Consumers

Ravi Mattu

Earlier this week, a law was passed in Santa Clara, California which forbade the inclusion of toys in any meals that did not meet certain health standards for children.

It’s a pretty extraordinary step in the land of freedom and all that but apparently Silicon Valley has been at the forefront of the US’s healthy eating revolution, having previously forced food chains to display the caloric intake of their meals.

Somehow I imagine McDonald’s won’t be quaking in their boots. Presumably the packaging and advertising can still be emblazoned with Disney characters and getting the attention of a consumer is probably more significant in the long term than the toy that goes along with it.

Ravi Mattu

Today’s news that Google has released a list of governments that seek to censor its servcies or request personal information on users feels like the latest step in the company’s effort to rebuild a reputation that has had some sticky moments in recent weeks and months.

The company’s corporate motto – “Do no evil” – has been used by some as an ethical stick with which to beat it as it moved into China and agreed to self-censor its searches. And its disastrous launch of Buzz, its social networking service, met with much resistance from its community of users and, more recently, privacy regulators.

It was all a bit surprising. In the past few decades, few companies have demonstrated (shaped?) a better understanding of the changing nature of consumer behaviour than Google. So, what happened?

Ravi Mattu

John Lewis, the UK department store that also owns supermarket chain Waitrose, has reported annual pre-tax profits of £306.6m. I wouldn’t normally write about profit margins on this blog but John Lewis is unusual in that it is a high street brand that has done relatively well in the downturn despite being a relatively pricey option.

John Lewis is notable because its employees own the company, and partly because of that, the customer service is miles better than many of its competitors. These employees will share £151m bonus. More than that, as my colleague Michael Skapinker wrote earlier this year, it has made this ownership model work where others such as United Airlines have failed.

Ravi Mattu

Celebrity endorsements are a curious thing. I get the idea – a company pays a famous person a lot of money to associate with its brand both to generate some buzz and, presumably, to make your product seem as cool, hip and trendy as the celebrity.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what value Justin Timberlake has added by unveiling the Audi A1, the carmaker’s attempt to take on the Mini, at the Geneva Motor Show. It’s a car. He’s a cool young singer. Does seeing him on stage alongside Audi CEO CEO Rupert Stadler make consumers more likely to buy the car? I’m not sure. Does it make the reporters covering the event more excited about the product being pitched? Absolutely – and maybe that, and some pics in newspapers and on blogs of the celebrity and the car, are all they are after.

As Jeremy Cato, a journalist covering the event, put it: “Many of the middle-aged male journos – especially the ones without daughters – had never heard of Timberlake, but he nicely represents the affluent, 20-something age demographic Audi is targeting with the A1.”

Ravi Mattu

An interesting set of videos over on trendwatching.com, a pretty interesting Amsterdam-based company that does what their name suggests.

The video below, “The next big thing” is particularly interesting in revealing just how quickly technology has changed the way we think, communicate and, ultimately, do business. Just over half a minute in, check out the responses to the question: “How often do you Twitter?”

Some interesting insights on branding too. Maybe it’s not as powerful as we think it is?

Ravi Mattu

Ever read a piece that makes you go hmmm? How about this: the Grateful Dead’s greatest legacy could be the business lessons it offers management academics. If I hadn’t read it in The Atlantic, I’m not sure I would have believed it.

No, really, I promise, I didn’t inhale….

Hat tip: The Browser

Ravi Mattu

The Super Bowl is the big event in advertising and this year was no exception. Google, McDonald’s and Doritos are just some of the brands that have spent a lot of money – and hired a lot of creative talent – to get their messages out there.

The one ad that stuck out for me was the ad above, for Dave Letterman’s late night talk show, which featured Letterman with Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno. For anyone who has been following the battles between Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno on late night TV in the US in the past few weeks, it was kind of amazing to see Leno and Letterman on the same couch.

Thanks to the internet, you can watch all of the very impressive ads from the event if you missed the game.

PS -In a Super Bowl first, there is even a pro-life ad – see if you can spot it.

Ravi Mattu

Renault’s latest car, the Zoé, has caused a bit of controversy. Not everyone likes the name apparently – it’s been a popular name for girls in France recently and a few young parents are none too pleased that it’s now the name of a car.

It is always curious how consumers react to decisions taken by companies. I bet a lot of people at Renault thought long and hard about the name for the car. Maybe the person who made the final judgment has a daughter called Zoé and chose to name it precisely for that reason. Who knows.

Ravi Mattu

A bit of chatter out there about how Starbucks, which has had a rough few years, has quietly launched a new shop on London’s Conduit Street. You can see some pics of the new cafe on Tiki Chris’s Flickr page. They did this first in New York a few months ago, with a cafe that you would have barely realised was a Starbucks cafe.

Judging by the pics, it is a subtle-ish revamp – more communal spaces, like shared tables, more trendy lighting and furniture, a darker and warmer feel to the place, more books and so on.

Will it work? I have no idea but I do think there are a couple of interesting points here. First, Starbucks is applauded for at least being bold enough to rethink what they are doing. When the chain first started expanding outside of its Seattle base, it traded more on being a cool place to go rather than simply being ubiquitous. When Howard Schulz, its founding chief executive, came back to run the company this was one of his key messages; the chain, he lamented, had loss the “romance and theatre” on which the company was founded.

Ravi Mattu

Dave Carroll, the Canadian folk singer who accused United Airlines of breaking his guitar, wrote a song about it that became a huge viral success on YouTube (the biggest hit of his career) and brought lots of shame on to the airline, is at loggerheads with the company again.

Since the incident, Carroll has tried to avoid flying the airline but while en route to deliver a speech to a group of customer service executives in Denver, they lost his luggage.

It seems a curious way to deal with a customer and manage your reputation. I would have thought that after the first case, they would have put an asterisk next to Carroll’s name so that if he ever flew with them again, they would bend over backwards to ensure that he was treated well. Maybe they should have offered him free flights for life?

All companies will have the occasional bad experience with a customer. The key thing is how they deal with it. I wrote a few days ago on the case of a worker on the London Underground who resigned after being filmed ranting at a passenger. It looked liked the company handled the story well. As for United, I can’t imagine alienating a customer for a second time, after he has generated a lot of negative publicity for your brand, is a great idea.



About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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