business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader:

Raised in the Brand Manager culture, the decline of branding bothers me.  It’s a concern that has been with me for a while.

I believe branding is still a very powerful business tool.  I think corporations have used up the brand equity of major products by over pricing and under delivering. 

How many times have we seen price increases to meet financial targets?  No product improvement.  No additional benefit.  Just higher and higher prices. Then, price discounts are used because volume is needed.

No wonder private label goods are popular.  Same products and 30-40% less expensive.  A PEW Study of aspirin products found Bayer brand premium prices 30% higher for exactly the same generic product.  Doctors always used a generic.  Who paid the brand premium?  Less educated, lower income consumers.

Now, my real point…

Smart consumers are a brand's best customer.  But, only if the brand delivers.

The major change coming is AI + super powerful smartphones.  Everyone becomes a smart consumer.  Phony brands beware.

One more item.  Just saw new digital service.  This service takes in factual information about realtors.  Then recommends to home sellers the most effective realtor for any location based on recent sales, home selling prices, and other factors.  Who needs a brand like Century 21 when you can select the best realtor ... with your smartphone.

Branding is still powerful when it stands for something of value.

On the declining appeal of malls, MNB reader Joshua Herzig-Marx wrote:

Here in the Boston area, one of our luxury malls (the Natick Collection) was roundly mocked when they attempted to add condos. And while naysayers may have been proven right when unsold units had to be liquidated at auction during the housing downturn, they’re now doing quite well. The fact that a Wegman’s is moving into the mall will only help. I’m not sure this is a model that could be repeated everywhere (and I’d take my organic, walkable community over a manufactured space anytime) is this any different from those New Urbanism-inspired spaces cropping up in redevelopment plans across the country?

Regarding Walmart’s new “scan and go” initiative, MNB reader John Rand wrote:

This is not particularly new at all – Ahold’s Stop & Shop had both scanners and a phone app deployed in many stores several years ago.

Interested in it, I went shopping  with my wife who used the phone option exactly once. The app was fine in theory but the bar-code scanning didn’t work well – the emitted laser light was not strong enough, the “line” that told you where the scanning app was pointed was hard to see under the store’s lighting, and the ergonomics of holding your smart phone and pointing it at product bar codes was utterly painful after just a few minutes.

Great idea but the reality of it was not terrific. The phone scanner app may be better now – but I suspect people’s wrists are about the same.

I will wait for the Amazon Go technology. Or just buy stuff on my phone in the first place, thanks.

Loved this email from an MNB reader:

I asked my ten year child where we should go to lunch last week. Was the choice McDonalds, Wendy’s or Five Guys? Nope, the answer was Wegmans.

We had a story the other day about how Chicago residents are adapting to being charged for single-use plastic bags - they seem to be bringing their own bags to the store more, which means the city is actually generating less revenue from the tax than expected.

One MNB reader responded:

As you put it, Chicago residents are adapting; they are adapting to having $3,000,000 less of their money to spend because it is being taxed by the city to create a disincentive to use plastic bags.

What is the purpose of the tax - is it just an easy way to generate more City of Chicago revenue with a regressive tax increase that hits all people equally since all people tend to shop in grocery stores, regardless of income, or is there an environmental issue in Chicago?

And from another reader:

Yes, their behavior changed, they went to the suburbs where there is more choices and lower prices. It pays for the gas. Every time the hoopies in our "great cities" try to do a socialist experiment it backfires.

I was curious about the word “hoopies,” with which I was unfamiliar. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is “an insult (worse than hillbilly) given to residents of West Virginia. According to history, the city of East Liverpool OH, across the river from WV, was an important maker of pottery. West Virginia residents looking for work in the area were only skilled enough to bang together the metal strips that would make the hoops needed for barrel construction.”

I’m not sure the insult really works here. However, I’m a “great cities” kind of guy, and I’m not sure that it is fair to say that their approach is necessarily “socialist.”

Regarding Procter & Gamble’s commercial about “The Talk,” one MNB reader wrote:

I totally agree with you - this is brave, and very relevant in our current world.  We need to be open about these issues, otherwise how can we solve problems without facing them, out loud?  Congratulations to P&G for doing this.  I hope we see more.

From another reader:

I've sat my son down and had "the talk".  I told him that he's going to be judged by his outside appearances.  Some people are going to hate him for the color of his skin.  Others for his gender.  Yet still others for his sexual orientation.  He may even be the target for crime because of it.  Most of the time, they will blame him for the real (or imagined) acts of others, in sweeping generalizations that don't make any sense if one can read above a 4th grade reading level.  It's even worse when you visit third world countries.  It’s not fair but that's just how the world works.   Of course, my kid looks white.

Give me a break.

I think it is entirely fair to say that many people are subject to discrimination of various kinds during their lives. But to suggest there is any sort of equivalency between the discrimination a white person male may face with the discrimination faced by most African-Americans strikes me as absurd.
KC's View: