Buying Minds

Cool News of the Day

Advances in artificial intelligence are digging more deeply into what shoppers really think, reports Evelyn M. Rusli in The Wall Street Journal ( 4/15/14). A software program called Luminoso helped Scotts Miracle-Gro divine that customers were cancelling "its lawn-fertilizing service" because they were unhappy with its customer service. Thing was, customers didn’t come right out and say that bad customer service was the issue; Luminoso picked up on it by associating "seemingly unrelated phrases like ‘listen’ and ‘not responsive’."

"It digs a little deeper into what consumers are actually saying," says David Erdman of Scotts Miracle-Gro, whose insights were pulled from a customer survey. The Luminoso software, developed at MIT’s Media Lab, "draws from a large database of common knowledge and relationships … to understand how words and phrases relate to each other." Meanwhile, another software program, via Kanjoya Inc., "is able to identify 100-plus emotions, including depression and excitement."

Such software is not without its quirks: "Luminoso struggles with sarcastic statements, for example," and has been known to confuse Apple the company with apple the fruit. It may indeed be a while before most brands are comfortable with the technology. "When they can act on behalf of marketers during engagement, this will be the tipping point for growth and value," says Forrester analyst Michele Goetz. Luminoso CEO Catherine Havasi says the comfort level is rising, adding: "You can attack anything as a data-driven decision."

April 16, 2014   Comments

Losing Minds

drd2"The average person misplaces up to nine items a day" and spends "an average of 15 minutes" looking for them, reports Sumathi Reddy in The Wall Street Journal (4/15/14). That’s based on a 2012 "online survey of 3,000 people," which maybe you remember (we couldn’t find the link, sorry). The most commonly lost items are "cellphones, keys and paperwork." The good news is that this type of "forgetfulness isn’t a sign of a serious medical condition" like dementia or necessarily a sign of growing older — "it is the norm for all ages."

It is possible that forgetfulness is a sign of "depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders," but Daniel L. Schacter of Harvard offers a relatively more benign explanation: "It’s the breakdown at the interface of attention and memory," he says. "That breakdown can occur in two spots: when we fail to activate our memory and encode what we’re doing … or when we try to retrieve the memory." It helps if "your state of mind at retrieval" is the same as it was "during encoding."

For example, if you were hungry when you put down your keys, but full when you go looking for them, "the memory may be harder to access." Meanwhile, "a recent study … found that the majority of people surveyed about forgetfulness and distraction had a variation in the so-called dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2) leading to a higher incidence of forgetfulness. According to the study, 75% of people carry a variation that makes them more prone to forgetfulness … About half of the total variation of forgetfulness can be explained by genetic defects."

April 16, 2014   Comments

Vox & Chorus

Content management systems are shaping the next generation of news, reports Leslie Kaufman in The New York Times (4/7/14). Among those leading the chorus is Chorus, which powers news sites published by Vox Media. Chorus "is credited with having a toolset that allows journalists to edit and illustrate their copy in dramatic fashion, promote their work on social media, and interact with readers — all seamlessly and intuitively." It is the platform for sites including SB Nation, The Verge, and the newly-launched

What some — especially younger — journalists love about Chorus is that it "enables them to do things like make photos appear as a cursor slides down a page; add links automatically to copy; and identify problem commentators through word identification." This is luring a new generation of journalists, like Ezra Klein, away from the newspaper business. "We were badly held back not just by the technology, but by the culture of journalism," says Ezra, who left the Washington Post’s Wonkblog for

The problem, says Ezra, is that print publishing systems are designed for printing newspapers, which are incremental by nature. This sacrifices context — "the biggest source of waste is everything the journalist has written before today," says Ezra. His vision is that background information be integrated with breaking news — for example, a "card stack" of essential terms accompanies each story. This, says Ezra, makes news stories easier to understand, "like a wiki page written by one person with a little attitude."

April 15, 2014   Comments

The News, Oh Boy

invention of news"The hegemony of the daily newspaper was briefer and less heroic than its present champions may apprehend," writes Jeffrey Collins in a Wall Street Journal review of The Invention of News, by Andrew Pettegree (4/14/14). "In the Middle Ages … news was the privilege of lords and popes … Modest folk relied on royal proclamations, church sermons or the ballads of ‘news singers‘ … by the 16th century elites subscribed to services offering manuscript ‘new-books,’ scribally copied and dearly priced."

With the "invention of the printing press in the 15th century … news was an irresistible market opportunity and printers moved to seize it." However, "serial newspapers only appeared in the 17th century" and were "dominated by foreign dispatches. In an age of censorship, the reporting of domestic politics was a risky proposition … early newspapers often acted as ‘propaganda vehicles’ for princes … for nearly two centuries newspapers were something of a niche market," with reporting "dominated by pamphlets."

It wasn’t until the "end of the 18th century" that the "modern newspaper" arrived — a product of the French Revolution. "The French Revolution," Andrew writes, "was arguably the first European event to which a periodical press was truly indispensable … The great age of the daily newspaper was at hand." This was made possible by the collapse of censorship and "an almost inexhaustible supply of subject matter," leading to the birth of "advocacy journalism." Newspapers became "the characteristic organ of revolutionary debate."

April 15, 2014   Comments

Reputable Capital

reputation instituteA company’s reputation is its most meaningful metric. By Anthony Johndrow and John Patterson. The world has changed since the 2008-09 financial crisis. A 2013 Reputation Institute/Forbes study found almost 60 percent of US consumer support for a company (recommend, say something positive, benefit of the doubt in a crisis) comes from what the company stands for (ideas around governance, workplace, leadership, citizenship and performance) compared to roughly 40 percent stemming from what it sells (product and innovation perceptions).

In the business-to-business world, a 2013 Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study reported the four top value-drivers of customer loyalty are 53 percent sales experience, 19 percent company/brand impact, 19 percent product/service capability & delivery and nine percent value-to-price ratio. At the same time, ‘corporate social responsibility’ has become passé. Gone are the intellectual debates between Milton Friedman disciples ("the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits") and the triple bottom line ("people, planet, profits") crowd. continue

April 15, 2014   Comments

The Why Side

Every brand lives within its own truth, be it authentic or illusory. That truth, real or imagined, is the stuff of marketing and, writ large, the brand experience in total. The source of brand truth can be elusive, which is why so many are so excited about the rise of Big Data and the mysteries it might reveal. The more data we have, the bigger the picture and the more insightful the insights, the more truthful the truth. It’s a powerful and appealing prospect, although not everyone is buying it just yet. It’s just that deep down we all know that the numbers alone rarely, if ever, tell the whole story.

Numbers tell us the what but not the why, and it’s the why that tells us the truth. With that in mind, we gave The Hub Top 20, The Hub Magazine’s annual survey of excellence in shopper marketing, its first major overhaul in its seven-year history. For the first time, the survey — the hard numbers — count for just 50% of our final results, which rank the best-of-the-best in shopper marketing. The other half is based on the why: 25% respondent comments and 25% Hub Prize awards for shopper-marketing campaigns.

This produced a tie on the brand-marketer side, with Kimberly-Clark and Unilever sharing the top spot. On the agency side, Catapult finished number-one for the second year running. We won’t get into how the results would have looked had we stuck with the numbers alone, but suffice it to say that they would not have been the same, or as meaningful. Our congratulations to all who made The Hub Top 20 this year, and our thanks to Dr. Dan Flint and his team at the University of Tennessee, as well as Chris Hoyt and Nancy Swift of Hoyt & Company, for making The Hub Top 20 the benchmark it has become. (link to the full report)

April 14, 2014   Comments

Tobacco Road

tobacco roadNo question but that CVS’s decision to end the sale of tobacco products is highly polarizing, with diametrically opposed opinions on various levels. It’s equally clear, based on a Hub Magazine survey of marketing professionals, that the move was a net positive for CVS. In short: A large (70%) majority take a favorable view of CVS’s decision to stop selling tobacco products, and a solid majority (62%) say they have a more favorable opinion of CVS as a result. However, where some see a good start with tobacco, others see hypocrisy. Still others think selling tobacco is not comparable to selling candy, sodapop, alcohol or ‘junk food.’

Perhaps the best news for CVS is that their tobacco decision does appear to have changed people’s view of the retailer’s place in the world. The percentage saying they view CVS as a ‘health-care provider’ jumped from 36% to 52% in light of the ban. A plurality of 40% think CVS will succeed in making a transition into a health-care provider. Some believe it has already made the transition, while others had a hard time imagining CVS as ‘a doctor’s office.’ Just 18 percent said they currently buy ‘health-care services’ at CVS, however 78 percent said they typically purchase health-and-beauty-care items and prescriptions at the retailer.

As for the most important thing CVS could change to serve needs better: lower prices, a better store environment, shorter checkout lines and improved customer-service topped the comments. A near majority of 49 percent said that other retailers should follow CVS’s lead and discontinue the sale of tobacco. It’s not often a major retailer discontinues an entire category, and certainly not one that is as profitable as tobacco. This raises the question of whether other retailers should re-visit the business they’re in. No more batteries at Radio Shack perhaps? No more staples at Staples? If CVS succeeds in nothing else, it certainly succeeded in getting our attention. (link to full report)

April 14, 2014   1 Comment

Cuppa Woe

Starbucks is finding that the economics of recycling paper cups doesn’t add up, reports Adam Minter in Bloomberg View (4/8/14). Adam, author of Junkyard Planet, cites Starbucks’ 2013 Global Responsibility Report (link), which stated it is currently recycling just 39 percent of its cups, far short of the 100% it had been projecting by 2015. While Starbucks sells some "4 billion disposable cups a year," the big problem, apparently, is that this is not "enough cups to make recycling a viable option."

According to John Mulcahy of Georgia-Pacific, "the paper in all the Starbucks cups used in a year amounts to less than a week’s worth of production at one of his company’s paper mills." In other words, "recycling Starbucks cups isn’t a business; it’s a test project worth pursuing for PR, and perhaps for the day when Starbucks and other restaurants pool their used paper cups in a way that makes them attractive as a business prospect."

Further complicating matters is that "Starbucks cups are lined with plastic to keep them from leaking, and that plastic needs to be removed before the cups can be transformed into new paper." Starbucks last week admitted in a statement that recycling "seems like simple, straightforward initiative" but is "actually quite challenging." Alternatively, composting cups "generates greenhouse gases while destroying the recycling value packed into the cup’s fibers. Reusable cups are a nice idea, but one that consumers simply don’t embrace."

April 11, 2014   Comments

Good to Go

paper cup Fellows at the DO School in NYC are devising the coffee cup equivalent of bike-sharing, reports Alessandra Malito in The Wall Street Journal (4/4/14). Called the "Good to Go" campaign, it’s a "cup-sharing system" designed "to cut down on the number of disposable cups tossed every day." On April 15th, the concept will begin a "three-day pilot program … at Brooklyn Roasting Co. in Dumbo. From there, the group hopes to eventually roll out the campaign in all five boroughs."

The cup itself "will look like a to-go cup — except it will be made of a material more durable than paper but lighter than ceramic." In concept, sounds very simple: "A consumer picks up a cup from one location and drops it off at another location when it’s empty — the Citi Bike of cups." However, Katherin Kirschenmann, chief executive of the DO School, which teaches "social entrepreneurism," says it took some weeks for the fellows "to understand how complex" New York’s to-go and coffee culture are.

"The fellows are still working on the material and design as well as incentives for customers, such as a fast lane for those who bring in their own cups." Jim Munson, co-owner of Brooklyn Roasting, is optimistic the program will work. "Coffee that tastes good and does good resonates with New Yorkers," he says. "If people adopt the ‘Good to Go’ cup program and we can reduce the amount of paper waste that’s generally from people enjoying coffee, that’s got to be good for the neighborhood."

April 11, 2014   Comments

The Rise

"Grit, our ability to respond positively to failure, does not correlate with IQ," reports A. Roger Ekirch in a Wall Street Journal review of The Rise by Sarah Lewis (4/4/14). James Watson, who co-discovered DNA’s structure, personifies the concept: "When I was boy, I had to reconcile the fact that I didn’t have a good IQ, but I still wanted to do something important." West Point, meanwhile, reports that "a written test measuring the self-reported grit of incoming cadets," was its most accurate predictor of success.

Grit is "more than tenacity … an unflagging commitment to a long-term task that may require months or even decades, of endurance." Samuel B. Morse, for instance, "dedicated his life to his true passion, painting, with the same determination with which he set about inventing the telegraph." Grit occupies just one chapter of this book, which is really about "strategies that have inspired artistry and innovation in the past," punctuated with anecdotes about various well-known achievers.

One attribute of the truly inventive is that they often are independent, not team players, who prefer workspaces "secluded from the comments of peers and critics." Then there’s the importance of play, as demonstrated at the University of Manchester, where "physicists undertake outlandish experiments" each Friday night. (link) And there’s the motivational thrust of the near-win: "Silver medalists in Olympic events are more apt than bronze to focus on competitions to come."

April 10, 2014   Comments