Among a parent’s worst nightmares is this: Your child climbs into a car alone with a stranger. Just the thought of that scenario strikes fear into the heart of any mother or father. So, why would a company create a business model based on that situation?
A few months ago, ride-sharing icons Uber and Lyft grabbed headlines and goodwill by saying that they do not allow those under age 18 to use their services. Like others who heard the news, I applauded it: “That’s great—two for-profit firms forgoing income in order to protect young people.”
At the same time, the news made me wonder if there are other ride-sharing companies that don’t hold the same convictions and, instead, are willing to put kids into cars with whomever might be driving them. That’s when I came across a company that doesn’t just transport minors occasionally, it specializes in chauffeuring them.
In 2014, three southern California moms who were struggling “to get their busy kids to and from school and all their activities,” founded HopSkipDrive, a transportation service specifically designed for those age six and up. Just five years later, the firm has a staff of 50+ people, a presence in large metropolitan markets like Los Angeles and Washington D.C., and contracts with over 150 school districts.
How did a small, unconventional startup not only grow so quickly but even more importantly, persuade so many parents and others to trust the company with their most “precious cargo”? HopSkipDrive has achieved this rapid success through a combination of clear mission-focus and strict attention to detail.
Yes, busy parents who need to get their children to afterschool practices, lessons, etc., want to be sure that their kids arrive on-time, but their main concern, as mentioned above, is safety. If someone else is driving, who is the person who will be alone with their child in a car? Of course, the individual should be a skilled driver, but more importantly, can he/she be trusted?
Unfortunately, even with ridesharing companies that vet their drivers, you can’t always be sure ‘who you’re getting.’ Many of us have heard of rare but horrific incidents in which unstable drivers have harassed, raped, and even killed their passengers.
Nothing bad has happened to me while ridesharing, but my own recent experience caused me to question driver-screening. Our family had been staying at a resort for a few days and needed to get to a certain rental car center in order to continue our vacation. Using the Uber app, I requested a ride and watched on my phone for several minutes as the driver made his way toward the resort. Then, when he was only a minute away, he dropped the ride!
I can’t be sure what happened, but here’s my guess: A minute from where I was waiting, the resort had a gate where those entering the grounds via private vehicle needed to stop and show identification, i.e., a driver’s license. It may not be the reason he bailed at the last moment, but it’s sobering to think that the person who was going to give me a ride either didn’t have a valid driver’s license or wasn’t responsible enough to bring it with him.
It’s one thing to imagine a questionable driver chauffeuring an adult, it’s another thing to think of a young child confined in that vehicle. How could any company eliminate the risk inherent in such a situation?
When I first heard of HopSkipDrive, I was skeptical, not about demand for the service, but about the firm’s ability to ensure children’s safety in such an offering. As a working dad who helped drive his busy kids for years to/from school and practices and who commiserated with parents in similar predicaments, I knew there was a need. I wasn’t sure, though, how a company might manage the business model in a way that would give parents the confidence to say, “I’ll let my daughter or son ride with you.”
In light of such significant reservations, the main way HopSkipDrive maintains the trust of thousands of parents and schools each day is by painstakingly picking its drivers. In fact, the company uses an exhaustive 15-point certification process that requires the following of each applicant:
Because of the meticulous selection process and the exceptionally kind and positive rapport those hired are expected to have with their passengers, HopSkipDrive doesn’t just call its personnel “drivers” but “CareDrivers.”
Special care and concern for safety begins as soon as CareDrivers arrive for a pickup. They wear bright orange HopSkipDrive t-shirts and verify their identity by confirming their passenger’s code word and birthday. Customers also can review CareDrivers’ profiles before pickup in order to know “who they are, what they look like, and the kind of car they drive.”
Throughout the ride, the company continues to leverage technology in order to ensure security. Dedicated HopSkipDrive staff members monitor each ride remotely through its duration, and parents can do the same. They also can receive alerts when their child has been picked up and dropped off.
As good as all of these systems are for onboarding employees and overseeing operations, they probably wouldn’t be effective if the company didn’t do something else very well: Embrace a compelling mission.
HopSkipDrive doesn’t just see itself as a provider of transportation service, i.e., getting kids from point A to point B, or even as an alleviator of parental stress, which it certainly does. Instead, this front-and-center statement on the company’s homepage communicates its mission: “Success starts by showing up. We help get them there.”
HopSkipDrive takes kids to school, piano lessons, basketball practice, and countless other developmental activities that are vital for children’s intellectual, social, and emotional growth. Those formative in-person experiences help them thrive now and contribute to their success in life for years to come. However, children can’t enjoy those activities unless someone ‘gets them there.’
In an interview with Yahoo Finance, HopSkipDrive’s CEO Joanna McFarland affirms that mission, saying “Oftentimes mobility is a huge barrier simply to access to education, and that’s something we’re helping to solve.”
It’s also confirming that employees appear to embrace the same purpose, such as one CareDriver who says “I feel really empowered being part of the greater good, getting kids safely where they need to go.”
As you might expect from the exacting service standards described above, “the greater good” does come at a higher cost. McFarland acknowledges that HopSkipDrive is a “premium service” that has “much different economics” than those of Uber and Lyft. Rides reportedly start at about $20.
However, the rates are comparable to what one would pay a caregiver. McFarland suggests the same in saying, “We think about [HopSkipDrive] much more as a substitute to a babysitter that drives than a comparison to an Uber and Lyft.”
The bottom-line is whether a substantial number of consumers (families and schools) find value in HopSkipDrive’s services. Apparently they do, as evidenced by the facts that the company is in seven markets and growing rapidly, has served over 6,000 schools, and has transported more than 650,000 children.
The most important validation, however, comes directly from those children—the actual riders—such as one young passenger who says, “They know my passcode, they talk to me, they make me feel very welcome. I’m never like, nervous to get in. In fact, I usually look forward to it because it’s a lot of fun.” Her experience is the best evidence that HopSkipDrive’s ridesharing for kids is “Mindful Marketing.”
Eric, a friend of mine who happens to be a CPA, realized he was running low on string for his grass trimmer, so he went shopping where he’d purchased the product before—Amazon. Finding what seemed like a good price ($18.94) for the same 3-pack of spools he bought a few years earlier, he placed the item in his cart. Then he discovered something that might make all of us question the prices we pay for products.
Eric decided to check the price for the same Amazon item, using a different web browser—one he had never used before to order from Amazon. Entering the website, he navigated anonymously to the item page, where his suspicion was confirmed: The price he saw was just $16.89, i.e., $2.05 lower than the price for the same item he had placed in his shopping cart minutes before.
Although most of us haven’t been so clever as to catch an ecommerce giant in apparent pricing hypocrisy, many of us probably have wondered whether Amazon and other online retailers were somehow taking advantage of us through increasingly-sophisticated pricing strategies. Responses to Eric’s Facebook post about the incident confirmed such concerns:
“I wonder if the price is also because you're a logged in Prime user in one and they compensate for some of the free shipping.”
“I’ve worked with some sellers on Amazon. They are a beast to deal with and it can really wreck a small business. And there is nothing the business owner can really do to combat their practices. They are the 8 million pound gorilla in the room.”
“I read [your post] out loud to my daughters, I thought it was so significant.”
“The exact same thing happened to me just recently. I was going to protest the increase in price over a year's time. What can we do?”
Frustration over similar experiences may lead to accusations of “price discrimination,” i.e., when a seller changes the price of the same product for different consumers. Generally speaking, it’s not fair to charge people different prices for the same item, but there are some seemingly legitimate exceptions, for example:
Quantity discounts: Buying a 36-pack of bottled water should be cheaper per bottle than buying a single bottle of the same water.
Good credit ratings: Individuals with better credit scores deserve lower interest rates on loans compared to those with weaker credit ratings.
New customers: The risk of trying a new business or products may warrant giving a discount to first-time buyers.
In reality, none of the preceding truly represents price discrimination because people can, if they choose, put themselves in the more favorable pricing position. For instance, they could: buy more bottles of water and store them, follow sound financial practices to improve their credit scores, or assume the risk of purchasing from a new company.
If Eric’s experience falls into any of these three categories, it might represent the last one. Perhaps because of his lack of history with the second web browser, Amazon pegged his subsequent shopping visit as that of a new customer and wanted to offer him an extra incentive for making a first-time purchase.
That explanation may be right, but it has some flaws, namely that companies tend to clearly communicate when they’re offering discounts for new customers; otherwise, loyal customers may locate the discrepancy, as Eric did, question the companies’ motives, and even become resentful: “I’ve given them my business for all these years; if anyone deserves a discount, I do.”
Chances are, Amazon wasn’t practicing any form of price discrimination. It’s more likely that Eric’s experience was a result of the strategy that many online retailers increasingly apply: dynamic pricing.
Dynamic pricing involves changing prices continually, based on prevailing market conditions, which includes factors such as consumer demand, purchase intent, and competitors’ prices, as well as company goals for customer acquisition, retention, and brand-switching.
If you’re thinking that dynamic pricing is a new phenomenon, you’re partially right. Sellers have lowered and raised product prices on the spot for millennia, based on factors as simple as weather conditions and buyers’ apparent interest.
Over the past 30 years or so, airlines probably have been the most common users of dynamic pricing, as they’ve perpetually adjusted prices to keep flights at or near capacity. To a lesser extent, those selling hotel rooms and tickets to popular entertainment events have done the same. Frequent historic fluctuations in gasoline prices also suggest dynamic pricing.
However, recent advances in digital technologies have really enabled dynamic pricing to thrive. For instance, from 2008 to 2010, the average time between regular price changes was 6.7 months. In the time period from 2014 to 2017, that average fell to 3.7 months.
Today, to implement far-reaching price change is no more difficult than a few computer key strokes, and it’s as easy as allowing a third-party software program, like an algorithmic repricer, determine when to make price adjustments and how big they should be.
Although Amazon, which reportedly makes millions of prices changes a day, is probably the greatest single user of dynamic pricing, it is far from the only retailer employing the strategy. Walmart, the biggest retailer in the world, has taken a remarkable step away from its long-standing ‘everyday low pricing’ strategy and embraced repricing software for its online sales.
Most other e-tailers are following suit. In fact, some predict that within 5-10 years, dynamic pricing will become so fine-tuned that “everything you buy will be based on personalized offers.”
So far this discussion has been about what has happened and will continue to happen with dynamic pricing. However, at the core of Eric’s experience is an ethical question: Should Amazon or anyone be pricing products this way? Or, as Nick Saunders, director of GlobalData Retail has said, just because something is technologically feasible “doesn’t mean it’s socially desirable.”
On one hand, it does seem like dynamic pricing puts purchasers at an added disadvantage. Companies already have a natural information-advantage over consumers since “knowledge is power” and every business knows more about its products and its industry than does the average consumer.
What’s more, sellers have always known more than buyers about when prices will change, so with dynamic pricing dramatically increasing the frequency of those deviations, consumers experience even more uncertainty while sellers gain greater leverage.
But, the digital age also has been a significant boon to consumers. For much of human history, sellers only had to compete on price with competitors physically close to them. Sears, Roebuck & Co. and other catalog retailers changed that situation somewhat. The Internet and ecommerce have turned traditional retail on its head.
Now people sitting in their living rooms use shopping bots to search products from retailers around the world, while shoppers in brick-and-mortar stores pull out their smartphones and ask for price matches in checkout aisles.
In addition, dynamic pricing itself has produced some benefits for consumers. As described above, the strategy does favor individual sellers in specific transactions; however, the fact that all sellers can easily alter their prices means they must compete more against each other on price.
In short, buyers and sellers both enjoy advantages in the digital age with dynamic pricing—a phenomenon that Eric recognizes, as he astutely reflects:
“This [experience] strikes me as another example of the free market and competition driving markets and pricing. As much as I might not like it, in my opinion Amazon as the seller has every right to offer its goods to me, their customer, at whatever price point they desire. And I, in turn, have every right to buy it or not!”
“Furthermore, there are times when I might willingly pay a higher price from Amazon because of other factors such as shipping speed or knowing that Amazon customer service is incredible for dealing with product issues or returns. From Amazon’s perspective, if they do the hard work of building loyalty with me, their customer, then it’s their privilege to offer me goods at a price point which might, at times, be higher than necessary.”
“The risk they take is that if I conclude that Amazon is no longer competitively priced, they might experience a decline in my loyalty. Which undoubtedly is another data point Amazon tracks about me! If they sense my purchasing loyalty is deteriorating, I suspect their pricing algorithms will work to win back my loyalty!”
Although I haven’t asked Eric directly, I think we both agree that frequent price changes don’t necessarily mean price discrimination. In fact, dynamic pricing can be an example of “Mindful Marketing.”
Eric Wenger is managing partner at RKL, LLP in Lancaster, PA.
Cutthroat Kitchen, The Amazing Race, The Voice—television viewership is one sign that our culture loves competition. However, adult obsessions often trickle down to the littlest in society: Now children are the main participants in contest programs like American Ninja Warrior Junior, which prompts the question: Is marketing making kids too competitive?
It’s been 19 years since CBS’s Survivor kicked off the ‘recent’ reality TV craze, which American Idol and other competition-based programs helped explode. If one considers gameshows, then people first watched competition television in 1938 with Spelling Bee and in 1941 with Truth or Consequences.
It could help at the onset to clarify concepts. Not all “reality TV” involves competition per se, e.g., Keeping up with the Kardashians. Likewise, there’s a broad range of competition TV, some of which is more real/organic, like Deadliest Catch, while other shows are more scripted, e.g., Family Feud.
For many years, adults have been the primary participants in these programs, but more recently that focus has shifted to series showcasing much younger competitors, for instance:
This list is by no means comprehensive; there are many other kid-focused, competition-based television series, not to mention dozens featuring adult competitors, which begs the question: Are these shows telling children that life is all about winning?
Take even a brief look at plants and animals of the natural world and it’s easy to understand the old adages eat or be eaten and only the strongest survive. Life is competitive. However, we’re human beings. Aren’t we above winning at any cost? Shouldn’t we value cooperation over competition?
In her U.S. News & World Report article “How Toxic Competition Is Ruining Our Kids – and What to Do About It,” Katie Hurley identifies four outcomes of over-the-top competitiveness for children: fractured friendships, stress, burnout, and missing out on part of their childhood.
Kids are naturally wired to want to win. Anyone who’s played games with children, whether it’s checkers or chess, knows that you don’t have to tell them to dislike losing. In fact, many kids, even very young ones, loath defeat so much that they have a hard time dealing with not winning: Some throw tantrums or storm out of the room and sulk.
Is kid-focused competition TV fueling that destructive fire? Are these shows encouraging the next generation to exalt winning above all?
First, it’s important to support that competition is fundamentally a good thing. Yes, all life needs to be competitive to survive, but beyond perpetuating existence, competition teaches things like responding to adversity, avoiding complacency, and valuing hard work. And, when participating in a group, competition also can teach teamwork and communication.
It’s natural to think of competition in connection to sports, but the preceding benefits, as well as others, often accrue to individuals who engage in all types of competition, including academic ones.
The last three years, I’ve had the opportunity to involve teams of marketing students in a regional marketing plan competition. First, there’s a wealth of learning that occurs in the preparation process, getting ready to compete. Second, the knowledge that you’re competing against other schools, encourages everyone to ‘up their game.’ Third, you can learn from your competitors: seeing what they do well and emulating those best practices.
Whether it’s academics or sports, competition also is just plain fun, part of which is undoubtedly from the adrenaline rush—you’re on stage, being tested, while others watch. There’s also the pure ‘love of the game.’
Growing up, my favorite sport was basketball. Although, I enjoyed shooting around by myself, there was nothing like playing a game against others. In fact, besides playing on our high school team, I often arranged pick-up games with my peers. There were plenty of times I didn’t win, and I certainly didn’t like losing, but having the opportunity to play was always more important than the outcome. Win or lose, I could congratulate my opponents, telling them “good game” and suggesting “let’s play again sometime.”
Continuing with sports examples, it’s unlikely that just watching competition, live or on TV, does much to make a person more competitive. For instance, there are plenty of older sports spectators sitting on couches who may be passionate about their favorite teams, but they don’t exhibit any signs of becoming more competitive.
On the other hand, younger people are probably more prone to watch competitions they enjoy and want to participate in them, provided they have the requisite skills. It’s really what happens after joining ‘the game’ that makes a person more or less competitive.
In the same “Toxic Competition” article referenced above, Hurley describes how most often super-competitive kids are products of overzealous parents, pushing their offspring too hard to achieve. Most of us who have been around kids’ sports or similar competitive endeavors can relate: It’s really not the kids who are too competitive; it’s their parents.
I haven’t seen all of the kid-focused competition TV programs listed above, but I have watched some of them. From what I’ve witnessed, the shows model healthy competition, e.g., the children are not placed under inordinate amounts of stress, they are frequently praised for their efforts, and any criticism they receive is constructive. The shows also present positive reactions to the outcomes, highlighting both humble winners and gracious losers.
Like most human behaviors, there are probably many factors that contribute to kids’ competitiveness. It’s unlikely, though, that competition TV causes children to espouse winning at any cost. Rather, most of these programs model healthy competition for kids. As such, the shows also represent “Mindful Marketing.”
When you walk into a Walmart this month, you won’t see someone who’s been a fixture at the front of its stores for decades—the greeter. The world’s largest retailer’s decision to eliminate the iconic position quickly drew harsh criticism, which seemed to take the company by surprise and has made many wonder: Was Walmart right to send loyal employees into unemployment?
In mid-February this year, the big box retailer informed employees that effective April 26, the greeter role would be replaced by an expanded “customer host” position, requiring a greater range of job skills and physical demands like being able “to lift 25-pound (11-kilogram) packages, climb ladders and stand for long periods.”
Those who have worked in organizations for any significant time know it’s not unusual for positions to be added, deleted, and changed. What’s different about Walmart’s move is that its 1.5 million U.S. associates make it the nation’s largest private employer, and many of those who have filled the greeter role have been people with disabilities.
Given that unique employment impact, it’s understandable that many have not liked the change. Fred Wirth, whose son Joe uses a wheelchair and who worked as a Walmart greeter before losing his job, claimed the company’s plan was “just a systematic way of getting rid of all the disabled people.”
Could Wirth’s claim be true? Is the world’s largest retailer intentionally trying to displace workers with disabilities?
To answer that question, it’s helpful to understand the legal context for any such agenda. Title I of the American’s with Disabilities Act “prohibits covered employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in all employment-related activities, including hiring, pay, benefits, firing and promotions.”
Organizations aren’t expected to employ people who cannot perform the functions of a job. However, firms are required to provide “reasonable accommodation” for individuals with disabilities. For instance, a company could modify the height of a service desk in order to allow an individual in a wheelchair to more comfortably interact with customers.
To its credit, Walmart has tried to transition disabled greeters into different positions and otherwise accommodate them. It began to do so in 2015, when it started a pilot program that introduced the customer host position, who not only greets customers but also keeps the entrances safe and clean, assists with returns, and checks receipts as needed. During this program, the company claims it was able to help 80% of affected associates find new positions, many involving promotions.
Greg Foran, president and CEO of Walmart's U.S. stores, says that it’s the company’s goal to offer “appropriate accommodations that will enable these associates to continue in other roles with their store.” For instance, the company was able to offer jobs in self-checkout to three longtime greeters, all of whom have cerebral palsy.
Unfortunately, not every former greeter could be reasonably accommodated or had skills that would readily translate to other work. For these reasons, Walmart has extended the 60 day transition period in order to allow extra time for greeters with disabilities to find other jobs within the company.
Besides what seems to be a good faith effort to continue to employ individuals with disabilities, it’s worth noting that Walmart historically has been one of few employers to actively hire people with disabilities. It’s easy to criticize Walmart for its recent move away from greeters, but how many associates with disabilities do we see working in Target or most other retailers?
It’s also important to recognize retail’s great state of flux. The sector has become extremely competitive, largely due to e-commerce and online giant Amazon, which has helped precipitate store closings for some of the greatest retailers ever, e.g., Sears, Kmart, and Toys R Us.
Furthermore, when consumers do shop in-store, they are increasingly greeted by touchscreen kiosks and self-checkouts, not people. The grocery store where our family shops has a robot, rather than a person, roaming the floors to look for spills and dropped products.
Most of these technological advancements are driven by firms’ desires for greater efficiency and effectiveness. There also are times for most of us when it’s just easier to deal with a machine than a person. Nothing against bank tellers, but most people probably prefer to get cash from an ATM and to have funds deposited electronically into their accounts.
In the digital age, most people also probably don’t care about being greeted as soon as they enter a big box retailer. For some, it may even be a turn-off.
One of the greatest gifts any of us can be given is a job, but employment should be more than biding time to get a paycheck. Work should be meaningful to the person doing it, as well as to the company paying for it and to others ‘consuming’ it. The position of Walmart store greeter once served a more useful purpose, but it has outlived its useful life.
You probably wouldn’t want to sit or stand in the same place, day after day, repeating over and over, “Welcome to Walmart” to largely apathetic passersby. I wouldn’t. Most people, including individuals with disabilities, are capable of much more.
Even certain advocates for the disabled have applauded Walmart’s efforts to transition greeters to other positions. For instance, senior disability specialist at National Disability Rights Network Cheryl-Bates-Harris says, “Walmart is now opening the door to actually help individuals realize their full employment potential.”
So, it’s very unlikely that Walmart is intentionally trying to displace disabled workers. More likely, it wants to remain viable in a fiercely competitive retail arena, which will, in turn, allow it to continue to employ millions of people, including those with disabilities.
Sometimes organizations need to make tough decisions that negatively impact certain people in the short-run. However, offering meaningful work that provides valuable service to others in the long-run equals “Mindful Marketing.”
Looking for a unique gift for a family member this holiday season? Have you thought of surprising them with the ‘gift of ancestry’? DNA testing has become increasingly easy, popular, and affordable, but do the benefits of sending one's saliva for genetic analysis outweigh the costs?
The market for genetic testing exploded in 2017, and it keeps growing. Some predict sales of over $22 billion by 2024, driven by top competitors like 23andMe, AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage DNA, and Living DNA. Over 12 million people already have had their DNA tested.
What exactly does DNA testing do? It depends on the test, of which there are three main types:
Autosomal tests appear to be the most popular of the three, as they’re the ones we most often see advertised, with consumer-friendly price points between $49 and $99. These tests are good at helping users fill out their family trees. AncestryDNA, for instance, claims it can search for relatives of the test taker among its 10 million-person database and promises to “confirm ethnicity percentages and close relationships with a high level of accuracy.”
AncestryDNA is also able to help users see migratory patterns through its Migrations tool. This feature identifies a subject’s ancestors “associated with one of more than 300 genetically based communities in the years between 1750 and 1850” to determine migration paths in the U.S. and overseas.
Some autosomal tests have pushed the information envelope even further by providing health reports. For example, 23andMe’s Health+Ancestry test informs users of whether they appear to be a carrier for more than 40 genetic conditions, it provides insights on genetic-related wellness indicators such as lactose intolerance, and it identifies genetic risks for things such as Parkinson’s, late-onset Alzheimer’s and Celiac disease.
People who purchase DNA tests certainly receive unique information that’s at a minimum entertaining, if not educational and possibly helpful in addressing potential health problems. Considering how much many consumers spend on a dinner out, a concert, or a ballgame, a genetic test seems like a pretty good deal. However, there are potential costs for DNA testing beyond the initial cash outlay.
Perhaps the biggest nonfinancial cost is the risk of lost privacy. Genetic testing companies seem to have safeguarded customer information so far—there’s yet to be a major data breach—but the potential risk from carelessness or maleficence is considerable according to New York Senator Chuck Schumer (D), who contends: “Now, this is sensitive information, and what those companies can do with all that data, our sensitive and deepest information, your genetics, is not clear and in some cases not fair and not right.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) appears to share Schumer’s apprehension as evidenced by its investigation of the data policies of 23andMe and Ancestry and by the following statement: “A major concern for consumers should be who else could have access to information about your heritage and your health.”
What exactly are the risks of misappropriated DNA data? One possibility is that some organizations may conduct controversial research such as looking for connections between race and intelligence. Although such risks for entire people groups are probably few, there are many risks that could impact specific individuals.
This past spring, California detectives revealed that they tapped a public genealogy database to break the longstanding case of the Golden State Killer, identifying suspect Joseph James DeAngelo. Although few may object to the use of public DNA data to catch a serial killer, the possibility of government accessing such information for other reasons gives many people pause.
For instance, what if police were to use genetic information to predict those likely to commit crime, along the lines of the 2002 sci-fi thriller Minority Report? Such use is farfetched, but it’s not unreasonable to imagine public officials employing DNA data to identify government protestors or others who reject their policies.
Perhaps even more realistic is the possibility of businesses leveraging DNA data for profitability purposes. Life insurance companies, for example, might analyze genetic information in order to determine if someone is a good policy risk. Likewise, any company could take a similar tack in deciding whether to hire a prospective employee.
But, do these risks really exist if companies safeguard users’ data and only share it in anonymous form? First, an endless series of high-profile data breaches suggests that hackers are capable of penetrating the defenses of the largest and seemingly most secure organizations. Second, when people submit genetic tests, they often provide information that allows for individual identification, e.g., age, gender, address. Third, police and government might pressure companies to share their DNA data.
Why, then, do people continue in droves to mail their DNA to genetic testing companies and why do most of those users agree to share their DNA with the firms’ research partners. Maybe consumers don’t have a good understanding of the risks. More likely, they recognize that the potential risks are very remote, while the benefits they receive are very real and meaningful, for instance:
Life is full of risks—much of what we do to survive and thrive involves deciding which risks are worth taking. Perhaps the risks of DNA testing will increase over the coming years. Right now, though, the risks seem remote while the benefits are real, which makes it easy to understand why so many people take genetic tests. It also makes it reasonable to suggest that the firms offering the tests are responsible for “Mindful Marketing.”
If you’ve gone to a really loud concert, gotten a bad ear infection, or had a clogged ear canal, you know a little about hearing loss. Over five percent of the world’s population has permanent “disabling hearing loss,” yet few organizations consider those consumers’ special needs. One multinational corporation, however, has embraced this unique group of customers in a way that should make every company listen.
A few weeks ago, Starbuck’s opened its first Signing Store in the United States. Located at 6th and H Street in Washington, D.C., the store first appears to be a typical Starbuck’s, but a closer look reveals a unique coffee house, specially designed for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
For instance, the store features a more open layout and low-glare surfaces in order to facilitate visual communication. Store employees, 20-25 of whom are themselves deaf or hard of hearing, are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). Deaf baristas wear “ASL aprons embroidered by a Deaf supplier,” while those who can hear sport “I Sign” pins. The store also contains some high-tech advancements to ease ordering, such as “digital notepads and a console with two-way keyboards for back-and-forth typed conversations.”
Those adaptations sound nice, but should a global icon do so much to accommodate a relatively small number of people who tend to be scattered throughout the population? With over 28,000 retail stores, Starbuck’s is by far the “largest coffeehouse company in the world,” as well as the third largest fast food restaurant, behind only McDonald’s and Subway. The firm employs about 277,000 people and has annual revenues of over $24 billion. In light of such scale, isn’t it an unnecessary distraction to design and operate a solitary store that’s so specialized?
First, it’s important to note that Starbuck’s Signing Store is strategically located near Gallaudet University, “a federally chartered private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing.” Gallaudet enrolls over 1,100 students, and if they are like other college students, which they undoubtedly are, most probably love to drink coffee. So, Starbuck’s has a ready-made, geographically concentrated target market, within a short walk of its store.
A second consideration is that a customized coffee shop is something that’s replicable. In fact, the Washington, D.C. outlet is Starbuck’s second Signing Store. The company opened the first one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016. Perhaps there are suitable spots for similar stores in other parts of the U.S. or the world. In American alone, there are nearly 50 residential schools for the deaf.
Likewise, there may be opportunities to develop customized stores for individuals with other special needs. For instance, there are nearly 40 schools for the blind in the U.S. It also may be possible to tailor stores for certain fields of study, e.g., music or visual arts.
Third, Starbuck’s Signing store has produced some very positive PR for the company. A Google search of “Starbuck’s Signing store” returns over 8 million hits, including many complimentary news pieces in major media like USA TODAY, CBS News, Fortune, and the Washington Post. The National Association for the Deaf also has praised the company's efforts to educate and enrich the lives of its constituents and many others.
Fourth, and perhaps most important, the Signing Store fits squarely within Starbuck’s mission, values, and goals. The company claims an “ongoing commitment to inclusion, accessibility and diversity,” which is broadly reflected in its mission statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time." More specifically, the first of Starbuck’s four core values encourages “Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.” This value is evident in the company’s 2018 goals, which include ongoing global social responsibility that creates “meaningful impact in the communities it serves.”
Although it’s unlikely that customized stores will ever be profitable on the scale of its traditional outlets, Starbuck’s should still be able to leverage the specialized model for meaningful growth. Moreover, with every store opened to serve disadvantaged people groups, the company builds tremendous community goodwill and gains very positive global publicity. For all these reasons, Starbuck’s Signing store is an emblem of “Mindful Marketing.”
Alcohol, gambling, opioids: Out-of-control consumption of such things has upended the lives of many. Now some are arguing for an unlikely addition to the list of harmful obsessions—Fortnite. The wildly popular video game does seem like a compulsion for some, but does its play really rise to the level of addiction, and if so, who’s responsible?
If you’re like me--one of the few human beings who has never played Fortnite--you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about: why 3.4 million people were all online at once playing the game one day during February 2018, why celebrity rappers like Drake and NBA stars like Paul George are promoting the craze, why an upcoming Fortnite tournament is promising $100 million in prize money, why the game is expected to produce revenues of $2 billion in 2018, and why some call Fortnite “the hottest game in the world.”
For those who don’t know, Fortnite is a shooter game based on a premise similar to that of the Hunger Games: “Players are dropped unarmed onto an island. There, they must make their way to ‘houses,’ where they find weapons they then use to shoot and kill, they build structures and try to avoid the destructive storm that threatens all outside its safe zone.” The winner is the last man/woman standing.
Apparently the most popular version of Fortnite is the multiplayer “Battle Royale” in which 100 people compete against each other at a time, either individually or on teams of up to four people. The game is free to play on systems like PlayStation, as well as on computers and mobile phones. Fortnite makes money by charging for in-game extras like costumes and special tools or weapons.
Few entrepreneurs worry about their products becoming addictive. In the beginning, they’re just hoping some people will be intrigued enough to try their products. The thought that anyone, let alone millions of people, would find his games impossible to put down, had to have been one of the furthest things from the mind of Tim Sweeney, creator of Fortnite and the CEO of Epic Games. Sweeney started his video game company, originally called Potomac Computer Systems, in 1991, at the age of 21, in his parent’s house in Potomac, MD. Epic Games is now one of the industry’s brightest stars.
However, phenomenal growth and popularity are not alone grounds for accusations of addiction. So, what are Fortnite players experiencing that leads some to levy such extreme charges? Here are a few examples:
Such behavior certainly is unusual and disturbing, but does it really reflect addiction? To answer that question it’s important to understand exactly what addiction is. In the early 1950s, the World Health Organization adopted the following definition of drug addiction: “a state of periodic or chronic intoxication detrimental to the individual and to society, produced by the repeated consumption of a drug (natural or synthetic). From this definition, Isbell and White (1953) derived three characteristics of addiction:
Of course, these descriptors are for chemical substances that people typically ingest, not video games they play; however, when Fortnite is substituted into the phrases, the criteria provide an eerily good fit for the shocking behaviors listed above:
Isbell and White (1953) add that addiction is inherently about excessive, not proper, use of the substance, resulting in harm to the addict and/or others. That's another description that seems to fit the five Fortnite cases described above, like the divorces, but it also begs another important question: How common are such Fortnite occurrences?
In researching online for this blog post, I typed “Fortnite addiction” into Google, which produced around 68 million hits. As I read down the list of top results, however, I noticed that most were repeats of the same few stories: the girl who wouldn’t take a bathroom break, the boy who headbutted his mom, the UK divorces.
Chances are, the few Fortnite fanatics who show signs of addiction are anomalies. According to Business Insider 78.3 million people played Fortnite this past August. Among all those Fortnite fans, many probably play the game more than they should, but very few are likely addicted in any scientific sense. Contrast those proportions to statistics for drug and gambling addictions like the following:
Beyond those sobering statistics, another drug stat pretty much says it all: “Out of 24 million Americans who have used illicit drugs in the preceding month, 19.6 million [81.7%] have had a substance abuse disorder in the preceding year.” It’s very telling of the addictive nature of illicit drugs that only about 18% of users escape drug abuse.
There are no comparable statistics for Fortnite, but it appears that a much smaller percentage of its players show signs of addiction. Of course, this lack of evidence doesn’t prove that people cannot become addicted to Fortnite; maybe they can. However, when a very large number of people is exposed to a stimulus such as a video game and an extremely small percentage exhibits addictive behavior, perhaps the abuse is more a function of those individuals and their unique situations, rather than the game itself.
Everyone needs to be accountable for their time and to use self-discipline to set limits on activities that they find so enjoyable they can become lost in them, e.g., televised sporting events, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, etc. Parents have the added responsibility of holding their children accountable, which is especially difficult when the kids really don’t want to put down the thing they love.
However, companies also can do things to discourage overindulgence in their own products. For instance, a few months ago, I wrote a blog post about iPhone addiction, describing Apple’s Digital Health Initiative, which includes new software that will monitor and set limits on users’ screen time.
Maybe Epic Games could consider a similar measure. The company should at least make sure there’s nothing in Fortnite that encourages people to shirk self-monitoring, e.g., in-game incentives tied to how long one has been playing. Again, I’ve not played Fortnite, so it’s hard for me to be more prescriptive. Perhaps those who are familiar with the game firsthand can offer more specific suggestions about limiting use.
Finally, it goes without saying that a ‘shooter game’ is violent. I’ve read, however, that Fortnite “isn’t as graphic as many other shooter games” because its characters are more “cartoony” and “its graphics are free of blood and gore.” Still, any activity that glamorizes killing others should give us pause. That aspect of the game, however, will need to be the focus of a future blog post.
As you can probably tell, I’m neither a big Fortnite fan or cynic. As I’ve tried to look objectively at the issue of video game addiction, I haven’t seen enough evidence to suggest that Fortnite itself is enabling abuse, certainly not compared to other activities commonly called addictive. For these reasons, it seems like Fortnite is a tenuous version of “Mindful Marketing.”
Over its 130+ year history, Coca-Cola has created some of the most memorable product taglines: Enjoy Thirst (1923), Ice Cold Sunshine (1932), It’s the Real Thing (1969), I’d like to Buy the World a Coke (1971), Coke Adds Life (1976), Have a Coke and a Smile (1979), Can’t Beat the Feeling (1988), and Open Happiness (2009). Now that the world’s largest beverage maker is considering drinks infused with marijuana, maybe a new tagline is coming: Have a Coke and Some Cannabis.
A few weeks ago, news sources including Reuters and BNN Bloomberg reported that the Coca-Cola Company was in talks to develop beverages infused with cannabis. The alleged partner is Vancouver-based Aurora Cannabis Inc., Canada’s third biggest producer of weed, which has a market cap of $9.365 billion.
How can Coca-Cola, one of the world’s most respected companies, the parent of several family-friendly beverage brands, and the creator of those loveable polar bears, enter the market for a drug that is illegal in the vast majority of U.S. states and most countries in the world? Perhaps desperate times call for desperate measures.
Coca-Cola is feeling the heat from increased beverage industry competition coupled with fizzling consumer demand for sugary sodas, which represent several of the company’s hallmark brands. Such pressures have led the firm to diversify into healthier drinks over the last decade or two, and most recently the company announced the purchase of UK-based Costa Coffee for $5.1 billion.
True, there is such a thing as a caffeine high, but there’s a big difference between a cup of joe and a bag of weed—so I’m told; I’m not a coffee-drinker and I have no experience with marijuana, just to be clear. However, that lack of firsthand knowledge didn’t stop me from writing a Mindful Matters blog post a couple of years ago that poo-pooed a gym combining workouts with weed. I’ve since done more reading about cannabis, as well as Coca-Cola’s potential use of it, and what I’ve learned has been surprising.
Most of us have heard of the psychoactive, or mind-altering, effects that marijuana can have on users, which include a relaxed sense of well-being and an altered sense of time, as well as anxiety, fear, and hallucinations. Those potentially dangerous consequences stem from a specific component of the drug called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
However, cannabis has another component, a medicinal one called cannabidiol, or CBD, that is not intoxicating and doesn’t make people high. Also, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that CBD, which can be safely extracted from cannabis, does not appear to be addictive. Instead, there is evidence that CBD lessens muscle inflammation, decreases pain, and reduces cramping.
What’s the point of this science-speak? The difference between THC and CBD matters to Coca-Cola because its potential new product uses the latter. The company is not contemplating some kind of liquid reefer or ecstasy juice. If the firm does partner to produce a cannabis-infused beverage, it will likely be in the ‘recovery drink’ category, offering the muscle-mending benefits mentioned above. Think Powerade with a medicinal punch.
Still, isn’t it crazy for a renowned company like Coca-Cola to risk its reputation by connecting itself to cannabis? It’s not foolish for a few reasons. First, there is increasing recognition and acceptance of the medicinal form of the drug. U.S. states and other countries continue to amend their laws to make medical marijuana legal. Also, there are people now taking prescription drugs to manage the muscle symptoms mentioned above, with little effect. The CBD form of cannabis might help them find relief without making them high or risking addiction.
Second, if Coca-Cola moves forward with a cannabis-infused drink, it can safeguard the company’s reputation by individually branding the product. The firm has taken this approach with most of its other products like Minute Maid, Vitaminwater, Fairlife milk, and Sprite. These products have branding that stands on its own and basically just links to the parent company through the fine print on the back of the packages.
Third, Coca-Cola’s consideration of cannabis deserves credence because it’s not the only prominent company exploring such possibilities. At least two other big beverage firms, Molson Coors and Constellation Brands (brewer of Corona beer), are taking serious steps toward cannabis-infused drinks. Furthermore, the market for CBD-based products is expected to reach $2.1 billion by 2020.
When I first heard of Coca-Cola’s meeting with Aurora, my thought was the pairing would produce either Single-Minded or Mindless Marketing. What a difference some focused reading and a few letters (CBD vs. THC) can make. While writing this blog post, my perspective has changed, and it still could evolve. Right now, though, I believe the potential partnership could yield a respectable wellness product that might be “Mindful Marketing.”
What’s a fun night out with friends for you? Maybe it’s dinner at a favorite restaurant or a trip to the movies to see a new release. How about throwing axes? Thanks to some adventurous entrepreneurs, more and more people are participating in the pastime once reserved for lumberjacks. Hurling hatchets undoubtedly offers an adrenalin rush, but does it hit the mark for Mindful Marketing?
You can count me among those who had no idea that axe throwing is now in vogue. However, like the return of plaid, the trend is becoming harder to miss, as axe throwing sites pop up in cities such as Austin, Baltimore, Denver, Detroit, and Philadelphia and as news media like USA Today, NBC, and the Washington Post cover the craze.
The name is self-explanatory, but what exactly does axe throwing involve? Participants hoist a 14-inch hatchet over their heads and chuck it at a piece of plywood 12-15 feet away. They earn points based on where their axe sticks in the target, e.g., outer ring, inner ring, bullseye, or blue dot (kill shot).
An axe throwing outing can last anywhere from 60 minutes to several hours, depending on who’s throwing and for what reason, for instance, an individual taking in some target practice or a team competing in a tournament league.
The cost of axe throwing also varies, but Backyard Axe Throwing League’s pricing offers a ballpark: about $20/hr. for walk-ins, $36 per person for parties, and $120 per player for eight-week leagues. The businesses usually supply the axes.
Are there really enough consumers willing to pay that kind of money to throw some hardware at some hard wood? Also, do many people have the physical strength and stamina to endure an evening of axe throwing? Apparently the answer to both questions is ‘Yes.’
First, axe throwing hits the sweet spot for American’s largest age demographic, Millennials, who value experiences (often the wilder the better) over things. These young people have a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Also, many of them likely recognize their antisocial tendencies involving digital devices and want reasons to put them down so they can interact in person with real humans.
Such consumer desires have undoubtedly spurred the rapid spread of axe throwing and the success of businesses such as Bad Axe Throwing, Bury the Hatchet, and Generation Axe. Backyard Axe Throwing League, which began in 2006, now has over a dozen locations in the U.S. and Canada and claims to have served over a million people.
Second, as the growth suggests, axe throwing is not just for the big and burly. The axes are fairly light (usually less than 2 lbs.), so success depends more on proper form than brute strength. Women and men of all sizes can excel at the craft.
That sounds good, but isn’t axe throwing dangerous? After all, axes have been used for millennia to chop things, including people. Furthermore, many axe throwing establishments also serve alcohol, which seems like a precarious, if not perilous, combination.
Axe throwing businesses, however, suggest that the activity is completely safe, and they provide some convincing support for that claim. For instance, patrons at Bury the Hatchet receive a “safety briefing and training session before they are allowed to participate.” Like many others, this business also uses cordoned off throwing lanes that are “a cross between a batting cage and a bowling alley.”
Bad Axe Throwing, which claims to be “the biggest urban axe throwing club in the world” says that it has never had a single injury. Apparently that track record is due to safety protocol such as inspecting each axe before every event, making sure blades are sharp enough to stick in wood but not sharp to the touch, and requiring that participants “throw and retrieve their axes in sync with one another.”
Also, while not all axe throwing businesses serve alcohol, for those that do, intoxication doesn’t seem to be an issue. Maybe it’s because people go to these places to throw first and drink second, so their desire to perform well acts a restraint on their drinking.
Meanwhile, axe throwing establishments claim some tangible benefits, namely exercise (a person can get a good workout throwing axes as well as bending to pick them up) and relationship building (fewer things bond people together more than competition and/or shared embarrassment). Bury the Hatchet also says that participants can experience stress relief and get an ego boost, as social media contacts can’t help but like pictures and videos of their friends throwing axes.
Despite these benefits, some may suggest that spending a few hours hurling hatchets is a waste of time and money. Of course, we don’t all have the same tastes in recreation. For some it’s an opera and for others it’s a minor league baseball game that refreshes the mind and reenergizes the spirit. Still, for others it’s axes.
It’s hard to say how long axe throwing will remain the rage, but many more people will likely channel their inner lumberjack and experience the primal trend. Voice assistants and virtual reality may make it seem risky and passé, but axe throwing for fun is “Mindful Marketing.”
Share this blog:
blog by email