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    Published on: April 8, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    Here's a statistic from a new Fast Company story that I found to be a little amazing: "As of last year, 22 states require that schools teach sex ed. Only 19 states require that, if provided, that education must be medically accurate."


    The magazine reports this statistic within the context of a story about a company called JuiceBox that has created a sex education application designed to deliver "sexual health information via mobile phones, where teenagers communicate most often." There are two main components to the app: One feature, "which users can access by swiping left, is called 'Snoop' and allows teenagers to ask questions of sexual health professionals, who are each members of the Association of Sexuality Educators, Counsellors, and Therapists." The second main feature is called "Spill," and it allows "users to share their own stories about relationships and sex."

    Eventually, the app will make money with some combination of advertising and advanced features. But what really is interesting about the app is how it is designed to approach a subject that can be intimidating and fraught with misinformation by communicating with young people in terms they'll get. The reasoning is that "by making every effort to function less like a pamphlet about STDs and birth control" and more like a fun product such as Snapchat, JuiceBox can actually deliver a lot more relevant and useful information than other vehicles.

    "Our app is entertaining and fun first," says founder Brianna Rader says, "education second." But as the story makes clear, "putting education second could actually be the best way to put education first."

    For me, it is this last insight that is the Eye-Opener. (Though, to be fair, there is a lot in this story that opened my eyes. I must say that I'm happy to know that kids who are not having their questions answered have a place to go; I suppose I'd be disappointed if my kids did not view me as open enough to ask questions of, but mostly in myself, not them.)

    If business is to communicate effectively with people - especially young people - it is supremely important to present information in a way that is compelling, accurate and relevant ... but perhaps most importantly, entertaining.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2016

    Business Insider has a story about how Walmart has managed to upset thousand of customers at its West Plains, Missouri, store - enough so that more than 1,500 have committed on Facebook to attend a consciousness-raising rally, with more than 3,000 saying they may attend.

    At issue is the firing of a cashier named Frank Swanson, a brain damaged employee who was given his walking papers just 20 days short of his 20-year anniversary with the company. Walmart said he was terminated for violating a pricing policy - namely, matching a competitor's price for a jog of tea by taking 50 cents off Walmart's price, but doing so on the word of the shopper without seeing proof of the competitor's price.

    However, the outraged customers say they believe that Swanson was fired for hugging customers. According to the story, "Swanson's bosses cited his hugs as inappropriate," but say "that's not why he was fired."

    Walmart customer Jenn Harper tells Business Insider,"I feel like one of our own has been hurt. He's a sign of hope, he made your day better. If you were having a bad day at Walmart, he would light up your whole trip."
    KC's View:
    There may be some history here that Walmart isn't talking about, but at least on the face of it, this just doesn't look good. Not only is Swanson apparently a much-loved figure among customers, but he also was doing something that Walmart ought to want him to do - keeping the company's price image intact. Unless there is a really compelling reason not to do so, Walmart has to figure out a way to walk this back, eat a little crow, and give Swanson a hug.

    Published on: April 8, 2016

    Interesting story from NBC News about how in the UK the Royal Society for Public Health is proposing that food packaging, in addition to having nutrition labels, ought to have exercise labels, informing consumers how much effort it will take to work off what they're eating.

    "People find symbols much easier to understand than numerical information, and activity equivalent calorie labels are easy to understand, particularly for lower socioeconomic groups who often lack nutritional knowledge and health literacy," wrote Shirley Cramer, CEO at the society, in a commentary in the British Medical Journal.

    Cramer tells NBC News that "the public is used to being told to avoid particular drinks and to cut down on specific foods. By contrast, activity labeling encourages people to start something, rather than calling for them to stop."

    It is not an approach that is universally endorsed.

    Susan Roberts, a senior scientist at Tufts University, calls it a "ridiculous idea," adding, "This kind of thing should be squashed. The problem with weight control is that exercise isn't always the solution. Exercise makes people hungry, so it makes people eat more. The focus should be on eating healthier foods that keep you full longer."
    KC's View:
    There is a point at which all this becomes silly ... though there is a reasonable argument that a standard could be established that companies could use voluntarily for supplementary information that would be available via smart phone.

    It is interesting, though. There are a lot of companies that have argued that the nation's obesity issues are caused not by what we eat, but by how little we exercise. Theoretically, these folks should be in favor of this approach.

    Published on: April 8, 2016

    Advertising Age has a terrific story about Dan Farrell, senior VP-sales and marketing with the St. Louis Cardinals, whose role is to make sure the off-the-field product - meaning the customer experience at Busch Stadium - is excellent, regardless of how well the Cards are playing (which is usually pretty well).

    "It's no secret that despite operating within the unpredictable nature of baseball, the Cardinals boast some very winning stats," the story says. "They're the second most attended home team in baseball and saw 3.5 million attendees walk through the front gates over the last two seasons. While credit is certainly due to the players on the field, Farrell and his marketing sluggers have also created a must-do experience that keeps fans rooting for the home team inside the stadium."

    Farrell tells Ad Age that the Cardinals "operate Busch Stadium based on the premise that attending a baseball game in our ballpark ranks as one of the premier attractions and serves as a genuine destination for millions of fans throughout the Midwest." While the team has a large and dedicated fan base that attends as many as 10 games a year, there also are a million people who go to a game there for the first time each year, "meaning that there are plenty of first-timers to impress with 'the highest quality guest experience possible'."

    The focus is on "cleanliness, food and beverage quality and service, safe and secure atmosphere, helpful and outgoing usher staff, entertaining scoreboard and fan engagement initiatives for pre-game and between innings, efficient ease of access, etc." The team makes sure that it is constantly measuring its effectiveness, and Farrell says, "If we have a specialty, I believe it comes from a dedicated and very tenured staff that strive for superior customer service with a keen attention to detail."
    KC's View:
    And never resting on its laurels.

    As I've mentioned here before, I've been to all but two of the major league ballparks in the US, and I've always enjoyed my visits to both the old and new Busch stadiums. (It helps that I've usually been in the company of the incomparable Joanie Taylor.)

    Both major league and minor league ballparks have gotten much better over the years because they understand the strong competition for the entertainment dollar - it isn't enough just to put a product on the field, just like it isn;t enough for a store to just have product on the shelves. The environment has to be differentiated and compelling, and reflect a unique brand identity. Otherwise, what's the point?

    Published on: April 8, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    There are many things that I love about this job. Among them ... I love it when a store finds a unique way to differentiate itself. And I love it when a store displays a sense of humor ... especially when it is a little subversive.

    So let's give New Seasons Market some applause for going two-for-two ... offering a bicycle valet service at one of its Portland stores, and then finding a way to be clever about it in this YouTube video. And it did so on April 1 ... which I really admire.


    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2016

    TechCrunch reports that Thrive Market, the online organic-and-healthy food store, has launched a dedicated mobile application for Android users, allowing them to place orders from their cell phones.

    The story notes that "Thrive Market’s business has been booming this year. To give you an idea of its traction, the company now claims to have more than 200,000 paying members. It also hit a $100 million run-rate in early February, after just 14 months into its business, and it reached nearly $10 million in sales last month .... And it has two fulfillment centers — one in Commerce, California and another in Batesville, Indiana. This allows it to guarantee two-day shipping to more than 85 percent of the U.S., the company claims."

    • The Baltimore Business Journal reports that Instacart launched in the city this week, delivering products from Whole Foods, BJ's Wholesale Club, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Price Rite, and Petco.

    The move follows by several months Amazon's expansion of its Prime Now delivery service to Baltimore.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2016

    • Whole Foods has set the date for the opening of its first "365" store - May 25, in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.

    It will follow that opening with new stores in Bellevue, Washington, and Portland, Oregon this year, and then another 10 next year.

    The company has said that the smaller format will have lower prices and a more edited selection than traditional Whole Foods stores, along with features designed to appeal to millennials.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2016

    Reuters reports that Brian Monahan, who has been running the marketing side of Walmart's online business, is leaving the retailer to return to NewCo, a startup he helped launch in 2012. The story says that "NewCo holds its conferences inside the offices of start-ups in various cities around the world, attempting to offer something different than traditional business seminars and introduce up-and-coming companies to investors and entrepreneurs."

    • The Seattle Times reports that Amazon has upgraded the titles of two executives who have running its biggest businesses.

    Jeff Wilke, senior vice president of Amazon’s consumer business (which includes its enormous online store and all that’s associated with it), will now be CEO of Worldwide Consumer.

    Andy Jassy, senior vice president of the tech giant’s cloud computing unit, is now officially CEO of Amazon Web Services.

    The company says that this is not a reorganization but rather "a recognition of the roles they’ve played for a while."

    Jeff Bezos remains CEO of the entire company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2016

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 8, 2016

    I just finished one of the best business books I've ever read - "Sick in the Head," by Judd Apatow.

    To be honest, I don't think you'll find "Sick in the Head" in the business section of any bricks-and-mortar or online bookstore. Apatow is a the prodigious writer/director/producer who has given us such comedy films as Trainwreck, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People; lately he has gone back to his roots as a stand-up comedian, finding new energies from audiences on Tv and in comedy clubs.

    But that does not mean he doesn't have plenty of business lessons to teach.

    "Sick in the Head" is a collection of interviews that Apatow has done with a wide range of funny people, including Mel Brooks, Amy Schumer, Mike Nichols, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Albert Brooks, Garry Shandling, Steve Allen, Larry Gelbart and James L. Brooks. He started doing the interviews back when he was a teenager with a comedy obsession; he got himself a column in his high school newspaper and used the credential to get to meet comedians he idolized. As he has gotten older and carved out his own comedy turf, Apatow has continued to do the interviews, sometimes doubling back to talk with people he first interviewed 25 years ago.

    (By the way, I totally relate to this. Essentially I used the same kind of scam to meet people like Anthony Quayle, and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara when I was a kid, and have used it as an adult to meet Robert B. Parker, Ace Atkins, and Reed Farrel Coleman.)

    While most people don't think of comedy as business, one of the things that "Sick in the Head" makes clear is the degree to which it is a business. Jerry Seinfeld, for example, makes it clear how important it is to write every day, to treat comedy like a job; you can't just wait for inspiration to strike, though, as Steve Allen says, you have to be loose enough to go with the moment when it presents itself.

    "Sick in the Head" is very funny, but mostly I was impressed by the degree of craft that goes into the art of making people laugh. These people care deeply about their art, and understand both how ephemeral their careers can be and how lucky they have been to enjoy varying degrees of success and longevity.

    I think there is something there for the average business person to absorb, especially those in consumer-facing businesses. After all, "audience" is another word for "customers," and it is up to such businesses to figure out how to touch these consumers in ways that are differentiated and sometimes even profound.

    I heartily recommend "Sick in the Head." It made me laugh, I learned a lot, and my respect for these comedians is even greater than when I started.

    To be honest, I did not really really know the work of mystery novelist Randy Wayne White until I recently read "Deep Blue," his 23rd novel featuring Doc Ford, a Florida-based intelligence agent/assassin.

    Twenty-third novel? How did I miss this series? (I'm an enormous fab of John D. Macdonald and Bob Morris, who have worked similar terrain and marinas. And I've actually eaten and gone drinking at Doc Ford's saloon on Sanibel Island in Florida. How this happened beats the hell out me.)

    "Deep Blue" is a breezy piece of genre literature, which to my mind is high praise, and it makes me want to go back to the beginning to find out more about the eccentric cast of characters that populates its pages. This one has all the elements of an old fashioned revenge thriller, with modern touches of cyber warfare and surveillance drones thrown in for good measure. Good stuff ... and I'm glad to have made Doc Ford's acquaintance.

    Had a lovely beer this week ... Amnesia Red Ale, from Portland, Oregon....which was fresh and wonderful.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: