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    Published on: June 16, 2010

    by Kate McMahon

    If the folks at Nabisco were expecting their free cookies and milk promotion on Facebook to be a slam dunk, they got a taste of social networking reality instead.

    The one-day coupon was available on June 7th on Nabisco’s Facebook page, which boasts an impressive 414,000 fans. The promotion garnered favorable publicity in the mainstream press as well, being cited as another example of corporations connecting with the consumer through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

    Basel Magleris, a Nabisco corporate affairs honcho, was quoted as saying: “What’s special about the Facebook page is that it’s full of people who’ve raised their hand to say they love Nabisco cookies. It gives us a way to talk to them directly about our products.”

    All of which is true. But the lesson here for Nabisco - and for other retailers, manufacturers and service providers - is that it’s more important to listen.

    There were, of course, happy customers who redeemed the coupon and chimed in with accolades for their favorite Nabisco brand – “Fig Newtons are my FAVE!!!” and “OREOS, all the way baby!”

    But there were more customers (40 of the first 50 wall posts) venting their frustrations about the promotion - coupons that failed to print, stores that refused the coupon, and Nabisco’s failure to respond to their concerns. Oh, yes, the fact that it wasn’t really free, since a consumer was required to purchase one gallon of milk, another milk of any size and one package of Nabisco cookies in order to get another package of cookies for free. (The previous month’s offer only required one gallon of milk.)

    Some sample comments:

    • “Walmart in Shreveport, La. will not take coupons printed on the computer! Went there bought the milk and embarrassed myself at the checkout counter while they asked their manager.”


    • ”Does anyone know if the coupons are only redeemable in certain sections of the country? We've tried every store in 3 counties w/refusals from all. What's the deal?”

    • “Here in Florida I would have to spend $8.55 in products to get a ‘free’ Nabisco cookie, which is on sale for $2.98. NO THANKS.”

    And when Nabisco posted a reminder about coupon expirations, this response was typical:

    • ”Thanks, Nabisco, for reminding me that the stores in my area won't accept your internet coupons. Makes me feel just great. BTW have you done anything about this yet??? Is anyone from your company reading this??? Does anyone from Nabisco care???”

    Clearly, there are consumers frustrated at their computers and at the checkout counter, and retailers also feeling their frustration.

    I’m completely baffled that a company such as Nabisco has failed to respond to these consumers, who joined the page to say they loved the product. My efforts to get a comment from Nabisco have been met a similar fate – no response.

    And since Nabisco is planning to run a similar coupon on the Monday, July 5th, I certainly hope its social networking team will take the time to listen, and make the necessary changes. Or the only taste the participating consumers will remember will be that of sour milk.

    Comments? Send me an email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    by Michael Sansolo

    There are three words I hate to use: I was wrong. Sadly, I have to use them today.

    A while back I wrote that there was nothing we could learn from Congress as I mocked one recent debate. I used public comments by two senators to make a point about technology and those who claim glory in avoiding it. The truth is we have a lot to learn from Congress, especially to understand why many Americans loath that institution.

    In response to my column one reader suggested Congress is no longer necessary. Armed with today’s technology, this reader argued, Americans can simply vote on everything Congress currently handles. It’s not an idea I’d agree with (as you’ll see later in this column.) But I think the argument presents an interesting lesson for any company or individual: Are you relevant and necessary ... or do you just get in the way?

    In today’s world computer-enabled consumers can do everything for themselves. Armed with everything from Amazon and Alice to Zillow and Zappos, they can find every manner of product from chewing gum to homes, sneakers to cars. Today’s shoppers can download more information than most sales people used to have and can make informed and wise decision.

    Of, course, that’s only if they have the time and motivation. More correctly, they’ll do it unless someone else does it better.

    Years ago, supermarkets used to live by a simple motto of being the purchasing agent for the consumer. That was no small statement or objective. In short, supermarkets had to sift through a wide variety of products to assemble a store featuring the products and services that shoppers would desire. Back then, shoppers couldn’t possibly know of all the varieties or choices that weren’t shown and were dazzled in fact by the choices they had.

    That changed. Too many decisions started getting made more on the basis of the buy instead of the sell and in the age of the Internet traditional stores saw erosion in cherished shopper relationships. This didn’t just happen in supermarkets though. Today’s shoppers program their own music through iTunes, their own television through DVRs, their own cars through Edmunds and on and on. Faith in institutions has eroded and shoppers increasingly trust in themselves first, whether it comes to collecting nutritional or medical information or selecting political candidates shunned by party leaders.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even in the midst of the age of chaos, there are companies who successfully serve as a purchasing agent for the consumer. Visit any Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to get a sense of how a retailer can tailor product mix to fit a certain clientele. It’s an instructive lesson and it happens to be right in our industry. Shoppers overwhelmed by the range of choice can be guided and directed if they have a sense of trust in the purpose of the institution.

    It’s worth remembering this as the debate rages on concerning assortment or direct to consumer sales by manufacturers. The bottom line is that if you bring value to the experience you can win. If you don’t, well, then you appear to be a middleman adding nothing to the experience but cost and time.

    And that’s where Congress gives us the lesson. In all honesty, we need Congress. The American people may be well intentioned, but the thought of us voting on every issue of importance is scary. (Just look at our choices on American Idol!) It strikes me that both parties have done a dismal job of explaining their decisions and thinking and both have managed to find new and creative ways to erode our trust.

    Sometimes politicians are supposed to take difficult stands, unpopular stands or far-sighted stands that should be explained to us in adult terms, not sound bites. That’s called leadership. So you see, there is a lesson from Congress.

    Prove you matter or get out of the way. Because whether it comes to buying a product or voting for a candidate the choices are wider than ever. Either you add something or improve the experience or you don’t. And we vote.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    ...sponsored by TCC, “changing shopper behavior”

    A Comfort Zone Also Can Be A Danger Zone...

    Time for a metaphor.

    One of my least favorite expressions is, “it is time to get back to fundamentals.”

    When times are tough, or a company is falling on hard times, that always seems to be the chestnut that management trots out to employees, associates and business partners. The goal always seems to be to be reassuring - to suggest to people that what needs to be done isn’t all that difficult, does not require new skills or insights, that it is well within the comfort zone that they have all built for themselves, even around themselves.

    The “fundamentals” argument, by the way, doesn’t just get brought out by retailers. I’ve heard manufacturers say it. And I have had more than a few publishers who have used it during my career as a writer.

    The problem, of course, is that especially these days, if you aren’t adept at the fundamentals of whatever your business happens to be, just “getting back to them” probably won’t help very much. It may reduce the immediate pain and delay the inevitable collapse, but ultimately, you’re probably a goner. Survival and relevance these days are dependent on being expert at the fundamentals to begin with and then reaching beyond yourself, developing new skills and offerings, coming to some new insight and getting outside your comfort zone.

    Do that, and you have a shot. But ignore this challenge - which in some ways is what what both Kate and Michael write about above in talking about marketing lapses that disconnect marketers from consumers - and you end up obsolete and irrelevant.

    Okay, time for that metaphor...

    I hate heights. Really hate them. I’m not in “James Stewart in Vertigo territory, but I don’t go up in ferris wheels, don’t like roller coasters that go upside down or sideways, and don’t really like standing at the top of tall buildings and peering down. Just not my thing.

    But I’m in Sydney. One of the things you are supposed to do when you are in Sydney is climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is very, very high above the water. More than 450 feet high. I’ve read about the tour, and Michael Sansolo has been raving about it since he did it a year or so ago.

    Walking to the top of that bridge is way, way outside my comfort zone.

    But I’m 55 years old. I may never get to Sydney again. And what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger. I hope.

    So today I went to the base of the bridge, paid my money, and ventured outside my comfort zone.

    Now, to be fair, it isn’t just like you stroll to the top of the bridge. Far from it. In fact, the folks who run this tour have the fundamentals very well covered. They explain exactly what you’re going to do. They put you in a Star Trek-like jumpsuit that is tethered to the bridge all the way up. You get a fleece and gloves in case it gets cold, a hat in case it gets windy, and they even put you through a dry run on how the climbing is going to work while still on the ground. They even establish a sense of camaraderie in the group - I was the only American in our bunch, which seemed to have mostly Irish folks, a few Scots, one German and a few Australians looking after relatives and friends. Most were younger than me, and one or two might have been older. But for about three hours, led by the intrepid Pete, we were family, matching each other step for step. Moving forward.

    Success in this particular endeavor means not just mastering the fundamentals - one foot in front of the other - but being willing to look beyond the cars and trains and pedestrians and water below us, and see the top of the bridge. To keep moving, even when the bridge seems to be shaking a bit. To ignore that funny feeling in the pit of the belly and maintain balance and momentum.

    Of course, none of the other folks in my group may have felt this way. They may have no problems with heights, and were just out for a nice - albeit high - stroll in the warm winter sunshine.

    I had more than a few of those feelings, though. But I kept moving...outside my comfort zone...until the nerves pretty much slipped away and a kind of euphoria took over. Up the bridge, eyes high, smile wider. All the way to the summit. Connected to my fears...and at least a momentary ability to transcend a way I could not have imagined.

    Making progress. Trying not to be obsolete or irrelevant or locked in preconceptions and old worries.

    It’s what some of us do when we climb a bridge. It is what we all have to do in our businesses these days. Getting outside the comfort zone. Climbing.

    After the climb...

    Once on the ground, I took a stroll around the base of the bridge, and then along the waterfront. Found myself standing in front of the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel, which dates back to the early 19th century, where I went inside and enjoyed one of the best spiced lamb burgers of my life, smothered with mango chutney, mint yogurt and sliced tomatoes and served on a hard roll. Washed it down with a pint of delicious and cold Quayle Ale, and then sipped on a Nelson’s Blood porter for dessert.

    Top of the world.

    My Web Grocer

    BTW...I’ll be posting pictures from my Sydney trip on our MNB Facebook page.

    Thanks to TCC ... which is sponsoring “The Content Guy On The Road.”

    TCC offers customized retail marketing programs that change shopper behavior - attracting new customers and building customer loyalty...generating 4-5 percent sales increases and expanding basket sizes...generating in-store excitement and creating real and tangible differential advantages for your stores.

    For more information, Click here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart Canada’s “inaugural banking product, a credit card, is the first of many products from the retailer's recently approved bank that promises to inject a healthy dose of competition into Canada's financial-services industry.”

    The product is called the “Walmart Rewards MasterCard,” according to the story, “which gives cardholders dollars instead of points, earning back 1.25% of purchases at Wal-Mart stores and 1% anywhere MasterCard is accepted. The rewards can be redeemed for any products sold at Wal-mart.”

    Walmart received approval from Canadian regulators to own a bank - called the Walmart Canada Bank - just a few weeks ago. Similar intentions in the US have been stymied by intense lobbying from the financial services sector. a related matter, the Financial Times reports that Walmart “has bought itself an indirect link to U.S. commercial banking space through a deal to invest in the pre-paid debit card seller Green Dot ... the retail giant bought a minority stake of roughly 2 million shares in Green Dot, which already manages Wal-Mart’s pre-paid card business, according to a regulatory filing.

    “The move comes as Green Dot awaits regulatory approval on a $15. 7 million deal it signed in February to buy Bonneville Bank, a small Utah-based commercial bank.”
    KC's View:
    I have to be honest here. At the risk of being accused of having inappropriate feelings for the Bentonville Behemoth, there is a part of me that believes that you could solve a lot of the financial industry issues simply by letting Walmart loose in that sector. Sure, you might create some other problems ... but Walmart’s take-no-prisoners, always-low-prices, try-competing-with-this ethic might force prices down and give US consumers more choice.

    Let’s see what happens in Canada.

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    The Nielsen Company is out with a new survey saying that more than half of US consumers “are likely to shop elsewhere if they notice a reduced product selection, while nearly half of retailers indicate continued plans to decrease assortment.”

    According to the study, “So far, most consumers haven’t observed assortment changes with only seven percent reporting a noticeable reduction in product variety. And although 42 percent of retailers decreased assortment in 2009 amid considerable industry hype, assortments overall shrunk by only one percent. Looking ahead to the second half of 2010 and 2011 however, retailers’ strategies call for continued downsizing, then maintaining reduced assortments moving forward. Forty percent of retailers indicate they’ll continue to downsize, with stated targets to cut up to 10 percent of SKUs on the shelf.”

    The study goes on, “Driven in part by the recession, CPG retailers are making assortment changes for several reasons ... 75 percent of retailers are downsizing their product assortment to improve merchandising opportunities, while 71 percent cite a desire for greater control over inventory. Sixty percent state the moves are made to alleviate shopper confusion, while 52 percent are reducing selection to cut costs and improve profitability. Nearly half (48 percent) of retailers are making more room for store brand products.”

    “Reduced assortments are definitely here to stay, and the message to retailers is to choose carefully when it comes to deciding which products to trim,” said Stuart Taylor, vice president, Custom Analytics, The Nielsen Company. “In many cases, strategically reducing assortment can result in an improved customer experience and greater profitability. Cut the wrong product, however, and the potential customer backlash could be costly ... Success in today’s competitive retail market is no longer about having the most products - - it’s about finding the right mix of products,” said Taylor. “Retailers should be focused on offering the products their customers want most and making it as easy as possible for their customers to find and purchase those products.”

    The study was unveiled at the Nielsen Consumer 360 Conference in Las Vegas.
    KC's View:
    Is it fair to suggest that any SKU reduction that sends the consumer to another retailer is a bad reduction? Is it fair to suggest that any SKU reduction that serves the needs of the retailer and/or the manufacturer over the needs of the shopper is a bad reduction?

    I have no problem with having the right mix of products. What I have a problem with is efficiency moves that do not improve effectiveness. “SKU rationalization” sounds like it has that potential.

    It also, quite frankly, has the potential to be the flavor of the month, and that retailers with ADD-like marketing plans that are heavy on tactics and low on strategy will be talking about expanding their product count in a few short months. Then again, maybe I’m just a cynic...

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that “Wal-Mart is prepared to build ‘dozens’ of Chicago stores large and small if Mayor Daley can find a way to break a six-year-old City Council stalemate over demands that the world's largest retailer pay a ‘living wage’ of at least $11.03 an hour, City Hall sources said Tuesday ... Sources said Wal-Mart is no longer talking about building just five supercenters in inner-city ‘food deserts’ desperate for shopping choices. Instead, it's talking about building "dozens" of large and small Chicago stores, creating ‘thousands’ of sorely needed jobs.”
    KC's View:
    I gather from reading the local papers that Walmart doesn’t have better than a 50-50 shot at getting the necessary approvals from Chicago politicians. But the interesting thing is that you have to figure that Walmart’s multi-format plan for Chicago could be adapted to a lot of US cities. Which means that the Bentonville Behemoth could be reshaping howe food is sold in a lot of places where, to this point, it has been shut out.

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Procter & Gamble is increasing the marketing spend behind its redesigned Pampers, using both the internet and print coupons as a way of generating usage by consumers. The moves come in the face of the complaints of some parents, expressed most vocally through the use of various social media venues, that the new design caused rashes and even chemical burns on their children.

    According to the story, “P&G had always planned to pour marketing money into the diapers, which were introduced about three months ago. But it also reflects recently devised plans to advertise ‘early and often,’ because of the negative attention the new diapers have drawn, says P&G spokesman Bryan McCleary ... P&G maintains that its new diapers are safe, pointing out that rashes are common and not the fault of its new diapers. The company says the new diaper uses the same type of absorbent gel as the older version, but says the gel is now printed inside the diaper rather than poured into a bulky pulp material, making the diaper 20% thinner.”
    KC's View:
    In the face of these kinds of complaints, you cannot ignore them. You have to face with them...listen more than you talk...and embrace the venues that make them possible.

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the US government plans increased vigilance in testing seafood that may be tainted by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

    According to the story, the initiatives include “moving inspections onto docks, targeting additional sampling of vulnerable products and creating a protocol to reopen fishing areas.

    “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it would begin dockside sampling of fish products in the Gulf, according to the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command, which links organizations responding to the spill including BP PLC and multiple government agencies. NOAA had begun seafood sampling and inspection shortly after the spill. Stepping up the program, it will now monitor ships and inspect fish right at docks to verify the seafood wasn't harvested from a banned area and is safe. It will notify the Food and Drug Administration and state health officials when it finds contaminated fish.”
    KC's View:
    Can’t imagine that there will be much complaint that these moves represent inappropriate government meddling. Though you never know.

    It seems a lot more likely that there will be fish that get through the safety net, so to speak, and we’ll find ourselves asking why government didn’t do enough or why it was inefficient or ineffective.

    I hope not. But this disaster just seems like one that will keep on giving, in ways we cannot even imagine.

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    The BBC reports that the European Commission (EC), believing that food labels need updating, isa considering a form of country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat, poultry, fish, dairy produce, fruit and vegetables.

    Also a possibility: improved nutrition information on the front of labels, as well as information about allergens.

    According to the story, “Euro MPs will hold a first reading vote on the draft legislation on Wednesday, but it still has a long way to go, with more amendments expected. Once it is agreed, food producers will have three years to update their labels, and small firms with fewer than 100 employees will have five years to do so.”
    KC's View:
    I know that COOL is considered by many to be too complex, too complicated, too expensive and too unworkable to be effective. But I still believe that in a global environment where so many questions are being asked about specific products from specific countries, and where technology ought to be able to help us not just track products but provide usable information in a format that allows shoppers to drill down as deep as they want to (not as deep as the industry wants them to), COOL is inevitable. It may be painful getting there, but it is going to happen.

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    • The Business Journal Of The Greater Triad Area reports that Harris Teeter “is adding 50,000 square feet to its perishable warehouse in Greensboro, marking the third expansion for the company’s operations on Chimney Rock Road.

    “Harris Teeter will expand the warehouse to 225,000 square feet to help the Matthews based company ‘better accommodate and more efficiently serve’ roughly 50 percent of its 198 stores, said the company’s communication specialist Catherine Reuhl.”

    • The Nuval’s Nutritional Scoring System is now said to be available at more than 119 Brookshire Grocery Co. stores in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

    NuVal’s Nutritional Scoring System is a guide designed to enhance the shopping experience. All store items receive a NuVal score from 1 to 100; the higher the score, the higher the nutrition. Scores are posted on supermarket shelves and signs throughout the store, making it easy for consumers to compare the overall nutrition of the foods they buy at a glance.

    • The Charlotte Business Journal reports that Dole has moved its nutrition research facility from California to the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, where it will focus on “research that can help educate consumers about the benefits of fruits and vegetables in their diet.” Other companies on the research campus include General Mills and Monsanto.

    Drug Store News reports that Spartan Stores has opened a new D&W Fresh Market store in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that it says “redefines” grocery shopping with “a drive-through pharmacy, a 5% discount for seniors, a generic discount program and pagers to alert shoppers when their prescriptions are ready”

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Walgreen plans to begin “using text messages to tell customers when their prescriptions are ready,” and offer will use mobile technology to “offer details on coupons and other deals to customers who sign up at its website.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Nestle is suing Sara Lee in France, “claiming coffee capsules sold by the U.S. company violate patents on Nespresso, Nestlé's popular at-home coffee maker.

    “Earlier this spring, Sara Lee developed coffee capsules that work in Nespresso machines and began selling them in France at a 10% discount to those sold by Nestlé. The move was a threat to the Nespresso brand, whose highly profitable business model is based on shoppers returning again and again to buy its pricey capsules.” Sara Lee says there is a gap in Nestlé’s patent that makes its move possible; Nestlé’s lawsuit suggests that it disagrees.
    KC's View:
    BTW...go to YouTube and search for Nespresso’s TV commercials, only seen in Europe. They star George Clooney (and in one, his co-star is John Malkovich!), and are both stylish and persuasive.

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 16, 2010

    Two things...

    • The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics 89-67 in the NBA finals, tying the championship series at three games apiece and setting up a deciding game seven in Los Angeles on Thursday night.

    • Yesterday, in an attempt to right a wrong - and write a wrong - I noted that the US had tied not the UK, but England in their World Cup match, and that both Scotland and Wales from the UK were fielding their own national teams. I promptly received a bunch of emails informing me that Northern Ireland, also part of the UK, also has its own team. Duly noted.
    KC's View: