The Tom Dougherty Blog
I have long expressed my addiction to coffee. It’s big time, friends. I can’t control it and I am not ashamed to admit it. My habit is so intense that every morning, even before I hit the shower, I’ve already downed two or three cups.
Sipping my first cup of coffee brings me to the light. It pulls me out of my morning grog and massages my mind into a semblance of alertness. The second cup drops me at the doorstep of normalcy. While the third and fourth give me pizzazz.
For years, I have been relying on a Keurig machine to provide caffeinated goods. My first machine came my way back in 2008 (crazy that I can remember that, isn’t it?). There was something so cool about plugging a K-cup into the mouth of the machine, hitting the brew size and getting a piping mug a minute later. Even if the coffee wasn’t as complex tasting as a traditional pot of coffee, the process was different enough from the norm to keep me coming back.
Since then, K-cups have become the new standard. Which, ironically, isn’t all that good for Keurig.
Keurig has oversaturated its own market
Back when I wrote about my love of Nespresso, I failed to mention that it’s greatest power is the brand’s scarcity. Scarcity can be a value for any brand because we instinctively want it more if it’s not easily available to us. It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes brands actually lose market share when they are too available. Krispy Kreme used to be a destination because it had a niche feel. But when it expanded too fast and opened stores all across the nation, its sales actually dropped.
I do drink coffee from K-cups with reckless abandon, but my preference is waning. In fact, I recently unplugged the machine and dusted off a French press. I have found pleasure in selecting locally roasted beans that I can brew just about as quickly as I can a K-cup.
I am not surprised that Keurig sales are falling. Moreover, the moment it instituted the Keurig 2.0 and Kold machines I sensed bad times were ahead. Keurig, a company that once held the market in the palm of its hands, has become less special.
As a coffee drinker, I move in fads. My fad now is the French press. The next one might be the slow pour. After that, who knows,? Perhaps a Bialetti? Throughout, I am sure I will have K-cups, but I won’t consider the experience all that unique anymore.
Troubled retailer Macy’s is creating yet another made up holiday – national holiday hiring day. The holiday will be on September 30th when Macy’s plans on hiring 83,000 seasonal workers to fill holiday positions in their call centers, distribution centers and fulfillment centers.
The move reeks of terrible PR and feels incredibly disingenuous.
Earlier this year, Macy’s announced that it was closing about 15% of its stores. This came amid six straight quarters of sales declines that were blamed on an increasing number of consumers moving to online purchasing – because as we all know, no one saw Amazon coming.
We have written a lot about the soft brick and mortar retail environment as well as the problems with Macy’s. Too many stores were built too fast with no vision of the future. Isn’t that the real reason?
National holiday hiring day should be laughable.
Now Macy’s is touting national holiday hiring day. I get the need to hire temporary people during this time of year. However, Macy’s bragging about creating the first national hiring day is simply a bad idea. It’s a naked attempt to get people to forget it is shuttering 15% of its stores and firing the countless people affected by those closings.
Have you ever watched a bad movie for a little longer than you should have just to see how bad it was going to get? Macy’s is much like that bad movie, getting a little worse with each passing minute. This blatant PR move once again demonstrates just how far Macy’s has fallen. Its brand is in decline, stores are closing, sales are declining and yet it is touting a national holiday hiring day. It’s a major disconnect and a failure of the Macy’s brand.
Will the holiday work? Of course it will, but not because of Macy’s. People need jobs and others need a second job to make their children’s Christmas special. Most people won’t be bothered by it, save the ones who are getting laid off in the store closings.
But Macy’s has lost its way and this is yet another example.
Readers of this blog, visitors to our site and all our clients know that Stealing Share develops brands that are a reflection of the audience. That’s how you build preference.
The shocking thing to us is how few brands actually practice that. Most brand messaging – or just messaging in general – is either identical to the competition or about the brand itself, or both. That’s the single biggest reason why there is stagnation in most markets.
Therefore, there’s always a bit of elation when a brand actually practices the art of having a brand face, who customers believes they are when they use the brand.
Even though it doesn’t go far enough (more on that later), the new ad campaign for John Hancock does it right. The campaign, with the heading of “Different World, Different Approach,” actually considers who the target audience has become.
One of the spots features a variety of couples getting married, including interracial and same-sex couples. That ad is nice, but the one tilted “CEO” is the winner.
It works because the hallway of past CEOs represents the old way of doing business. In an indirect way, it positions John Hancock against the competition. When the young Hispanic woman walks past the row of profiles, we know it is a different world – a direct reflection of the world we live in today.
The brand of John Hancock needs to make the next step.
Kudos to John Hancock and its ad agency, Hill Holiday, for this campaign. The campaign is terrific, but here’s the problem. The brand is still the same. This is just an advertising campaign. It does not signify a radical shift with the brand. It may be a different world, but it’s the same old John Hancock.
So, this campaign will air over the next few months, then John Hancock will switch to another ad campaign and what the brand of John Hancock means will remain unchanged.
To prompt a true change in the market, one that creates preference, John Hancock needs its brand to reflect the target audience. It’s all well and good that it has a campaign that does, but long-term preference comes from the brand.
We like to think we live in a world of alternative energy. There’s solar power and many of us drive hybrid cars that use electricity to increase gas mileage. There’s even a Hillary Clinton ad airing in my area, North Carolina, which showcases her promise to increase the number of solar panels in our country.
But you wouldn’t know that we are moving to an alternative energy world Saturday night in the South. A pipeline near Birmingham, Alabama, broke, starting a gas shortage, thus creating empty pumps, long lines and high gas prices.
What year is this? 1979?
Many gas stations have that dreaded plastic bag over the pump handles, while increasing gas prices. We’re not in panic mode by any means, but it is still startling.
Fully switching to alternative energy will take more than concern over the environment.
It got me thinking that switching to anything is such difficult work. Most of us, including myself, talk a good game when it comes to the environment and alternative energy, but I do little about it. Oh, I have an energy efficient air conditioner, but honestly I have it because it reduces my energy costs. Not because I’m doing something for the greater world.
Think about this. Remember when the metric system was supposed to take over our highways? We were going to join the rest of the world in adopting the system. It only seemed logical.
But that effort failed.
I bring this up not to berate anyone. But to point out that getting people to switch to anything is enormously arduous.
That is the biggest reason why I do berate brands that believe the same old approach will get consumers to switch brands, even though there is little differentiation among each market’s players.
Each car ad looks and sounds the same. Each beer ad is a copy of another. Car insurance, which spends untold amounts on advertising, offers little reason to switch.
To actually prompt a change in any market you have to be different and better, and often that means being so different that you actually offer a true choice. The definition of a switching trigger is switching to something you don’t have. Otherwise, you stay put.
I don’t think we’ll be switching to the metric system anytime soon. To fully adopt alternative energy we’ll need a stronger and more emotional reason than saving the environment. When a gas shortage directly affects us, then we consider switching.
Sometimes it’s in the crisis where the greatest leap forward takes place. But there are better ways to prompt a switch.
Oh boy. As Staples (and its failed merger partner, Office Depot) tries to recover from disappointing sales, it has partnered with Workbar to set up office spaces for customers in a few stores around Boston.
The space is far back from the retail area where customers can work without having their own real office. Said Evin Charles Anderson, whose video production company has been using the space, “On the weekends when we’re here, we see people peering in through the windows.”
Yeah. They’re wondering what the hell Staples is doing. The office supplies stores are in a free fall with Office Depot closing stores and regulators ending the proposed merger between Staples and Office Depot.
Staples Workbar is a tactic, not a strategy
Both supply stores, in fact, are looking for new CEOs to lead the retailers into a new era where all retailers are becoming more and more irrelevant. The Workbar additions, just in beta stage at this point, won’t hurt but it won’t fix the problem either.
For one thing, who wants to work in the back of a Staples store? FedEx, off its successful merger with Kinko’s, has something similar that has now existed for nearly a decade.
More importantly, however, the working world is no longer dependent on having a traditional office or even one that resembles one, such as the Staples Workbar situation.
As many employees at very large companies will tell you, working from home is the new normal. (The sheer number of them doesn’t even consider freelancers.) You may go to FedEx Office for shipping but you can buy just about anything off the internet. There’s no need to go to a Staples store to work.
That is, unless Staples had a brand that compelled you to seek it out.
But there’s no emotional reason to go to Staples or even the Staples Workbar space, which is the only reason to create preference. As Napoleon said, “You must speak to the soul to electrify men.”
That’s what the office supplies stores are missing. They believe they can out-tactic their way out of their dilemmas, rather than looking at a complete overhaul of what they provide and what they mean.
I’ve been thinking recently that the entire brick and mortar retail market is in serious trouble. Malls are becoming a thing of the past and the industry as a whole is losing their shirts to Amazon.
So, there’s now Staples Workbar. OK. So what?
I’ve written a bunch about my newly minted role as a grandfather. It’s what I love most about life these days, so it’s hard for me to ignore. My two grandchildren, Rhegan and Liam, fill me with an exuberant amount of joy. Such is the way of a one and three year-old. Life is about being in the moment — whether that moment is good or bad — which is inspiring to me.
More than that, Mom and Dad, and most times the grandparents too, are the most important people in their world. A humbling thought. The brands we all introduce to the munchkins are those that we have a similar faith in, especially with that faith placed on us.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the amalgamation of teachable lessons, modernity, and the sentimentality of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s also a PBS program, a television brand in which I have a great deal of faith.
Daniel Tigers Neighborhood hits on on cylinders.
Sure, Daniel Tiger will drive many adult crazy after a few episodes. It sports repetitive songs and saccharine characters. But the show isn’t for us, it’s for the kids. They love it like sugar. Unlike sugar, however, Daniel Tiger actually has positive affects on children and their emotional well-being Daniel (based on the puppet from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) copes with his parents going out for a date, while a catchy mantra of “Grownups come back” is sung. I’ve also watched episodes dealing with jealousy, sleeping in the dark or dealing with bullies. All of which are vital lessons for children.
With Daniel Tiger, I take comforted in knowing that it does the little buggers good.
Apple AirPods are the price Apple pays for innovation.
The problem is that I don’t want to pay that $159 price for the new Apple AirPods.
I am a died in the wool Apple guy, as you know. I write this blog on my MacBook Air, have an iPhone 6+, two iPads (including the iPad Pro), an iPod in my car and an Apple TV connected to all the TVs in my home. Even at Stealing Share, we are Apple folks with an Apple server and Airport Wireless.
But I do have a simple complaint. Apple focuses on great design. But often, that design is more about how things look as opposed to how they work.
I remember when I bough my first iPhone nine years ago and also paid for the Bluetooth headphone (not anything like the Apple AirPods). It was very cool looking and was tiny compared to competitive products. But syncing it to the phone and keeping it charged turned out to be a nightmare. I have never bought another Bluetooth product from Apple.
I won’t buy the new Apple AirPods either. Once again, they look very cool and are tiny compared to the competitor’s products. But they suffer from the same flaw as that earpiece I bought almost a decade ago. They simply won’t stayed charged long enough for me to use them.
Bluetooth headphones are common today
I travel a great deal and always take Bluetooth headphones with me. They are large, bulky and cumbersome but… they are noise cancelling and seem to last for days. Apple claims its new Apple AirPods will last for four hours between charges. That means they won’t even last a single cross country flight. They are worthless to me.
Apple AirPods look great
Great design says that form follows function and Apple often forgets this. I want them to be tiny, cool and simple. But I demand that they function in a way that matters to me. These have pushed the limit on smallness and Bluetooth compatibility but the technological limitations of having a powerful enough battery in such a small design is not there yet. So I’m not there yet either.
Apple eliminating the earphone jack on the new iPhone seems as overdue to me as when the original iMac eliminated the floppy disk drive and the MacBook eliminated the CD drive. I don’t need to connect a wire to my phone. But I NEED the device I use for sound and talking to last me a full day. Apple needs to be as concerned about how well something works as much as it is obsessed with how it looks.
So the Apple AirPods won’t find their way into my briefcase. Its too bad really. I would prefer to buy more Apple products but sometimes they leave me in the cold.
Amazon recently showed off one of its new 767s that will ship some of its products purchased through the site, with Prime Air printed on its side. Last spring, Amazon announced that it was going to lease 40 such planes in an effort to curb some of its shipping costs.
Recently, shipping costs have outpaced sales growth, cutting into Amazon’s bottom line. In fact, in 2015, Amazon spent a whopping $5 billion on shipping expenses. Leasing the planes is a pretty clear demonstration of Amazon’s desire to streamline its logistical and delivery network.
Amazon trucks have delivered its products for quite some time, particularly with its 2-hour delivery service, Amazon Now, and its grocery fulfillment, Amazon Fresh. However, manning an airplane fleet is a much bigger and costlier proposition and is sure to disrupt what we know of traditional air shipments. Amazon’s hope is that the Prime Air planes will substantially reduce that $5 billion shipping cost.
Prime Air planes may not be such a gamble.
What does this mean for UPS and FedEx? They both should be extremely worried. Both FedEx and UPS depend on Amazon, with the online retail giant accounting for a large share of its business. But you can’t stop progress and it naturally fits for Amazon to take on those duties on its own.
For it to work, Amazon must secure an internal delivery and logistical system that also makes great brand sense. (Much like when FedEx purchased Kinko’s years ago in part because the brands of FedEx and Kinko’s aligned with each other so well – each were about piece of mind.) Amazon’s brand features a sense of discovery and convenience because it has everything you need that you can get easily. A key component of that is actually getting the physical items to the person who ordered them. That’s where the Prime Air planes fit in.
If Amazon can do it with the same or better efficiency as FedEx and UPS, why would Amazon do anything else?
Think about it. Amazon only has to do it as well as FedEx and UPS for this to succeed. That could be the catch because, if Prime Air can’t match that service level, the Amazon brand could be damaged significantly.
However, my money is on Amazon.