Go Cubes: Technology As a Lifestyle Brand

“This year SXSW … feels like a story of how the tech ethos has escaped the bounds of hardware and software,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Tech is turning into a culture and a style, one that has spread into new foods and clothing, and all other kinds of nonelectronic goods. Tech has become a lifestyle brand. … physical products that aren’t so much dominated by new technology, but instead informed by the theories and practices that have ruled the tech business.”

For example: “Go Cubes, the caffeine-infused gummy snacks that have been compared to candied nuggets of cocaine,” from a company called Nootrobox, makers of “supplements that the founders say enhance human cognitive capabilities … The company grew out of an online movement of ‘biohackers’ — people who congregate on sites like Reddit to discuss how a variety of foods and other chemicals, from caffeine to street drugs to Alzheimer’s medicine from Russia, alter their focus, memory and other cognitive abilities. Nootrobox aims to find the most effective of these compounds — and only the ones deemed legal and safe for use in the United States — and turn them into consumer products.”

“Traditional coffee is an inconsistent product, they argue — each cup may have significantly more or less caffeine than the last — and it can have undesirable side effects, like jitteriness. Go Cubes … are meant to address these shortcomings. The cubes are more portable than coffee, they offer a precise measure of caffeine, and because they include some ingredients meant to modulate caffeine’s sharpest effects, they produce a more focused high. The cubes run about $1.70 for the price of two that are meant to equate to a cup of coffee.”

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Aston Martin vs. McLaren: Luxury vs. Technology

The Economist offers a study in contrast between two British plates: Aston Martin and McLaren. “Both carmakers are in the business of hurtling drivers towards 200mph. Yet with their respective focus on luxury and advanced engineering, they are relying on contrasting British strengths.”

“McLarens are wild-looking mid-engined sports machines that harness the firm’s skills in engineering to adapt racetrack materials, such as carbon fibre, and high-tech gizmos to make a car as at home on the circuit as the open road … Aston is first a ‘design company’ … Performance and handling are important but the aim is to make the ‘most beautiful car on the road.’ To do so, Aston has remodelled itself as a luxury-goods firm, emphasising design and craftsmanship that are a British speciality, while trying to extend the brand.”

“McLaren, meanwhile, strives to make its cars the most technically advanced. Last year the firm renamed itself the McLaren Technology Group to emphasise the importance of innovation … Ron Dennis, the firm’s boss, is convinced that its tech business will be its biggest and most important part in years to come. It already serves oil-and-gas, health-care and financial-services firms. Using skills honed in analysing the vast quantities of data generated by motor racing, it is developing analytics software for the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG.”

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Chevy Sets Limit on Teen Spirit

Engadget: “With the 2016 edition, the Chevy Malibu has added a new setting called Teen Driver. Once enabled, the feature lives in the infotainment system in the dash and warns underage drivers when they exceed a predetermined speed limit. At that point, it kills sound from the stereo until the front seat belts are buckled, enables all the safety features like traction control and generates a report card for the whole trip.”

“It’s basically a computer narc tucked behind a four-digit PIN … parents can use the report card to make decisions about future access to the car and use it as an opportunity to talk about their kids’ driving habits. And because it offers up hard evidence — such as when a safety system like stability control was activated and the top speed — a parent has the information necessary to make that conversation count.”

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Storytelling & The Haagen Dazs Effect

Quartz: Many global brands of the last decade have taken names of false provenance and enjoyed great success thanks to a paradigm hereby dubbed, “The Häagen-Dazs Effect.” … Häagen-Dazs ice cream, meant to sound Danish, was born in the Bronx. But the name tells a tale, from that umlaut to the silent “s” on the end, of premium, European origins. And when consumers reach for a pint, they sense the true value this faux identity adds.

“The Häagen-Dazs Effect makes an impact as well in these four notable brand names with made-up or embellished heritage and powerful identities: Sir Kensington’s makes high-end condiments and tells “the tongue-in-cheek ‘saga’ of an Oxford-educated gent who developed the original spiced ketchup recipe for Catherine the Great of Russia.” St. Germain, an elderflower spirit made in the USA, is named for the Saint-Germain-sur-Rhône region of the French Alps, where the stuff was first made.”

Warby Parker “took its name from Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker, two characters from one of Jack Kerouac’s journals … Brandy Melville was created by merchandising veteran Silvio Marsan and his son Stefan in Italy … Purportedly, the name is based on an imagined American girl (Brandy) who falls in love with an Englishman (Melville) in Rome … Ultimately, we’re talking here about the critical importance of a name that succinctly tells a compelling brand story­–whether that story is imagined or not, it must be told with richness and believability. These brands are a few to do so, making the Häagen-Dazs Effect, when done right­, a tactical tool for naming success.”

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Echo: Amazon’s Next Billion Dollar Baby?

“A bit more than a year after its release, Amazon’s Echo has morphed from a gimmicky experiment into a device that brims with profound possibility,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Here is a small, stationary machine that you set somewhere in your house, which you address as Alexa, which performs a variety of tasks — playing music, reading the news and weather, keeping a shopping list — that you can already do on your phone.”

“But the Echo has a way of sneaking into your routines. When Alexa reorders popcorn for you, or calls an Uber car for you, when your children start asking Alexa to add Popsicles to the grocery list, you start to want pretty much everything else in life to be Alexa-enabled, too. In this way, Amazon has found a surreptitious way to bypass Apple and Google — the reigning monarchs in the smartphone world — with a gadget that has the potential to become a dominant force in the most intimate of environments: our homes.”

“Many in the industry have long looked to the smartphone as the remote control for your world. But the phone has limitations. A lot of times fiddling with a screen is just too much work. By perfecting an interface that is much better suited to home use — the determined yell! — Amazon seems on the verge of building something like Iron Man’s Jarvis, the artificial-intelligence brain at the center of all your household activities.”

“Scot Wingo, the chairman of ChannelAdvisor, an e-commerce consulting firm, said the early signs suggested that the Echo was on a path to become Amazon’s next $1 billion business.”

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Burger King Re-Discovers its Inner Whopper

The Wall Street Journal: “Following unsuccessful efforts to appeal to a broader, more health-conscious customer base with salads, snack wraps, smoothies and low-calorie french fries, Burger King has returned to its roots as a purveyor of inexpensive burgers, fries and, now, hot dogs.”

“The bloated menu complicated kitchen operations and failed to attract customers as hoped. In 2010, Burger King launched more than 30 limited-time offers and 20 permanent menu items. By comparison, it launched 20 limited-time offers last year and no permanent menu items.” Burger King President Alex Macedo: “In a moment when a lot of brands in quick service are trying to become more fast-casual, we’re taking an opposite view.”

“David Harper, a franchisee who operates 72 Burger Kings in several states, said the chain has learned not to repeat its biggest mistake: copying rivals. ‘We know who we are now,’ he said … The changes are showing results. Burger King’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization grew 68% between 2010 and 2015 … Same-store sales at U.S. and Canadian restaurants grew 5.7% last year, better than most big rivals.”

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Excavating Problems at Anthropologie

The Washington Post: It’s hard not to see the parallels between what’s ailing J. Crew and what’s ailing Anthropologie: Both chains are simply failing to offer shoppers the kind of clothes they are looking for. And while it was easy at first to write off Anthropologie’s stumbles as a temporary blip, a full year of unattractive merchandise in dresses — one of the chain’s most essential categories — raises questions about whether it might be slipping into a rut.”

“It’s not all bad news for Anthropologie: The company said that sales of home products, beauty products, accessories and shoes were strong in the latest quarter.” CEO Richard Hayne “told investors he is so bullish Anthropologie’s potential as a home goods retailer that he said he could foresee a future in which clothing accounts for less than 50 percent of the store’s sales. If the store can pull off that change in the mix of the business, it may not matter so much if the apparel category goes through a soft patch.”

“And the retailer seemed to suggest that it is going to be more focused on building an international growth strategy this year, a move that could provide it with a fresh stream of sales growth.”

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A Revolution in Toothbrush Design

Gizmodo: “Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have developed a virtual brushing simulator that promises to revolutionize how toothbrushes are designed and tested … The size, shape, and elasticity of a toothbrush’s bristles can be precisely modified and tested in the simulator, but so can the size, shape, and quantity of the abrasive particles in a toothpaste.”

“Highly controlled experiments can be conducted in the simulator allowing toothbrush designers to almost instantly determine how effective a new bristle design is at removing dirt while still preserving tooth enamel … So in the future when a commercial for a new toothbrush promises it to be effective at battling plaque and gingivitis, hopefully its creators will be able to show the simulated results backing up their claims before you make the upgrade.”

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The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

“Gary Friedman, head of Restoration Hardware Holdings Inc., painted a dire picture of the furniture chain in an internal memo to employees, comparing its operations to a burning building with people on fire,” Bloomberg Business reports.

“Upset about customer service and late orders, Friedman fired off the message to the entire organization in late January … ‘We were sitting there discussing how the building caught on fire, why the building caught on fire, how long we expected the building to continue burning,’ he said in the memo … ‘NO ONE WAS FOCUSED ON THE PEOPLE IN THE BUILDING WHO WERE ON FIRE. THEIR CLOTHES BURNING, AND MANY OF THEM DYING. WE HAVE LET CUSTOMERS DIE.'”

“’We need a MASSIVE CHANGE IN OUR CULTURE AND ATTITUDE RIGHT NOW,’” Friedman said in the message, which was replete with capital letters. “THE GOAL IS DELIGHT … YOU WILL NEVER GET IN TROUBLE FOR MAKING A DECISION TO DELIGHT OUR CUSTOMERS. YOU WILL, HOWEVER, LOSE YOUR JOB IF YOU DON’T.”

Explaining the memo in an interview, Friedman said: “It’s empowering people in the organization,” he said. “We have a leadership culture, not a followship culture.”

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Bluetooth Can Be a Driving Headache

“The road to the autonomous future, it seems, is not as smooth as it appears,” The New York Times reports. “Problems related to cars’ rapidly advancing technology are now at the top of the list of consumer complaints, according to the 2016 J. D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study.”

“The biggest issues are balky voice recognition systems and problems with Bluetooth pairing, accounting for 20 percent of all customer complaints. Over all, the discontent drove a 3 percent decline in vehicle dependability in the study … Complaints about technology have gone from being fifth most troublesome in the 2014 study, to third last year, to now being first.”

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