Chipping away at the opposition, a Wisconsin company plans to implant its employees with microchips.

I’ve blogged before about how micro-chipping has been morphing from appliances and pets to people.

But not without opposition.  Earlier this year, it was reported that lawmakers the state of Nevada had 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.

Nevada isn’t the only state legislature to take up the issue, as similar legislation has already been passed in North Dakota, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin and – how come we are not surprised? – California.

But now comes word that at least one company is quite publicly thumbing its nose at the state of Wisconsin by offering implanted chip technology to all of its employees.

Beginning in August, River Falls-based Three Square Market (32M) will be implanting all willing employees with an RFID chip. Reportedly, this will allow these employees to purchase items in the company’s break room, as well as to log on to computers, open locked doors on the company premises, and to use copy machines.

[For those who may not know, River Falls is located near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and is also home to one of the University of Wisconsin’s more notable tech campuses.]

As many as 50 employees of 32M are expected to participate in the scheme, in what is claimed to be the first employee micro-chipping program implemented in the United States.

As it turns out, there’s a little more than just altruism behind 32M’s program. The company operates in a market segment that’s naturally aligned with chip technology.

More specifically, 32M is a key player in the so-called “micro market” – also known as the break room market — wherein mini-convenience store kiosks that are installed in employee break rooms feature self-checkout functionality.

32M sells micro market technology, while operating more than 2,000 kiosks in 20 countries around the world.

According to Tony Danna, 32M’s vice president of sales, one of the reasons for embarking on the microchip implantations is his company’s desire to have first-hand experience working with the technology, which it offers in addition to more conventional RFID payment solutions such as rings and wrist bands.

In other words, it isn’t a “forced march.”  And while 32M is at it, the company is getting more than its share of publicity out of the gambit.

Mr. Danna pushes back against the notion that microchips and the data they contain are an invasion of privacy, insisting that the microchips are not trackable and “anyone can pop it out, like a splinter.”

Of course, credit card information can be stored on the chip — and likely a whole lot more.

Despite any reservations that recalcitrant employees – or state legislators in Wisconsin – might have, 32M is moving ahead and planning for a “chip party” at the company’s headquarters in early August.

No word if any other kinds of chips – such as of the corn or potato variety – plan to be served up as well during the event.

What’s up with personal assistant apps?

Apple Siri loses a chunk of users, but it still possesses the biggest share of the AI-powered personal assistant apps market.

With the entry of new personal assistant apps, it’s only logical that there would be a shift in market share between the established players and the upstarts.

That trend is underscored in statistics recently published by Verto Analytics which are based on behavioral data gleaned from ~20,000 U.S. consumers via passive metering of their digital devices.

According to Verto, the current share of usage among the seven top personal assistant apps breaks down as follows:

  • Apple Siri: 41MM monthly U.S. users (~44%)
  • Samsung S Voice: 23MM (~25%)
  • Google Text-To-Search: 20MM (~21%)
  • Google Home: 5MM (~5%)
  • Amazon Alexa: 3MM (~3%)
  • Google Allo: 1MM (~1%)
  • Microsoft Cortana: 1MM (~1%)

These stats show the degree to which the top three apps continue to dominate the U.S. market. However, they don’t tell the entire story.  A more interesting trend is what’s happening with the number of monthly users by app. In the case of Siri, its monthly user figure has dropped a full 15% in the past year – or about 7 million monthly users lower than in 2016.

Samsung, #2 on the list, also experienced a decline in monthly users – in its case a drop of 8%, or about 2 million fewer users compared to 2016.

Google Home also experienced a slide in subscribers, although #3 ranged Google Text-To-Search did grow.

The biggest growth trends in personal assistant apps were experienced by Alexa (up ~325%) and Cortana (up ~350%). Both apps were starting from a very low baseline, however, and today they still number only around 3 million and 1 million monthly users respectively.

Another interesting dynamic is the level of engagement each of these personal assistant apps generates. As it turns out, there is a direct correlation between overall user growth and levels of engagement, so it’s pretty clear where most of the “go-go” action is at the moment:  Alexa and Cortana.

Perhaps most significantly, the Verto report suggests that personal assistant apps are of more utility to users than search apps such as Google or Yelp. Approximately 45% of smartphones owned by U.S. adults contained a personal assistant app that was used at least once during the month of May 2017.  Compare that to the percent of smartphones that had a search app installed over the same period:  just 34%.

It goes to show that among personal assistant apps broadly, the market is quite robust even if it’s fragmenting rather than consolidating.

Local TV news viewership continues to decline … even as stations ramp up their news coverage.

How’s this for an ironic twist: The Pew Research Center is reporting that the local TV newscasts if ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC affiliates across the United States are continuing to show viewership declines, even as stations are increasing the amount of the local news content they broadcast.

According to Pew, which analyzed Nielsen results for its report, “late” news (10 or 11 pm) suffered an 11% decline to 20.3 million viewers across the United States during 2016.

Early evening news (5 or 6 pm time slots) lost ~9% in viewership, dropping to 22.8 million viewers.

Morning news? It didn’t fare any better, falling a similar ~9% to just 10.8 million viewers.

But despite these continuing declines, there’s scant evidence that local station executives see local news as a losing proposition.

Instead, they appear to be doubling down on it, figuring that local news is one of the few remaining points of differentiation against online news sites that usually don’t provide very much in the way of in-depth local coverage.

Underscoring this, according to a survey conducted by the Radio-Television-Digital News Association and Hofstra University, local TV stations averaged 5.7 hours of news programming per weekday during 2016, which is up slightly from 5.5 hours in 2015.

Stats aside, one has to wonder how much longer local news can continue to be a differentiating factor for local TV stations? Those very same stations are creating their own competition by operating robust websites of their own.  And of course, many people have become quite adept at punching their own zip codes into weather apps to obtain “micro-local” weather information.

Sports? There are thousands of websites and apps available that provide fingertip results and stats down to the most minute level of detail.

Furthermore, as the older population “ages out,” the notion of sitting down at a prescribed hour every day to watch the news on television is likely to go the way of newspapers.  Which is to say, an inexorable slide into irrelevance.

It just isn’t how the world operates any longer … even if one is 60 or 70 years old.

More statistics from the Pew Research Center report can be accessed here.

Chief Marketing Officers and the revolving door.

If it seems to you that chief marketing officers last only a relatively short time in their positions, you aren’t imagining things.

The reality is, of all of the various jobs that make up senior management positions at many companies, personnel in the chief marketing officer position are the most likely to be changed most often.

To understand why, think of the four key aspects of marketing you learned in business school: Product-Place-Price-Promotion.

Now, think about what’s been happening in recent times to the “4 Ps” of the marketing discipline. In companies where there are a number of “chief” positions – chief innovation officers, chief growth officers, chief technology officers, chief revenue officers and the like – those other positions have encroached on traditional marketing roles to the extent that in many instances, the CMO no longer has clear authority over them.

It’s fair to say that of the 4 Ps, the only one that’s still the clear purview of the CMO is “Promotion.”

… Which means that the chief marketing officer is more accurately operating as a chief advertising officer.

Except … when it comes to assigning responsibility (or blame, depending on how things are going), the chief marketing officer still gets the brunt of that attention.

“All the responsibility with none of the authority” might be overstating it a bit, but one can see how the beleaguered marketing officer could be excused for thinking precisely that when he or she is in the crosshairs of negative attention.

Researcher Debbie Qaqish at The Pedowitz Group, who is also author of the book The Rise of the Revenue Marketer, reports that as many as five C-suite members typically share growth and revenue responsibility inside a company … but the CMO is often the one held responsible for any missed targets.

With organizational characteristics like these, it’s no wonder the average CMO tenure is half that of a CEO (four years versus eight). Research findings as reported by Neil Morgan and Kimberly Whitler in the pages of the July 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review give us that nice little statistic.

What to do about these issues is a tough nut. There are good reasons why many traditional marketing activities have migrated into different areas of the organization.  But it would be nice if company organizational structures and operational processes would keep pace with that evolution instead of staying stuck in the paradigm of how the business world operated 10 or 20 years ago.

Rapid change is a constant in the business world, and it’s always a challenge for companies to incorporate changing responsibilities into an existing organizational structure.  But if companies want to have CMOs stick around long enough to do some good, a little more honesty and fairness about where true authority and true responsibility exist would seem to be in order.

Employee churn rates underscore the volatile nature of e-mail contact databases.

Most marketers are well-familiar with the challenges of e-mail list maintenance. In the business-to-business world in particular, e-mail databases can become pretty stale pretty quickly, due to the horizontal and vertical movement of employees inside organizations as well as jumping to other companies.

Whether they’re moving up or out, often they’re no longer good prospects.

Based on my experience, my personal rule of thumb has been that approximately one-fifth of any given list of B-to-B names will “churn” within a 12-month period, meaning that any such contact database will rapidly lose its effectiveness unless assiduously maintained.

And now we have a new report from Salesforce Research that confirms this basic rule of thumb.

Salesforce looked to LinkedIn, exploring this social platform’s data from more than 7 million records over a 48-month period to gauge the lifecycle of the typical “persona.”

The research considered not only changes that result in the deactivation of an e-mail address, but also circumstances where individuals may keep the same e-mail address but still should be removed as a target because a horizontal or vertical change within the same organization places them in a different employee function.

What the new research found was that the average annual B-to-B churn rate for such “personas” is ~17%.

That figure turns out to be fairly close to my basic rule of thumb based on years of observing not only e-mail contact databases, but also the postal mail databases we’ve worked with in my company or with our clients.

Beyond the broad average, there are some small but meaningful differences in the B-to-B churn rate depending on the product focus and on the type of employee function.

In high-tech fields, the average annual churn rate is higher than the average. And it’s across the board, too:  23% churn in marketing … 20% in sales and in HR personnel … 19% in IT, and 18% in finance.

People employed in the retail and consumer products industries also clock in at or higher than the overall churn average, but the annual churn rate is a tad lower in the medical and transportation fields.

Another interesting finding from the Salesforce evaluation is that annual churn rates are somewhat lower than the average for personnel at director levels and higher in companies (around 15%). For managers, the churn rate matches the overall average, while “worker bees” have a higher churn rate averaging around 20%.

Considering the critical importance of e-mail marketing efforts in the B-to-B environment, Salesforce’s finding that it takes only 4.2 years for an e-mail database to churn completely means that the value of these marketing assets will decline dramatically unless cultivated and maintained on an ongoing basis.

The volatile nature of e-mail contact databases also helps explain why so many companies have adopted a multi-channel approach to marketing, including interacting on social media platforms. Yes, those platforms do have their place in the B-to-B world …

The full report of the Salesforce findings can be downloaded here.

Brands tiptoe through today’s political minefields.

In 2017, not only is the United States politically divided into nearly equal camps, but it seems as though the gulf between the two sides is wider than it’s been in decades.

In my own personal experience, I haven’t witnessed political rifts this big since the anti-war era of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  But even then, that divide wasn’t so much on partisan grounds as on philosophical ones.

[And it wasn’t an equal divide, either.  Remember President Richard Nixon’s slogan about the “silent majority”?  It was — to the tune of a 61% Nixon victory in the presidential election of 1972.]

Historically, the people who manage product brands have adhered to a formula similar to that of distant relatives getting together for a holiday meal: avoid talking about politics and religion.  But in times where politics can overtake even the best-curated brands, that’s become more difficult.

Recently, international market research firm Ipsos studied the issue. It tested a number of well-known brands that have been the subject of “political” controversies.  Considering one measure – stock price – Ipsos found that there has been minimal impact on brand health when looking at the publicly traded brands that President Donald Trump has mentioned in his various late-night tweets.

But viewed another way, Ipsos found that there’s an ever-expanding emphasis on partisan politics. Americans have become more likely to combine their behavior as consumers with their ideological or partisan loyalties.  One measure is the spike in searches on Google for the term “boycott,” as can be seen clearly in this chart:

According to Ipsos, politically-minded boycotts appear to be having noticeable business impacts. Looking at around 30 publicly traded brands, those with the highest rate of consumer boycotts since the November 2016 election are the ones that experienced the worst stock market performance – by a factor of about -15%.

Prudent advice would be for brands to respond to the hyper-partisan environment by trying not to be drawn into ideological debates. That’s a smart move, as most of the brands Ipsos tested have a fairly evenly balanced mix of self-described Democrats and Republicans.

In such an environment, no matter which way a company might be perceived to be moving “politically,” there will be a substantial portion of its customers who object.

And object they do: As part of its study, Ipsos surveyed consumers on their boycotting behaviors.  More than 25% of the survey respondents revealed that they have stopped using products or services from a company because of its perceived political leanings.  And as Ipsos has found, the brands with the highest rate of recent consumer boycott activity have also experienced the worst stock market performance.

Trying to avoid becoming part of today’s sometimes-toxic political environment isn’t always easy for brands to accomplish. Even for brands that make a concerted effort, it is increasingly hard to predict what factors might drive a company into the limelight — or whether anything the company does or doesn’t do can control what actually happens.

Ipsos cautions that staying on the political sidelines isn’t as easy as it has been in the past. It has determined that political party identification now ranks as one of the most central aspects of how consumers organize their lives – and how they relate to brands as well.

To illustrate, Ipsos presents the cases of Nordstrom and Uber. Both companies feature customer bases that skew somewhat more Democrat, but with significant percentages of Republicans as well.  Since the 2016 Presidential election, both companies have experienced politically-themed PR incidents that were magnified on social media platforms, to negative effect.

Different groups reacted in different ways – Republicans turned off by Nordstrom (dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line) and Democrats turned off by Uber (Travis Kalanick’s involvement with Donald Trump’s economic advisory council).

But the end result was the same:  the brands’ reputations suffered.

In today’s environment, it seems as though assiduously maintaining a non-partisan, non-confrontational stance is still the best policy for maintaining brand strength.  But it isn’t a guarantee anymore.

Additional findings and conclusion from the Ipsos evaluation can be found here.

The great, disappearing retail store act.

What’s in store for retail? Maybe not much at all …

There have been quite a few news reports about store closings since the beginning of this year — many of them focused on big brands like Kmart, JCPenney and Abercrombie & Fitch.

But what about the retail industry as a whole?

Recently, GetApp conducted research among a more general group of U.S. retailers that run online retail operations as well as a physical stores.

Among this group of respondents, two out of three believe that they could be closing their physical stores within the coming decade and operating their business solely online:

  • Extremely likely to be running my business solely online by 2027: ~23%
  • Likely: ~43%
  • Not sure: ~17%
  • Unlikely: ~12%
  • Extremely unlikely: ~4%

If these figures turn out to be even somewhat accurate, the “retail apocalypse” some news organizations are talking about will have become even more of a reality than even the most hyperventilating journalists are predicting.

It certainly lends additional credibility to current narrative about the downward slide of shopping malls across the United States …