Teens’ Rites of Passage: Technology Trumps Transportation

Technology, not cars with teens.

Technology, not cars, are where it’s at with teens today.

Thirty years ago, the rite of passage going from being a kid to adulthood had to include having your own automobile.

Not so today.

In fact, the percentage of young adults who even have their driver’s license has declined considerably:  In the early 1980s, nearly half of 16-year-olds in America had a driver’s license. By 2010, that percentage had dropped to just ~28%.

What happened between then and now? A number of things, but the biggest may be the rise of consumer electronics and social media.

Recall what an automobile could provide a young adult in the 1980s: access to all of the kid-popular activities of the day: shopping, music, movies, getting together with friends, and so forth.

Today, teens can access pretty much all of that right at their fingertips via the Internet or a smartphone.

You want clothes? Order them online.

Music? Download it to your smartphone.

Communicate with friends? Just Skype or text away.

Meanwhile, between more sophisticated, costly auto maintenance and the high price of gasoline, owning a car has only become more expensive.

Auto insurance premiums for teens? Outta sight.

Plus, it’s just more of a hassle to get a license today. Driver education classes are disappearing from many a public school classroom, the casualty of budget cuts. Stricter state laws make it much more difficult and time-consuming to rack up the necessary behind-the-wheel training hours prior to taking driving tests.

The result is fewer kids getting licensed during their teen years.

In 1983, nearly 70% of 17-year-old Americans had drivers licenses … a figure that dropped to just ~46% by 2010.

Even for 18-year-olds, the percentage holding drivers licenses declined from ~80% in 1983 to only about 60% in 2010.

A recent survey conducted by Zipcar found that millennials (people age 18 to 34) would rather shop online than in stores. No car needed for that.

And when presented the choice between giving up their phone or their tablet computer or their car … two thirds of the Zipcar survey respondents would forego the car.

This is a veritable sea change in attitudes about wheels.

In fact, one could conclude that the very things that cars once represented – the “vehicle” that enabled you to “do what you want, see who you want and be what you want” – is what actually describes the digital and social media world today.

Meanwhile … the car is now just a way to get to your part-time job. Ugh.

HR managers’ views of new college grad hires: Curmudgeonly … or canaries in the coal mine?

Lack of professionalism among new hiresAs those of us in the world of business begin to add years (or decades) to our tenure, it becomes easier than ever to look at the younger crop of workers coming onstream and see traits that don’t align with our worldview about what is acceptable, “SFW” behavior.

Perhaps we’re too set in our ways. Maybe we’re not being flexible enough or making a sufficient effort to keep an open mind about proper office professionalism and etiquette.

But maybe we’re not offbase after all:  A new survey of HR professionals suggests that others have also noticed — and they’re not very forgiving, either.

In fact, this survey of ~400 human resources managers, which was conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College, found that opinions of recent college graduates in the workforce have grown more negative over the past five years.  (The survey is conducted annually.)

When asked about their experiences in recruiting and hiring recent college graduates, these HR managers were pretty unsparing in their criticism. Here are some of the opinions the survey uncovered:

  • More than one-third of HR respondents felt that the level of professionalism among new college-educated employees has worsened over the past five years.
  • Nearly half believe that the work ethic of new employees is worse today than before.
  • More than half of the respondents feel that new workers come into the workforce with an unrealistic air of entitlement.

What are some of the specific areas where HR managers see new hires failing to measure up? These were the most prevalent mentions in the York survey:

  • Appropriate appearance and dress
  • Punctuality and workplace attendance
  • Attentiveness
  • Staying on-task through to completion of assignments
  • Honesty

And that’s not all.

The human resources professionals in this survey reported that younger employees “appear arrogant” during the hiring process and once they come on the job.

Moreover, these HR professionals contend that new employees aren’t taking proper cues from older, more established workers in the office, but instead from their peers and friends.

A manifestation of this is the predilection to text co-workers rather than to communicate via e-mail messages, or through personal conversations and interfaces.

The basic problem with the attitudes of new company hires was pointed out by Deborah Ricker, director of the Center for Professional Excellence: “Acceptable behavior among peers is not necessarily acceptable among coworkers and superiors.”

Amen to that.

[Click here if you're interested in downloading a full summary of the 2013 Professionalism in the Workplace survey results.]

Most of us can probably think of one or two examples of employees who personify many of the issues brought up by the HR managers in the York survey.

One example that comes to my mind from our own office’s experience was a young worker who decided she needed to take short naps during her lunch periods.

Nothing really wrong with that, except … she did so by lying down on the floor next to her desk — which was directly behind another worker’s cubicle. Imagine trying to do your work while having someone snoozing (snoring) at your feet!

If you have similar anecdotes about some of the younger hires in your office, feel free to leave a comment. It’ll be good for a chuckle or two – even if there’s an underlying context that’s way sober.

The (Mostly) Myth of the Multi-Generational Family Business

Multi-generational family businessesThe idea of the family enterprise is practically an article of faith when it comes to American business.

But how much of a reality is it? And do family businesses generally survive from one generation to the next?

To begin with, let’s make clear that there are many family-owned businesses in the United States.  In fact, consulting organization Family Enterprise USA estimates the figure at around 5.5 million entities.

But the average life span of a family business is fewer than 25 years, meaning that only a distinct minority of them remain in the family over time.

The stats are stark. Here’s how they break down by generations:

  • Business passed to the 2nd generation: ~40% of family owned entities
  • Business passed to the 3rd generation: ~13%
  • Business passed to the 4th generation: ~3%

When asked for their opinion, about half of the owners of family businesses stated that they would like to see the business stay in the family when the next generation comes along.

And for larger family businesses (those that employ 20 or more workers), nearly three-fourths would like this to happen.

But wishes and expectations aren’t the same … because only ~23% of these same respondents actually think that a transition to the next generation of family members is “likely” to happen.

At my company, we have some clients – perhaps 15% of our customer base — that are into their 2nd or 3rd generation as family-owned entities. But in my view, it’s highly doubtful that the next generation of family members will end up in charge at most of them.

Groupon’s Slow-Motion Train Wreck

Groupon failure of business modelI’ve blogged before (several times, actually) about the problems with Groupon’s business model and the difficulties it’s encountered since going public.

It seems that the twin whammies of new competitors plus merchants’ increasing unwillingness to take a bath on offering deep-discounted products and services to ultra price-sensitive consumers have been enough to send Groupon’s business into a financial tailspin.

One key takeaway from the Groupon couponing experience: Consumers who are attracted to bottom-of-the-barrel pricing have absolutely no brand loyalty thereafter – unless they’re offered a similarly extreme price discount the next time around.

Understandably, merchants aren’t much interested in marketing practices that boil down to being creative ways to divorce profits from sales.

And now, with yet another quarter of dismal financials just released, Groupon’s board of directors has done the inevitable: separating CEO and founder Andrew Mason from his company.

As the famously quirky Mason, who was once a student of music at Northwestern University, put it in a letter to Groupon employees (which he also released publicly “since it will leak anyway”):

“After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why … you haven’t been paying attention.”

And then Mason goes on to summarize the ugly facts: two quarters of missing the company’s own financial expectations, along with a stock price that’s baely one-fifth of Groupon’s listing price when the company went public ~18 months ago.

Business observer and talk-show personality Jeff Macke has been merciless in his condemnation of Groupon’s recent business performance. He writes:

“In its short, ignominious history as a public company, Groupon crushed the hopes of more true believes than Santa Claus and Jim Jones combined. From its closing level on the day of its IPO in November 2011, GRPN shares have lost more than 80%, driven by accounting scandals, an ill-conceived international expansion and generally poor execution of a not-very-smart business model … What is fresh information is the company’s hideous earnings miss … when it reported a 12-cent loss versus expectations of a 2-cent gain.”

Late moves by the company to staunch the bleeding – such as taking a smaller cut of revenue on daily deals during the latest holiday season in an attempt to attract and keep merchants – haven’t been very successful and haven’t reassured investors.

In late 2012, Andrew Mason was dubbed “Worst CEO of the Year” by CNBC’s Herb Greenberg.  But not every business journalist and analyst has been completely critical of CEO Mason. In an interview with the New York Times, Stifel Nicolaus’ Jordan Rohan remarked: “I view Mason as a visionary idea generator. Few would argue with how impressive the Groupon organization was as it grew.”

But Mr. Rohan went on to report, “However, at some point it became the overgrown toddler of the Internet – operationally clumsy [and] not quite ready to make adult decisions.”

For many of us in the marketing field, peering at Groupon from the outside was like seeing a slow-moving train wreck in the making, so the latest news is pretty much what we expected.

But perhaps the biggest surprise is how similar it all looks to the ill-starred Internet pure-plays of the dotcom bubble a decade ago.

Charting e-mail read rates. (Correction: non-read rates.)

E-Mail Read Rates (Open Rates), Return Path, 4th Quarter 2012One of the great things about e-mail marketing is the ability to track nearly everything about its success (or lack thereof).

A recent Return Path Intelligence Report on e-mail statistics covering the 4th Quarter of 2012 is a case in point. Return Path conducts these studies by monitoring data from thousands of e-mail campaigns that utilize its delivery platforms.

Specifically, the  study tracks the inbox, blocking and filtering rates for more than 400,000 campaigns that use Return Path’s Monitor and Email Client Monitor suites, along with panel data from the company’s Inbox Insight program.

For the 4th study, Return Path reviewed nearly 250 ISPs in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

And what does its most recent study find? Fewer than one in five e-mails (17%) were opened. And that rate is slightly lower than what was recorded in the 2011 4th Quarter study.

However, some business sectors performed substantially better than the average:

  • Finance sector: ~28% open (read) rate
  • Business sector: ~24%
  • Real estate sector: ~20%

Shopping e-mails fared less well, with a read rate of ~15% (down from ~17% the previous year).

E-mail open rates in the education (~11%) and entertainment (~10%) fields were lower still.

And the worst sectors? News sector e-mails had an average open rate of only ~8%, while social networking e-mails fared even worse at ~6%.

Moreover, both of these bouncing-in-the-basement sectors experienced very significant drop-offs from the previous year, underscoring how they continue to struggle in their efforts to be interesting and relevant to readers.

For those who wish to view additional results and analysis, the Return Path report is available here.  It’s a free download.

Pew Research: Bookworms Going Increasingly Digital

Digital bookworms

Pew finds more readership of e-books, mirroring the healthy increase in tablet computer, smartphone and e-reader sales.

According to the Pew Research Center’s latest survey of American adults (ages 16 and older), ownership of a tablet computer or an e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook has grown substantially in the past year.

According to Pew’s year-over-year findings, ownership grew from ~18% in late 2011 to ~33% by late 2012.

[For those who are counting, tablet ownership increased from ~10% to ~25% of adults, while e-reader ownership rose a little slower, from a similar 10% level to about 19%.]

Based on these findings from Pew, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that e-book readership is also on the rise.

Other results in the Pew survey confirm this: The percent of U.S. adults who read an e-book within the past year is now ~23%, up from ~16% a year earlier.

Conversely, the proportion of printed book readers is declining; Pew finds that ~67% of adults read at least one printed book during the year, which is a drop from ~75% in late 2012 and ~78% in late 2011.

Who are most likely to be reading e-books? According to Pew, they’re the “usual suspects”: better-educated (college or greater); higher-income ($75,000+ annual household income); and folks who are in the 30-49 age range.

No significant differences were discerned in gender or racial segments, although the incidence of e-book readership skews somewhat higher among urban/suburban dwellers compared to those living in rural areas.

And there’s one other type of book platform with some degree of popularity among U.S. adults: ~13% of respondents reported that they had listened to at least one audio book over the course of the year.

Now to a fundamental question: Are we a nation of readers?

The answer to that question depends on your point of view, of course. Some people devour books all the time, while others will do anything they can to avoid reading a single one.

The Pew survey found that book readers tackled an average of 15 books across all “platforms” during the course of the year.

But the median number of books read was just six, leading one to conclude that some people are really, really voracious readers, and they drive the average much higher than the median figure.

Additional findings from the always-interesting Pew research in its invaluable Internet & American Life Project can be found here, for those who are interested in looking through more of the “entrails” …

Power to the people: Online medical diagnosis is here to stay.

Online medical adviceWith the plethora of medical information websites now available, the results of the Pew Research Center’s recent survey on online medical diagnosis behaviors by “Jane and John Q. Public” comes as little surprise.

The research, part of Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, found that ~35% of U.S. adults surveyed reported that they’ve used the web to try to figure out what medical condition they may have … or have done so for a friend or family member.

Pew calls these people “online diagnosers.” Of these, a plurality (~46%) reported that their online research led them to conclude that they needed the attention of a medical professional.

And what about the accuracy of their initial diagnoses? Here’s what the Pew survey revealed:

  • A medical professional confirmed their diagnosis: ~48%
  • A medical professional did not agree … or offered a different opinion about the condition: ~18%
  • The medical professional’s view was inconclusive: ~1%
  • A medical professional or clinician wasn’t visited to get a professional opinion: ~35%

The Pew survey also found that certain sectors of the public more inclined tap online resources for diagnosing a medical condition. These segments include:

  • Women
  • Younger age groups (35 or lower)
  • Those with college or advanced degrees
  • Those part of households earning $75,000+ in annual income

Lest you think that the explosion of websites specializing in health information — including the ever-growing array of hospital websites – are the ones spurring the online activity, the Pew survey clearly finds that the standard search engines are where most of the action is happening:

  • Google, Bing or Yahoo-type search engine sites: ~77%
  • WebMD or other health information-type sites: ~13%
  • Wikipedia: ~2%
  • Facebook or other social-type sites: ~1%

Some hospitals are near-obsessive about their patient satisfaction ratings and achieving high quality scores from third-party ratings firms like Press-Ganey. But the Pew survey finds that a distinct minority of health consumers takes the time and trouble to consult such reporting: Only about one in five survey respondents reported consulting online reviews of pharmaceuticals, medical treatments, physicians, or hospitals.

And practically no one posts online reviews of their own about healthcare services or health providers.

Here’s one final piece of information from the Pew survey: Despite the fact that people who search for health information often do so out of a concern for their own health or the health of a family member, that doesn’t mean that they’re willing to pay for the privilege of accessing the information.

To begin with, only around one-quarter of the Pew respondents reported that they had been asked to pay to access the health-related information they wished to see online.

Their reaction when confronted with such a pay wall? Do everything possible to avoid shelling out any money:

  • ~83% attempted to find the information somewhere else without having to pay
  • ~13% gave up searching entirely
  • Just 2% decided to pay for the information

So even in circumstances as fundamental as those involving health, it would seem that information in cyberspace “wants to be free.”

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