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Avoiding Failure: Four Real World Tips for Turnaround Success

October 31, 2017

Four Tips to Turnaround Success

My experiences with business turnarounds—one successful and one not―have added to my more general understanding of what it takes to create positive change in the real-world. The elements of turnarounds can be more extreme and challenging versions of what’s required to effect business change in general. But are the key elements really any different?

The approaches to and lessons from them can also apply to less dramatic situations like lagging sales, revenues, and profits—before whispers of bankruptcy are ever heard―but the process and priorities can be worth following regardless of a situation’s severity.

Some Turnaround Fundamentals Can Be More Critical than Others

Core lessons emerged for me from my successful and unsuccessful turnaround experiences. The fundamental difference between a success and eventual failure was a fully considered and developed plan driven by clear lines of communication, responsibility, and expectations. For example, the successful turnaround had five critical and well communicated goals for driving sales, protecting profits, and identifying responsibilities. Behind these five most critical goals were detailed and focused roles and expectations for each department from operations to marketing to human resources to real estate to menu development—and beyond.

In contrast, problems with the unsuccessful turnaround started at the top with four loosely defined lines of authority (that I can think of) with differing mindsets actively pushing for different goals. Even though the differences were not necessarily contradictory, they definitely created alternative priorities, confusion, and mistrust. To be sure, there was financial and strategic planning, but the priorities were not as clear, robust, or focused. And all this resulted in tentative and ineffective leadership and execution.

Turnaround or not, the successful case demonstrated good business practices that would be beneficial at any time, under any circumstances.

Four Factors in a Turnaround that Worked―and Aren’t Always Remembered

How much of the primary and immediate attention is given to the financial situation The Turnaround Routedepends, of course, on how close the company is to a liquidity crisis. As pointed out above, my comments here are driven by what might be considered a broader strategic or profit crisis that includes sales, revenues, and margins.

The following ­­­four elements can provide fundamental perspectives to guide a recovery, whether your most impactful factors are improving revenues, profits, and a competitive positioning or dramatic financial steps needed to avoid bankruptcy. They are elements to keep top-of-mind as the management team works to lead the organization to a brighter future.

1. The Business Plan

Whether your existing plan needs to be totally thrown out or just redone and updated will depend on the severity of the financial situation. However, a revised and refocused approach should look to the key customer touchpoints because those same touchpoints will need to be a fully supported priority. As the famous management guru Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of business is to create a customer.” Whether B2B or B2C, the customer will be driving topline revenues and bottom line profits, and the business plan needs to be aligned with the brand and culture and the customer experience as outlined below.

Strategy - Brand- Experience = Sustained Sales

Financial planning is, of course, a critical part of the business plan and exactly how critical will depend on the depth of available resources.

2. Focus 

It may seem obvious, but developing and maintaining a strong, “laser-like” focus is fundamental. Every management leader needs to understand and accept his or her role relative to the team’s expectations and the customer relationship. Each needs to be motivated and committed and ready to communicate and focus their team. The closer the organization can come to acting as one, the greater the chances for success.

There are three leading edge elements which I’ve seen followed to make this work:

  • Each element of the business plan must be not only clearly described but also supported with meaningful metrics and action steps to guide progress. And the management team needs to consistently review the group’s progress (minimum of once a month).
  • The internal financial structure and bonuses need to explicitly reflect the plan’s priorities.
  • Management team members must understand and have enough confidence in each other’s roles to create trust, a level of trust that allows each to focus on their own role and be open to criticism (check out Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team).

3. Culture

To lean on Peter Drucker again, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It may seem as though culture is “too big” to consider when the need is to rebuild sales or more purely financial fixes are needed, but consider how culture impacts motivation, innovation, teamwork, trust, and customer relationships for starters. In fact, culture is too important to be ignored as it can completely impact the execution of the new sales, product development, or HR hiring program―as examples. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a company’s culture will help to more fully define the business plans potential and the company’s relationships with its customers, guests, or clients.

Here’s an example: my successful turnaround company held meetings every Monday morning to go through a large, three-quarter of an inch-thick data deck. After a few weeks, the new management team recognized the data was great but nothing was being done with it! No real actions to change the results were being taken.

The old company culture was fine with that, but the new company culture would not be. The new company culture worked to define expected results as well as the customer relationship.

4. Pricing

PricingEffective pricing is often considered to be part of the financial, business, or marketing planning as it is critical to margins, competitive positioning, and revenues. It can deliver increased revenues or better value to customers as it drives increased customer satisfaction to build purchases or visit frequency. If it is dramatic, it can change brand perceptions―as Whole Foods may be doing with its post-Amazon purchase price drops which have led to a reported 25% traffic increase.

Regardless, in my turnaround and general business and marketing experience, pricing is, not surprisingly, extremely impactful even though it may not generally get sufficient attention. Regardless of where it “lives,” pricing is critical because it defines value, and customers buy value. 

Winning the turnaround and watching sales increase by double-digits can be a great and exciting team triumph, but it is hard work and takes focus and discipline. To offer up another quotation, this time from Thomas Edison, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”


A similar post first appeared in the AMA Executive Circle on October 4th.

Suggested additional marketing reading:
Science Shows: The Marketing Gut Is Not Dead
Marketers Must Connect with the “5Cs” to Connect with Today’s Consumers
Best Marketers vs The Rest [Infographic]
Empathy, Distillation, Clarity: The Principles of Brand Clarity
Customer Journey Mapping to Improve Your Customer’s Experience











How Customer Journey Mapping Creates Better Experiences

August 17, 2017
A Customer Journey Mapping Example
I was having a casual, after hours discussion with an experienced and highly regarded restaurant CFO (not a client) when the subject of Customer Journey Mapping came up. He was interested and wanted to know more. And because I believe Customer Journey Mapping can be decisive to improving the guest experience and the company brand and culture, I realized it was well worth writing about.

This is a time when authenticity, transparency, and relationships are very (and rightfully) important to today’s customers, especially Millennials and GenZers. And while digital and multi-channel communications can threaten the creation of consistently positive customer relationships, Customer Journey Mapping has the potent potential of bringing the entire organization closer to its customers for more personal and lasting relationships (and sales growth). This process can also help destroy those internal silos I have railed about before (more than once!).

Customer Touchpoints and Journey Mapping

This same basic thought was expressed to me more than a few years ago by a leading restaurant executive who said—to paraphrase a bit―”More than twelve things happen to a guest before they even see the food … they see our webpage, make a reservation, are greeted, witness the décor, …  ”

As an exercise, I have come up with over twenty-five “touch points” between a restaurant and its current or potential guests, and most are not even media driven. They range from potential customers checking out a location as they drive by to experiencing the website, engaging the server, checking out the menu, interacting on social media (Facebook, Instagram … ), reacting to email (and direct mail!), sampling from a third party catered event, chatting with the bartender, talking to friends, digesting online reviews, and—as I said—many more.

Doesn’t it make sense to do what you can to deliver a consistent understanding of “who you are” and “why you are in business?” People relate to people—not things―and they are eager to know your concept or product can be trusted and enjoyed repeatedly.  A false or discordant experience in this “getting acquainted” process can turn them away or prevent them from returning.

Of course, delivering consistent brand and promotional messages and personality has to start with leadership’s ability and commitment to support the culture and define the brand for all—internally and externally.

Steps toward Developing a Customer Journey Map

The goal of your organization’s customer journey map is for the organization as a whole to understand how everyone’s role can directly or indirectly impact a customer’s or guest’s experience.  The Customer Journey Mapping process should help to unite your organization―from IT to HR to Operations to Marketing to Finance―under the common banner of the customer experience and becoming more customer-centric.

To the right is a “for instance” look at what a customer journey map beginning to take shape might look like, with the eventual level of detail depending on your goals and resources.

The great things about Customer Journey Mapping are:

  • The process itself is beneficial to a fuller understanding of your customers and their expectations and feelings about the company’s relationship to them—a relationship which needs to be as personal and predictable as possible, regardless of scale.
  • The process itself will uncover gaps between devices, departments, and channels as it delves into the customers’ actions, motivations, questions, and barriers for each customer type.

A good internal or external facilitator can help the process stay organized and open to fresh insights while managing the impact of the day-to-day.

Your Customer Journey Mapping effort can utilize a major firm like McorpCX with lots of experience in the field for the best results. They can help define your needs and next steps and work with you to deliver a customer-centric program that fits your organization’s strategies, brand, and sales.

Again, it is primarily about bringing the multi-channel world of multiple experiences together to speak with one voice while understanding a customer’s perspective and motivation at each touch point. The customer’s attitude may change from touchpoint to touchpoint as the customer’s frame-of-mind changes from viewing Facebook pages or your website or email, for example.

If it is mostly an internal project for your team, make sure the chosen leader or facilitator sees the project as a priority.  It will be important, for starters, to spend time discussing and understanding every touch point regardless of how small or seemingly remote.  Remember the customer’s process may not be linear and don’t hesitate to start out with something that is all encompassing but perhaps a bit chaotic looking.  Your Customer Journey Map will be refined as you get closer to completion and have a better understanding of the company’s natural limitations.

Finally, be sure to take advantage of whatever customer research is available, do not hesitate to add more if resources allow, and be sure your metrics are well defined before launching your new programs.

In the early stages, casting a broad net can contribute to a better understanding of your customer as not every journey will be the same.

As you launch into your own “journey” for Customer Journey Mapping, keep the focus on the goal of having your entire organization deliver the best customer experience ever in our demanding, multi-channel and authenticity and transparency demanding world.

[A similar version of this post originally appeared in the AMA Executive Circle Blog on Thursday, August 3.]


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Millennials and Gen Z: More of the Same or Major Change?

July 1, 2017

Generations change: Differences from Millennials to Gen ZMuch has been analyzed about the Millennial generation (now roughly 23 to 40 years old) and the distinctive values and impact they represent.  They are, after all, larger (about 75 million) than the fabled “Baby Boomer” generation and have brought their own values to the marketplace.

[The estimated generational years for Millennials and Generation Z differ by source.  For this post, I have selected The Center for Generational Kinetics and WJ Schroer but differences are only a few years across sources―“plus or minus.”  Both generations have large, financially important populations at around 75 million.]

Millennials (see my blog post on embracing Millennials from eighteen months ago) are known for have core values centered on authenticity and transparency.  When it comes to restaurants, for example, they seek “clean” menus and lean toward the organic and locally produced food and shy away from preservatives and artificial anything.  More and more frequently, they want the end-product to be at their fingertips, whether it’s a delivered meal or a next day delivery from Amazon. They support businesses which get to know them by building relationships and represent positive social values.

The Millennials and Generation Z Transition

As Generation Z (5 to 22 years old) starts easing its way into the marketplace picture withMillennials Generation its 76 million population, are consumer marketers and restaurant owners in particular going to be dramatically refocusing their brands—and company cultures?

It’s early in the game.  Understanding “generational” values is based on connecting generalities, and early observations can change over time. Also, a twenty-three-year-old Millennial is going to be more like a twenty-two-year-old Gen Zer than his older forty-year-old Millennial counterpart.  But it appears this Homeland Generation—as it is beginning to be called—is more similar to than dissimilar from the Millennials in many core values (other Generation Z naming options include iGen, Post-Millennials, Plurals, Founders).

Millennials were different from the preceding Gen X because they may have had less faith in the future but remained largely optimistic. They were also 20% more likely to eat out, and they helped to build the fast-casual category (Panera, Five Guys, Subway … ).

Millennials are the digital generation and the first to fully connect with the Internet and social media. They quickly learned how to access ratings reviews, comments from friends, general word of mouth, and the many aspects of social media.  Mobile provided access to data, information, and menus for “on the go” individuals and group decision-making.  At the same time, Millennials responded to the opportunity to build more direct and even personal relationships with companies and restaurants, focusing on the authentic, transparent, and trustworthy.

Looking Around the Corner with Generation Z

But while Generation Z grew up living with, embracing, and absorbing a mobile technology, they appear to be wanting greater authenticity and transparency as well as healthier and cleaner restaurant menu options.  Like Millennials, Generation Z cares about a company’s cultural and brand values and wants to make a difference as 60% want their jobs to impact the world.  After being impacted by both 9/11 and the Great Recession, Generation Z appears to be more loyal to brands than their Millennial counterparts and more risk averse than previous generations.

Gen Z PicAs the first generation that truly grew on technology from “day one,” it is likely the most significant impactor and shaper of Generation Z.  As of two years ago, Pew Research reported three-quarters of today’s teens (13 to 17) have at least access to a smartphone with 30% having a basic phone and just 12% indicating no cell phone at all.  The same report indicated 24% were online “constantly.”
There is plenty of evidence that points to an even stronger focus for Generation Z on experience and convenience.  Convenience can make itself known in a variety of ways, from more mobile friendly websites and payment systems to easier, even automatic, delivery options (more on a generation which increasingly expects convenient delivery of everything in my next post).

Participation and socializing with friends is perceived to be a priority, using different social media for different purposes (following and sharing are still a factor).  Facebook remains of value because of its participatory advantage, while use of Twitter and Instagram are growing options due to videos, pictures, and regular messaging.  Generation Z, however, also likes the anonymity of Snapchat, Secret, or Whisper.  But 79% of Generation Z consumers complain of some level of emotional distress when kept away from their personal devices and can be more cautious about their social brand than Millennials.

More evidence of the importance of tech based communications is GenZers a typical use of five screens (smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, iPod/iPad) versus the Millennials’ three. In fact, a majority of Generations Z would rather buy clothes, books, and electronics online.  And doesn’t the short GenZ attention span of eight seconds (similar to Millennials) say something about immediate convenience and the potential need to leverage technology when it comes to ordering in a restaurant or online?

While the details of the Generation Z’s psychographic and lifestyle make-up continue to emerge as this generation matures, it seems likely that some core Millennial values, such as authenticism, transparency, and respect for and interest in core values will be maintained.  Their multitasking, staying connected needs, and use of multiple devices (including offline) gives further evidence that successful companies and restaurant chains will be sensitive to avoiding brand and communications silos (“Why Organization Silos Fail Our Customers—and How to Fix It”) while providing a consistent customer service culture and values.  And creating consistent communications and branding across multiple channels and platforms can help to leverage the Generation Z risk-adverse, time-sensitive, pragmatic desire for brand loyalty.

Changing Generation and Development to Genertion Z

[A similar blog post covering the same subject originally ran in the AMA Executive Circle Blog on June 14th.]

Suggested Marketing Readings:
Five Retailers that Have Made Customer Experience Their Business
Four Lessons for Creating a Joined Up Social Strategy
Are Marketers Investing Enough in Their Customer Experience?
Why Aren’t More Marketers Involved in Pricing Strategy?
Your Social Media Is Terrible — Stop Making These Five Mistakes.

Why Organizational Silos Fail Our Customers—and How to Fix It

May 20, 2017

My most recent email and blog post (AMA Executive Circle) on “knocking down” organizational silos drew an immediate response which has pushed me to expand on how they begin, why they are harmful in today’s digital world, and how leaders can tear them down.

To begin, I was wrong when I implied silos only develop inadvertently from a lack of leadership attention (wishful thinking?).  Such can certainly be the case, but a lack of confidence or a pile of leadership insecurities can also unfavorably impact organizational silos.  If a business sector leader is defensive in the face of criticism, his or her area of responsibility can become unresponsive, even stubborn, to company and customer needs regardless of the strategy.  Or if segment leaders believe in themselves and their team to the exclusion of others, then potential for goal sharing and achieving organizational success will be significantly diminished if not destroyed.

Why Organizational Silos Are Wrong for Today

Today’s technologically aware customers have more and faster access to information for their decision making, leading to a need for horizontal and non-siloed organizations.  As outlined in a previous post, the number of potential customer “touchpoints” through the decision-making customer journey has exploded, thanks to our digital devices.

Organizational Silos Disconnect the Customer from the CompanyA recent presentation by Forrester’s James McQuivey dove into the importance of emotion in today’s experiential world.   He explained how our brain’s “risk central”―which has helped us to quickly avoid sometimes life threatening mistakes for our survival over the millennia―is now helping us to make faster decisions in today’s “hyperadoption” world.  Digital technology allows us to quickly gather decision related information from multiple sources, reducing the risks we are programmed to avoid.

In this new normal, organizational silos create more confusing and sometimes contrasting bits of information for the customer to digest.

This is important to progressive, non-siloed, transparent, and accountable-to-the-customer (customer-centric) organizations because the role of emotion to this decision-making process is enormous.  Our risk central allows for rapid decision making by leveraging our emotions to carry the message and response and cut through the data.  Emotions have become more critical to help us quickly decide what to focus on, engage with, and remember while managing the onslaught of available information from today’s tech world.

Our emotions play an essential role and are key to what we remember from each and every experience.  All of this makes the individual server, the attendant at the airline gate, and the representative on the other end of the phone important to delivering a consistent brand or cultural message that the customer can emotionally relate to (think Apple, LL Bean, Zappos … ).  And the technician committed to fixing your problems―the creator of your website or the HR leader responsible for hiring the motivated staff critical to a high level of engagement―are all equally critical to delivering an experience with each and every customer touchpoint are equally important.

Perhaps this has always been clear to me because my B2C marketing has been focused on restaurants.  We all know that our potential revisit to a restaurant depends on how we “feel” about our last experience.   In any business, it is the return visit or repurchase that delivers long-term profits.

Insights toward Tearing Down Organizational Silos

So, the smart, visionary Founder or CEO (and change has to start at the top) must understand why silos exist, why they are risky to maintain in today’s business world, and how to overcome existing organizational silos.Understanding Five Dysfunctions of a Team Can Overcome Organizations Silos

One of my favorite business books that has proven to be consistently and “across the board” useful is Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  While all five of the dysfunctions relate to the damage done by organizational silos, three in particular are worth focusing on when examining the presence of silos in your own organization, big or small:

  • Absence of trust―driven by a fear of being vulnerable with other leaders and the most fundamental dysfunction of them all.
  • Fear of conflict―created by a desire to preserve “harmony” at all costs, even when productive and conflicting discussion is what’s needed for progress.
  • Avoidance of accountability—desire to avoid interpersonal discomfort leads to not confronting and improving on core issues or holding each other accountable.

In each of these three dysfunctions, it is clear that fears can lead to protecting “territory,” retreating to sheltering silo, and not advancing the core needs of the company or organization at large.  After all, sometimes organizational silos are not inadvertent but are intentional.

Looking at a company’s organizational silos from a “five dysfunctions” point of view helps us see into why silos exist.  It also provides a pathway toward understanding why they are getting in the way of growth and a more productive team and insights into how to fix them.

In today’s technological world, customers want “straight line” and transparent relationships and experiences, and a company’s organizational silos only get in the way.

[An earlier version of this blog post first appeared in the AMA Executive Circle’s Blog on April 20, 2017]

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Knock Down those Organizational Silos for Better Sales. Now!

March 18, 2017

Challenging the Orgainzational Silos

Whether you are managing or have a role in a relatively large or small business, organizational silos have never been purposefully created.  Silos have usually developed over time due to a lack of attention or concern or even growth. They’ve never been a goal in their own right.

Well, if you are in a customer focused business―and my guess is that includes just about everyone―then the importance of breaking down silos has grown exponentially over the last few years for two reasons:

  • The increasing complexity of the customer journey.
  • The rise of the Millennials.

Why Organizational Silos Are No Longer Acceptable (Were They Ever?)

Today’s potential customer contact points go way beyond the more linear, broadly based, and centrally controlled media devices and options like TV, magazines, newspapers, PR, and the final service or product experience.

They include more company to customer and customer to customer “Word of Mouth” or Internet opportunities from the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat, FaceTime, What’s App, and even LinkedIn and YouTube (to name a few).  And what about customer to customer communications through Facebook and the ratings systems of Yelp! and TripAdvisor?  Do you know where your customers got their information from before they step into or after they step out of your store or restaurant?

In a word, begin developing your own customer journey map (if you haven’t already) with all of its touch points.  As the complexity of a customer’s journey to your product or service experience unfolds, the multitude of likely touch points will become evident.  You will begin to understand the need for a “flatter” customer-centric organization, and the need to destroy operational silos will be clearer.  And make sure you are covering the digital experience in particular.

Today’s marketers do their best to leverage these tools or “piggyback” on them to deliver the brand’s message. If they are really good, in my estimation, they use them to build relationships rather than just to trumpet offers.  Today’s marketing also brings in the digital media options of digital advertising, remarketing, and retargeting.

The leading customer segment of 18 to 34-year-old Millennials wants their favorite brands to be authentic, available, transparent, and caring with personality.  They want their discounts targeted to building a relationship, not just developing and turning in loyalty points.  “Real” is a word that strikes me as relating to their overall goals and values.

Why does all this matter?  Every touch point we have with our customers and guests has always mattered because every touch point is a chance to build on our relationship, a chance to create a competitive advantage through an endearing emotional connection.  And it’s that customer relationship, for example, which is at the “tip of the spear” of my organic marketing model (following) connecting the business strategy for profit, the brand and culture for personality, and the customer experience for a memorable, emotional connection.

Business Strategy - Customer Experience Dynamics

Knocking Down Your Organizational Silos

Creating an open and “siloless” organization remains important because improving the customer experience should be at the top of all our lists.  A lack of coordination in a customer-centric organization risks either creating negative customer experiences or misses the opportunity to efficiently create synergistic business and revenue building wins that are there for the taking.

What does it take?  Your efforts to knock down the organizational silos and get closer to really connecting to your customers require two things for starters:

  • A good, in-depth understanding of what your company and its brand are all about.
  • The full and ongoing commitment from the top, from your CEO or business leader whether you are in a large or small company.

Your customer touch points go beyond marketing alone, which is why everyone must embrace and Challenges of Overcoming Organizational Silosunderstand your brand values.  Doing this will require a steady communication and recommunication of the brand values which may start in “marketing” but should spread to all departments and all employees.  There are different models for what makes up your brand, but the key factors to me are a competitive positioning, a specific and in depth long term promise, a personality, a tone, and the core company values.

Without a CEO’s full and ongoing commitment, an effort to break down your silos and reach out to your customers directly and authentically will not be successful.  Breaking down the organizational silos is not an easy transformation to make, and it will require bold leadership.  Your company leader or CEO is the one person who not only oversees all the organizational silos but also has the power to motivate the entire organization and recognize performance.

[An original version of this email appeared in the AMA Executive Circle Blog on March 2nd 2017] 

Suggested related articles:
Eye Popping ROI of Customer Journey Mapping” from by Adobe
How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever” from the Boston Consulting Group
Customer Experience Starts with Bold Leadership” from ForbesCMO
Loyalty Is Getting a Face Lift in 2017” from by Adobe
To Be an Experience Business Requires Organizational and Cultural Shifts” from by Adobe

How to Create Better Emails with Strategic Direction

February 5, 2017


Email marketing and its effectiveness are sometimes questioned when there are so many other newer and shinier social and digital media objects on the horizon. Those options include newer social media vehicles, improvements on the long-time standards, and the apparent efficiencies of pay-per-click and remarketing.

All these channels have value—when used strategically—and the most fundamental issue is to recognize each for what it does best.  As an example, many might not consider direct mail because it is considered to be “dated” or costly.   However, recent research indicates a majority of direct mail recipients see it as much more personal and friendly than the massive network of inexpensive internet options.

Why Email Marketing Can Make Strategic Sense

Using email marketing as a major tool makes sense for at least four core reasons:

  1. strategic-elements-of-emaiil-marketingCustomers on an email list have chosen to be there because they want to hear relevant news from you and your concept. If they didn’t, they would quickly unsubscribe (and you should always be offering a clear and easy way for them to opt out).
  2. Email accounts will continue to grow at about 6% per year worldwide for the next few years while the number of email users will grow at 3% annually (The Radicati Group, Inc. March 2015).  Online transactions like shopping and banking will continue to require valid email addresses, and 55% of emails are opened on mobile, which is an increasingly important vehicle (Litmus, March 2016).
  3. And did I mention relevance? The much sought after Millennials (20 to 35 years old) want their news through email as 43% trust email more than other social media vehicles―as long as your news is relevant.
  4. Email marketing communications allow you to acquire an accurate and current address that will not change as frequently as other social media accounts or addresses.

Key Points to Effective Email Marketing

Understanding why email recipients opt out is a good first step toward creating a strategically effective email program.  Almost two-thirds of customers disengage from an email list because they did not subscribe (36%) or saw the emails being received as irrelevant (32%).

At the same time, what they want is equally clear:

  • 24% want information they can use.
  • 23% want emails that are more personal and relate to them.

I know restaurant CEOs and owners who are particularly worried about having customers drop out of their email list.  This is an understandable but potentially needless concern because people move or simply lose interest in a concept category because of age and income changes (but keep the number under 2%!).

They should, however, be concerned if their emails are not informative, relevant, or telling relevance-matters-in-all-marketing-effortsan interesting story about the category or brand.  They should be concerned if their emails are not engaging.

Think of it like this: we all enjoy hearing from friends and colleagues and those with interesting points of view.  We all know selling is part of life (Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human recognizes that 40% of us have jobs involved in selling, convincing, influencing…).  The first―but not only―job of any customer communication is to create or build on a relationship.

The basic rule of effective email, then, is to make sure your emails are providing relevant and interesting brand news.  In general, surveys have indicated that about 54% of email recipients find up to three emails a month as acceptable (and many will accept even more).  These numbers offer good guidance, but the core issue is—back to this again—being informative, relevant, and interesting.

You will, of course, want your emails strategically to promote the business and directly increase sales.  But take a moment to ask yourself whether your email recipients really know and understand your concept as much as they want to.  Do they know what drives the restaurant or concept’s goals, the brand, your teams?

My suggestion is to use at least 30% to 40% of your emails to provide relevant information to your customers, emails that remind your guests of how authentic your concept is so they can better relate to it.  For restaurants, this might lead to a discussion of ingredient origins, the real value of fresh, the personal story behind a concept’s commitment to its customers, how you hire your staff, why the restaurant was started, or the personal story behind a General Manager’s commitment to his customers.

It’s clear that a good, strategically focused email marketing program can not only help promote your business and its specials but also build more lasting and deeper relationships with customers who want to be engaged and know more.  Start with relevance as your foundation and add initiatives to build sales on top of that.

[A version of this email first  appeared in the AMA Executive Circle blog on January 18, 2017]

Following are relevant marketing articles which might also be of interest:

Two “Big Picture” Steps to Finding the Right Technology at the Right Time

December 16, 2016

Over the last few months, I have been to two restaurant conferences (Fast Casual Executive Summit and MUFSO) and one food service technology conference (FSTEC). From visiting booths, listening to presentations and business leaders, and knowing the marketplace, I now have an uneasy sense that small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) and restaurant chains are being bombarded with too many technological options.

Is the company investing in the right technology at the right time?  Are better alternatives being missed?  Is another competitively disruptive technology just around the corner for your team and customers?

The number of new software programs hitting the market is truly exciting, but weighing the pros, cons, and cost benefits of one system over another can be mind-boggling.  And leadership can be caught in the trap of deciding whether operational efficiency is more important than customer engagement.

Driven by limited resources and the very real pressure of keeping up with or staying ahead of the competition, many small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) and restaurant chains seem to react sporadically and without a plan.  And that means committing money and hours to disconnected efforts originally meant to leverage today’s most important and disruptive tools:  technology and digital.

There may not be an easy solution for the SMBs of the world.  For the Pizza Huts and McDonald’s, finding the right Chief Information Officer (CIO or CTO) to work with and bring insights to the C-suite team―especially operations and marketing―may be challenging but attainable with some basic reallocation of resources.

What the SMB/restaurant chain does not want to do is to start with one software program only to discover another which is fully superior.  There will be improvements with time, but who wants to start with 2.0 when 3.0 is “out there” waiting or “just around the
corner? ”  Or why waste money and time by initiating one program only to find a better one which overlaps the one to which you just committed?  This is one time when impatience does not pay.

Doing Your Homework to Find the Right Technology

There are two very important steps to insuring success.  The first is to do your homework while scanning the horizon, and the second is to be organized for effective execution (I’m reminded of Thomas Edison’s “Vision without execution is hallucination.”).

Doing your homework means taking the time to truly understand your customers, what their needs are, and how they relate to your concept. Clearly a younger Millennial customer will be more accepting of technology and have greater expectations―from mobile to kiosks to tablets.  In the restaurant world, quick service and fast casual concepts are more likely to have technology fit the customer experience more seamlessly, but an innovative use of technology at the casual dining level could provide a very impactful advantage (I’ve heard of but not seen casual dining concepts using tech and tablets to deliver customer selected music at each table or provide more menu flexibility).

Make an effort to “scout out” the full spectrum of what’s available from mobile visibility and ordering, social media connectivity, loyalty and email programs, and more convenient ordering—for example.

Doing your homework also means making sure you and your team fully comprehend the range of alternatives leading to cleaner, simpler operations, financial savings, and increased efficiency.  Systems that improve ordering accuracy and reliability can also be considered to be customer engaging because they make for a better experience.  In retail, improved efficiency can be a customer benefit if it leaves the staff more time and “mental freedom” to interact with customers.

Creating this fully fleshed out perspective between a customer engagement focus and operational efficiencies will require information gathering interviews and research. Depending on resources, research can range from major quantitative and qualitative efforts to simply open conversations with customers and potential suppliers.  The critical key is to follow the process as best you can with the resources at hand.  And adding an outside source to expand bandwidth in the short term is another very real and usually effective possibility.

Setting Priorities to Deliver Results

Setting priorities and executing the plan follows the “homework” or “scanning the horizon” phase. Assuming you do not have the financial resources to hire a leading technical officer, consider creating a decision-making triumvirate of the lead executive, operator, and marketer.  My suggestion is for the marketing person to be in charge of the effort because she should be the closest to the guest and company culture while being analytical enough to focus the team on making the right decisions with the right values to go after the right technology (another quotation, this time from Peter Drucker, is the aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself…the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.”).

In smaller businesses, one person may be wearing many hats, but it is best for the lead perspective to be analytically focused on the customer or guest and sensitive to the culture.

For the team’s priorities of finding the right technology, consider the:

  • Customer needs first as they will be delivering the sustainable and growing EBITDA.  Delivering a new and disruptive technology to them can help to “leap frog” the competition.
  • Financial impact of the options being explored, both in terms of benefits to your market position and costs.  Charting the options and expected benefits may take judgement and not be absolutely precise, but the range of relative values will be visible for better decision making.
  • Time each new technological addition will take and how your system can deal with it. Your assessments must be truthful and as rigorous as possible because additional technology will be with the company for a long time.
  • Impact on training, HR, and other functions as the impact can be significant and must be included in the total analysis.

In today’s customer or guest first economy, getting technological and digital efforts right―from enhanced loyalty or email programs or digital advertising to improved operational effectiveness and savings―can deliver competitive advantages that will last years.  Isn’t that worth a special and targeted focus?

[The original version of this blog post appeared in the Marketing Executives Networking Group blog on November 10th 2016.]

Following are five links to potentially more insightful reading:
Customer Experience: Brands Need to Get Technology Right
Survey: Email Is Evolving and Time Spent With It Growing
Is Your Brand Personal Enough for the Millennials?
New Research: Why the Ability to Teach Could Be a Key Differentiator for Brands
McKinsey Insights:  Linking the Customer Experience to Value