Borrowing fame

Profitless to compete with Amazon?

Speculation about how Amazon will change Whole Foods is running rampant. I click on news stories only to find that experts are being quoted who have absolutely no real information about what Amazon plans to do. Why would Amazon tip their hand at this point anyway??

One thing is clear. The grocery business will be restructured. At least Krogers' CEO expects it will

Vox: The real reason Amazon buying Whole Foods terrifies the competition, 2017-Jun-20 by Matthew Yglesias

Competing with Amazon is terrifying for any incumbent business because the company’s executive team operates on a radical model whereby the company’s overall net income is nearly zero quarter after quarter.

That is by design, not because they can’t come up with any ways to make money. On the contrary, to the best of anyone’s knowledge many of Amazon’s specific lines of business — including, notably, Amazon Web Services — are perfectly profitable. But while Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook hire lawyers and accountants to amass vast stockpiles of cash legally held in overseas tax haven subsidiaries, Amazon simply chooses to barely accumulate any cash at all.

That’s an enormous problem for every grocery chain in America, which already operate on razor-thin margins. Nobody thinks Amazon bought Whole Foods in order to siphon off Whole Foods’ operating profits in order to subsidize something else. A Whole Foods under Amazon’s stewardship will almost certainly accept lower profit margins than it does as an independent chain — and that spells trouble for everyone else in the grocery business. 

... 

Of course the nightmare scenario for the supermarket industry is that acquiring Whole Foods does allow Amazon to fundamentally crack the grocery home-delivery game in a way that leads Kroger to go the way of Borders.

But the reason the takeover is such a disaster for the industry is that the financial implications are bleak even if Amazon doesn’t succeed in bringing incredible game-changing innovation to the sector. Introducing a player into the market that doesn’t care about profit margins is going to be devastating to competitors who have to.

They won’t necessarily be put out of business, but they will be forced to respond to lower prices and lower margins with lower prices and lower margins of their own — making the current round of dividend hikes extremely difficult to maintain. From the standpoint of an executive at a conventional business it must seem extraordinarily unfair. 

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Is there a movement I can join to ban election polling, or at least its reporting?

We won't know if a ban on reporting election polls will increase turnout until we try. 

Apophenia: Put an End to Reporting on Election Polls, 2016-Nov-10 by danah boyd

...there’s a more insidious problem with the polling data that is often unacknowledged. Everyone and their mother wants to collect data from the public. And the public is tired of being asked, which they perceive as being nagged. In swing states, registered voters were overwhelmed with calls from real pollsters, fake pollsters, political campaigns, fundraising groups, special interest groups, and their neighbors. We know that people often lie to pollsters (confirmation bias), but when people don’t trust information collection processes, normal respondent bias becomes downright deceptive. You cannot collect reasonable data when the public doesn’t believe in the data collection project And political pollsters have pretty much killed off their ability to do reasonable polling because they’ve undermined trust. It’s like what happens when you plant the same crop over and over again until the land can no longer sustain that crop.

Election polling is dead, and we need to accept that.


How to write a personal email that will get noticed, from the Boomerang App

I read many articles from mass email service providers about how to write more productive emails. Now I'm getting a fresh perspective from the GMail app called Boomerang. The application reminds its users if an email has not yet received a response, among other features, and is now available for Outlook as well. 

Boomerang decided to analyze the 40 million emails that used their application last year, and recommend...

  1. Keep the writing complexity down to 3rd grade level (use the Flesch Kincaid analyzer to measure)
  2. Include a couple of questions
  3. Write with gentle emotion (see below)
  4. 75 to 100 word-long emails do best
  5. Keep subject lines to 3 to 4 words (surprising, and counter to most ESP recommendations)
  6. Make your position clear because people are more likely to respond to opinions than information

Boomerang Blog: 7 Tips for Getting More Responses, 2016

Another significant factor in determining response rates is how positive (words like great, wonderful, delighted, pleased) or negative (words like bad, hate, furious, terrible) the words in the message are. Emails that were slightly to moderately positive OR slightly to moderately negative elicited 10-15% more responses than emails that were completely neutral.

Flattery works, but excessive flattery doesn’t. Response rates for positive emails peaked about 15% higher than neutral for emails with a slightly warm tone. After that, response rates declined as the amount of positive language exceeded what would look “normal” in an email.

Sentiment analyzers output a “sentiment score” that ranges from -1 (for piss and vinegar) to 1 (for saccharine), with 0 representing a completely neutral email. To give you some context, here’s what some positive emails look like:

  • Hey, I was thinking about you earlier. Do you want to get pizza? 0.0, true neutral. A little positivity would boost the response rate.
  • Hey, I’d definitely like to get together next week. Do you want to get pizza? 0.35 positive sentiment. Perfect! It’s easy to add positive sentiment to an email – this is all it takes.
  • Hey, it would be really great to see you and catch up. Do you want to get pizza?  Positive 0.55 sentiment. This will also work better than a neutral email, even if not quite as well as the version above.
  • Hey! It would be absolutely wonderful to see you! Do you want to get pizza? I’m so excited! Over 0.9 positive sentiment. This email would be about as effective as a neutral email – not bad, really, but not optimal.

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"Problems are inevitable and solvable" says optimist Chris Anderson

Just getting ready for today's problems!

Ozy: The Man Behind TED Talks on Persuasive Speaking, 2016-Apr-19 by Neil Parmar

Optimism is the stance that problems are there to be solved, that problems are actually solvable and that if you want an operating manual for life, you carve two tablets: One of them says problems are inevitable, and the other says problems are solvable. It’s kind of a great way to stay calm and keep moving.

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Why marketers tell poor stories

Not all marketers tell poor stories, but most of the "storified" content I see is really lame. Martin Weigel hits the nail on the head: until we confront conflict, our stories will lie flat. 

Canalside View: The world beyond 'storytelling', 2016-Apr-24 by Marin Weigel 

Murder, oppression, sexism, vanity, alienation, jealousy, rape, abandonment, war, betrayal, envy, loneliness, megalomania, corruption, exploitation, avarice, addiction, revenge, depression, bereavement, seduction, racism, loss of innocence, lust, heartbreak, madness, incest, imprisonment, loss, greed, death, hunger, rivalry, injustice, isolation, desire… this and more is the stuff of great, enduring, insightful stories. Stories that succeed in shining a light into the crevices of the human soul. Stories that illuminate our place in the state things.

Yet anyone who has had to endure the seemingly endless workshop/meeting/brainstorm in which we seek to “align” on a brand’s ‘personality’ attributes and heard descriptors such as ‘opinionated’ or ‘daring” rejected for being “too negative” knows – or has got to face up to the truth – that no marketing department on the planet has any appetite for any of this stuff. The really interesting stuff. The truly human stuff. The stuff of stories.

Conflict? Pfft. Mild inconvenience at best is the stuff of most of adland’s so-called storytelling.... 

The lack of true conflict reveals advertising’s true intentions. It has little interest in truly exploring the human condition. And here perhaps, is advertising’s greatest departure from the agenda of the storyteller.

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Remembering Umberto Eco: stories are better than ideas

Having read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and Foucault's Pendulum (seriously), I was trying to decide whether to tackle another one of his books. If you want to understand why he's important, I suggest this lovely long read by Lila Azam Zanganeh in The Paris Review (2008). 

Favorite quote by Umberto Eco:  

An idea you have might not be original—Aristotle will always have thought of it before you. But by creating a novel out of that idea you can make it original. Men love women. It’s not an original idea. But if you somehow write a terrific novel about it, then by a literary sleight of hand it becomes absolutely original. I simply believe that at the end of the day a story is always richer—it is an idea reshaped into an event, informed by a character, and sparked by crafted language. So naturally, when an idea is transformed into a living organism, it turns into something completely different and, likely, far more expressive.

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Finding the values we share with our customers

In building our brands we don't have to rely solely on our own brand. Customers were originally attracted to our business by certain values, and if we remember those values, we can tap into bigger issues, or even bigger brands, to remind them why they love us. Here's an example. IStock_000020000438XSmall

Lightspeed: 4 Steps to Join the Shop Local Movement and Get Exposure in Your Community, 2015-Sep-22 by Zoe Sadler of Snap Retail

Use hashtags like #ShopLocal or #SupportLocal with your messages.

Tag your fellow businesses in posts to promote the sense of community. Encourage your neighbors to host an event with you (Sidewalk Sale? Meet and Greet? Girls Night Out?) As you promote on social media, mention their stores to start the party early.

Lastly, incorporate Shop Local messaging in your email campaigns. Just as you would thank customers in store, thank them virtually too!

The “Shop Local Movement” is based on small businesses reaching out to their communities, educating their neighbors and talking to their customers about the benefits of shopping at locally-owned stores rather than supporting big box stores.

Remember, your store creates a distinctive shopping experience that consumers will not find at a big box. Are you maximizing this opportunity? Now that you’re equipped with these 4 tips, go out and spread the Shop Local love today!