Tag Archives: business

GPM Calculator

In June, I blogged about Fuqua professors Rick Larrick and Jack Soll and their push to improve fuel efficiency and consumer behavior by simply changing the measurement from MPG to GPM.  Today, Duke Research Advantage blogged that this work was featured in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas” issue.  They’ve also launched a new GPM calculator to find your current GPM, compare cars, or see the GPM for all 2009 cars.  More information about this research, including an interactive fuel-efficiency quiz and a video of Larrick and Soll discussing their work is available at mpgillusion.com.

Staying pure after selling out

This week’s HBS Working Knowledge newsletter starts off with an interesting proposition: what happens when a well-known socially responsible business is acquired by a multinational?  Professors James E. Austin and Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard discuss their recent research, which examines such acquisitions as Ben & Jerry’s by Unilever, Tom’s of Maine by Colgate and Stonyfield Farms by Dannon.  Their work suggests that it is possible for a company to stay true to its social mission after acquisition, presented in a working paper asking “Can the Virtuous Mouse and the Wealthy Elephant Live Happily Ever After?”  

The discussion touches on some great questions, including why the elephants would want to acquire mice with a conscience and why it could be a good deal for the mouse (they’re not selling out – they’re scaling up).

An excerpt is below, but it’s totally worth your time to read the entire (brief) HBS interview with Austin and Leonard:

Q: How can elephants protect the mouse’s social value and brand integrity?

A: The more effective large companies have recognized that preserving the social icon’s distinctive culture and business approach is essential to preserving its key success factors. Consequently, they retain a large degree of organizational independence so as to prevent “contamination” of the social technology.

This stands in contrast to the common approach in acquisitions to integrate and rationalize the assets into the new owner’s systems, structure, and culture. Some of the specific mechanisms used in successful mouse-elephant agreements include governance structures and processes that give the “mice” review and even veto power over actions by the “elephants” that might jeopardize those elements that are deemed essential to the social values underlying the brand’s integrity.

Retaining the social entrepreneur in the joint venture is highly desirable

Personal Branding

Michael Jordan seems to me to be one of the forerunners in terms of thinking of himself as a brand and then licensing that brand and actively managing it.  He went beyond the traditional endorsement, and even seemed to take an active role in brand management across various endorsements and companies owned (e.g. when his gambling became a potential PR issue, he worked with Nike to market the “I am not a role model, I’m a professional athlete” message).  I may be completely off base with the above, but the point is that personal branding is now rather common, and I found HBS professor John Deighton’s study of author James Patterson to be a fascinating case study:

While he doesn’t enjoy the same name recognition, Patterson regularly outsells other “brand-name authors” such as Stephen King and Tom Clancy by simply publishing more books, averaging three titles each year with the occasional assistance of a coauthor…Whatever the genre (he has also published romance novels, science fiction, and children’s books), readers expect a “good read” from the James Patterson brand.

The Internet and Social Networking (and their enemies)

I’ve spent lots more time learning about and playing with social networks for my job lately (plus a couple of weeks out of town and completely offline), meaning less time actually participating in the internet culture via this blog.  So here’s a great quote from Christian Lorentzen (a senior editor at Harper’s Magazine) from an article entitled “The Internet and its Enemies”, making use of a quote from my favorite author, followed by a few articles about social media that I have enjoyed recently.

“TV,” David Foster Wallace has said, “is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.” The difference between the Television Mind and the Internet Mind is that the latter has access to the vulgar and prurient and dumb as well as the refined and aesthetic and noble elements of culture. And unlike TV, the internet fosters a culture of participation that, though it may lead the majority to public displays of vulgarity, banality, and idiocy, draws enough talented people to noble pursuits in what might be called the “online underground” to give credence to the claims of the cyber-Utopians. The Internet Mind then is a craven, stupid, obedient thing – except in the frequent instances when it is compassionate, subtle, and free.
The interesting social networking articles:
The tools that I’ve been playing with most have been google reader and friendfeed.  Both have been highly valuable and taken way more time than I expected.  The biggest surprise is not the amount of noise that I get, but the amount of signal.  I’ve got about 150 items in my google reader that I actually want to read right now, but don’t have the time to devote to reading.  Not a bad problem to have.

Conversation: The Future of Social Enterprise

Harvard Business School professors V. Kasturi Rangan and Susan McDonald are hosting a conversation based on their recent paper, The Future of Social Enterprise. Click here to read a summary of their findings and join in the conversation.

The questions posed center around social sector evolution and measuring ROI and social impact – the conversation started today and already has some interesting posts.  These web forum conversations generally only last a week or two, so check it out now in order to participate!

Better fuel efficiency through better labels – gpm vs mpg

We all know how important language is in persuading people to think certain ways, and that certain words and phrases in common use are politicized rhetoric (think pro-life and pro-choice).  However, I never thought of “miles per gallon” as one of those potentially misleading phrases.  Until I read this in a Fuqua Alumni email:

For example, most people ranked an improvement from 34 to 50 mpg as saving more gas over 10,000 miles than an improvement from 18 to 28 mpg, even though the latter saves twice as much gas. (Going from 34 to 50 mpg saves 94 gallons; but from 18 to 28 mpg saves 198 gallons).

These mistaken impressions were corrected, however, when participants were presented with fuel efficiency expressed in gallons used per 100 miles rather than mpg. Viewed this way, 18 mpg becomes 5.5 gallons per 100 miles, and 28 mpg is 3.6 gallons per 100 miles — an $8 difference today.

“The reality that few people appreciate is that improving fuel efficiency from 10 to 20 mpg is actually a more significant savings than improving from 25 to 50 mpg for the same distance of driving,” Larrick said. (See table.)

See the full article here, including a video link.

Going Negative with Green Messaging

Struggling for years with a decreasing market share and tumbling stock price, Nortel is going negative with a campaign against Cisco.  This Wall Street Journal article details their PR blitz utilizing bloggers, YouTube, anti-Cisco websites, and trade show demonstrations.  The message?  Use Nortel to avoid “the Cisco energy tax.”

Nortel is countering with the argument that Cisco’s technology, as successful as it has been in the marketplace, is an energy hog. In its ads, Nortel claims that Cisco’s data networks “are costing you 100% too much.” At trade shows, Nortel staff attach wattage meters to comparable Nortel and Cisco gear in an effort to show that Nortel’s gear is much more energy-efficient. The company posted a film of the demo on YouTube.

Energy prices are finally rising to a point where being energy-efficient is not just something to make a consumer feel good, but something that affects purchasing decisions by price-sensitive customers.  That Nortel is taking this message to large corporate customers is evidence that at least some people in corporate purchasing departments are concerned with cutting costs by conserving energy.

In a previous post, I talked about the strategy of going negative with marketing, and why it’s rarely done.  This is one of those cases where a very small company with much to gain and little to lose takes on the market leader with a campaign aimed at gaining some awareness and hoping to steal just a bit of the leader’s market share.  Or, as pointed out in the WSJ article, survive and keep their current customers as their competition makes persuasive presentations to switch.  It’s not unusual for a smaller company to paint the larger one as evil, and it’s not that unusual to use an environmental rationale to make that argument.  What might be unusual is that with the price of energy rising so quickly, customers might listen.

And frankly, Cisco’s response that “there are no industry standards to measure “green”; and Cisco’s gear meets the environmental requirements of the product-testing company Miercom” falls a bit flat with me.  Not a counter-argument about green manufacturing or building initiatives, but a lack of industry standards? No pledge for improved performance or details of why the additional energy usage creates a superior product?  This lack of rebuttal leaves me thinking Cisco either isn’t taking Nortel seriously or isn’t taking energy efficiency seriously –  either case may not be a big mistake now, but could be a huge mistake in the future.