Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Walking on Main Street - slightly worrying

I have had occasion to walk several main streets and shopping malls in the Los Angeles metro area the past few days.I notice that parking is much easier than it used to be, and that stores are quite empty. Perhaps this is because people are at the beach, but given the number of empty retail spaces, and the lack of crowds even at Universal City Walk, I sense an economic slowdown at work. Lots of Sales, but few people shopping.

We are heading into an election with an ongoing set of issues which must be worrying people.Real incomes are not climbing, but costs - gas, utilities, health insurance - very much so. This has to impact what any business person does over the next twelve months.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Has equal pay for men and women really come? Is this what the MENG survey says?

A recent survey by MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group) the largest not for profit group of senior marketing executives showed that among the members who responded, women were earning comparable, or even slightly higher salaries than men. So is this grounds for self-congratulation? Are women in marketing now earning as much as men?

We need to remember that this is a selected universe from a group to which entry is at least partly, based on salary. It is a group of senior executives. In all probability, salaries across all levels, even in marketing, are not as even as the survey suggests. There are more women than men at junior levels, and far fewer at Board and CMO level. So there is still progress to be made. However, it is encouraging that the possibility now exists that women can earn as much as men, which is a big advance from a generation ago.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How can consumers control medical costs when they cannot "shop around" because they do not know what the costs are?

We keep on hearing that by putting the onus of payment upon the consumer, he or she will be more aware of costs and will negotiate them more carefully.

In case those people have not noticed, not only do doctors, unlike MacDonalds, not post their procedures and prices, but in many cases are prohibited from discussing their prices by the contracts they have with health insurers. Even if they were to, how are laypeople to decide what tests, procedures and treatments are medically necessary when even doctors do not always agree. Then, even if you have discussed prices with a family practitioner, how are you to know what are the prices any specialist, to whom you may be referred, will charge. Lastly, if you are really ill will you sit down and negotiate prices before seeking treatment?

This seems to be a system which is designed to penalize the consumer in all ways.

To what extent are Political and Business leaders Narcissists?

Do you have to have an unhealthy focus on yourself to stand for high political office? Is that a healthy self-confidence or unhealthy narcissism? Do people who aspire to run a company or country have a sense of mission and service, or is it insecurity and hubris? When we talk about "public service," is it simply that, or do the individuals crave attention and admiration? Do people who start off as idealists get changed by isolation and success? How balanced is a spouse who really believes that the individual really is qualified to run a country or huge organization? Do they really believe that, or are they simply hungry for power, money, and recognition?

I am not sure that there is a simple answer, and each of these may be true for different people. However, I do not believe that many, if any, can really lead a huge organization or country infallibly. Yet, we continue to want to believe that someone can. Perhaps the fault is that so many keep looking for perfection and find it easy to select someone who seems to provide that.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - a case study in atrocious crisis communications

Now that Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae are in trouble and getting severe criticism, they are making the cardinal mistake so many companies make. They are hiding from the press while politicians and journalists are having a clear field to tear them apart.

In fact, the smartest thing they could each do is to come out with all guns blazing and shout from the highest rooftop that they were only doing what their masters, politicians, wanted, which was to make home ownership easy for all Americans, and if they trod on risky ground, it was only at the behest and expressed wishes of the leaders of the country. They have failed to ensure that the best interests of the people attacking them are aligned with theirs and will probably take the fall for the things they have done, and much else besides.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

In the year before Apple introduced the first iPhone over 300 phones were introduced by mobile phone companies

Companies which had been making cell phones for many years, and which were experts on cell phones and how consumers wanted them, introduced over 300 new phones in the year before Apple introduced the iPhone. Yet, none succeeded nearly like the iPhone. What price "industry experience?"

As with the rescue of IBM, it took an industry outsider to really make the needed changes. If someone has grown up in an industry or company, it is rare for them to change what is needed. A.G. Laffley of Procter & Gamble has done so, but the company has a culture of constant re-invention, where managers are rewarded for innovation.

Social Networking must be multi-party to really spread the work

Barack Obama's campaign has discovered what the Scion car brand is also implementing. To be truly effective in spreading the word, you have to give up control. This means that you have to be prepared for participants to say bad thinks about you as well as good.

This is the major reason why few businesses will ever be really successful at this. Their instincts, like any dictator are to completely control all the messages. This ends up hurting the company more than it helps. Companies have to learn that in order to spread the good word, they have to risk some negative comments, or the mere suppression of them will reflect poorly on the company.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Is there a continued need for the US cent coin?

I grew up in the waning days of the British farthing (it was tiny, and the old penny was huge, thus the "penny-farthing" bicycle). A quarter of a penny, it could buy little, but still existed because people rather liked it (it had a Robin red-breast, a completely different bird to the North American Robin, on its obverse). Eventually, it went, but the half-penny survived until the introduction of decimal currency. At that time, there was a half new pence, worth 1.2 old pennies, which has slowly faded out and the new penny is worth 2.4 old pennies, or 9.6 farthings. The reality is that the US nickel is worth less than one cent was before WWII, so do we need it? Until 1859 there was a US half-cent, but it was abandoned because of declining value. If we are to look at inflation since then perhaps the smallest coin should be the dime, since 10 cents now is worth what one cent may have been back then. Of course, there is no logic for retaining the dollar note. It should be a coin. While many say that notes are cheaper to produce than coins, they do not realize that notes may only last 6 months, whereas coins last for many, many years, and even then can be re-cycled.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Are Frequent Flier Miles Programs dead - $675 for a "free" flight on British Airways!

A month ago, it cost me $260 to get a "free" ticket to London with American Airlines. A couple of days ago, British Airways on its website, wanted to charge me $675 for a "free" ticket to London. When I called the airline to ask about this, I was told that this was because of taxes, charges, and fees. When I checked online for a purchased fare, the airline's website showed these as $174.40 on a fare of $880. So cashing in frequent flyer miles results in a fairly modest savings as British Airways charges such a high premium for doing so. Clearly, with shorter and shorter expiration times, less availability and hidden charges, these programs will become not loyalty generators, but creators of immense resentment.

London art sales this summer go over $1 Billion, up 19% vs. year ago

This is one of the few times when although economies in the West are troubled, unemployment is rising, as are foreclosures, yet the ultra-rich are reveling in their wealth. Over the the history of economic times, the rich have suffered along with the poor. However, this past decade, in many Western countries, the rich have prospered while the poor have lost. Whether it is the most expensive homes or the most expensive luxuries, their prices continue to soar, while the routinely expensive have dropped and the poor are losing their homes. It is unlikely in any democracy that this can continue for ever without a backlash at the ballot box.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

An old constitution

While the USA likes to think of itself as a young country, it has the oldest written constitution in the world. Perhaps uniquely, its framers are seen as demi-gods, its strictures almost immutable. Even though it was merely a development in a long line of documents from the Magna Carta in 1215, and the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the mythology around it is that it sprung fully formed from the mind of Thomas Jefferson. In fact, while he wrote the first draft, about 25% of that was dropped and new material introduced. There is little recognition that circumstances change. A few days ago, on the radio, I heard someone say that the government could ban cars, or the Internet, without any challenge from the Constitution, whereas, it could not ban guns, even though the very nature of a gun and society had changed dramatically since it was written. Only a few centuries will tell whether this view of a Constitution, or the alternative view of one as an ever changing and evolving philosophy will be better.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Is fixing healthcare a social, business, or political problem?

In the US, the only Western country without universal health-care, there seems to be little progress. With over 46 Million without health insurance, a similar number with inadequate insurance, and 100 Million without dental care, a train wreck is inevitable. The resulting reduction in working days, it is an economic problem as well as a social one. However, no one seems to come to terms with the fact that delivering health-care requires a compromise between universal access, quality, and cost. No society can deliver all three to the maximum extent. Some area or areas have to be sub-optimal. Eventually, the bullet will have to be bitten or the consequences for the nation will be catastrophic, as the problem gets worse. It is indeed a social, business, and political issue, but those who are slowing down the resolution also come from each of these three factors. However, it does seem to be taking too much time to resolve. If government cannot resolve this, how can it be expected to resolve other major issues, such as Global Warming, Infrastructure, Energy, and Education, each of which is essential to our children's future?