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Wednesday, March 04, 2015
by Kate McMahon
Forget blue-and-black versus white-and-gold. When asked the true color of the divisive dress that “broke the internet,” the British retailer behind the viral sensation answered “green.”
He was joking, of course, but not far off the mark citing the color of money.
The spirited debate about the blue-and-black dress that many people (including the majority of Facebook users, Jimmy Fallon, Julianne Moore and yours truly) saw as white-and-gold has finally abated.
But the unexpected boost in revenue and hype for the dress manufacturer Roman Originals, and for the content distributor BuzzFeed and microblogging site Tumblr, has not.
To recap: The what-color-is-the-dress brawl broke out Thursday night with a Scottish wedding band singer’s post on Tumblr, which prompted a story on BuzzFeed, which set off a firestorm across social media platforms.
Peter Christodoulou, CEO of Roman Originals, was doing yoga at his home at 6 a.m. Friday in the United Kingdom when he learned the $77 body-con dress accomplished what Kim Kardashian’s ample derriere failed to do - break the internet. He told the Washington Post that “it was absolutely nuts all day.”
Christodoulou started Roman Originals with his siblings in 1978, expanding from an eight-person firm manufacturing 150 garments a to a brick-and-mortar and online retailer with 1,000 employees and $74 million in annual sales today. On Friday, website visits skyrocketed from an average of 10,000 per day to “excess of a million.” Sales soared by 347% as the staff replenished sizes on the website, which said #THE DRESS IS NOW BACK IN STOCK. Roman Originals also confirmed the color on Twitter.
Meanwhile, at Tumblr, visits to the singer Caitlin McNeill’s “swiked” account hit 73 million. Records were shattered at BuzzFeed, with some 37 million page views of the first post, translated into five languages with comments spanning the world. At 10 p.m. there were more than 657,00 users on the site, eclipsing a preview high of 460,000 set last year.
Just as Roman Originals went into warp-speed mode to handle the social media and website demands of the day, BuzzFeed published a tech blog detailing how its staff promoted #The Dress, brought neuroscientists in to explain and kept up with the internet demand in technical terms far beyond my comprehension.
All over a $77 mother-of-the-bride dress. Crazy, yes. But what does it say about our culture? And what does it mean for retailers and marketers?
This story confirms that the internet is host to communities, which unite over stories as seemingly trivial as #the dress or as devastatingly serious as a tsunami or terrorist threat. It is an integral player in pop culture. One photo can reach millions of mobile phones on seven continents in a flash. Understanding and being current on one social media platform – such as Facebook or Twitter – is not enough, as evidenced by Tumblr’s role in the story. You should expect the unexpected, 24/7, and be ready to react.
Christodoulou told the Washington Post his company had purposefully kept “under the radar” while expanding but “obviously, I think that may change now. I’m hoping that what this really gives us is brand awareness and global recognition.”
But what the cyber-world really want to know if there will indeed be a white-and-gold version of the dress. The answer is yes, but delivery is probably five months out.
In the meantime, and in the speediest cash-in on #The Dress meme, a company called Bastex will be releasing a iPhone 6 case 2-pack showing both versions of The Dress. While not available until March 27, you can pre-order now on Amazon.
Comments? As always, send them to me at email@example.com .
by Kevin Coupe
There has been a story in the news over the past 24 hours that I think offers a vivid business lesson. I want to wade in a little carefully here, because the context is political ... but to be absolutely clear, I am not choosing political sides. But the example is too juicy to resist.
Yesterday, it was reported in the New York Times - and many other places, which picked up on the story - that when she was Secretary of State during the first four years of the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton did not use an official State Department email account, but rather used a personal email account. What this means is that there is no official record of her email communications as seems to be required by law, and that Clinton - and not the State Department - controls the emails, though she certainly can be compelled to provide them if subpoenas are issued.
Let's forget the politics of the situation for a moment. It almost goes without saying that Republicans are going to attack Clinton, and that Clinton supporters are going to defend her. (I'm deliberately not saying that Democrats will reflexively defend her, because I've talked to a number of left-leaning folks who are appalled. ) And there may or may not be a legal defense for her actions, and that legal defense may or may not resonate in the court of public opinion and with Democratic primary voters.
Here's what I cannot understand, and where the business lesson is.
There should have been someone in the room at the State Department, or someone in the Clinton orbit, who could have and/or should have said, "This is a bad idea. Not just on the legal face of it, but because it plays into every negative stereotype about the Clintons. Especially if you want a political future beyond being Secretary of State, you need to be not just as transparent as everybody else, but more transparent. The only way you can control the narrative is by subverting conventional wisdom, not by confirming it."
Now, I suppose that it is possible that somebody did say this, and was ignored.
Which is the second part of my point. Somebody has to be willing and able to make the contrarian and unpopular argument, and then somebody has to listen.
I have made this argument in other contexts over the years. Many newspapers now have public editors or ombudsmen who serve as critics of policies, procedures and decision-making processes ... and they do it public, on the pages of those newspapers, because they know that at a time when the media has declining credibility, it is necessary. I've always thought that companies like Walmart (I'm not picking on Walmart here, just using it as an example) or General Motors ought to have a person in senior management whose job is not to drink the Kool-aid. (Some companies seem to be largely run by people who get their haircuts from the same barber, buy their suits from the same shops, drive cars from the same dealership, and worship at the same churches. That's not healthy, in my view.)
The Hillary Clinton story is just the latest example of a person who, believing that they can control the narrative, actually behaves in a way that subverts their best interests and hands control of the narrative over to others.
This is not a matter of politics. Or, to put it another way, not just a matter of politics.
And it is an Eye-Opener.
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Marketing Daily reports that Whole Foods is saying that its first national ad campaign "is building awareness and traffic, and that its new loyalty program is generating a response well above industry-average."
The story says that according to an independent analyst, Whole Foods' ad campaign "seems to have resonated well with customers, seeing buzz/awareness double, with eight out of 10 customers having seen the ad in some format." And the loyalty program - currently being tested in the Princeton/Philadelphia market - is said to be generating "a 60% opening rate on its email, compared to single digits for other retail chains."
No surprise here, but certainly worth noting. Marketing works. Data analysis works. And when you combine the two, it should not be surprising that it is possible to move the needle. (There's two different kinds of marketing going on here...mass and targeted. I'm more interested in the latter ... though I understand why Whole Foods needed to send a broader message.)
What I don't understand is why a retailer would not use data analysis to market more effectively to customers.
The New York Times reports that Target has announced that it will eliminate several thousand jobs over the next 24 months, mostly at headquarters level, "as it struggles to overcome a string of difficult years."
According to the story, "The fresh job cuts at home are part of an effort to save $2 billion over the next two years, from a combination of corporate restructuring at its headquarters, leaner supply chains and more efficient product sourcing, Target said in a statement. The company will set up centralized teams at its headquarters that will tackle specific areas of the business, like analyzing shopper data. And it will reinvest $2 billion to $2.2 billion in its business, including $1 billion in technology and improvements to the supply chain."
The move is consistent with a series of decisions by CEO Brian Cornell aimed at making the company more efficient and effective - closing down its Canadian stores (which generally were conceded to be a debacle), improving its food selection, and working to regain consumer trust after a data hacking incident that put the personal and financial data of its customers at risk.
Target has a long way to do, but one gets the sense that Cornell has a vision for what the retailer needs to be, the narrative it needs to communicate, and a sense of the path that the company needs to take to get there. Which is certainly a good beginning.
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Fast Company has a piece about Munchery, a San Francisco-based start-up that recently expanded to New York City and is "part of a new breed of food delivery startups that place a premium on locally sourced, high-end meals cooked up daily by real chefs and delivered to your doorstep. The menu items are pretty out there—but the average cost of an entree, delivered to your home or office just in time for dinner, is pretty reasonable: About $10 to $13 a dish. And every time a meal is ordered, a donation of equal value is made to local charities like City Harvest."
The food is upscale. The story says that Munchery has an "impressive team of chefs from Michelin-starred New York restaurants like Le Bernardin and Daniel have been cobbling together a delivery menu of 300+ dishes: Spice rubbed hanger steaks, lobster rolls, Cambodian pork burgers, butter chicken. Instead of a can of Coke, meal additions include Blue Bottle’s impossible-to-find iced coffees and Icelandic Glacial spring water."
According to the piece, "Munchery differs from its competition in that its dishes reach you cold; you complete the cooking process by heating up Munchery's compostable trays in your microwave or oven. Instructions are printed on an argyle orange sleeve, along with the name of the chef who made it. All of the dishes are designed to be heated—they’re 99% pre-cooked; the customer provides the final, gentle push into the oven."
It is exciting to see these new food businesses crop up and to see what new spins can be put on traditional ideas. And it is especially fun when the businesses focus on quality food, not just commodity foods. The culture is always better off when people focus on great food, I think.
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It's time to get to work.
The Washington Post reports that Bill Nye, usually referred to as "Bill Nye the Science Guy" because of his old children's science TV show, has had a change of heart about GMOs.
Over the years, the story says, "Nye has suggested that there’s something fundamentally problematic with foods containing GMO crops. He has argued that GMOs may carry environmental risks that we can never rule out with certainty."
But now, after having spent time with Monsanto scientists, Nye says that he has changed his mind ... and you can see what he's now saying about GMOs here.
Still think there ought to be some sort of labeling program, if only to assuage the people who are concerned about GMOs. Information is not condemnation.
That said ... assuming that Nye's change of heart is organic and not influenced by Monsanto money (and I have no reason to believe that it is), there is something to be said for a person who is willing to adjust his or her perspective. It is rare, especially in this world of people who believe more in ideology than thinking, practice epistemic closure rather than empiricism, and live their lives within the filter bubble.
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DigitalMusicNews reports that "Whole Foods may be the latest retailer to stop selling CDs, a move that would follow a similar announcement by Starbucks. According to one source inside the high-end supermarket, Whole Foods is now ‘seriously considering’ dropping CD sales from ‘most of its stores’ within months."
According to the story, "The impact of the move could be more psychological than anything else. Late last month, Starbucks decided to stop selling CDs as well, the end of a long, multi-year attempt to not only sell CDs, but promote artists as well. Now, it’s back to lattes and pumpkin scones. Other retailers are hanging on… for now. Just recently, Target dampened rumors that it would be dropping CDs, though Walmart has one foot out the door."
Quickly, CDs seem to be going the way of the eight track tape. And to be honest, I didn't even know that Whole Foods sold CDs.
What's the over-under on when a young person you know looks at you and says, "What's a CD?"
• Reuters reports that Sainsbury has decided to offer its shoppers a click-and -collect option, "years after the service was introduced by rivals Tesco and Asda, upping the stakes in Britain's brutally competitive grocery market."
Online shopping is a major component of supermarket competition in the UK, the story notes: "Tesco now offers the service from more than 300 of its 2,650 stores while Asda offers it from all its 592 stores." Sainsbury hopes to have 100 offering the program by the end of the year. Number four retailers Morrisons does not yet offer a click-and-collect option.
• Temkin Group is out with its fifth annual evaluation of companies' customer experience offerings, concluding that "Publix, Aldi, and H-E-B earned the highest scores" among the 293 businesses that were rated. Among the other top companies were Chick-fil-A, PetSmart, Amazon.com, Trader Joe's, USAA, Papa John's, Walgreen and Hannaford.
According to the announcement, "While supermarket chains, fast food chains, and retailers dominate the top of the Temkin Experience Ratings, Internet service providers, TV service providers, and health plans, and earn the dubious distinction of defining poor performance, as none of those companies earned a 'good' rating."
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• SpartanNash Co. said yesterday that Dave Staples, SpartanNash’s current Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, has been appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO), and Derek Jones, Executive Vice President, Food Distribution, has been promoted to President, Wholesale and Distribution Operations.
The company said that it has initiated recruiting efforts for a Chief Financial Officer; Staples will continue to serve as CFO until his replacement is hired.
• The National Grocers Association (NGA) announced that it has hired Matthew Foley, formerly a staffer with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), where he held managerial positions in the organization's industry affairs and federal affairs departments, to be its new senior manager of government relations.
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With a uniquely fast-paced, provocative and entertaining approach, Kevin Coupe identifies the ways in which consumers are changing, the reasons behind these changes (technology, the economy, culture, demographics), how new and unorthodox competitors are altering the marketing landscape, and what companies need to do to find and exploit differential advantages.
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