Jumping the Shark (Week)?

The aim of a business is to find and keep a customer. This is the role of marketing. Marketing is supposed to know the customer so well that the product or service sells itself.

All fine in theory.

This week is the 30th anniversary of Shark Week on Discovery Channel. Context is important. We didn’t get this show in Canada from its launch because the U.S. Discovery Channel was never licensed for distribution in Canada. We got Discovery Channel Canada in the 90’s.

My sons and I loved watching Shark Week. Each year the scientists, researchers, biologists and cameramen, were conducting more amazing activities to help increase our knowledge of sharks and remove some of the mystery and fear of these magnificent animals.

We bought the small rubber sharks and other fish and sea mammals to create our above ground shark week. We had a good-sized Rubbermaid tub full of “sea creatures”. And it is still in the basement for when grandkids enter the picture (in the future).

So, I was quite keen to see what was in store for the 30th anniversary. What could be better than “Air Jaws”, the great whites off South Africa that leap out of the air when catching seals and sea lions? What could more thrilling than diving with great hammerheads in the Caribbean? Or studying shark attacks and all the factors that may have impacted certain trends and deaths in select years and locations?

Well, it seems that more than just Shark Week, we got “Shaq Week”, with Shaquille O’Neill, retired NBA player aka “The Big Aristotle”. We also got “Shark Tank vs Shark Week”, where members of the show Shark Tank try to convince their fellow “millionaire land sharks” to invest $50,000 on a specific shark-related charity/research project.

And this means that Shark Week has “jumped the shark.”  Its celebrity status is now morphing into a perceived need to feature celebrities to keep the magic of Shark Week going beyond its original concept.

Personally, I disagree with these shows being added.

I kind of understand why someone wants to tap into current commercial successes to build on Shark Week. However, I believe it became too Hollywood, and lost its original meaning. Much of this year’s programming is irrelevant to me and my original interest in the fantastic photography and insights into these wonderful animals. I don’t need to see the funny jabs between Kevin Hart and Shaq. I think they are both funny, but not at the expense of the sharks.

Likewise with the Shark Tank folks. Great show. Interesting concept to raise money. Although fifty grand from these wealthy people seems a pittance and only a token bit of respect for the one group that would get funding. If these “sharks” truly believed they would have ponied up a lot more. Open up that shark skin wallet or purse and take the sunglasses off the Queen. Or President, in this case.

A great marketer studies the trends of the previous years, looks for gaps and areas of strength to build upon. I am struggling to see how this new approach is anything more than another reality TV show with limited appeal. But that is my opinion.

I haven’t studied the ratings and the amount of sponsorship and ad revenue that was generated. Heck, the full week of programming is not yet complete. It might be a commercial success for this year.

But what about next year?

A great marketer must be careful not to chase shiny objects and bank on cute titles to shows, as noted above.

I have not seen as much media coverage as years past. I will have to see what I can find as the rest of the week unfolds.

A great marketer must also capture customer, in this case viewer, insights and reactions and use this to help craft next year’s event. And this research should include more than simply reading a few tweets or a blog post from someone in the middle of the prairies. Front line viewer research is necessary.

A true customer focused organization would think of this week for their primary viewing audience and not forsaking them to capture new fringe viewers because of the celebrities added to the programming.

I am not hoping or advocating for a failure of the concept. I want Shark Week to be around for 30 more years.

I don’t want it to change into “Shark Idol” or “Dancing with the Sharks”. I want it to stay true to its roots. With the exposure of these shows over the years, there is more research and greater learning that has occurred. Safety has improved and myths have been debunked. Knowledge is power and understanding these creatures has eased fears for people who live or visit their habitats.

The only jumping of the shark I want to see is that 16 foot great white leaping clear out of the water. Real sharks that are magnificent. Not land sharks that are often just mouthy.

The Last Straw?

Images of fish, whales, dolphins and turtles, among other animals, with plastic rings around their necks always raises our ire relative to pollution and the impact on the total environment.

Plastic straws have been identified as one of the worst culprits in this problem. In fact, according to a National Geographic article, one study says 8.3 billion straws pollute beaches around the world.

So, several companies have identified that they are socially conscious by banning plastic straws. Good for them!

Sort of…

Let’s look at some of the details:

  • Starbucks stated they will stop offering plastic straws by 2020 and replacing with plastic lids and compostable straws. No proof yet that these new lids will help diminish the plastic problem. And Starbucks has not yet solved its paper cup problem yet, either.
  • Marriott Hotels removing plastic straws by 2019
  • Hilton Hotels and several airlines will have selective countries removing the plastic straws in the next year
  • etc.

Now, while this sounds wonderful, I have a couple of questions:

  • Why does it take so long to complete this grand environment saving action? I would think if they truly want to be a leader they will take immediate action. I hold this for every other company that takes a long time to make this move.
  • And why suddenly now? Social media pressure and an “uh oh, we are busted” feeling.

These companies are still not leaders they are simply bowing to some public pressure. And they all have healthy balance sheets and their Boards should invoke immediate replacement if they are truly environmentally responsible and want to live up to their apparent claims of sanctimony. But since they delay the replacement, I wonder about their full commitment.

The optics are that the financial factors are more important than the environmental factors. And they really are as paper straws may be up to eight times more expensive than plastic straws. Ultimately, the customer will pay for this. These factors cause a big conundrum for business leaders.

But wait, there’s more!

According to a Fortune article, there are some people who are negatively affected. In fact, these people are disabled. A Chicago-based disability rights organization makes some very important points about why plastic straws are important to use. From the article, “Many people with disabilities rely on plastic straws as the only way they can drink. Some have proposed the use of metal, glass, bamboo, or paper straws and all of these have issues for at least some people with disabilities.” According to the article:

  • “straws made from alternative materials such as metal, glass, and bamboo can cause pain or injury to the mouth”
  • “Paper straws have a tendency to dissolve. Many people with disabilities need the flexibility of plastic straws because of how their bodies work, or because of how they use their mouths to sip.”

Well, it seems that reacting to some pressure causes other problems as well. When you simply react to a current situation without thinking about all the potential consequences you place your organization at financial, social and possibly legal jeopardy.

Think about this for a moment. Plastic straws have been a tremendous invention around the world. From an article in Eater, “Steve Russell, the vice president of plastics for the American Chemical Society, told Phys.org earlier this year, “in many cases these plastics provide sanitary conditions for food, beverages, and personal care.”” Seems plastic straws have done a lot of good.

The flip side is that plastics have been a poster child as a pollutant since my friends and I made an 8 mm movie on the impacts of pollution on society when we were 11 years old.

It is not the straws that are the pollutants. It is people who are doing the polluting. We throw them on the ground. By simply removing an item from society, especially when it has important value, is not dealing with the entire issue. We still have not dealt with the broader issue of pollution and how humans can be so irresponsible.

Walk around many places of business and look at all the garbage that is strewn around, and not in, the garbage cans. Is it that hard for us to open the lid and drop in the garbage or place the recyclables into the right container?

While there have been improvements in the amount we recycle, we know it is still not enough. We must continue to be told to recycle. We just never learn.

Perhaps we should let some creative people find new ways to communicate the important messages. How and what should be said in ways that can help change our actions?

People have so many factors in their life that impact decisions there is not very often, if ever, a direct utility decision made. Economics tends to assume prefect trust and perfect assumptions and we know this is not true.

We live in a real world, not a perfect world. North America is not the only continent that uses a lot of plastics. Everyone does.

We need to change human behaviour, not necessarily just the tools we use.

I am not saying we shouldn’t take action. Be bold and decisive. Try something new. However, until, and unless, all of us accept our complete responsibility to make informed and accurate decisions for our customers and companies and countries, we will always be clutching at straws.


Heart of a Lion

I am not a true soccer fan, I am a sometimes fan that is in awe of the physical condition and skill of the players and the structure and tactics of the game itself. I also truly enjoy the British announcers that know how to use the entire English language to describe a match, and not just calling every second play “awesome” like most North American announcers do.

I have watched parts of matches from the current World Cup because TSN replays them in the evening. I have a fondness for England and Germany because I watch the odd Premier League game and used to watch Bundesliga on Sunday nights on PBS after Monty Python.

With Germany not making it out of the group stage I have been intrigued by England’s march to the semis. Lots of unfortunate history for the Three Lions in international play and they appear to be exorcising some of those demons.

The revamped 2018 squad begins with a new coach. Gareth Southgate played for England and infamously missed a penalty kick to lose to Germany in the semis of the 1996 Euro Cup.

He then selected a young and relatively inexperienced international team with a lot of athletic ability and a high skill level.

He brought a different approach to practice and games by being composed and preaching a sense of calm. He brought fun into the practices with different drills to get players actively engaged. One of his most famous was the use of a rubber chicken that was tossed and kicked around at the start of practice to get the players loose and warmed up without being too much and possibly causing a muscle strain. Clever!

In the games, England seemed to push the ball forward much more than in the past couple of decades. If a real fan is reading and I am wrong with my assessment, my apologies. That is not the point. England were playing an exciting style.

Coach Southgate respected his players, encouraged his players and corrected his players while expecting that they give the team everything they had. Every time.

He wanted to win for his customers – the English football fans. He deflected the great plays and associated praise to his players. He wasn’t playing the game, but he was leading the team.

He simplified things and looked for consistency in certain set pieces to take some of the potential mental pressure away from his players. This was most evident in the penalty kicks against Columbia. After each Columbia shot, he had his keeper, Jordan Pickford, walk the ball to his teammate that was lining up for the next shot so there was no delay or mind games by the opponents. And he and Pickford studied all the Columbian players and they had a very successful save scheme that appeared to rattle the opponents. England won a penalty shootout for the first time in international play. Composure and knowing the opposition.

Let’s take these points and apply to your business:

  • what is your leadership style? Are you composed, thoughtful and respectful? Do you think about the business and put your employees into the best position possible to serve your internal and external customers to succeed?
  • do you understand your customers and set high standards for service and satisfaction? Do you provide training and ongoing support so your employees can always be at their best? How do you know how well you are doing? What are your measurements and KPIs?
  • do you have fun and create a sense of belonging for your team and drive to a culture of service to internal and external customers? Would your staff really go through a wall for you and the company or would they pack it in because the culture is not really as customer-focused and as valued as you think?
  • are you truly grateful for your customers and do you tell them? Do you seek to learn more about them so you can become even more valuable to them? Are you a real trusted advisor!
  • do you think deeply about how to improve and where adjustments and small improvements can make a measurable difference in the long-term?
  • are you constantly on the hunt for great talent? Please don’t settle and please do not skimp when bringing great people on board.

I am pretty sure that you have missed a penalty kick at some point in your career. You are human and mistakes have been made on your rise to the top.

Have you overcome those misses? Do you have the courage to make tough decisions with the end goal of making everyone better and truly driving towards customer greatness?  Not once or once in a while. All the time.

Do you truly have the heart of a lion to set the standard? Your customers and team know the answer.

Follow the Money?

There is an old saying that often rings true in many circumstances that to understand a person or situation you need to follow the money. I would add that this must be done with the understanding of increasing your knowledge of the customer and the context of those situations.

A great danger can be created when only looking at aggregates. Senior leaders tend to look at aggregates because that is all they have time for. And there is a need to understand what was used to build up the total. While you may follow the money do you actually understand the behaviour that caused the person to take the actions that they did? This is what I mean by knowing the customer.

This goes beyond big data and even AI. This is about understanding people and their behaviour.

On a recent webinar a mathematical equation was presented: 1 x 7 ≠ 7 x 1.  When you first look at this you think “new math?” No, this is obviously a mistake.

The data says this there should be an equal sign.  Here’s the rub.  When applied to human behaviour it does not always add up.

Consider the following explanation:

  • This example will relate to purchases by customers in any situation
  • The left side of the equation is a single customer making 7 purchases in a single period, say one month
  • The right side of the equation is 7 customers making a single purchase each in a month
  • We are not sure what the pricing is for different items so until we look at the specifics of the purchase we cannot determine the true value of each type of customer
  • Even if all the purchases were of the same product, a single customer making 7 purchases in a month is a different type of customer than 7 customers making one purchase each
  • And we haven’t even begun to understand what the driving needs are for each type of customer

This simple example highlights the danger of averages, aggregate assessments and not knowing more about the behaviour of the customer. The organization needs to know these things so that the proper employee can be designated to serve the customer. You want one of your top performers dealing with your most important customers.

In this example, we cannot know for certain with the simple equation, who the best customers are. If the total dollar amounts are the same then one can say that the single customer making seven purchases is a big customer and must be treated properly. However, if we simply look at transactions we cannot be certain if the value is deserving of extra care. What if the single transactions were for very expensive items? One can then postulate that the customers on the right hand side of the equation are more valuable.

We must also look at the buying patterns over a greater period of time. Does the single customer make seven purchases each month? Do the other customers make only an annual purchase?

All these questions must be answered to properly understand how the money is earned. If we conduct our customer analysis at only a high level and with averages we are likely going to make major assumptive mistakes that could harm our decision-making.

Understanding this type of information is essential for a business when they create their annual plan. If you don’t have this knowledge you may be in for some major, and unfortunate, surprises in the next fiscal year.

Analyzing this data can help with product enhancements, solidifying pricing and identifying growth opportunities.  And you MUST keep the customer at the center of your decision-making. Not every future decision must be driven by expense control unless and until you know more about your customers.

Rory Sutherland, a brilliant creative mind with Ogilvy in the UK states “Economic logic assumes human behaviour is objective, perfectly trusting, proportionate, ergodic, status-free, context-free, individualistic, maximising and path independent. It is none of these.”

If you don’t add the human assessment into your financial or economic analysis, I believe you will not be able to have consistent, long-term success. The risk of alienating or making incorrect assumptions about your customers  becomes quite high and is a real threat across your organization .

You are in business to create and serve customers. This is the recipe for long-term financial success.

Know your customer or you will have no customer.

At that point, there will be no money trail because your company will be out of business.