Category Archives: Uncategorised

Realigning The Front Line

CNN’s stats on a surge in job quitting has one wondering if it’s a one-time adjustment, or something more profound/ lasting eg is it a major ‘reset’ to the economy & social structure? an overdue sign employees are actually in the wrong roles and time away during covid allowed them to ponder- and act? Do they find their in-person jobs unfulfilling? That wouldn’t be at all surprising- eg Canada’s minimum wage has risen at rates pathetically below that of inflation – and most notably- housing. The ‘dream’ to own a home is more & more ‘dreamlike’, unachievable.

As Rome burns, Nero plays fiddle. Tycoon wealth continues to amass, lopsidedly so through the pandemic. Company owners aren’t just keeping profits to themselves; their flaunting their wealth in the face of struggling front-liners, lavishing themselves with rockets, islands, super-yachts (that require bridges to be relocated/rebuilt) & buying newspapers & social media firms as egocentric mouthpieces.

https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/03/economy/job-openings-quits-march/index.html

Just a few predictions where this may go:

  1. Governments, even those thoroughly owned/controlled by the Elite, feel obliged to ‘feed the optics’ and promise tax reform, close the loopholes, etc. They’ll talk it up big, and do very little. Politicians.
  2. Talent scouts will be in big demand. Turnaround time on the vacant roles they’re tasked to fill will shorten
  3. Some job roles will see big wage increases; staffers already in those roles will see newbees hired at unfairly/illogically high wages which will, in turn, cause chemistry/ morale issues!
  4. Many job roles never considered work-at-home will be reclassified as such, at least for a few days a week.
  5. The most out-there of my predictions; a property demand shift. Covid’s initial impact on realty was to inflate vacation properties; the wealthy who owned 2nd homes or cottages, could relocate to them. But less scenic ie non-recreational centres 2+ Hours from the GTA haven’t seen values soar. Yet. imo many young couples still dream of being home owners and may ‘go rural’ ie 2+ hours from GTA. Chatham, Walkerton, Strathroy, Wingham, Smiths Falls, Perth- are you ready for your CloseUp?

CMA resources: no Minor issue

The dilemma who is old enough to receive Marketing efforts is complex; I can’t flip past Teletoon, YTV or any typical Saturday morning TV fare without realizing how subjective the call is. But I do know that things have changed.

When I cut my teeth in Marketing, there was reason to err on the side of caution wrt marketing to minors. Companies such as P&G and Kimberly-Clark specifically aimed efforts at ‘parents’ – ie a target savvy enough to process a message/offer, and make the purchase decision.

4 ways why this is not longer the dominant approach wrt marketing to minors:

(i) my early marketing roles were with long-term-thinking firms that didn’t ‘control the narrative’ about what was right or wrong. They didn’t want to ‘step in it’ and open themselves up to accusations of preying on naive children/teens;

(ii) ‘age compression’ has undeniably occurred wrt children getting to be much more media savvy;

(iii) today, firms ‘setting the bar’ in Marketing are not FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) firms; they’re tech/ digital firms who are both referee & player in the ‘reaching minors’ arena. Not only is their conduct with kids largely unsupervised*, they’re firms that can influence the moral narrative via social media [*Until Meta was outed by one of their own for flagrantly violating that trust, if tech giants said they weren’t taking advantage of the young ppl, they were pretty much left to do whatever they felt like doing]

(iv) kids have money! When I was 12 years old, both of my jobs were at minimum wage; maybe I could eventually save enough for a bike or music player. As 1 of 6 children in a family with 1 breadwinner, there was no doling out dollars to kids. Today’s demographics are typically 1 or 2 children per family and 2 breadwinners. Many children/tweens are showered with gifts, allowances & spending autonomy for ‘their right’ to choose a phone, badge fashion, etc. Spending power makes them irresistible for marketers.

So how DOES one decide how young is too young?

If you want perspective on this key issue, consider the resources of a professional third party, such as the CMA. They publish a superb, clear and standards-driven ethical guide.

Tidbits: what constitutes ‘old enough’ varies by type of marketing function eg Research standards are more rigorous (higher age) than Messaging standards -but even Message guidelines vary by the nature of the topic, the risk of doing harm, etc.

Often, when I advise students to NOT market to minors, I get a blank stare back, followed by a student project aiming precisely at taking $ from 14 year olds. Evidently, I’m just not getting through. Or they’ know exactly what they’re doing, but aim to work for a standard-less tech behemoth. So be it.

When you’re ready to have some ethical standards, the CMA will be waiting.

https://thecma.ca/docs/default-source/cma-public-guides/cma-guide-marketingt-to-children-and-teens.pdf?sfvrsn=78a4fdde_2

Tissue Titan’s success an absorbing story

Canadian Grocer just published a flattering piece on Kruger (originally lumber and B2B products, they later moved into B2C tissue products- Cashmere, Purex, Scotties, SpongeTowels, etc).

https://canadiangrocer.com/kruger-products-ceo-dino-bianco-celebrates-decade-positive-growth

Undoubtedly the article will eventually disappear; so be it. Tissue is used once …and discarded. But props to Kruger succeeding, when many counted them out. Tissue is an industry I worked in- familiar with the manufacturing methods, mills, brands & competitors! So I watched closely & wish to bring attention to a few things Kruger, a B2B firm, did shockingly well when they got into B2C.

  1. They hired Consumer Marketing professionals, rather than try to ‘convert’ B2B Industrial Sales & Marketing pros to (vastly different) B2C. Many B2B firms err here; B2B giant Cisco created amazing Flip cameras that had potential, but B2B giant Cisco firm was weak at marketing to consumers. Same for Blackberry- adept at B2B marketing to carriers, inept at B2C. 3M invented an ace performance golf glove, then bypassed sports/boutique stores altogether to launch in… Mass Merch (?!) … because it’s the channel the current Marketing & Sales team was familiar with. Ouch.
  2. Kruger transitioned brands (as required by law in this case) with brilliance; Scott TowelsTM became SpongeTowelsTM; CottonelleTM became CashmereTM in elegant steps of evolution; I bet there was doubt, stress & chaos behind the scenes, but consumers saw a smoooooth change. Props!
  3. They spent– as competitors cut media spend on tissue, Kruger was spending, building brand identity, awareness.
  4. They’re bold; they sponsored World Fashion Week events, hiring designers to create daring outfits … in tissue! Their TV campaign ‘Only Human’ (yes that tune, by ‘Rag’n’Bone Man) is imo a refreshing message of earthy reality, in stark contrast to the continued idealistic KleenexTM messaging about caring in a broader context, or their current call-to-action, an invitation to ‘nurture’ with a tissue.
  5. They believe in QA; the leading tissue brand took decades of ‘base sheet reductions’ (cut cost by taking length, width & thickness from each tissue); their 2 ply tissue is tiny & transparent, while Kruger’s tissue, Scotties, is built for actual human use (see Point 4 on Kruger’s current ad campaign)
  6. They put money back into the community- investing in Crohns Research, supporting curling across genders at Scotties Tournament of Hearts, and more. Canadians notice such moves – values matter!

Of course, it didn’t hurt Kruger that top US-based competitors (Kimberly-Clark & P&G), took attention off the tissue market & made some baffling missteps, but credit should be given; Kudos to Team Kruger. You’re only human- but your success is still an absorbing story.

Applied College courses? Or ‘rubrics’?

Today: pondering if ‘academic theory’ folks at Ontario colleges might consider adjusting the ‘pedagogical frameworks’ (???) for applied courses. Ontario Colleges got their start as centres of applied learning; I’d love to say we still ‘own’ that role, but threats exist. One threat is so ‘It-cool’ that I’ll take grief for daring to question its omnipotence. Some folks in admin roles (often in roles requiring little to no actual teaching, at least not applied courses), are in love with ‘rubrics‘.

What’s a rubric? It’s a grid to let students see how the overall grade is weighted by parts of an assignment- either split by some academically appealing virtue (Originality, Appearance, Spelling, etc) or by section of an Assignment (eg Cover Page is worth 5%; Introduction is worth 10%, etc). A rubric might actually be useful in junior courses, as students try their hand at very basic assignments. However, as instructors use work-world learning to advance a student to application-based, work-like assignments (eg in senior courses) a rubric should often be left behind.

The more advanced the course, and the closer the student is to graduation, the more ridiculous rubrics are. Administrators who defend them vigorously may be unaware rubrics don’t apply in the work world; eg in business, anything can be 100% of ‘grade’!

  • Do an OK job, but misspell the company name or brand?- hammered!
  • Swear during the Q&A session? -hammered!
  • Skip an entire section, but wow a Client with superb Story Flow, impactful analogies & a resourceful Q&A? -nailed it!

Parsing ‘content bits’ up by section lets students pick & choose and act like…. students.

eg if ‘Cover Page: accounts for 5%’ —??? They get a 5% of the credit, if they do nothing but a cover page. A cover page if nothing at all follows it?  Ridiculous!

So… thanks to a (real world background) colleague who gave me an ‘out’; an ‘overall professional output‘ rubric if forced to use one where it makes no sense (btw I typically also attach a list of ‘price of entry ‘conditions’; imo it’s not too much to ask students, or coworkers, to spell the brand correctly & not swear in the middle of a presentation).

Exceptional: (consistent with or better than best practices in Canadian business) eg 4.5 to 5 out of 5

Good: (on par with good Canadian business practice) eg 3.5 to 4.4 / 5

Satisfactory: (minor flaws detract from good Canadian business practice) eg 2.5 to 3.4 / 5

Below Expectations (major flaws detected or content not provided) eg 0.0 to 2.4 / 5

Will a Wealthy Wave ‘Trickle Down’ post lockdown?

Bloomberg draws attention to CIBC data on how much savings high-income Canadians amassed as the lockdown limited spending. Although much of the (Reagan era) ‘trickle down’ economic theory proved overblown, I’d bet on a wealthy spending wave THIS TIME, especially: Travel & Spoil-Me/Look-At-Me discretionary items (Fashion, jewelry, watches, art, luxe autos, golf, home reno- but NOT DIY stuff…) & indulgent services/experiences (spa, recreation, space travel, etc).

The counterpoint? Sectors that soared under lockdown may soften. Puzzles, RV’s, DIY, Food delivery, Amazon, paper (Cascades paper/tissue quarterly results are already fading), cleaning/hygiene items.

Whatever sector you play in, you might consider if your products & services are properly placed & promoted to catch this Wealth Rebound Wave (insert Beach Boys song here!). https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/canadians-sitting-on-100-billion-in-excess-cash-cibc-s-tal-1.1568825

If in a lockdown-‘favoured’ sector eg RV’s, puzzles, DIY crafts/projects: what programs or new products/services might soften the downturn? ie to hold onto those lockdown-generated newcomers, promote ‘continuity’ of use, increase use-up rate, engage with contests and communities and other 2.0 content, etc?

Vertical / Cyclical Integration

Vertical Integration activities often go through cycles; eg newspapers sprint to buy wood harvesting rights; streaming giants all bid for content or leap into producing content.

Attention is often on firms that don’t deleverage at the right time (eg Blockbuster held onto downstream retail locations far too long) but sometimes the news highlights the risk of a LACK of integration eg when Auto makers’ single source of airbags, or catalytic converters, is lost after a tsunami.

Covid shortages are now constraining the supply to chain restaurants; expect the QSR industry to rethink their logistics model, and invest to better assure control of supplies.

https://www.cnn.com/…/bus…/taco-bell-shortage/index.html

Streaming Upstream

More entertaining than some content they offer: Streaming content wars. ‘Vertical Integration’ is a big strategic dilemma; popular classic examples include The New York Times buying forestry rights (integrating ‘upstream’ ie to better control/ access supply) and Tesla setting up own dealership showrooms (integrating ‘downstream’ to better control/ access consumer prospects). While Tesla built its Vertical Integration downstream, Amazon bought downstream (Whole Foods). A truly classic strategic dilemma- buy or build?

And now it’s…. buying time! Amazon bought MGM studios for the library & series-friendly licensed properties, in a very predictable development. It had to be one of The Big 3- Disney, Netflix or Amazon (in fact, I wrote this post weeks ago & temporarily revealed a draft that had the winning bidder as Netflix, not Amazon- oops!). But the race for streaming content isn’t done yet, is it?

Step right up folks! See the epic battle! This is a Ragnarok of gods & giants (Amazon, Netflix, AT&T, Disney) in which ‘presently sidelined sidekicks‘ are gaining some serious appeal (and value).

Netflix created some net-new hits (eg ‘Stranger Things’): Maximum Control achieved, albeit at major Cost & Risk.

Buying a proven winning library is less risky. Hence Amazon taking the Tier 1 path: buying MGM an entire studio and proven successful library. A slam-dunk of Low Risk, but High Cost. But there are only so many major studio libraries.

Tier 2 acquisition possibilities (on a scale of Maximizing likely Return, while minimizing risk of failure) might include (imo) License Content holders with less proven TV streaming appeal, but reliable fan appeal in graphic novels, manga, theatres, etc (Mark Millar, LOTR).

Tier 3 of Risk/Return: Content holders that made it to TV or theatres but didn’t succeed in a big way (Goosebumps, Animorphs, Golden Compass, Series Of Unfortunate Events) OR deserve an update (James Clavell, Jack Higgins, SilverWing young adult, etc) OR series promoting an understanding & perspective of First Nations & Visible Minorities.

Tier 4: Popular books or graphic novels that haven’t ‘taken a run at’ TV format eg the ‘Stormbringer’ fantasy books (I’d written ‘Ringworld’, then heard Amazon has moved ahead on that project–> Move Fast! Inventory is Going Quickly!’)

Tier 5 would include Greek, Norse or Roman myths/fables not already ‘owned*’ by Disney (*I wince, as ancient tales such as Cinderella lack any real 1 ‘owner’) or 1-off novels with a pro-ecology, pro-female &/or pro Visible Minority message that SHOULD be brought to streaming – eg ‘The Demon Breed’ by Schmitz.

Can’t wrap up w/o an uneasy* prediction. George Friedman gives uncannily accurate geopolitical predictions; given his ‘The Storm Before The Calm‘ forecast of 2020’s as a chaotic decade of change, I bet ‘reassurance’ will be hot, so Westerns will be hot. Why? Their reputation is they give much-desired (albeit often woefully oversimplified*) moral clarity. I’m uneasy with this since, if Westerns are not interpreted at some depth, one may overlook an often-substantial message & merely build Confirmation Bias. If you think a Western through deeply, you may find they aim to enlighten, promote tolerance, etc. I invite you to view Star Trek or Serenity (Westerns, set in space), Silverado, The Magnificent Seven; you may find Westerns’ “simple” B&W Morality (Right vs Wrong, Peacemaker vs Villain, Good vs Evil) is a myth. Westerns can carry progressive messages; if you haven’t seen the classic ‘High Noon’ in a while, view it, then reread Friedman’s eloquent, wise interpretation.

So ….what property/character/series/novel(s) would you like to see resurrected for the Streaming World?

Steven

Baking a Strategic Dilemma

News by CBC that the Weston empire is selling its namesake bakery. ‘History’ and “Legacy’ are nice, but times change. I’m surprised it took this long for Loblaws, a grocery & commercial property giant, to exit the brand supplier biz. Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) is a very different business than Retail or e-tail, arguably more strategically demanding & less day-to-day ‘execution dependent’. It involves different strengths, investment time horizons & marketing training /emphasis.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/weston-food-grocery-1.5960329

Can Weston Bakery rise to success with Ace, Wonderbread & other brands, without its powerful parent? imo the firm (division?) has acted like a FMCG player for decades: investing in brand, innovating with new entries, avoiding the ‘down & dirty’ end of the market (unlike many house brand manufacturers). However, if Loblaws cuts ties, then (a newly independent) Weston must ensure its entries legitimately earn their way into distribution at Canada’s #1 retailer (its current parent, Loblaws) and associated banners. I doubt Weston entries have had a free ride, but I also suspect Weston parentage has worked in their favour in the Weston family empire.

A dilemma: is Weston Bakery better off as an IPO/Indie FMCG player? or better off acquired by another FMCG player? I hope for the first option, for the sake of the Marketing staff. If Weston Bakery is bought & the acquisition plays out like a typical FMCG takeover, most Weston Brand Management and R&D staff will need to find new jobs, pronto. Not to be negative, but that’s how it works in FMCG. The gobbler staffs the brands they acquire with ‘their people’.

Either way- for the bakery firm, there are both sunny and cloudy signs ahead:

In their favour: they’ve proven able to identify & seize upon consumer trends such as ‘artisan’, upscale offerings, multiculturally appealing lines, ‘Pull support’ for their brands- as per any successful FMCG firm. Also: the Bakery’s ‘Loblaws linkage’ has likely limited their success to date at Loblaws’ direct competitors -Metro, Sobeys, etc. Erasing that iffy parent tie may result in more lines carried at Grocery stores nationwide.

Going against them? The gluten-free and anti-carb trends- and the new reality of fighting for shelf space, paying full rent for those lovely (and effective!) secondary display racks in the Deli section, etc.

In my home, fresh Ace bread is an affordable indulgence – a ‘treat’ that doesn’t break the bank. That’s good enough for me to hope this soon-to-be-ex Weston entity keeps baking up success.

Gig economy, Gag jobs

Below: unsurprising coverage how ‘Gig economy’ aggregators (businesses that consolidate & resell the ‘product’) gain equity & leverage power, yet show little empathy or consideration for their relatively powerless front line workers.

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/uber-eats-pay-system-cuts-wages_ca_602052e1c5b6173dd2f7156b

One might claim “No one forces these drivers to work for” a power-wielding employer (this firm is notorious for arguing they’re not an ’employer’, ergo not subject to employment laws or standards). That “No one forces them to…” phrase, typically uttered by society’s Well-Born, should be removed from vocabularies. They are forced to take these jobs. Some to pay the bills; some to realize their potential (eg youths raised with little wealth who aspire to a post-secondary education, must not only win every high school scholarship, they also take multiple simultaneous part time jobs- they aren’t forced to take minimum wage jobs; those roles are just the only ones available).

Apologies for waxing philosophical, but Gig Economy Worker Rights is a looming #ethics issue, like Data Privacy & compensating Local News providers (yes, I’m aware of the irony of linking to this article). The issue begs for government or inter-government action, but who will tackle it? Gig Economy behemoths work the ‘hazy spaces between‘ existing regulations, beyond national governments’ usual zones of control, squirming between laws, past traditional definitions of jurisdiction. A certain accommodation-sharing aggregator app plays like a hotel, but not one that follows hotel rules for zoning, hygiene, worker rights, etc. A taxi service aggregator app plays like a taxi service, but not one that follows taxi rules for driving training or vetting, vehicle safety, worker rights. One must respect the dark genius of the Gig business model! All upside and control- no accountability or cost!

Behold Ozymandias! As in the intimidating battle looming for Nations/Citizens vs Social Media giants on Data Privacy or Local News, you can expect Canada will not play a role putting the Beast At Bay. It’ll be the European Union, or Australia, or another nation that values its workers & citizens, more than it values ‘not rocking the boat’.

Sleep on.

Rorschach

Environics Data – Saved by the Bell? Or For Whom…?

I was lucky to be a client of awesome Jan Kestle & her team >25years ago, benefiting from a terrific (then underappreciated) ability to help a Marketer tailor messaging & media on a neighbourhood level. What an awesomely powerful toolset! imo that was the beginning of applied psychographics as we now know it; her team was Compusearch (Micromarketing).

20 years ago when Equifax bought Compusearch, then flipped it to R L Polk, I was baffled; my understanding is all Polk wanted was auto sector data expertise for themselves, thus leaving applications in other sectors unfulfilled. [I was reminded of that acquisition 2 years ago, by a similar move; Amazon wanted to use Kiva’s robotics logistic capabilities (which had applications in many diverse areas/sectors) so they bought… the entire company].

Thankfully, much of the Compusearch team later ended up being recreated, still in Toronto, under the Environics umbrella, as ‘Environics Data’ – to this day, they were still run autonomously, from what I could see.

Recent news that Environics Data was bought by Bell leaves me perplexed- again. I see potential for Bell to offer a Full Service Suite of media & messaging applications, differentiating them from Rogers, Shaw, etc. And letting the Environics Data guru’s work with Bell’s extensive mobile phone data could yield GOLD for modeling & ad targeting. But what happens to Environics for Retail location services? (an area where their data can – and has – been very productively leveraged) or its USA market applications?

Having Bell as a parent imo brings little to those markets & may prove an impediment (what if a parent firm fails to appreciate those opportunities.?). Hmmm…

https://mediaincanada.com/2020/12/03/bell-canada-acquires-environics-analytics/