Layer 3: Luxury & The Set-Top Box

The Washington Post: “At a time when Americans are increasingly abandoning their cable companies — flocking to alternatives such as Netflix and Hulu — Layer3’s premise is that the big bundle of basic and premium channels that has sustained the industry for decades is still a viable formula.”

“It turns out that the most avid cord-cutters among us tend to be lower-income Americans … To help court those high-end customers, Layer3 is trying to improve on the reputation many cable providers have gained as stodgy, hulking corporations trying to nickel-and-dime their customers. It isn’t just rolling out red-carpet customer service … or a ‘white-glove’ customer experience, such as your ability to text the company whenever you have questions or concerns. It’s also trying to lure subscribers with the promise of next-gen technology embedded in its product.”

“Layer3’s wireless set-top box supports 4K-resolution video. It offers a curated feed that automatically learns what you like to watch, and it has integration with Facebook and Twitter, along with a few other bells and whistles … All of this is aimed at raising the bar for cable service, making it so that consumers feel they’re actually getting what they pay for — or more.”


Silicon Valley Informs The Shopping Experience

The Wall Street Journal: “With online pricing and inventory easily accessible, consumers are increasingly becoming brand and retailer agnostic. So retailers are turning to Silicon Valley for everything from artificial intelligence to data to draw consumers in … Even the smallest changes online—facilitated by artificial intelligence and algorithms—can make a difference in sales, retailers are discovering.”

“Italian lingerie brand Cosabella gauged customer response to change the color of its ‘buy’ button to pink and its banner to specify it is Italian family-owned, bumping up revenue by 38%. It is also using image-recognition technology … tailoring its website to individual customers based on the advertising image they click to get to the site.”

“Retailers are also customizing the shopping experience in stores, where around 90% of U.S. purchasing still takes place … For example, Burberry Group PLC can ask for a customer’s name and type it into an app when the person walks in, giving access to personal data, including his or her last purchase and whether the person prefers still or sparkling water—and potentially some of his or her public social media presence, too.”


Punch Line: Even Bad Jokes Project Confidence

The Wall Street Journal: “Telling a joke—even a bad one—may help leaders be perceived as more confident and competent by co-workers. That is according to new research from a trio of scholars from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Harvard Business School.”

“In one test, participants were asked to rate individuals who gave testimonials about a fictional service that removed pet waste from customers’ yards. The person who made a joke in their testimonial was rated as more competent and higher in status by the study participants. In a similar experiment, participants were also more likely to choose joke-tellers to lead a group in a task.”

“Even jokes that fall flat have a payoff. Study participants read straight and joke responses to the common interview question, ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ Some transcripts showed that the interviewer laughed after the candidate responded with a joke—’Celebrating the fifth anniversary of you asking me this question’—and some didn’t. Participants who read the transcript with the failed joke rated the teller as highly confident. (Inappropriate jokes, however, don’t appear to burnish the teller’s reputation.)”


Indie Theaters Reinvent Movie Experience

The Guardian: “From themed weddings to live-streamed operas and interactive movie nights, (UK) indie theatres are reinventing themselves as the new entertainment hubs on the high street – eating into the market share of the multiplex giants and in-home rivals such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. These independents accounted for almost a quarter – 23% – of all screens nationwide in 2016, up from 17% the year before, according to data from research firm Mintel.”

“Sam Neophytou would vouch for that. Together with a small group of actor friends, he founded the Arthouse in Crouch End, north London in 2014, converting a former snooker hall into an indie cinema. Its two 85-seater screens have been a huge success.” He comments: “People want to be in this kind of environment rather than a multiplex where there isn’t that intimacy.”

“When Lyndsey Holden, from Birmingham, was planning her wedding last year, she didn’t want a church or a register office … She and husband-to-be James Burrows ended up walking down the aisle of their local indie cinema, the Electric, flanked by half a dozen stormtroopers and a 6ft 7in Chewbacca … The cinema’s manager, Sam Bishop, says he is constantly thinking up new ideas … Special wine-tasting evenings have been staged in sync with the film Sideways, pausing the movie whenever the main characters have a drink and serving customers the same wine.” He comments: “You drink cathartically with their journey and leave as spiritually uplifted – and as drunk – as the main characters.”


DeMille-mania: Tight Shots Tell Different Stories

The Wall Street Journal: “Once used sparingly to heighten drama and engage audiences, tight shots have grown more abundant and more extreme in recent years, many film experts say. New technology has helped make close-ups a common tool, changing not just how movies look but how actors perform and stories unfold.”

“The popularity of close-ups speaks, in part, to a changing entertainment landscape. Filmmakers know more of their work will live online, especially as streaming services enter the movie business, and they are aware that wide shots won’t always translate as well on computers and phones. Close-ups are tempting because they’re easier for people to see.”

“Close-ups can open new avenues for storytelling. In Arrival, the 2016 film about a visit by alien spaceships, editor Joe Walker helped reinvent a tight shot of Amy Adams in a nightmare sequence. Originally, the scene was shot so Ms. Adams would appear to be looking off screen at her co-star, Forest Whitaker. On impulse, Mr. Walker and director Denis Villeneuve cut to an enormous alien crouching in a corner instead of Mr. Whitaker—a shocking moment made possible by tight framing that never showed what Ms. Adams was originally looking at.”


Costco Golf Balls: The New ‘Two-Buck Chuck’

The Wall Street Journal: Costco, the warehouse retail giant, first began selling golf balls last fall, under its Kirkland Signature brand that is affixed to a wide range of products and carries discount prices. Available for $29.99 for two dozen, the balls instantly ranked among the cheapest on the market … But what made the balls a hot item among fanatical golfers is the revelation that, by some accounts, they perform like rivals that sell for more than twice as much.”

“That idea sent shock waves through a billion-dollar industry, left Costco out of stock for weeks at a time and caused secondary-market prices for the ball to soar. Its popularity is threatening one of the sport’s long-held consumer beliefs: when it comes to the quality of golf balls, you generally get what you pay for.”

“The balls were made at a factory in South Korea by a company called Nassau Golf, which also manufactures balls for TaylorMade, one of the major equipment manufacturers … the company had an excess supply that it sold to Costco through a third-party trader … According to a Nassau executive based in Europe … both Nassau and TaylorMade, its biggest client, are unhappy with the rise of the $1.25 golf ball and that the company won’t sell excess supply in such large quantities again.”


Dream Diaries Boost Creativity

A new study finds that “people who kept a daily dream journal improved their performance on a test measuring a key component of creativity,” reports Pacific Standard. “The results provide further evidence that paying attention to ‘non-habitual states of consciousness’ — a category that includes meditative states, as well as dreaming — ’affords conditions that foster more creative ways of thinking,’ writes a research team from Columbia led by psychiatrist Mauricio Sierra-Siegert.”

“The study, published in the Journal of Creative Behavior, featured 160 university undergraduates, who began by filling out a series of creativity-related questionnaires … After completing this initial test, the students were emailed a short questionnaire on each of the next 27 mornings. Eighty-six of them were instructed daily to note how many dreams they recalled from the previous night, and how vivid those recollections were. The other 74 were asked to note moments vividly recalled from the previous day … only those who regularly recalled their dreams raised their scores on the important ‘creative strengths’ component” of the tests.

“The results suggest ‘increased awareness to dreams increases creativity through a loosening of stereotyped thinking patterns,’ the researchers conclude. If you are hoping to produce more imaginative work this year, put that pad and pencil on your nightstand before you go to sleep, and use it first thing in the morning to recall your dreams. Those internal, nocturnal visions might just inspire a creative breakthrough.”


JC Penney Returns to Its Urban Roots

The Wall Street Journal: “J.C. Penney Co. hasn’t been known lately for retail innovation, but when it comes to real estate, it has been a trailblazer. Back in 1992, the department-store giant was among the first of big corporations to move its headquarters to a pastoral campus in the suburbs from the office canyons of a major city. Today, the retail giant is again becoming a trend setter, with the sale of its headquarters and much of the land in Plano, Texas, that it occupied in 1992.”

“This time, the trend is the redevelopment of suburban campuses to denser, more urban-like settings, where businesses can give employees the option of living, working and playing with minimum time spent in automobiles … The evolution of the J.C. Penney property stands as an example of how to revive the kind of suburban corporate campuses now falling into disfavor in the U.S. Companies increasingly are feeling isolated in glass and steel headquarters tucked into acres of parkland and forests as a younger workforce gravitates to more downtown settings.”

“At the same time, J.C. Penney’s sale and lease-back of its real estate shows how the nation’s retailers are cashing in on their property to deal with the upheaval caused by competition from online shopping and other pressures. The proceeds are helping J.C. Penney reduce the huge debt load it took on after an ill-fated effort to reinvent itself about five years ago.”


Empty Malls Enable Online Fulfillment

The Wall Street Journal: “Retailers are converting empty mall space into makeshift distribution centers used for package pickup and returns of goods bought online. At the same time, online merchants are opening physical stores to reach more customers, either via short-term leases in pop-up stores or long-term tenancies like’s upcoming move into Manhattan’s Time Warner Center.”

“More retail centers, including those at town-center locations in smaller cities, are housing Amazon Lockers, which allow Amazon’s online customers to pick up and return packages at their convenience. Other online retailers without any physical stores are looking to provide options for their customers to drop off unwanted purchases in person in shopping centers where they can get immediate refunds.

“One startup, Happy Returns, accepts in-person returns from participating online retailers at six malls in California, Chicago and Virginia … Returned items are sent to a regional processing hub, then on to retailers’ fulfillment centers, third-party logistics companies or liquidators. Happy Returns hopes to build a national network that includes open-air shopping centers, high-end grocery stores and coffee shops and is aiming to have a presence in the top 20 metro areas by 2017, said David Sobie, president and co-founder of the start-up.”


Pottery Barn Catalogs: What a Mess!

The Wall Street Journal: “Shoppers have long wanted to live in the pages of a home furnishings catalog. Now brands are obsessing over shots that are just untidy enough that they look more like places where real people actually might live. It’s the décor equivalent of a model with bed-head hair or a partially untucked shirt … Pottery Barn’s January catalogs have photos of unmade beds and overflowing storage baskets. But there is a line they will not cross: A dining room scene doesn’t feature stacks of dirty plates, but it does have a chair pulled out with an unfolded napkin strewn across it.”

“The catalog from the Land of Nod, Crate and Barrel’s children’s division … makes sure its props include items found in many children’s rooms, such as a well-loved stuffed animal. There are shoes on the floor and books on the shelf. Toys are often tossed about, but in a controlled way—one that looks as if it could be tidied quickly if needed.”

Pottery Barn’s “makeover extends into its product design, with the introduction of shrunken, more affordable pieces. The collection aims to change the brand’s perception of selling only oversize , often pricey furniture designed for sprawling suburban homes. The new merchandise, including a $299 arm chair, is meant to appeal to two sets of new shoppers: young adults outfitting their first apartment and boomers relocating from the suburbs to smaller, urban spaces.”