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    Published on: March 18, 2015

    by Kate McMahon

    There’s just no escaping emojis, those small digital smiley faces, frowns and symbols used to express an idea or emotion in texting, tweeting and other electronic communication.

    Consider these recent developments:

    • The Washington Post this week unveiled mascot emojis for all 68 teams in the NCAA Basketball tourney for fans to download and share – “Because nobody uses their words anymore.”

    • A Taco Bell-led petition to have the taco added to the official Unicode Consortium of emojis has garnered more than 30,000 signatures.

    • Apple made headlines announcing it was updating its lineup of emoji characters with a diverse skin color palette.

    • Coca-Cola Puerto Rico is using happiness emojis in URL-addresses to lead consumers to its site.

    • The mint-maker Mentos launched its own branded “ementicons” -- Cute Crazed and Awkward are among the names available for downloading.

    • Ikea created 100 emojis, including one of its signature Swedish meatballs.

    • Even the White House used emojis in its Council of Economic Advisors report on the status of Millennials across the nation.

    In short, emojis aren’t just for text-obsessed teens anymore. And all the more reason retailers, marketers and service providers need to understand and embrace the role of emojis in social media.

    According to Swyft Media, 41.5 billion messages and 6 billion emoticons or stickers are sent around the world every day on mobile messaging apps. Some 1,500 emojis have been standardized by the Unicode Consortium, a software industry body which includes representatives from Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo.

    The consortium announced it has accepted 37 new emoji characters to be released in mid-2015 and was considering others. Not surprisingly, food and drink items were seven of the eight most-popularly requested emoji: hot dog, taco, burrito, bottle with popping cork, popcorn, turkey and cheese wedge. The eighth was a unicorn face.

    And it’s no surprise that Taco Bell is spearheading the “Taco Emoji Needs to Happen” campaign through a petition on and on Facebook and Twitter.

    The petition asks: “Why do pizza and hamburger lovers get an emoji but taco lovers don’t. Here’s a better question. Why do we need four different types of mailboxes? Or 25 different types of clocks? Or a VCR tape and floppy disk emoji? No one even uses those things anymore.”

    Valid point. Especially the Millennials, now aged 18 to 33, who grew up with new technology and are characterized by what the Pew Research Center calls their “fervent embrace” of all things digital.

    And any brand that wants to engage with Millennials must do so digitally and learn to speak their language – including the use of emojis when warranted. As noted in a previous column, Hershey got slammed on social media recently for unveiling a new logo which looked quite a bit like the “pile of poo” emoji – a similarity that a Millennial would notice immediately.

    The venerable investment giant Goldman Sachs also took some online ribbing earlier this month for sending out an emoji-filled tweet on its insightful report on how Millennials’ life choices will reshape the economy. The Wall Street Journal teased Goldman for “acting like an awkward grandparent who’s just learning to text.”

    I’m not advocating forsaking the written word for emojis when connecting with consumers, but I do think brands need to be conversant in all forms of social media to stay competitive, and particularly when reaching out to Millennials.

    That said, I think I will turn to the Washington Post March Madness mascot emojis for inspiration as I complete my NCAA bracket. While Kentucky is the odds-on tourney favorite, my fave emoji is the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s fire-breathing dragon.

    Go Blazers.

    Comments? As always, send them to me at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

     InComm, which describes itself as "a prepaid product and transaction services company," is out with a study saying that 67% of total gift card sales in December 2014 were digital gift cards, compared to 57% in 2013, with 33% of total sales being physical gift cards, compared to 43% in 2013.

    This suggests, the company says, that "digital gift cards are an increasingly important component of successful holiday strategies."

    Not surprisingly, December 24 was the highest sales day for digital gift cards ... suggesting that panic or fear may have been one of the biggest drivers in the digital gift card purchase decision.

    But it also suggests the degree to which, yet again, we can see fundamental changes in human purchase behavior, even if the motivations for these decisions - fear of a spouse's wrath - may be as old as time.

    It is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    The week began with Starbucks announcing that in an effort to address what it sees as continuing racial tensions in America, its baristas would attempt to spark a conversation with consumers by writing two words - "Race Together" - on coffee cups. In addition, the stores will be handing out a special "Race Together" newspaper supplement, co-authored with USA Today, on Friday.

    USA Today writes that "Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is on a mission to encourage Starbucks customers and employees to discuss race, under the firm belief that it's a critical first step toward confronting — and solving — racial issues as a nation. It is scheduled to be a key topic at the java giant's annual meeting on Wednesday."

    In a letter published in the supplement, Schultz and Larry Kramer, president and publisher of USA Today, write, "Racial diversity is the story of America, our triumphs as well as our faults ... Yet racial inequality is not a topic we readily discuss. It's time to start." Schultz already has begun the process, hosting discussions on the topic with thousands of employees around the country.

    ""Race Together is not a solution," the letter goes on to say, "but it is an opportunity to begin to re-examine how we can create a more empathetic and inclusive society — one conversation at a time."

    The problem was that when people go into Starbucks, they seemed to want coffee. Not a lecture, a seminar, or even, necessarily, a long conversation on an important national issue. At the same time, pundits showed a certain skepticism about the company's motivations.

    "Half-assed efforts at creating the appearance of a corporate social conscience are suspect at best," Salon writes. "It’s even worse when the corporation, which is often a harbinger of gentrification, is so clearly seizing upon a moment of national tension, violence and anger to promote itself."

    The San Diego Union Tribune reports that a "public incredulous at the idea pummeled the company on Twitter with such ferocity that Starbucks’ senior vice president of communications Corey duBrowa deleted his account. Then they pummeled it some more." The public relations executive said he deleted his account because some of the attacks were personal, and were distracting from the broader purpose.

    The Washington Post writes that "the most ridiculous part of the new campaign is that it treats the very real problem of racial bias and tension as, at best, a peg for a marketing gimmick and, at worst, as something that can be waved away by simply thinking about it. Like most companies, Starbucks has a public articulation of its commitment to diversity. Unlike many companies, it actually has a program that aims to give business to minority- and woman-owned businesses. That program, still publicized but much more quietly, is the sort of thing that actually can help bolster job growth and help eliminate the racial barriers that exist in the business world. But it doesn't sell much coffee."
    KC's View:
    Let's assume for the moment that Starbucks' motivations were entirely pure, and that the company wasn't just looking for publicity pegged to an important and divisive national issue. Because to assume the other would be to suggest t level of corporate cynicism that would be utterly breathtaking.

    I still think this idea is a mistake.

    I'm all in favor of internal discussions with baristas and other employees on the subject of race. I think that makes sense. A lot of different kinds of people come into Starbucks stores all over the country each day, and making sure that employees are sensitive to racial issues seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate - even necessary corporate priority. After all, a quick look on the map tells me that there are a number of Starbucks pretty close to Ferguson, Missouri (though not actually in Ferguson), and there appears to be a Starbucks on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, less than a half-mile from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house.

    But lecturing customers simply isn't the way to create conversation, especially when you are counting on baristas - who have plenty to do just making coffee, thank you, and who may simply not be equipped to have this discussion - to do it.

    I think that Schultz has been on point when he's addressed things like political gridlock, because that's an issue for which he can draw a clear line connecting it to the company's interests, and can do so without lecturing customers. (Though, to be fair, he does tend to cross that line from time to time.) But this is different, and I think the whole approach has been ham-handed.

    I heard a presentation the other day in which the speaker made the argument that racism is going away in America, and that young people simply don't see color (or gender or ethnicity or sexual orientation). Isn't it be pretty to think so.

    Recent events would suggest that nothing could be farther from the truth. But I'm not sure scribbling on a coffee cup, and then attempting to create a conversation for just a few seconds about a critical national issue that deserves far greater attention and time, is the best way to go.

    Besides, I'm not even sure baristas are buying into it. I bought a venti nonfat latte last night. Nobody wrote anything on the cup.

    Still, look for Schultz to defend the initiative today at the company's annual meeting. I've always believed that he has a bit of a messiah complex, and messiahs don't give up easily.

    As for Corey duBrowa ... well, if you can't stand the heat...

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    Interesting story in Fast Company Design about McDonald's vision for a technological future, in which "the company plans to leverage kiosks, smartphones, and wearable to change the way people order and eat at McDonald’s restaurants around the world. In the U.S., all experiences would work through an app in development that knows your identity and tracks your order history."

    Atif Rafiq, the first chief digital officer at McDonald’s, says that "we see the experience being made so much better through technology."

    The story says that "at the McDonald's of tomorrow, restaurants will have a standardized set of hardware and software that the company has been developing through its global digital team. That hardware would include kiosks similar or identical to those already on the market. You could walk up, tap your phone to it, and sync your account via an app. From there, the screen would not just show a stock menu, but provide your order history, and offer Amazon-like recommendations."

    Rafiq, the story says, calls this "'perfect union of humanity and technology,' because he doesn’t allow digital automation to overrule the friendliness of hospitality."
    KC's View:
    Granted, the story is about design, so they didn't discuss minor things like taste and edibility.

    But it seems to me that while all the digital tech stuff is important, the first thing Mickey D's has to do is build a better hamburger. Ten years from now, it won;t matter much to me if In-N-Out has digital kiosks or synched customer accounts ... I'll go there because there are few things in life as tasty as a Double-Double, animal style. The other stuff is just a distraction from what's important.

    Then again, maybe that's McDonald's goal ... put the emphasis on so many other things that people won't pay attention to the taste.

    Good luck with that.

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    There is a terrific piece in the new Fast Company taking what it calls the "long view" of Steve Job's life and career, concluding that he was a complicated and often difficult man who nevertheless does not merit the demonizing that he receives in some quarters.

    An excerpt:

    "Steve was someone with a deep hunger for learning, who breathed in an education wherever he could find it, from his youthful pilgrimage to India to his key mentors and his longtime colleagues at NeXT, Pixar, and Apple ... He learned from his many failures and relentlessly applied those lessons. This wasn’t an obvious process - Steve always preferred to talk about the future rather than the past, so there are very few examples of him reflecting on his triumphs and missteps, or acknowledging a lesson learned. But like most of us, he tried to use what he learned to take better advantage of his strengths and temper his weaknesses. It was a lifelong effort, and, like most of us, he succeeded in some ways and failed in others.

    {Steve was always changing. Thinking of him this way casts him in a very different light from the more common view of him as a stubborn force of nature. It reframes what those of us fascinated by and engaged in business can draw from his example."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:
    To be clear about a couple of things ...

    The Fast Company serves as a kind of executive summary for a new book, "Becoming Steve Jobs," by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, which comes out in about a week ... and to be honest, I've already purchased it, and can't wait for it to show up on my iPad.

    It strikes me that there are a lot of lessons to be learned from Jobs' capacity for change ... and his ability to evolve from one kind of leader (lousy) to another (highly effective).

    One other thing. It is important to note that Apple cooperated with the authors of this book ... and that they did not cooperate with the producers of a new documentary, "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine," that has been described by those who have seen it as tough and unrelenting in its assault on Jobs's hagiography. So Apple may see the book as a preemptive response to the documentary.

    The thing is, I'm also really looking forward to the documentary, just as I'm looking forward to the Aaron Sorkin-written film, based on the great Walter Isaacson book about him, that will star Michael Fassbender.

    Jobs certainly was no saint. But it is hard for me to think of another corporate executive who has had as much influence over how I live my life on a day to day basis. I'm sure a lot of other people feel the same way.

    He's fascinating. I can't get enough of this stuff.

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    The Associated Press reports that American Express is nearing the launch of a new loyalty program "that will enable shoppers at select retailers rack up points that they can use toward future purchases at Macy's, Exxon Mobil, AT&T and other participating companies. The free program, set to debut in May, is dubbed Plenti and will also include Nationwide, Rite Aid, Direct Energy and Hulu."

    According to the story, "customers of the companies in the program can earn points regardless of whether they pay with cash or a debit or credit card from another card issuer. American Express also will be rolling out a Plenti-branded credit card that will let users earn additional points."

    The AP notes that Amex is looking to juice up its appeal as exclusive marketing deals with companies like Costco and JetBlue are coming to an end. The company is increasing some of its card fees, but also is said to "beefing up benefits" as a way of living up to its old "membership has privileges" mantra.
    KC's View:
    Hard to know from the description whether this program really is something different, or just another in a long line of loyalty programs that, if they are successful, result in one more card in one's wallet. I'm not sure this is so much a privilege as it is more clutter.

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    In an op-ed piece written for Roll Call Dunkin' Donuts chairman/CEO Nigel Travis has come out in favor of "a national standardized approach to menu labeling, ensuring a clear, effective and transparent way to present calorie information so as to best meet the public interest."

    The national mandates, passed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, are scheduled to begin implementation later this year.

    Travis writes, in part:

    "Dunkin’ Brands and many others in the restaurant industry worked proactively with Congress and the administration over the past several years to help reform what had been a complex, highly localized approach to menu labeling. With the former decentralized approach, competing state and local menu labeling laws were difficult and disruptive for businesses, as well as lacking in consistency for customers. National menu labeling regulation was an important and necessary step both for our industry and for the consumer, and one that was long overdue.

    "The new menu labeling regulation is intended to benefit both businesses and consumers by focusing on a full breadth of establishments that serve food, not a select few. For this reason, the regulation specifically includes not just restaurant chains, but other food retailers with 20 or more locations, including convenience stores and select others. Representatives from some of these non-restaurant food service establishments are lobbying Congress for an exemption from the new federal menu labeling regulation, and as a matter of fact, last year, were able to get legislation introduced that would undo the new labeling regulation. I strongly disagree with this. The benefits of menu labeling to consumers are important no matter the size of the menu or the percentage of sales from food, and I hope lawmakers will maintain the menu labeling regulation as it was written."

    "Most importantly," Travis writes, "consumers want this. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted solely to the public’s health, issued a 2013 research review on the impact of menu labeling on consumer behavior, citing multiple surveys that show high levels of support for menu labeling regulation.

    "I believe menu labeling is simply the right thing to do. The new regulation, as written, is in the best interests of both our industry and consumers."
    KC's View:
    Of course he wants them. Dunkin' Donuts essentially is a national chain with highly centralized facilities, which means it is a lot easier for it to track and report that a blueberry crumb donut has 500 calories. (Really? Yikes.) It also has digital menu boards that are easy to manipulate and adjust, unlike other retailers.

    I'm generally in favor of anything that adds information transparency. But let's not pretend that Dunkin' Donuts is being altruistic in its embrace of the new rules. It knows it has certain compliance advantages, so it is better to embrace the change and appear to take the high road.

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    RetailCustomerExperience reports that Apple yesterday offered more detailed information about the new Apple Watch technology and how it "shows the potential to put a new twist on the shopping, payments, and personal financial management experience for consumers ... When it's time for a consumer to pay for an item at a retailer, he or she will double tap the side button on the Apple Watch to prepare Apple Pay and the preferred payment card will appear on the screen. A consumer then holds the Apple Watch near an NFC reader to pay. Apple Watch notifies the user the transaction is complete with an audible ping, and then proceeds to show some purchase details on the screen."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    CourthouseNews reports that U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery has ruled that C&S Wholesale Grocers and Supervalu cannot compel so-called "mom and pop grocery stores" to submit to arbitration in an antitrust complaint now making its way through the courts.

    The story notes that "at issue is the fallout of a 2003 asset exchange agreement between SuperValu and C&S Wholesale Grocers. The deal was based on geography, giving SuperValu the Midwest and C&S the New England region." But smaller stores filed a lawsuit, saying that the deal was anticompetitive and would result in an increased cost of goods.

    The two wholesalers said that they had agreements in place that would force the case to go to arbitration instead of to trial, but the judge disagreed.

    • Kraft Foods said yesterday that it is recalling about 6.5 million boxes of Macaroni & Cheese because some of them may contain small pieces of metal; the products were sold in the US, Puerto Rico, South America and in the Caribbean.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    • Kroger announced yesterday that Joe Grieshaber has been named president of Kroger's Columbus Division, replacing Bruce Macaulay, who is retiring after 42 years with the company.

    Grieshaber has served in his current role as president of Kroger-owned Dillons since 2010. No replacement for him in that role has yet been named.

    Advertising Age reports that Debra Berman, who became senior VP-marketing at JC Penney in August 2013 and was promoted to CMO last year, "charged with revitalizing the brand by returning to its pre-Ron Johnson roots," has left the company, effective immediately. No reason was given.

    According to the story, "Until a replacement is named, Kirk Waidelich, VP-marketing strategy, will temporarily oversee customer strategy, media and marketing integration, while Lynne Bartron, VP-marketing strategy, will temporarily oversee creative, production and operations, publicity and partnerships."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 18, 2015

    One MNB user wrote:

    Regarding the new Walmart detergent to combat Tide, this will be interesting to watch as, in the recent past, the consumer (our target for all products) shopped the category in this fashion:  I  am either a Tide consumer (65-70% of the consumers) or I am an “anything else” consumer.  This meant that most quality products that were close to Tide lost out and became price focused brands because of how the consumer shopped.  Walmart has tried this several times in the past – and the consumer shopping behavior mentioned above meant that their products were in the “everything else” category and eventually had to compete on price.

    Now, consumer shopping habits may have changed (but I am not so sure in this case) as I think this is a mid-directed attempt by Walmart – regardless of the reasoning behind it.  If I was in charge of Walmart (or this portion), I would embrace the “everything else” and replace every other brand with my private brand – solving for all of the other needs and staying focused on my core competency – price.  That would make both a great negotiating position with P&G (they will want to protect Tide’s share and it will be an efficient play meaning more funds can be brought to bear) and they will make a very efficient play on the all other – removing senseless competition in the aisle and creating a destination brand based on price and consumer need.  Long term, this may weaken Tide’s position – but will create a position against all other retailers who still carry “everything else”.

    Regarding Dollar General's decision to increase employee pay not by giving raises but by offering more hours, one MNB user wrote:

    You and I had the same experience lately, driving through small towns and seeing so many Dollar General stores. In most of those towns, living costs are lower than in metro areas where Walmart operates, so getting to $9 an hour after 5 months’ employment would be a very competitive wage in those towns, I suspect.

    I think that's true.

    But one MNB user thought that more hours would not be enough for Dollar General employees:

    The employees will just try to get on with a store that pays more money like Walmart, Gap, IKEA, etc. I bet Dollar General management gave themselves raises and bonuses.

    I think that bet is a good one.

    Regarding all of the changes taking place in how people buy and consume entertainment, one MNB user wrote:
    I been following this for some time now and researching options.  I have some unique challenges since I live in a rural area where the only broadband is satellite and I am limited to 10 gig a month. Can't stream much HD with that, but I still am skeptical about the savings idea.
    While my satellite service certainly bundles a lot of stuff that I will never watch. If individual services, like HBO cost $14.99, and you start subscribing to 8 to 10 of your favorites, looks like the savings could get eaten up fairly quickly. You might eliminate the crap but eventually pay more for the few. Just saying!

    I think that's probably true. But I also think that where this will make a lot of difference to some people will be in making things available across all the devices they own.

    I also think all the competition may force some of the cable companies to adjust their near-monopolistic pricing structures, which could drive down prices overall.

    We can hope.
    KC's View: