Category Archives: business

Economics of fear reloaded

Back in early 2009 I was struck by the incessant credit crisis coverage that had been going on since Lehman’s Brothers collapse in 2007, and before then if you had been paying attention to the sub-prime mortgage asset-backed securities issue. I thought it had to have impact on how people would behave in terms of consumption choices.

Economics of Fear and Sustainable buying practices

Now it’s late 2011, and we have just come through 5+ years of unending credit crisis, recessions and now debt crisis news coverage.

The coverage of “the markets” – those mysterious beyond-human-beings-making-decisions markets – is like a game show or maybe an endless cricket game, just a lot faster:  like hockey where the spectator never quite “sees” the puck but can infer it from the players motions.

The headlines are unhelpful at best to illuminate the issues – headlines are there to “sell papers”, or in online vernacular “secure eyeballs.” (It’s good to remember the motivations each industry has in its activities.)

Yesterday’s news of German Bond Auction not selling out is a prime example of disinformation moving faster than light (Neutrino pun intended): How many in the public who consume headlines know what a bond auction is, how it works and who the usual buyers are? If you read beyond the headlines you might learn a few other facts:

They come from the bottom of a Wall Street Journal article headlined: “German Bond Sale Spurs Worries”

  • “Germany had never tried to sell a 10-year bond that paid only 2% interest, and the historically low yields appeared to depress appetite among the traditional circle of buyers.”
  • “Germany sold 3.644 billion Euros at 1.98% average interest.”
  • “Germany traditionally auctions bonds, rather than operating a syndicate of primary dealers to place them with investors. The Finanzagentur, the government’s issuing agent, then gradually feeds the bonds it doesn’t sell into the secondary market. This system means that there is no pressure on banks to bid for the bonds or risk their relationship with the sovereign. Moreover, banks across the Continent are trying to reduce their holdings of sovereign bonds, or at least not take on extra exposure, Mr. Krautzberger said.”
  • Take a moment to check out the interactive feature in the article that shows how German bond yields have declined recently …

No doubt it sounds like the Finanzagentur miscalculated and underestimated the political sentiments and headlines that could follow if they did not sell out and the concerns they might raise.

Bringing it home I have two questions for you: How much are the headlines affecting news-spectators decision making about their own debt, credit, income, savings and spending? And what is your organization’s strategy to adapt as consumer behaviours keep shifting ever more online/mobile which has shifted traditional power away from brands and toward consumers and the platforms they use?

Do you pay someone so you can buy from them?

Click to enlarge view.

I just bought some tickets to a Melissa Etheridge concert. It should be great – we are excited about seeing here live again.

Because the online ticket seller adds fees like a “convenience fee” – basically a charge for the privilege of buying the tickets – I went to the box office in person.

For me all the “convenience” of buying online disappears when it adds $20 to the ticket price. And that’s not all. If I were to buy them online I’d have to choose the delivery method: If I want to be sure to get them delivered, it’s another $14.

Sure, I can pick them up at the venue or I can get them by regular mail (i.e. no guaranteed delivery) without additional  charge.  But here the “convenience” of buying online falls apart: I still need to leave my house and walk into a physical venue. Today, there should be a free option to download and print the e-ticket, just like with airlines, and some other ticket sellers.

My actual purchase cost me $197.00. Buying it online would have cost $231.00
(Well, arguably only $217 if I pick them up in person; so I went to buy them and pick them up in person at the same time and leave $20 – or $34 depending how you look at it – in my pocket for another performance.)

Nonetheless, this made me ponder other industries where the customer has to first pay for the pleasure of buying something.  I’ve come up with:

  • Credit cards – even though everyone has a “no fees” option these days, cards with fees are also still very common.
  • CostCo membership – the annual membership fee gives customers access to amazingly low prices on all kinds of goods.
  • Investing in mutual funds. The transaction fees are usually well hidden – OK, there’s a total lack of transparency. And there is a thing called MERs and they do cost you, also quite hidden from view.

Consumers pushed the credit card industry to include no-fee-cards in their portfolios. Given that many credit cards continue to charge around 20% interest on any balance, you’d think that’s plenty to profit from.

CostCo on the other hand appears to have found a working formula where the value proposition works really well. The fee represents a fair exchange, and might well keep CostCo in business. The whole business model is fascinating and it has made CostCo one of the largest retailers in the world.

As for mutual fund transaction fees, front-loads, no-loads and MERs – my feeling is transparency should be a given in all financial transactions – and I am amazed this has not been assured as yet.

Where else do you pay in order to make a purchase? And what’s the experience like? Does it alienate or bring you closer to the company?

What are they thinking at BlackBerry?

Just last week I used the Canadian edition of the BlackBerry website. It gave me all the information I needed quickly and efficiently in a pleasing, professional interface and I was happy.

This evening I went to the site and saw this as the homepage: a rather static screen trying hard – and failing  in my books – at a lifestyle branding for BlackBerry.

Today BlackBerry is the leader in the smartphone market, but it’s obvious that the Android platform and iPhone are growing faster than BlackBerry. To protect their position and keep growing they have to do something.

But static and boring web interface? All I get to do is go left to right or right to left and click on user types like “The Shy Girl” or “The Power Couple” to see what BlackBerry device they should be using.

Apparently if you are The Shy Girl you use the BlackBerry Pearl. I wonder how all the BlackBerry Pearl users out there feel about that. “Hey, you have a BB Pearl, you must be the shy girl who texts a lot.” I mean how does that help someone gain status in their social circle? I was looking at getting the BlackBerry Torch, except now I am told that I am apparently broadcasting that I am part of The Power Couple! The truly powerful usually have little need to broadcast such things, they simply are and they act, so where does that leave me?

What are they thinking at BlackBerry? What’s the insight at work here?
Have they heard of video and all the really cool things they could do by integrating video into their site – or better yet, why not just keep it clean and professional until you have a great lifestyle brand idea that you can make work online? So many ways to advance a lifestyle brand, so much to learn!

NB: We just saw anther number 1, Nokia, do something about the threats to their leadership position: announcing a strategic partnership with Microsoft, for better or worse. Hope they will open up that platform widely so they can garner the creativity and imaginations of apps developers everywhere.

A Concept Restaurant

Palermo district in Buenos Aires.

When recessions or economic downturns hit, restaurant owners can turn to creative solutions to survive in such a tough-at-the-best-of-times industry. (You might remember some of this appearing in North America, too.)

I thought this pitch on the sandwich board that otherwise might tell me what the specials of the day are was well done:

“We give you food, drink and good service …  You pay what you want, without pressure and prejudice… enjoy yourself.”

The restaurant looked like a very fine choice for a great dinner out. It also looked like this was no longer a gimmick to keep people coming but an actual business model a la 2011.

Understanding something about finance

Have you read your organization’s financial statements lately? Chances are they tell you more about the business your organization is in, ie what its success depends on, than its mission and vision statements.  Ask yourself: what’s the biggest asset my organization has? And what are its biggest costs? Where does its profit come from?

You might just be amazed.

Leadership, influence and brand

I recently took a 5-day management course at Schulich School of Business. It was a very good course. I learned some things, validated expertise and I particularly enjoyed seeing profs who work in my field, marketing and strategy, teach.

The program consists of five parts: leadership, marketing, strategy, finance, HR. It is left to the participants to put this all together into a holistic thought pattern for themselves.\

In my view, this is essential.

For instance, marketing is not merely something other people do in your organization. ‘Marketing’ is what everyone who wishes to influence decisions – at any level – needs to do. The processes of getting consumers to buy product A vs product B are remarkably similar to what it means to leverage one’s hard won influence.

Indeed, in my view, influence is best defined as your personal brand equity expressed in the willingness of others to follow you. Frankly leadership is not about leading – it is about giving others reasons to follow.

Case in point: As an external consultant I never have the authority to change anything, I also have no way to reward my clients’ staff with more money. Yet, I lead and we make good things happen. My success is tied to how well I infuse projects with meaning, communicate appreciation, and generate desired outcomes. Naturally, with each successful project my brand equity grows and my capacity to do more good work increases. That’s why leadership (inspire) is such a powerful concept, as compared to management (perspire).