Sometimes on LinkedIn you'll see "all the good stuff" from the CEO. An image of twelve people sitting inside a restaurant, glasses of wine from a 2009 Paso Cab, half-eaten ribeyes and chicken piccata with nineteen dollar roasted cauliflower sharable ...
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Kevin Hillstrom: MineThatData - 5 new articles

Focusing on Tiny Things

Sometimes on LinkedIn you'll see "all the good stuff" from the CEO. An image of twelve people sitting inside a restaurant, glasses of wine from a 2009 Paso Cab, half-eaten ribeyes and chicken piccata with nineteen dollar roasted cauliflower sharable sides, and a quote saying "My team and I are recharging before a big day tomorrow with Acme Industries!" The post will be liked seventy-nine times, with eight comments from individuals with titles like "Strategic Thinker" saying "this is what true leadership looks like".

Oh, LinkedIn! How cute.

Conversely, I once worked for a President who sat at the cubicle of my forecast analyst for several days to watch all of the details of how the hourly call center volume forecast was created. He'd asked questions like "don't you think the forecast of 1,137 calls at 10:00am on Wednesday is 5% too high?" My analyst would look at me, pleading for help.

That is an instance of focusing on a tiny thing.

Increasingly, I'm seeing focus on "tiny things".

And I get it ... you focus on tiny things because it's easier to deal with the subject line on an email campaign than it is to deal with the existential/structural issue of paying the same amount of money for 25% fewer new customers with increases in marketing costs coming seemingly forever. Easier to put the forecast analyst on blast mode about hourly order forecasts than to figure out how those orders will be generated in two years.

Some CEOs are focusing on bigger topics right now. They have to do that. Every employee needs them to do that. The brand they support won't exist if they don't do that.

Catalog CEOs ... don't let your paper/print/postage partners push you toward small topics that keep their cash register dinging (kids - there used to be things called cash registers - you can still see them at your local grocery store). You need to be looking to the future, and you know your future involves much less print than it requires today. Could you go to Washington, DC and lobby for lower postage costs? Sure. Have dinner, enjoy yourself. But you are focusing on a small thing. No amount of work on that front matters anymore. The very organization that supported you for nearly twenty years removed the word "catalog" from the name of their brand. That tells you all you need to know. They're reducing their focus on tiny things.



Let's use a Dale Carnegie technique ... show of hands, how many of you have eaten at McDonalds?

Now, how many of you routinely eat salads when you go to McDonalds?

You might enjoy this article, sent to me by an intrepid reader (my wife), about the de-emphasis of salads at McDonalds (click here).

One of the seminal moments in my career happened at Nordstrom in 2003. We were having endless meetings about shutting down the catalog division, and at one point I mentioned that the catalog generated $160,000,000 in annual sales and about $8,000,000 in annual profit. My boss said "who cares"? Stunned, I said something pithy like "shareholders care, it matters that we generate sales and profit." Her response was even better.

  • "Kevin, we discontinue items every single day. Every single day. And yet, we somehow move forward. We can discontinue a marketing channel in the same way we discontinue products. Besides, we don't want that customer."

I went back to my office ... a naive 37 year old Vice President, pondering how stupid my company was to not want the profit from a catalog customer in North Dakota.

And then I thought about it.
  • You can discontinue marketing channels, it's ok.
  • It's ok to not want all customers.

So yeah, if McDonalds doesn't want the salad eater, that's fine. Go make the McRib customer happy. And yeah, they'll be told that they don't have healthy options. My goodness. There's an infinite world of healthy options. Salad and Go has 'em. Interestingly, they don't want the McRib customer.

Have you ever asked yourself who the customer is that Macy's wants?

Or how about your brand?



It's a concept from video games and baseball ... "What do you do best? Let's do more of it!"

It's a concept that came up twice in projects in the past six months (and yes, I'm about to dummy-up the situations to protect the innocent).

First, an e-commerce brand was exceptionally good at acquiring new customers via product listing ads. They were so good they kept growing and growing and growing ... until they hit their optimal level. From there, every additional dollar spent was sub-optimal, harming profitability. When I explained the concept to the Chief Marketing Officer, she said "what do I do next?"

Second, an old-school catalog brand was exceptionally good at (checks notes) cataloging. One problem. The paper/printing/postage ecosystem was increasing costs that the brand could not longer generate 10% pre-tax profit while maintaining net sales at a constant level. They could get to 10% pre-tax profit by reducing circulation by 30%, but that solution was unpalatable to the Owner. The Chief Marketing Officer looked at me on a video conference and said "what do I do next?"

In fact, the phrase "what do I do next" comes up repeatedly ... not just in the two projects mentioned above, but in 75% of my projects. In the first example, the e-commerce brand was good at one thing (product listing ads). In the second example, the old-school catalog brand was good at one thing (mailing catalogs).

Now, imagine being a major league pitcher. You are good at curve balls. You change spin rates, you change speeds, you change pitching angles. All of those tactics make your curve balls more effective. And yet, you can't throw curve balls on every pitch, or you will get lit up. So you should be good at something else as well to set up your curve ball ... not as good as throwing your curve ball, but you need multiple skills to maximize the one thing you are good at.

Imagine if the e-commerce brand or the old-school catalog brand were good at something else? They wouldn't ask me the question "what do I do next?"

If you are sitting in your office (home or work office) right now wondering "what do I do next?", you know that you have min-maxed one specific skill for your brand and don't have a backup tactic to help move you into the future. You've "min-maxed" yourself into a specific way of marketing, and once you've moved past an optimal situation, you are in trouble. This is why you'll hear e-commerce brands lament Google or Facebook or Apple (for shutting off the data pipeline to Facebook) ... they're good at one thing and when that one thing is sub-optimized, they don't have something to fall back on.

Be great at something.

Be good at a couple of additional things.

It's sort of like having a diversified 401k portfolio, right?


Amazon Continues A March Toward A 21st Century Montgomery Wards

Here's the article (click here). The sub-heading catches attention.

Separate from the Amazon connection ... there is a thrilling nothing-burger of a merger statement in the article ... "many in the industry have anticipated this transaction and the benefits it would drive for customers, partners, and employees." That is filthy nonsense. Please, describe the benefits. Fewer employees? How do customers benefit over what is currently being done? Partners without money when this ship goes down in ten or fifteen years? How exactly does a customer benefit?

Meanwhile, the best thing that happened to my time consuming practices in the past two years has been my gradual move from the increasingly toxic waste-dump formerly known as Twitter to Reddit. The past month has been something to behold. Across the subreddits I follow, somebody always finds a way to say this:

I'll restate the comment here:
  • "Those prices are ridiculous cuz I seen a Vader for $15 on AliExpress."

Somebody posts a screen dump of prices of iems on Amazon, and the first comment is from somebody saying they've seen one of the items cost 1/5th as much on AliExpress.

Do you see what is happening? Venture out to Reddit and you'll see it.
  • Amazon is playing a non-competitive role in the consolidation of previously proud mall-based retail brands. Exciting!
  • Customers are comparing prices on Amazon with a hundred-billion-dollar-a-year overseas brand and finding Amazon to be (checks notes) ... uncompetitively expensive.

Commerce rhymes over time. It's unavoidable. You reach the mountain top only to find somebody else climbing a taller mountain and you end up trapped on your mountain, with no way off. It's coming, it's unavoidable, it isn't a near-term issue, and it is something you should be thinking carefully about if you call yourself a "strategist" or "strategic thinker" or a "thought leader" on LinkedIn.


Sure, Kick Me Out Of Your Community

This smells like a vendor-led strategy.

I'm not a fan of vendor-fueled strategies ... "we will scare the user into keeping the account active." Always interesting, because vendors use their thought leadership platform to recommend wing-nut strategies like this ... but you'll seldom see vendors use strategies like this, will you? It's like the paper/print folks ... telling you that you must continue to mail catalogs but they market to you via email. And by vendors, I don't mean you, the ones reading this. It's the thought leaders who tell you to purge names for no good reason so their articles earn clicks. Seriously, how much was I costing Garmin by being inactive, assuming they are being honest here?

What could Garmin have done?

They might have asked "why" it's been years since I've been active. They might have learned that I traded my RV in (one that did not have navigation) for an RV with navigation that is updated via memory stick. They might have learned I use Google Maps instead of the lousy software provided in the RV I now own.

But honestly, they likely know all of this. It's hard to be in an industry in decline.

So, instead, you treat the customer in a punitive manner.


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