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    Published on: April 5, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    I know it’s a huge contradiction to write this, but in general I hate generalities. Far too often they fool us into thinking the absolute wrong thing about groups of people, which for many marketers leads to untold problem.

    Which is why I’m at odds with Kevin this week. Like a number of you, I disagreed with what I called his cranky comment about 55-year-olds getting a “senior” discount at A&P. Now I know Kevin really well and despite our many opinions in common, we have many other areas where we differ like crazy. And I think there is something instructive in that and our feelings on being seniors.

    Neither of us likes to be called old. It really displeases me that surveys now lump me in the “55-64 age group” because I simply don’t feel that old. Yet, I couldn’t wait to get my senior discount at IHOP of all places, one week after my 55th birthday. I’m not even sure I wanted pancakes. I wanted to see if I would get proofed because of my youthful appearance. Sadly I didn’t.

    Here’s the amazing part. Although Kevin and I never met until our mid-30s our backgrounds are stunningly similar. We were born in the same city (a year apart and I’m younger), moved to the same suburb and each had a parent who worked for the local school district. It gets worse. We were employed by the same newspaper company and moved on in short order to trade publications covering supermarkets. You would think we’d share similar behaviors on most things.

    But we don’t. And when it comes to our status as “seniors,” he’s offended and I’m flashing my AARP card. In other words, it’s impossible to figure anyone out.

    That’s where it gets so challenging for marketers. We’ve come to learn that Hispanics, for example, are anything but monolithic. Not only do Hispanics hail from an incredible range of countries, they also behave in very different ways depending on how acculturated they have become. If you read the demographic wrong, you can’t sell a thing.

    The same goes for Baby Boomers. My oldest sister-in-law recently retired in Florida, while my youngest sister helps her 11-year-old with his homework. Both are Boomers but obviously have little in common beyond being related to me. And frankly, it doesn’t stop with Boomers. My 80-year-old mother frequently always refers to the date far in the future when she will be “old.” Don’t go lumping her in the wrong group or she gets offended.

    The challenge for marketers is finding the way to appeal to these heterogeneous groups of shoppers and shopper emotions. I love the suggestions from MNB readers about calling us things like “experienced” shoppers, but honestly, who’s kidding whom. The name doesn’t matter if the intent is clear.

    The challenge is figuring how to market to people who look, think, act and even get offended differently all the time even though they are almost exactly the same. Worse yet, we have to figure out how to market to people who switch from bargain hunting to extravagance in a matter of minutes. And that’s why we need to know our customers better than ever at a time that’s more complex than ever.

    It’s never simple is it?

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

    I disagree with Michael in two fundamental ways, though I do agree with him that marketing to any group is a complex challenge, because it is dangerous to paint with a broad brush. That actually was sort of my original point - I was just crankier about it.

    One, I think the name does matter, regardless of whether the intent is clear. (And I’m surprised that he would write that sentence, considering his enthusiasm for the chapter in our book about Hoosiers, the lesson of which is “words matter.”

    Two, I haven’t been to an IHOP in 20 years. And I’m not going to one, not ever, even if they offer to sell me pancakes for nothing.

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Market research company Temkin Group is out with a survey of some 6,000 American consumers and a ranking of how the best retailers stand in terms of customer service.

    The top-10 customer service entities are listed as, in order:

    • Kohl’s
    • Costco
    • Lowe’s
    • Sam’s Club
    • BJ’s Wholesale Club
    • Walgreens
    • Old Navy
    • Target
    • Rite Aid

    Among the notes in the report:

    “Consumers rated companies they interacted with the past 60 days in 12 industries: airlines, banks, credit-card issuers, health plans, hotel chains, Internet service providers, insurance companies, investment firms, PC makers, retailers, TV service providers, and wireless carriers.”

    “Retailers took 15 of the top 20 spots. The only non-retailers in the top-20 were three hotel chains (Marriot International, Hyatt, and Courtyard By Marriott), one bank (Regions Financial), and an insurance company (USAA).”

    “Anthem Insurance Companies and CIGNA were two of the seven health plans that ended up in the bottom 13 ranked companies.”

    I’m not surprised by Amazon’s ranking, nor by the fact that USAA is ranked highly while CIGNA and Anthem get really low rankings. I’ve dealt consistently with all these companies, and my experience bears this out.

    I am very surprised by how high Rite Aid ranks, which would seem to be at odds with its popular image. And I think there is a lot to learn from the high rankings of three membership clubs - clearly there is something about an inconvenient experience based on a treasure hunt that appeals to consumers. I’d be looking to see what about that shopping experience could be mimicked in more traditional outlets.

    It’s all an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    The Detroit News reports that Mayor Dave Bing’s office there “is in discussions with Whole Foods to open a store in Midtown, though no agreements have been reached.”

    The upscale, organic-and-natural foods retailer, sometimes called “Whole Paycheck” by both detractors and fans, is said to be among a number of chains that the beleaguered city is hoping to attract, as it seeks to solve the problem of food deserts in many of its neighborhoods.
    KC's View:
    On the face of it, this would seem to be an absurd notion - Whole Foods simply does not seem to be a good fit for Detroit, which continues to have serious economic problems.

    But I would not discount the idea entirely. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Whole Foods - which has been known for a somewhat evangelical approach to retailing - decided to bring its brand of “conscious capitalism” to a city that could use it? This would be walking the walk as well as talking the talk ... and would have the potential of being a game-changer.

    Stranger things have happened to Detroit. Like Charlie Sheen’s live tour.

    So I don’t rule anything out.

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that a US District Judge in South Dakota has “refused to throw out a lawsuit challenging forthcoming rules reducing fees that banks collect for debit-card transactions.”

    In doing so, Judge Lawrence L. Piersol rejected both a government motion to toss the suit, as well as a request by TCF National Bank for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked enforcement of a fee-reducing law.

    The government sought to have the suit dismissed because the rules that are the subject of the suit have not yet been finalized nor implemented; TCF was looking for an injunction because, in the words of its CEO, the bank will lose $6 million a month if its debit card fees are reduced and “we can’t recover it from the government, and we can’t recover it from the retailers.”

    In essence, what the dual rulings mean is that the lawsuit can proceed even as the US Congress debates whether any debit card fee regulations ought to be delayed for further study. This debate has been encouraged by the financial services business, which has spent millions on lobbyists; it has been criticized both by retailers and consumer groups, on the grounds that usurious debit fees raise prices for consumers.

    The Federal Reserve says that debit card fees have gone from about $8 billion in 2000 to $38 billion in 2009.
    KC's View:
    I don’t think consumers in general have any idea how much these fees cost them, nor how much money the banking business is willing to throw at the problem to stave off any significant, pro-consumer change. It is all about greed.

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart “may begin adding large appliances such as stoves and dishwashers to stores in Texas this year as part of a pilot program that could lead to a nationwide launch.”

    The program would be launched as part of a deal with General Electric, and could affect as many as 100 stores in the pilot stage.
    KC's View:
    We’re hearing a lot of “maybes” and “coulds” in Walmart stories lately, as the company looks for any and all ways to regain momentum in the US. I think they’ll try almost anything ... and this makes them dangerous to all its current competitors, and competitors yet-to-come.

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    The Chicago Tribune reports that McDonald’s is ramping up for 2011 growth by launching an advertising and public relations campaign that trains the spotlight on what it says is a one-day event on April 19 when the company will seek to hire 50,000 store-level employees nationwide.

    According to the story, “McDonald's hopes to get across the message, much as Starbucks Corp. has successfully done, that a job with it is not a dead end and can offer solid benefits and long-term career opportunities, which the company says already are available to its 600,000 restaurant employees in the U.S.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    • In the UK, the Telegraph reports that Tesco has launched a used car sales website.

    According to the story, the British used car market is a roughly $39 billion (US) business, and Tesco is hoping to grab a slice of it by providing a “convenient, easy and safe” forum where people can also save as much as 20 percent on the cost of a used car.

    Shoppers also will be able to earn Tesco Clubcard points on purchases made on the site.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    Sbarro, Inc. described by CNN, as “a pizza and pasta fast-food chain popular in malls and airports,” has filed for bankruptcy protection.

    While the company seeks new financing and a deal that will cut its debt in half, management said that it believes that it will be able to continue operating its stores.
    KC's View:
    Not sure what the company’s financial prospects are, but it has always struck me as being creatively bankrupt - a greasy example of overpriced, lowest common denominator pizza. In other words, perfect for malls and airports.

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that Ahold-owned Stop & Shop is being sued by the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., which charges that the recent hiring of its former vp-operations, Frank Vitale, was in violation of an 18-month non-compete clause that Vitale had as part of his contract.

    According to the story, A&P “accuses Vitale of disclosing trade secrets and ‘key elements’ of its restructuring strategy to its rival (and) seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages from Stop & Shop.”

    KPSP-TV reports that “the California State Parks system announced Monday it is partnering again with Stater Bros. Supermarkets and Coca-Cola Refreshments. This public private partnership unites for the third straight year to raise funds for state parks in Southern California.

    “This year's program, ‘Preserve Our Parks,’ is an intensive, six-week campaign with the goal of raising at least $750,000 to help provide forest preservation, trail maintenance, habitat preservation and beach clean-up across 750,000 acres of parklands that comprise the state park system in Southern California, alone. All monies raised during the campaign will be donated to California State Park Foundation.”

    • Stater Bros. shoppers, for example, are encouraged to make a one dollar donation at the chain’s checkouts between now and April 26.

    • The Seguin Gazette Enterprise reports that “Super S Foods, which had one store in Guadalupe County and several in adjacent counties, has been purchased by Pay and Save Inc., doing business as Lowe's, with stores located primarily in West Texas and the Panhandle.

    “Super S operated more than 50 stores, mostly in Central and South Texas and mostly in small towns ... With the acquisition of the Super S chain, Lowe's has 145 stores, most of them in Texas along with several in New Mexico and one in Arizona. The acquisition of Super S became final on March 23.”

    Reuters reports that PepsiCo plans to offer a mid-calorie soft drink this summer called Pepsi Next, which will have 40 calories per eight-ounce servings. While such drinks have generally not been successful in the past, the story reports that “industry watchers say that the market may be ripe for these types of drinks now, as people try to treat themselves to little indulgences without blowing their diets.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    7-Eleven announced yesterday that it is teaming with Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios for a promotion tied to the release of Thor, the superhero movie scheduled to debut on May 6. The promotion will feature Thor-themed collectible cups, straws and a “crazy-colored flavor.”

    The press release notes that “the newest Marvel Studios movie tells the epic story of Thor, which spans across the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the realm of Asgard. At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Thor is cast down to Earth and forced to live among humans as punishment. Once here, Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth ... The movie stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston and Jaimie Alexander with a cameo appearance by a 7-Eleven store, also featured in the trailer promoting the film.”
    KC's View:
    have to admit that if I were looking to attach myself to a superhero film this summer - and there are going to be a bunch of them - it probably would not be Thor, which doesn’t have a hugely compelling trailer. (The powers-that-be behind the Marvel movies have done a pretty good job with the Iron Man movies, though they’ve been less successful with The Hulk franchise.)

    Captain America: The First Avenger actually looks like it could be pretty good, and the second trailer for Green Lantern is an enormous improvement over the first one.

    Then again, maybe Steve Rogers and Hal Jordan didn’t frequent c-stores, which would have limited 7-Eleven’s options...

    (I am such a geek sometimes...)

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    On the subject of climbing executive compensation, which is rising a lot faster than pay for people on the front lines, MNB user Steve Sullivan wrote:

    All executives interested in receiving these bonuses have to submit their names.  These names are then put into a hat and drawn.  Half of the executives are awarded the bonuses.  The other half are placed in front of a firing squad in the city square and summarily executed. 

    Or does that seem too much?  OK, only 25% received bonuses.

    Maybe that’s a little harsh...

    Regarding nutritional labeling rules being established by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one MNB user wrote:

    Even before I ready your comments about including the movie theaters I was struck by the notion that theaters are "... not primarily in the food business."  Given that theaters likely make nearly all of their profit on food, that notion misses the mark by a mile.  Airlines, on the other hand, are definitely not in the food business... it is hard to tell what they serve, but it is definitely not food.

    I do agree that informing someone about calorie content is not telling them what to eat.  Taxing people on what they eat is another story.

    And an other MNB user chimed in:

    I agree. The more information the better. When the doctor suggested I lose weight in an effort to bring down my numbers, we stopped eating out as much because trying to figure out how many calories I was consuming was a pain. To eat out, I would have to know where we were going, check the website for nutritional information and decide from there, but local stores will have different specials or the menus won’t be exactly the same and what if we decide to go elsewhere. Easier to stay home and eat what I know. Will it change how I eat, maybe, then again it could allow me to make choices allowing for extra calories or a small dessert.

    Yesterday’s Eye-Opener was about the “myth of the unassailable advantage,” and addressed projections that smart phones run on a Microsoft platform eventually could be hotter than the iPhone because of new alliances. MNB user Lou Scudere responded:

    My only comment is this, I have used an IPhone for 3 years now and continue to be amazed at its intuitive resilience. I do not own another Apple, so I am not a wild eyed Apple acolyte. However, having used the Windows smart phone prior to the Apple (an HTC touch as I recall) I can tell you that MS will have to improve their operating system a bunch to be competitive with Apple. It was a POS and I'm not talking point of sale.

    Got it.

    Got a few more emails about our April Fools prank that I think ought to be posted.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I just caught up with your April Fool's antics - and I think that your flippant defense of any criticism was pathetic. You took on easy targets that it is apparent you wish to fail - I imagine so that you can say: "I told you so." Your "jokes" weren't even creative. Why didn't you pick on one of those great companies that you suck up to so often. Maybe you could have said that Tesco was finally going to give up on it's unsuccessful Fresh&Easy stores in the US. You could have said that they were selling them all to Walmart because in the end Tesco just didn't speak "American." (...or something like that...)

    I thought of a lot of unflattering names for you - but I will hold back. Let's just say that you have lost perspective, are rehashing the same old stuff, are behind the times - and maybe you're just too "over the hill" for this stuff.

    Sure, you say you’re going to hold back ... and then you call me “old.”

    Talk about knowing what buttons to push!

    Let’s be clear on one thing. I don’t “wish” for companies like Supervalu or A&P to fail. Far from it. Do I think that some of their recent moves are ripe for criticism and/or satire? Sure ... but I also recognize that not everybody is going to agree with me, or find me funny. (Even my wife and kids think I’m only about half as funny as I think I am.) Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    Yesterday I noted that one MNB user suggested that my satire “demeaned” my usual efforts, and I disagreed. This same reader then got back to me:

    Kevin , after reading the after view portion I feel I must write and say I am sorry. I did not intend to say you were ( demeaned ) I am just one of these  people out in the world that loves what he does and I am very passionate about it. I guess when  a person like me reads your stories everyday and hears your passion on different subjects I feel you are above and beyond making such jokes. Sometimes we forget we are all Human and sometimes we all should just relax a little before setting down and writing our words on paper. So with that again I am sorry for what I wrote. I read your stories everyday and find them to help me understand our business in different lights and different points of view. I hope you will accept my apology...
    I am what you call and old school kind of guy and this is my life not just a job that pays the bills.

    No apology necessary. Far from it.

    Listen, the sad truth is that I will make a joke about almost anything.

    I don’t think that there is anything “old school” about loving your job, feeling passionate about your mission and goals, and feeling ownership about the company where you work and the customers you look to serve everyday. I think that is wonderful ... and I’d like to think I feel the same way about MNB.

    The problem with satire is that it almost always is going to hurt someone’s feelings - and probably will be most hurtful to the people who feel the most passionately about what they do.

    I don’t think it is bad to remind me of that. It does not mean that I’m going to stop, or that I won’t try to use humor or satire to illustrate a greater truth whenever it seems appropriate, or just whenever I feel like it. After all, if we didn’t laugh, we’d all go insane.

    But this isn’t just an academic exercise. It also is about real people. And I’m glad you wrote again.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2011

    In what is generally considered to be one of the worst played championship games ever, the University of Connecticut Huskies defeated the Butler University Bulldogs 53-41, winning the school’s third NCAA men’s basketball championship and its first since 2004.
    KC's View: