I think about how 800 numbers have evolved. The toll-free numbers used to be utilized by businesses to allow consumers to call without incurring long-distance charges. With the proliferation of cell phones, those fees have become a thing of the past and now plans track calls the same way, whether an 800 number or not.
But instead of the 800-number fading into obsolescence, the demand for them continues to grow. An 800 prefix now signals “a business number” rather than “a toll-free number.” As a result, the prefixes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844 and 833 are all currently in use with more on hold to accommodate future demand.
The “toll-free” prefix has become a national prefix, giving geographic neutrality to clients who use them. It creates a cache that a local number does not provide and for those who have the original 800 prefix it communicates a sense of longevity as well.
It would have been easy for the toll-free prefix to disappear along with night calling rates, collect calls and long-distance charges but instead, it morphed into a new identity that enhanced its value. What in your organization once served one purpose but could now fulfill another?
In a fascinating New York Times article, Pete Wells highlighted 8 ways restaurants have changed in the past decade. Number one: “We ate with our cameras.” Wells recounts that not only has the proliferation of camera phones and Instagram changed the habits of the diners, but it has caused chefs to alter their presentation of the food and for other chefs to become quick to copy them. In this decade, it is as much about how the food looks as how it tastes.
Another trend is the online delivery service – something I would have thought was a good thing for the restaurant business but Wells includes it in his “the future looked grim” trend. Restaurants already faced increased costs of rent, labor, insurance and taxes – and now they must add in delivery services (which take a commission from the restaurant for all their orders) as well as fees for the increased use credit cards.
Consider how the shifts impacting the restaurant industry affect your organization, too. Have you altered your offerings to make them more “Instagramable”? Have you considered whether the widespread use of delivery intersects with your organization’s services or influences your budgeting?
We live in an intertwined economy. Paying attention to what’s on the menu outside your industry can help you thrive in your own.
I watched The Founder, a fascinating movie about the beginning days of McDonald’s. In 1954 when the McDonald Brothers opened their hamburger stand, the only “fast food” was served at drive-ins where there was nothing speedy about the service. The brothers created a revolutionary automation system that trimmed the wait from 30 minutes to 30 seconds, in part by reducing their menu from 27 items to just three: hamburgers, fries and soft drinks.
What seems commonplace today caused an uproar when they first opened. “We underestimated the learning curve,” said Mac McDonald. Early customers were furious that they had to get out of their car and place their own orders (instead of a carhop coming to take them). They were mad that there were no plates and that they were expected to eat off of paper wrappers. They didn’t like that they had to throw away their own trash. But they did like the food, and so the franchise grew (and grew and grew) until now it feeds 1% of the world’s population every day!
There are many lessons from The Founder (and I’ll share more tomorrow) but take two away today. First, consider whether your “menu” is too robust. The McDonald brothers found that 87% of their sales came from the three items they retained, allowing them to specialize and improve in ways that an expansive menu would have not. Are you trying to be all things to all people? Would you provide better value or service if you concentrated on a smaller range of offerings and did them better than anyone?
Thought number two: when you implement a change, be intentional about the learning curve that those who will experience it will encounter. You understand the reasons why eliminating your “car hops” makes it better for everyone, but have you shared that rationale? Have you tested your concept on users who aren’t familiar with the back story to see what questions they have or how they react?
There is organizational gold under those arches. Mine a bit of it for yourself.
During a recent trip to the fabric store, I was amazed at the amount of branded material that is available. Back in the day, you could only buy florals, gingham and generic patterns, but today fabric is liberally licensed. There are authorized versions of material featuring Girl Scout emblems, 4-H, Dr. Seuss, Disney characters including Mickey Mouse and princesses, Harry Potter and more.
Somewhere along the way, companies realized that they were better served by giving up some control of their characters and gaining revenue from direct licensing instead of the lose-lose scenario that resulted from the thriving knock-off market instead. Yes, Disney may cringe if executives saw some of the uses for its material, but in the end, the trade-off seemed to benefit them.
Social media has shifted some of the power away from the C-suite, and in a similar vein, so has branded fabrics. Companies today are wise to explore avenues to give their customers or clients more latitude in how they interact with the organization and embrace ways that your clients can make your brand their own.
Not that long ago, it was a luxury to have the ability to print something in color. Now, most printers offer that option and copiers that print in color are plentiful in office settings. It won’t be too far into the future when having ready access to a 3D printer is commonplace as well.
Once seen as a specialty or commercial product, 3D printers are getting closer and closer to the mainstream. JoAnn’s sells a home version for $600 and as demand increases, the price is certain to fall.
Right now, you may not imagine a use for such a machine but I’ll bet that if you had one easily available you would put it to good use. Need to make a replacement part for that piece you just broke – presto! Want to make a branded gift tag for your holiday presents – no problem. Need some new jewelry to go with your new outfit – moments away. Want to amuse the kids with new toys – let them create their own.
There is no doubt that accessible 3D is coming – both to your home and to your office. Jump ahead of the curve and think of how you can add a new dimension to your marketing efforts.
I received an early present that was an autographed CD – and I love it. Of course, the music is good but having that Sharpie-scroll from the artist makes it extra special. I treasure my autographed books, too, and this gift caused me to lament the loss of autographs and cover art that has been supplanted by Kindles and streaming and all forms of digitization.
I wonder if selfies have become the new autograph. Now, instead of a signature, people take pictures with the “famous person” as I have done with presidential candidates coming through town. It’s nice, but not the same.
As you move to new technologies and update your operations, think about how you can preserve some of the aspects that made things special. Autographs may be old school but they’re still endearing to some.
A photo circulated on Facebook showing nurses offering a choice of cigarettes to a patient in a hospital. The picture was taken in the 1950s when smoking was seen as the norm, not as a health hazard. Today, of course, cigarettes are not even allowed on the medical campus, let alone provided to the patients.
There are many other examples of how we act differently as new information becomes available. Car seats are required for children instead of allowing them to scandalously ride in the driver’s lap as I did as a kid. Elevated desks are becoming more mainstream to counteract the effects of too much sitting. Reusable water bottles and bags are commonplace as people aim to reduce plastic consumption. Diets have shifted to include more organic foods and less red meat.
What has changed in your profession or organization that warrants a new way of work from you? It’s one thing to monitor trends, but the real benefit comes in when you change your behavior to respond to the new knowledge that you have gained.