What a Urinal Can Teach Us About Statistics

We lead with a photo of a urinal valve to demonstrate one of 2 points that will be flushed out* of obscurity for your edification:
1) As a marketer, any sort of statistic seems to be fair game to get a point across – even if it makes no sense.  It just has to sound impressive.  So go forth and make your claims.

And the second point:
2) As a consumer, do as Ben Franklin said: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.”  Particularly when statistics are involved.  So do not believe the claims made by marketers.  At least not at face value.

Urinal

Example 1: The EcoVantage Urinal valve makes the following claim: “Saves 88% more water than a one-gallon urinal”.  On the surface this sounds impressive (it must use very little water!), but on further thought it makes no sense:
– If it ‘saves 88% more’, then what does a one-gallon urinal save?  If a one-gallon urinal uses any water whatsoever it isn’t saving anything.  Unless it’s saving relative to a two-gallon urinal, if such a thing still exists.

Cowboy Urinal
What they actually mean (according to the website) is it uses 88% less water than a one-gallon urinal.  In any case the claim is pure gibberish.  On the other hand, it gave me something to read at a key time.

Example 2: A local security company claims: “Homes with a security system are 15 times less likely to be burglarized.”  I have taken a lot of math, and I don’t know how to calculate ‘x times less likely’.

What is this fixation with silly statistics?  Perhaps this is what happens when copywriters are given numbers to work with.

Other examples focus on a big number to make a point.

Example 3: Several years ago Colgate UK made the claim that “80% of dentists recommend Colgate”, implying that the other 20% recommended all other brands combined.  In reality, dentists were able to recommend multiple brands (not implying preference), rendering this impressive-sounding statistic meaningless.

ThisJuicyWater

Example 4: Innocent water company made a product, This Water, that had its advertising banned.  The reason? They claimed it was “90% fruit juice and water” and neglected to mention the up to 42g of added sugar. Oops.  The brand has since relaunched as Juicy Water.  They dropped the 90% claim but still work to get #s in their product descriptions.

Booth logo

You may object to the practice of statistical sophistry, but it seems to work.  A 2008 study conducted by the Booth School at the University of Chicago (does this surprise you?) observed that consumers are swayed by specifications.  In other words, size, so to speak, does matter in purchase decisions.

This is why (per the study):
– The % increased size of a TV is often expressed in terms of area, not diagonal – – because the multiple is higher
– A study of Chinese shoppers showed they would pay 5x more for a 5 megapixel camera vs a much cheaper 1 megapixel camera, even though they objectively judged the quality of the photos to be identical.
– Other examples use sesame oil, towels, potato chips and cellphones and generally demonstrate that specifications influence choice even if personal experience is available and the specifications don’t provide additional information.

Apparently, consumers love numbers and are generally susceptible to being influenced by them.

Sell Anything Wrighter

A 40-year old classic, I Can Sell You Anything, by Carl Wrighter, does a great job explaining how this and other advertising sleight of hand works.  Yes, marketers take advantage of how consumers are wired.  This is not news and is not changing any time soon.

There’s a lot more to cover on this topic, so expect a follow-up installment soon.

(*yes, we know)

Specification Seeking: How Product Specifications Influence Consumer Preference”: Christopher K. Hsee,  Yang Yang, Yangjie Gu, Jie Chen, October 21, 2008

SAP spells ‘Trust Me’: S-I-M-P-L-E

Say ‘SAP implementation’ to someone who has been through one and you are likely to get a look conveying some combination of pain, pity, terror and dread (and perhaps schadenfreude).

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) giant SAP recently announced an approach and suite of applications called ‘Simple’.

For a company with a reputation of being anything BUT simple, this casting-against-type positioning could be tricky business; successful transformation will not be immediate.

And one look at their recent 2-page WSJ ad indicates they may not yet be fully embracing this ‘Simple’ concept.

SAP

5 years ago Domino’s acknowledged that it didn’t taste as good as it should, and used this acknowledgment to justify a reformulation that was the focal point for a new campaign.  By many accounts, this bold ‘we sucked, now we’re better’ approach has yielded good results.

DominosCombined

But ERP software is not pizza – – with pizza, a $10 or $15 mistake and you’re on to someone else.

Do a search for ‘SAP Implementation’ and it’s obvious that the stakes are quite a bit higher – – not only $100 million or more, but years of organizational churn and resources, as well as lost opportunity if/when things go awry.  You can’t say ‘we know we’ve messed these up in the past, but going forward we’ll be awesome – trust us’.

A few examples here, some others below:
Avon Products halts an SAP implementation, leading to write-down of $100-125 million
– Waste Management and SAP in $100 million lawsuit
– HP claims $160 million damage from flawed SAP implementation
Select Comfort abandons SAP ERP implementation
SAP issues at Hershey prevents $100 million in shipments for key holiday
While client’s management often has a hand in screwing things up, at the end of the day, it’s SAP’s name in the headline.

SAP has chosen to own ‘Simple’ as its defining principle going forward.  In the ERP space, this is a compelling proposition. And some industry experts are cautiously optimistic.

But based on SAP’s history, it’s a tall order – – and prospective clients will certainly have a ’show me’ mindset.

Requiring 2 full pages to explain Simple is not a great start.

A Wilde Affair – 5 Lessons for Marketers

By now you’ve seen Chevy Sales Executive Rikk Wilde’s cringe-worthy presentation of the World Series MVP Award to the SF Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, as reporter Erin Andrews and Commissioner Bud Selig both looked to be trying to flag down a cab.

Wilde

Not surprisingly, this clip immediately lit up the Twitterverse and generated a remarkable amount of media attention (and references to Chris Farley, with whom Mr. Wilde was frequently compared).

Farley2

But perhaps unexpectedly, rather than distancing itself, GM took advantage of it with a wink and a smile, embracing Mr. Wilde’s performance and his instant classic utterance “Technology and Stuff”. Within a few days of the event, there was a full-page ad in USA Today playfully referencing the World Series MVP ceremony.

T&S-tweet

Chevy Tweet

T&S - USAToday

USA Today Full-page ad

So of course, The Armchair MBA has decided to spoil the moment by trying to extract object lessons from this episode.

And there are clear lessons from L’affaire Wilde that today’s marketers need to keep in mind:

1) Expect the unexpected.   Speed is key, so be ready.

2) Serendipity can be your friend – be open to improvisation to marketing plans.

  • Even the best plans need to be able to stretch sometimes to take advantage of marketplace events
  • The Chevy Colorado pickup had just (Oct. 3) been named in a large airbag recall, which was limiting sales
  • The publicity surrounding Mr. Wilde’s presentation drew new attention to the Colorado, and the recall went from front burner to a secondary issue, at least temporarily

3) Consumers like authenticity and the little guy.   And they hate to be manipulated.

  • Wilde’s memorable performance, while not pretty, was also clearly not slick corporate-speak, and therefore broke through the clutter, arguably much better than if a senior executive, or GM CEO Mary Barra herself, had presented the award
  • We will use ‘little guy’ in the figurative sense. Mr. Wilde, by virtue of his stammering, sweating performance, reminded us that we’re all human, and if faced with a global TV audience, might be a little nervous ourselves.  So in an unplanned way, this helped connect the audience to the product.
  • This was 100% authentic. If it turned out that it was at all scripted, it would have backfired on GM in a huge way
  • (As a side point, apparently Mr. Wilde was selected to give the award mostly because he was a long-time Royals fan and his management thought it would be a thrill for him — even though he was obviously not a media trained spokesperson.  Good for you, Chevy!)

4) Consumers like humility and a sense of humor

  • “Technology and Stuff” was a perfect way for GM to gently poke fun at itself
  • In contrast, denying or attempting to spin would have been futile

5) Branding is very powerful for people too

  • Unless you, as new parents, know with 100% certainty that your precious child is headed for a career path involving heavy metal bands or the adult film industry, for heaven’s sake, do NOT name him Rikk Wilde.

What an Epic Fail Integrated Marketing Campaign Looks Like

Monday’s Wall Street Journal delivered a rather amazing example of how NOT to promote a product, along with the news and pithy commentary.

Most marketers know that messaging can be maximized if deployed consistently across vehicles.  This is apparently more difficult than it seems.

Page A7 of today’s WSJ featured a full-page color ad for €5.99/$7.99 dress shirts, from a manufacturer somewhat oddly named ‘Mosegi & Haberdashery’.

Mosegi Ad 2

It is important to keep in mind that a full-page color ad carries a price tag of $386,865.98.

A cursory scan of the ad shows a few obvious errors:

  • CEO Earl Mosegi’s promise includes: “…will not lose their shirt off there back” (sic)
  • Featured product claim: “Women shirt now available”
  • Key contact called “Sale Representative”

Mosegi_Quote

It gets worse.

  • Ad contains a QR code that is inactive
  • Ad implies a Facebook page (but no URL) which if you find it, not only doesn’t reference the ad, it features products not remotely like a dress shirt. Seems to be targeted at kids.  And it hasn’t been updated since July 2014.

Mosegi_Cartoon

But wait – there’s more!

  • The website itself is remarkably incomplete but also quite entertaining.
    • Of 8 main tabs, only 3 have content. There is no contact info.
    • The all-important ‘ORDER’ page contains just a static image – – there is no ordering mechanism for all the consumers who have seen the ad to take action online!
    • The ad shows a minimum order of 12 shirts; the website lists minimum orders of both 100 and 300 shirts. Clearly this is a wholesaler trying a direct consumer appeal.
    • Most remarkably, an unfortunate keystroke error removed a key letter from the word ‘shirt’, resulting in an entirely new word, which shows up on the home page as well as every single header.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 5.07.52 PM

This brings up a few key questions:

  • Is the entity who placed this ad a) the playboy son of a Turkish billionaire setting up shop online? b) an unemployed Russian hacker? c) a Nigerian scammer? or d) a third-grader?
  • How does an ad that has a bargain-basement pitch, contains so many obvious errors and leads to an online dead-end, get approved by the Journal’s advertising department? (guess: maybe $387k has something to do with it?)
  • Is this our official notification that QR codes are truly dead?
  • Does a re-integrator exist?

Marvin

This is a campaign that seems to have been thrown together with not much thought other than a price point and a photo.

These people really need to get their shirt together.

One thing this ad is excellent at is demonstrating, by omission, some obvious basics of an integrated campaign:

  • Start with a compelling message/offer (arguably they are ok here)
  • Infuse every element of your marketing mix with the same consistent message, offer and look
  • Make it easy for customers to take action
  • For crying out loud, have someone who knows the language check for accuracy.   (The Armchair MBA is particularly pained at this last point, as its companion business, Peregrine Advisors, specializes in helping clients avoid online gaffes).

The Armchair MBA works hard to scour the globe for stories worthy of your attention. This one fell into our lap.

As the saying goes, better lucky than good.

Unexpected game-changers for our future food supply

[NOTE:  If you are getting this post in an email, click on www.thearmchairmba.com to see the accompanying graphics.]

I recently participated in an IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) workshop on the long-term future of our food supply.  These are the same food scientists that midwived the difficult births of Count Chocula, Betty Crocker and Chef Boyardee, but they have also developed fortified, functional and better for you foods and beverages. And they play a critical role in defining our food future. (I previously wrote about IFT’s FutureFood2050 initiative).

chipotle2

Supply Chain as rendered by Chipotle

You may think: How complicated can food be? Haven’t we been farming, shipping, making and eating for quite a while now?

It turns out that managing the food supply to meet future consumer, economic and regulatory needs is about as simple as airline scheduling logistics.

ComplexFoodSystem

Supply Chain – Actual

And as the workshop revealed, it will only get more complicated going forward.  Why?

First, consumer demands continue to increase: lower cost, variety, customization, easier/faster shopping, nutrition, natural, sustainable…and of course great tasting. Not all simultaneously compatible.

Second, farmers, manufacturers and distributors are pressured to meet these needs and still make a profit.

Finally, innovations, often seemingly not food-related, will play a critical role as the food industry evolves.

This future could be very interesting.

Consider these trends /technologies that might impact the future of food, all of which are happening now:

- Farm drones/robots/blimps – – to monitor crop conditions continuously, greatly increasing farming efficiencydrone-corn720x540

- Resource-sharing – – rather than time-sharing a car, how about meat-sharing a cow?   More accurately matching supply to demand.

CowShare

- Crowdsourcing product design - – leading to higher success rate of new products

CrowdSourceFood

- Versatile manufacturing – – economical short production runs, allowing more customization

- Urban farming – – new technologies enable repurposing declining urban areas (Detroit-like)

VerticalFarming

- Automated delivery – – driverless delivery to homes (drones, copters) – taking cost and time out of supply chains

- Rise of B Corporations – – (“a new type of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.”) Transparency in social benefit, an additional differentiator.

B-Corp

- Shorter IP protection – – forcing faster innovation and creating increased competition

- Remote smell – – transmitting tastes/smells through the internet, making product development quicker and more successful. (Were this previously available, we may have been able to avoid Brussels sprouts.)

o-phone-smell-text-message-designboom03-300x200

oPhone

- Genetic consumer cohorts – – low-cost genetic typing enables segmenting consumers by health-driven factors like allergies, facilitating meeting needs of key segments.

DNA

- Expanded definition of acceptable food – – e.g. ground insects as source for cheap, high efficiency protein, creating an affordable ingredient for billions, and one heck of a marketing challenge for some.

Jiminy

What does all this mean?
Well, we don’t know yet.  That’s why they call it the future.

One set of outcomes could be:

  • Greater ability for consumers to quickly get foods customized to their wants/needs
  • More tools for farmers, manufacturers, retailers and distributors to drive down costs

A parallel set of outcomes could also be:

  • Benefits limited to those who can afford customization and speed (and the tools that enable them)
  • A more commoditized supply chain complementing the customized offerings, with lower cost, slower delivery and less choice – – for those who cannot afford (or just do not value) the more tech-enabled offerings

There would likely be huge collateral impacts, like increased complexity in regulation, labeling and distribution; new retailing models, etc.

Like it or not, food science and technology professionals will need to be prepared to meet these potential future challenges.

The rate of change in the food industry is accelerating.  I’m all for it, as long as there’s still bacon.

…and Botswana makes it 100 Countries!

In a shameless act of self-promotion, this announces that as of today, The Armchair MBA has now reached 100 countries served!    A sort of crazy milestone considering its quite humble and uninformed beginnings, some 70 posts and 2 1/2 years ago.

100 Countries

 

But beyond cocktail party braggadocio, what does this say about the state of blogging?  Or, who cares?

First, some info.
Below is a map of where my readers have come from. Darker colors indicate more readers.
– Clearly a bias toward English-speaking countries but plenty from elsewhere.
– While the US is by far the strongest reader source, average daily readership comprises about 5 or 6 countries, which shift daily.
– Notable in their presence:  China (a single rogue reader!), Botswana (which got me over the 100 hump today) and Papua New Guinea (only because I can’t not think about the combination of loincloths and laptops).
– Totally expected absences:  Cuba, Russian satellites, Iran, N. Korea, and most of Africa.  Is there media repression?  Of course.

While I have a strong base of followers (thank you!), most readership is not subscribed and comes from 2 sources:  LinkedIn (on one page or another) and online search results.  The latter group accounts for the majority of non-English country visitors.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 3.14.30 PM

 Lessons learned?
– The global pull of The Armchair MBA has been surprising.  Part of the reason is that topics often have global relevance; one more support point for the theory that borders are increasingly irrelevant as it relates to business news/learning/sharing.
Posts have long tails – – there is a bump in initial readership but even the oldest posts get recurring views.  The internet is a great accumulator.   Full disclosure:  I recently experimented by taking a SEO approach and including all African nations in text form — it has resulted in some visits from Africa, but to the point below, it is slow.  But it is possible to proactively solicit traffic.
Propagation is steady but slow – – but even if initial readership is modest, much value is still retained as a post transitions from ‘news’ to ‘reference’TAMBA-credential
Having a blog like this pays nothing, but it does have its benefits:
Provides an outlet for my voice and is encouragement to continue to explore, think and opine
– Occasionally merits a media credential, enabling privileged access to trade shows/seminars and continued learning for myself and for my clients
Solicits feedback and additional points of view, often from some surprising sources
– And, every once in a blue moon, provides validation in the form of a ‘Like’.  Sort of like Facebook, only with much more work (including checking my sources).

Thanks for reading.  And thank you, Botswana.

 

We Tested it On You, So It’s Probably OK for Your Pet

I had the pleasure of attending a brand new trade show – Petfood 2.0 - in Chicago recently.

Petfood2.0logo

Not surprisingly, this show is still getting its furry legs under it – – a very manageable group of 35 disparate exhibitors made for a quick and interesting, if not yet cohesive, experience.

Overall, though, a larger theme presented itself:
Following thousands of years of dogs serving man, the tables have turned.
Man now serves dog.

Exhibit 1:  Hemp for Pets.

Now available from our friends at HempMeds, is a line of products made from hemp to benefit your pets.  aNew™ Pet Nutrition‘s products provide essential fatty acids (EFA – – Omega-3 and -6) and are made from a blend of hemp seed oil and raw hemp stalk oil (which is rich in cannabidiol – CBD).  EFAs, as we know, are highly beneficial – – just don’t ask the industry to agree on what the top benefits are.

pet_oil250

This innovation in pet health could not have been possible without the committed testing of hemp products by millions of Americans in the 1960s and 1970s.  So while the outcome of all that testing is up for discussion, your cat or dog is possibly benefiting now from what you did in college then.

OK, that’s not accurate.

While hemp is illegal to grow in the US, it is perfectly legal to import any part of the hemp plant in all 50 states.
And while the prospect of Fifi or Rover lying on his or her back contemplating the ceiling tiles for hours on end and giggling is intriguing, these products contain virtually no THC – the active ingredient that makes marijuana psychoactive.

Although it would be interesting to see if Nigel would behave any differently with the munchies.  Doubtful.

Hempmeds

Exhibit 2:   Functional ingredients for pets – – it worked on Man, so it’s probably safe for Rover.

We long ago realized that we could do better than feeding our pets Ol’ Roy (WalMart).  Thus emerged added value feed (e.g. Iams, Eukanuba, Science Diet, etc), offering different formulas for large breeds, older pets, etc. as well as some medical needs.

Meanwhile, human foods and beverages have increasingly been stuffed with a dizzying array of functional ingredients, many of which have no empirical basis in efficacy.  But we humans have shown that we’re willing to buy them anyway.  What did Charles Revson say about hope?

Based on this massively-scaled test market on mankind, it apparently has been deemed that animal-kind is now ready to safely ingest all sorts of functional ingredients that may or may not actually ever benefit them.

Petfood2.0

Incorporating things like ancient grains, fiber, medium-chain triglycerides, probiotics and ionic trace minerals, your pet can now get benefits heretofore only considered for the human species (notwithstanding hairballs and a healthy coat).

One company, PetNaturals of Vermont, offers products to address the following areas:
– Agility, Antioxidant, Bladder Support, Breath, Calming, Daily Multivitamin, Digestion, Hip & Joint, Immunity, Slim-down, Urine pH balance (really – to avoid yellow spots on the lawn), Periodontal health, Fecal function, and Skin/Coat health.

You dog and cat owners will probably recognize some of the benefit areas in the products below.

photo 1

We live in a world where the things we eat promise magical powers to fix whatever marketers insist needs fixing.  And regardless of the effectiveness, manufacturers have made a tidy business catering to hope.

Now, due to the significant sacrifice, expense and effort expended in testing on humans, our pets will soon be able to have their diets enhanced, and your wallet may end up just a little lighter.  So when your pet looks up as if to say ‘Thanks, Man’, now you know what’s going through that little brain.

I have no doubt that many of these ingredients can provide real benefits to some of the 150 million dogs and cats out there.

Except I’m not believing anything that promises intelligence to an Irish Setter.

Captex

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