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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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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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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Zappos: A Short Story About a Long Call

Business Insider: “A Zappos employee recently had a customer service call that lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes, breaking an internal record at the Amazon-owned online retailer … Steven Weinstein answered a call from a customer who needed some help with an order of a few items. The two began to chat, and even after she was helped, she stayed on the line.”

“Weinstein said he only took one break during the nearly 11-hour period, about two-and-a-half hours on, to go to the bathroom. One of his colleagues brought him food and water during the call.”

“At Zappos, call center employees are trained to use interactions with customers as a way to build relationships, not make a sale. And if a call is going long during a particularly busy time, then it’s up to the employee overseeing the call center to assign more people to calls rather than encourage an employee to end a call early. The last longest customer service call was set by Mary Tennant in 2012, at nine hours and 37 minutes.”

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Meet the Spuglies: Walmart Attacks Food Waste

Quartz: “Shoppers tooling down Walmart grocery aisles now encounter brands that package and sell ugly produce. The ‘Spuglies’ brand markets misshapen potatoes and the ‘I’m Perfect’ brand offers apples that have gone askew. These companies pushing misfit fruits and veggies into the mainstream give consumers a way to fight food waste with their wallets.”

“Since it began tackling food waste within its own system in 2013, the retailer says it has diverted 82% of food that would have otherwise gone to landfills. That amounts to about 2 billion meals. According to ReFED, a food waste advocacy group, a 20% reduction in waste would reclaim the 1,250 calories per capita that goes into landfills each year. That’s enough to feed America’s food-insecure population three times over.”

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Naughty But Nice: Food & Morality

The Guardian: “Anything that tastes good has got to be bad for your body, soul or both. The marketing department of Magnum knew this when it called its 2002 limited edition range the Seven Deadly Sins. Nothing makes a product more enticing than its being naughty, or even better, wicked.”

“In recent years, however, the moralistic lexicon of food seems to have expanded. One recent fad has been for ‘dirty’ American food, a term that revels in the idea that fatty burgers and messy pulled pork buns are so right because they’re so wrong … Perhaps the clearest proof that the way we talk about food is saturated with moralism is the ubiquity of the term ‘guilt.’ Marketing departments have seen the power of this and promoted ‘guilt-free’ snacks and treats.”

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Mueller Chocolate: Gross Profits

The Washington Post: “It’s a Saturday afternoon at Philadelphia’s popular Reading Terminal Market … On a busy day like this, Mueller Chocolate might serve 800 customers … As crowds of shoppers move past the Mueller stall, some stop to point, stare and whisper: ‘Oh, my goodness, what is that?’ Well ‘that’ is a display of kidneys (with candy kidney stones), brains, livers, eyes, hands, feet (with almonds as toenails) and noses — all edible, all chocolate.”

“It started, Glenn Jr. recalls, one Valentine’s Day in the late 1990s, when his mother decided that ‘these heart-shaped boxes are stupid.’ She had a mold created based on a drawing of a human heart in her son-in-law’s medical school textbook … When the chocolate heart made national news, orders came in from around he world, he said, and demand hasn’t slowed down.”

“The sweet stuff takes hundreds of forms at the Mueller stall, none more infamous than the chocolate-covered raw onion. It was created in 1983, when the creator of a local children’s television show, ‘Double Muppet Hold the Onions,’ asked the Muellers to make a chocolate-covered onion for Kermit to present to Miss Piggy.” Glenn Meuller Jr. explains: “The chocolate onion . . . is hideous, but we’ve been doing it for 30 years. It changed our trajectory.”

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Michaels: The Art & Craft of The Retail Experience

“We’re not Apple. We don’t make the new iPhone that people will line up in advance for. We need products that people want in an environment they want to shop in,” says Chuck Rubin, CEO of Michaels, in Forbes.

“Michaels is one of the most surprising retail successes of recent years. It has stuck to transforming its brick-and-mortar stores while almost completely ignoring e-commerce … While the company’s core hasn’t changed–it sells cheap craft supplies–Rubin has modified its stores to make it easier for novice crafters to find items. They’re bringing in more of those types of customers by moving beyond sewing-room basics, adding cooler items, like those coloring books, and Michaels-exclusive products, such as Isaac Mizrahi-branded yarn.”

“The most striking part of Michaels’ success is how it contradicts the digital era’s implied mandate for retailers–that survival hinges on selling online. But Michaels hasn’t wasted millions competing with Amazon.com on e-commerce. It’s grown while focusing squarely on improving what’s within its stores’ four walls … The Web remains a no-man’s-land for Michaels … Rubin knows all that stands between Michaels and Bezos is the in-store experience.”

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Big-Bang Retail: Hershey Chocolate World To Triple Size

“Hershey said it would open a new New York City flagship location triple the size of its existing Times Square store,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “At a little more than 2,200-square feet, Hershey’s Chocolate World store at West 48th Street and Broadway is popular, but its size limits the number of brands and experience the company can offer, a Hershey spokeswoman said.”

“Hershey will join other Times Square tenants creating more interactive or engaging retail environments … Last month, the National Football League, Cirque du Soleil and the National Football League Players Association announced they would open an NFL Times Square experience, a four-story, 40,000-square foot permanent exhibit also at 20 Times Square. The exhibit will include an NFL store, a 350-seat theater, and high-tech, interactive displays designed to re-create an immersive experience of a football game for fans.”

Andrew S. Goldberg of CBRE Group comments: “If you look at all the stores now [in Times Square], it’s not traditional retail being done in the old format way. Everyone is looking at how to keep the customers engaged longer and having them stay and be more involved in the store.”

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Cultural Evolution: Nintendo Goes With Partnerships

The New York Times: “Nintendo — which took an early lead in mobile gaming and then proceeded to blow it — offers a lesson in how corporate cultures can make or break a company, especially those that are pioneers in a field … If Nintendo is easily likened to Apple for its autocratic insistence on groundbreaking innovation, it is also like Xerox in that it has failed to take advantage of ideas as valuable as the mouse.”

“Pokémon Go, this month’s gaming phenomenon, came about only because Nintendo has gone years without a hit and was forced to find partners … Pokémon Go demonstrates that Nintendo’s stable of characters … can form the basis for others to develop lucrative mobile games. But that would turn Nintendo into a different kind of company — one … that is content to hit singles and doubles rather than swing for the fences.”

“Nintendo has shown before that it can adapt. It got its start making playing cards in 1889. By the 1970s it was designing video games, leading to the release of the Donkey Kong video game machine in 1981 … In 1983, it added a modem port to the home video game console that would eventually become the popular Nintendo Entertainment System, decades ahead of a time when Xbox and PlayStation gamers connect with one another around the world.”

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