Lessons in Cereal

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal addresses the many changes currently taking place in the cereal business.  Sales are flat or trending downward among major cereal companies, and consumer consumption patterns are on the decline.  The article states that more and more people are opting for other breakfast choices due to circumstances such as a desire to eat on-the-go and diets centered around more protein-rich foods earlier in the day.

The cereal industry is NOT responding to this trend by trying to get more people to eat cereal for breakfast seven days a week.  Instead, industry leaders are focusing their efforts on promoting cereal in new ways, such as a useful ingredient in other foods or a wholesome afternoon snack.  Other strategies focus on getting consumers to view cereal as at least an occasional breakfast food, if not something to eat every day.  One General Mills executive explained that, “If I can get just one more morning out of a month back to eating cereal, that’s all I need.”  This positions cereal for new niches in the market rather than trying to change developing behavioral patterns.

We can all take a lesson from the cereal companies.  How many times have we all said, “If only I could get sales back to where they were before the Recession!” or “Why aren’t the Millennials buying our products like their parents did?”  Times change, consumer preferences change, and we have to change with them.

This article is especially relevant to OrangeBoy’s work with public libraries.  Libraries are no longer the only game in town.  People have choice.  The future depends on how we shape library services as interests and behaviors shift.  Maybe Mary downloads her eBooks from Amazon, watches movies and television shows on Netflix, and reads newspapers from her tablet on the train.  She can still have a library card and a strong affiliation with the library, even though she does not use it the same way she did five years ago.  How can the library keep Mary engaged while understanding that she is not going to bring all that business back through the library’s front door?  Since she likes to read online, maybe the library can fill a void with digital magazine access through products such as Zinio.  Perhaps the library has developed a local music collection she can download from the library’s mobile-friendly website.  Or maybe she would enjoy participating in a community reading activity or attending author visits.

So talk to your customers.  You just might be pleasantly surprised with what they have to say.

The 100 Years War – An Evolution of the Library Customer

By: Clark Swanson

Clients frequently ask, “What is the future of libraries?” Much to their frustration, I respond, “I haven’t a clue.” Their question, I think, misses the point. The real question relates to their customers. That is, how will your customers evolve and change in the years ahead?  That’s a question we can answer. The following represents an effort to do that in the broadest of terms, defining the future customer.

Friday afternoon provides the OrangeBoy team a welcome break from the demands of our week. Client e-mails, texts, and calls slow. Those who spent the week traveling return. Frequently, the most interesting conversations take place during this time. Jack and Erin occasionally break out in song on Friday afternoons, sometimes accompanied by dance.

These conversations provide a window to view a generation’s consumption behavior. In this sense, they serve as our Lucy. One can reasonably expect they will shape the forces of consumerism for the next 100 years through their children and grandchildren. A glimpse of their passions and proclivities tell us much about how we might shape our service offerings in the long years ahead. I want to introduce you two of our team members who serve as a generational proxy.

Erin, age 23, hails from Chicagoland. On her desk sits two cell phones, a Nokia Windows Phone and a Samsung Android. She moves seamlessly from one to the other, even while responding to e-mail and Lync messages on her laptop. Erin has accumulated thousands of followers on Instagram. At home, she and her significant other each have their own X-Box.

Shelby, age 22, came to us from Marietta College with degrees in Physics and Math. She recently purchased her first car, an electric blue Ford Fiesta. Shelby carries only one phone, an Android. She loves music and listens to Spotify most of the day. When not at OrangeBoy, you may find her involved in a local theatre production.

My business partner Sandy once called Erin “self-supervising.”  Shelby loves nothing more than solving a problem. She makes so little noise that one hardly knows when she arrives or leaves. We love them both, and Sandy and I take much enjoyment watching them establish their lives.

They move about this task in ways we find foreign but quite interesting. The most obvious involves something we talk about with our clients frequently—mobility.

Many mistake mobility for the use of a mobile device. At times, I carry as many as five mobile devices — three pads, a Windows Phone, and a jet pack. Yet as Erin and Shelby both know, I lack mobility. Mobility relates to ubiquitousness. Erin and Shelby live in a world where technology exists as part of the scenery, and they take no special notice of it. I make technology a conscious choice.

You see this as Erin shuffles effortlessly between phones, or as Spotify follows Shelby where ever she ventures. In either case, the devices they use understand what they want at any particular time. It just appears. They think nothing of it.

Their immersive technologies leave Erin and Shelby with an altered syntax. A different operating system drives their world. Shelby characterized it this way: “I applied for and received student loans online without ever talking with a person, but to get a library card, I have to show up at a specific location, at a specific time, with specific forms of identification. It makes no sense.”

The operative phrase here, “It makes no sense.”  Erin’s even more earnest:  “I simply don’t understand libraries.”

Their point, I think, relates to how their generation moves through daily life. Contact with people, whether bankers or librarians, have been engineered out of the systems they use. Conditioned to this, they view such interactions with a befuddled look, as to say, “Why would I do that?”

I have seen that look many times, and it still garners a double take. Yet as Sandy once asked, “Who has to change?”  Her question went unanswered, but we both knew the answer.

Sandy’s question relates to a third element of their lives. They expect service whenever and wherever. Shelby returned from apartment hunting one Monday miffed that leasing agents required Saturday appointments. Even within the realm of the physical, Erin and Shelby expect something beyond convenience. They expect the world to mold to their schedules.

Their desire for “right now” comes with an implied understanding they readily accept. This only comes in yielding their privacy. Or, as Erin put it, “I don’t expect privacy.” Erin and Shelby fully understand the personal data they consciously or unconsciously contribute may flow to unexpected places. They do so, however, with the belief that this “contribution” yields greater choice.

Choice strikes at the heart of their lives. They expect it. Perhaps more than any other generation, this one has lived with the consequence of choice longer than any other. It started early in the lives with standardized testing, culminating in the SAT. They chose a college. They signed student loan papers. Why now should they surrender this? They won’t. Like Frank Sinatra, they intend to do it their way. Shelby calls this do-it-yourself couture. Translated, you make your own life.

 

Tara the Hero Cat Has Got Nothing on OrangeBoy

By: Sandy Swanson

You have probably seen, or at least heard about Tara the Hero Cat, the family cat that saved young Jeremy from getting mauled by a dog while out playing in his driveway http://taratheherocat.com.

Impressive as this feat was, those of us at OrangeBoy know how special our feline friends are.  After all, we named the company after ours.  Many of you know the origins of the OrangeBoy name, but for those who don’t, please allow me to recap.  Yes, weopie2 named the company after Opie, our first OrangeBoy.  Opie was no ordinary cat. His personality and strong work ethic matched our values and embodied what we wanted to accomplish as a company. He was a real working cat. His primary job was to protect his territory. Every night, whether it was raining, snowing or below zero, Opie went out on night patrol to defend what was his. He was not afraid to go up against the neighborhood terror, “Buddy the Biter,” even though Buddy was twice his size. Opie came home a little bloodied sometimes, but yet he’d head back out the next night. Like Opie, we know the territory and we are not afraid to go up against firms bigger than ours because we are confident in our abilities, and we know the territory.

We enjoyed watching him take on new challenges, like mastering the tightrope walk on the banister in our loft, which was about 14 feet from the ground. Opie tumbled off that banister once or twice, but he shook it off and tried again until he got it right. These traits personify the qualities we have for OrangeBoy. We too take risks to seek out new opportunities and new clients. If we fall, we get up and try again until we get it right.

We can take a lesson from Opie as our business continues to transform. The one thing we know for sure is that change is inevitable. As OrangeBoy grows, we too must adapt to new surroundings and take on new projects without fear, just like we encourage our clients to do.  He is a constant reminder for us each day when we walk into the office and see his image memorialized in the office artwork–reflect on our accomplishments but anticipate the future with excitement.

We deeply miss our friend, confidante and muse, but we honor his memory by living his motto – Keep the fur flying!  Plus, we have a new OrangeBoy – George.  He most certainly lives up to his namesake “Curious George.”  His superhero power is his cuteness, but he is developing a new talent—Bird Catcher.  Even though we are city dwellers, George has successfully caught two birds, though he has let both of them go unscathed.  We’re convinced he paid the birds to stage his hunting prowess!

Creating and Measuring Communication, Effectively

By: Nickie Harber-Frankart

We’re constantly looking for innovative ways translate data and information into interesting visualizations for our clients. There are many ways to accomplish this by using bar charts, gauges and graphs, but but I’ve recently found word clouds to be incredibly useful for analyzing text.

Wordle.net provides text-based visualizations, using content pasted from articles, blogs, questions from surveys and more, making the top, most prominently used words in the text the largest in the cloud.

For fun, I entered the URL of our blog into Wordle.

Wordle Word Cloud

The prominent words were: interesting, experience, customer, approach, OrangeBoy, work, time, meetings, process, and so on—all of which explain our mission to help our clients become customer-centric organizations.

This exercise was a reminder about branding and creating effective messaging. It was also a lesson in content analytics.

  • Messaging should align with your target audience, as well as your organization’s mission, brand and personality. I was relieved to know that this was the case with our blog. However, it’s not uncommon to see misalignment. Often I hear clients say, I want our customers to know about XYZ, but it doesn’t align with customers’ needs or their behavior. Communication should relate to the core of what you do as an organization while meeting the needs of your customers. A good example is a library sending targeted email messages about early literacy programs to parents with small children who use the library.
  • Use multiple visualizations to tell the whole story. The blog publisher WordPress has a dashboard tool that displays visitation statistics, views, clicks, and popular pages and topics. Amidst all of this “raw” usage data, there are no metrics to describe the blog’s personality or common message themes. The word cloud helped uncover that. By using Wordle, I was able to visualize the messages we send to our readers and understand commonly used words that describe our blog’s personality as it relates to our brand. In other words, multiple data visualizations resulted in a well-rounded story about messaging and its impact on behavior.

I encourage you to think about your messages and use analytics in a similar way. The next time you craft a message to your customers think about how it aligns with their needs and your organization’s brand and mission. Then, consider the best way to measure the impact of that message, effectively.

OrangeBoy works with organizations to uncover valuable insights about customers and the markets they serve. Insights lead to innovative solutions. OrangeBoy helps clients create personalized customer experiences and communications to achieve measurable results. 

The age of the customer

“In the age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage you can have is the degree to which you know and engage with your individual customers.” –WSJ

Know your customers. Read today’s tips in the WSJ and start building your holistic data strategy: http://ow.ly/jtpaW.

Ask us how OrangeBoy can help you http://www.orangeboyinc.com

The Bee’s Knees

Bees

By: Sandy Swanson

One of the advantages of living close to The Ohio State University are programs like “Science Sundays.” The College of Arts and Sciences offers monthly lectures on interesting topics like the Great Lakes, Neuroscience, and Bees.

I attended the bee lecture on Sunday. The speaker talked about how bees, as well as wasps and ants, have been able to organize themselves, divide labor, and thrive as a species for more than 60 million years. The interesting part of the discussion is not the behaviors themselves, but how these insects know how to do these things.

There are a few takeaways from the lecture that relates nicely to the human species even though we have time clocks  scheduling software, project management tools and staff meetings to organize ourselves and get our work done.

  1. Noise is good – One of the things the researchers found in working with insects is that a little bit of tension is good when executing tasks. When there is a roadblock, they are able to address it and move on. It’s ok that everything does not always go perfectly. In fact, the outcome is better when they have to overcome some obstacle.
  2. Specialists vs. generalists – Insects have to be generalists when they are working solo. It isn’t until there are at least seven of them they can divide up the labor. Once they specialize, the system works best when handoff times are quick. Think of it this way. Let’s say you were part of a team, and someone didn’t complete their handoff. You have two choices. You can wait around for them, or go do it yourself. This is what bees do. Some will stay, and others will go back to being generalists.
  3. Use experience to your advantage – Ants take on easier tasks when they are first hatched, and get more dangerous jobs, like leaving the colony to get food, when they get more experience and approach the end of their life expectancy.
  4. Make your case and then shut up – Bees have an interesting decision-making process. When it’s time to select a new location for a hive, they send out a few scouts. They will come back, a few promoting Location A and a few promoting Location B, ‘dancing’ to make their case and recruit more scouts. After they finish dancing, they become silent and let the next recruits take over. The next round of scouts mimic the same behavior, dancing and then becoming silent. After a few days, the location with the most “buzz” (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), is the location they choose.

So, what are the big takeaways here. Well, first, we should embrace a little conflict in our work or personal lives. In other words, noise is good. If everything always went according to plan, we would never figure out how to improve processes or make new discoveries.

Next, figure out where you can specialize and where you need a generalist approach. If specialization is not working well, perhaps there is a weak link in the process or a person somewhere along the line. Use experience to your advantage. Maybe this approach is intuitive with parents teaching their young, but are you leveraging experienced workers in the workplace?

Finally, a little silence is golden. Make your case, try to get buy-in, and then let the process evolve. We’ve all been in committee meetings when Mary or Joe monopolized the conversation, even though they couldn’t win their argument but refused to let anyone else take a shot.

Who knew bees and other insects were so interesting? I think I’ll make a “bee-line” to my library to check out a few more books on the topic.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2013

Photo courtesy of the Backyard Bee Hive Blog

It’s Time to Go

By: Clark Swanson

Last week, OrangeBoy duties took me to Kansas City, Missouri, where we work in close contact with Kansas City Public Libraries to help improve literacy services in their community. The trip was expected to last a few days; just down and back. There was a chance of snow in the forecast, but based on meteorological accuracy, I wasn’t exceptionally concerned… Until the storm came early, and I tried to make it out of town before it arrived.

I have seen news footage of such moments, but last week, I found myself living it. As I attempted to make my way to the airport, the I-435 – I-29 split was littered with abandoned and stalled cars. Their drivers, at least those who hadn’t walked way, were at a complete loss. We could see the road ahead was clear. Yet we were frozen, literally and figuratively. There seemed no way out.

Kansas

Then I saw a man, who unlike me and the others was well dressed for the weather. As he walked by my window, I rolled it down, and he asked, “Do you have four-wheel-drive?” The Escape I was driving had all-wheel drive, but it wasn’t the time to debate the point. “If we can clear a few of these people out of the way,” he said, “I think we can get through.”

He went to the mini-van blocking me and asked her to pull in front of me; requiring her to move headlong toward the berm. We formed a “T” at this moment. At the same time, a thought came into my head, “Do you really want to do this? This is how you got here in the first place.” Three hours earlier I had taken a calculated risk. If I could get to the airport before the storm grew to full strength, Southwest promised I might make it home to my wife Sandy. Although I got within eight miles; I lost.

The thought didn’t last long. I didn’t even answer it. I put the Ford Escape into reverse, backed-up, and then pulled around the mini-van. I squeezed between a semi and another car, twisting and turning between two others. A small pick-up was the last obstacle. He sat between an abandoned car and another semi. I stopped the Escape, and with the help of four others, the truck was manhandled. We moved it maybe 12 to 18 inches. I got back into the Escape, pointed it toward the gap, and drove through. It didn’t fishtail, drift, or slide.

I plowed through the gap, heading to the open road. The gentleman who started the chain of events waved as I passed through, but I had no intention of stopping or going back.

That evening, as I stared out my hotel window, it came to me that this was the metaphor for our business and the opportunities ahead. When the opportunity presents itself, we have to take it without much thought or fear, regardless of previous failures.

If those three days showed me anything, it’s that a golden gap lies before us. We just need to drive through it. Yes, sometimes it takes a little help from others and a bit of luck, but it’s out there.

It’s time to go. I hope you’ll come along with us.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2013

Photo from kansascity.com