2016 says goodbye to some iconic American brands …

tcAs in every year, 2016 has seen the fall of famous brands; some are young upstarts that flamed out quickly, but others are venerable names that have been with us for decades.

Here are ten of the more notable casualties of the year – albeit a few of them still kicking but for all intents and purposes, going lights-out:

ap-logoA&P – This brand name goes back 150 years … but eventually even venerable A&P couldn’t survive in the cutthroat grocery market.  Actually, this brand’s been on life support for a while now, but has always managed to scrape by.  No longer.  Albertstons Companies – itself facing big competition in the grocery segment – has purchased the remaining 600 A&P outlets and will re-brand those it keeps open under its Acme brand name.  Nevertheless, at a century and a half it’s been quite a run – one that only a very few other brands can match.

american-appAmerican Apparel – When a once high-flying apparel company has its equally high-flying chief executive fending off salacious reports of secretly recorded sex videos – yes, they’re on the Internet – coupled with spiraling debt levels and plummeting sales, can Chapter 11 be far behind?  You already know the answer.

office-maxOffice Max – Sales at the big three U.S. office supply chains have struggled for a number of years, but Office Max was the one to fall victim first.  Its merger in 2013 with Office Depot began the brand’s slide, and now the final nail is in the coffin with the merger of Office Depot and Staples.  What’s the rationale for continuing to have three store brands under one company umbrella?  Answer:  No reason at all … which is why the weakest of the three brands is now becoming history.

ogOlympic Garden – In a development that some might characterize as divine retribution, the Las Vegas “adult” establishment colloquially known as “The OG” couldn’t handle its myriad legal battles even as it continued to attract big crowds.

radioshakRadioShack – OK, we still see RadioShack outlets in certain locations around the country – typically in small- to medium-sized markets.  But they’re co-branded locations with Sprint.  The reality is that this nearly 100-year-old brand is fading away; the only question is whether we’ll cease seeing the name in five years or just one or two.

searsSears – Another iconic brand name has been struggling mightily in the past decade or so, despite its merger with Kmart.  The company has lost more than $1 billion in each of the past three years.  Now it appears that the Sears name is the one that will disappear as its store locations continue to dwindle – nearly 250 in 2015 and close to another 100 this year.  At that rate, there’ll be none left before long.

simplyhiredSimplyHired – An international job search engine with upwards of 30 million active users that once sparred with the likes of Monster.com, ultimately this HR resource was unable to successfully compete in the space, shutting down in mid-year.

sportsSports Authority – A cautionary tale of what happens to a big retailer when it fails to keep its operations and product offerings fresh and appealing.  This retailer has been absorbed into Dick’s Sporting Goods, which has been far more nimble – and successful – in the “big box” sporting goods niche.

us-airways-logoUS Airways – We knew this had to be coming eventually; in 2013, this airlines’ merger with American Airlines was finalized.  Now that its operating systems are fully consolidated, one of the brand names was bound to disappear – and it’s US Airways.  Just like we all knew that Southwest Airlines would eventually consign the AirTran brand name to the dustbin, the same thing is happening with US Airways now.

vineVine – In October, Twitter shut down this video-sharing app so it could refocus on its (also struggling) core business.  Vine was definitely a flash-in-the-pan brand – barely a half-decade old.

So, now it’s time say a fond farewell to these brands. For a good many of them, the names may soon disappear, but they won’t be forgotten …

Do you have other 2016 brand casualties you’d add to the list?  Please share your choices with other readers here.

The Millennial generation: Are they redefining the concept of “news consumption”?

News consumption habits (millennials)Recently, I read an interesting column written by Emily Anatole that addresses how the Millennial generation is reshaping the concept of “news” and how it is consumed.

Anatole notes that Millennials are criticized for not being news consumers, but she argues against this point. 

In her view, the younger generation is simply getting their news in a different way.  She writes:  “Milleninials’ approach to consumer news reflects how they differ … they perceive the ‘power of the pack’ – or Facebook updates, tweets and trending topics as we know them – as more valuable than the fact-checked, overly polished POV of one reporter.”

Anatole’s company, research firm Youth Pulse, Inc. (YPulse), conducted a survey in October 2012 of ~1,800 people aged 14-34, which found that television remains the top way in which this age group gets the news, with more than 70% reporting that they turn to TV to stay informed.

However, two-thirds of the respondents also reported that they get their news from Facebook, while approximately one-third get news from Twitter.

If these stats seem a bit unusual for those of us in the over-40 or -50 set, consider this:  Today’s 17-year-old was barely twelve when the iPhone first came out. 

So an environment in which comments, updates and opinions aren’t part of the “standard media mix” isn’t just a quaint memory; for Millennials, it never existed!

For the younger generation, becoming part-and parcel of “journalism” in its broadest sense is an integral part of the equation.  Uploading or sharing videos, tweeting a comment, updating a social status … it’s all part of a “co-created experience” where the lines are blurred between the media industry and consumers of the news.

Impatience has always been a trait of the young — as far back as the Children’s Crusade or even before.  So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that Millennials would tend to go for “immediacy” over “credibility.” 

Given the choice of learning something “first” — even if the details or veracity of the story are sketchy — versus waiting around for a well-curated 5:00 pm news broadcast … well, it’s not even a fair fight anymore.

And here’s another important point to consider:  Whereas we older generation-types were trained to seek out news by buying the daily paper or tuning in to a radio or TV broadcast, today’s younger generation can afford to be less perspicacious.  The news comes to them without barely lifting a finger because of friends and others in their social sphere sharing stories, leaving comments, and tweeting.

Some believe it’s yet another “e-volution” that’s turning out to be more “re-volutionary” than we could have imagined. 

What’s your take?

Gallup Sees Deterioration in Americans’ Perceptions of Major Industry Sectors

Decline in perceptions of U.S. industriesThe past decade hasn’t been kind to the image of most industries in the United States. And given the economic and sociopolitical upheavals experienced by nearly every strata of society, it’s not hard to understand why.

This isn’t just conjecture, either. For years, the Gallup polling organization has surveyed Americans’ opinions of 25 major industry sectors every August to determine if their overall opinion of each of them is positive, neutral or negative.

The results of the 2011 survey of 1,008 respondents (age 18 and over) have now been released, and they show that a majority of Americans view just five of the 25 industries in a positive light:

 Computer industry: ~72% rate positive
 Restaurant industry: ~61%
 Farming and agriculture: ~57%
 The Internet: ~56%
 Grocery industry: ~52%

Interestingly, when comparing these results to ten years ago (August 2001), just two of these five sectors have improved their positive ratings: the Internet and the computer industry.

At the other end of the scale, seven of the 25 industry sectors scored 30% or lower in positive ratings:

 Banking industry: ~30% rate positive
 Airline industry: ~29%
 Legal field: ~29%
 Healthcare industry: ~27%
 Real estate industry: ~23%
 Oil and gas industry: ~20%
 Federal government: ~17%

The remaining 13 industries in Gallup’s survey came in between 30% and 50% on the scale – hardly stellar ratings, but not in the basement like the hapless sectors listed above.

Over the past decade, Gallup has observed that a clear majority of the industries – 19 of the 25 – have seen declines in their positive scores.

The most precipitous ones include the usual suspects, led by – you guessed it – the federal government:

 Federal government: Down 24 percentage points since 2001
 Real estate industry: Down 23 points
 Banking: Down 17 points
 Educational field: Down 15 points
 Accounting industry: Down 11 points
 Healthcare industry: Down 10 points

It’s little wonder why we’re seeing these six industries striking out so badly with the American public; they’re precisely the ones associated most with various political or economic problems.

By contrast, the positive views about the computer industry and the Internet reflect the continuing innovation and financial success of many businesses in this sector.

This can’t be lost on consumers – many of whom have directly benefited through the steady stream of new products and services introduced by companies in these sectors over the past decade.

And as for agriculture, groceries and restaurants … well, we all have to eat, no matter what the economic situation! Besides, there’s been little controversy seen in these categories, and they’re mature sectors have been smooth-running in this country for years.

One hopes the next decade will witness a reversal in the downward trajectory of the public’s perceptions of American industries. In at least a few of the cases, it’s hard to imagine how they could sink any lower!

Reading the tea leaves in the U.S. population census results.

County Population Change: 2000-2010Now that the full scope of information is being released from the latest U.S. population census, many news reports about age demographics tend to focus on the composition of families in urban areaa … the impact of immigration of all stripes … as well as the occasional article about the phenomenon of large family units in “exotic” places like rural Utah and Idaho.

Most of these news reports give the impression that age demographics are getting younger.

Don’t believe it. Instead, we can turn to the U.S. Bureau of Census’ own figures which tell a different story.

In reality, there are fewer children today in most American neighborhoods. In fact, the share of population under the age of 18 declined in ~95% of the counties since 2000.

The Bureau’s stats also show that the number of American households reporting that they have children under age 18 has remained roughly static (at ~38 million) … even while the country’s total population grew by ~10% over the decade.

As a result, the share of all U.S. households with children is only about 33%, down from ~36% ten years earlier … while the share of the U.S. population under age 18 is 24%, compared to 26% ten years earlier.

These census figures and others have become grist for many researchers in recent months, with a number of intriguing reports being issued. One, released by the Brookings Institution, focuses on the changing nature of Suburban America. Alan Berube, author of the report, notes that there is a continuing blurring of the once-sharp lines that used to demarcate central cities from the suburbs.

Instead, there now appear to be more similarities between cities and their “inner core” suburbs, rather than between inner and outer suburban communities.

Urban development guru Joel Kotkin sees this development in a larger sociological context — noting that people tend to “self-select” where they live based on “like” characteristics that go beyond mere economic elements to also include psychographic aspects.

In Kotkin’s view, that trend has contributed to the vast differences we see in political and voting behavior in cities, the suburbs, and exurbs. We may have much less overt segregation based on race or ethnic background … but it’s been replaced by a self-segregation based on perspectives and attitudes.

No wonder it seems that people are “talking past each other” — rather than engaging one another — in our national dialogue about the economy and the government’s proper role in guiding it.

Don’t look for this dynamic to change anytime soon.

Oh, S#\@*!! Facebook’s Not for Prudes

Profanity on Facebook:  More than you might imagine.In the “anything goes” world of social media, it stands to reason that the language we find there isn’t exactly reserved for polite company.

And now we have some quantifiable data that confirms those suspicions. Reppler, a Palo Alto, CA-based social media monitoring service, recently scanned some 30,000 Facebook members’ walls … and what they found wassn’t exactly the language of choirboys.

Here are two interesting stats from what Reppler discovered:

 Nearly half of the Facebook walls contain some form of profanity.

 Four out of five users with profanity on their Facebook wall have at least one comment or post from a friend that contains profanity.

What’s the most common profane terms used? Not surprisingly, the “f-word” comes out on top. That’s followed by various derivations of the word the French know as merde. Runner-up among the top three is the “b-word.”

It’s important to note that people don’t have complete control over the language their Facebook friends use. But the prevalence of profanity on Facebook walls comes at a time when many employers are increasingly looking at the online presence of their prospective hires and noting the degree of professionalism – or lack thereof – that they see.

And there’s a related issue that’s becoming increasingly significant as well. With more companies and brands creating Facebook pages and other social networking sites, monitoring the discussion that takes place on them takes on even more importance.

It’s critical for brands not to offend even a small percentage of their customers. But with the general “race to the bottom” in what’s deemed acceptable language, there are real differences in what some people think is legitimate expression … and what others would consider to be gross indecency.

These differences are a factor of not only of age, but of acculturation.

Third-party tools from Reppler and others that automatically flag certain language or phrases can alleviate some of the problem, but there’s really no substitute for good, old-fashioned site monitoring. Which is why so many companies are finding the whole social media thing to be pretty labor-intensive, when done properly.

The Fortunes of the Fortune 500

Global Business:  28% of the 500 largest multinational companies are U.S.-based.Time was when the United States accounted for the largest contingent of the Fortune 500 global companies. Not so anymore. According to stats reported recently by international business expert Ted Fishman in USA Today, only about one-fourth of the 500 largest global enterprises are based in the U.S.

And those that remain on the list aren’t behaving particularly “American,” either. This group of ~140 companies has eliminated nearly 3 American million jobs since 2000.

Is that a consequence of the recent global recession? Hardly … the same companies added ~2.4 million jobs overseas during the same period.

The particulars behind each company’s employment choices are varied, of course. But certain factors seem to come up often in the analysis, including:

 Gaining closer geographic proximity to the world’s fastest-growing economies such as India, China and other Far Eastern countries.

 The availability of workforces that are “cheaper” to hire and require fewer employee benefits.

 A relatively unattractive U.S. corporate tax rate compared to other countries – hard to believe, but America’s 35% top corporate rate is eclipsed only by Japan’s (39.5%).Going forward, it would be nice if America’s largest corporate entities could be more sensitive to the need for additional investment here at home. Then again, it would be equally gratifying if government adopted policies of lower tax rates and easing regulations to make business growth and job creation in America easier.

The truth is, both parties will continue to pursue their own self-motivated interests, which is only natural.

The problem is, it’s a lopsided game. With a big wide world out there, the multinationals have a host of options at their disposal … and thus hold the winning cards. Tax laws and new regulations can be put on the books time and again, but the multinational crowd continues to float above it all, seemingly unaffected by anything – at least not to any great extent.

Meanwhile, U.S. small business gets hammered.

The Information Tsunami Shows No Sign of Letting Up

If you feel you’re being overwhelmed by information overload in the digital realm, you have lots of company.

A survey conducted last month of ~200 adults who are online “content consumers” found that the largest proportion reports being online essentially their entire waking day. The survey, conducted by content publishing platform company Magnify, was made up of executives, professionals, entrepreneurs and technologists.

It’s a small survey sample to be sure … but who could really argue with the results it uncovered? When asked to what degree they were connected to the Internet, here’s how these respondents answered:

 From the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed: ~50%
 Most of the workday: ~28%
 9 am to 9 p.m.: ~17%

But here’s the even bigger kicker: A large majority of the respondents reported that the quantity of information being received today had grown by 50% or more compared to last year:

 Information flow has doubled or more since last year: ~26%
 … Has increased by ~75%: ~10%
 … Has increased by ~50%: ~28%
 … Has increased by ~20%: ~25%
 … Has stayed essentially the same: ~11%

How are people dealing with processing the additional information? See how many of these “coping mechanisms” reflect your own actions or behaviors:

 Reading/responding to e-mail on evenings and weekends: ~77%
 Never turning off the mobile phone: ~57%
 Unable to answer all e-mails: ~47%
 Missing important news: ~41%
 Ignoring family and friends: ~40%
 Answering e-mails even while with children: ~35%
 Checking e-mails in the middle of the night: ~33%

The question is: Have we finally reached a critical-mass state where the law of diminishing returns kicks in?

Well, we might have thought that one year ago … before the latest torrential increase in volume happened!