My writing has come to span a variety of topics. And because one can never truly know what lies beyond the next door I, on occasion, write about what was once reserved for my most personal of conversations—politics and business. You see, I admittedly have a passion for both subjects, but in the ideal sense; what people do in the reality of politics and business brings to my heart darkness, and this is for me a source of great frustration. But in this moment of extreme egomania I can’t help but to think that I may say something that will help others tread on a better path…Business in America has lost its way, and government intervention / artificial stimulus aside, it has fallen, appropriately so, on the members of the business community to be the causation of a now much needed, tectonic like shift in the business PARADIGM.
First, the context of my thoughts on today’s downward spiral of business is from the vantage of growing up, born and raised, to do OLD BUSINESS—my father was a World War II veteran who opened a car lot on Whittier Blvd. and later or additionally an auto parts business—he was a straightforward businessman. Because of my age (44) I came to majority as a businessman in the 1980’s the cradle of the commercial digital revolution, which much to my father’s concern I embraced. The net effect being that I think about business today, as everyone should, in terms of what was, what is and what will be. Or more simply put: did the old way yield a better result than the new way or is the inverse true and worthy of evolution?
“When times are good people drink. When times are bad people drink more!” an eloquent and insightful cliché. Do not step into the trap of thinking that clichés are myths in need of debunking, because more often than not a cliché articulates the most universal of truths. However, not all clichés are born from truth and great harm can come from such ideas.
“If you build it they will come,” a paraphrased line from a movie, now a cliché, but not exactly a universal truth. And be frightened, because this flaw of thought has permeated American business culture. IF YOU BUILD IT THEY MAY NOT COME!!! Please feel free to quote this humble writer. And, because my vocation is telling people about things, I am the first to divulge the obvious that it is in my interest to weigh in. That being said, business is as much about perception as it is product—you can have the best product in the world, but if nobody knows of its existence, financial challenge will be imminent, and that simple fact, AWARENESS, only broaches perception. A product can be great, people can be aware of it, and it still won’t sell.
American Cars For Example:
Since the time of acquiring my license I’ve owned and driven a number of cars that rank on the level referred to as Dream Cars—especially in the days of my youth. Some of these cars were capable of extraordinary feats of acceleration and handling, but I drove them as much to impress others as I did for love of motoring—and I do love motoring. Yet, I can say with authority that several American made cars are better than all of the dream cars I’ve driven collectively. I grew up in the business, I’ve driven the cars people dream about, and a good Ford F-150 Truck or GMC Denali would be my choice today….But this fact contradicts perception—and the perception that foreign made automobiles are better than those made in America has been the ruination of the American Auto Industry.
Forgive me for this digression, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the “Beryl Wolk Factor”. Beryl (late 70’s) is a marketing guru residing in Jenkintown PA, “who can sell ice to an Eskimo.” While I have marveled at Beryl’s brilliant ideas and understanding of how to motivate people to buy—I have chosen throughout my career to focus on searching out great products and experiences to tell people about. I think it is an amazing talent to be able to sell anything to anybody, but to only sell what one believes in, raises business to a higher level. My father would never have sold a car he himself wouldn’t have driven. Downtownster would never take money from a business that I myself would not be a patron of…Imagine if just a few years ago mortgage bankers hadn’t processed loans for customers that they themselves wouldn’t have lent money to…
In a more microcosmic sense I have noticed here in Southern California, Los Angeles and Downtown LA, a disturbing trend among businesses, both owned by large companies and small alike, to think that owning a business or even a good business is enough to succeed—IT’S NOT! Remember the aforementioned cliché regarding the motivation to imbibe drinks of the distilled variety… “When business is good, advertise. WHEN BUSINESS IS BAD ADVERTISE MORE!!!” Or in this day in age with the help of advertising, marketing, and social media strategies, ENGAGE IN CUSTOMER ACQUISITION!!! Consumers are bombarded daily by bad news, often misreported, by 24/7 media sources. To counteract this, each and every business must overcome and take control of the conversation about who they are and what they do. A business must decide who their customer is and acquire that customer—and this should cost money.
A vital component of the disease infecting business with the idea that it is not necessary to acquire customers today is selfishness or in the worst cases greed. A business that is not eager to pay to acquire customers declares that it does not desire to be part of the chain that throughout American history has made the American economy the greatest wealth generator in the known story of mankind. In my father’s generation neighbors rushed to give business to another neighbor when he or she opened a new business. It was a particularly great honor to be the very first customer. And the owner of the business always framed the first dollar, then put it on display for all to see, for as long as the cash register rang. Why such excitement? Certainly not because people perceived such a new business as an elaborate vacuum cleaner that would suck dollars out of the local economy, build a mansion for the owner in a far off city, and provide business to business revenue exclusively to friends and family of the owner. No, I suggest the contrary. People did and still should support businesses that are members in good standing of the community. Not that they just make the obligatory offerings to the local business organizations, but that they actually do business in the neighborhood and with the people that are putting food on their proverbial kitchen table.
Every month I attend a Marketing Round Table…I do not write about what is said there…But, on occasion, I will refer to procedure or purpose or (in this instance ) a philosophical lesson:
All attendees of the Round Table are given a chance to stand and speak briefly about their business interests. And let me be clear, this is a great opportunity. However, the vast majority of those who speak simply tell the others in the room about what special or specials that the business they represent happens to be offering in the coming month. Because I live and work Downtown I get some benefit out of this, but the majority of the Round Table attendees, to the best of my knowledge, are not downtownsters. I can’t help, but to wonder sometimes why one restaurant marketing specialist is telling twenty other restaurant marketing specialists about the new Happy Hour special at their restaurant. Do the marketing specialists all go to each other’s places for Happy Hour?
Every reader of this blog knows that the purpose of a marketing meeting, BUSINESS TO BUSINESS, is to develop new ideas and strategic alliances. And again let me be crystal clear, the organizers specify during the course of every meeting that this is its purpose….
But assignment of blame in either the macro or micro sense is of no relevance beyond the philosophical. The origin of this state of egoistic, to the point of self-destruction, business practice shall make for fine intellectual chatter at the dining table many nights into the future. However, the pressing matter at hand is a profoundly needed major shift in PARADIGM. It is incumbent on all members of the business community today, to utterly reject the culture of “getting something for nothing.” And it is urgent that business investment in product development, customer experience and customer acquisition be the first and foremost priority of all members of the business community. It is once again time for investment before dividends. The pendulum has swung back to a need for many of the business principles of old. The customers have spoken. Are you listening? Do you have something to tell them?
I hope you tell them soon…