Written on June 11th, 2010 | Short URL: http://abcjr.me/26
This was the statistic that got me started down this road. It got me asking questions: What of those decisions are made by women and what of those are influenced? Whose money is it? What is the final purchase result? And, to some extent, what are men buying in the 15% of instances that they’re making the decisions by themselves?
Some of those questions were answered in an article published yesterday in The Atlantic Monthly titled “The End of Men”. The thesis should scare men and women alike as there is a gender inequality 180 that could be as damaging as the chauvinist tendencies of most of history. PLEASE read the article — it is well-written, fascinating and disturbing.
Why is it the end of men? Ronald Ericsson, a now 74-year old biologist who devised a way to separate sperm to help people to select the gender of their children in the 70s, is quoted in the article as saying:
“Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of ’em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way—these females are going to leave us males in the dust.”
The article goes on to explain how the world is changing to favor the skills/talents/demeanor of women. This is demonstrated by a few key facts/statistics:
Written on February 8th, 2010 | Short URL: http://abcjr.me/c
After years of watching people fumble with the little packets tossed in fast food to-go, Heinz announced yesterday that it has invented a new packet with three times more ketchup that can be opened for dunking or squeezed onto a hot dog bun. Really? After more than 50 years (the original patent for the ketchup packet was issued in 1955) and years of customers cursing the design, the company FINALLY came up with something better. It made me realize that, while there might be start-up companies that can supplant technologies, there are still industries that have market leaders with legit competition.
This reminded me of the story of Alcoa, the multinational aluminum conglomerate, and the Fridge Pack. As one of the largest providers of aluminum to the world, it obviously sees the soft drink market as important to it’s success. In 1999, the company saw that cans were sort of hard to keep in your refrigerator, as evidenced by all of the “can storage” as-seen-on-TV items in the early 90′s. So, the company decided to rethink the way cans were sold and stored, and invented the 12-can fridge pack. Stacked 6×2 (as opposed to 3×4 or in 6-packs with the soft plastic carriers), people learned to just throw the box in the fridge and forget about it.
I think the Heinz example is reinforced by a Malcom Gladwell article about ketchup. In the article, he talks about how there are a gazillion different mustards, but really only one (Heinz) ketchup. Despite many attempts to make the “Grey Poupon” of ketchup, none of them have succeeded. People like Heinz and, according to taste tests, pretty much consider it perfect.
So, what does this mean? First, it’s pretty awesome to be considered an irreplaceable product. Heinz has no legitimate threat and, as a result, no need to push the envelope too hard with respect to ketchup innovation (purple ketchup, anyone??). Second, you have to be able to anticipate your weaknesses/threats and gauge whether or not to do something about it. In the Heinz case, there might have been a consumer demand for a new packet, but the threat wasn’t such that it made a change a top priority. For Alcoa, not making an adjustment could mean a shift of consumer behavior to other soft drink containers (could prove disastrous for the company).
Companies always need to be on the lookout and figure out if they’re in a Heinz position or an Alcoa position. If the former, it’s really not worth spending the money on R&D when you could be dedicating resources to other, more profitable projects (Heinz’s restaurant squeeze bottles are a good example). If you’re Alcoa, you have to be able to recognize if there’s a threat to your business and, if so, you might need to innovate on the margins of your core offering to shore up your relevance in the market. In the end, you have to listen to the customer and do the strategic math. If your customers are willing to put up with your inadequacies, good for you! If not, get working on a solution before it’s too late.
Written on October 5th, 2009 | Short URL: http://abcjr.me/1y
A few weeks ago, after a long struggle, I lost a companion of more than a year-and-a-half — my BlackBerry World Edition (8830) from Verizon. It was a great phone, surviving heavy drops on pavement and enduring more than one text battle with friends and significant others, but was on death watch for about a month. Finally, after an accidental dip in the sink — and the periodic malfunctioning of the left half of the keyboard — I decided that it was time to let go.
I had been following the progress of the BlackBerry 9630, eventually named the Tour (for the record, I did this with the other BlackBerry out of the room lest I offend it and it delete all of my text messages). The Tour boasted some great features that had limited the world edition — more memory, better screen resolution, a faster processor and a camera. After stopping into the Verizon store on Smithfield in downtown Pittsburgh on numerous occasions, I knew that it was the right phone for me.
The team at this Verizon store is always excellent — they move people through quickly, are courteous and professional, and consistently deliver great customer service. I have always been amazed by this — it is a very high-traffic store — yet the folks working there rarely get overwhelmed.
Everything was going well until I learned that my expected “new every two”, the program that provides a $50 credit toward the purchase of a new phone, wasn’t available to me. You see, I was on someone else’s family share plan for the previous 18 months and, by Verizon policy, wasn’t eligible for the credit because I wasn’t the primary account holder. I was pretty upset — I had been a customer for years, and a profitable one at that (I’ve had a smartphone since 2004). How could they not acknowledge that I was a long-time customer? Was it worth the $50 to them to make me feel like my business wasn’t valued?
I grumbled to the person who was setting up the phone. She responded, “I hate telling someone no, especially if they’re nice, but there really isn’t anything I can do.” I accepted it and moved on, but remained irritated by the policy.
I received a robocall later that week asking for my opinions about the service I received. The first part was a standard survey, but at the end, it allowed me to leave a voice mail with additional comments. I took the opportunity to emphasize how much I appreciate the service at the store (even if I’m just browsing), but mentioned that I was disappointed by the new every two policy. I hung up the phone and promptly forgot about the call.
A couple of days later, I got a call back from the manager, who had said he received my message and wanted to follow-up regarding my complaint about their policy. I was stunned — I never expected my message to be heard let alone reacted to. I mentioned how great the staff was (again), but laid out my case for why the new every two policy was not right. He immediately agreed, saying that he felt that it was a bit unfair since people often pool their plans to save money (and pay their fair share), yet aren’t given the benefit of the primary account holder. He then credited my account $50 and thanked me for my feedback, also stating that he would be sending the complaint about the new every two policy to his district manager.
For all the ads that tout Verizon’s superior network, I have to say that this interaction taught me that big corporations, especially those that are providing utility-level products or service, can deliver excellent customer service. It is possible for a company to hire well, train well, and empower the folks working on the front lines to satisfy the needs of their customers. Not only does it build goodwill with individual customers, but it creates the kind of word-of-mouth marketing that can make the difference in a competitive consumer landscape.