press release issued November 12, 2010, the U.S. Postal Service reported a loss of $8.5 billion in fiscal year 2010. They delivered 6.1 billion fewer pieces of mail than the previous year. Labeled advertising mail, 273 million pieces of daily junk mail make up 47% of Postal Service volume, but only 25% of its revenue.

3. Struggling from its failure to win a federal contract to deliver mail, the Pony Express announced its closure on October 26, 1861, two days after the transcontinental telegraph connected Omaha to Sacramento. During an 18-month existence, it succeeded in reducing the cost of a 1/2 ounce letter by 80%.

4. Home phones are being replaced by cell phones and other mobile devices. Smartphone users can now perform virtually any function available on a computer. They can also scan product bar codes for instant price comparisons and download directions to local competitors. In October 2010, CTIA-The Wireless Association reported in their 50 Wireless Quick Facts that over 89% of handsets operating on wireless networks are capable of browsing the web.

5. With its market steadily evaporating since the 1975 invention of digital cameras, Kodak ended a 74-year run when it discontinued production of Kodachrome film in 2009. SEC filings reported a $210 million loss that year. Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2012. They will no longer manufacture cameras, and will sell its film division. The digital camera was invented by a Kodak engineer.

6. A July 2008 report by Borrell Associates titled Say Goodbye to Yellow Pages estimated the industry would lose 39% of its revenue over the next five years as small businesses focus more on online advertising. It was forecast that 2008 print revenue of $12.7 billion would decrease to $7.8 billion by 2013. In an age of instant information, an increasing number of businesses are obviously questioning the wisdom of spending scarce marketing resources on a medium that will not be distributed until months after incurring the expense. Some estimates suggest that up to 20% of small businesses do not survive to see their Yellow Pages ad in print. Meanwhile, concerns over the environmental impact of discarded books are causing cities to explore advanced recovery fee ordinances that will add millions of dollars to industry costs.

7. The marketing impact of satellite radio remains to be seen. Sirius FM Radio reports almost 22 million subscribers in some highly desirable demographics. Yet, the public company has not traded above $3 a share in over four years.

8. A four-decade oligopoly by ABC, CBS and NBC began to crack by the 1980s. Having once controlled 99% of all broadcasts, their market share dropped to 32% by 2005 according to the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. The Fox Network now produces the highest rated show on TV (American Idol) and the longest running primetime show (The Simpsons). The increased popularity of cable TV, Internet access to programming and digital recording devices threaten to redefine television’s role as the “high end” communications media. Fortunately, the ability to embrace technological changes has allowed television to hold the average American’s attention for 4.7 hours a day (according to a 2008 Nielsen report) over 60 years after its introduction. Finally, NBC’s owner Comcast announced in January 2011 they were dropping the iconic peacock from their corporate logo. This announcement ended a 56-year television tradition that first trumpeted the arrival of color programming to an entire generation of mesmerized children. Curse you, Comcast!

9. Lastly, the traditional model of text dominated static communications on a free World Wide Web navigated via a handful of search engines is being challenged. New paradigms including pay per click advertising, video and yes, social media are quickly redefining it.

As I reflect on this timeline, it occurs to me that few people can anticipate, let alone shape communications in this accelerating stream of consumer driven changes. Names like Gates, Bezos, Zuckerberg and a handful of other young billionaires come to mind.

The rest of us do well just to keep up with it.

The goal of today’s successful small businesses should be to meet customers in whatever communication channels they choose at that moment and to educate and influence (never dictate) consumer behavior as best they can.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” magic formula for success, no one thing that will permanently solve marketing challenges or slow the pace of change. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow because as Tony Robbins and others have said, “The past does not equal the future!” That much is clear from the timeline. There is simply no substitute for hard work, vision and continuous planning and experimentation.

However, there is also much cause for hope.

Don Bradley and Chris Cowdery’s exhaustive study Small Business: Causes of Bankruptcy had this conclusion: “Evidence suggests that failure rates of small businesses in the United States are related to the nature of a capitalistic market in relying on competition where only the strongest survive. The causes for small business failure and ultimately bankruptcy are many. A successful entrepreneur is, no doubt, the consummate businessperson who must be a jack-of-all-trades. It is evident that nearly all entrepreneurs have the opportunity to control their own destiny. Success is obviously not a guarantee, but nor is failure. A well-rounded businessperson who has carefully planned and prepared with a clear vision of who and what the company is will have an excellent opportunity for success.”

I also point out that many of the marketing ideas discussed in this blog would not have been possible just a few short years ago. Many more have been made easier and more cost efficient by recent technological developments and increased Internet-based competition.

I therefore challenge and encourage you to seize the opportunity to control your own destiny, to embrace change, to experiment with new ideas, and to learn from your triumphs and your disappointments in these exciting times. Your business will grow in the process.

I wish you great success in your efforts and I hope you have fun in your journey.

© 2012 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

Lessons from Cool Hand Luke: Failures in Business Communications (Part 1)

The 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke earned Paul Newman an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a nonconformist member of a southern chain gang. It also taught me two lessons. The first is that some people can eat 50 eggs (you had to see the movie). Admittedly, that has never proven to be especially useful information. Nonetheless, it seems good to know.

The second and more important lesson is that a failure to communicate can have potentially dire consequences to individuals, and by inference businesses.

I am tempted to explain away the reason for the high rate of business failure with the fact that they ran out of money. While a true statement, it is overly simplistic. It is also more descriptive of a symptom than the reason for the problem.

I believe a root cause of many business failures is actually a failure to communicate.

Communication is what successful marketing is all about. It is about establishing and strengthening customer relationships by communicating your message and your value statement to the right people, at the right time and using all the right channels. It is about a continual education and training process.

A review of major milestones that have shaped business communications over the centuries will illustrate an essential point. It is that societies and consumers usually accept and embrace communications changes faster than the business community can adapt to them. Even the most carefully designed marketing communiqué, be it a press release, an ad campaign, a newsletter, etc., is likely to fail if it is not transmitted in the optimal channel. The pace of change is escalating, thereby increasing the chances that businesses will fail to communicate their message to customers and prospects.

As you review the timeline, think about how each change influenced the growth and success of businesses that were foresighted enough to embrace it. Consider also the wide variation in the useful lives of the various inventions, ranging from the printing press that has been around almost 600 years to the Pony Express that lasted less than two years. Lastly, imagine how businesses might have successfully adapted to further changes as each of the milestones were eventually displaced or relegated to a lesser importance by later means of communication.

Here are several examples of innovations that significantly influenced businesses:

  1. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1440 made the mass production of books possible. Mass production of newspapers followed in 1605. The first paid advertisements appeared in a French newspaper in 1836.
  2. The United States Postal Service began in Philadelphia in 1775. Free mail delivery in U.S. cities began in 1863, reaching rural America by 1896.
  3. On April 3, 1860, a rider left St. Joseph, Missouri and headed west. He carried a pouch containing 49 letters and five telegrams. A rider carrying another pouch left San Francisco the same day and headed east. The Pony Express was born. Both pouches reached their destination ten days later. It was the fastest means of east-west communication in the days immediately preceding the Civil War. A 1/2 ounce letter cost $5 at the start of the service, or approximately $135 based on changes in the consumer price index through 2010.
  4. Alexander Graham Bell was awarded a patent for the telephone in March 1876. The first “long distance” call between Cambridge and Boston, a distance of about three miles, occurred in October of that year. New York and Boston became the first cities linked by telephone in 1883.
  5. George Eastman developed film technology to replace photographic plates in 1884. He founded Eastman Kodak in 1892. With the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” he introduced photography to the masses with cardboard box cameras that sold for $1, the equivalent of $25 in 2010.
  6. Chicago’s R. H. Donnelley created the first Yellow Pages directory in 1886. The name was coined three years earlier when a Wyoming directory printer ran out of white paper and used yellow instead.
  7. On November 2, 1920, Pittsburgh’s KDKA reported the results of the national election that saw Warren G. Harding elected president of the United States. This was the first broadcast of a commercial radio station. Paid advertising followed within two years. Large companies like Westinghouse, Philco, Wrigley and Maxwell House Coffee typically sponsored entire programs.
  8. Scottish inventor John Baird demonstrated the first television in London in 1925. The image had just enough resolution to discern a human face. Television was introduced to the public (including my father) at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Commercial television developed following World War II. Milton Berle became its first “superstar” in 1948. As with radio, broadcasts were usually sponsored by a single national advertiser including Texaco and Procter & Gamble. The first national broadcast of a show in color was NBC’s Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day 1954. Westinghouse began offering a color television in the New York City area about two months later. It sold for $1,295, or approximately $10,500 in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars.
  9. Two decades of research into communication networks, much of it related to government sponsored defense projects, culminated on August 6, 1991 when the European Organization for Nuclear Research introduced the World Wide Web. By 1994, there was a growing public interest. By June 2010, the estimated number of Internet users had reached two billion.

Next week I will review more recent developments in the same communication mediums, and discuss the lessons that can be gained from those changes.

© 2012 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

It’s Hard To Define But I’ll Know It When I See It-The Importance of Precision in Marketing

The title of today’s post is a partial quote from the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. He wrote it in a famous 1964 decision involving (forgive me) the definition of obscenity. I use it to introduce the topic of marketing and business phrases that lack precise and universally understood meanings.

If a promotional message is ambiguous, its exact meaning is open to individual interpretation by every recipient. A prime example of a vague message is any advertisement that uses the word “value”.  We frequently hear phrases like, “A $75 value, yours for only $19.95 (plus shipping and handling).”

What exactly is value? Possible meanings might include:

  1. The seller’s cost;
  2. What competitors typically charge for a similar product or service; or,
  3. The original price of the item.

Most likely, it is none of the above. Buyers don’t usually know the seller’s cost of an item, and are indifferent even if they do. Furthermore, it’s unlikely a rational seller would promote sales that incur a $55 loss on every transaction. The dynamics of a free market system eliminate the second and third choices. If the intersection of supply and demand fixes the true price of something at $75, a prudent businessperson must offer it near that price, at least in the long-term.

My interpretation of value closely resembles the economic concept of utility, directly correlated to my level of personal satisfaction derived from or desire for something. The problem with this concept from a marketing perspective is multifaceted. Not only is my level of utility different from yours, but it changes over time. Therefore, it is impossible to measure within meaningful parameters.

A classic example is the value or utility of a simple glass of water. If I’m near death from dehydration, presumably I am willing to pay virtually everything I own for a single life-saving gulp.  The second glass of water would still have great value, although slightly less than the first. By the tenth glass, the water would hold little value, as I would be unable to consume it. Its only utility might be to store it for future consumption. In less critical situations, for example in a restaurant, water has no quantifiable value for me. I expect free water with unlimited refills.

The example illustrates a final challenge using the word value in a marketing context. The consumer, not the seller, always defines it!

The reality is words like value, savings, quality and worth are examples of intentionally ambiguous and ill defined terms; all-too-common marketing ploys intended only to suggest some vague concept of an “act now before it’s too late” bargain to the undiscerning consumer.

What is the message here? Effective communication always requires a high level of care and precision. Marketing is no exception. Choose your words carefully and communicate the same meaning to all recipients. Your brand and professional reputation may not survive the alternative.

 © 2012 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

We Have Meet The Enemy & He Is Us, Dealing with Entrenched Policies & Procedures (Part 2)

On Monday, I introduced the topic of inefficient and outdated policies, processes and procedures using the cartoon character Pogo, and the mid-twentieth inventor and cartoonist Rube Goldberg.

After coining a new acronym (RGP3s) and describing some common characteristics, I ended with the obvious question, what is a manger to do about them?

First, be open to the possibility of their existence in your organization. Every company has some areas that need improvement. You cannot assume that something is “best practices” simply because it worked in the past. If a department is unable to keep up with current workloads, there are only two possible reasons. Either they are understaffed, or they are operating at less than peak efficiency. Adding staff adds costs. Improving efficiencies is likely a cheaper and perhaps faster alternative.

All successful organizations eventually reach a size where managers are not expected to be familiar with the application of every policy, process and procedure. Even if they are, RGP3s can be virtually invisible to the familiar (or complacent) eye. That suggests one of two possible approaches.

The first approach is to constantly challenge and encourage employees to identify efficiency improvement opportunities. Maintain an open and direct line of communication through brief but regular interaction. Actively solicit employee input and implement at least one idea every month. Publicly reward accepted suggestions in ways they value. That may mean an employee of the month plaque in the lobby, a front row parking spot or an AMEX gift card.

Unfortunately, relying solely on employees’ willingness to point out flaws has a major limitation, human nature! People seem to have a tendency to accept most things as they are. Furthermore, asking questions and challenging the status quo may be viewed as career limiting in some corporate cultures. That is not to suggest people are by nature lazy or apathetic. It’s just how things are.

The second approach is to bring in a fresh pair of eyes. A while back, I shared a story about an experience in a new job. On my second day, I was reviewing a lengthy payment report when I spotted something unexpected. About every 20 pages or so, there was an entry with a negative amount. Based on my still limited understanding, there was no reason for negative numbers. To make a long story short, I had stumbled across an internal control weakness that allowed certain items to be paid twice.

The point is that other people who worked with the report every day had undoubtedly noticed negative entries before. Yet they failed to follow through with a few simple questions. If they had, they might have closed the control weakness years earlier.

In closing, let me clarify what constitutes a “fresh pair of eyes”. It may mean a consultant. This outside resource could be an expert in your field, or someone well versed in common business practices and operations. An auditor or independant CPA with other clients in your industry may be a valuable resource, especially if the area of concern is one they review as part of their evaluation of internal controls.

In my example, a fresh pair of eyes merely meant introducing a new employee into the mix.

Either way, the path to improved efficiencies in your business may be as simple as finding someone unburdened by the “But we’ve always done it that way” mentality.

That mindset, Mr. Pogo, is the real enemy.

© 2012 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

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