The State of New York is creating a local marketplace along the Taconic State Parkway, reports Ralph Gardner Jr. in The Wall Street Journal (7/8/14). "It would have been delightful if just a rest stop, perhaps with a couple of vending machines … had opened on the Taconic," writes Ralph. But it’s much better than that. It’s all part of an "initiative called Taste NY that showcases the Empire State’s bounty by giving local farmers, apiarists, bakers, cheesemakers, etc., a new venue to sell their products."
So, "instead of finding a gas station filled with Hershey Bars, Slim Jims and Budweiser (not that these fine products don’t have their place) you discover fresh produce, perhaps the best cider doughnuts you ever tasted, local milk and eggs, cheeses, jams and maple syrup. Even grass-fed beef." Not only that, but the "restrooms are sparkling and the sink incorporates a brushed-steel soap dispenser, faucet and hand-dryer. The hand dryer … even has mood lighting."
Mary Jo Mueller, a cashier at the rest stop, says the restrooms are key to the experience. "The restroom is one of the reasons it’s such an attractive spot to showcase these products," she says. The appeal extends beyond those just passing through: "Even the local people are coming to buy their local produce and dairy," says another sales clerk. Located at Todd Hill, and open every day but Monday from 10 am to 7 pm, and Fridays until 8, Taste NY hopes to have local food trucks at the ready when the store is closed.
The typography business continues to be a font of innovation and resilience, reports The Economist (6/28/14). Monotype, the biggest typography enterprise, has been around since 1887, and currently offers "a catalog of 18,000 fonts … In its early days it sold ingenious machines that enabled Edwardian printers to cast lines of type in seconds; now … it sells software that renders text on screens." It now embraces "cloud computing, which both offer a vast new market and upends a long-standing sales model."
"For years, font firms discouraged the use of their products on websites, fearing piracy. But a standard adopted in 2010 means that rather than having to be installed on web servers, where they are easy to pilfer, font files can now be streamed from online libraries." Monotype is also cashing in on "licensing deals" to manufacturers as they "add flashy displays to car dashboards, televisions and even white goods such as hot tubs. Sales to individuals are also doing well … as fancy fonts are used to pep up wedding invitations and the like."
Monotype is "both supplier and competitor to Adobe … which owns more than 2,000 fonts, and to the plethora of independent font publishers." Google, meanwhile, "has made more than 600" free fonts available" and "type-designers find it ever easier to sell their work directly to consumers, sidestepping middlemen … The falling price of the design tools they use is encouraging novices to have a go. This, in turn, makes it easier for their big corporate customers to build in-house font teams." To thrive,therefore, font firms must continue to be "bold."
Rohan Dhir is returning to tradition to disrupt the luxury eyewear business," reports John Ortved in The Wall Street Journal (7/5/14). "It’s like the old times when you’d hear about a great cobbler two towns away and then travel to try him," says Rohan, founder of Archibald Optics. "We’re just connecting people with the Internet." Rohan also taps into the past from a design perspective, with specs that "take cues from British designs of the 1960s and ’70s."
On the face of it, Archibald Optics sounds a lot like "Warby Parker, another disruptive eyewear label, whose prices range from $95 to $145." However, Rohan says there are differences, most notably "that Archibald targets a higher end of the market," and asserts that "his glasses are on a par with those of British brand Cutler and Gross, which retail from $475 to $800 (Archibald’s are $195 to $300 because of its drastic reduction of the industry’s standard markup and the absence of marketing costs)."
Rohan achieves this using "an untraditional eight-person team to create his samples," including "a civil-engineering student and a toy designer. He then tracked down a high-end Japanese eyewear manufacturer and convinced its craftsmen to work with him." He says his business model borrows from "Church’s — maker of luxe, long-standing British shoes." He’s already thinking of line-extending into footwear: "We can go into any category where craftsmanship is valued and anyone is paying (exorbitant) markups," he says.
Flex the power of Big Data to unlock new brand experiences. A Hub white paper by Mark Liney of Landor Associates. So much of what I read about consumer-facing brands and big data strikes me as little more than navel-gazing. We’ve seen B2B businesses such as IBM implement big-data solutions that help entire cities better plan for the future. However, as Landor recently found in a study of CMOs, there are few strong examples of consumer-facing brands that have truly grasped how big data can benefit their organization and their customers.
As big data emerged, organizations scrambled to make sense of their data assets and began to focus on how many they had, how they could improve them, and how they could get more of them. This resoundingly inward-looking exercise led to infinite talk of potential and opportunity—but potential for whom? Picture the scene. It’s, say, 1947, and a crowd of executives is huddled in a boardroom. They’re strategizing how to sell more products. One especially obnoxious boss yells out, "They’ll buy whatever we tell them to!" Snickers fill the room as the executives craft plan after plan to trick consumers into buying more of what they don’t need. Continue reading Mark’s white paper.
The great myth of the Tour de France is that most of the riders are in it to win it, reports the Economist (6/28/14). The great irony of the Tour is that because it was designed to be "so punishing that only a single rider would finish," it created "a culture of cooperation" among riders that had no chance of donning the winner’s yellow jersey. "For the majority," writes Richard Moore in Etape, "the Tour de France is not about winning." The real story is not about "supreme solo performances" but rather the teamwork behind the scenes.
"Once a rider is no longer a factor in a race … he forms a truce with his rivals … On a daily basis, [they] will share water, food, clothing and effort just to make it to the finish to ride another day." Another myth is that anyone actually loses the race — except those that fail to complete it: "No man who completes the Tour (and only men compete) is a loser." In fact, there’s even a "tongue-in-cheek prize for the rider who finishes the Tour last," who are awarded a trophy known as the Lanterne Rouge.
One of the Lanterne Rouge winners, Wim Vansevenant of Belgium "eventually came to see his prize as recognition of his self-sacrifice." Another, Gerhard Schoenbacher, was so determined to win the prize that he walked the "the last 100 meters" of the race, "engulfed by journalists and photographers." The doping, meanwhile, "engulfed the back of the peloton just as much as it did the leaders." "Everyone was doing it," says cyclist Michael Barry, author of Shadows on the Road. "I had to dope to keep my job."
Much of what’s considered innovative in bicycle design today was invented more than 100 years ago, reports Michael Shermer in The Wall Street Journal (7/7/14). The evidence of this "is in abundant supply in Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing’s encyclopedic history, Bicycle Design." It "features more than 300 illustrations culled from many sources, most intriguingly from patent records." For example, the "clipless pedal," adopted in the 1980s as "new and revolutionary" was patented in 1895.
The "shock-absorber and suspension systems featured on modern mountain bikes" were patented in 1869, and the disc brakes on today’s mountain bikes "were patented a century ago." The recumbent bike, which seems like a relatively new thing, dates back to the 1890s. Perhaps most notably, the fundamental design of the bikes used in today’s Tour de France "can be seen in Starley and Sutton’s 1885 Rover Safety bike; in the 1892 Sunbeam Special Light Road Racer; and finally in Raleigh’s 1939 Carleton Flyer."
Among other things, these bicycles "feature the diamond-shaped frame: a top tube between the seat and handlebars; a head tube holding the handlebars and the fork for the front wheel; a down tube between the head tube and the bottom bracket for the pedals and drive train; and a seat tube between the seat and bottom bracket." The equal-sized wheels, cog-and-chain, brakes and steering haven’t changed, either. The lesson is that "just because something was patented doesn’t mean that it was adopted," just that "a problem and a solution were understood" at the time.
"The best ice cream is what comes with experience," says Troy Moon in a New York Times piece by Kim Severson (7/3/14). "It’s the smell when I go in," says Emily Appel, referring to Stewart’s. "It’s still smells exactly the same when I go in," she says. Her flavor-of-choice is Adirondack Bear Paw and one might think that Stewart’s is a small, local, ice-cream parlor, but it’s not – it’s "a $1.5 billion chain of 330 convenience stores in upstate New York. For many customers, it’s relatively less about the ice cream than about the memories they evoke.
"Breyers coffee ice cream with my grandmother during summers in Sarasota, Florida," reminisces Emily Salkin Takoudes, who is also a big fan of "the Reese’s Pieces sundae at a Friendly’s in Dover, Delaware." Nor is it about trendy, exotic flavors, necessarily. "We don’t make fried green tomato basil jalapeno ice cream," say Jon Tunberg of Whitey’s Ice Cream in Moline, Illinois. "Our idea is, we try to make ice cream the way we like to eat it." Laura Weiss, author of Ice Cream: A Global History, agrees ice cream is about emotions.
"People form attachments to the places, whether or not people would consider these ice creams top-of-the-line," Laura says. "In that shared experience you are sharing your childhood and your memories with your spouse or your children," says food writer Robin Davis. Indeed: "Trips back to beloved ice cream stands help parents explain themselves to their children." Says Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Ohio: "It’s raelly apparent with kids with teenagers. It’s very deep."
The most astonishing ice cream is "tucked in ethnic enclaves in and around New York City," reports Ligaya Mishan in The New York Times (7/2/14). Among the surprising ice-cream parlors is Kwality Ice Cream, which specialized in kulfi, "an Indian dessert dating back to the Mughal Empire, made from milk simmered until thick as cream, caramelized and nutty," in cardamom, pistachio and saffron. Kulfi is dense and hard, an ice cream that must be eaten with one’s teeth.
At Cedars Pastry, the ice cream is made with "kashta, a Lebanese clotted cream, skimmed off the top of boiled and slowly cooling milk and mixed with glassy teardrops of mastic resin." It is "chewy yet icy at once." Lezzetli Ice Cream serves Turkish Dondurma, "traditionally made with goat’s milk, mastic and salep, which is derived from the bulbs of wild Anatolian orchids." Lezeetli substitutes Japanese Konjac powder for the orchids, but the result yields extra texture: "pull it and you can see strands part, as with string cheese."
Paleteria El Sabor de Michoacan is all about Mexican ice cream, in flavors including tequila, tres leches and mamey, which tastes of "almonds, raspberries and sweet potato pie." Sweet Dynasty has durian ice cream, a "notoriously smelly fruit, a "vaguely sweaty flavor, a swirl of custard, papaya, caramelized onions, butterscotch and cheese." Fresco Gelateria, a Greek shop, offers a "beautifully light goat cheese fig gelato." Finally, at Cone’s, it’s corn ice cream, with "a dusting of cinnamon, a nod to the owners’ South American heritage."
In ‘social’ conversations, the headlines sometimes write themselves. Discussion Featuring: Dwayne Chambers of Krispy Kreme, Jen Sey of Levi’s, Eduardo Conrado of Motorola Solutions, Jon Schlesinger of Burt’s Bees and Ellen Cook of The Integer Group.
Are most social networks all they’re cracked up to be?
Dwayne Chambers: To some degree, social networks are following along the lines of what magazines ended up doing, which was to become more specialized. So, the challenge is to look at each network and understand what it’s for. While Facebook and Twitter are still a force, it’s not as easy as just setting up a Facebook page anymore, or just having a presence.The medium itself is as important as the message. As each new network comes up, we spend time watching, listening and seeing how people are using it to see if it’s right for us. We have to find our people where they are, and they are increasingly inclined to spend more time in niche social networks. Read the rest of the discussion.
Neuroscientists are finding surprising similarities in the brain activity of writers and athletes, reports Carl Zimmer in The New York Times (6/28/14). The scientists, "led by Martin Lotze of the University of Greifswald in Germany," are using "scanners to track the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers." Dr. Lotze started by having 28 novice writers "copy some text" to provide a baseline, and then gave them a few lines from a story to finish on their own — giving them time to brainstorm a bit first, and then write.
He and his team found that the vision-processing part of the brain lit up during brainstorming, perhaps because they were "seeing the scenes they wanted to write." This changed when the trials turned to more experienced writers, whose "brains appeared to work differently even before they set pen to paper." Their brains activated "regions involving speech," rather than vision. One theory is "that the novices are watching their stories like a film inside their heads, while the writers are narrating it with an inner voice."
Also unlike the novices, the brains of the experienced writers lit up "a region called the caudate nucleus," which "plays an essential role in the skill that comes with practice, including activities like … playing basketball," or a musical instrument. However, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker is skeptical that the experiments provide a clear picture of creativity, pointing out, among other things, that the "very nature of creativity can make it different from one person to the next." "Creativity is a perversely difficult thing to study," he says.
Glenn Adamson wants you to appreciate the connection between a shipping crate and a sculpture, reports Ted Loos in The New York Times (6/30/14). "I like this idea that a fine artist and a crate maker can all be seen on a level playing field," says Glenn, director of the Museum of Arts and Design. He’s referring to "a large yellow crate made by the Brooklyn packing and art transport company Boxart, built for a bulbous sculpture by Wendell Castle," on display at NYC Makers, a show at the museum.
Other items — drawn from "100 citywide ‘makers’," are "bottles of whiskey, a jar of handmade candy and scratch-and-sniff wallpaper," the latter including a "sweaty-smelling" paper meant to represent "the scent of creativity of 100 makers," says show curator Jake Yuzna. The show is designed as "an open studio where artisans ply their trades in person," giving it "the air of a festival." For example, "Martinez Hand Rolled Cigars will demonstrate their rolling process; some of their cigars are on view for the duration of the exhibition."
It is also intended to underscore both New York City’s status as a leader in the "design economy" — as of 2013, the city was home to some 40,340 designers. "We want to highlight parts of the economy that have flown under the radar, and design is a great example of that," says Jonathan Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future. Most of the city’s growth in that regard is happening not in Manhattan but in Queens, and, of course, Brooklyn, where the number of designers doubled to 532 "between 2003 and 2012."
From The Folk Den: "As Camilla and I prepare for our extensive Concert Tour through the UK, The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, I’m reminded of this song. As part of the Folk Process, I’ve replaced the last line: "And soon I’ll have occasion to alter my song" with "And soon we’ll have England financially strong," a wish for now as it was in the Nineteenth Century.
The earliest broadside of this ballad came out before 1820, following the Napoleonic Wars. English tradesmen couldn’t find work. Soldiers and sailors returning to civilian life were faced with possible starvation. The singer however, ends on an optimistic note, hoping there will be good times in old England once again." – Roger McGuinn. Listen to ‘Hard Times of Old England.’
Gilad Rotem says his collective of indie coffee shops is NYC’s "third-biggest coffee chain," reports Hiroko Tabuchi in The New York Times (6/30/14). It’s a remarkable claim, particularly given that his collective is powered by a coffee-subscription app called Cups that’s only been around since April — but it may be true even though it boasts just 50 shops. "We want to bring local coffee shops the economies of scale of big chains, but also have them keep their atmosphere and vibe," says Gilad.
Cups is just one of many examples of apps and other technologies designed to give small businesses a fighting chance against major retailers or digital disruptors like Uber Taxi and Lyft. Dashride, for example, aims to empower local taxi dispatchers with "a mobile app that will soon let customers book, track, pay for and rate rides." It will also provide smartphones to drivers to help them "organize and manage rides, navigate streets and chat with clients," while giving dispatchers an "online portal" to track drivers and clients "on a real-time map."
Meanwhile, a tech startup called Edelweiss is providing "a networking site for independent booksellers and publishers to connect online" and compete against Amazon, "seen increasingly as an industry bully." Shakr helps small businesses create YouTube-ready online ads. Such tools "tap into strong, distinctive businesses with longstanding ties to local communities, qualities that cannot easily be recreated online." "We’re disrupting the disrupters," says Dashride founder Nadav Ullman, age 24.
Kaushal Dugar has plans to give the tea business "a Silicon Valley makeover," reports Saritha Rai in The New York Times (6/27/14). His venture, Teabox, backed by venture capitalist firm Accel Partners, "is introducing a subscription model offering personalized tea selections, replicating similar successes of online sites selling wine, razor blades, cosmetics and organic products." The goal is "to hook a new generation of customers in countries such as Russia and the United States."
"The business is ripe for disruption, both in terms of price and quality," says Prashanth Prakash of Accel India. The Teabox idea, much like that of the wine industry, is "to demystify tea and present it in a more accessible manner, along with how-to brewing directions so that buyers can explore varieties, regions and flavors," says Kaushal, who also plans to upgrade the quality of the teas by streamlining its purchasing and production practices, which he says haven’t changed in 200 years.
Because of such practices, "it can take up to six months for the tea to reach a consumer overseas," during which the tea deteriorates. Teabox addresses this by setting up operations "in sourcing centers in Darjeeling and Assam … Data analytics also help. When they log into the website, buyers are served personalized recommendations according to one of Teabox’s 53 tea profiles." So far, Teabox "has shipped 10 million cups’ worth of tea to customers in 65 countries" and projects $1 million in revenues over the next year.
Email is "the cockroach of the Internet" because it refuses to die, reports David Carr in The New York Times (6/30/14). Email newsletters, in particular, are showing resilience in the face of "social media, mobile apps and dynamic websites that practically stalk the reader." The reason is that "readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognizable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos."
"An email newsletter," David writes, "generally shows up in your inbox because you asked for it and includes links to content you have deemed relevant. In other words, it’s important content you want in list form, which seems like a suddenly modern approach." He adds: "With an email, there is a presumption of connection, of something personal, that makes it a good platform for publishers." Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic comments: "I have an intimate and intense relationship with people who get my newsletter every day."
Yes, it’s true that younger folks "love to text, send instant messages and use Snapchat more than they like using email," and as Gideon Lichfield of Quartz says, "Email is dismissed as something old people use." However, as Kate Kiefer Lee, author of Nicely Said, says: "People get more excited about the newer technologies, but the nice thing about email is that it doesn’t go away. It sits in your inbox and you have to do something with it." Even if it is burrowed in your cockroach folder.
A plan to digitize snail mail seemed brilliant until the US Postal Service heard about it, reports Bari Weiss in The Wall Street Journal (6/26/14). Evan Baehr and Will Davis had a plan "to simplify — or eliminate — mailboxes across the country." Outbox, as they branded their $4.99-a-month service, "would collect your mail and scan it," unsubscribe you "from unwanted catalogs and shred junk mail," and forward wedding invitations or holiday cards to your physical address. Bills could be categorized and filed via an app.
Evan and Will managed to test the concept in collaboration with a pair of post offices in Austin, Texas. Letter carriers would "set aside their subscribers’ mail in a designated box in the post office," and then Outbox would scan and deliver it digitally. Among other things, this enabled them, as Will put it, to "test what we call the holy grail of advertising, which is intent, brand affinity, understanding what people like." It promised to give marketers data and insights into what consumers wanted, or not, by way of direct mail.
The duo also thought this would be a great thing for the US Postal Service. "In this new model we could save them money, increase customer engagement, and be better for the environment," says Evan. However, according to Evan, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe didn’t see it that way, essentially saying that consumers weren’t his customers: "My customers are several hundred volume mailers, and my product is guaranteed delivery of their mail onto the kitchen tables of Americans." Overnight, Outbox was out of business.
It was headline news, in 1956, when Arthur L. Samuel of IBM programmed a computer to play checkers. What made this feat so remarkable was that the computer actually learned from its experience. This was a first, and a blinding flash of the future of artificial intelligence. And, yes, this particular revolution was televised! Six years later, IBM’s computer went on to defeat checkers master Robert Nealy, sending a chill down the spine of human beings everywhere. More than a half-century later, we are still trying to come to terms with the implications of a machine’s capacity to outperform people — and IBM continues to lead the way into a world where technology and humanity not only coexist, but also prosper together. The tension created when machines begin to ‘think’ is particularly pronounced within the universe we all know and love as marketing.
The rise of big data, accelerated by the flood of information produced by social networks, sparks considerable controversy. Some embrace big data for its potential to shed new light on the relationship between brands and their customers, while others dismiss it as just another buzzword, perhaps finding solace in criticizing what they don’t yet understand. Today’s version of Arthur Samuel’s computer is IBM’s Watson, which you may remember as the machine that won a game of Jeopardy! a few years ago. More recently, Watson demonstrated the ability not only to process data within a vernacular context, but also reason to the point where it can effectively make arguments for and against any given point-of-view (see sidebar).
It’s not as alarming as it might sound, and IBM’s John Kennedy is here to comfort the uncomfortable on issues of big data, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence. For all the apparent complexity of a landscape awash in data, his message is simple: The essentials of building powerful brands remain the same. However, the future belongs to those who use available data to bring unprecedented insight and understanding into customers’ daily lives and the many ways in which they experience brands. As John expresses it: "Marketing now is not so much in service of selling — which helps the marketer — but more in service of what the customer wants to do." Anything less, and guardians of the brand experience may well find themselves losing at checkers while their competitors are winning at chess. Read The Interview with John Kennedy.
GoPro is successful not because of its camera, but rather the experience of using it, reports Issie Lapowsky in Wired (6/26/14). GoPro, as you’ve likely heard, is a small, high-definition, wearable video camera that people have used "to record their every sky-diving, drone-flying, shark-riding adventure." It raised $427 million in its IPO — unusual for a camera-maker because smartphones are not only cameras but also a GPS, video game console, stereo … "and, oh yeah, a telephone."
However, as Ben Arnold of NPD Group notes: "They don’t just sell a video camera, they sell the memory of the wave or the ski trip down the slope … I think we are entering the age where lifestyle in technology is becoming very important." The power is in devices that "say something about the people who wear them … when you see someone with one of those GoPro Hero 3 cameras strapped to her chest, it’s a signal to the world that she is about to do something awesome."
The result is that in "2013 alone, GoPro users have uploaded 2.8-years worth of video featuring GoPro in the title. In the first quarter of 2014, people watched over 50 million hours of videos with GoPro somewhere in the title, filename, tag or description … And so despite the fact that GoPro only sells cameras … it became better known as an adventure sports brand than as a camera manufacturer." Among other things, GoPro now plans "to launch a GoPro Channel on Xbox Live" and "turn itself into a media company."
The epiphany came to Panera’s Ron Shaich as he pondered the way he, himself, experienced his own restaurant, reports Stephanie Strom in The New York Times (6/21/14). Ron is Panera’s CEO, and his daily routine was "to call the nearest Panera location to order lunch" for his two kids, and then pick up the orders on the way to school. "It suddenly occurred to me that this was a wonderful system for the CEO, but what about the eight million other people who order from Panera?"
"Everyone else got in line to get to the register, then got in another line where they had to play a game called ‘Go Find Your Food’ … For drinks, they had to go to another line, and if they wanted any kind of espresso drink, we sent them to a fourth line," says Ron, adding: "The goal is to eliminate friction points so that customers have a better experience, because if they have a better experience, it will help our business." The chain is now rolling out on-premise kiosks, at-table tablets and mobile apps that streamline the experience.
So far, the technology has been installed "in about 20 company-owned restaurants." According to Ron, "Profits are up in all of them, and orders have increased." The system is also said to "reduce errors in orders" and allows managers "to put fewer workers at the cash register and more in the kitchen." Ed Doherty, who owns some 35 Panera restaurants, was initially skeptical of the approach because having people stand in line gives those at tables time to eat. Having now tried the system, however, he is sold on it.
The restaurant at Roy Choi‘s new hotel is designed to resemble a marijuana dispensary, reports Jeff Gordinier in The New York Times (6/21/14). "Entering the restaurant, you pass through a small all-black foyer with a glowing green-neon sign," and Roy says he hopes people "stumble in here thinking it is a dispensary." The eatery’s name — Pot — actually has another meaning, as its specialty is Korean hot pots. "Soul food — this is my soul food restaurant," Roy says.
Pot is situated at The Line, a $50 million, 388-room hotel renovation in Los Angeles, backed by the Sydell Group. It is a long way away from Roy’s roots — just six years ago he was "slinging tacos" in a food truck, Kogi, an experience that he says "created social change on many different levels." "A cultural food experience that was looked at as dirty became gourmet," he says. He has since opened a number of restaurants and written a "memoir-cookbook that moves like a novel."
What hasn’t changed, apparently, is Roy’s sensibility. Room service at The Line, for instance, was designed "in a first-person state of mind," says Roy. "If we were in this hotel room, what would we want to eat?" One result is spam and eggs that arrives "wrapped in a blanket that might be decorated with Curious George." "You unwrap it right there," says Roy. "It feels like you’re opening a gift … You might be a conservative traveler," he says, "but if this came to your room, how could you be mad?"