The Best Super Bowl Commercial (That We Didn’t Get To See)

As is the American pop-media tradition, there has been plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking going on over the Super Bowl commercials. Did you, like me, think the VW commercial was going to be for tourism in Jamaica? Or what about the Ram truck commercial? Inspiring or too dark and murky? Or what about the general lack of appreciation for viewing context? That is, I would imagine a significant percentage of those watching can’t hear the audio. Yet there was not a single advent—that I saw—that functioned well with the volume off. Perhaps big time advertising / TV creative types don’t go to sports bars and/or Super Bowl parties? The answer is obvious, yes?

However, none of those were the marketing low point of the evening. That anti-crescendo happened prior to the kickoff. Most of you probably weren’t even watching yet and even those who were, I bet, have no idea what I’m talking about.

Since I like to eat my own dog food let me provide some of you less enthusiastic NFL fans some backstory (i.e., context). For starters, there’s the ongoing controversy over concussions. which even President Obama has hinted at. After player safety there’s player conduct. Let’s just say that the NFL would be happy if some players were better known for their performance on the field than off. Naturally, with the Baltimore Ravens being in the Super Bowl, (their linebacker) Ray Lewis’ murder more info

indictments were back in the public consciousness.  Nice, right?

Which brings us to the Dallas Cowboy’s Jason Witten and the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. Please raise your hand if you’re drawing a blank.

Jason Witten - NFL Man of the Year 2013

OK then, let’s get to the bottom line…

In light of all the NFL’s image problems, would it really have been too much to devote 60 to 90 seconds to Mr. Witten at half time? Here is a family man the league should be proud of, but they blew it. All that was needed was a quick bit on Mr. Payton, his legacy and the tradition of the award (all of which would been helpful to many of the NFL “amateurs” who were watching), and then something on Witten’s work for stopping domestic violence. 60 seconds of video, plus 30 second of live award would have been 100% brilliant. Heck, put it dead smack in the middle of the Beyonce show and let her present the award to him. Talk about a photo op. Yes, make a big deal out of it. Why? Because it is a big and very positive deal.

Instead, this—dare I say—ceremony was during the pre-game and the segment was excessively short. If you got up to get another cold one, you might have missed it. Pretty sad, don’t you think?

Friends don’t let friends blame IT

“7 IT lessons from the collapse of Borders” by Frank Hayes (, 7 March 2011). Truth be told I am by nature a geek. Not that I’m necessarily a shiny new object kind of guy. But I do appreciate technology, it’s application, and it’s potential for positive impact. While I don’t wear my geek pride on my sleeve, I do consider myself a card carrying member of the Geek Union Local 0101.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been reading articles similar to thee one by Frank Hayes. These memories go back to the mid-80’s. That’s a long time to repeatedly blame the same player for not making the championship. Mind you, IT has its faults. But so does marketing, operations, HR, finance, etc. And while I hate to wear out the sports analogy, business is a team effort. Everyone must work together.  When there’s a win, it’s a team win. And when there’s a loss a good coach will suck it up and accept responsibility. In short it’s hard to image IT being 100% responsible 100% of the time for 100% of the project that failure. Hard to believe, right?

The point I’m getting to is that Frank’s article inspired me to send him an email. I felt compelled to let him know that I found the post-game analysis of the decline of Borders very interesting. However, the perpetration of the myth that it’s always IT’s fault also needed to be addressed. Once I sent it, I figured the matter was closed. Nope! Here is the version of the letter that appeared in the 9 May 2011 print issue of ComputerWorld. Yes, I guess they do still print letters submitted by readers. So here’s another one of the record books that cleared the Editors’ Hurdle.

I enjoyed Frank Hayes’ March 7 2011 column, “Seven IT Lessons from the Collapse of Borders.” It was s great Monday morning wrap-up.

But I do take issue with one statement, where he says that “no one in IT was able to convince management to reinvent Expert.” Expert was Borders inventory management system, and Hayes points out that it was unable to scale as Borders grew.

Why is IT being made the scapegoat once again for C-level incompetence? I think that Expert’s shortcomings would have been pretty obvious. I can’t imagine that one needed an MBA to see how the system (and I’m not just talking about technology) was failing. Hayes seems to imply not only that IT staff were the only ones who could see the problem, but that IT was also the only one responsible. Really?

If the fall of Borders was IT’s fault, then what were the executives responsible for?

I’m growing tired of IT taking one for the team. And it’s one thing when Marketing and other departments pin one on IT. Let’s face it, they’re not going to admit any guilt themselves. Buy why is Frank Hayes reinforcing a myth and a stereotype?

Well said, right?

Content? Or production & distribution?

“Are We Ready to Play With Pay? The Content Value Reproposition” by Steve Smith (EContent Magazine, April 2010). As the internet allowed islands of content to drift together, the cost of being an info consuming traveler  fell, drastically. Aside from the benefit of no more dead trees, it doesn’t get any cheaper than free, does it? But now what? How are content providers supposed to survive on a business model based on free?

In the end, Steve’s article inspired the letter below. The stellar news is, the editors of EContent printed it in the July/August 2010 issue. It’s always nice to see the AU State of Mind get more love. Enjoy!

Hello Steve

I just wanted to take a moment and mention that I thought your article was very well done. However, there are two things that I would like to mention:

1) I was surprised you did not make mention of iTunes. About the only thing more ubiquitous than music is air. That said, the general belief is the content (i.e., music) is the loss leader and ol’ Steve J. & Co make their money on the hardware. Maybe “value add” is the model to follow? That is, content providers don’t just publish, but consult, host seminars, etc.

2) Early on you wrote, ” Traditional media made their ad models work because they controlled both the supply and distribution of content around a limited set of brands.” I’m not so sure this is as accurate as it could be. The advantage traditional media once held was for the most part based on production and distribution. Supply had little to do with their advantage. It was the barriers to entry (read: cost) that sustained that biz model. The People have always been willing to self-express and self-publish. It wasn’t until the early 90’s with desktop publishing software and relatively
lost cost copies from Kinko’s did that really become feasible and “mainstream” (in an underground, not quite mass market ‘zine sorta way). Today, even outside of the internet, digital printing is getting
more and more reasonable. And then there’s something like MagCloud that uses the advantages of the internet to let people self publish on demand. In short, the content has always been there.

One step further, I would argue that this is somewhat the problem with traditional media. They are under the belief they were in the content biz. They were not. The reality is, they were in the production
and distribution biz with much of their “content” coming from wire services or just regurgitating the details of events. Today, I would bet for most ball games I can get play by play via Twitter. So why watch the 11 o’clock news? Let alone read the morning paper? Those mediums are slow and costly.

Again, for the most part they have not been “creating” content, just moving it around.

Thanks again for the article.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

How to save the fans from the NBA

“6 Ways to Fix the NBA” by Stephen Fried (, 20 June 2010). As luck (?) would have it, this article managed to come my way via Google Alerts. And yes, sports as an analogy for business is overdone. None the less there are some interesting observation here that apply to incentives, as well as cause and effect gone astray.

Here is a version of the comment that was submitted:

Dear Parade,

I read the six recommendations on improving the appeal of the NBA and would like to comment. My thoughts are as follows:

1) Change foul out rules — While it’s true people wish to see the star players, no one comes to see fouls either. In any sport fouls are the “ugly” side of the game. I find it hand to believe that what ultimately comes down to more fouls is going to be appealing for the fan. Is there any prescient for ugliness increasing a fan base of any sport?

2) Increase scoring — I would like to suggest there are two flaws here. One, accelerating scoring will only accelerate the gap in two mismatched teams. Does the NBA really need more blow outs? Two, it’s supposed to be a game and sport, the tit-for-tat approach of focusing on scoring is going to wear thin very fast. One could argue it’s the perceived (?) lack of strategy is actually what’s hurting the NBA today. Pass… Pass… Dunk. Followed by pass… Shoot… gets dull after a while. We know they can score, the question is, do they have game?

That said, an interesting idea might be just giving the team that’s leading less time to shoot? Or the team that’s down more time so they control the pace, can readjust, etc.

3) Raise the age limit — Again, two flaws. One, what if the stars-to-be opts out of the college route and decide to play in Europe instead. Two, does this not confirm the criticism that many already make about college basketball? That is, it’s not about education, sport and developing students into citizen, but instead it’s just the minor leagues for the NBA.

4) Encourage quirk — Ha! In this day and age?? Even at 140 characters Twitter is enough for some of these guys to hurt themselves and ruin their careers. In a society that expects perfection this recommendation is just an accident ready to happen. Furthermore, just because they are great athletes does mean they have “personality”. What’s does shooting a basketball have to do with anything other than that? Yes, let them be who they are. Just consider the classic, “Be careful what you wish for”.

5) Change the trade rules — Truth be told, there is already collusion between the agents and the front offices. The free market will be great as long as there is a way to ensure it is remains a free market.

6) Shortern the season — Finally something that makes sense. And please suggest the same for baseball and hockey too. The NFL has it right, as does European football (aka soccer). The irony here is this is a call for quality, yet more (read: quantity) scoring was recommended earlier.

The bottom line… More fans will pay attention when the NBA, or any brand for that matter, becomes a better entertainment value than other choices fans might already have. I’m not so sure most of the six recommendation listed really workt towards that goal. That is to consistently entertain to a level that exceeds expectations.

Thanks for listening.


p.s. I thought it was interesting that the woman’s league was not mentioned. It very well could be that the WNBA is cannibalizing fans from the NBA. Maybe this is because in the WNBA it ismore about “game” than about size, or should I say size of egos?Btw, when was the last time a fan got beat up at a WNBA game?

Making over the Makeover

“Makeover: Scoot Richmond – No Free Rides” by Phaedra Hise (Fortune Small Business, November 2009). As you’ve followed this blog you’ve probably come to realize that FSB’s Makeover feature is very often an engaging read. The review of this Richmond, Virginia’s scooter business is worth a go.

For what it’s worth, here are the AU caveats as emailed to Ms. Chelsea Lahmers, Scoot Richmond’s owner.

Hello Chelsea,

I just finished reading/skimming the article in FSB on Scoot Richmond. Kudos to you for stepping forward and looking for new ideas. In my previous life, I too was the owner of a retail business. I certainly understand how difficult it can be to juggle the day to day details and try to be open minded and forward thinking at the same time.

I have some thoughts as based on that article. Unfortunately, I’m running late for a meeting with a client so please accept this “rapid fire” style. I’m not trying to be blunt. I’m not trying to be critic. I’m just once again a bit pressed for time. Please forgive me.

I will preface my input with one presumption – I realize the article is not everything that was discussed, etc. The article is however all I am able to go on. Please accept my thoughts knowing the limitation of my perspective.

— Rather than waste your time going to the police station, contact your bank or whoever does your credit card processing and ask them what they offer in terms of check protection. For example, as I understand it, Heartland Payment Systems offers a (hardware/software) solution that mitigates the risk of bad checks. It might even eliminate it.

— Maybe he was misquoted but Mr. Wilson’s suggestion to “interview each candidate several times…” was (for me) almost comical. Yes, I agree with “prevention” but will you be getting the best candidates, or just the ones willing to jump over your hurdles. Moi? I like the birds of a feather rule. That is, ask your current (or former) employees and then from there ask your customers. Also be attentive of when you shop elsewhere, maybe you can steal someone else’s good employee?

— Speaking of asking your customers, it always amazes me how many of these FSB Makeover articles never recommend speaking with the customer. Maybe that’s stating the obvious but maybe it’s not? When someone buys a new scooter, do they get a follow up phone call? What about a new service cusotmer? Do you have a suggestion box? Maybe “Suggestion of the Month” get a free oil change? This is the Web 2.0 age and whether online or off people have thoughts and they want to share them. Try to live up to that expectation/reality. Yes, I know it’s easier said than done but try we must.

— Speaking of web sites, IMHO, you might want to consider a make over. I would have never guessed you were doing $1.1m by the look of your site. I like the idea but it’s not “tight”. If you’re interested in discussing such a project just let us know. We’d like to submit a proposal.

— The best way for me to describe my reaction to Ms. Angstadt’s recommendation is, “Be careful what you wish for.” If the incentive is to do something quicker then trust me, it will get done quicker. But is that really what you want? More importantly. is that what the customer wants? Will quicker still mean 100% right? That said,  what is the cost of that (say) 5% error? If you’re going to offer incentives then be 250% positive they are (what we call) guest-centric. If they’re not, then expect the worse. Try the Harvard Business Review site web for insights on incentives. The ones recommended seem counter productive.

— Also, I would not recommend looking at your books in that way *too closely*. Do you need to watch the numbers? Of course you do. In the current climate we all do. But being the size that you are then I would favor a more holistic approach. For example, if using an oil change as a loss leader inspires more sales of scooters then is that a bad thing? Much like Mr. Wilson, Ms. Angstadt’s “the store should sell the oil to the repair shop…”, seems a bit out of touch. In theory, the idea is cute but it’s not going to happen – especially if a customer is waiting. Especially if the incenttive is to get it done faster. Such a transaction is just not practical on a day to day basis, is it? Maybe checking inventory and shifting whole cases might make sense but even that probably isn’t worth the time.

— If you going to watch the numbers then do some research and try to benchmark against your industry and/or your peers. If you’re strictly focused on your own numbers you might end up “grabbing the balloon”. That is, squeeze one end and it pops out elsewhere. In other words, drive up margins and profit can in fact drop. Small biz is about cash flow, service and long term repeat relationships. Margins will take care of themselves if you’re making people happy.

Not to worry, I’m almost done…

— I agree, VCU students sound like a great market for customers and possibly part-time employees. But did Ms. Cantrell really say “target them with a flyer”? Don’t get me wrong. I will be the first to say that print is not dead. But is that really the best medium for Gen ______ ? (Sorry, I don’t know the current buzz phrase of the current college generation.)

— Also,  “Buying ads in a newletters…” also sounds not very 2010. I have a couple of clients who spend quite a bit of money on print ads and unless you’re targeting the (age) 50 & up crowd, I strongly suggest you rethink that strategy. In fact, you might have the option to position the scooter as being “green” – and not being in print ads might be a statement in and of itself, eh? Hand out some t-shirts, etc. But unless more than a couple customers recommend a print publication thentry to avoid them. Naturally, as I’m sure you already know, avoid one-off ads at all costs. Lighting flashes very rarely produce cost justifiable results.

— The donate / non-profit idea is great! Never a bad thing!! Supporting them is also probably the one exception to the No One-offs rule.

— Finally, with regards to the guy you sent home late. (1) Unless he was specifically told that late = home with no pay then that was a pretty big no-no. (2) If that was his first time, then it was an even bigger no no. “Punishment” like that might come back to bite you in the butt. Do I think there needs to be expecations? Yes, I agree with you there. But much like incentives, be careful what you wish for. You’re Scoot Richmond, not Ford Motor Company. Think “team”. Not “I’m going to get you”.

Hope I helped. Please let me know if you have any questions, etc.

Good luck,
Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton, NJ

Alright then, anyone else have any thoughts on this article, Scoot Richmond or even the AU feedback? Please take a moment and share it.

The truth about Apple

“Apple The Outlier” by Rich Karlgaard (, 21 October 2009). In response to Mr. Kalgaard’s blog post the following comment (below) was submitted. Maybe you’ll find it entertaining, so it’s also being shared here.

While I didn’t read every comment in detail, with all due respect, I think the essential point has been missed… When it has been more successful, Apple has been the tortoise. There are plenty of cases of Apple and/or Jobs falling on their face. How many of you are using a Next computer :)

On the other hand, where Apple has done really well, is when it slows down while others rush in. The ipod and the iphone both being great examples. Neither were new ideas. What they were were still developing ideas done a bit better and more importantly, rolled out *after* “the tipping point”. Apple doesn’t feel the need to be first to market, they’d rather get it more right their first time. They’ve come to realize the value in learning from others’ mistakes.  If there is an irony, it’s that Apple really isn’t a technolgy company (i.e., technology for technology’s sake). They understand that they are a solutions and services company, and that’s what they focus on providing.

When they get it right, Apple doesn’t waste resources trying to get to the tipping point, they let others do their bidding. In the meantime they’re using their resources (time and people) to build a better mouse trap as well as come up with the marketing spin to make it look new and exciting. I am not trying to belittle the iphone, I am only suggesting it is not the cure for cancer.

There is no doubt, Apple is a great outfit. But the reasons for that success are too often wrong and/or overstated. They have a great formula – look how their growth and market share has nudged up year by year (i.e., like a tortoise) – and at the moment it’s working quite well for them. But a smart competitor could duplicate their formula quite easily. Provided that competitor isn’t blinded by the hype, or fearful of a beast that isn’t even there.

The wary reader gets wise

“Courting a Wary Customer” by Sid Liebenson (Deliver Magazine, July 2009). In case you’re not already aware, Deliver is published by USPS. Natrually, it tends to be biased towards the usage of direct mail or other pro-USPS mediums. None the less, there are often pearls of wisdom worth consuming. Unfortunately, Mr. Liebenson’s article is going to be used as a poster child for don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Please pardon the dip into what might be perceived as the negativity pool.

Below is the letter inspired by Sid’s article. I’d like to add that while the overall tone is somewhat off-centre, my intention was not to bully him. There just some obvious holes in this conclusions. I’d also like to mention that in the letter I describe myself as a “punk-ass kid”, which is hardly the case. The phrase was just used for dramatic effect, if not comic relief.

Hello Sid,

As you can see I felll a bit behind on my reading. I just read your article and found it inspiring and enjoyable. Thanks for taking the time to share with the rest of us.

Let me cut to the chase…

I realize you’re the high flyin’, swashbucklin’ marketing exec and I’m just a punk-ass kid trying to grow up to be you :) but there were two points in your article that I would hope you can take a moment and clarify for me. Btw, please pardon my tone if it comes off as a bit “East Coast” but I’m just a straight shooter. I do not mean to offend. In fact, I’m hoping you see the humor in the delivery.

— One —

You said: Your marketing messages need to be not only personalized, but frequent. In a tough economy, it’s common for consumers to question where every penny is going. When they do that, suddenly every relationship is a little at risk. Their question becomes “Am I really getting value from this relationship, or is there something that will satisfy my needs equally for less money?”

— Pardon me for asking but it’s not clear to me how frequency answers that question. More often is not an answer, at least not to the question you suggest they are asking. In fact, if said organization is not delivering value then it’s likely that frequency will only remind the customer of the (failed?) relationship and the brands inability to understand and in turn satisfy them.

If your question is *the* question then it would seem to me that the focus should be on actually delivering value that satisfies and not just delivering more marketing spin more often. Sorry, but I don’t think it’s safe to assume that every company has it’s “stuff” together and should just repeat marketing formula X more often. Maybe it’s just me? It would seem to me that your recommendation might actually be doing quite a few (of those in denials of their flaws) a disservice.

— Two —

You said: From April 2008 to August 2008, there were more than 83,000 visits and 2,357 messages left on the site. This clearly shows the effects of empathizing with consumers.

With all due respect Sid, no that does not clearly show empathizing. It’s a simple statistic – nothing more, nothing less. Now if you supported that conclusion with “as compared to a control group” or made reference to some sort of follow up interview then that stat might hold some water.

As it is, 2,357 out of the universe of all BCBSF customers (or potential customers) doesn’t sound like much of a sample to me. Can it help? I’m sure it can. But a sub 3% “response rate” as a ratio of visits (btw, is that unique visits or just visits?) really isn’t very meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like the client was pleased. It’s just not clear to me how the stat you mention translates into some conclusion about empathy.  Frankly, I’m a bit disappointed that someone who should know better tried to pull the wool over our eyes with some old media-esque broad brushed spin.

Again, I hope it did not offend. I look forward to your reply.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Btw, this letter was sent earlier in the week and Sid has yet to reply.

Ask a realtor, staging matters (and other late night thoughts) – Part 2

“Fortune Small Business Small Business Makeover: Cloz – Dress for Success” by Patricia B. Gray (Fortune Small Business, May 2009).  This post is a follow up to a post a couple weeks back. Full disclosure: It is also shameless self-promotion. The news… FSB  decided to print (on their Letters page) an edited version of the AU feedback submitted. YES!

After reading the recent Makeover of Cloz, the Chicago-based school uniform supplier (“Dress for Success,” May), I have a few ideas to share. Instead of launching a second garment business for the slow season, what if Cloz used that time to become a vendor for other manufactures in of outsourcing? The firm might also consider an airline pricing model, with price breaks for early (or even late) ordering. Maybe try offering other types of uniforms or consider exporting to countries in the Southern Hemisphere? I would imagine that once Cloz has gained a parent’s trust, there are other items the company could cross-sell to its base. In addition, the website needs an update. With all due respect, the site does not say to potential customer, “We will take care of you,” and it is hardly search engine friendly. It gives no indication of Cohen’s pedigree in dressing “scions of America’s wealthiest families for almost two decades.”

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton, NJ

One additional caveat: The original letter that went to was also submitted to Cloz via their web site. There was no reply, not even an autoreply. Maybe Cloz should also pursue a makeover of their guest services as well?

Btw, this was the second published letter to the edit this week. Feels good, right?

Welcome of Fantasy Island?

“Opinion: When head counts are low, take time to save time” by Sharon Machlis (ComputerWorld Mag, 18 May 2009).

In theory Ms. Machlis is correct. It is true, there is always room for improvement.

Unfortunately, it is rare that management (in larger organizatios) incents such behavior – let alone rewards it. As the fear of loss of job increases the willingness to take chances (read: invest time in investigating / developing a more productive approaches) decreases.

What Ms. Machlis is advocating rarely takes place in the best of times. It doesn’t seem realistic that corporate-think (i.e., small minded, short sighted, territorial based behaviors, etc.) will change when the man/woman in the next cubical (or corner office) might be your replacement.

This isn’t a glass half empty opinion but an accepted and well established reality.

Ask a realtor, staging matters (and other late night thoughts)

“Fortune Small Business Small Business Makeover: Cloz – Dress for Success” by Patricia B. Gray (Fortune Small Business, May 2009). Below are a few more opportunities that were shared with FBS.

Dear FSB,

With regards to Mr. Michael Cohen and his firm Cloz, I have a few ideas I’d like to share before I shut down my notebook and get some sleep. To that I add, please excuse any typos or other obvious
mistakes – it’s late and I really should be asleep already.

> Instead of a slow-season biz why not use what is essentially excess capacity to:

a) Be a vendor for others in need of outsourcing

b) Use an airlines-esque pricing model and offer price breaks for early (or even late) ordering. Given the economic climate, (slightly) lower prices might retain some customers from defecting. It might also be a good way to attract new customers.

c) What about other school / organization uniforms? For example, cheer leading, or marching band? Both of these might be a good way to get new customers to try Cloz.

d) Would it be feasible to consider exporting to southern hemisphere countries?

e) I agree that a side-biz might be taking a chance but I would also imagine that once Cloz has gained a parent’s trust that there might be other things that could be used to “cross sell” to his base.

> I don’t believe the articles mentions (whether Cloz already does so or not) but instead of expanding into more space maybe the answer is to add shifts to maximize the use of his manufacturing when the season is peaking. Further expansion might only increase the risk and depth of the valleys in between the peaks.

> If the correct web site is then I beg to differ – that site needs a make-over. In addition to the design, a simple right click / view source (code) reveals dated web dev code that is hardly “search engine friendly.” An updating could have a positive impact on his organic search engine placement. There’s no guarantee but the article certainly implies he can’t do much worse in that regards.

> With all due respect that site does not say to a new potential customers, “We are $10m biz and we will take care of you.” Like it or not, people judge a book by its cover.

> The article mentions that “Cohen has dressed the scions of America’s wealthiest families for almost two decades…”. Best I can tell, the site gives no indication of that pedigree, nor of the elite private and boarding schools Cloz serves.

> Once again, FSB’s “web expert” (mistakenly) recommends buying keywords. Ironically, the “Google Wants You” article (by Chris Morrison, page 27 of the same issue) draws a less than absolute conclusion. Keyword might help but not only are there alternatives but it is highly recommended that Mr. Cohen read the attached article that appeared in eWeek (“Searching for more traffic” by Jim Rapoza) a few months back. Btw, please excuse the copy right infringement.

> It should be noted that it is estimated that 15 – 20% of AdWords clicks are bogus. With what authority does Mr. Dalton say, “It’s a cheap, easy fix”? It might be cheap *if* it works, but if it doesn’t Mr. Cohen could lose more to Google than he bargained for. One has to wonder if driving traffic to a site that’s really that “shabby” makes sense. Again, please read the eWeek article – it’s brilliant.

> The article makes no mention of a sales force – independent or otherwise. Regardless, I would suggest Mr. Cohen use Yahoo! alerts or Google alerts and enter “school uniforms” (or some combination of words) to try to get alerts on school districts that are either considering going to school uniforms, or where maybe there’s a news item of a contract expiring.

> With regards to school systems who are considering such a shift to uniforms, I would suggest Mr. Cohen start a blog that collects articles / links on studies that support increased student performance, as well as other benefits from  student being required to wear uniforms. This would give him a tool to supplement his alerts. For example, he gets an alert and then reaches out to that school district with an email that says, “Here are some links that I think you might be interested in…”

> Some testimonials of current clients probably wouldn’t hurt either. Should Cloz market / advertise? Of course it should. Might there be things Cloz can do so new clients come looking for them too? Absolutely there are (and it’s likely they are cheaper and/or more effective than keywords.

> I’m not too certain if this next idea applies but what about the idea of seasonal uniforms? Or something similar to the English Premier League (Soccer) where the teams change “kits” a couple times a year. Naturally, that helps increase concession sales. The idea might not apply here but maybe there’s the inspiration for a better idea for Mr. Cohen hidden in my idea somewhere?

> Finally, scientific school equipment (read: static) and school uniforms are apples and oranges, IMHO. An “expert” from a company who sells school uniforms, or even text books might have been able to offer better insights. Not that Mr. Flinn’s where bad. I am only suggesting the possibility of a more appropriate “expert” for next time.

Alright, that will have to do it for tonight, time to get some sleep. Good night.

Hoist a new flag

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Your vision . Our passion . Success realized


Without guests there is no retail

“Wholesale Changes” by Eric Krell (Consulting Magazine, March / April 2009).  A fairly insightful article that was good enough to trigger this letter to the editor:

Consulting Mag:

The ill condition of retail is well known. However, there is a factor that was not directly mentioned (in the article) and we believe is essential to understanding and solving the problem. Typically it’s
called the customer experience. Although we prefer the higher ground of The Guest Experience. Even prior to the economic correction many of retail’s industry leaders and
results producers provided an experience that was average at best and continually failed to meet guest expectation.

For example, my local supermarket has more video monitors than my local sporting goods retailer. In addition, when online a person interested in a product or service can get detailed information, read reviews, watch video, compare prices, ask questions, shop 24/7, etc. Walk into a retailer today and once you get past the obligatory greeter you’re not likely to get much help – let alone an experience that inspires loyalty and guides purchases. Finally, merchandising is so me-too and cookie cutter that the yawns are increasing louder than the ca-chings.

Like it or not online is raising the bar for all purchase expectations. Much like print (magazines and newspapers), retail is in denial and is losing – and has probably already lost – the next generation of customers. The fact is retail (with its accountant driven formulas) only has itself to blame.

Hoist a new flag

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ

The real e-proof is in the real e-details – Part 2

“Web Sales with a Human Touch” by Edward H Baker is in the latest issue of Strategy+Business ( The post about the letter in was back in November. Here is what they printed. Go AU!

Regarding your article “Web Sales with a Human Touch” (by Edward H. Baker, Autumn 2008), is it really the technology or just the chat itself that increases sales? It  would seem to me that just the presence of the human touch is enough to nudge people into buying.   I’ll bet some percentage of the population just has a hard time saying no to another human being (virtual or not).

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ

Survey says… (Too often, nothing) – Follow up

“Hope Rising” by Computer World editor Don Tennant (Computer World Magazine, November 2008). A couple weeks back there was a post about this editorial as well as AU email into Mr. Tennant. And here is the edited version that appeared in the 8 December 2008 print issue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be available online just yet.

Do I think there’s racism in America and specifically in corporate America? Without a doubt. Do I believe Don Tennant’s column [“Hope Rising,” Nov. 11] helped clear things up? Nope.

Tennant relied on a survey. At the very least, he should have prefaced his comments by saying something like, “The input to this survey was subjective and was not audited for survey taker accuracy.”

Here are just two of the many possibilities that could have affected the survey’s outcome:

– For all we know, whites might exaggerate more than African-Americans about their pay.

– Both pay and racial concentration correlate to geographic location. In some cases, higher concentrations of African-Americans occur in cities with relatively low pay (for example, Atlanta) and lower concentrations are found in some cities with higher-than-average pay (San Diego).

I always read Tennant’s columns because they are thought-provoking. But in this case, hard facts are going to be more effective then overgeneralizations from surveys.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton, N.J.

It’s always nice to know the AU state of mind is approved and appreciate by movers, shakers, decision makers, the critics, those in-the-know, etc.

Survey says… (Too often, nothing)

“Hope Rising” by Computer World editor Don Tennant (Computer World Magazine, November 2008). Don writes a great column that’s always challenging and often venturing outside the scope of traditional IT publication. This was a good topic but unfortunately he missed the mark in some respects. Here’s what AU had to share with Don:

Hello again Don,

With regards to the Hope Rising column, and the issue of race… Do I think there’s racism in America and specifically corporate America? Without out a doubt I do. Do I believe your column helped clear things up? Nope. First thing, you used the S word – survey. In short, unless there’s some sort of verification I don’t see how such result can be trusted to make any sort of assessment of reality. At the very least any assumptions (and we all know about assume) should be prefaced with, “Of those who responded to this unscientific survey. The input to this survey is subjective and is not audited for survey taker accuracy, etc.”

There are just tons of possibilities:

– For all we know whites tend to exaggerate more than Afro-Americans about their pay.

– If Afro-Americans really are more dissatisfied then I’m willing to bet that those who are unhappy are going to be pretty well aware of the figure that’s making them unhappy. Note: I’d trust someone’s self assessment of satisfied vs. dissatisfied (which is subjective) far more than someone’s recall of their salary (objective).

– Is average really the best way to look at this?

– Pay is also related to geographic location and that certainly could be related to racial concentration. For example,  Atlanta verse the more expensive and thus higher pay of Dan Diego.

Well, I think you get the point. I often enjoy your thoughts because they provoke more thoughts. However in this case I think the assumptions and generalizations have been counter productive. If we’re to solve this problem – or any problem – then hard facts are going to be more effective then over-generalizations of surveys.

Keep’em comin’, please!


Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Burger… medium rare… cheddar… bacon on the side…

CRM Magazine ( posted another inspiring piece by Lior Arussy titled “Self-Service Is Just Less-Than-Full Service” (October 2008). Using the direct line we have to the big dogs at CRM Mag I plopped the email below on Josh Weinberger (Managing Editor).

Yes, another inspiring piece from Lior Arussy, thanks. From my perspective the right answer is a bit more grey than it is black & white. First, the customer should be provided with “functionality” that meets their expectations. Sometimes we like and want self-service and get annoyed when I get “please call” or “please email”. Other times, we want live chat or to make that call. It depends. But the decision should be mine. If I see “features” elsewhere, from what I perceive as similar vendors, then I expect the same. No excuses. Btw, someday I hope companies start to offer a text message option.

Second, the brand should deliver nothing short of what they promise. It doesn’t do any good to just say, “We’re high end” or ” We’re customer focused.” It’s a new era and the brand has to walk the walk too. The customer expects what we all expect – to get what we pay for. Ideally, a little more. I don’t think it’s a question of self vs full but simply of customer expectations and value. Unfortunately, and I’m sure Mr Arussy would agree, too many decisions are made by MBAs with spreadsheets.

I believe that the hospitality industry is actually the model for all others to follow. They don’t have customers, they have guests. A lesson in deed for the rest of it. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what you’re selling, if your brand looks at everyone as guests – and treats them as such – then the dog will wag the tail as it’s supposed to. Unfortunately, these’s no function for that in Excel.

Bottom line… Good service – self or otherwise – is when I don’t feel like I made a mistake for wanting a hamburger at 3:00am. Yes, it might be a slightly unreasonable request. I’m only suggesting that I not be made to feel wrong for making it. So ask yourself, “How
does my company treat my guests?”

Service is in the eye of the beholder

“Self-Service Is Just Less-Than-Full Service” by Lior Arussy (CRM Magazine, Dec 2008, This article innspired this letter to Mr. Josh Weinberger & Co. over at CRM Mag:

Yes, another inspiring piece from Lior Arussy, thanks. From my perspective the right answer is a bit more grey than it is black & white. First, the customer should be provided with “functionality” that meets their expectations. Sometimes I like and want self-service and get annoyed when I get “please call” or “please email”. Other times, I want live chat or to make that call. It depends.  But the decision should be mine. If I see “features” elsewhere, from what I perceive as similar vendors, then I expect the same.  No excuses. Btw, someday I hope companies start to offer a text message option.

Second, the brand should deliver nothing short of what they promise. It doesn’t do any good to just say, “We’re high end” or ” We’re customer focused.” It’s a new era and the brand has to walk the walk too.  The customer  expects what we all expect – to get what we pay for. Ideally, a little more. I don’t think it’s a question of self vs full but simply of customer expectations and value. Unfortunately, and I’m sure Mr Arussy would agree, too many decisions are made by MBAs with spreadsheets.

I believe that the hospitality industry is actually the model for all others to follow. They don’t have customers, they have guests. A lesson in deed for the rest of it. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what you’re selling, if your brand looks at everyone as guests – and treats them as such – then the dog will wag the tail as it’s supposed to. Unfortunately, these’s no function for that in Excel.

Bottom line… Good service – self or otherwise – is when I don’t feel like I made a mistake for wanting a hamburger at 3:00am. Yes, it might be a slightly unreasonable request. I’m only suggesting that I not be made to feel wrong for making it. So ask yourself, how does my company treat my guests?

The real e-proof is in the real e-details

“Web Sales with a Human Touch” by Edward H Baker is in the latest issue of Strategy+Business ( talks about Sales Next, a product/service from 24/7 Customer ( that aims to make a science out of customer support & sales web chat.

Very interesting stuff, eh? However, as one would expect, there are some questions for Mr. Baker and 24/7. After poking around the 24/7 site the best strategy seemed to be to just take these insights right to the horse’s mouth.

Hi Edward,

Thanks for the article. Interesting. But being an internet kinda guy a couple things came to mind. Hopefully you have some time to comment. So if you don’t mind…

1 – While all the algorithms certainly sound impressive I was a bit disappointed that there was no mention of a control group. We’ve all heard the “argument” about monkeys being better stock pickers than most
stockbrokers and I couldn’t help but wonder what the improvement of this technology was over just randomly selecting customer to chat with.

2 – Is it really the technology or just the chat itself that increases sales? I’m no pop psychologists but it would seem to me that maybe just the presence of the human touch is enough to nudge enough people into buying? While I don’t have time to search around for more info I bet 10-15% of the population just has a hard time saying no to another human being (virtual or not).

3 – What is the rate of product being return for these sales vs. the non-assisted sales? I believe the article said the overall level of satisfaction was higher but how many of that 15% sticks? (See point #2 about buying just because they can’t say no.)

4 – My impression from the article was this was strictly for the B reaching out to the C, correct? What if the chat button is offered to all C’s so they can reach to the B when they want? How does that effect
conversion? Or what if the technology is used to only offer select  C’s the option to choose to reach, how does that effect conversion?

5 – Assuming that the intelligence gathered from these engagements is used to improved the site, in theory would we not see a decline in the effectiveness of the chat? In other words, there must be at least some
common bottlenecks and show stoppers that the chat is able to overcome but as those are removed (read: the site is enhanced) the chat should actually be less effective since it’s not really helping. Is this what Adobe found? If not, then doesn’t that challenge the validity of the claims of this product?

6 – What is the long term retention rate of the chatted with customer vs. the non-chats? And again, algorithm selected vs. random? If we’re going to play by the numbers then it only makes sense we be thorough about this evaluation, no?

7 – The example given was Adobe, so I assume the product was software, and probably “expensive”. Well, how effective is SalesNext with services? Or less expensive items – say below $100? Just because
SalesNext worked for Adobe does not mean it will be as effective for others. Yes, you’re right, it could also be more effective. But let’s do some thorough number crunching before we drawn any such conclusions.

I realize it’s a short article and not every detail can be mentioned but I would hope that if some of these pro-SalesNet facts existed then S+B would have been supplied with them. As it is, with all due respect,
I felt like I was reading a press release for a product that claimed to result in an improvement (over doing nothing at all) – and it does – but it’s actually not the best solution available to the client, just
the one that’s most profitable to be sold by the vendor. Maybe I’m better off with a monkey?


Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ

An open letter to Mr. Michael Phelps

Dear Mr Phelps,

Congratulations on all your hard work paying off. Kudos to you for accomplishing something that no one else has ever done! The feeling must be amazing. Very impressive to say the least. And thank you for sharing those moments with all of us.

On the other hand I think you should know that many of us believe that you’ve also earned a world record in shortsightedness and disappointment. Frosted Flakes? Earn Your Stripes? Since when is a sugar coated nightmare like Frosted Flakes eating right? What kind of example is that for the kids?

Maybe you’re not aware of it but we are coming up on 10 million overweight and obese children in the United States. There are also 70+ million adults in the same condition. Is it any wonder our healthcare system is a mess? And now one of the few people (i.e., you) who is in a position to make a difference – with all due respect – sells out. The brand Michael Phelps aligns itself with a nutritional black hole like Tony the Tiger. That’s the best you could do? Who’s advised you on that deal? What was their cut? Can you say, conflict of interest? Simply put, Michael what are you thinking?

What’s even more tragic is that you probably can’t even respond honestly to this letter. You or one of your people will have to spin it so Kellogg is happy. So much for freedom of speech, eh? And please spare me the, “But I’ll be able to…”. No way! I’m absolutely certain that whatever it is could have been done without getting into bed with Tony the Tiger. After all, YOU ARE CURRENTLY THE GREATEST ATHLETE IN THE WORLD. I wonder how the other brands you endorse feel now? Moi? I’d feel ill.

I understand your window of opportunity (for endorsements) is brief but that is all the more reason to defend and define the integrity of your brand. You could be a spokesperson for so many things and you’re about to be pimped on YouTube saying, “They’re greaaattttt!” 10 million kids Michael, 10 million kids.

Shame on Kellogg! And shame on you!! I apologize if I sound like a cynic but I honestly don’t think we’re expecting too much from a gold medal winner such as yourself.

Feel free to give me a shout if you want some objective third party feedback on how things like this can damage your brand and tarnish your legacy for many years to come. Bill Gates is “saving the world” and the Olympic Games superstar Michael Phelps is endorsing a sugar coated cereal targeted to kids. You’ve got to be kidding me.

Totally disappointed,
Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ

Targeting Search Engine Rankings

“Targeting Search Engine Rankings” by Jonathon Love from Internet Retailer ( not only aims to shine some light on the stepchild of search (i.e., organic search,not paid search) but it actually stumbles upon something very interesting that inspired a letter from AU to Jon and IR.

Good morning Jon

Interesting article. Thanks.

However, the other important story here seems to be… How ineffective search engines are at delivering the expected results (i.e., Wikipedia would looks to be the #1 “retailer” based on this study). At the very least a side bar article discussing this “shocking” find would have been nice. Also, to round out the topic some insight in how to adjusting marketing and other efforts to get to customers before they resort to what appears to be random searching.

Finally, how about some talk on the coming decline of search as the first step in the shopping process? As soc-nets grow it would seem only natural that we humans do what we used to do, ask our “friends” for recommendations. So unless the search engines can make major improvements, answers to questions such as “Where can I buy…” are going to best answered in the crowd-cloud. (Yeah,  crowd-cloud, I said it first!)

Yes, there have been attempts at this (e.g., Yahoo! Answers) but none, that I know of, within the context of a MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Who needs Google when one’s Twitter followers can return the right answer faster?


Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ

It’s The Excellence and The Guest Experience, Stupid! – Part 1

It’s so nice to be appreciated and acknowledged by those in your field/area of interest, isn’t it? After reading a couple great articles in CRM Magazine ( I wrote in to provide some additional AU insights. The editors in turn decided to merge the two letters and publish them in their print version (July/August 2008 issue), as well as post on their web site.

To read the letter in, as well as links to the articles what inspired them (both of which are highly recommended), please click here.

Mr. Lior Arussy’s reply is also on point. His ability to pick up the lead and fill in the blank that my “straight guy” routine left off was flawless. It’s sad that too many hiring managers, decision makers, etc. overlook the fact that history is filled with countless examples where passion, belief and determination defeated the “superior” enemy (e.g., Giants over the Pats, David over Goliath).

Sure an MBA helps but being over-prepared, overconfident and boxed in by rules (when the market knows no rules) is rarely going to lead a team to reaching it’s full potential. But that’s the difference between organizations who are driven to succeed and those who are just trying to mitigate failure.