Microchips migrate to people … and the legislators struggle to catch up.

mcrExpanding beyond their use in applications like IoT household appliances and pet location tracking, sensors and chips are now being embedded in people, too.

Last fall, The Wall Street Journal reported that as many as 50,000 microchips designed for people have been sold globally.  Each microchip kit includes a tag and an injection tool, and is priced at around $100.

More Australians have had chip implants than in any other country, but significant numbers of other people in European nations like Sweden and the Benelux countries have also stepped up to the plate for implants.

According to what I hear, the chip embedding process is easy and painless, as the devices are very small – not much bigger in size than a grain of rice.

But not everyone is thrilled about this latest “turn of technology.” And as a result – and hardly surprising – politicians are starting to become involved.

In a move aimed at trying to put the microchip genie back into the bottle, lawmakers in the state of Nevada have introduced legislation that would make it a felony to require a person to be implanted with microchips such as an RFID (radio frequency identification) or NFC (near field communication) devices.

The legislation doesn’t seek to outlaw the practice – but rather to make it illegal to mandate any such activities targeting any single individual.

Under certain circumstances, I can see how micro-chipping a person could not only be beneficial, it could be a life-saver. Consider situations where people are potentially in danger of kidnapping, or susceptible to violence from spousal threats.

No major opposition to the Nevada bill has been logged – so far. Still, I can’t help but think that this is yet another lame legislative attempt to restrain the inexorable march of technology — one that will come up woefully short.

Water finds its own level – and that’s never more true than in the realm of technological advancements.

But what are your own thoughts pro or con?  Please share your views with other readers here.

Getting a handle on survey response rates.

It turns out, there are some predictive factors.

sgOne of the nice things about the proliferation on online surveys in recent years is that, over time, we’ve come to understand survey response dynamics much better.

Of course, predicting response rates with flawless precision is impossible due to the individual attributes of each individual survey, the sample composition and so forth.  But thanks to a 2015 compilation of “bottom-line” information by content marketing specialist Andrea Fryrear, the following points are good ones for marketing personnel undertaking market survey work.

Surveys aimed at “internal audiences” outperform external ones.

Targeting an internal audience such as a company’s own employee base is likely going to generate higher response rates (in the neighborhood of 35% to 40%, give or take). For surveys of an external audience, it’s more like 10% or perhaps even lower.

The reason is simple: Surveys aimed at internal audiences are likely very-well targeted, whereas with an external audience, often it’s difficult to reach only the right type of respondents.  At least some of them will turn out to be poor targets.

Additional motivating factors.

Other factors that can influence survey response rates include:

  • Customer loyalty – People who feel a connection with the brand conducting a survey tend to be more likely to participate.
  • Brand recognition – Surveys that focus on well-known brands will typically outperform ones from an unknown source or dealing with unfamiliar brands.
  • Perceived benefit – The “WIIFM” factor.  For example, response rates can soar even higher if the respondent population is motivated by serious incentives.  I recall getting more than a 60% response rate on a mail survey and an external sample because the monetary incentive was a $2 bill.
  • Demographics – The reality is that certain segments of the population are more likely to respond to surveys than others.  Think everything from age and gender to ethnicity and geographic location.
  • Survey distribution – Certain audiences are used to interacting on social media … others online … still others offline.  Chances are, you already know which type of research targets those are within your target markets, and it should influence your choice of survey delivery.

Survey length can make or break your response and completion rates.

To achieve the highest response rates, ideally surveys should take five minutes or less to complete. Ten minutes or less is probably OK, too.  But anything longer than that will likely have deleterious effect on your response rate.

How many questions does this mean? On average, respondents can complete five closed-ended questions in a minutes’ time … but only two open-ended ones.

Survey reminders? Yes.

Particularly with online surveys, it’s a good idea to send reminder notices to those who haven’t completed surveys as you get closer to the cut-off date. Sending two or three reminders is a good rule of thumb … and try sending them at different times of the day or different days of the week to that you can reach as many different prospective respondents as possible.

Learning from the experience of the thousands of surveys administered every month should make it easier for marketers to ensure their next survey will generate successful results instead of flame out.  There’s really no reason for failure considering the wealth of “experiential information” that’s out there.

Putting the best face forward at Twitter.

tdWhen business results look disappointing, one can certainly sympathize with the efforts of company management to explain it away in the most innocuous of terms.

This may be what’s behind Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s description of his company’s 2016 performance as “transformative” – whatever that means.

Falling short of industry analysts’ forecasts yet again, Twitter experienced a revenue increase of only about 1% year-over-year during 2016.

Monthly active users didn’t look much better either, with the total number barely budging.

While I have no actual proof, one explanation of tepid active user growth may be that Twitter became the de facto “place for politics” in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election — which didn’t actually end in November and continues apace even today.

Simply put, for many people, politics isn’t their cup of tea — certainly not on a 24/7/365 diet, ad nauseum.

Quite telling, too, was the fact that advertising revenue showed an absolute decline during the 4th Quarter, dropping below $640 million for the period.

Even more disturbing for investors, the company’s explanation about the steps Twitter is taking to address its performance shortfalls smacks of vacuousness, to wit this statement from CEO Dorsey:

“While revenue growth continues to lag audience growth, we are applying the same focused approach that drove audience growth to our revenue product portfolio, focusing on our strengths and the real-time nature of our service.”

“This will take time, but we’re moving fast to show results,” Dorsey continued, rather unconvincingly.

One bright spot in the otherwise disappointing company results is that revenues from international operations – about 39% of total overall revenues – climbed ~12% during the year, as compared to a ~5% revenue drop domestically.

Overall however, industry watchers are predicting more in the way of bad rather than good news in 2017. Principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson at digital media market research firm eMarketer put it this way:

“Twitter is losing traction fast. It is starting to shed once-promising products such as Vine, and [to] sell off parts of its business such as its Fabric app development platform.  At the same time, some surveys indicate that Twitter is becoming less integral to advertisers’ spending plans.  That doesn’t bode well for future ad revenue growth.”

With a prognosis like that, can the next big drop in Twitter’s share price be far behind?

What do you think?

America’s shopping malls struggle to avoid becoming dinosaurs.

dm

America’s department store chains – and anchor stores at countless shopping malls across the country – are reporting another rounds of disappointing sales and profit figures following the 2016 holiday season.

It underscores what we’ve been seeing all over the country – dead or dying malls.

In fact, retail industry analyst Jan Rogers Kniffen predicts that about one-third of malls in the United States will shut their doors in the coming years.

That’s about 400 of the ~1,100 enclosed malls.

Equally startling, of the ~700 that remain, all but around 250 are expected to continue to struggle.

The problem is multi-faceted. At an estimated 48 sq. ft. of retail space for every man, woman and child in America, that’s a footprint that gotten too big.

“On an apples-to-apples basis, we have twice as much per-capita retail space than any other place in the world,” Kniffen says, adding that the United States is “the most over-stored” country anywhere.

The oversupply of retail space is challenged by changing customer tastes, too. Online shopping is a huge problem for malls, as is the rising popularity of off-price stores in lieu of the department stores like Macy’s and Penneys that have served as important anchors for mall properties all over the country.

Now we hear reports that Macy’s is planning to close numerous store locations during 2017, joining Sears and Penneys which have been doing the same thing over the past several years.

How will malls survive in the future? Recently, the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm issued a report that highlighted five ways malls can remain relevant to consumers today and in the future:

Mall of America (Bloomington, MN): Expansion Rendering
Mall of America (Bloomington, MN): Expansion Rendering

Entertainment – Even in the age of “interactive everything,” consumers – particularly younger ones – continue to seek out gathering places and “experiences.”  It’s one reason why some shopping malls have had to deal with large numbers of young people flooding their spaces – not always with pleasant results.  Malls seeking out tenants that provide entertainment hubs — such as theme parks and gaming parlors, edutainment, and even virtual-reality content and immersive experiences — will be able to draw customers from a wider geographic area who crave social interaction.

Food and drink – “Food is the new fashion,” some people like to say.  Successful malls are getting on that action, incorporating popular dining options along with unique ones as a way of becoming destination locations.

Retail – Still a core aspect of malls, but with new twists, such as creating retail centers that are also learning zones that bring together consumers, retailers and entertainment.  McKinsey uses the example of a sporting goods store that also includes a fitness studio, or offline showrooms for online retail players.  More reconfigurable spaces that can be used for pop-up stores, special product launches and seasonal offerings are also options with potential.

Transportation – Getting to and from mall properties with ease is growing in importance, and where some creative thinking might go a way towards making some malls more attractive than others.

Technology – The more that malls can create a “seamless chain” between online and on-site shopping, the better their chances are for staying relevant in the new retail environment.  McKinsey posits a number of initiatives, such as creating “virtu-real” formats that provide consumers with a more interactive retail experience through the use of touchscreen navigation portals, virtual fitting rooms, allowing smartphones for e-checkouts, and click-and-collect services to help blend the offline and online shopping experience.

In sum, for shopping malls it means fundamentally rethinking their role — and then adapting their strengths to those of the virtual/interactive world.

If we check back in another five years or so, we should have a pretty good idea which tactics have been successful – and which mall properties, too.

Hopefully, the shopping mall closest to your home won’t look like the one at the top of this article.

Internet-connected TVs now dominate the market.

ictvRecently I blogged about how many Americans are now living in cellphone-only households.

Bottom-line:  It’s a major percentage.

A parallel development is the extent of Internet-connected TVs that are now in place in U.S. households. According to a recent survey of ~2,000 U.S. adult broadband users by The Diffusion Group, Internet-connected TV penetration has now risen to 74%.

This chart shows the penetration trends over the past four years:

  • 2013 Internet-connected TV penetration: ~50%
  • 2014: ~61%
  • 2015: ~70%
  • 2016: ~74%

What these figures show is that almost three fourths of U.S. households now have an Internet-connectable television, which is up about 50% since 2013.

With more consumers wanting to set up their own in-home networks, TV manufacturers saw this trend developing and began flooding the retail market with “smart” televisions. As a result, most any consumer looking to purchase a TV set these days is likely to end up with one that is Internet-connectable, whether they feel they need it or not.

This is a back door into the world of consumer IoT; both the TV and the smartphone are the prime facilitators for the adoption of the Internet of Things in the home.

But like with many other technological waves, actual adoption rates can lag. For many people, watching TV on Internet-connected equipment is still only “potential” viewing rather than actual viewing.  Just as some consumers who own the latest smartphone models never use them to watch videos, homes that replace a TV set with the latest Internet-connectable model don’t necessarily use the added built-in functionality — at least initially.

Still, one suspects that with this technology now at people’s fingertips, it won’t be much longer before we start seeing actual usage catch up with the potential that’s there.

Making sense of the “Trump Travel Ban”: A view from outside the United States.

ntbSince the President Donald Trump’s executive order pertaining to foreign-national travel into the United States was issued this past weekend, there has been an outcry of criticism from many quarters. I’ve heard a wide range of concerns raised – including some claims that appear to conflict with one another.

As regular readers of the Nones Notes blog know, my brother, Nelson Nones, is someone who has lived and worked outside the Unites States for more than 20 years.  I’ve found Nelson to be a good sounding-board when it comes to making sense of complex or controversial issues that have an international bent.

Certainly, Nelson’s perspectives, coming as they do from an “outside-in” perspective, are always interesting.  That’s why I decided to ask for his views on this latest controversy. Here’s how he responded:

Setting up the “Muslim ban” arguments. 

crAccording to a media release from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on January 27, 2017, the “apparent purpose and underlying motive” of Trump’s order “is to ban people of the Islamic faith from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.” 

“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” Trump responded in a statement on January 29, 2017. “This is not about religion; this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not [among the seven countries] affected by this order [to ban U.S. entry by nationals or dual-nationals of those countries].” 

Also on January 29, 2017, Reince Priebus, Trump’s Chief of Staff, said on NBC’s Meet the Press that other countries could be added to the list, but he didn’t identify any of them.

What are the facts?

In fact, 52 countries in the world are majority Muslim (defined as countries in which Muslims comprise half the total population or more), of which 45 are not affected by the ban on U.S. entry mentioned in Trump’s statement.  

About 12% of the world’s Muslims live in the seven affected countries (Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya, ranked in descending order by size of the Muslim population), and another 63% live in the other 45 majority Muslim countries. Of the remaining 25% of the world’s Muslim population, four-fifths are concentrated in just six non-majority Muslim countries which are also not affected by the ban on U.S. entry mentioned in Trump’s statement: India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, People’s Republic of China, Tanzania and Russia (also ranked in descending order by size of the Muslim population). 

The U.S. State Department has already announced that it has suspended the issuance of visas to nationals of the seven affected countries until further notice. However, the impact of this suspension is tempered by the U.S. State Department’s previous suspension of all U.S. visa services in three of those countries: Syria (since 2012), Libya (since 2014) and Yemen (since 2015).   

Further, U.S. visa services were not available in Iran because the U. S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.  

So, before Trump’s order, U.S. visa services were locally available only in three of the seven affected countries: Sudan, Iraq and Somalia. For nationals of the other affected countries, U.S. visa services were previously available by applying in, though not necessarily traveling to, Armenia (from Iran), Djibouti (from Yemen), Jordan (from Syria), Morocco (from Libya), Turkey (from Iran), and the United Arab Emirates (from Iran). 

Another part of Trump’s order suspends the entire U.S. refugee admissions system for 120 days, and suspends the Syrian refugee program indefinitely. During the fourth quarter of 2016, the U.S. admitted refugees from 63 countries under this system; 47% of those refugees came from the same seven countries affected by the ban on U.S. entry mentioned in Trump’s statement.  Another 3% were nationals of 20 additional majority Muslim countries.  

Consequently, 27 majority Muslim countries are potentially affected in some way by Trump’s order – either by the ban on U.S. entry by nationals or dual nationals of those countries or by suspension of the U.S. refugee admissions system, or both. About 49% of the world’s Muslims live in these 27 countries, and another 26% live in the other 26 majority Muslim countries that are not affected in any way.  

Nevertheless, because the number of non-refugee arrivals into the U.S. from the Middle East and Africa was about 37 times greater than the number of refugees admitted from those areas in 2016, the magnitude of impact on majority Muslim countries from suspending the U.S. refugee admissions system would be considerably lower than that of banning U.S. entry for all nationals and dual nationals from the seven countries mentioned in Trump’s statement.   

As noted, the remaining 25% of the world’s Muslim population lives in non-majority Muslim countries. Thirty-six of those countries are potentially affected by suspension of the U.S. refugee admissions system; but Muslims comprise ten percent or more of the population in only nine of them (including India, Nigeria and Ethiopia) – and those nine countries accounted for only 4% of U.S. refugee admissions during the fourth quarter of 2016.

Nelson’s data sources for the above stats: 

  • Pew Research Center, The Future of the Global Muslim Population (2011) and other sources (Muslim population by country retrieved from Wikipedia)
  • U.S. Department of Commerce, National Travel and Tourism Office (2016) (U.S. arrivals by country)
  • U.S. State Department (2016 refugee arrivals, information on visa services)

Is it a actually Muslim ban? 

Based on the facts, clearly not. 

At least half the world’s Muslims (and perhaps as many as 85% considering the limited impact of suspending the refugee program) are untouched by Trump’s executive order. Depending on how you gauge the impact of suspending the refugee program, this translates into somewhere between one-third and four-fifths of the total population in majority Muslim countries. 

Banning “people of the Islamic faith from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States” (as CAIR puts it) literally means banning every Muslim from majority Muslim countries. Trump’s order doesn’t come close to accomplishing any such purpose in its present form. Perhaps it might if enough “other countries” are added to the list in the future, but any such action is pure speculation and not a fact today.    

Is it a good idea? 

The facts presented above don’t answer this question one way or the other, but here is my opinion: 

  • It’s a politically brilliant maneuver in terms of playing to Trump supporters. In other words, it looks like a “Muslim ban” when it actually isn’t, despite what CAIR claims. It allows Trump to fulfill a campaign promise that no reasonable people thought possible – without actually doing much of anything substantial.  
  • It’s a boneheaded maneuver in terms of people who already have valid visas, “paroles” and “green cards,” for whom no probable cause exists to deny entry. None of the seven countries mentioned in Trump’s statement, and none of the other countries from which the U.S. accepted refugees in 2016, is a visa-free country or part of the Visa Waiver Program. In other words, everyone from those countries has had to pay steep (and non-refundable) visa application fees ranging anywhere from $160 to $500 per person. I can personally attest that the State Department’s vetting procedures were quite stringent already, and the majority of applications are denied (in Thailand where I am, at least – which happens to be one of the countries from which the U.S. accepted refugees). Those who have been “paroled” (meaning, they are permitted to temporarily leave the U.S. while their “green card” application is pending) and those who hold “green cards” have spent considerable extra time and money, including legal fees, after arriving in the United States. If they were among the unfortunate few who were in transit when Trump signed his order, and hence were returned to their home country, they spent even more time and money on transportation which has gone to waste. Denying entry to such persons without probable cause is an arbitrary denial of liberty and property which, in turn, is a fundamental breach of the Constitution’s due process clauses. It doesn’t matter if the affected people are U.S. citizens or not (the Constitution refers to “persons,” not “citizens”). For this reason, I think the government will lose most if not all the lawsuits that have been, or will be, initiated in these particular cases. 
  • It won’t make the United States safer — put a dent in the threat of terror — because of the simple fact that the overwhelming majority of would-be U.S. visitors and immigrants are untouched by the order. In 2015, only about one-tenth of one percent of U.S. arrivals came from the seven countries mentioned in Trump’s statement, and in 2016 only 2.5% of U.S. arrivals came from the whole of the Middle East and Africa.

So there you have it – a view from outside the United States. I think there’s room for discussion regarding the merits of the order and whether it will actually have the desired effect.

Where do you come down on the executive action? Please share your perspectives with other readers.

Cutting the Telephone Cord

ccA new milestone has been reached in the United States:  For the first time, more than half of all American adults live in households with cellphones but no landline telephones.

That’s the key takeaway finding from a recent survey of ~24,000 Americans age 18 and above conducted by market research firm GfK MRI.

This finding  mean that in just six years, the percentage of adults living in cellphone-only households has doubled. In GfK’s 2010 research, the percentage was just 26%.

Not surprisingly, there are significant differences in the findings based on age demographics:

  • Millennials (born 1977 to 1994): ~71% live in cellphone-only households
  • Generation X (born 1965 to 1976): ~55%
  • Boomers (born 1946 to 1964): ~40%
  • Seniors (born before 1946): ~23%

Interestingly, despite their relatively low adoption rate, the percentage of Seniors living in cellphone-only households actually quadrupled over the past six years.

As for an ethnic breakdown, Hispanic Americans are significantly more likely to live free of landline phones compared to the other three major groups:

  • Hispanic Americans: ~67% live in cellphone-only households
  • Asian Americans: ~54%
  • Whites: ~51%
  • African Americans: ~50%

Perhaps surprisingly, the Northeast region of the United States has the lower incidence of cellphone-only households (~39%), compared rates all over 50% in the other three regions. As it turns out, the Northeast has relatively higher levels bundled communication services (TV, Internet, landline and cellphone services), but one suspects that the figures will come into alignment in the next few years and many of those bundled programs bite the dust.

At this rate of change, could we be seeing effectively the end of landline phone service within the next two decades? It seems likely so.

How about you?  Have your cut the phone cord yet?  And did you regret it for even one minute?