Monday, March 31, 2014

Who has in the #BaconClubhouse promotion from .@klout and .@mcdonalds ?

Business promotions are best when they are win-win situations. Back in 2008, I talked about an Izea promotion which married Izea, Kmart, and influential bloggers such as Loren Feldman and Julia Roy. Today, the online promotional model has progressed to the state where less influential bloggers such as myself can get involved. No, I'm not getting $500 gift cards, but I did receive a $5 McDonalds Arch Card from Klout.


I've earned several Klout perks, but this is the first one that I was actually able to use.

As you can see from the receipt, I applied the $5 from the Arch Card to a $7.44 meal. If I had literally chosen to just try the Bacon Clubhouse Burger, the $5 Arch Card would have covered the cost.

McDonalds' goal in the promotion was to get people to try - and ideally to talk about - its new Bacon Clubhouse Burger.

Thick-cut Applewood smoked bacon, caramelized grilled onions, white cheddar*, crisp leaf lettuce and fresh tomato, all lovingly layered on a quarter pound** of 100% pure beef, then topped with Big Mac special sauce. Served on our artisan roll.

(Note: the burger is also available in grilled and crispy chicken configurations.)

Unfortunately, much of the discussion of the Bacon Clubhouse Burger is canned. You'll see a lot of tweets like this:

Getting an unbeatable taste of the new #BaconClubhouse burger thanks to mcdonalds my klout perk!

You'll notice that I refrained from using the word "unbeatable" in my post title (which is also tweeted). I figure that if I'm going to shill something, I might as well put a bit of original effort into it. (A lesson that I learned from the aforementioned influential bloggers.)

In this case, it's fair to say that this promotion is a win-win-win situation. McDonalds gets some online discussion about its new offering from people who presumably have the ear of others. The Klout perk recipients, of course, get free food. And Klout, which was just acquired by Lithium Technologies, gets some free publicity.

Oh, and my review of the burger. I rarely get the high end burgers from fast food places (these days, I'm more likely to get the plain burger when I go to McDonalds), but this one clearly falls into the premium category - a cut above the Big Macs and Quarter Pounders which were McDonalds' mainstays until a few years ago. If you like bacon, this is definitely recommended.

One more disclosure is in order - when I went to the McDonalds to get the meal, my receipt had a "buy one get one free" offer. However, I'm not going to use it - since even one of these sandwiches is filling, I'm certainly not going to order two.

Friday, March 28, 2014

When protectionism gets too protective - a story

Diana was getting irritated at her teenage son's pronouncements at the dinner table.

"And the laws that ban Tesla sales in all those states are totally bogus!" declared Jim. "And mom, what you and the other car dealers are doing is completely unfair!"

Diana finally exploded. "I've had enough of your mouth!" she yelled back. "You think that Tesla is all cool, but what would you think if your precious Tesla broke down and there wasn't a network of independent dealers to support it? The dealer model has worked for years - if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Jim grumbled and returned to his green beans.

Diana's scowl disappeared when her husband walked in through the front door.

As Mark sat at the table, Diana asked an important question.

"Honey," she asked, "did you have a chance to order those books from Amazon today?"

Mark was not smiling. "Actually, I didn't. During lunch I went to Amazon's web site, and I was greeted with a message from Amazon."


As a result of legislation recently enacted in your state, Amazon is no longer able to sell items directly to customers with New Jersey addresses. We are working to rectify this situation as soon as possible. Rather than fighting the will of New Jersey voters, we are striving to establish a network of independent dealers to sell goods to our New Jersey customers.

"So what does this mean?" asked Diana.

"According to the New Jersey Booksellers' Association," said Mark,

Amazon's approach is not innovative, but rather, by cutting out the dealer hurts the consumer.

The independent system of retailers that operates in New Jersey promotes price competition because a manufacturer doesn't control distribution and prices. It also promotes greater access to warranty claims, which is something direct online booksellers hate.

"And the governor agreed," Mark noted.

"Since Amazon first began operating in New Jersey, it was made clear that the company would need to engage the Legislature on a bill to establish their new direct-sales operations under New Jersey law," said spokesman Kevin Roberts. "This administration does not find it appropriate to unilaterally change the way products are sold in New Jersey without legislation and Amazon has been aware of this position since the beginning."

"But we'll still get free next day delivery under Amazon Prime, right?" asked Diana.

"I doubt it," said Mark. "The delivery schedule would be up to the individual book dealer."

"Well, we'll still get Amazon's pricing, won't we?" asked Diana.

"Maybe, maybe not," said Mark. "The dealer will need to show some profit, so it's possible that the prices may actually go up, despite the competition."

Diana's son Jim was smirking, and even Diana's glare couldn't dampen the smirk on Jim's face.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mike Michalowicz on disqualifying your client

In an American Express piece, Mike Michalowicz talked about the effective use of reverse psychology in sales - when a potential client is expecting a particular bit of sales-speak, bring something else instead.

One of his examples was classic.

Years ago, my wife and I were bed shopping; the salesperson saw us—a young couple—and walked us past the pricey Tempur-Pedic beds to the ones she thought we could afford. When I asked about the ones we’d passed by, she told me that we couldn’t afford those and she was prepared to show me ones in my price range. Of course, I had to prove her wrong, and we walked out...

Oh, and one more thing.

...only after having bought the Tempur-Pedic bed.

You know that salesperson could sleep well at night.

Read Michalowicz's other five points here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Forget the article from .@marcwayshak - just look at this one sentence that he wrote

Recently, Marc Wayshak wrote an article entitled "5 simple ways to outsell your competition." It's an outstanding article with tips on focusing on customer needs.

But I'm not going to talk about the article.

Instead, I'm going to highlight a single sentence from the article that says more about business - and psychology - than most things that have been written today.

Here's the sentence:

We are all more comfortable selling to nondecision-makers.

Think about it.

It could have been worse. The criminal could have filed a fake tax return for Richie Incognito

The FBI emphasizes that tax return fraud can affect almost anyone.

From November 2012 through April 2013, [Yafait] Tadesse and co-defendant Eyaso Abebe carried out a scheme to obtain the names and Social Security numbers of unsuspecting victims from various websites and use this information on false tax returns that claimed fraudulent refunds. The tax returns falsely claimed that the victims earned similar wage and withholding amounts and worked at Wal-Mart. The returns all claimed fraudulent refunds that were to be loaded onto pre-paid debit cards. These pre-paid debit cards listed Tadesse’s apartment complex in Carrollton, Georgia as the mailing address.

While the IRS stopped several of the false returns from being fully processed, several fraudulent refunds were directed onto prepaid debit cards. Surveillance videos showed that Tadesse used one of these prepaid cards at stores in Carrollton, Georgia.

OK, so it's a tax fraud story, and some false tax returns were filed claiming that some people earned Walmart wages. But this is where it gets interesting.

One of the tax returns filed by Tadesse and Abebe used the name, Social Security number, and date of birth of U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Yup, the Attorney General. In other words, the person that's directly responsible for sending you to prison if you're convicted of a Federal tax fraud.

There is no indication that the attorney general was specifically targeted as a result of his position.

Obviously not.

In another story, the FBI detailed ways to reduce the chance that you will become a victim of identity fraud.

While identity theft may be difficult to completely guard against, there are steps you can take to make it harder for thieves to steal your personally identifiable information:

- Check your credit report on a regular basis.

- Don’t carry around your Social Security card or any document containing your Social Security number.

- Properly dispose of documents that contain sensitive information; shred them instead of throwing in the trash.

- Only give out your personal information when absolutely necessary—especially on websites and social media sites—and keep track of who you give it to (this could be helpful in determining the source of a breach of personally identifiable information if you become a victim).

- Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and the latest anti-virus software.

- File your taxes as early as possible during tax season, since criminals using stolen identities tend to file their fraudulent returns early to obtain refunds before the legitimate filer submits a return.

- And if you’re someone who isn’t required to file a tax return, consider filing anyway to prevent someone else from filing a false return in your name and to be alerted in case someone has already filed a false return in your name.

The IRS has published its own tips, including the following:

Don’t give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.

Consider tenant applications:

A Social Security number is used for personal identification, and is necessary to do a credit check on a potential tenant. With the rise in identity theft, people have become reluctant to share this information with strangers, especially before they've signed a lease or entered a formal contractual agreement with a landlord. You can refuse to give out the digits, but don't be surprised if the landlord, in return, refuses to rent to you.

But be sure you know who the landlord is:

Sadly, there are scammers aplenty in the real estate world. Fake landlords will show an apartment, collect completed applications from several prospective tenants, then sell the information on the black market. In addition, free listing sites such as Craigslist are infamous for fake rental listings that request a Social Security number for a preliminary credit check.

Monday, March 17, 2014

It is now 2014. Chris Schauble is now Kent Schocknek. Safety first, kids.

This little piece of news doesn't, register with most southern Californians. An earthquake occurs during the morning news, and two anchors react.

Early morning TV viewers saw anchors Megan Henderson and Chris Schauble sense something is amiss. Schauble interrupts Henderson, points up and says, "Earthquake! We're having an earthquake!"

They then hide under the news desk like two students during a Cold War nuclear missile drill while the shaky camera focuses on a suddenly abandoned studio.

Ho hum...but wait a minute. Was one of those anchors Chris Schauble, formerly of KNBC? He reacted differently a few years ago:

The earthquake begins, and the newscasters remain at their desks. Bjorklund gazes up toward the ceiling, with a complete lack of concern on her face. The newscasters note that someone off-camera (Ana Garcia) ran into the newsroom, barefoot, then ran back out again.

And here's the kicker:

Schauble then notes that "it could have been handled differently, shall we say" - a direct slap at Shocknek's well-known coverage from twenty years earlier.

Now I have been a staunch defender of Kent Shocknek and (in this particular instance) Christopher Nance for decades. When an earthquake takes place, you are SUPPOSED to duck and cover - something that Shocknek and Nance demonstrated way back when, and something that Schauble belatedly demonstrated today.

As the Yahoo writer puts it:

Looking cool is overrated. Safety first, kids.

Now I'm wondering what happened to the barefoot Ana Garcia. Did she leave KNBC like Shocknek and Schauble did?

Updating my 2012 post about .@VZWSupport and my Samsung Stratosphere OS upgrade

For those who have forgotten the details:

Back on September 18, 2012, an Android operating system upgrade was pushed out to my first-generation Samsung Stratosphere phone. After the upgrade was complete, I began having problems connecting my phone to my netbook via USB, and was receiving errors such as

Sorry…Process stopped unexpectedly. Try again

The "solution" for these problems was to perform a factory reset of the phone, which even Verizon Wireless (my cellular provider) acknowledged was painful:

Often times after a software update is completed a factory reset becomes necessary. I know completing this step can be a bit painful, but it resolves so many minor problems that pop up after the update.

I chose not to perform the factory reset at the time, and am still not pleased that a factory reset is recommended after an OS upgrade. (Imagine if Windows, Linux, or the MacOS required such a step.)

Eventually, my initial workaround to connect my phone and netbook ceased to work, so I developed another workaround - using a popular free cloud-based service to store files for transfer between the two devices. But I'd still get the nasty error message when I plugged my phone into my netbook to charge the phone.

And, as the months went by, other little things would crop up occasionally. Whether they were related to the OS upgrade is unclear, but they were petty little things that I could live with.

Until 11:30 pm yesterday (Sunday).

I was sent to the store to get something, but I would have to make a phone call from the store to get the right thing.

Now, even under the best of circumstances, making a voice call on my phone is a complex undertaking, because I have both Skype and Google Voice installed on my phone. So if I want to make a call, first I have to say "no" to the dialog box that asks if I want to use Skype, then I have to say "no" to the dialog box that asks if I want to use Google Voice, then I have to say "no" to the second dialog box that asked if I want to use Skype. (I don't know why I'm asked this a second time; this is one of those petty little things that's cropped up over the last few months.)

Sometimes, however, I don't encounter the best of circumstances. I'll choose the person that I want to call, then after a couple of minutes I get the first dialog box, then after a few more minutes I get the second dialog box, and then I eventually get the third.

Last night I wasn't that lucky - I never could make the voice call from the store.

So I resorted to texting - and even the text message took 10 minutes to be sent.

Oh, and I was unable to get a connection when I tried to uninstall Skype, and sometimes my settings said that my voice phone number was unknown.

Now some or all of these things may have had nothing to do with the OS upgrade. They might not have had to do with my phone; perhaps I was just in a bad coverage area. But as I sat in a chair in the store, staring at my phone, waiting for something to happen, I made a resolution - "I think I'll do that factory reset when I get home."

Eventually I got home (despite the communication issues, I did buy the correct item), and got ready to perform a post-midnight factory reset. I found these instructions at the Verizon Wireless website; they described a "preferred method" and an "alternate method." The preferred method would complete the process in 2 1/2 minutes or less, so I chose that method.

Eight minutes later, I switched to the alternate method. Luckily, that worked, and I was able to proceed with phone activation and setup, which was going fine...until my phone shut off due to lack of power (despite being connected to the charger). Luckily, the phone turned out fine - I think.

As of today, the phone is working. Due to the late night activity, I've only installed a few applications so far - Spotify, of course, was a necessity. But I haven't rushed to install Skype or Google Voice.

And I never did check to see if I was now able to transfer files between my phone and netbook.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Small companies are not big companies - on performance reviews

I have adopted a personal crusade to remind many wide-eyed startup proponents that things are a little different in the Fortune 500 world.

But I have to remind myself that the reverse of this is also true.

I was reading a print publication that summarized this study and noticed something in one of the tables (reproduced in slide 16 of the online presentation). Only 70% of the surveyed firms perform employee performance reviews.

I've gotten so used to performance reviews that they're almost a subconscious activity now, like breathing. Despite changes in corporate structure, and changes in the performance review itself, I've probably been reviewed on an annual basis for two decades now. So to me, the idea of NOT having a performance review is foreign.

But then I began thinking...

Brad's manager told him that he had to attend an important meeting on Friday. This was confusing to Brad, because the QwikShop Zippy Store was not the place to have important meetings. He entered the store, caught his manager's eye, and joined him in the small closet at the back of the store.

"Now, Brad," the manager, "I realize that you've only been here three weeks, but this is the time for performance reviews, and you need to participate also."

Brad was only seventeen years old, so he didn't know what his manager was talking about. "Performance reviews? What's that?"

"Oh, that comes down from corporate."

"You mean Manny?" Manny was the 74 year old man who, with his wife, owned the QwikShop Zippy Store and the adjacent gas station.

"Yeah, Manny. He got a hold of some business book and decided that the QwikShop Zippy Store needed to be professional."

Brad still looked a little confused, but his manager continued.

"Now, Brad," said the manager, "I've evaluated your performance based upon our corporate mission statement. If you leafed through the papers that you were given on your hire date, you remember that the corporate mission statement of the QwikShop Zippy Store is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information, using its portfolio of brands to differentiate its content, services and consumer products. The company's primary financial goals are to maximize earnings and cash flow, and to allocate capital toward growth initiatives that will drive long-term shareholder value."

"What does that have to do with the QwikShop Zippy Store?" asked Brad.

"I don't know. Manny took the mission statement from Disney. He figured that if it's good enough for Walt Disney, it's good enough for him."

The manager paused for a moment. "So, Brad," he asked, "how have you driven long-term shareholder value?"

Brad mumbled incoherently.

"Let me help you with this," offered the manager. "When you walked here this morning, I saw you picking up a cigarette butt in the parking lot and throwing it away. That contributed to the intangible valuation of the firm, didn't it?"

Brad began to wonder if community college were such a good idea after all. If this was what they taught you in community college, it wasn't worth it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Amazon Prime price increase - trust the anecdotal evidence, or the surveys?

It's happened. The rumored price increase for Amazon Prime has been announced, and a $20 increase in the standard annual price (from $79 to $99) will take effect on the customer's next renewal.

As Alexis Kleinman notes, this is the first price increase in nine years - and while a 25% increase may seem steep, if you've been a long-term member and annualize the increase, it isn't so bad. (Which raises the question of whether Amazon should have increased prices every year, rather than doing it in one fell swoop, but that's a topic for another time.)

So what will happen? First I looked at the anecdotal evidence, as seen in Alex Scoble's Facebook thread. The majority of commenters there felt that Amazon Prime was still a good deal. However, Scoble's Facebook friends are probably atypical, since we are more likely to be cord-cutters, and thus are more likely to use the streaming capabilities of Amazon Prime.

But what about a more broad-based survey? Back in February, Reuters reported the results of a survey:

In a survey of more than 6,400 current Prime customers, Prosper Insights & Analytics found that 63 percent of consumers would pay only the current $79 fee for Prime - and no more. An additional 29 percent would pay $89-$99, and only 8 percent would pay $109 or more, a $30 minimum increase.

At the time that the survey was conducted, all sorts of price increase figures were being rumored, while the actual price increase was lower than some estimates. (In fact, I wonder if Amazon intentionally leaked a high price increase value, so that consumers would be pleased when the actual price was lower. Again, a topic for another time.)

So now that Amazon will be priced above $79, will over half of Amazon's customers drop the service at the next renewal period? The Proper Insights people think so:

"It's not going to work - if Prime members get this blanket email that rates are going up $20, Amazon is going to see a push back for this," says Pam Goodfellow, Prosper's consumer insights director. "The few consumers willing to pay $109 for Prime are younger, predominantly male, have a lot more money to spend and spend heavily on the electronics category."

Yes, this could potentially be a disaster along the lines of the Netflix disaster when it initially split up its mail delivery and streaming services. (Of course, things are fine several years later.) But my personal suspicion is that this is much ado about nothing, and most Amazon Prime users will happily renew at the higher rate.

Then again, I've been wrong before.