Candy’s Dandy

Artisan candy? In the Long Tail era (thx Chris Anderson!) it seems inevitable EVERY category has room for ‘artisan/ custom/ exclusive’. Why deny candy a niche ‘sweet spot’?- and it seems Canadian firms are gettin some sugar

Dominos Italy: Veni Vidi Arrivederci

in August, US-based Dominos shuttered its 30 or so outlets in Italy. Qu’elle surprise! Or not. You could easily imagine the internal debate, eg

1. our Master Franchise partner will add local legal, regulatory, employee management & cultural savvy;

2. if we can make it in Italy, it says terrific things about how authentic and globally revered our product is.

Alas, “No dice” said the Italian prospects. And a very public failure to be given the boot from… The Boot. Would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the launch prep sessions! I’ve no doubt much work was done before launch; yet they fully failed to understand consumer attitudes/receptivity. How can that happen?

Here are a few possible ideas from a cranky old warrior who saw several well resourced, well paced firms blow their offshore expansions:

  1. They did OK research but ignored the findings. This isn’t as unusual as you might think, esp if the launch takes on ‘project momentum’. To raise your hand & question an inertia project is to risk being labelled a naysayer, a barrier, etc – perhaps get fired.
  2. The project had a ‘supported’ sponsor. A USA tissue company tasked its Darden-Wharton KantMissKidz to a European bath tissue expansion. They were given specific info about necessary steps to take & barriers to avoid, but ignored all of that advice, and blew the launch. Even STILL, another group got blamed.
  3. The executed plan differed from the test plan; perhaps the price structure was revised late in the game due to Supply Chain or Exchange Rate challenges, or maybe a media campaign was ‘trimmed’ to less than the intended spend. This happens a lot!
  4. The research was flawed. They may have used a skewed Sample &/or wrong research methods, leading questions, poorly chosen survey question/ response options. Or the research medium itself created an atmosphere where respondents felt social pressure to reply positively.

You & I will never see the detailed ‘post-mortem’ of what went wrong. Even if you found such an account,, don’t necessarily believe a word of it. I guarantee you: in a Big Org such as Dominos, the backstabbing & blame reallocation maneuvering has been fast & furious ever since this Star started to look like a Dog. Careers have been lost – and probably not by those who deserved it.

But that’s a subject for another day- as is “Does pineapple belong on a pizza?”

Acquisition ‘Wins’ Will Vary

The beverage sector may be more interesting to follow for the next while, we may see some dominoes fall (acquisitions) or launches. A fascinating aspect of acquisitions is they show the specific growth strategy in a more revealing way than a CEO’s words/guidance. Monster energy drink acquired a craft brewery, then announced a 6% malt brew; they ‘unleashed the beast’ of an expansion plan. The buyout wins them expertise & credibility/access in a new sector (imo it was wise that their brew is under a non-Monster brand. An energy drink that sponsors extreme sports -Red Bull, Monster etc- must recognize the iffy optics of blending alcohol & extreme sports. That’s an #ethical powder keg).

Also in beverages: when Sapporo bought Sleemans in 2006, or Royal Unibrew bought Amsterdams (this summer), the new owner wins added brand(s) for a global portfolio, yet the end-game is to gain local market (Canada) expertise & channel access to win more presence for their home brand in Canada. You find Sapporo beer in many more Canadian pubs & liquor stores now, than in their Pre-Sleeman days. Expect the same for RU; prepare to see the Danish firm’s iconic Faxe beer in more Canadian pubs (perhaps including their overly potent 10% alcohol beer!). Contrast those wins with why Labatt bought Mill Street (2015); the late (& sorely missed) Joel Manning was a brilliant brewer, but Labatt already had brewing savvy; their big win was the Mill Street ‘craft brewer’ #brand when ‘mass’ beer brands were on the out; boutique brands that signaled individuality were on the upswing esp with GenyY/GenZ drinkers.

In contrast, what are the specific ‘wins‘ for Tech Behemoths when they make an ecosystem acquisition? eg when Amazon buys iRobot (Roomba) or Google buys Nest, or FitBit; are they after the tech itself? Patents? Brand Name? Channel savvy? Nope! The big win: instant permission-approved 1:1 data access.

Acquisitions: we watch’em, learn from’em & see strategy revealed. But there are many reasons to buy a firm; we must not assume the same metrics, or reasons, apply each time. There are many ways to win.

Thanks to LastCall news and FoodDive for the news!

Community Customizing & Skill Sets

TechCrunch (Kyle Wiggers, 7/14) reports that Salesforce has launched a Code Builder, presumably, so that users can customize, add ‘apps’ & leverage (crowdsource) the collective efforts of a talented user base.

For Context: A decade ago, Leading ‘smart’ phone maker A recognized the potential of that talent pool, opened up their platform, leveraged those possibilities. Another leading smart phone brand, B, saw only risk & threats, kept development very limited and chiefly in-house.

A decade later: Where is (A) Apple? Where is (B) Blackberry?

Leveraging outside talent is risky; if caution isn’t taken, some apps will be awkward, irresponsible, flawed,… perhaps even bad for the brand rep. Salesforce is limiting access during this next (beta) phase & who can blame ’em? But the upsides of a creative motivated talent pool, speed to market & customized capabilities, seem worth the risk to a successful firm that evidently aims to stay ahead, risks & all.

Snap AND Crackle AND Pop

In June, Forbes, CNN & others reported on the Kellogg will split into 3 firms:

1. Plant-based food production/tech; 2. a Snack firm; and 3. a Cereal firm.

While some pundits & promoters may be keen to call this ‘visionary’, one might remind stockwatchers the business world, like any other, is subject to ‘fad & fashion’ cycles.

Samsung, 3M, Berkshire, J&J, Hitachi, Nestle, Mitsubishi, Siemens & (pre-Welch) GE: huge diverse firms-ie conglomerates- that succeeded.

Splitting up companies is now ‘in vogue’ –but read up, study up, find facts not just fashion imo since Plant-based manufacturing has relevance beyond a few food categories (Cereals & Snacks), I get that move. Cereals & Snacks, although in separate grocery & convenience store & mass merch aisles, DO share sales channels, however, imo the Cereal-Snack split is less compelling.

Consider the #Brand management complications: Sharing brands? If the Cereal firm aims to use a brand to convey ‘health/wholesome’ but the Snack firm wants to portray it as ‘indulgent/decadent/irreverent’?

Good luck. This is more complicated -and maybe more problematic – than pretty press releases about ‘splitting up the biz to release the untapped value‘ may indicate.

Cupertino Cash Cow dries up

For decades, Cupertino’s crew milked the charger/ cord cow. Invent a new type of cord connection – thunder & lightning-oh my! -then charge twice as much as an equivalent accessory for an Android device.

Lose a cord? Pay Cupertino (handsomely) again. Kink a cord. Pay again. Charger die? Pay again. Need a charger for the auto? Pay again.

This was a gift that kept giving— to Apple. Now that might change due to Europe- perennially the first jurisdiction to take on the tech behemoths- Google for its privacy policies, facebook for its inexcusable algorithms, and now Cupertino, for its price gouging.

You may need to redo that BCG diagram; as of 2024, Cupertino loses a couple of cows that served’em well- filling the cash drawer, so Apple could reinvest in new ecosystem growth categories.

So sad, but not even cows live forever.

“Coboss Charger, Coboss Cord”- time to graze in that great pasture in the sky.

Job Churn Era & ‘New/Current’ Customer schism

CNN reports that employees changing jobs in USA see an immediate 18% pay bump. Sobering, but not surprising that firms owned by hedge funds or even more remote (Mars-bound!) billionaires are out of touch with their employee’s daily struggles.

What will happen now? Employees who are restless, capable, aggressive/assertive, disgruntled or disrespected will now ‘jump’ elsewhere; dominoes will fall b/c those people’s roles were legit staffing needs. The ‘churn era’ will put pressure on HR /Recruiting, tho it need not have occurred at all.

Firms out of touch with their own customers commit this sin, too! In an oligopoly, a firm’s tendency is to ‘take current customers for granted’, yet obsess about new-to-market prospects (immigrants, teenagers coming of age, etc). The reason? Sexy Metrics! New customers are EZ to count [“Wow! Look at the gains!”] and the Marketing Dept often uses an unrealistic Lifetime duration over which to amortize their overly generous trial offers. Are the Metrics to retain a customer equally obvious & sexy? Nope. Reinvesting seems boring- and unnecessary [“after all, who would leave us?]

Examples? Canada’s giant telecoms reserve their best promotion offers & fastest response times for new customers [thereafter, your best hope is for late, reactive, limited consideration [& as the saying goes “Service requested is service failed” ie if you must ask for it, it’s already too late to feel respected]. Our chartered banks dote on new customers, but once you’re in, you’ll pay service fees for everything, submit to brutal ForEx rates, nasty checking account fees, etc. [why should they care? They signed you up- and their competitors are all doing what they’re doing, so what would you gain by switching?]

Is there a remedy? Not an obvious one. In oligopolies, the status quo remains until one player, for reasons unknown*, wakes up & starts to rebalance service efforts/offers to show respect for current customers. *They might justify such a strategic shift after doing some testing, which will inevitably show a remarkable improvement in customer retention, if you just stop disrespecting or ignoring current customers.

Respect what you have. It’s unsexy, but it works. And it’s a lesson every firm must relearn periodically, even if they’re not part of an oligopoly. Or owned by a hedge fund. Or a Billionaire space traveler.

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.

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.

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).

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.