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    Published on: November 3, 2011


    This commentary is available both as text and video. The two versions are similar, but not identical. Enjoy either, or both.

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    Well, you knew it had to happen - being the complete Apple enthusiast that I am, I was going to read the new Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson sooner rather than later, and report back to you with my impressions.

    First of all, it is a terrific read - for a 600-page book, it is breezy and conversational, and makes me want to go back and read the same author’s biography of Benjamin Franklin. It also is a great business book, digging deep into the weeds of Apple’s creation, Jobs’ high points and low points, not mincing words about his character flaws but certainly celebrating his marketing and technological innovations.

    Like most people who have spent any time following Apple’s ups and downs over the years, I thought I was pretty well acquainted with the Steve Jobs story, but I found much of the book to be surprising - not least because of all the missteps and misjudgments along the way. Take his purchase of Pixar, for example. Jobs didn;t buy Pixar because he had any great insights into the future of computerized animated films; in fact, producing the short films that turned into feature films like Toy Story and Finding Nemo was just a sideline driven by the passion of a couple of Pixar employees. And the NeXT computer venture that he started after being exiled from Apple was pretty much a failure...though it positioned him for the highly improbably return to power at Apple, which seemed to be on its deathbed.

    “Steve Jobs” is a fascinating book, and I’d recommend it almost anyone with even a cursory interest in business and America’s technological renaissance.

    I do have to admit, though, that I found the book troubling on some levels. As Isaacson makes clear, Jobs was not a particularly nice guy - he could be brutal to anyone who crossed him, or anyone not as smart as him, or anyone who did not share his vision, or anyone who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t a great father to his three kids, he had some flaws as a husband, and he behaved particularly badly toward the daughter he fathered out of wedlock inn his early twenties. He admits these things, his wife and kids acknowledge these things and, to varying degrees, forgive him ... but somehow that doesn’t make it better. Jobs was a guy who seemed to believe that none of the rules applied to him - from basic social interactions to the need to have a license plate on his car.

    The question I keep asking myself is, what price genius? Because I don’t think there is much debate about the fact that Jobs was a visionary and genius, and I suppose that one of the things that allows certain people to see things that nobody else sees is the ability not to think about rules and boundaries and limitations.

    Does it have to be that way? In order to drive people and businesses to transcendent achievements, do you have to be a total bastard? (Sorry for the language, but I honestly can’t think of another word that makes the point strongly enough. Actually, I can...but they’re even worse.)

    I hope not. I’d like to think that there is room even in the lives of geniuses to be decent people as well as to have the kind of unique vision that can push “the human race forward.” Then again, you look at some of the people from the old “Think Different” ad campaign, which lionized people who Jobs thought of as being “the crazy ones” who change the world, and a lot of those people had messy personal lives. Not all, but many.

    In the end, this is what the Steve Jobs biography made me think about. If I had a vision, how far would I go to achieve it? How far could I go? I’m no genius, and I might even be a little vision impaired, but then again I know precisely in my life where I made compromises, where I lived within boundaries, when I did not push forward, when I underachieved. I suspect that most of us could look back on our lives and see the same moments. Steve Jobs seems to have made none of those compromises, and look what he achieved.

    One last question: In the end, when he died, was Steve Jobs happy with the choices he made?

    I don’t know. But I keep thinking about it.

    That’s what is on my mind this morning. As always, I’d like to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:
    A brief postscript....

    There is a very different view of Steve Jobs in the eulogy delivered at his memorial service by his sister, the novelist Mona Simpson. Rosier, more affectionate ... but certainly worth reading by clicking here.

    The eulogy is a remarkable piece of writing, and it stands as a great companion piece to the 2005 commencement address delivered by Jobs at Stanford University, generally considered to be one of the best of that breed ever delivered.

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Slate.com has a piece about a new smart phone application called Card Case, made by a company called Square, which it suggests could make carrying credit cards obsolete. But not in the way that other pay-by-phone applications say they can do the same thing.

    “Because Card Case runs on your phone, it may sound at first like the same clunky, phone-and-pay-pad systems being peddled by other firms,” Slate reports. “But Card Case doesn’t let you pay with your phone; it lets you pay with your name. With this app, you go into a store, choose what you want to buy, and then tell the cashier your name. That’s it—you’ve just paid. You don’t have to pull out your phone, you don’t have to open the app, you don’t have to sign, swipe, or wait for change. As long as your phone is on your person while you’re in the store - in your pocket or your purse - Card Case can authorize your payment without you having to do a thing.”

    Essentially, the Card Case application opens your “tab” as soon as you walk into a retailer that is equipped with the hardware and software. (The hardware is an iPad.) You buy what you want, you tell the cashier to put it on your tab, and he or she can do with one click. The company says that there are plenty of security measures in place to prevent identity theft, including a picture of the consumer that comes up on the retailer’s iPad - if you don’t look like your picture, the transaction does not go through.

    The only downside at this point is that there aren’t enough retailers out there using the system to make it a national system - but there, in fact, some 20,000 retailers doing so, mainly in places like New York and San Francisco. But the company hopes it can get more retailers to opt into the system, thereby making it more pervasive ... and potentially an Eye-Opening change in how people pay for what they buy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    Bloomberg has a story saying that “a growing body of medical research at leading universities and government laboratories suggests that processed foods and sugary drinks made by the likes of PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc. aren’t simply unhealthy. They can hijack the brain in ways that resemble addictions to cocaine, nicotine and other drugs ... Lab studies have found sugary drinks and fatty foods can produce addictive behavior in animals. Brain scans of obese people and compulsive eaters, meanwhile, reveal disturbances in brain reward circuits similar to those experienced by drug abusers.”

    There reportedly have been more than two dozen studies on human food addiction published just this year, and, as Bloomberg writes, “the science of addiction could become a game changer for the $1 trillion food and beverage industries.

    “If fatty foods and snacks and drinks sweetened with sugar and high fructose corn syrup are proven to be addictive, food companies may face the most drawn-out consumer safety battle since the anti-smoking movement took on the tobacco industry a generation ago.” The costs are significant - the story notes that “the costs of treating illness associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion in 2008, according to a 2009 study in Health Affairs.”
    KC's View:
    The good news - if there is any buried in here - is that a lot of CPG companies have been making efforts to move into healthier foods, even if they will resist the notion that their products should be compared to illegal and addictive drugs.

    I have to admit to being a little conflicted about this story. I can’t imagine that the entire global food industry will be turned upside-down by such studies, but on the other hand I can’t exactly find a reason to dismiss them out of hand.

    I would suggest this. One lobbyist for the American Beverage Association (ABA) is quoted in the story as saying, “I have never heard of anyone robbing a bank to get money to buy a candy bar or ice cream or pop.” That strikes me as a dumb statement, and that kind of approach won’t lead to any sort of enlightened discussion or consideration. Utter denial won’t get you anywhere. (Better not to comment at all.)

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is out with a new study saying that 78 percent of US families say they consume at least some organic foods, with four out of 10 saying they are buying more organic products than they did a year ago.

    According to the study, “Nearly half – 48 percent – of parents surveyed revealed that their strongest motivator for buying organic is their belief that organic products ‘are healthier for me and my children.’ Other motivators for purchasing organic included concern over the effects of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics on children, and the desire to avoid highly processed or artificial ingredients.”

    In addition, the study says that “72 percent of parents are now familiar with the USDA Organic seal, up significantly from 65 percent in 2009.”

    “In a time when the severity of the economy means making tough choices, it is extremely encouraging to see consumers vote with their values by including quality organic products in their shopping carts,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director/CEO.
    KC's View:
    It is all about both values and value. And I think it is fair to say that a lot of organic retailers - including the one often referred to as “Whole Paycheck” - have done a better job at offering lower prices and trying to teach people how to eat healthier for less money. Which probably helps to influence the numbers.

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    Internet Retailer reports that even as companies like Walmart and Target plan their Black Friday and pre-Black Friday strategies, looking to get as much as possible out of the end-of-year holiday shopping season, Amazon is doing the same - it has “introduced its Black Friday Deals store at amazon.com/blackfriday. Consumers today could find a 15% discount on an LG television, two-for one video game offers and other discounts. The store also includes a countdown ticker to what Amazon calls Black Friday Deals Week, which starts at the beginning of Thanksgiving week when the retailer says it will offer more discounted products.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon.com “is launching a digital-book lending library that will be available only to owners of its Kindle and Kindle Fire devices who are also subscribers to its Amazon Prime program. The program will be limited, at least at the beginning, in what is available to borrow. Amazon will initially offer slightly more than 5,000 titles in the library, including more than 100 current and former national bestsellers.” However, the nation’s six largest publishers are not participating, apparently concerned that the program could hurt back list sales and their relationship with other book retailers.

    The story notes that “Amazon will restrict borrowers to one title at a time, one per month. Borrowers can keep a book for as long as they like, but when they borrow a new title, the previously borrowed book automatically disappears from their device.”

    Portfolio reports that “Apple is planning to invest big in its retail and cloud operations, as revealed by new public filings that detail how the company plans to spend money next fiscal year. Overall, Apple will plunk down $8 billion in capital expenditures for fiscal 2012, more than twice the $3.4 billion that it spent this year.”

    The story says that Apple plans to spend $900 million on its stores in 2012, up from $614 million this past year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    The Chicago Sun Times reports that the City Council there will consider an ordinance that would prohibit retailers with more than 5,000 square feet of selling space from handing out free plastic shopping bags.

    According to the story, “the Illinois Retail Merchants Association is dead set against the ban for the same reason the idea was shelved in 2008 in favor of a watered-down version: Banning plastic bags in favor of reusable bags would saddle retailers with another regulatory cost they cannot afford.”

    The Sun Times writes that “Chief sponsor Ald. ‘Proco’ Joe Moreno (1st) scoffed at the suggestion that banning plastic bags would drive up consumer prices. If ‘progressive’ retailers such as Aldi’s, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods can ween themselves off plastic, big-box stores can do the same, he said.” Mom-and-pop stores would be exempted, he said, just because the ordinance could put them out of business.
    KC's View:
    I generally don’t mind these bans, though I do think it makes more sense to allow the shift to happen more naturally, without legislative prodding. I do think that one should not exempt smaller retailers - if you’re going to enact them, they need to be for everyone.

    However, one opponent makes the case that especially in Chicago, where they are trying to encourage more retailers to open stores in food deserts, maybe this isn;t the time to start imposing additional regulations that could get in the way. That strikes me as a reasonable objection.

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Amazon.com has a new approach to the internet sales tax issue.

    Apparently the company has come to the conclusion that the collection of such taxes is inevitable, though it continues to hope for a national initiative instead of a state-by-state approach. So now, the Times writes, Amazon “is now offering to handle sales tax chores for merchants who sell products through its site for a fee equivalent to 2.9% of the taxes collected.

    “The optional service, which is set to roll out Feb. 1, will be offered to Amazon's third party vendors in all 50 states. It's a strategy that could reap millions of dollars in new revenue for Amazon, which has been among the most vocal opponents of government attempts to tax e-commerce.”

    The story goes on: “Amazon's new offer is aimed at hundreds of thousands of independent U.S. businesses, ranging in size from tiny used-book sellers to major manufacturers, that sell their products through the Amazon.com site. Amazon works with about 2 million such sellers worldwide but won't specify how many of those are based in the U.S.”
    KC's View:
    Here’s what’s inevitable. Amazon will look for and exploit every opportunity.

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    • The Omaha World Herald reports that “the new Hy-Vee Supermarket at 180th and Pacific Streets opened Tuesday morning, and it will be the first of its kind for the chain in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area — for now. The 87,000-square-foot store ... is the first Hy-Vee in the area to be built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards that stress energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality and water savings.” Cost of the new store: $20 million.

    Ric Jurgens, Hy-Vee’s CEO, tells the World Herald that “every Hy-Vee store that relocates, is renovated or is built from the ground up now incorporates energy-efficient features, including skylights, low-flush toilets, automatic hand sinks and doors on dairy refrigeration cases.”

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that the city’s public school system has begun serving “drumsticks from chickens raised on Amish farms without the use of antibiotics ... at the 473 schools catered by Chartwells-Thompson. The company plans to buy about 1.2 million pounds of unprocessed Amish chicken this year for CPS, the largest district in the nation to make such a commitment.

    “The food will provide a lunch of unprocessed chicken at least twice a month for more than 300,000 students. Half of those lunches will feature Miller Amish Country Poultry raised without antibiotics on Indiana farms.”

    USA Today reports that an admittedly “small study” by Maastricht University in the Netherlands suggests that “obese men who take a small daily dose of the supplement resveratrol -- found as a natural compound in red wine -- appear to improve their metabolism as much as if they were on a strict low-calorie diet ... Changes included a lower metabolic rate, reduced fat in the liver, lower blood pressure and lower blood sugar. The men also had changes in the way their muscles burned fat, the researchers found.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    Wednesday’s MNB led with a story saying that Bank of America is canceling its plans to charge its debit card customers a $5 fee if they use their cards to make purchases. The move comes just a month after the new fee schedule was first announced as a way of compensating for an expected $6.6 billion loss of revenue that all banks will suffer as a result of new financial regulations that limit the hidden and usurious swipe fees that were charged by banks on each transaction.

    I commented:

    We win.

    And by “we,” I mean all the businesses and trade associations and even yodelers like me that have been slamming Bank of America and its brethren for the new fees.

    I would, however, express one caution. If indeed the banks are going to lose $6.6 billion in revenue, don’t expect that they will go gentle into that good night, simply accepting the fact that they will have less money to invest and hand out in bonuses to senior executives. They are, I’m quite sure, already scheming, trying to find new ways to make up that shortfall. And if they can find a way to make a new program to be both hidden and usurious, so much the better.


    Which led MNB user Scott S. Dissinger to write:

    You really think you won something?  At the end of the day the market rules.  Banks had a business model that included certain fees which helped generate a return to shareholders.  To continue that return you will either see a loss of some services or some other fees.  Or some folks will go out of business and consolidate more power in a smaller group, giving them more leverage to charge higher fees.  The entitlement generation thinks there are no “costs”.

    A good point. But maybe the banks are going to have to consider, at some level, whether it is more important to take care of their shareholders or their customers.




    Yesterday, we took note of a Seattle Times report that Starbucks stores around the country are encouraging customers to contribute $5 to the Opportunity Finance Network, which the company already has funded with a $5 million donation and which is designed to jumpstart local growth by making loans to small businesses and community organizations. Starbucks is making the promise to shoppers that “every $5 they contribute will result in $35 in loans in communities across the country.”

    Which led one MNB user to observe:

    Considering the active nature of both Starbucks and its founder / leader, I would wonder if they shouldn’t take the next step – turn those “donations” into micro investments from the get-go by creating a “venture capital fund for the price of a cup of coffee”. Put those dollars into a fund that only lends to small businesses and encourages local job growth, local activities, and run it as an investment with a return to the fund – out of which a “micro profit” might be realized . Dividends in the form of Starbucks certificates? More permanent and longer term than a donation, no?

    Puts the whole idea of “little guys in this together” into a sustaining business context.

    As you sometimes say…just askin’…..





    Regarding our ongoing discussion of the differences between New York and Arkansas - prompted by Walmart’s decision to move its fashion offices from the Big Apple to Bentonville - one MNB user wrote:

    Agree that the “ culture shock” isn’t that great. Even the football is pretty comparable. Recently I went to a Razorback game in Fayetteville. 85.000 or so .$ 400 scalped tickets.  Incredible tailgate food including really good barbecue. Very loud. The next day I went to a Giants game at Met Life stadium....10,000 or so less people. Pretty standard tailgate fare. About half the decibels. $300 scalped tickets. Only difference was no booze in the Arkansas stadium . Which you don’t really need since the tailgate starts at 9 am with hot toddies. And there  are many who would argue that SEC football is as good as many pro games.

    But another MNB user was not quite so sanguine:

    For those of us in that ever growing community of families who have lived in Northwest Arkansas and now moved on, we made life-long friends in NWA.  Some areas of NWA resemble a nice progressive suburb of Dallas or Chicago.  But what will never change are the redneck-backward people who make up the majority of the population.  No matter how high one builds the fence around their gated community they still have to deal with ignorance and provincialism that goes beyond comprehension.  There isn't enough money to make up for it.

    Stay in New York. Life is too short.  This goes double if you have K-12 children.  The kids and parents suffer trying to navigate the school system.  This line of thinking isn't going to get verbalized because the place has a Stepford Wife feel to it. There are three kinds of transplants in NWA- 1. accept it for what it is, 2. miserable, 3) moved back home.


    That’s pretty tough.

    I think it probably is fair to say that there are some people who should not live in Arkansas, just as there are some people who should not live in New York.

    I know one senior guy at Walmart who has worked in a lot of places, and he says NW Arkansas is the best place he’s ever lived - he gets up in the morning, looks out his window, and sees bald eagles flying over a nearby lake. Which is great...if you like that sort of thing.




    Responding to an Eye-Opener earlier this week, one MNB user wrote:

    Great piece in your eye opener yesterday and the quote from Ira Niemark. If your objective is to cause your reader to think - you accomplished that yesterday.

    Management By Walking Around (MBWA) is much broader than internal, it is and must be external as well. Thoroughly understanding what your competition is doing isn't just accomplished by word of mouth, reading an article or a blog. It’s best done with your own eyes. Thanks for the reminder and the cause to think about how I spend my time.

    It’s easy to take a narrow view from your own desk and just work head down on one’s objectives. Taking a regular course of action to be aware and always looking at what is going on with ones own eyes has to be part of the regular routine. Capturing ideas and implementing them without interference of ones ego is and remains a consistent challenge. I would surmise that the phenomenon of "I can't do that because I didn't think of it myself" gets in the way for many of us.

    Very little of what we do is original. Little the even someone like Thomas Edison did was original. Its just that some do what others thought of better then the original idea itself. Amazon wasn't the first internet retailer, they just do it better than anyone else.

    All of the best retailers take a little bit from here and a little bit from there and make it their own.  In order to do it, they had to be looking around.

    I need to do more looking around. I suspect many of us do as well. Thanks for making me think.





    And finally, responding to my comment yesterday that I was afraid that people spending more money on their pets could be the same people who are spending less money on diapers for their kids, one MNB user wrote:

    Based on the influx at the shelters of people giving up their pets because they can’t afford to take care of them,  I'd say generally, no.  People are not indulging their pets using  the "necessities" jar.

    I think...you need to know more poor people.


    You’re right. My comment was a little glib. I was making a joke, but sometimes (more often than not, according to my kids) I’m not even half as funny as I think I am.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    MNB is going to look a little different tomorrow ... I’m doing some college visits with my daughter, and so I’m taking the day off from the usual reportage and commentary.

    However, there will be a special Friday edition of Michael Sansolo’s column, Sansolo Speaks this week, and both Your Views and OffBeat will be in their regular positions, so you’ll be able to get a little bit of your MNB fix.

    I’ll be back Monday, and will see you then.

    Slainte!
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2011

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    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2011

    by Susan Viamari, editor of Times & Trends, SymphonyIRI Group, Inc.

    Whether the neighborhood is blanketed in snow or flush with palm trees, the holiday season brings with it many universal things, including family, friends, festivities, and this year in particular, financial fear.

    According to recent results from SymphonyIRI Group’s Holiday Shopping 2011 survey, 82 percent of respondents indicate that increased concern about the economy is negatively impacting holiday budgets. Clearly, a strong majority of consumers are shaken by the current instability of economic conditions, and they intend to tweak holiday habits as a result.

    About half of consumers plan to spend similarly to last year when it comes to gift budgets, and about two-thirds expect to spend about the same on food and non-alcoholic beverages for holiday celebrations. However, consumers reined in their spending habits already last year, and many are now indicating that they’re bracing for another round of belt tightening, the result of so much fear and negativity when it comes to ongoing economic issues.

    In fact, one in four consumers will trim back spending on holiday gifts this year, and slightly less, 16 percent, will reduce celebration-related food and beverage budgeting.

    Coping Mechanisms, Often Online

    For a majority of consumers, nearly 75 percent, gift-giving budgets will top out at $800 this year. But, most say they do not want to sacrifice gift giving entirely or minimize the fun and sentiment of the season. They’ll just be working a little harder to focus on value.

    To get the most for their money, consumers are turning to the Internet to help with their money-saving strategies. Interesting findings from the survey include:

    • 44 percent of consumers will use more coupons from retailer Web sites versus 54 percent, who will use about the same as last year

    • 42 percent of consumers will use more coupons from manufacturer Web sites versus 54 percent, who will use about the same as last year

    • 61 percent of consumers will use more coupons from group couponing Web sites versus 33 percent, who will use the same as last year

    • 43 percent of consumers will compare products on the Internet more often (consumer forums, blogs, etc.) versus 54 percent, who will do the same comparison shopping as last year

    Consumers Tightening Their Belts at the Holiday Table

    During the past few years, consumers have been eating out less and cooking more at home. These behaviors are expected to continue on this path in the coming year. For holiday celebrations this season, 71 percent of consumers say they want to prepare the best meals possible, but they will be keeping a close eye on their food and beverage bills. Overall, 71 percent of consumers say they will spend the same on their holiday meals as they did last year, but 18 percent are tightening their belts a bit more and plan to spend less.

    With affordability top of mind, consumers will still be leveraging some tried and true money-saving tactics in addition to turning to the Internet. For instance, 79 percent of consumers will be making their grocery purchase decisions before entering the store, 24 percent plan to buy more products in bulk this year than they have in the past, 37 percent will redeem more “reward points” for products, and 20 percent will rely more heavily on private label products.

    So, where will consumers be shopping for their holiday meals? Grocery stores remain the most popular outlets for shopping and will attract 88 percent of shoppers. Forty-five percent of consumers say they will shop in club stores, 41 percent in mass merchandisers, 37 percent in supercenters, 8 percent in dollar stores and 7 percent in drug stores.

    Overall, ‘tis the season to eat, drink, shop, spend and be merry. And, consumers expect to do so, though are tenuous about spending and thus making concerted efforts to make wise purchasing decisions. For CPG marketers, tapping into this more conservative, yet still festive, mindset means identifying critical trends and delivering with appropriate and appealing price points.
    KC's View: