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Fi Bendall
Expert
+ About Fi Bendall

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Bendalls Group and a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, who was described by CEO Magazine as 'The CEO's Secret Weapon'. An expert and pioneer in digital strategy, she has over 23 years’ experience in the digital and tech sectors.

Women’s wealth is more than cosmetic

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

In fitting with her media profile, Kylie Jenner received an avalanche of publicity when Forbes recently announced that, at 21, she has become the youngest ever self-made billionaire, two years younger than the previous title holder, Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg and Jenner represent the peak of two quite distinct brands of American aspirational role model in the 21st Century: the world-conquering computer geek and the social media influencer/entrepreneur.

In some ways, the two roles are symbiotic: the likes of Zuckerberg have created the social media platforms that have enabled the likes of Kylie Jenner and her sisters to build personal brands, reach massive audiences, and sell tons of product. Think of Zuckerberg as the pick-and-shovel guy and Jenner as mining for social media gold, especially on the Facebook-owned Instagram, as well as YouTube and Snapchat.

Another world-conquering geek Kylie Jenner owes some gratitude to is Tobias Lütke, the German-born founder and CEO of eCommerce platform Shopify, which Kylie Cosmetics has used for its outrageously profitable online shopfront since 2015. So Kylie’s success is truly a case of Beauty and the Geeks!

There’s no doubt Kylie Jenner has become a very powerful face for her brand, Kylie Cosmetics. She has an astounding 129.1 million followers on Instagram and is, of course, one of the younger members of the Kardashian-Jenner clan. She’s following in the footsteps of her sisters Kim, Khloe, Kourtney and Kendall in parlaying her good looks, social media savvy and family connection into a personal fortune that’s estimated to be worth $1 billion.

It’s also worth looking at the influence and power Kylie’s mother, Kris Jenner, wields in the success of her daughters.

The 63-year-old matriarch has been building the family’s profile and wealth for well over a decade now. Back in the mid-2000s, Kim Kardashian was Paris Hilton’s sidekick, not the main attraction. That all changed when Keeping Up with the Kardashians debuted in October, 2007. Kim soon eclipsed Paris in the celebrity and social media stakes, and her sisters have subsequently rode her coat-tails to varying degrees of success. As their ‘momager’, Kris Jenner has turned her family and children, including Kylie, into a lucrative brand.

However, look beyond Kylie Jenner and you’ll find other stories of what it takes to become a self-made female billionaire in the US. Not quite as glamorous, and a few decades older than Jenner, at numbers one, two and three on Forbes’ list of self-made billionaires are women who have made their fortunes away from the media spotlight.

Housing supplies is not exactly as glamorous as cosmetics and Insta-fame, but it’s how Diane Hendricks has become America’s richest self-made woman, with Forbes estimating her personal value at $4.9 billion.

The Wisconsin billionaire owns ABC Supply, which is the largest wholesale distributor of roofing, siding and windows in America. The Hendricks story is like a Main Street small business fairytale. She started the business with her husband Ken in 1982. The privately held business now has an estimated annual revenue of $US9.3 billion.

Then there’s Marian Illitch, who cofounded the Little Caesar’s pizza chain in 1959 with her husband, Mike. The couple started franchising Little Caesar’s in 1962 and the chain now has more than 5,000 outlets around the world. Over the years, Illitch Holdings diversified into food services, hotels, casion and sports businesses. Forbes estimates her personal wealth at $US4.3 billion. 

And if you’re looking for a female tech entrepreneur who hasn’t received as much recognition as some of her male counterparts, it’s hard to go past Judith Faulkner, the founder and CEO of Epic Systems.

After completing her Master’s in computer science in the mid-70s, Faulkner wrote the software that would launch her company, Epic Systems, in 1979. A true startup success story, Faulkner started Epic in her basement with a $70,000 investment from family and friends. The company is still privately held even though there has been speculation it is an acquisition target for the likes of Apple or Google. It’s estimated that just over 50% of the personal health details of all Americans are held in systems powered by Epic’s software. Forbes has estimated Faulkner’s personal wealth at $3.57 billion.

Hendricks, Illitch and Faulkner show that women can achieve success in all kinds of fields. No one should begrudge Kylie Jenner’s success, but it’s worth highlighting the stories of self-made women that might not be as glamorous, or attract the same level of media attention.

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Digital is more than sprucing up your website

Monday, March 11, 2019

There's still a perception out there that digital transformation is about things like having a website, maybe creating an app, and having some social media activity going on. It's not only small businesses that have a constricted view of digital technologies, but some big companies are also lagging, according to a report released late last year by the Office of the Chief Economist.

The report’s finding is that Australian businesses could be doing a lot better:

Despite the potential benefits, the rate of adoption of digital technologies across Australian industries is uneven. Companies across all sectors have a significant way to go in adopting technology to realise the full potential these technologies can bring.

Of course, digital is about a lot more than just websites and Facebook pages. From cloud computing to the Internet of Things and blockchain, the scope of digital technologies continues to grow. Think about the myriad ways you can now pay for goods and services, through to the options businesses have for real-time and global collaboration tools. Revamping your website or using chatbots for customer service are fine starts for your digital journey, but Australian companies could be doing a lot more. 

The biggest misconception most businesses have about digital is that it is a thing rather than a way of thinking; that it’s about adopting new tools rather than new mindsets.

As the IBM invention and innovation leader Lindsay Herbert points out in her book Digital Transformation, “Real digital transformation isn’t about getting your company to use a specific set of new technology; it’s about your company’s ability to react and successfully utilize new technologies and procedures — now and into the future.”

The distinction between things and thinking is crucial, especially for smaller businesses on a budget.

Even though big businesses often have the budgets to spend on expensive digital products, it doesn't necessarily mean they are effectively transforming the way they do business. If the mindset stays the same, the tools become add-ons that might create productivity gains within sections of the company but are never fully integrated as part of a comprehensive digital model.

Smaller businesses may not be able to spend as much as their bigger counterparts, but by adopting a digital mindset, they can think about their business in an entirely new way, a digital way rather than an industrial way.

This is why tech startups have become so potent in some industries. By thinking digitally, they have been able to rethink business models, supply chains and customer service. They have been able to upend the expectations of customers. They've been able to change the game while their competitors have laboured under the apprehension the rules had stayed the same. It's become a cliche, but Tom Goodwin's words from 2015 hold:

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

Many companies are still struggling with these ideas, stuck with hoping they can buy their way to digital transformation, or that sprucing up their website or building an app is what makes them a digital business. It's not.

Don't let your ideas about digital transformation start and end with a website revamp or creating a new app, instead think about digital in broader and more profound ways. Once you embrace digital thinking, you start to see new possibilities, new ways of doing things, and new ways to serve your customers better.

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How femtech could revolutionise women’s health and wellbeing

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Endometriosis afflicts about 10% of women globally. It can be a debilitating condition that causes severe abdomen and pelvic pain for sufferers. These are the ways some women explain what endometriosis pain feels like:

      “[I] was laying on the floor shaking and vomiting the first few hours.”

      “Like my uterus is sitting on a bed of razor blades.”

      “A pain that burned my entire body.”

      “Like someone is taking a cheese grater to my cervix.”

      “It feels like my intestines are being strangled.”

Endometriosis is not a new disease. It has been recognised as a medical condition since the 1920s. However, it has historically attracted very little research funding. It was only last year that the Australian Government established a national action plan with $2.5 million in funding to combat endometriosis, the first government funding of its kind for the disease.

Endometriosis is but one of the overlooked and underfunded conditions that effect women. US federal government research funding sits at about $7 million annually, a paltry amount. That’s one of the reasons why it has been so difficult for medical practitioners to quickly and effectively diagnose it in sufferers. It’s not a very well understood condition.

According to Endometriosis Australia, it takes on average between 7-10 years for the disease to be properly diagnosed.

“This is due to girls and women normalizing symptoms as well as doctors normalizing symptoms when women do finally seek medical assistance. Early diagnosis and treatment reduce the long term impacts of endometriosis and frequency of invasive treatments and fertility treatments,” Endometriosis Australia states. 

However, things might be changing, as investors slowly wake up to the profit potential of women’s health and wellbeing. While government funding gets the ball rolling, it is the venture capitalists and private investors looking for innovative and disruptive solutions who might hold the key to problems like endometriosis.

Market analysis firm Frost & Sullivan estimates the women’s healthcare market will be worth around $50 billion by 2025. Its research shows that 80% of household healthcare spending is done by women, who are often the Chief Purchasing Officers of the Household and make healthcare decisions for not just themselves, but also for their dependants like spouses, children and elderly parents. Big companies and investors are finally realising women are the key decision-makers when it comes to healthcare and that women have specific healthcare needs themselves.

In the past couple of years especially investors have started to show a marked upturn of interest in ‘femtech’ healthcare startups. Pitchbook data estimated that 2018 was a banner year for investment in women’s healthcare startups, with around $400 million going into women’s health focused companies.

The term femtech was coined in 2016 by one of its chief proponents and innovators, Ida Tin, a Danish entrepreneur who is a co-founder of Clue, a menstruation tracking app. Femtech is about bringing the capabilities of technologies, including digital and biotech, to the women’s health sector. The main areas of focus for femtech startups are period care, pregnancy and childbirth, aging and menopause, fertility management and sexual health.

Drilling down into each of these areas, one can find all kinds of opportunities, from fairly simple products like sexual health information apps through to far more complex propositions like tampons that also act as a diagnostic tool for conditions like endometriosis and possibly even cervical cancer.

NextGen Jane is a Californian startup trying to develop the diagnostic tampon. It’s been a tough road, both scientifically and financially, for the company as it has attempted to develop its product and attract investors.

As one of its founders, Ridhi Tariyal, told the MIT Technology Review, there’s still a stigma attached to women’s healthcare. She says the advice she received about pitching for venture capital was “try to look as little as possible like what you really are—a woman-led company utilizing female biology to advance health care for half the population.”

Old attitudes die hard, especially when men continue to dominate VC firms. 

However, the simple fact is that women are looking for ways to live healthier, longer and more painless lives. Many of the health concerns and conditions of women, like endometriosis, have been ignored for too long. Women are feeling more empowered than ever before to make their voices heard on such issues and are demanding better. Women are also beginning to flex the financial clout that demands attention from investors and corporates. Investment in femtech is one small sign women are starting to be heard.

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How women are driving the reinvention of General Motors

Monday, February 25, 2019

Women in the US are now making more than half of all car purchases, so as consumers they have a big say in the auto industry. 

However, women have not featured prominently in the executive ranks of this male-dominated industry. So the appointment late last year of Dhivya Suryadevara as General Motor’s Chief Financial Officer was a talking point for many. GM now has five women in high powered executive roles, including another its CEO, Mary Barra. The appointment of Suryadevara means GM is the only major US car maker in history to have both a female CEO and CFO. 

Alongside Barra and Suryadevara in key roles at GM are Kim Brycz, senior vice president, Global Human Resources; Alicia Boler Davis, executive vice president, Global Manufacturing; and Pam Fletcher, vice president, Autonomous & Electrified Vehicles.

What’s doubly impressive about the lineup of women in the GM executive ranks is that Barra, Boler Davis, and Fletcher all come from very strong STEM backgrounds. That’s not to diminish the achievements of Brycz and Suryadevara, but it is extremely rare to see women occupying these kinds of roles in the car industry. Most commonly, women are found in the marketing and HR roles of the executive suite. The fact women like Barra, Boler Davis and Fletcher have risen through the ranks shows GM is working hard to remove the glass ceiling for women in the company.

Certainly the plaudits have come thick and fast for Barra since she took on the CEO role in 2014. As Business Insider surmised: “Barra is arguably the best CEO the company has ever had, steering the ship post-Chapter 11, dealing with a massive ignition-switch recall as soon as she sat down in the big chair, and making tough business calls, such as selling Opel, GM’s money-losing European division.” 

Barra has had a lot of work to do in restructuring GM and rebadging the car maker as relevant in the 21st century. A big part of that program has involved shifting resources across from the historical emphasis on big gas guzzlers to smaller models, and now to electric cars, with plans afoot to position Cadillac as its lead electric vehicle and as a challenger to Tesla. Pam Fletcher has played a big role in bringing GM up to speed with electric vehicles.

GM’s promotion of women into executive roles is matched and supported by its board, which is rare among big industrial corporations in having six women out of 13 directors. GM was also named as the number one company for gender equality in the world last year in a survey conducted by Equileap.

According to one statistic, women make 62% of all new car purchases in the US and women make 85% of all car buying decisions. That’s a remarkable statistic. But does having women in key executive roles help GM sell more cars to women?

That’s close to impossible to answer. Women might see GM in a positive light because it has a female CEO and other women in its executive ranks, but for a major purchase like a car, most women will still make their decison based on cost and value.

But what GM does have is the input from at least five women in key decision-making roles on what other women might want from a car maker. And that has to count as an advantage in a ferociously competitive market with so many female buyers.

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The women chasing North America’s legalised pot of gold

Friday, February 15, 2019

Female entrepreneurs are emerging as major players in the newly legalised cannabis industry taking hold throughout North America. The cannabis industry went legit to varying degrees in many states of the US and in Canada last year, with marijuana legalised for both medical and recreational use in 10 states, plus Washington DC, as well as in Canada. Many other states have legalised the use of medical marijuana.

One interesting aspect of this story is that women are playing a pivotal role as founders and executives in the burgeoning industry. While the hazy pall of stoner smoke still permeates this newly legalised version of the pot industry, there’s a budding section that’s dedicated to all things weed in the name of health and wellbeing.

For millennia, cultures around the world have attested to the benefits of marijuana and related products in treating common women’s health matters like period pain, menstrual cramps and endometriosis. Women, many of them veterans of the legalisation fight along with some newer converts, are taking the age old folk medicine uses of cannabis into the 21st century, with slick marketing and smart sales strategies designed to remove any of the old stigmas attached to its use.

As this blog post at the website Royal Queen Seeds says, “Who better to back mother nature and her feminized plants than pioneering women from across the globe in a variety of different fields and job roles.”

At least at the moment, women are indeed taking on many key roles in the industry. From growers and scientists through to marketers and CEOs, women are represented across the industry at a significantly higher rate than across the US economy generally, with one survey showing 36% of executive roles being filled by women compared to 22% across the rest of the economy.

One of the theories behind this feminisation of the industry is that as a newer industry, with more fluid networks and power bases than traditional industries, women are able to move forward on merit.

“The cannabis industry is so new that there are very few barriers to get in, especially for women,” Giadha De Carcer, the CEO of cannabis industry analysts New Frontier, told CNN.

Speaking to Inc., Cassandra Farrington, one of the publishers of trade publication Marijuana Business Daily, says the industry has fewer systemic barriers to advancement than she found in areas like banking. “I hit that glass ceiling at 100 miles an hour,” Farrington says. “There's no question this is a huge area for entrepreneurship, and there are so many women fed up with the corporate arena.” Another woman told Inc., “There's no reentry barrier in marijuana... you don't even need to know how to code.”

Two of the most powerful women to emerge in the industry are Jazmin Hupp and Jane West, who co-founded the networking and lobbying group Women Grow. Both have been very public figureheads for the cannabis industry as it has sought to become legal in the eyes of the law and respectable in the eyes of the public.

“Media outlets around the world have featured me as an example of a successful cannabis entrepreneur and I’ve been repeatedly called the Martha Stewart of cannabis. But in truth, I’m less like Martha Stewart and more like Hunter S. Thompson engaged in a drug-fueled reimagining of Crate and Barrel [US furniture and homewares retailer],” West says on her blog.

Along with the many other female entrepreneurs diving into the industry with novel spins on the health and wellness angle, there are also the celebrities putting their two cents in. Whoopi Goldberg has launched her medical cannabis range called Whoopi & Maya, in partnership with expert medical marijuana infuser Maya Elisabeth. Fellow comedian Chelsea Handler is also in talks to launch a range of cannabis products in partnership with NorCal Cannabis Company.

With the cannabis industry set to grow immensely over the coming years, as other states also contemplate legalisation and marijuana use becomes more mainstream, will women still play key roles in the industry, or will they be pushed out once the big lifestyle and pharmaceutical companies start to sniff a profit in legal pot?

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What cosmetics brand Glossier gets right about talking to women — not at them

Monday, February 11, 2019

Cosmetics brand Glossier is making a big splash in the world of beauty and cosmetics, in part because its founder and CEO Emily Weiss understands that women don’t want to be talked at or made to feel like idiots.

How refreshing!

As much a tech company as it is a cosmetics brand, Glossier’s CEO Emily Weiss is one of the new breed of tech entrepreneurs who has grown up in a world created by the likes of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.

Glossier is wildly popular with younger women and much of that popularity has been built by incredibly strong word-of-mouth and recommendation since it started up five years ago. Weiss has made it her business to listen to her customers, the girls and women who are Glossier’s loyal brand advocates, rather than lecture them. 

In an interview with Recode recently, she gave an insight into what truly customer-focused service looks like.  

“We stay very connected,” she says. “I think we’re very connected to the customer. All of our Net Promoter Score and feedback from all of our customers is constantly ticking into a Slack channel that everyone, from me to my assistant to an intern, can read every day just to stay connected to the customer. And sometimes it’s a single comment or a macro trend that translates into innovation.” 

Listening to customers is part of what she calls a “democratised conversation”. For Weiss, the act of creating new products and improving existing ones is all about listening to what the customer wants. Her approach to selling cosmetics is deeply in tune with the way women use the internet and social media to exchange information and create communities bonded by shared passions. She understands that it is no longer the brand that dictates the terms, but the customer.

“When I was growing up I loved beauty. I would go to the mall, I would go to CVS (US pharmacy chain), and I would try beauty brands. But even when I was growing up, and this was only 15 or so years ago, we were still in a time when brands really controlled how you felt,” she says.

She says the internet, and especially social media, has totally changed the emotional landscape and the power balance between customers and brands. Where there was once a real lack of transparency in the relationship between brand and customer, now customers have a real voice, and they are talking back to brands. The brands that don’t listen and engage are the ones that won’t have a future.

“The customer has never been more right than she is right now. She’s never wanted to be more involved with the things that she buys from a value set perspective. She’s saying ‘how can I be heard? I want to be seen and heard. My opinion matters,” Weiss says.

Speaking about the company’s extremely proactive and engaged social media strategy, Weiss says it’s not about controlling a narrow narrative that pushes product on to customers. “What we’re interested most in is creating this democratised conversation,” she says.

Weiss’s way of thinking shows a clear understanding of digital and online as a place for horizontal communications that recognise customers as vocal rather than passive consumers. Brands like Glossier that put the customer at the centre of the conversation will increasingly displace those brands that still think they get to control the narrative.

Cosmetics is an incredibly tough and competitive category. In Australia, we’ve recently seen the collapse of Napoleon Perdis, with the much-loved Australian brand going into administration. The brand’s founder was blunt in his assessment of what had gone wrong.

“I blame a lot of factors, from greedy landlords who will not allow us out of leases and who then charge us 'de-fit' costs on the stores ... that's cost me $3.5 million alone. The malls are dead, there's no foot traffic, everyone's buying cosmetics online but the landlords don't want to hear about it,” Perdis told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The shift by newer cosmetics brand like Glossier to a heavy focus on eCommerce and online is further evidence that carrying an extensive and expensive retail footprint is proving more burdensome than it’s worth in this day and age. It’s also indicative of the fact the younger generation of cosmetics customers spend a lot of time online, watching phenomenally popular YouTube makeup tutorials and swapping tips and opinions on Instagram and Facebook.

Smart brands and retailers have always lived by the maxim ‘go where your customer is’ — increasingly, even in a tactile product category like cosmetics, customers are online, not in the shopping malls.

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5 digital trends for 2019

Monday, December 17, 2018

The world of digital and online is ever-changing, so we can expect 2019 to bring with it all manner of disruptions, transformations and fluctuations. Here are five of the big trends to keep an eye on in the coming year.

Privacy presents as opportunity

The ongoing travails of Facebook, the continued occurence of data breaches, and the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) this year by the EU have all highlighted the problems of maintaining privacy online. Of course, where there is a problem, you can expect smart entrepreneurs to be looking for solutions.

One sign the thirst for privacy is growing is in the user growth for DuckDuckGo, a search engine alternative to Google whose main selling point is that it doesn’t track user activity. DuckDuckGo is still very much a minor player in online search, but the fact its daily search figures have gone up a full 50% in a year, from 20 million to 30 million, shows there are people out there who value their privacy. Maybe not enough people to truly challenge Google’s dominance, but enough to indicate there is a market for privacy-focused online services.

Blockchain to transcend the crypto crisis 

Blockchain’s big PR problem might be that it has become so closely associated with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that many people can’t see its potential for broader applications. But much like the internet as a technology and communications platform transcended the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s, blockchain has the potential (and will among its devotees, developers and investors) to transcend the fluctuating fortunes of cryptocurrencies. 

Blockchain is already being trialled and used in applications for social media networks (Steemit) through to transport and logistics (DHL), as well as the more commonly associated use cases in the finance and legal sectors. In fact, blockchain is seen by many as being one of the potential answers to a lot of the privacy and data breach problems besetting the online world in its current incarnation. Expect to see blockchain emerge in 2019 as more than just the tech base for cryptocurrencies.

Voice search to get more vocal

The voice search trend has been strong in 2018 and you can expect it to continue in 2019, especially as the likes of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant continue to develop and improve. However, voice search is still in its infancy as a consumer tool. The technology is not at the maturity level yet to be all pervasive and, consequently, mainstream consumers have yet to fully integrate voice search into their daily lives.

But as with other elements of eCommerce, this will come in time, and we’ll see more advances over 2019 towards voice search becoming an increasingly trusted and able consumer technology. With the major (as well as some smaller) tech companies all putting plenty of resources into improving the voice search experience, expect to see it blossom in 2019.

The influencer bubble burst

Influencer marketing has grown substantially as a marketing strategy over the past five years, but it’s influence appears to be on the wane. In essence, influencer marketing has been used by brands and marketers as a way to get in front of consumers via the reach of the likes of ‘insta-stars’ and popular ‘YouTubers’ - people with big followings on certain social media channels.

The idea has been that these people, often amateur enthusiasts in a specific area like makeup tutorials, etc, have big follower counts and an authentic connection with their audience. However, plenty of brands are now starting to question the reach, influence and authenticity of these influencers, and are instead searching for better validated methods of reaching a target audience. 

Data to become more useful

We’ve got used to hearing about the wonders of ‘data-driven’ this and ‘big data’ that, but the thing with data is that an awful lot of it is being collected without being effectively turned into useful and actionable information. Machine learning is the key to turning all that data from useless to useful. It’s best thought of as a subset of artifical intelligence.

Jeff Bezos says “it will empower and improve every business, every government organization, every philanthropy, basically there is no institution in the world that cannot be improved with Machine Learning.” As a simple example, think about the recoomendations you might currently get from the algorithms that power Google, Facebook, Netflix or Amazon and then imagine those algorithms being 10x, 100x, 1000x more powerful over the next few years in being able to predict what you want.

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Why we're failing to grasp the opportunities of an ageing population

Monday, December 10, 2018

Meal kit delivery services like HelloFresh, Blue Apron, and Foodora have been heavily hyped over the past few years, as the food and grocery business looks to make use of online ordering and delivery in capturing consumers and tapping into new markets. 

Most of the marketing spin for these kinds of services has been aimed at young professionals who are too busy to shop or cook for themselves. HelloFresh is dominating the market right now, but according to Brittain Ladd, an expert consultant in this area, these businesses don’t have much of a future. He’s utterly scathing in his assessment:

Of all the industries I've evaluated, meal-kit companies rank among the worst run and poorly managed businesses in existence. Out of more than 150 meal-kit companies operating today, I can only name a couple that I believe have a sustainable business. The majority of meal-kit companies will experience little to no growth, resulting in serving a small number of customers. 

As with so many other things retail these days, Ladd cuts to the chase and declares Amazon will be the eventual winner in the ready-meals category, delivered and otherwise: “Amazon is playing an infinite game where the goal is not to beat its competitors but to outlast them and keep the game going forever.” 

Ladd touches on the failure of many of these meal kit companies to think beyond Millennials as their target market, but another analyst, Matthew DiFrisco, goes a bit further in nailing the myopic marketing lens of these businesses when it comes to age and demographics. 

“We see a significant opportunity for meal-kit delivery services with affluent retirees who still enjoy cooking restaurant-quality meals, but do not have the energy or means to consistently go to the grocery store to get fresh ingredients,” DiFrisco says. 

It’s not only meal kit delivery service companies though that fail to grasp there is a market beyond 25-45 year olds, and that older people, by which I mean 60 and above, are a largely ignored but rapidly growing market segment. 

Baby boomers are getting older; advances in medical science mean they are living longer and generally healthier lives; many people in this age group have assets and money to spend. You’d think businesses and marketers would have cottoned on to this simple demographic fact by now.

But most businesses have yet to invest the resources necessary to fully grasp the unprecedented ways that our ageing population will change the rules of the game, especially in sectors like leisure and travel, health and wellbeing, and social connectivity and emotional health. Even more importantly, they’ve failed in shifting their mindset to allow them to see the potential.

In an invitational paper presented in 2017 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) International Workshop on Adaptation to Population Aging Issues, Mary Beth Arensberg, the Director of Health Policy at US healthcare company Abbott Nutrition, outlines the basic mindset problem too many businesses have when it comes to grasping the market potential of older consumers:

In short, older adults as consumers are often viewed as frail or dependent and thus judged by the faculties and functions they no longer have, instead of by the assets and capabilities they actually possess. But older adults are much more of an asset than a burden to society. Changing this ageist attitude can help commercial businesses’ brands better target opportunities in the thriving older adult population.

As Arensberg identifies, age can be one more blindspot that stops businesses from seeing market potential. As with sexism, it is mostly not a matter of conscious malice, it’s more an ignorance about examining the prejudices and presuppositions that underpin a company’s marketing approach.

I don’t think most businesses set out to exclude people; they tend to exclude because they haven’t put enough thought into how to include. It can be hard work trying to rethink what you’ve always done, the way you’ve always thought about things. But more so than ever, business mindsets have to be adaptable to change. That includes who we think our product is for and how we talk to these potential consumers. 

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Cultural confusion

Monday, December 03, 2018

If you’re an iconic luxury brand, offending Chinese consumers is not a great strategy. According to the McKinsey 2017 China Luxury report, China’s consumers spend around 500 billion RMB (approx. $A100 billion) annually on upscale and luxury goods, which is about one-third of the total annual global spend on such goods. 

Furthermore, the report says that within a decade Chinese spending will account for 44% of the total global market: “By 2025, 7.6 million Chinese households will represent 1 trillion RMB in global luxury sales, an amount that is double that of 2016, and equivalent to the size in 2016 of the US, UK, French, Italian and Japanese markets combined.”

Yes, there has been a slight downturn in China’s economy. But has that dampened the appetite for luxury goods, especially among those under the age of 35? Not a chance.

Enter iconic Italian designer label Dolce & Gabbana with a crudely conceived ad campaign for a high profile D&G fashion show scheduled in Shanghai. The ads, titled “Eating with Chopsticks”, show a female Chinese model trying to eat Italian foods like pizza, spaghetti and cannoli. They look like the kind of thing an ad agency might have made in the 80s. In the cannoli ad, the model is eating a large cannoli with chopsticks while the male voice over asks her, “Is it too big for you?”

Frankly, the ads are so bad it’s embarrassing. This is meant to be a high-end global fashion brand.

What’s far more important than my opinion, though, is that the very same Chinese consumers D&G was attempting to win over with its ads found them to be degrading and belittling. If the people at D&G had thought this one through (which it seems they didn’t) and maybe read something like the McKinsey China Luxury report (or even made their own educated assessment of the market), they would surely have worked out that today’s upmarket Chinese consumer is probably sophisticated and worldly enough to know you don’t eat pizza with chopsticks!

And more importantly, that these consumers want to be treated with respect rather than as the punchline for stale jokes based on racial stereotypes.

But that’s not the worst of it. As if the chopsticks weren’t bad enough, the G in the D&G, Stefano Gabbana, managed to put his brand further into it when an Instagram conversation of his was leaked. In trying to defend the ads from criticism by a model named Michele Tranovo, Gabbana resorted to calling the furore surrounding the ads “fake news” and then said to Tranovo “China Ignorant Dirty Smelly Mafia” and that “from now on in all the international interviews I will do I will say that the country of 💩💩💩💩💩 is China.”

Gabbana subsequently claimed his account had been hacked. The outburst was certainly quite a turnaround from his previous declarations of love for China.

In 2017, Gabbana said “It’s our love for Asia” that was driving the brand’s focus on China.

“After these trips and collections we understand Asia more, and the differences between Hong Kong, China and Japan in terms of cultures, people, food, the approach to life … and since we’re designers, even the proportions of the body. You need to respect each country or place,” Gabbana says. “We need to learn. And if we don’t come here, we don’t learn.”

It appears D&G still have a fair bit to learn about China.

This epsiode is one more example of the need for businesses to pay attention to cultural context and ensure they understand and respect the markets in which they trade. That’s not only relevant to international markets but increasingly also to fragmented and tribalised domestic markets too.

Brands and businesses can no longer take cultural norms for granted. They need to understand how their message is being received by different people within a market. Lazy generalisations and offensive stereotypes just don’t cut it anymore, whether it’s racial, gender or otherwise. People are far more sophisticated about these things now. Brands have to be as well.

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Women over 50 set to power the new economy

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Isn’t it nice when you occasionally come across someone with whom you wholeheartedly agree. For me, Joseph F. Coughlin is one of those people.   

“One of the greatest under-appreciated sources of innovation and new business may, in fact, be women over 50 with new ideas, lots of life ahead of them and with the verve to get it done,” says Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an interview with US website Today.

Coughlin is the author of the book The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market, which looks at what many of us know but too few acknowledge, especially those in the youth-obsessed advertising and marketing industry: people over 50 still hold a lot of economic power even if they appear to be invisible to many advertisers.

While he sees over-50s as the key drivers of the new economy, he identifies women as the ones holding the keys and purse strings: “Women do more. They have more education than at any time in history. They’re likely to live longer.”

A woman is the researcher of the house… She is the caregiver-in-chief… A woman is the chief consumer officer of the house… Because of all these factors, she is likely to be the person who is closest to understanding what the new jobs and the opportunities of living longer, better are going to be.

In another article for Forbes, Coughlin outlines why businesses are mostly failing to truly understand the technological and healthcare shifts that are extending the boundaries of what we have traditionally perceived of when we think of categories like ‘youth’, ‘middle aged’ or even ‘elderly’.

Old age is going to be very different for us than it was for our parents and grandparents. Mainly, it’s not going to look all that “old.”

Indeed, the new generation gap is about expectations – the next generation of older adults don’t simply expect to live longer, they expect to live better. And women are the lifestyle leaders inventing the new old age.

Just as Millennials have seemingly extended some of the rites and passages of youth by living at home longer, and delaying marriage and children, older people are deciding to stay in the workforce longer and looking for more rewarding lifestyle options than sedentary retirement when they do finish up with work, with options like travel proving popular. 

By the way some businesses seem to totally ignore older people, and especially women, you’d be hard pressed sometimes to see it, but these demographic trends — driven by economics, technology and healthcare — are opening up all sorts of opportunities for smart businesses.

It’s so refreshing when someone like Coughlin talks about ageing not as a burden on society but as something wonderful and full of potential, both in the economic and social sense. Women — people — have so much to offer beyond the number that denotes their age. For too long we’ve been willing to use these arbitrary digits to put people in boxes and assign them roles.

People and businesses that continue to ignore the burgeoning economic power and cultural strength of older people are missing out on great market opportunities, fantastic employees, and the potential of what wise heads have to offer.

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