Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Case Study In Brand Experience: Target

Wasn't it just the other day when Target employees knew nothing about their own products? Where things were located? Or, even said "Hello" to you? Now they are approaching shoppers, asking you if you've found everything okay. Honestly, it creeped me out the first time. But now, it's become the company standard. Customer experience matters.

This is a case study in brand experience - Target.

Target had several holes to dig themselves out of as of late. Not only did their stocks plummet for a variety of suspected reasons, they also needed to patch up their big privacy leak. They were positioned just above the competitive discount grounds by which Costco, Walmart, Big Lots, etc. were already crowding out.

They up-marketed to attract buyers who wanted things at good prices, but, still with a nice and classy feel. However, this didn't attract enough customers. The problem was, one could easily go down a run into the lower-end of the market and get satisfactory products for cheaper. Sure, the products may not have been as good -- light bulbs busted earlier, clothing didn't last as long... you got what you paid for at the lower-end of the spectrum. However, it was acceptably lower because the savings were there and the experience didn't matter between Target & its competitors.

Now, it does.

Now, Target is clean. Employees are quick to respond. There are price scanning/calling stations all over their stores with people on the other end of the line, quick to send a team member to assist you. Also, they've done a few interesting things from a sales perspective: themed sales (like the recent big baby sale), the Cartwheel app, and the Target Red card -- all elements which reinforce the value of the new Target brand experience.

When one thinks about it, you save 5% on each purchase when using the Red Card. Every cashier asks you if you are interested in signing up TODAY. And, each purchase at 5%... WELL, that is a lot better than the 2-3% you get on your American Express/Discover, isn't it? Additionally, Target happily accepts manufacturer's coupons to be stacked on top of that 5% discount - AND - any other discount the Cartwheel app has to offer. However, the Cartwheel app requires that you physically search for items on sale (at least once, then the deal is saved into a queue). Being that you have to do it yourself and purchase in person, you then commit yourself to more time in the store. And, we all know, the more time in the store (the very clean store, I might add), the more likely you will purchase more than originally planned. Additionally, by investing your time into making your own savings even better, you have also invested into Target's brand experience and therefore brand loyalty.

But!!!! Other competitors offer cheaper prices, right? Actually, when the numbers crunch out, there are lots of non-perishables offered by Target that, per unit price, beat out even the likes of Costco. Target has also penetrated into the beer/wine/booze market, expanded frozen section, and some fresh produce options as well. This is a savvy gobbling up of market share by Target. Things are getting cheaper at Target on a daily basis. If you are willing to dig up the deals, investing your time to do so, you will find even more deals. And, why not? Everyone can appreciate the saving of money, right?

So why is this such an interesting case study in brand experience? TRANSFORMATION. There are volumes of brand experiences out there. Few brand experiences have offered transformational changes, improvements, and intrinsic loyalty development. Target has done this. They have given you more reasons to shop there for all ranges of needs for all areas of life. Target has done this through behavior incentives, financial incentives, convenience, and brand experience.

If one surveys the market, we're noticing most firms and industries are reaching a point of critical mass. The sustainment of the current economic model is coming to the end of a cycle; new cycles must start or companies and entire professions may be left behind. What is more, the next evolution  is changing businesses at large; development must include consumer lifestyle integration.

So, I ask you: How has your business innovated strategic change to keep up with the times? Perhaps, get ahead of the times???

If you enjoyed the content in this post, you may appreciate this special mention on how Rubio's rebranded their restaurants with a new and improved Service Experience Value Statement.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beef Bourguignon

So this summer, I tried my hand at French sauces. In the past, I spent an entire summer working on French Onion soup. For whatever reason, the last month or so I've had a craving to make Beef Bourguignon.

This is how it went down.

Wifey taking an action shot of me.

Oil & bacon! What could go wrong?

The meat!

Browning the beefy goodness.

Another action shot by wifey.

In go the veggies!

Everyone ready for the fire?

Fire! Fire Fire!

Adding the wine...

Lots of wine.

All the wine?!

Topping off with some beef broth.

Into the oven, then onto the stove top for reduction.

The final product.

I gotta say, making this was a BLAST. I felt there was definitely times I could've done better. I laid the Beef Bourguignon on top of a bed of mashed potatoes. I actually over salted the potatoes so I added a bunch of milk. Then it became creamy potatoes... haha. No worries, it worked out well because I purposely under salted the soup itself. The result: flavors met in the middle for a culinary waltz on the tastebuds.

I felt reducing the soup was quite important. Most of the recipes I studied didn't say much about it. If I were to have just taken the soup out of the oven, it would've just been a pot of wine. I purposely had my wife (who arguably has a WAY better palate than I do) try out the difference before and after reduction. Reduction was DEFINITELY the way to go.

All in all, a wonderful experience. Beef Bourguignon, Episode I = SUCCESS! And, it shall certainly not be the last time I try my hand at it :)

Weighing Employment Options

It's been a truly interesting time in the job market these days. People are working longer. Students are in school longer. And, when they get out, they're waiting for "other people" to hurry up and retire. Those in the workforce are starting to make major mid-career changes; in so doing, going back to school or starting over entirely. Moreover, those who have just graduated are likely having trouble finding work (and thus paying off their student loans) -- for which some are finding the only option is to upgrade their degree up to the next level.

The question begs: Is all this REALLY necessary? Are we so starved out, economically, to find good employment? Well to properly weigh employment options, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate our goals; we need to take a careful look at our (1) personal-life goals, (2) financial-life goals, and (3) retirement -life goals.

Lots to be said about "life," huh? Let us begin!

(1) Personal-Life Goals
How do you want to live your personal life? Do you want a family? To settle down, eventually? Do you want to travel the world? Live luxuriously? Do you want to have all the frills? Drive a nice car? Own the latest fashion statements? Does it matter to you where you live? The weather? Culture? Political climate?

(2) Financial-Life Goals
Do you want to make top dollar? How many hours are you willing to work? Are you willing to let work follow you home? Is work going to become your life? What do you think about overtime? Is your home life important to you? How about phone calls? Texts? Emails? Are company benefits important? How about fringe benefits? Status? Style?

(3) Retirement-Life Goals
Is a retirement matching benefit of high concern to you? How much security do you want? Are you even thinking this far ahead? Does it matter? Or, perhaps you really want to make sure a pension is set aside along with your own company based retirement fund. Do you wish to make more money versus matched funds so you can manage your finances more meticulously?

Once you've answered these questions for yourself -- NOW you can weigh your employment options.

First off, from the perspective of the new grad: most individuals new to the job market are concerned with pay and benefits. Make note of each place you consider; their compensation packages usually weigh out to a balance once you consider every angle (some discussion is worth taking note from this my post: Graduate? Licensed? Hired! - under "So Let's Talk Money").

Benefits: Many companies typically have all benefits kick in after a full month of employment (or sometimes two). This means that if you hire in on January 3, XXX1, you will not be getting benefits until March 1, XXX1. Wait, WHUAAAAT? Yup! Lots of companies require you to complete one full calendar month, including the first day of the month, before you are eligible for benefits. This means it's a smart choice to start your first day as close to the END of the prior month as possible.

The Money: The specific dollar amount you get can be deceptive. Lots of companies are willing to pay you a bundle directly. However, these are the same companies that tend to have shoddy benefits and harsh work-life-balance.

The Culture: Workplace culture is critical. Make sure the place you work jives with your style. Keep an eye out for office politics, the place of work itself (is it well kept?) -- and, too much emphasis on  the extremes. I've seen places trump extreme "diversity" (which means lack of unity, and it shows in the office), too much on "team" (which means, a lot of uniformity -- everything is forced to think the same way). Extremes in workplace culture is never good. It's a good way for a business to run into a brick wall and you with it. Just make some notes. Oh, one last thing: If it looks too good be true... you might be working for Scorpio (Simpsons reference).

Retirement Plans: It's actually quite rare for companies to offer the old fashioned direct benefits and direct contribution plans these days. However, if you are lucky enough to get into a company that offers both, I'd advise you max out those benefits. Sure, that means you don't get cash presently, but assuming those plans have decent returns and are more than just annuity products, you'd be surprised how much you'll accumulate in just a few years. After which, you have the option of rolling that over into a Roth IRA and make your own dealings.

Oh, and one little note: I'm not a financial advisor. However, I've seen this enough to be able to notice that people with more human capital on their side (more working years) are favoring post-tax plans vs. pre-tax plans. Mixing it up can be quite advantageous, especially with bringing down your taxable income, nevertheless -- it's just something to think about. You can certainly try to balance the two options out. Best bet? Just talk to a certified financial planner, CPA, or someone of the like.

Other Thoughts: Also, ask yourself if you are seeking a job for which to hang your hat. Will it be satisfying? Meaningful? Or, perhaps this is a step-up job. Maybe its an employment where you wish to learn, ie. a residency, fellowship, etc. If you wish to have staying power somewhere, then it's best that the place of employment has the better benefits packages versus the dollar amount. If you wish to use a job for a later promotion, don't worry about ANY of the rest... just remember this is a stepping stone to the next goal.

However, if you wish to utilize an employment for the purposes of professional enrichment, make sure you have a good work-life-balance... it can be quickly demoralizing if you are worked to the bone in an experience for which you aimed to come out of with higher standing in skill sets, status, and upward mobility. It'd be a shame if the learning experience actually caused you to burn out.

Big vs. Small Firms: Small firms usually offer a lot of opportunity paired with some uncertainty. However, its not uncommon for new grads to get into a small firm, hang around 4-5 years and get bumped up to a director or even a VP level because of the structure. A large firm, however, usually has less upward mobility. There's a long line of people waiting for that next classification of becoming an *insert-job-title-here* Level II. However, larger firms tend to have better benefits, better pay, and much more security.

Live within your means:
We're starting to see a severe blunting in the market value of jobs. Regardless of your training, education, etc. - most jobs are paid just the way they are paid per industry. The variability is starting to shrink and the difference within the industries are starting to shrink as well. One of the best pieces of advices I can offer is to live within your means. If you have debt (and who doesn't), check out programs such as Power Pay which can help you plan out payments and get rid of that debt FAST. Then you get to move on with your life and really pursue those life goals you've set.

Pick ONE Vice: Pick a vice, stick with it, and be sure it doesn't break your bank or your bones... both ranges typically do not end well. So, sky-diving early on? Perhaps not the most secure choice. But certainly, find something where you can rest/play hard to contrast how hard you will be working. This is critical in terms of finding a balance of health - mentally, intellectually, physically, and even spiritually.

Set An Exit Strategy: Yep. Make sure you keep in mind an end result to all the "work." As mentioned before, if this job is a step-up job, keep this in mind. It'll keep you sane. If this is your last job, be secure in it. Finish strong, you're going to retire at the end of it all. Maybe this is a career change job, its okay! You've just exited an industry which wasn't satisfying to you and are beginning on a very exciting journey. It's all just the beginning. Enjoy it! Or, maybe this is the company you really want to stay at. Great! Set your sights high -- for a long, wonderful stay. Or, perhaps a leadership position where you can affect greater good.

Some Closing Thoughts:
Some of the best paid jobs I've had were the worst I've had... I couldn't bear to wake up Monday mornings at times. In fact, I even developed physiological anxiety responses to my cell phone going off. NOT GOOD. Yet, other jobs I had were amazing. I enjoyed every minute of it. Yet, other lines of work, the pay just wasn't good enough or the office politics drove me insane. When one weighs employment options, there is certainly the immediate need. However, what perhaps holds more importance are the other factors - factors which can help you choose a path most closely aligned with the goals you have in pursuit of employment. As such, you will be able to find and choose work for yourself that gives balance to your personal life, your professional life, and your retirement.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Plugged IN??? - Mobile Free: A Life Experience

August 8th, 2014 -- My phone shattered on tile flooring. I've been mobile free, until TODAY (Friday, September 12th, 2014). Was it hard? Actually.... No!

It's funny, remember the days when we used to say "I'm going unplugged!" with such pride... as if you were demonstrating strength of character, discipline, and restraint? Now that everything has gone wireless, mobile, and instantaneous... being plugged-in is the new unplugged!

Here are some lessons learned from a Mobile Free Life Experience.

Plugged IN??? - Mobile Free: A Life Experience
The choice to go mobile free was an easy one. My phone broke and I had only a month plus change before I was up to renew my contract with the option to buy a new phone. With that in mind, I wanted to spend extra time with my family and didn't want to get bogged down by all this instantly-gratifying-notifiable-alerts on my phone -- go mobile free? Sure! And, considering that being connected to Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Google+, several email accounts and news alerts... it was just too much.

So what have I learned? Well, the first thing I noticed was a drastic decrease in my use of social media. I mean DRASTIC. I had to make the extra effort to jump on my laptop to interact with folks on Twitter & Facebook. Moreover, I found myself doing a lot less browsing on all media platforms, be it social or not. I also noticed a lot of international use on Google+... apparently people use it (and use it a LOT)!

I found more time.

I made time to read books (somewhere, my wife is applauding).

In that vein, I was able to get time to draft some of the books I've been planning on writing. I even found time to slate titles that I didn't yet conceive of.

I learned to take things slow and really be in the moment. This allowed me precious mental clarity in paying more attention to my family. My baby boy always considered me the fun one; after a month of increased attending to him, he really shines to play-time-with-daddy.

I discovered more opportunities to cook -- even mastered some French sauces.

I was able to reminisce a lot more. So often life moves too fast, we forget what happened even yesterday. Some of the most cherished moments were looking back on the last year as my son expanded the family. Precious times.

I noticed myself doing a lot more listening and a lot less talking.

I thought.

I sat.

I sipped away at coffee, without worry of multi-tasking... savoring the many flavors there are, even in a lightly roasted bean.

I worked out more.

Trained Jiu Jitsu more.

I daydreamed more.

Thought more upon the future... what were my real goals? Where did I really want to go with my "career"... my life?

It's a rare thing to bring life's velocity down a bit... it'll be even harder as the days go by.

Technology is integrating so many attentive aspects of our lives that I think we're losing a certain, simple yet beautiful side of our human experience.

I suppose the biggest lesson I learned was savoring moments. Instead of obsessively checking/responding to alerts on my phone, I spent that same energy realizing the full potential, the scope of beauty, the depth of ever-precious-value, and the rarity of the moment at hand.

This moment only happens once. Life, being made up of many moments... don't let this moment pass you by.

Best And Worst Travel Experiences

I've been fortunate enough to have had quite a few travel experiences in life -- some international, some more local. There have been some which have been awesome. There have also been some which were not as awesome. There were also some which don't appropriately fit into context of this blog... but, I'd be happy to share on other venues.

In any case, I felt it'd be a fun post to share my 5 best and 5 worst travel experiences to date (not including Disney stuff, you know there could be a 47,121 part post for that). So... Here they are!

5 Best Travel Experiences
1. Africa: Ngorogoro Crater
So, yes. I went to Africa. Unfortunately, the trip wasn't as romantic or adventurous as it could've been. I was serving other purposes in the form of personal protection. In any case, this was one of the few times I was able to let my guard down and just enjoy the nature at hand. Truly beautiful.

2. Hawaii: Rock Jump at Waimeia Bay
Awesome fun here. Perhaps one of the epitomes of being a big kid is just climbing a huge geological structure - and - jumping! Over, and over, again.
 Linked to site origin.

3. Canada: Snowboarding Whistler & Blackcomb - Glacier Run
I don't know what it is, but glaciers are really cool. I used to be quite the avid snowboarder... for Southern California, ha ha! Which means I got royally humbled on the Canadian slopes. Nevertheless, it was a true pleasure in time to cruise down a blue-glowing-glacier mountain.

4. Taiwan: Stinky Tofu At ShiLin Night Market
FOOOOD! Okay, so stinky tofu is NOT for everyone. However, for those that brave the true journey of a foodie, you must try it at least once. Stinky Tofu is one of my favorite dishes out there. It's a perfect sit-and-break in the Taiwanese night market life. Fried, crispy goodness served with pickled vegetables, hot sauce, and hoisin sauce. Yum!

5. Michigan: The Big House
There's just something about the culture of college football that speaks to the heart. Being at a Michigan game was one of the most thrilling experiences. Sitting at the 50 yard line and watching my team demolish another team while chowing on fatty American stadium food and (soda) "pop" - just excellent.

5 Worst Travel Experiences
1. Africa: Victim to attempted swindling/bus robbery
Like most places, locals like to rip off tourists... and who can blame them? Easy pickings. Well, one of the legs of my Africa trip included a 10+ hours bus ride. The bus operator tried to swindle me a couple thousand local currency units. I caught on and said no. However, I wasn't so sure how he would respond - ie. get violent. I found out later what could've happened. He successfully robbed a guy who got onto the bus late. The guy found out and actuated local law: "mob to kill for stealing." In pitch black dark, while trying to protect an important person with me... was one of the most terrifying moments.

2. Taiwan: Interviewing for an English Tutor position, in Chinese... then being rejected.
This one is funny. At a time in life, I was interested in teaching English abroad. I decided to bum-rush a place and see if they were interested. Having spoken to them for several minutes in Chinese, I decided to break out the big guns and said in perfect English: "You know, I'm actually from California and attend UCSD."  They didn't know what to do. Sadly, they weren't looking for someone of my "type." Ridiculous, but truly funny.

3. Africa: Punked by "Black Mamba"
Part of the Africa trip was seeing a national snake/serpent reserve/zoo. Apparently, the lines are kinda blurred in Tanzania for this particular consideration. In any case, one of the handlers decided to run after me saying, "Black Mamba!!!"... with a snake that looked exactly like a black mamba - but fortunately wasn't. I basically ran for my life.

4. Africa: Sodas Sodas, everywhere...
Sadly, in many developing parts of the world, water is more expensive than soda. Part of the fantastic culture in the region which includes Tanzania is the culture of "welcome." You, as guest, are more important and more welcome and honored above the residents of the actual home. To demonstrate this sentiment, it is not uncommon to be given an ice cold soda in your appreciation. It is also rude to leave it unfinished. Since I did a lot of traveling in Africa, I did a lot of soda drinking... a lot of it.

5. Bahamas: Super Salty Sun Burn
The beautiful, Caribbean blue waters are such a light shade because of the high concentration of salt in the water. Combine that with really bad sun burns... that equals EXTRA burnage. I was reeling in pain from those burns after snorkeling in warm waters of the Bahamas for a couple weeks after. Sadness.

Entertaining Runner Ups:
1. Hawaii: Tutoring in Pidgin
Certain parts of Hawaii, it's just easier to communicate in local Pidgin. I picked it up. And, I couldn't actually get rid of it for a week or so after I rejoined the "mainland." What was hilarious was I was working on tutoring grammar and college entry essays in Pidgin.

2. Taiwan: KenTing Resort
KenTing is the southern most part of Taiwan and is host to resorts, night-markets, youth attractions, and a paradise-like-tropical climate. Staying at one of the resorts was great because I actually got to enjoy the resort itself. My usual travel experience results in staying at someplace... and never enjoying the actual amenities. Definitely a fun experience.

3. Dubai: Footstep Cleaners
Dubai. So, in the airport, there were employees there hired to wipe-clean your footsteps as you walked. Literally, as you walked. So if you sped up, they sped up. If you slowed down, they'd slow down. If you stopped, they would stop. And, they would always keep a 10-pace-distance between you and them. It was, interesting... to say the least. Kinda like this...

4. Mexico: Helping Out An Orphanage
A heart warming experience, I went down to Ensenada a number of years ago to scout out an orphanage for missions-work. It was a good, hard day's work in the boonies with kids that really appreciated your treating them like human beings. Sad to say, much of the world has very little regard for the widowed, orphaned, and "disabled."

5. Hawaii: Brazilian BBQ, You want THIS one cachaca, wooden mounted
Who doesn't like a good story about alcohol? Well, I went to a Brazilian BBQ place in Hawaii one day and realized, I've never tried any Brazilian drinks. I asked the owner what I should try and he gave me one of these: a caipriniha. Now, remember, I was once a bartender and wanted to know what the "real deal" was... so I asked him what was in the drink and he told me it was: Cachaça. I told my server I wanted a shot of it. Before the server got the shot to my table, the owner comes running out: "No! No no no no no!" Everyone was all shocked. He said, "You want cachaça?" -- I said, "Yes." He said, "Okay... you don't want this one." He shooed his server away. He comes back with this bottle, permanently mounted in a wooden box frame (as if the frame was built around the bottle) - and he goes, "You want THIS one." He pours me a shot and pours himself a shot. Klink! And he goes, "THAT, my friend, is cachaça."

Welps, that's it for now! I hope you've enjoyed this special edition of Life Experiences on my travel experiences to date.

Until Next Time!