Good Advice from Seth Godin

From his post, It’s not about you.

Right in the front row, not four feet from Christian McBride, was every performer’s bête noire. I don’t know why she came to the Blue Note, maybe it was to make her date happy. But she was yawning, checking her watch, looking around the room, fiddling with this and that, doing everything except being engaged in the music.

McBride seemed to be too professional and too experienced to get brought down by her disrespect and disengagement. Here’s what he knew: It wasn’t about him, it wasn’t about the music, it wasn’t a response to what he was creating.

Haters gonna hate.

Shun the non-believers.

Do your work, your best work, the work that matters to you. For some people, you can say, “hey, it’s not for you.” That’s okay. If you try to delight the undelightable, you’ve made yourself miserable for no reason.

It’s sort of silly to make yourself miserable, but at least you ought to reserve it for times when you have a good reason.

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Accidents are the mother of invention

Here’s a nice piece on the invention of the Slurpee (via Marginal Revolution). An excerpt:

Knedlik’s [Dairy Queen] franchise didn’t have a soda fountain, so he began placing shipments of bottled soda in his freezer to keep them cool. On one occasion, he left the sodas in a little too long, and had to apologetically serve them to his customers half-frozen; they were immensely popular.

When people began to show up demanding the beverages, Knedlik realized he had to find a way to scale, and formulated plans to build a machine that could help him do so.

You never know what customers are going to like. Here’s a secret, kids,– they do not teach you how to figure that out in business school. There’s not a formula or process to follow to do it, other than trial-and-error.

I think executives who are trying to find ways to grow their company should consider using more low-cost, trial-and-error discovery .

Netflix for eBooks?

Over three years ago, I wondered when the Netflix business model would be applied to ebooks. 

I thought it was a huge step forward when I could checkout ebooks to my Kindle apps from my library. That is, until I read the five books that I wanted to read in the limited checkout library.

Then I thought Amazon Prime might be the answer, until I became a Prime member and realized I would need to buy a Kindle device to check out the books. I almost did, until I started trying to find books I could check out. I haven’t found one.

Maybe Oyster Books will do it. But, judging from my first glance at the library, it has even fewer books available for electronic checkout than my local library.

My understanding is that the limited available titles for electronic borrowing is caused by publishers weary of losing revenue. Could be. Too bad someone hasn’t figured a way around that yet.

“Great!”

I recently saw a new “Samsung Experience at Best Buy” TV ad. It features a young, recent grad who needs to update her computer equipment after for a free-lance job.

One part of the commercial I find particularly not compelling is when she asks the Samsung Experience person “How’s the battery life on this one?” The SE person answers, “Great!”

I realize the commercial has to squeeze a lot into a short amount of time, but I thought  they missed a good opportunity to demonstrate expertise by giving a short, but useful answer, possibly with information about battery life that most people don’t think about. While that’s typical of the answers I get when I go to just about any retailer and ask questions, I expect more.

A better answer could be something like, “this model offers a good balance of battery life and weight. It has 5 hours, which is best you’ll find in this category, and you can buy a 4-hour extender if you want more than that.”

Personal Preference Bias

I’ve read and heard a fair amount from critics of JC Penney’s disastrous everyday-low-price strategy. But, much of it is too simple.

Critics speak of JC Penney’s customers as if they are all the same. I’ve read things like maybe they liked sales prices or JCP has to attract a new customer base to replace the old one.

While JCP sales were down considerably, they were still doing 75% of the volume they did the previous year. That is a huge decline for a retailer, but the sales didn’t go to zero and that says something. Three-fourths of customers didn’t mind the change.

In my experience with consumers and retailing, it is not uncommon for about 25% of sales volumes to come from promotions and coupon offers such as the sales JCP use to run. A fair part of that percentage are folks in whatever product category that are bargain hunters. Another chunk are from folks who are not typical bargain hunters — they may shop on value — but they may just come across a deal too good to pass up. I was recently perusing Kohl’s and saw a griddle for half the price I’ve seen elsewhere. I’m not a typical bargain hunter, but I popped on it.

There’s no reason JCP can’t satisfy value shoppers and bargain hunters alike. Other retailers have figured out how.

Even low-price leaders Walmart has “Rolbacks” in the aisle. Target has a dollar section near the front. Old Navy has clearance racks hidden in the back. Banana Republic has its mall based-locations, carrying higher priced, in-season fashion. But, they too have limited clearance sale space in the back. They also have separate Factory Stores where you don’t get the latest, but you get good stuff at sales prices.

Management at these companies recognize that not everybody is the same and they try to find ways to satisfy varying consumer preferences in creative ways that don’t detract from the experience of others. That’s typical retailing.

In my opinion, that’s the key insight that escapes JCP CEO Ron Johnson — everyone is different.

Johnson was in charge of retailing at Apple. Certainly, many folks rave about the Apple store experience. But most of these ravers have very similar preferences when it comes to electronics — they love Apple!

So, Johnson didn’t have very tall task in delivering a retail experience that satisfied a relatively narrow consumer segment. He made a store for Apple devotees.

Ask yourself this. Does Apple need a store? Not really. Apple products would sell with or without their stores.

Johnson is remaking JCP to satisfy a segment of consumer that is smaller and more narrow — a group that he likely sees himself in — than the group that JCP was satisfying before he arrived, which is not usually a successful strategy.

I call this personal preference bias. Successful managers usually find ways to overcome their own personal preferences and give more weight to the varying preferences of their customers.

It’s an easy mistake to make. Ron Johnson probably thinks he learned from his former boss, Steve Jobs, that designing things to meet your personal preference is good. And, there might be something to that when you are trying to innovate from ground zero.