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    Published on: November 19, 2010

    A note from the Content Guy...

    Go figure. The cliche has some basis in fact.

    Time really does go quickly when you’re having a good time.

    Today, MNB begins its tenth year. I could say it has been a long and winding road. I could say what a long, strange trip its been. I could say...

    Well, you get the picture.

    The fact is, this is not only the job I’ve had the longest, it is also the best job I’ve ever had ... because most days, it hardly seems like a job.

    MNB started with no sponsors, and now we have wonderful sponsors who believe that the engagement of the MNB audience outweighs any of the other sponsorship opportunities around.

    (BTW...My thanks to companies like MyWebGrocer, California Olive Ranch, Caribou Coffee, Samuel J. Associates and Webstop for their continuing faith. And if you’ll permit me a brief commercial message, please go to their ads sometime today, click on them, and see what they have to offer. They’ll appreciate it, and I’ll appreciate it. And if you’d like to join them in sponsoring MNB, feel free to shoot me an email. We’d love to have you.)

    MNB started with barely more than 100 friends and family making up the subscription list; today, we have more than 20,000 people subscribers on a list that grows by between 50 and 100 virtually every week. This means you - and I am both aware and grateful for your readership, your loyalty, your engagement and your constant flood of emails.

    MNB started with just my voice, and I’m thrilled that Michael Sansolo and Kate McMahon have added their voices to the site, challenging conventional thinking, making me work harder to be smart and current, and generally adding both context and content to the conversation. When you add their voices to the hundreds of emails that I get each week, the result is unique, passionate and a great example of a vital online community.

    There has been no better evidence of the existence of this community than the interactions I’ve had with so many of you when I’ve been in your area, giving speeches, facilitating panels, or just attending conferences and conventions. Your greetings and good thoughts have quite literally been music to my ears.

    Nine years down... That works out, best I can figure, to something like 2200 editions of MNB, adding up to in excess of 6.6 million words. (It also works out to something like a half-million miles worth of travel. Yikes.)

    Someone sent me an email the other day asking me not to retire anytime soon, and I can promise you that they’ll have to drag me away from the laptop kicking and screaming. If I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t get to hang out with you folks every day.

    MNB’s tenth year begins now. I just hope you are having as much fun as I am.

    Now, let’s get to work...
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    Okay, here’s an idea that may have been inevitable, but also is a little scary.

    The Seattle Post-Intelligencer website reports that Amazon.com has patented a new technology that would make it virtually impossible for people to get a useless gift.

    In essence, the technology would convert useless gifts bought on Amazon to useful gifts. You Aunt Lorraine buys you a tie, but if you never wear ties, it automatically converts the gift to a T-shirt. Your Aunt Charlotte gets you a Pat Boone album, the technology converts it to a Train CD. And so on...

    It is amazing what technology can do. Of course, some will say that the ability to make these conversions depends on the ability to compile and use customers’ personal data, which some will find intimidating.

    But if it can avoid all those awful presents, not to mention the awkward moments where you have to feign enthusiasm for a gift you don’t want and didn’t need, that will strike a lot of people as a significant upside.

    It also is a message to retailers that are resisting the notion of online shopping, who think that they do not need to invest in technology and embrace this new way of reaching out to customers. We’re rapidly getting to the point where much of the retailing world will be beyond online shopping...and moving to the next and better iterations, such as this gift conversion system.

    And that’s my Eye-Opener.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    Andrew Sussman, M.D., the president of MinuteClinic and Associate Chief Medical Officer for CVS Caremark, appeared this week at the World Economic Forum's Innovative Health Care Delivery Project, and said in a speech that “the most important aspect of our success at MinuteClinic has been the extremely high rate of patient satisfaction achieved by the practitioners treating our patients across the MinuteClinic network every day. Patients who started out only coming to us when they got sick now may also come to us for help staying well. Our innovative approach to care is making a real difference in the lives of our patients in the U.S.”

    According to the company, “Sussman reported that the key elements of MinuteClinic's success include the ability to foster close patient relationships, a commitment to electronic medical records, use of evidence-based clinical practice guidelines, the deployment of highly trained nurse practitioners, the realization of efficiencies through co-location with CVS/pharmacy stores and the establishment of consistent network-wide operational procedures. He also described the expansion of MinuteClinic's scope of practice to include a wide variety of chronic condition monitoring services and CVS Caremark's recently announced plan to add 100 new MinuteClinic locations each year for the next five years.”

    There currently are some 500 MinuteClinic locations in 26 states and the District of Columbia.
    KC's View:
    The growth of in-store health clinics continues to be an example, IMHO, of a great way to make basic health care services available and affordable to most people. And the more that companies can connect the these health services to the foods that people eat, the better off that people are going to be.

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that in Japan, “in a deflationary price-cutting fight, supermarket chain operators Aeon Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. unit Seiyu GK are slashing prices on Beaujolais Nouveau sold in plastic bottles this year.

    “Seiyu is selling a 750 ml plastic bottle of wine for 690 yen ($8.28), down 60 yen from last year, while Aeon has launched a 375 ml plastic bottle of the French wine for 500 yen ($6), calling it the ‘one-coin’ purchase in reference to the 500 yen coin, according to a company statement.”
    KC's View:
    I don’t care how cheap they’re selling Beaujolais Nouveau, which is as much a marketing tool as a wine.

    But plastic bottles?

    My heart breaks.

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    The New York Times has an interesting story about The Art of Shaving, the 14-year-old brand that was acquired last year by Procter & Gamble. Along with P&G’s 2005 purchase of Gillette, this move “reflects that (P&G), which in the past marketed products almost exclusively to women, is now pitching to men, too.”

    Here’s what marketers need to know about the overall business opportunity:

    “The market for men’s shaving and skin care products has doubled over 12 years, to $4.8 billion in 2009 from $2.4 billion in 1997, according to Euromonitor International, a market research firm.” And, the Times writes, “What’s known in the industry as the prestige channel, which includes brands like the Art of Shaving that are sold by upscale retailers, is also growing, in spite of the economic downturn. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 10, sales of men’s prestige skin care products totaled almost $53 million, a 5 percent increase from the same period in 2009, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm.”
    KC's View:
    This may never be the biggest niche on the planet, but it seems to me that it illustrates the opportunities that may be available to people and companies that aggressively go after certain demographics. The other day we had that piece about the hardware store designed to appeal to women...there’s no reason that more food stores shouldn’t be looking for ways to appeal more to men.

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    • The Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission has voted to ban premixed caffeine-and-alcohol drinks, driven by concerns about the Four Loko brand, the use of which reportedly has sent some college students to the hospital and few to the morgue. The move follows the decision by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require reformulation of the drinks.

    • In Texas, the Star Telegram reports that “a clerk at an Arlington convenience store was arrested Wednesday night after two underage teens told state investigators that he sold them alcoholic beverages, including the ‘energy drink’ Four Loko, hours before they were in a wreck in which a 14-year-old girl was killed.”

    • The Washington Post reports that Ahold-owned Giant Foods has developed a new policy that will “limit the number of days and hours charitable groups such as the Salvation Army can raise funds in front of their stores.”

    According to the story, the new rules limit Salvation Army collectors to be in front of Giant stores only 12 days during the holiday months, “and limit their ringing to four hours a day ... Other groups will not get more than two days a month.”

    GreenBuildingElements.com reports that the US Green Building Council (USGBC) has come up with a new LEEDVolume certification program, “intended for high-volume property developers, such as retail, hospitality, government, and other commercial developers.  In order to qualify, a developer must commit to a minimum of 25 projects within a three year period.

    “There will be two tracks available to developers: Design and Construction (new construction) and Existing Buildings (set to launch in Spring 2011).  After registering as a LEED Volume developer, the design team must submit at least one prototype design showing how they will insure that all successive projects meet the prerequisites and credits selected.  This prototype design and documentation will be reviewed and approved.  At that point, the developer can begin registering projects.  Audits will be used to spot check compliance on specific measures ... The new program is expected to save developers of 25 projects 17% on certification costs, and those who take on 100 projects 70%.  The retail sector has been a fast-growing sector of LEED projects in the last year.  Registered retail projects in 2010 are already double what they were in 2009.”

    • The BBC reports that the European Union has rejected legislation that would have protected the endangered blue fin tuna from being over-fished in the Atlantic Ocean, cutting quotas by more than half. However, the BBC notes, France and Spain led Mediterranean fishing nations in a successful effort to stall the measures.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    MNB reported yesterday that following Alec Baldwin’s admission to David Letterman that he cannot get his mother to move from upstate New York because she won’t leave Wegmans, the actor has done a couple of commercials for its stores - one in which he talks about how much one can buy for $6 at Wegmans (and jokes that he can’t get a cup of coffee for $6 in New York), and another in which he rhapsodizes about Wegmans’ various products and services.

    Well, here are two more things to know about the commercials:

    • The ads were Baldwin’s idea. He simply called Danny Wegman up one night and offered to do them...and Danny Wegman, no fool he, said yes.

    • Whatever Baldwin and the ads cost, the resultant publicity is creating value added. The ads are getting a lot play beyond their commercial slots. This morning, for example, they were mentioned and excerpts shown several times on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    • Walmart has announced that its third made-for-TV movie will air on December 3. “A Walk In My Shoes,” co-produced with Procter & Gamble, will be part of NBC’s Family Movie Night initiative, and is described as “an inspiring drama about how families can come together to persist through adversity.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    There was an interesting survey from Supervalu this week concluding that “70 percent of Americans indicate that food brings their families the most joy during the holidays, followed by baking and decorating (both at 49 percent); gifts (48 percent); shopping (32 percent); and holiday movies (28 percent). Given their love of food, more than 40 percent of Americans also say their families will probably overeat as usual at holiday time, with 22 percent ‘saving room’ for the main holiday meal by eating less at other meals.”

    "It's clear from the survey that today's families appreciate the simple things around the holidays and that food fulfills not only a physical need but also an emotional need to honor family traditions," said Julie Dexter Berg, Supervalu’s chief marketing officer, in the release about the survey.

    "The survey also found that planning for the main holiday meal is a big part of the process, and during the rush of the holidays, other meals must be quick and easy. As families gear up for the holidays, our stores are focused on providing them with simple, affordable meal solutions, tasty tips and useful ideas throughout the season."
    KC's View:
    The sad truth is that to an unfortunate degree, great food and drink give me a high level of joy 365 days a year. I don’t need the holidays for food to fulfill my emotional as well as physical needs.

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    • Supervalu announced yesterday that David Boehnen, executive vice president, is transitioning to a new role at the company effective December 15, 2010. Boehnen will no longer be a SUPERVALU officer but will continue to consult for Supervalu as a Senior Counselor to Craig Herkert, the company’s president/CEO, for one year.

    During his 20-year tenure with SUPERVALU, Boehnen has been responsible for legal, business development, real estate and store development, as well as government affairs.

    Todd Sheldon, group vice president, legal, will be promoted to senior vice president and general counsel, reporting to Andy Herring, executive vice president of real estate, market development and legal.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    Jack Shewmaker, the former Wal-Mart president and chief operating officer , died Wednesday of a massive heart attack at his Arkansas cattle ranch. He was 72.

    Here, in part, is what Walmart CEO Mike Duke said about Shewmaker in his memo to company employees:

    “I am personally very sad to share with you that one of Walmart’s greatest warriors passed away last night after many years of service to the company.

    “As many of you know, Jack Shewmaker had been with Walmart since its earliest days. He loved this company and gave it his heart as well as his considerable talents. He was a dear personal friend and, though the company will benefit from his contributions for years to come, it is hard to imagine Walmart without Jack.

    “Jack was an extraordinarily gifted merchant and one of my greatest ongoing development opportunities was to walk stores and clubs with Jack – with him striding ahead and me taking notes as quickly as I could. He was a mentor to many of us and one of his greatest pleasures over the past few years was developing young merchants. Even after his retirement he continued to attend buyer seminars and operations meetings. As a matter of fact, he was scheduled to speak at one of our buyer meetings later today.

    “Jack joined the company in 1970 and retired in 1988. He was hired by Sam Walton as a district manager and rose to become president and COO of the company in 1978. He was instrumental in developing our Every Day Low Pricing strategy, which defined our company and set new standards in the retail industry for providing customers with consistent, reliable value. He was also a strong advocate of Walmart’s pioneering development of technology. He led the company’s adoption of bar codes and the launch of its first satellite system in 1983, tying together Walmart’s stores, distribution centers and home office.

    “A year later, he was named vice chairman and chief financial officer, where he served until his retirement in 1988. Jack was also a member of the Walmart Board from 1977to 2008 ... Our company owes Jack a tremendous debt of gratitude and our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    The other day, we featured an email from MNB user Mark Monroe...the kind of email that I think makes this site distinct - it was detailed, thoughtful, and provocative. Some excerpts:

    It continues to amaze me how uninformed people in this country are.  In response to a recommendation of increasing taxes, cutting entitlement and cutting defense, an MNB reader responds that they disagree and what we need to “cut spending”???  What does this person think entitlements and defense are?  Try 80% of Federal SPENDING…I love how the recently elected politicians are all in favor of “cutting spending” yet have no SPECIFIC recommendations.  YET PEOPLE BUY IT!”

    “It’s a great example of where we are in this country…words mean absolutely nothing.  Here’s a suggestion: why don’t people start actually REFLECTING upon what it is they hear politicians and pundits say instead of just accepting it as true and repeating it ad nauseum.  If you want to know what we’ve lost in this country it’s simple…the art of thinking.  People need to learn how to think for themselves.  To wit:

    While generically increasing taxes sounds terrible, that is only true in a vacuum.  Would a tax increase still be terrible if taxes were 2% and raised to 5%?  So we need to stop debating increases vs. decreases and start talking about optimal rates.  If you don’t want anarchy, you have to have a government.  Tax rates in this country are at historic lows and the tax code is hugely favorable to the wealthy.  Care to guess the average tax rate actually paid by the top 10% of households by earned income in the U.S.?  Try 19%...so on average the top 10% pays 19% of their income in taxes…I’m sorry but this is not punitive and raising it to 22% would still not be punitive.  Marginal rates may look high but there are so many ways to avoid paying those that hardly anyone actually does (as the numbers clearly show).

    The politicians / pundits drone on and on about how you can’t raise taxes in a tough economy.  There is zero evidence that increasing taxes hurts the economy.  When was the last major tax increase in this country?  1993…and the economy was truly awful in the 90’s wasn’t it?  Maybe if you raised taxes, people might realize that they actually have to pay for all of the boneheaded things the govt has been doing (Iraq War, bailing out Wall St, etc) and start paying more attention to how the govt was spending tax revenue.  In other words, the fastest way (practically speaking) that I can see to improving government oversight by those who were intended to oversee it (duh, the people) would be a tax HIKE.  It’s no surprise that government largesse has gotten out of control during a 17 year period that involved ZERO tax increases.  It’s called IRONY and most people would be better served to understand the concept.


    MNB user Randy Friedlander responded:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Monroe’s comments on the ignorance and hypocrisy that Americans are demonstrating today in complaining about government spending and the deficit, while decrying higher taxes.  The intransigence of various political factions is a great threat to our country’s prosperity. 

    Thomas Friedman said it better than I could in the New York Times on November 22, 2009: “What I increasingly fear today is that America is only able to produce “suboptimal” responses to its biggest problems —education, debt, financial regulation, health care, energy and environment.  . . . To get anything big done now, we have to generate so many compromises couched in 1,000-plus-page bills —with so many different interest groups that the solutions are totally suboptimal.  We just get the sum of all interest groups.  The miniversion of this is California, which, as others have noted, is becoming America’s biggest “failed state.”Californians had hoped they could overcome their dysfunctional system by electing an outsider, a former movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He would slay the system, like the Terminator. But he couldn’t. Mr. Obama was elected for similar reasons. People had hoped that his unique story, personality and speaking skills could bring the country together, overcome paralysis and deliver nation-building at home. A lot of the disappointment settling in among Obama voters today is prompted by their dawning realization that maybe, like Arnold, he can’t. . . . So what do we do?

    “The standard answer is that we need better leaders. The real answer is that we need better citizens.  We need citizens who will convey to their leaders that they are ready to sacrifice, even pay, yes, higher taxes, and will not punish politicians who ask them to do the hard things. Otherwise, folks, we’re in trouble. A great power that can only produce suboptimal responses to its biggest challenges will, in time, fade from being a great power . . .”

    I fear a great disenchantment will settle in among the American people in a few years when this latest Congress has accomplished none of its stated goals, for these reasons.  I hope I am wrong.


    Another MNB user, in an email with the subject line “Mark Monroe for President!”, wrote:

    I agree with Mark. The American People cannot seriously think that we can reduce the deficit without raising taxes and reducing spending (primarily for Defense). The problem is that people are not thinking. They are listening only to what they want to hear regardless of the source and they are not willing to verify the truth in the statements. There is no need to spend more than the rest of the world combined to keep America safe. We ran up this bill and now it is time to pay for it, like it or not.

    And, from another MNB user:

    What Mark Monroe said…ditto.




    Responding to Art Turock’s essay the other day about USC football and business lessons learned, one MNB user wrote:

    What Art said was right on point…what he didn’t say was that all the time, energy and treasure invested in getting to “excellence” will vanish in an instant when it is discovered it is “excellence without integrity”! “Rules violation” and “cast a shadow over coach” are just euphemisms for lack of integrity and do not come close to describing the devastation to the USC brand…or any brand without integrity.




    Finally...for today at least...another email on the subject of the Amazon book controversy:

    A few months ago I copied this quote from a talk given by Jeff Swanson, "Freedom of speech and of the press were never intended by our founding fathers to protect pornography, immorality and the promotion of a valueless society".   If that book, or any book in the United States falls into the categories above, they should never be published.  Filth and slime will find its own way into our society - we don't need to welcome it in.

    I don’t think anyone here is defending porn, or pedophiles.

    Certainly not me.

    But here’s my problem with your email.

    I’m just guessing here, but I’d be willing to guess that there are very few on-the-record comments by any of the Founding Fathers on the subject of pornography. You can guess what they intended, but you’d just be guessing. Me, I like to think that freedom of the press and freedom of speech mean exactly that...and that the line that doesn’t get crossed is the one between legality and illegality.

    I also think that you definition of “immorality” and “a valueless society” might be different from mine. And as long as I don’t break any laws, you don’t get to decide what works of art or literature are immoral or valueless.

    I hate the idea of protecting certain kinds of repulsive speech. But someone smarter than me once said that sometimes you have to protect the most obscene kinds of speech (while holding your nose, covering your eyes and appealing to the better angels of people’s natures) in order to protect speech that is simply unpopular, provocative, or out of the mainstream.

    “They should never be published” is a chilling phrase, because it suggests government censorship. It reminds me of McCarthyism.

    I think Amazon certainly is within its rights not to carry these books, though as I’ve said before, I am sympathetic to the fact that such a decision has philosophical implications for its entire business model.

    The good news, of course, is that it gives us all lots to talk and write about.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    In Thursday Night Football action, the Chicago Bears beat the Miami Dolphins 16-0.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 19, 2010

    In “Your Views” the other day, there was some back-and-forth about California, which one MNB user had described in not-so-flattering terms, essentially saying that the state was filled with crazy liberals and hoping that it would fall into the Pacific Ocean.

    I love what Timothy Egan, in his “Opinionator” column on the New York Times website, wrote the other day about California, noting that the state seems to be out of money and almost out of options:

    “The only thing not in short supply, it seems, is California schadenfreude. The Golden State has become the American France — everyone professes to despise it, but loves to go there.

    “Consider: even in the last year, when 2.2 million Californians were out of work, the state added more new residents than the entire population of Pittsburgh. And about 335 million visitors came. The message from the seven out of eight Americans who do not live in California is: we love you, and enjoy watching you suffer.”

    He’s absolutely right.




    I was really looking forward to Morning Glory the new romantic comedy about morning television wars starring Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, in part because I like all of the actors involved and in part because I find morning television to be so generally awful (with the exception of “Morning Joe”) that I thought it was ripe for a biting comedy along the lines of Broadcast News, which remains one of my favorite movies.

    I walked away disappointed, however, Morning Glory is no Broadcast News, though maybe it is unfair for any movie to be compared with one of the best serious comedies ever made. The idea is smart enough; the movie is about what happens on a fourth place morning news show when a new producer (McAdams) manipulates an aging, recently fired anchorman (Ford, essentially playing an embittered Dan Rather without the drawl and country aphorisms) into co-hosting the program with Keaton’s former beauty queen.

    The movie actually offers some serious business lessons, as McAdam’s character tries to force Ford into doing “fluffy” features, while he wants to only do serious news pieces; the conflict creates only animosity and creative gridlock. This happens a lot in business, where executives sometimes try to put square pegs into round holes and don’t necessarily create environments that allow people to play to their strengths, preferring to cater to bureaucracy. This is something that effective business leaders should try to avoid; the ability to recognize creative strengths and cater to them, it seems to me, ought to be a high-priority in choosing who will lead any organization.

    At the same time, the resistance of Ford’s character to doing new things offers a good example of the kind of people one probably should avoid hiring, if one has any choice. People who cling resolutely to the past can prevent organizations from embracing the future...and the movie illustrates how important effective hiring is.

    So the movie offers good lessons, and to be fair, Morning Glory has its moments. But in the end, the movie is problematic....and much as it pains me to say so, I think the biggest problem is Harrison Ford.

    For some reason, Ford, as he has gotten older, has begun to develop a certain heaviness - not gravitas, but a gruffness that is almost unpleasant because he seems to take no pleasure in it. Morning Glory is a perfect example of this. He plays the misery of his character perfectly, but as he made all the people around him even more miserable, the character took no pleasure in it, which made him a lot less sympathetic and more of a one-note entity. I kept thinking of how actors like Jack Nicholson or Alec Baldwin might have played it, and i’m convinced they would have given the anchorman more layers, made him funnier in a movie that is supposed to be a comedy.

    There may even be a lesson here for all of us. Even as we get older, it is important that we not take ourselves too seriously, that we not lose the sense of fun that makes life worth living.

    One note. Ford will be back on screen next summer in a sci-fi western called Cowboys and Aliens, which also stars Daniel Craig. It looks like a hoot (check out the trailer online), and I hope Ford can recapture a little bit of that Han Solo/Indiana Jones magic.




    I know this is sort of like sacrilege, but I have a question.

    Am I the only person who finds Oprah Winfrey to be kind of annoying?

    Now, I have to be honest here. While she’s been on television for more than a quarter-century, and has been an icon for almost that long, I’m not sure that I’ve ever watched more than 10 minutes of her show at a time, and probably not more than a dozen times over 25 years. Obviously I know who she is, am aware of her public persona, and know how much power she exerts in the media world. But she’s sort of peripheral to my life.

    This week, however, I saw a clip from her show that I could not believe. As part of her final season, she had a show in which she had as guests former daytime talk show hosts such as Phil Donahue ... and proceeded to point out to all of them how she’d crushed them in the ratings. (I wondered why she had not just shot them, stuffed them and mounted their heads on the wall of the set.)

    Then, when I was sitting in my office at one point, I saw a show she did in which the cast of The Color Purple reunited, and she kept pointing out how people told her how wonderful she was in it.

    And then, she kept using that odd vocal tic, where her voice goes up at the end of the sentence.

    Then, I was at the store, and I saw her magazine, and it is all about her favorite things.

    Oy.

    Like I say, maybe this is heresy, but I think this woman is really annoying.

    But maybe it’s just me.




    I had a wonderful wine the other night, served with my spicy meatloaf - the 2007 Central Coast Pinot Noir from Sunburst Cellars.




    One last thing.

    Happy Birthday, Mrs. Content Guy.

    I couldn’t do it without you.




    That’s it for this week...and the ninth year of MNB.

    Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    Slainte!
    KC's View: