Category Archives: Business

Macy’s Doth Murder Sleep!

Thanks to Linda, who gave us all a lovely gift in the comments section of yesterday’s post with a link to Clyde’s excellent Thanksgiving Day essay from 2011. Sometimes the oldies are golden indeed!

I’m going to take a cue from Linda and do the same for Black Friday, in part because the newest B.F. trend seems to be finding a way to make it easy on yourself – witness the uptick in people who hire surrogates to stand in line for them.

In this post from 2010, we explored the Shakespearian potential of the annual Black Friday drama.

MACBETH
Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more! 
 Macys does murder sleep,” the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of Ladies Charter Club Cashmere Crew-Neck Sweaters, only $39.99 before 10 am on Friday alone!

LADY MACBETH
What do you mean? Who was it that thus cried?

MACBETH
It was the owl that shriek’d, or some Tribune. The Star, perhaps, or the News of Duluth, formerly the Herald. It was a sorry sight.

LADY MACBETH
A foolish thought to say a sorry sight. Such sales will make us mad! Summon again the page!

MACBETH
All great Neptune’s ocean will not wash this ink clean from my hand. I am afraid to think what I have seen. Look on’t again I dare not.

LADY MACBETH
Infirm of purpose! 
 Methinks the doors are already open and the surfeited clerks do mock their charge with snores. Give me the plastic daggers. I’ll gild the aisles of Macy’s withal; 
 That which hath made them drowsy hath made be bold; what hath pinched them hath given me fire. Hark!

What is your greatest shopping drama?

Coming Soon To A Parking Lot Near You

The ideas-unconstrained-by-reality people are busy imagining the future in a world of self-driving cars. After all, the technicians need to know what to build, and the technology is moving forward at an amazing clip.

People at the design firm IDEO came up with three possible expressions of autonomous car technology.

Pretty impressive, and they even gave one of the vehicles a friendly-sounding name.

But why not name them all?

And while you’re at it, leave a few brain cells unoccupied to do the important work of imagining the worst that could happen.

Notion #1 is Marge, a family car that looks at your e-mail and your calendar and already knows where you want to go when you get into it.

How could this fail? A car with access to your e-mail might know where you ought to go and where you’re supposed to be, but one that looks at your Internet browsing history may fully understand where you’d rather be instead. When you get in your autonomous car you might not know who’s driving – is it your Id or your Super-Ego?

I guess we’ll find out when we get there.

Notion #2 is Cody, a delivery truck that is a nimble, see-through tube reminiscent of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, except it knows where you are and what you want. Combined with Amazon’s purchase-prediction software, these babies may be orbiting your neighborhood already stocked with what the algorithm says you are going to order.

How could this fail? Salespeople will ruin this for everybody by flooding neighborhoods with delivery vehicles that are cruising advertisements for the stuff inside. Imagine the narrow snowy streets of December clogged with gift-laden vehicles, each one jockeying to catch your eye.

Notion #3 is Dante’, a roving work station that is your portable office. Let it take you and your co-workers anywhere – for inspiration or collaboration.

How could this fail? Fights over the beach vs. the scenic overlook vs. the blank downtown brickscape where I can concentrate on this damn report I have to finish! Could we turn the office around so I can have the sun coming in on MY side for once? Do we really have to co-work with them in OUR parking lot today? Why don’t they ever invite us over to their place? Is there something wrong with it?

So many idea clouds, so many gun-metal gray linings. And there are so many notions the IDEO people didn’t suggest …

Notion #4 – is Sherlock, an autonomous chase vehicle that will follow you on that blind date you dread, and provide you with a quick getaway if it’s as awful as you fear it will be.

How could this fail? Hey, it looks like someone is following us. Hang on! My last girlfriend said I’m almost good enough to be a Hollywood stunt driver!

Notion #5 – is Budge, a Parking Space Holder. If we’re going to the Ordway Saturday night I’ll send Budge over there around 4pm to orbit Rice Park looking for one of those handy metered street parking spots to open up when the matinee crowd leaves. Twenty minutes before the curtain rises we’ll head over there in the second car (“Diva”) to trade places and claim our spot while Budge ambles home.

Notion #6 – is Flash Fleet, not a single autonomous car but rather a bit of software developed by highway hackers to commandeer large numbers of autonomous vehicles to “flood the zone”, creating targeted slowdowns and traffic jams at pre-arranged times in carefully selected places. The goal – anarchy.

How could this fail? Actually, this one is a no-brainer. It’s definitely going to happen, and it will be a terrific headache.

What else could happen?

Farmstead By The Sea

Back in the day, my brother would lament that we weren’t born into a money-smart family.

It’s not that our parents were financially reckless – quite the contrary. They were careful and conservative and as a result we were well taken care of all the while we were growing up.

But we were not marinating in entrepreneur sauce.

My brother imagined that under different circumstances, we might have absorbed some business smarts from a line of savvy patriarchs who could have shared their collected wisdom regarding investments, promoted the expectation that fortunes would be made, and somehow transmitted to us a knack for being in the right place at the right time with the right connections to make a killing on emerging market trends.

Whenever he offered up some fresh regret over this unfulfilled scenario, I agreed in order to avoid an argument. But secretly I was glad I hadn’t turned out to be that guy who is always counting the money and scanning the horizon for some way to gain an advantage over everyone else. Life is too short.

But now with new evidence seeming to emerge every day that climate change will cause a rise in the sea level coupled with the news that humans are living longer than ever and the first person destined to reach age 150 is already breathing air on the planet today, I’m wondering if life will ultimately be too long.

And in my most ambitious moments I’m thinking maybe I should fire up my latent market-cornering urges and invest in future beachfront property located considerably back from the shore. Some observers believe it’s not too late to alter your financial strategy to make the best of a global environment that will be water-rich and ice cap-poor. Apparently there’s opportunity there because the market hasn’t adjusted yet for a coming coastal calamity.

In other words, rich people are still buying expensive places with water views. According to the Forbes article linked above, “… billionaires like Larry Ellison are purchasing beachfront property rather aggressively.”

In a world where everyone accepted that climate change is really real, the advantage-takers of Wall Street would be buying farmland, life jackets and pontoons. They’d be crunching the numbers to locate the new waterfront building a Riviera in Ohio. With so much wealth at stake, why don’t they act quickly and aggressively on the conclusions of an overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists?

Unless being money smart is not exactly the same thing as being really smart.

What’s the best financial advice you didn’t follow?

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Up the Viral Staircase

About fifteen years ago I heard how blogging would change the world of journalism and transform the ways we consume information.

Someday every person would write a blog and traditional news gathering would soon give way to a million beautifully written first-person accounts of every important event and critical issue. Paid reporters would become obsolete.

I thought that was silly, and I was certain blogging was something I would never do.

Time made a fool of me on that last point.

But I’m not yet convinced that personal blogs can change the world aside from simply increasing the level of written noise. Although with so many computer users out there offering their precious attention to online articles, the potential seems great.

In a sense this is like playing the lottery – you don’t blog for very long without entertaining the fantasy that something you’ve written will “go viral” and lead to a situation where so many people are following you and reading your work, you can lounge around in your pajamas all day, making a comfortable living by sharing your interesting thoughts with an eager, easily transfixed world.

The power of massive popularity is potent! I started blogging in the Fall of 2008. Almost six years in, I’m still viral-resistant and massive-popularity free.

But the other day I read about a survey that explains what I have to do to score big. The researchers took a look at what it takes for online content to be widely shared, making the person responsible for said content an overnight sensation.

All you have to do is follow the steps upwards to glory, right? A sort of viral staircase. It turns out certain kinds of articles are shared more readily than others.

The problem is this: writing one of those articles sounds like a lot of work. I didn’t start blogging to put in any actual effort.

The survey, from BuzzSumo, is pretty clear about what succeeds. Long, in-depth, well-researched pieces (at least 2,000 words) are preferred by influential people who share lots of “content”. The most widely shared posts inspire feelings of “awe”, “laughter”, and “amusement”, in that order.

And if you don’t already know the difference between laughter and amusement, your cause is hopeless.

There were more viral content triggers listed based on interviews with people who were asked why they shared a particular story online.

The reasons were:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to one another
  • To define themselves to others (give people a better sense of who they are)
  • To grow and nourish relationships (stay connected with others)
  • For self-fulfillment (to feel more involved in the world)
  • To get the word out on causes they care about.

And one more thing – most of the top-shared articles were quizzes! This conforms with the theory that people will readily share a thing if they think it provides a window into their own personalities.

All very instructive, and of course I’d love to write a post that will be seen by millions. How am I doing on the checklist? Not so well. At this point I’ve written fewer than five hundred words – not even a fourth of the way to the required 2,000 word point for world-dominating status.

Sigh.

Clearly I will have to find a way to short cut this guaranteed-viral content process.

How? With a stupid poem, of course!

I’ve highlighted all the key words so there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that I’m doing what I can to touch every important base.

Please please please share what you saw –
A blog that filled your heart with awe.
It’s deadly aim on social cues meant
you felt waves of deep amusement.
And when thinking of it, after,
you convulsed in gales of laughter.

Observations, so aligned
your personality defined.
A simple string of words has willed
that you feel fully self-fulfilled.
And if you don’t know what that is,
It’s too late now – this is a quiz.

A post that hits its targets well
and rings each viral content bell
except this heartless length command –
the word count must exceed two grand!
At seven hundred now – No dice!
Unless, of course, you read it thrice.

How good are you at following directions?

Parody Power

The people of the world cannot be divided into groups based on superficial impressions or simple-to-understand categories. I always try to remember that there is more to any person’s story than I can possibly know. Even a fictitious person has layers.

Still, it’s easy to skip over all that and just get mad at a guy who’s obviously feeling pretty smug about his fancy car.

Now I enjoy a good parody on April Fool’s, or any other day. It’s legal stealing to take someone else’s idea and mock it with a near copy, inserting just the right number of tweaks to get your message across.

You’re not going to get rich enough to by a Cadillac if you make your living doing parodies. Unless you’re amazingly good at it. Parody can be deadly effective when done right, but the form has weaknesses. For one, it can fall flat if your audience doesn’t know the original. And in our increasingly fractured media landscape, finding a source document that is universally recognized can be a challenge.

That’s where money comes in handy. Fortunately, Cadillac spent piles of it on the Olympics telecasts to acquaint vast numbers of people with the fellow in the above ad and the towering self-satisfaction that must be characteristic of the target buyer for the company’s newest high-end uber-chariot.

Lots of people felt chafed by that Cadillac ad, and many complained. But the best critics asked themselves one essential question – is it ripe for parody? The answer? In this case, “You bet!”.

Beautifully done. The only thing I would change would be to have that nice shiny Ford smeared with a little healthy manure. But that might have constituted “rubbing it in.”

Why do you work so hard?

Brand Loyalty

Today’s post comes from marketing whiz Spin Williams, a wheeler-dealer who is always in residence at The Meeting That Never Ends.

The economy is picking up! It’s a world full of great opportunities for smart people who are willing to embrace risk and do deals. But it’s also important to know when to walk away.

Case in point:

I’m not at liberty to say who made the offer, but during a recent new business discussion at The Meeting That Never Ends we heard from a very well-known genes manufacturer who was shopping around the famous Y chromosome for a possible takeover.

x_and_y_chromosomes

Naturally, we considered it. The Y is a well known brand name in the chromosome industry, making up a significant portion of all the chromosomes out there. It comes in second only to the X chromosome, which is the runaway market leader. In fact, the X is so reliable and effective, it has a 100% market penetration. Some people love the X chromosome so much, they have two! But there is a foothold – around half the population has at least one X and a Y. It was a bit disappointing to us to learn that very few people have two Y chromosomes, and we noted that as a possible marketing goal, should we decide to do the deal.

Doing our due diligence, we discovered that the Y was for sale because its maker has come to the realization that the chromosome is almost worthless, having been shown through scientific studies to contribute very little to any sense of individual well-being or overall usefulness. Most organizations considering a takeover would have walked away at this point, but my experience has shown me that marketing is more powerful than science. As proof, I offer the fact the we still have a tobacco industry! The value of any particular thing is in the eye of the beholder, and there is solid survey information to indicate that most Y chromosome users love and defend it simply because they already have one, and not because of any inherent benefits it may bring to the table.

And there’s a sizable portion of the chromosome-consuming public that doesn’t understand the product and doesn’t know which brand it prefers.

So in spite of the Y chromosome being inferior, we felt certain we could develop a marketing plan that would boost brand loyalty and make the Y seem more fresh and hip than it does today. Whether we would get to a point where X-only consumers might actually feel some envy for those with a Y was hotly debated at the meeting, with one side expressing certainty that such envy was impractical and impossible, and the other group adamant that Y envy pretty much drives all decision making by X’s. It turns out one of the side effects of having a Y is an outsized enthusiasm for the supposed benefits of Y-ness that X’ers don’t generally seem to share.

Similarly, it was the Y-freindly crowd that was all Gung-ho for immediately pulling the trigger on this deal and sorting out the consequences later. The double-X’s in the room were feeling less impulsive, constantly asking ‘How do we monetize this?’, ‘Where’s the benefit?’ and other fun-stifling questions like that.

Because there was no getting around this fundamental conflict, we walked away from the deal. First, though, we made a surprise bid for the X chromosome, thinking a seller in the mood to divest one of His low-performing properties might take the bait on an unexpected left-field offer for the most popular genetic product in the world.

That was a non-starter, but we all had a good laugh over it.

What does it take to get you to switch brands?