business news in context, analysis with attitude

Last week, we had a story about a new study from OgilvyEarth saying that while “thousands of companies try to link their marketing messages to Earth Day, scheduled this year for April 22 ... the vast majority are not having any impact on consumer behavior.” Indeed, the study revealed that many people think that “Green” behavior is limited to elitists and hippies.

According to the Marketing Daily story, “While 82% of Americans have ‘good green intentions,’ only 16% are dedicated to fulfilling them. And the 66% -- or ‘the Middle Green’ -- are pretty much ignored by marketers. Overall, 82% have no clue how to estimate their carbon footprint, and 70% would rather cure cancer than fix the environment.”

I commented:

Y’know what makes me crazy? The mere suggestion that we have to make a choice between behaving in an environmentally responsible way and curing cancer.

Have we gotten to the point in America that we cannot hold two such thoughts in our minds at the same time?

Maybe companies have to do a better job of marketing. But I also think that some of this plays into an inherent - and unhealthy - American view of elitism.

People who behave as if they are better than other people are, of course, worthy of suspicion. But some people are smarter and wiser than others, and I’m perfectly content to treat someone who is smarter than me about cancer research or environmental studies as if they are smarter than me about cancer research or environmental studies.

Being smarter doesn’t make one immediately worthy of suspicion.

MNB user Sara Murphy wrote:

I believe your assertion this morning that companies have to do a better job of marketing is correct. I would say the way that the marketing departments of CPGs and retailers do not understand how best to approach that 66% segment of the population.

I have a good example for you of a company that is trying to break into this segment. There is a Web site called, which offers rewards for being green – whether it’s just educating yourself on the various ways to be green through their promotional contests or quizzes, or if you’re actually physically doing something to be more green (i.e. recycling), the company seems to have created an interesting way to market green products, get consumers to try them and/or buy them, and at the same time pushing ways for us as consumers and inhabitants of this planet to be more green. You earn points for taking the quizzes, doing the recycling, or sometimes CPGs will have promotions on their Facebook page (Aveeno did this recently) where you make a pledge and earn points for the pledge. The points can then be redeemed for high value coupons or freebies. I think this breaks us out of the idea that all green products are perpetually expensive and taste like crap. Untrue! I recently redeemed some points to get coupons for Honest tea, which is a 100% organic tea filled with antioxidants. Mind you, I’ve never tried it before, but wow – very good stuff. I got four bottles for free with the coupons I scored at RecycleBank.

Another thing I like about this site is they have articles about different ways to be more green, such as repurposing containers or starting a garden in a city. So it’s more of a repository for green initiatives, not just a site containing how-to articles. Personally I think this Web site design mission drives more traffic and interest in the site. Maybe CPGs need to hop on the RecycleBank bandwagon and start thinking a little bit more like the 66%.

MNB user Ellen Feldman-Ornato wrote:

Here’s what we find with regard to the Middle Greens – they’re most interested in their own families, their own health and their own communities. If I ask someone if she’s aware of how that choice of (for example) a plastic water bottle affects the planet and how few are recycled, I lose her. If I ask that same woman if she realizes how EXPENSIVE bottled water is compared to buying large bottles or (better yet) using tap water in reusable bottles, we can have the conversation. I want the result – she chooses reusables instead of disposables. She wants the result – she gets the same product (water) and it’s more cost effective. I can talk about pollution and landfills until I’m tired and her eyes will roll;  if we talk about BPA leaching into the water and the studies about this toxin I have her attention. As always we need to talk to people about what’s in it for them and for their families.

From another MNB user:

Only people who ignore long term economic trends are surprised.

Core economic issues always trump environmental issues. If you follow trends in merchandising, all the way back since the Carter Administration, you can see that when economy sours, energy prices spike and jobless rates increase above average the core economic issues take precedent over cost-prohibitive environmental solutions to perceived (or outright falsified) environmental problems.

In short, when times are good most consumers can afford to appreciate Mother Earth and “Gia” but when money is short and families are cold and, consumers will readily turn our friends, the trees, into firewood.

And I repeat - economics and environmental issues don’t strike me as oppositional concepts. Then again, I suspect that’s because too many people in this country are committed to ideology rather than actual thinking.

Regarding last week’s Eye Opener about Amazon creating a lending function for the Kindle that will allow people to borrow e-books from libraries, one MNB user wrote:

Kevin, this is an eye opener but from my perspective not for the reason you think. 

Amazon’s position is changing because the competition is forcing it to.  I am the proud owner of a Nook Color and the primary reason I purchased it is that it reads standard formats rather than proprietary formats.  E-books have been available from Libraries for awhile and are all in open format that can be read by every device but the Kindle.  To me the eye opener is that regardless of how successful you are you still need to ask yourself everyday who is my customer and am I giving them what they want.  In this case the extremely successful Amazon.Com has reassessed it’s position with the Kindle to make sure that their customer is getting as much value as they can from their e-reader.

Excellent point.

I got a lot of email responding to last week’s video rant about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who said recently that his company “has no technology,” that its competitive advantage ids “humanity,” and that the internet “is not a channel to sell things, but one to build trust.” I suggested that the characterization was a little pompous, that Starbucks uses technology (though not well) with its frequent shopper program, and that the folks at Amazon have found that the internet is a pretty good place to sell stuff.

One MNB user wrote:

Kevin--- calm down .. obviously you have gone over to the dark side!!!!

More and more technology.... less and less contact between seller and buyer.  I received a "snail mail coupon" from Starbucks. Thanks to your "ranting" I reflected on my thoughts when I received the card. It was a pleasant, warm fuzzy thought that someone ( a retailer) had sent me a gift.  Put the card in my car and redeemed it the following week ..... again the sense that I was given something. It sounds as if you are too busy to "smell the coffee" and would rather see a credit on your account so you do not have to think about it. The old Kevin used to preach about retailers losing contact and experience with their customers. This has been Starbucks objective since day one. I live in Seattle and I believe that all three major retailers founded and have their HQ's here (Starbucks, Amazon and Costco) in their own way within the confines of their industries (internet, foodservice and retail) have a very successful priority to reach out to their customers. Maintain that point of difference that identity of "feel good or satisfied" when there is a transaction. Kevin the "dark side" can get lonely with just you and your computer spreadsheet...

All I argued was that instead of spending a post card with a coupon for a free coffee - which both wastes paper and makes it more likely that the coupon will be lost - Starbucks ought to program its card program so the 16th coffee is free. There’s no difference in human contact - I still have to walk up to the counter,m still have to place the order, still have the pleasure of chatting with the barista if I choose to. The only difference is that the savings come y=to me automatically, and that the program is customer-centric, not retailer-centric.

This “dark side” stuff is nonsense. Great technology heightens the opportunity for great customer service. It is a tool and a tactic, not a strategy or a culture. That is, if it is used right.

Another MNB user wrote:

Keep in mind that the Starbucks loyalty card program is not consumer driven.  Fast food retailers have a theft rate of 100% and are trying to reduce cash in the register.  Consumers still overwhelming pay for coffee, burgers, etc. with cash, even business travelers.  I was a Regional HR Manager overseeing several Starbucks (franchisee) and theft is insane.  That is why they have switched to the loyalty cards.  They still do very little if any consumer research, but perhaps that will change in the future.

Card programs without data mining strike me as silly. But maybe that’s just me.

MNB user Jeff Heddinger wrote:

Just an observation from a Panera Rewards member.  When I drop in on Panera they swipe my card (or enter my phone # if I don't have my card), this calls up my account and all available rewards are read to me by the associate working the register.  I can redeem all, none or some of what is available just by asking for it - no special card or coupon required.  In my opinion Panera has done the program the right way - it is seamless and easy, but most of all, it is rewarding as I don't know what I have coming until I enter the store... it's a surprise each time I visit, and a welcome one at that!

Another MNB user chimed in:

Choice Pet supply, with only 4 locations (as far as I know) has 2 programs..every 10th bag of dry food is free (of the same brand and size) and every 10th visit is a 10% off.  They remind you, and you can save your 10% for another visit if you don't want to redeem it on the exact visit.  No coupons, no things to swipe..just  "are you in our computer?"  -- and that only when the clerk is new and doesn't recognize me.

That's the way to do it.

MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:

After listening to this mornings’ “rant” about Starbucks’ misuse of technology, and then reading the news items about Kindle’s e-book library, it occurs to me that many of us older industry leaders are not as technologically fluent as we think, or as our younger counterparts.  Even though I consider myself an expert at Microsoft office, this realization was brought home recently by a stop at a little, Grateful Dead store, called “Sunshine Day Dream,” while traveling through CT. 

I asked if they have any Grateful Dead CD’s.  The reply from the young man working at the store was, no, people don’t really buy or listen to CD’s anymore.  Really! I do.  This opened my eyes to torrents and the world of file sharing.  I immediately learning about file sharing, and replaced my car CD player with one that offers a USB port with I-pod compatibility.  Now, I can “borrow” music, listen, and update fluidly.

Kindle is realizing that people, especially younger people, don’t “buy” books as much as in the past, even their e-books.  Why buy when you can share?  Leaders like Howard Schultz, and me for that matter, think we understand technology.  We don’t, because the statement “constant change” is not merely lip service but reality.  Our young counterparts more readily adapt to this constant change because it is integrated into their lifestyles much differently than it is part of ours.  While we use words like change, internet, social networking, and loyalty marketing, our perception of the life integration of technology is much different that the younger generation.

P.S., to Mr. Schultz.  Even though my 20-year-old daughter is addicted to Starbucks, she doesn’t have time to mess (her word, although a regular part of the younger vernacular, is still unprintable to us “old” folks!) with a loyalty program or frequent shopper card.  Your snail and email end up in the trash.

MNB user Gary Harris wrote:

Hmmm, I believe you might have missed something here. Anyway, here’s my $6,000,000 take on this. I think Mr. Schultz was trying to say something you’ve been saying all along, Kevin. That while the technology can enable us to do things we haven’t been able to before, we still need to cultivate and nurture a relationship with our customers, built primarily on trust. You will do what you say you’ll do, and you’ve got a track record to prove it whether I’m in your store or on your website, and whether or not you have both venues in your current business model.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with someone about my iPad. While they were marveling at the technology behind it, the magic (or humanity, or engagement, or relevance..) was that when people were using it, the technology disappeared. My 13 month old granddaughter can play the alphabet app or The Wheels on the Bus, and my 92 year-old father in the dementia ward can scroll through our latest vacation pictures. They are immersed in the content in way they couldn’t before, enabled by technology that is so elegantly crafted that the users are oblivious to it.

I think that’s what Howard Schultz wants to accomplish. Was he speaking with a bit of hyperbole? Probably. Could their own systems and processes be improved? Whose couldn’t! The point I got from his comments is that if that’s what he truly believes then he’s looking at technology the right way, as a means rather than as an end and a way to extend the promise of the brand first, and thereby increase sales as a result.

Maybe that’s what Schultz was saying, but if so, he did it with a high pomposity quotient. If I’d been advising about that speech, I would have suggested that he phrase it differently - that he should have said that technology won’t take you any further than your people, and that great technology serves the purpose of allowing us the privilege of creating a better, friendlier, more compelling retail experience.

He just annoyed me. So I ranted.

Because that's what I do.
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