• "Beacon technology": everyone's own "personal shopper"

    from YouTube

    Developed at the end of last year, iBeacon technology was recently featured at Apple's 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). iBeacon technology is installed at strategic spots within stores, and interacts with customers' phones as they walk by. Already, this technology has become a hit not only with retailers, but also with sports teams and an airline. Here are just a few of the companies using "beacon technology" to enhance or personalize the shopping experiences of their customers:

    The iBeacon technology requires that Bluetooth and location services are turned on in the phone. With that connection, it can:

    • Welcome a customer as they enter a store.
    • Allow a customer to swipe a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" on various merchandise, to establish a profile.
    • Offer an in-store coupon or special deal--when the customer is right there, in front of the item for sale.
    • according to research by inMarket -- can cause 19 times as many customer interactions with advertised products, as well as increase sales.

    Who knows what other uses will be found for this personalized experience?

    Source: "Shopping Is Now An Immersive Media Experience," by the SayDaily editors, June 27, 2014.

    For Discussion:

    • What are the pros and cons of an app like iBeacon?
    • What would cause you to use or to avoid using iBeacon?
    • According to the video, how are Major League Baseball teams planning to use iBeacon technology?
  • Resume don'ts

    Almost every season is job-hunting season, and resume-writing is an important soft skill to have a a business student. The Business Insider suggests omitting the following items from your resume, to avoid a quick rejection:

    • Do not include a job "objective" if you are applying for a specific job.
    • Remove work experiences that are irrelevant to what you are applying for.
    • Do not include personal data such as marital status, weight or religion.
    • Do not list your hobbies.
    • Do not list your age, or give other clues as to your age*.
    • Do not include references, especially if you have not recently contacted them.
    • Write in statements or bullet points that do not use pronouns (e.g."I").
    • Do not write "Phone:" or "Email"…just include the information--the format will communicate what it is.
    • Do not use a "cutesy" or otherwise unprofessional email address (you might want to change this when communicating with your professors at school, as well).
    • Leave your current employment contact information out.
    • Do not include your salary request.
    • Write in a neutral font such as ARIAL instead of Comic Sans Serif (this one) or even Times New Roman
    • Do not describe yourself with "buzzwords" such as "go-getter" or "people-pleaser"…and leave out other jargon as well. Just lists was you have specifically accomplished or achieved. 
    • Leave out your GPA if you have been out of school for more than 3 years.
    • Don't include a photo, unless you are applying to be on-camera. 

    Some of these suggestions help your employer avoid legal problems, while others reflect current practice or good business sense. 

    Source:  "15 Things You Should Never Put On Your Resume," by Jacqueline Smith and Vivian Quiang, Business Insider, June 25, 2014.

    For Discussion:

    • What fairly obscure age giveaway* was listed in the article? What other age-giveaways can you think of?
    • Which of the above pieces of advice resonate as true with you? Which seem as though they might not be helpful?

  • Don't cheat yourself...cheat your customers: Whole Foods fined $800,000

    Link to Video story from KCAL-9 here

    Ever hear Whole Foods Markets called "Whole Paycheck"? It appears that Whole Foods is trying to live up to that nickname...by overcharging its customers who buy ready-made foods. According to the report from the California city attorneys in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and San Diego, Whole Foods' trickery included:

    • "failing to deduct the weight of containers when ringing up fresh food"
    • "putting smaller amounts into packages than the weight stated on the label,"
    • "and selling items by the piece instead of by the pound, as required by law."

    Whole Foods has been fined $800,000 for cheating its customers.  I guess that makes the quote caught on the above video still a little ironic.

    Source"Whole Foods paying $800,000 for overcharging in California
    " by Shan Li, Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2014.

    For Discussion:

    • Where do you shop for food and why? What the the major and minor factors? Price? Convenience? Health?
    • Do you think that the consequences over the next five years, as described in the article, are adequate? What do you think will be the effect on consumers, on sales, and on the actions of Whole Foods?
  • What were they thinking? 17-lb. catalog shipment marketed as "sustainable"

    Restoration Hardware might have misjudged its customer's reaction to its "sustainable" solution to letting customers know about its products. They recently delivered a 17-lb. collection of catalogs. The package weighs more than most bowling balls.

    While many have been offended, the reality is: the Restoration Hardware catalog has generated a HUGE amount of internet and other media buzz.

    Is that was Restoration Hardware marketers were aiming for? No one knows, since RH has not been responding to media inquiries. Here is what the package looked like up close--through the plastic, which I did not even open:

    Sources: "Cataloging Restoration Hardware's Cleanup of Its 17-Pound Delivery," by Ben Elgin, Bloomberg Businessweek, June 20, 2014. 

    Activists for Sustainability

    For Discussion:

    • Think about a store you buy from online or at a retail location--Zappos? Apple? Zulily? If you received a 17 lb. catalog from them at your home address, what would be your reaction?
    • What are the marketing and sustainability issues that this shipment brings to the forefront? What are the pros and cons of Restoration Hardware's decision to ship all these catalogs at one time? How might it have been different if the catalogs had come throughout the year?
    • What flaws, according to the linked Bloomberg article, have been identified with respect to Restoration Hardware's sustainability claims? 
  • Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield accused of tricking Obamacare clients

    image from americanlibertypac

    The California Department of Managed Healthcare (CDMH) has opened an investigation into Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California. Apparently, in advertising to attract new Obamacare clients, they listed thousands of doctors on the network lists that may have been available to other subscribers...but were not available to Obamacare enrollees.

    According to Marta Green of the CDMH, "We began our review based on a pattern of complaints that came to our help center regarding provider access. Our preliminary investigation gave us good cause to believe there are violations of the law."

    Coincidentally, an Anthem-Blue-Cross-Obamacare-enrollee (and pal from the local coffee shop) had just broken his wrist and had reported the same problem:

    "It was a fascinating experience trying to use my "Obamacare" Covered California Anthem Blue Cross EPO medical insurance for the first time.

    Despite guarantees that I'd have access to the same network as Anthem's PPO physicians, I spent three hours on the phone this morning calling orthopedic specialists. At first they'd say, sure we take Anthem... then as soon as they heard it was a Covered California plan... sorry, we don't take that.

    Not a single westside Ortho specialist accepts this supposedly "silver" plan. And all this, mind you, when calling providers listed on Anthem's website as accepting my insurance plan.

    When I asked how I was supposed to get health care when no one would accept my supposedly "good" plan, I was told to go to the emergency room or Urgent Care. When I asked what the point was of having insurance no one accepted, I was told, "Good question..."

    Of course, the public relations people at Anthem are skilled at minimizing their part in this.  According to Darrell Ng: "Anthem Blue Cross continually works to improve the accuracy of our provider directory. In the process of updating our provider database earlier in the year, we found that while the vast majority of the listings were correct, there were some providers inadvertently listed."

    Government investigators plan to make their report public before the new Obamacare enrollment period begins in November. No mention was made in the article of remedies available to the misled subscribers, however.

    Source: "California probes Obamacare doctor networks at Anthem and Blue Shield" by Chad Terhune, the Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2014.

    For Discussion:

    • What ethical issues arise in this situation?
    • What remedies would you suggest for the subscribers in this situation? What consequences should the regulatory body be allowed to impose on Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California, if any?

  • Harley-Davidson redefines its brand

    video from YouTube

    What do you think of when you think of a motorcycle? Any specific images spring to mind related to the Harley-Davidson brand? Think of the movies Ghost Rider, Live and Let Die,The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Robocop 2, Heathers, Animal House, Captain America: the First Avenger, Pulp Fiction, and Easy Rider, for starters.

    Whatever you might have thought of "Harley-Davidson" in the past, the new LiveWire is a machine for the future. It is light (460 lbs.), it is electric, and it "accelerates like a ballistic missile and sounds like a jet engine turbine." (Charles Fleming in the Los Angeles Times)

    Although Harley-Davidson might have a tough time expanding its image to include this clean machine, it is signaling the market that a big traditional motorcycle maker is not leaving the electric market to start-ups like Santa Cruz's Zero Motorcycles.

    Where can I take a test drive?

    Sources: "Not your father's Harley-Davidson," by Charles Fleming, print version of the Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2014.
    "Video Report: Harley-Davidson's New Electric Motorcycle--A Fantastic Breakthrough or an Insult to Real Hogs," by Norvell Rose, Liberty News, June 20, 2014.

    For Discussion:

    • What are some of the marketing problems Harley-Davidson might face with the LiveWire?
    • What steps is Harley-Davidson already taking to overcome those obstacles?
  • Fire Phone Fiasco?

    You Tube Video--totally positive! about the Amazon Phone...let's face it: this is an ad...

    The eyebrow headline on the New York Times article is: "A Direct Line to the Goliath of Online Sales."

    Amazon has introduced at new smartphone--the Fire Phone--
    and its specialty is...SHOPPING.

    On Amazon.

    Yowza. What does this mean? If the launch party is any indication, it is more important as a sales portal than it is as a phone. The Amazon Fire Phone is positioning itself as a superior device for viewing potential purchases. Some observers have viewed its product recognition feature, Firefly, as a "potentially real threat to brick and mortar retailers."

    If you have an impulse shopping problem, you might want to steer clear of this device.

    The Firefly of this phone allows you to point at a book, movie or phone number and the phone will identify it. Plus, it can identify many household products. Once you point at the item, the phone will find the item for you at retail price and let you buy it straightaway.

    How much does this phone cost? Its $200-plus-contract-price translates into about $650 in terms of up-front plus contract costs and monthly costs for data and the $32 Fire Phone connection.

    Is it worth it? Amazon's 250 million active customers will be major players in how this turns out...

    Sources:  "Fire Phone Immerses Users in Amazon's World," by David Streitfeld, The New York Times, June 19, 2014.

    For Discussion:

    • What are the pros and cons of embedding a shopping app in a smartphone?
    • Would you consider buying an Amazon Fire phone? Why or why not?
  • Facebook's Slingshot challenges Snapchat

    The YouTube video shows how Slingshot works and talks about it advantages

    Facebook seems to be beginning to understand its customer base. Customers want to communicate with their friends...but they do not want to create a permanent history in cyberspace. Enter Slingshot, the Facebook alternative to Snapchat. According to the Los Angeles Times article,

    "The app enables users to take a photo or short video, add text or drawings, and then send it to friends. The catch is that the users have to 'sling' a picture or video back to view messages sent from friends."

    Slingshot seems to be an alternative offered by Facebook in response to its offer to buy Snapchat being declined. Everybody wants to be famous for 15 minutes...but only 15 minutes...

    Sources: "Facebook unveils Slingshot app to challenge Snapchat," by Riley Snyder, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2014 [PRINT].
    "Whoops! Facebook accidentally releases Snapchat competitor" by Keith Wagstaff, CNBC News, June 10, 2014.

    For discussion:

    • What is the major drawback of Slingshot compared to Snapchat? Does this drawback have any positive consequences for Marketing or Sales?
    • Discuss the business communication issues that relate to privacy and the internet. How do Snapchat and Slingshot relate to these issues?

  • SwitchPitch: "Speed dating" for start-ups

    Michael Goldstein being interviewed by the Washington Post

    Talk about "disruptive"…the SwitchPitch event held in Los Angeles this week put start-up companies on the RECEIVING end of business pitches. Michael Goldstein, the organizer of the event, invited big companies who needed innovative technology help to present.  He also invited entrepreneurs (who paid $95 to attend) to showcased their solutions in a structured setting.

    Here is how the event worked:

    • First, the larger companies outlined their needs in a traditional dog-and-pony-show presentation
    • Then, in five-minute, one-on-one "SpeedSwitch" sessions, entrepreneurs were able obtain more information from the companies-in-need. 
    • After the event, both entrepreneurs who attended the event, and others who viewed the traditional presentations online, can prepare a bid to complete the work and submit it to the company that has a project that seems like a good fit from the start-up's viewpoint

    One example of a potential outsourcing project was presented by Boeing: they wanted someone to develop a video game that explained the science behind plane construction to kids. 

    So far, over $1 million in contracts have been generated by similar events.

    Source: "Speed Dating for Tech Start-ups," by Paresh Dave and Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2014.

    For Discussion:

    • What does the term "disruptive" mean with respect to current marketing and management techniques? Give some examples of disruptive business events.
    • What are the pros and cons of this format for matching up tech start-ups with larger companies?
  • Net neutrality: Speak out now, for or against...

    Video of John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, [warning regarding language] via YouTube


    If you want a painless way to learn about the ostensibly boring (but important) topic of  "Net Neutrality," then listen to the John Oliver piece. Unfortunately, you have to be willing to endure a lot of bad language. Basically, phone/cable companies (specifically, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T) want to end the practice of equal access to internet bandwidth. They want to implement a two-tier system that would allow big phone and cable companies premium access, and slower access for the rest of us. The Slate article linked below does a summary of some of the salient points of the issue:

    Traditionally, with a few exceptions, the cable and phone companies have not blocked particular websites or discriminated in favor or against any of them. For the past decade, the FCC has made it clear it would punish a cable or phone company for deviating from providing 'neutral' access. In January, the FCC lost an important court decision, which said that the FCC does not have the authority to stop phone or cable companies from discriminating against websites or creating “'ast' and 'slow lanes' on the Internet—unless the FCC chooses to act under a particular part of the law known as Title II. Rather than act under Title II, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed a rule that would permit the phone and cable companies to engage in discrimination, subject to fairly useless conditions. The FCC has received tens of thousands of citizen comments and stern letters from open Internet supporters in the Senate and Congress. The president—who repeatedly promised that he would ensure neutral access to the Internet without paid-for fast lanes—has provided almost no support for Wheeler, with the White House issuing distancing press statements. The chairman’s two fellow Democratic commissioners critiqued his plan publicly."

    Oliver provided additional perspective regarding some of the operational tidbits regarding the big phone/cable companies. And almost everyone has agreed with him.

    But on the other side of the issue--in favor of the two-tier system are:

    • Comcast, Verizon and AT&T
    • politicians and citizens who oppose "anything Obama is for"
    • the FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, and
    • Jon Healey, who wrote an opinion piece this week in the Los Angeles Times that has some internet traction

    Healey makes the point that Oliver is mainly a comedian, and should not be taken seriously. He also says, "The real question is what's the best way to preserve the Internet as an open platform for innovation and content, without interference from the cable and phone companies that dominate the market for broadband connections." He mentions that many conservative and liberal observers oppose the FCC messing with the current open situation. These are not really arguments that support his opposition to Oliver's position. Nevertheless, the headline seems to be opposed.

    Since this is an issue which will have a major effect on everyone who uses the internet, it is probably important to have an opinion and to take advantage of a unique opportunity to state your opinion at the highest level. In case you want to actually comment where your comments will count, contact the FCC yourself at this website:

    Source:  "John Oliver’s Hilarious Net Neutrality Piece Speaks the Truth...and nothing but," by Marvin Ammori, Slate, June 6, 2014.
    "John Oliver finds humor in net neutrality, but loses the facts," by Jon Healey, The Los Angeles Times Opinion, June 5, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • What arguments can you make IN FAVOR OF a change in the law to allow two-tiers of internet band width? Weigh those arguments against strengthening protections to keep the internet open.
    • According to the Slate article, what are the more nuanced Business Law issues that are part of the net neutrality issue?
  • Tiny Hachette publishing is taking on Amazon

    image from the prnewswire

    Michael Pietsch (rhymes with "beach"), the CEO of the Hachette Book Group, is in a battle with Amazon over pricing and availability issues regarding manipulation of the market for books. All of the other book publishers are waiting to see what happens. Other publishers have been afraid to take a stand against Amazon, because of Amazon's tremendous clout. Amazon has huge volume and it is willing to sacrifice profits in pursuit of market share. Not every publisher can afford to pursue that strategy.

    But Pietsch seems willing to get the issues on the table in order to not lose everything in the long run. Unfortunately, because Amazon and Hachette have signed confidentiality agreements, the nitty-gritty details of their dispute remain secret. Nevertheless, other publishers guess that Amazon is trying to sell Hachette e-books at bargain prices, and Hachette is trying to maintain their profit margins. One tactic that Amazon is using to prevail in this fight is to deliver this message to potential customers wanting to buy a Hachette title:

    Image from Amazon...when they are trying to delay
    shipping your book, whether they have it or not...

    This is a risky strategy for Amazon, because delays tend to annoy customers. Amazon's "branding" includes being customer-friendly, so any delay tactic might tarnish their image. Nevertheless, it also thwarts sales of Hachette titles--especially for those customers who are loyal to Amazon via their Amazon Prime relationship, or those who have an Amazon gift card to spend. Other customers take the bait and switch to another title recommended by Amazon when they are on a Hachette author's pages.

    The "currently unavailable" strategy is also used by Amazon in dealing with independent, single-book-inventory booksellers (who know they have delivered inventory to Amazon's warehouses). Even if the titles are somewhere in Amazon's inventory, Amazon can put these low volume items on the back burner without tarnishing their reputation for delivery within two days...if they say the title is "currently unavailable."

    The roots of this dispute go back to before the 2012 Justice Department anti-trust lawsuit against book publishers. Five publishers were found to have conspired to raise e-book prices. They'd banded together to try to maintain their profits in the face of the Amazon undercutting of prices. [See: "Can eBooks get past the price-fixing scandal?"] The settlement included a two-year period where Amazon was allowed to discount e-book prices.

    That agreement has expired, and now Hachette is stepping up and bargaining on principle. Pietsch insists that books are a special kind of product and cannot be treated like some of the other mass-produced items sold by Amazon. A major Hachette author, James Patterson, supports Pietsch and has said, "Amazon also, as you know, wants to control bookselling, book buying, and even book publishing, and that is a national tragedy.

    Other booksellers may want Hachette to win, but like scared schoolchildren in the face of a bully, they are standing quietly on the sidelines, fearful of the retaliation that has already been directed at Hachette. Meanwhile, some customers are upset by Amazon's policies. "If Amazon thinks I don't care about its silence, it's wrong. I take it personally that the company doesn't think it owes me even a half-baked explanation for why I can't buy some books from it," complained Jack Shafer, writing for Reuters.In addition, some legal observers think that Amazon is risking government anti-trust action.

    Who will "win" in the long run?

    Source:  "Hachette Chief Leads Book Publishers in Amazon Fight" by Jonathan Mahler, the New York Times, June 1, 2014.
    "Amazon Absorbing Price Fight Punches," by David Carr,
    the New York Times, June 1, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • Read the articles and previous post linked above. In hindsight, do you think that the anti-trust suit brought against the publishers in 2012 may have had the unintended consequence of creating a better environment for an Amazon monopoly?  Give your reasons.
    • What do some established authors think are the risks of this stand-off? How might this affect sales?
    • What are the marketing and potential sales issues for Amazon, and for the publishing industry as a whole?
  • Maximizing productivity: take the strengths survey

    image from the energystrategy.eu

    No one can be productive at work when they are preoccupied with their problems or wallowing in unhappiness. According to the consultants at Energy Strategy (based in Amsterdam), a key to maintaining personal happiness is cultivating your strengths. Since many of us find it difficult to identify our own strengths, it is best to ask people who know you well...or take this Character Strengths Survey (it is the near the bottom of the list). 

    The survey results will identify five strengths.  Then you can make a list of what gives you pleasure and another list of what, if you were at the end of your life, would you look back on and feel had meaning.

    Match up your strengths with what gives you pleasure and meaning, and you have some paths to happiness. Making rituals to remind you to take actions multiple times per day to give your strengths an opportunity to influence your environment, and you have a chance at increasing your happiness--in spite of what your natural state seems to be. If you are at work, your strengths are what will build your success.

    I did these activities at a workshop--and, simple though they seem, they were not easy.  I was a little at odds with one of the strengths that both the survey and friends had identified in me: bravery.  How could that lead to pleasure or meaning? Most of the times in my life where I have acted bravely have been extremely uncomfortable.

    One of the young people in my breakout group had an interesting insight. She asked how I felt in the moments or days before I took an action that required bravery. Did I feel torn? In an ethical dilemma? Was I afraid? Did taking action relieve any of these negative feelings?  Were there positive results? She had a good point. Acting from bravery led to being less unhappy, if not happier. And those actions produced positive outcomes in the long run. Hmmm.

    For most people, identifying strengths and building on those strengths can lead to increased satisfaction and business success. Can you identify your strengths?

    Source:  "Happier at Work: How to Embed the Science of Happiness in the Way We Work" by Rens ter Weijde for Energy Strategy , workshop May 31, 2014.

    Follow up:

    • Take the survey.  What are your five identified strengths?
    • How do you resonate with those strengths? How are you at odds with those strengths?
    • How can you see applying these exercises to improving your work performance or managing others?