Under Armour: Kevin Plank’s Baltimore Platform

The Washington Post: In Baltimore, Under Armour founder Kevin Plank “has plotted a $5.5 billion development project, one of the largest in the country, comprising 45 city blocks and more than two miles of riverfront … Plank’s project, when completed in 25 years, would dwarf Baltimore’s celebrated Inner Harbor, delivering a new Under Armour headquarters, tech and manufacturing businesses and 40 acres of parks. It would also yield hundreds of millions of dollars in projected tax revenue and provide an estimated 25,000 jobs.”

“Plank unveiled a plan calling for 18 million total square feet, including offices, hotels, shopping, attractions and at least 7,500 residences in Port Covington, a peninsula isolated from the city by Interstate 95.”

Says Plank: “We want to shine a light on this great city of Baltimore. I can tell you, I love this city. I love my company. I believe in this city. I believe in what’s going to happen. And ladies and gentlemen, I can promise you, at Under Armour, we are truly, truly just getting started.”

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Auto Innovation: The Incredible Nash

Jalopnik: “For a defunct car company, we still feel Nash’s influence a surprising amount, in ways that are pretty basic and fundamental to how cars are today … Nash was the first to really build a full-unibody car in an affordable car in real volume: the Nash 600 … it came up with the HVAC system that formed the basis of pretty much every one in use today … Saab and those safety-loving Swedes introduced the modern 3-point harness in 1958, but nine years earlier, in 1949, Nash was offering lap belts as an option on their cars.”

“Nash was a pioneer in the subtle and beautiful art of sleeping in your car. Way back in 1936, it pioneered the ‘Bed-in-Car’ system, where the rear seat would fold down, creating an opening into the trunk, allowing you to sleep in the car, with your legs in the trunk … This also may be the first example of a folding rear seat to get bigger things in the trunk, as well.”

“Nash can make a reasonable claim to have one of the first true muscle cars, the Rambler Rebel … Nash was the first American company to build (compact cars) in real quantity, and the way it built them presaged the modern, very international auto industry … That’s a lot of pretty important firsts for a dead car company, and most of these highly influential things are all under the skin or behind the scenes. It’s easy to forget about Nash, but once you really start digging into how cars are built today, you see their fingerprints all over the place.”

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Game Changer: In-App Purchases

The Wall Street Journal: “In-app purchases are ‘dramatically changing the mobile-entertainment landscape,’ said Andrew Phelps, director of digital media at Rochester Institute of Technology. They ‘engage people in a longer financial discourse than you would have in an upfront sale’ … The secret sauce behind many in-app purchases is the countdown clock—a frustration tax that forces gamers to idle before they can perform duties such as farming crops or replenishing fuel, unless they pay for more turns or items to speed up the action.”

“Converting players into spenders without turning them off is key; gamers have derided free-to-play games as ‘free to play, pay to win’ for years. Developers, though, have gotten savvier about giving players more free things to do to keep them hooked until they start spending. In ‘Pokémon Go,’ players can go weeks capturing dozens of ‘pocket monsters’ without needing to spend money. After investing so much time, players might be more inclined to dole out cash to upgrade their gear so they can carry more items and creatures, for example.”

“Algorithms are playing an increasing part in nudging players to spend. Based on dozens of data points—how often gamers play, what model mobile device they use, location and gender—developers might raise a game’s difficulty level, making no two players’ experiences exactly alike … Data on players’ behavior also are used to strategically tweak prices for virtual goods in real time … Other tactics: tapping into players’ “fear of missing out” through limited-time events, and cultivating relationships between players.”

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Dollar Shave & The Digitally Native Vertical Brand

The New York Times: “The same forces that drove Dollar Shave’s rise are altering a wide variety of consumer product categories. Together, they add up to something huge — a new slate of companies that are exploring novel ways of making and marketing some of the most lucrative products we buy today. These firms have become so common that they have acquired a jargony label: the digitally native vertical brand.”

“By cutting out the inefficiencies of retail space and the marketing expense of TV, the new companies can offer better products at lower prices. We will get a wider range of products — if companies don’t have to market a single brand to everyone on TV, they can create a variety of items aimed at blocs of consumers who were previously left behind. And because these companies were born online, where reputations live and die on word of mouth, they are likely to offer friendlier, more responsive customer service than their faceless offline counterparts.”

“It’s striking how few of these online companies could have taken off in the presocial age. At the very least, they would have been sunk by the inability to target ads to the demographics they’re aiming to serve.”

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The Sweet Science of Designer Deodorant

The Wall Street Journal: “Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Soapwalla charges $14 for a 2-ounce jar of deodorant cream. It has the consistency of buttercream frosting … male customers have said they prefer it over a waxy stick, which snags and pulls hair. Cream also makes it easier to apply to other places on the body, such as the feet.”

“Prices for these offerings are reaching new heights, well beyond the old standard of two or three dollars a stick. Sprays and stronger stick offerings, known as clinical strength, come with $5 to $10 price tags. Natural deodorant often costs $15 or more. Tom Ford has two sticks, from his Oud Wood and Neroli Portofino fragrance lines, priced at $52 a piece … … A spokeswoman for Tom Ford Beauty … says the brand’s $52-per-stick price tag reflects the effort it takes to translate a complex, premium fragrance into a deodorant.”

Meanwhile: “Thirty percent of women reapply their deodorant during the day, according to Procter & Gamble Co., maker of Secret, Old Spice and Gillette; 20% of women say they keep it in their car, 25% in a purse and 30% at work. It all stems from a sneaking suspicion that deodorant could work better or has failed altogether. Executives at personal-care companies acknowledge that could be the case, but say many times a shopper has bought the wrong product or is mistaking a weak fragrance for an ineffective deodorant.

“Now more women buy Old Spice, a line typically targeting men, because of how strong its scent is … It is especially popular with women headed for the gym.”

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The Six Trajectories of Storytelling

MIT Technology Review: “Andrew Reagan at the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington and a few pals … have used sentiment analysis to map the emotional arcs of over 1,700 stories and then used data-mining techniques to reveal the most common arcs. ‘We find a set of six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives,’ they say.”

“The six basic emotional arcs are these: A steady, ongoing rise in emotional valence, as in a rags-to-riches story such as Alice’s Adventures Underground by Lewis Carroll. A steady ongoing fall in emotional valence, as in a tragedy such as Romeo and Juliet. A fall then a rise, such as the man-in-a-hole story, discussed by Vonnegut. A rise then a fall, such as the Greek myth of Icarus. Rise-fall-rise, such as Cinderella. Fall-rise-fall, such as Oedipus.”

“It turns out the most popular are stories that follow the Icarus and Oedipus arcs and stories that follow more complex arcs that use the basic building blocks in sequence. In particular, the team says the most popular are stories involving two sequential man-in-hole arcs and a Cinderella arc followed by a tragedy.”

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Dress Local: Starbucks Fashion in the ‘Hood

The Washington Post: “Starbucks employees will continue to wear the green or black aprons that you’re used to seeing when you hit up their stores. But lots of subtle changes are coming to what workers can wear underneath. Previously, they could only wear black, white and khaki clothing; now, the palette is more varied and includes other subdued colors such as blue, gray and brown. And they are now permitted to wear patterned shirts.”

“By giving employees more flexibility in how they dress, Starbucks is trying to distinguish itself from other employers with comparable schedules and wages … But the dress code for any retailer is not just a talent strategy: It’s also about telegraphing a certain feeling to customers. And by allowing more personalized attire, Starbucks seems to be doing something that is in keeping with a broader strategic trend in retail these days. Mega-chains across a variety of shopping categories are trying to make individual stores reflect their local neighborhoods.”

“Starbucks workers in Brooklyn will likely embrace the dress code differently than those in Miami or in a small, Midwestern college town. And perhaps that can give each of the chain’s outposts a more varied, localized feel.”

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The Economic Value of ‘Cool’

Quartz: “Cool doesn’t just explain why people will pay $1,000 for the right sweatshirt. It’s also arguably a factor in why the right logo makes us view some people as more suitable for a job, or worthy of receiving money for charity … Cool is a target that’s constantly shifting. It’s an attitude, a term of approval, and today, as much as any of these things, it’s a game of superficially rebellious status-chasing, centered on consumerism.”

“Steven Quartz and Anette Asp, neuroscience researchers at the California Institute of Technology, have run fMRI studies on the brains of people looking at items that a separate group identified as ‘cool’ or ‘uncool.’ Just viewing these objects activated a part of the subjects’ brains called the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). It’s involved in social emotions, such as pride and embarrassment, that center on how we perceive ourselves and believe others perceive us, and it has strong ties to the brain’s reward and disgust circuits.”

They write: “Cool turns out to be a strange kind of economic value that our brains see in products that enhance our social image … This abstract good—social approval, reputation, esteem, or status—plays a central role in our motivation and behavior, and it is the currency that drives much of our economy and our consumption.”

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‘Stealth Social’ Makes Pokémon Go

The Wall Street Journal: “It’s important to understand why Pokémon Go is such a hit, because … it might be a harbinger of new types of mobile and social apps, which put the ‘social’ back in ‘social network’ … The stealth social element is that Pokémon Go, while not explicitly about bringing people together, is doing so anyway as people playing it meet and share tips in their hunt for virtual monsters that the game shows in real-life neighborhoods.”

“Those real-life encounters are, paradoxically, a consequence of the lack of social features in Pokémon Go … (It) has no chat function, no map showing the location of other players—in short, no way to connect with others aside from meeting them in person. Nor does Pokémon Go require players to interact—it’s entirely possible to play the game without having any contact with anyone. Even the one naturally social element of the game—battling against others’ Pokémon—can take place on a player’s own schedule, with no one else present.”

“Many game designers have derided the design of Pokémon Go, calling it simplistic and trite. But it’s apparent from the game’s success that, intentionally or not, its simplicity accounts for much of its success.”

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Hotels: All Hospitality Is Local

The New York Timess: “Westin … is finding, as many hotel chains are, that a local clientele can help even out the ups and downs of the lodging business. And locals can even help out-of-towners feel more at home.” The focus is “on getting repeat business from a local following. So the innkeepers are sponsoring running clubs or organizing other attractions like author readings, art shows or musical performances … The theory is that a vibrant group of local patrons can make the hotel more attractive to out-of-town lodgers.”

“To breathe new life into its public spaces, Marriott has experimented with various ways to attract an in-town clientele. Its Renaissance Hotels brand a few years ago created an online concierge service, supplemented by recommendations and insights from local ‘navigators’ … And the company recently completed a five-week test in the Baltimore-Washington area in which local Marriott Rewards members could earn points by drinking or dining at 21 of its hotels in the region.”

Hotel analyst David Loeb comments: “The best advertisement for a hotel is the local community. If you can get locals to have a good experience, however they spread that word, it’s a positive.”

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