Published on: September 27, 2011by Michael Sansolo
With each passing day, I think I understand people less. Take this example from my local news this weekend. Our area has just endured an incredible rainy period in August and September, so now my lawn has become a field of strange mushrooms. It’s not just my lawn; the entire DC area is sprouting fungus.
One man in a nearby town saw the mushroom infestation differently. He harvested a few of the mushrooms, tossed them into a skillet for a stir-fry meal and sat down to dinner. Oh yes, he got deathly ill. In fact, were it not for some brilliant doctoring at Georgetown University, this story would be too tragic to tell. When I heard the story on the news all I could think was: really? What did he expect to happen? I find I do that at least once in every day’s news cycle.
Irrationality seems in the air these days, but the stories aren’t as obvious or easy to understand as a clear lesson in avoiding lawn mushrooms. And while blogger/columnists like me love dispensing wisdom and lessons, some of these get beyond even me. Let’s take two that were in the news last week both of which have been the center of heavy criticism and for that reason, I want to consider a different angle.
The first was the hubbub over changes to Facebook’s “news feed.” You didn’t have to look or go far to hear the pitched level of complaints as if somehow it was against the law for Facebook to change a website it delivers for free. It reminded me of a quote from a Facebook designer in the insightful book “The Facebook Effect.” He joked that the site’s users absolutely hate every change they single change made on Facebook until the designers make their next change. At that point, they cling to the previously hated change with all the passion they can muster.
Those complaints pale in comparison to what’s going on with Netflix, the wonderful little company that seems to have achieved the gold medal when it comes to botching announcements. (Quickster/Quixter? Really?) But a news report on the core of the Netflix issue got me thinking also. What exactly has Netflix done wrong beyond trying to build a sustainable and profitable business model? Yes, I understand all the complaints of tone deafness and worse by both companies, but aren’t Netflix and Facebook simply doing things that all good companies have to do: they are evaluating their business models, evolving and hopefully getting stronger. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s not all there is to these stories.
It may be heresy to say this but the bigger problem these days seems to be a consumer expectation that I can get whatever I want, whenever I want it for never increasing prices or, better off, for free. Changing my completely free Facebook is an outrage. Charging me a fair price for a video delivery service is just wrong. You can extend the argument to anything be it the non-stop irrational budget debate in Washington or the inability to eat wild mushrooms in my garden.
In short, we want it all. Tell us it has to be another way and we get ticked off.
For retailers and manufacturers, the challenge is, as always, about value. How can we talk to increasingly frugal shoppers about the real choices they have to make and explain values in a way that convinces them? We will be able to explain that sometimes prices must go up because while economics is confusing, it does have certain laws and they must be obeyed. It’s analogous to our discussions about nutrition: you simply can’t eat all you want whenever you want it, do no exercise and have a healthy weight.
In other words can logic or rationale really be part of a discussion these days or it is just time for another episode of “Extreme Couponing?” Can we talk about real value or is that simply impossible in the current environment?
I wish I knew. Really.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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