Thursday, August 26, 2010

Housing Sales Down? Dig Below The Surface To Understand Why!

Friday last week was a day I will long remember in history.

I sold my log cabin second home in North Georgia and in fact, was able to put some good money back into the bank.

It is memorable because the news story broke that same day.

The one with the headline… “Existing Home Sales Fell Off A Cliff In July”.

“Sales of previously occupied homes plunged last month to the lowest level in 15 years, despite the lowest mortgage rates in decades and bargain prices in many areas.”

Personally, I did breathe a sigh of relief.

When the agent brought me the offer, my response was simple…”where do I sign?”

No question. Real estate today is a very different business.

All of the news media – both right and left – are jumping all over the numbers and all the adjectives that I remember hearing as a kid when I brought home a low test grade.

While a low interest mortgage rate can provide an extra incentive to buy…a low interest rate in and of itself is not a motivator to buy a house today.

It’s like saying that the McDonald’s Dollar Deals make our mouths water and feel compelled to eat a burger as soon as you hear about the Deals.

I will be the first to say that the economy has played a role in the real estate market…but perhaps more indirectly than directly.

It doesn’t take a genius to dig below the surface and quickly learn that there are a host of other factors involved in the mix.

It is unfortunate that the media doesn’t dig deeper than the surface stats…but then again, it is an election year.

One factor playing a role in housing today is the whole paradigm change of business…driven just as much by technology as by the economy.

Why should a corporation move people from one city to another when the iPhones and Crackberries continue to redefine mobility?

The past paradigm of having to have individuals commute each day to a central office has not only been replaced by work-from-home, but the idea of even having to have individuals all living in the same town, state and country has been replaced by the no-boundaries world of the web.

Today, “relo” is as much of a “no go” as it is a “don’t have to.”

Another factor?

The aging of the Baby Boomers in semi-retirement years and their movement from family units to empty nester units is a factor as big as the Boomers themselves!

While the economy has impacted Boomer retirement dreams, suffice it to say that the Boomer role in companies and businesses is on a decline.

The idea of buying a bigger home with more green space has been hit further by the Boomer’s changing lifestyle desire to “do less” versus “do more.”

Sure, getting rid of the 5 bedroom house would be nice…but combing two of those bedrooms into a master suite and another one into a home office or “man-cave” makes a bunch more sense that spending all the time and headache of packing up the boxes and purchasing another smaller home.

Another factor?

Travel right into the heart of the family household today where both the Generation X Mom and Dad work…

…Both in their jobs as much as in the process of sinking down roots in the communities where their kids go to school and in friendship bonds that they did not have growing up because there was a 50-50 chance that their parents had divorced and they would be moving and severing those friendships.

By the way, GenXers today represent the heart of management of many companies and businesses where “locality” and “sustainability” are part of the corporate value set.

And yet another factor?

I must admit, living now in a University town gives me very quick, convenient access to the inside tract of the Millennial Mindset!

And in Athens, a significant share of those Millennials winning their college degrees end up staying and exploring our great Athens-rooted music, dining and entertainment business.

And get this… the word “home” for many a Millennial conjures up as much the launch page of a website and where their Facebook friends file sits as it does something that they are going to spend dollars to buy in the “offline” world.

Buying a physical house and land space is no longer “cool” as the flexibility of having a home that they can pack up and move just like going from one site to another site.

Shoot…with that IKEA furniture so cheap, if their ADHD design scene changes, they can chuck that $199 living room set and go out and get a new one.

If the Millennials are going to do any home buying right now, the idea of a DWELL Magazine eco-sustainable 600 square foot pre-fab is way more cool than buying one of those existing homes!

No question that the real estate market is seeing sales decline compared to where we were five years ago…even twenty years ago.

But the economy is only the very tip of what is driving the change!

When life deals lemons, it’s often the smart entrepreneur that says hey, let’s not only make lemonade, but even add some cool flavors, fizz and presentation to define a whole new perspective of the marketplace.

If you get bored, call me and let’s go dig below the surface and unravel more of the submerged!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tap-And-Pay ...Change To Stay... Embrace It Or Pay!

I think that I was 17 years old when I got my first Visa credit card.

Before my parents would allow me to apply for it, I had to sit down and listen to my father’s lecture about the dangers of abusing it...and guarding it with my life.

When I got it, I think that my credit line on the card was $250.

As time went on over the years, I must admit that I have used more plastic than paper cash.

And every month, I pay off the balances rather than use the cards as true credit lines.

It’s a bunch easier to swipe the cards than make trips to the ATM or hold up the cashier lines filling out the checks.

I remember when I first learned about PRIZM geodemographics that the developer had access to Visa and Mastercard transactions and was able to link purchase behavior with the user’s address to plot out behavior by lifestyle group.

When I worked with American Express, the transaction process and database mining helped to shape our understanding of the customer and the brands, destinations and design of the travel adventures we packaged for customers.

In the new September issue of FAST COMPANY Magazine, there is a great article titled “Pocket Change.”

In fact, what this article talks about will likely become one of the featured trends in the BrandVenture 2011 Trendcast!

Here is the lead-in sentence from the article…

“Flash your phone virtually anywhere you go for almost any purchase and it’s automatically logged into a digital expense report.”

This process is called “Tap-to-Pay.”


Citibank, Nokia, Mastercard and Vodafone have gotten into bed together over in Japan and India and found out in the Beta Test programs that consumers love the fact that their smartphone has also become their combination wallet and checkbook all wrapped up in one devise.

Talk about multi-tasking!

The race is on to transform the smartphone into your wallet.

When I see stories like this, I quickly realize that technology is moving faster than even record speed!

A year ago…when scripting the 2010 Trendcast, I observed the following…

“Not only has the mobile computer replaced the desktop, but the computer today is quickly becoming interchangeable with everything from iPhones to Blackberries to Kindles to Netbooks to Crunchpads to Android Tables to Dashboard built-ins.

In 2010, how we communicate, write documents, do calculations and prepare presentations will not only be fluid and transportable, but so will the operational and organizational models of business.”

With Tap-and-Pay, we can now add in this mix of “do’s” …how we purchase products and services and complete transactions in the off-line real world!

The article goes on how the new “Tap-and-Pay” function can link into everything from your app set to where you are located on Google Map to stream feed custom purchase management and promotional incentives directly to that little device we still refer to as a “cell phone.”

I remember how “revolutionary” it was when AT&T became a competitor up against the cable providers.

Do you realize how “revolutionary” it will be when Verizon becomes a competitor to Bank of America?

(Me Inner-self wants to scream out, “GO VERIZON!” and I’m not even a Verizon customer… I just outright hate Bank of America!)

It’s very easy for businesses to cocoon. Very easy.

This past week, I heard back from a company that has a chain of ham retail stores that its hiring a person that has years of work experience in the retail food industry as their new marketing director that was referred to them by their ad agency.

Something tells me that the marketing of this brand will not veer too far from where it has been over the past few years and that the ads will remain pretty much the same with the same style and approach used by the agency and endorsed by the CMO who used to work for KFC.

In this same issue of FAST COMPANY Magazine, there is a second great article about Alex Bogusky titled “The Adman Wants A Soul.”

(“Bogusky” as in the agency name “Crispin Porter + Bogusky”)

Alex’s agency was crowned not only Agency of the Year in 2009, but also Agency of the Decade by Advertising Age Magazine.

Alex is known for pushing brands way beyond their comfort levels and those brands turned out to be BIG WINNERS as a result of doing so.

Alex may think of himself as a creative guru… but he really is a guru change agent.

Its unfortunate that businesses defend their cocoons so much that they quickly cast aside the change agents that can catapult their brands forward!

I have written about it, present it, preached it, screamed it…and started a company driven by it.

Change is inevitable. Change is revolutionary.

Business Success is fueled by it. Brands thrive on it.

And if you don’t venture outside of your business cocoon and embrace it…

Kiss your business good-bye.

It’s not prophetic… it is a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious…

Tap-to-Pay is going to change the way we live, work, play just like cars, televisions and computers have changed us.

Embrace it. Envelop it. Integrate it.

Just Do It.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Guess What's Cooking!

I’m kind of bored this afternoon.

It’s a summer Sunday with the temperatures hitting nearly 100 degrees.

My house temperature is set at 78 degrees.

I am not in the mood to venture out of the house.

For entertainment, I watched Food Network. Got some great ideas and so shortly I will bake up some good walnut butter espresso cookies.

Cooking has long been a favorite hobby of mine. In some ways, it reminds of the laboratory, test tubes and chemical concoctions I mixed up as a kid!

Earlier this year Food Network posted the Top 10 Food Trends for 2010.

The first one on that list is titled, “Keeping It Real.”

I might be a living example of that trend.

“In a back-to-basics economy perhaps it is natural to return to basic ingredients. It is—dare we say—a shift from convenience foods to scratch cooking, now that we have more time than money and more food knowledge and concerns.”

Scratch cooking also provides us with a sense of ownership, perhaps long lacking in the kitchen arena thanks to all of the convenience, pre-prepared meals we just pop in the oven.

Another trend cites that the Food Snob is gone and replaced by the “foodie” that just loves food.

With Italian roots, I always told friends that I was not gourmet…but rather, gourmand.

Last week, I visited a Whole Foods to grab a lunch and just watch people.

My take?

Despite the economy, people will spend a few extra bucks when it comes to food.

But when I asked shoppers why they were picking out the items that they were purchasing, they responded passionately about how much they just loved the item…and the fact that the product did not have “all those chemicals” in it.

Some of my fellow trendcasters call this “small cost reward.”

I would add the word “sustainable” to it. Not eco-sustainable…but reinforcement for busting-butt-sustainable.

Food Network’s Trend #10 is titled “I, Me, Mine” and the lead in sentence is “It really is all about you.”

The trend notes that cooking today is all about expressing individuality and it’s about food that reflects our personality.

I will only buy into half of that trend!

No question that food reflects personality.

I hear many Coffee House Chat participants talk about recipes they love and how they adapt them to reflect their own personal signature.

Last night I watched a Food Network competitive cook-off where every contender brought their own recipes to make, but were then presented with a basket of odd ingredients that they had to include in their recipes.

As a result, they each added another layer of personal signatures to their dishes. And according to the judges...some better than others!

Grandma’s recipes were great, but if that grandson can add a dash of personal zest to it… all the merrier!

That aspect of individuality is certainly part of the cooking experience today.

But as much as individual authorship is being reflected around the kitchen dining table, the kitchen dining table is back in vogue again as our common gathering space.

High tech, high touch perhaps…

Facebook evolved from Starbucks’ “third place.”

And with the impact of the economy, dining out and the $5 Venti Latte…the dining table is where friends and family are carving out time...again.

And yes...that "kitchen dining table" can be our in the "outdoor living room," down in the "man cave" or out around the fireplace!

It is really about “me” hosting the “we” and “us” of 2010 and beyond.

There’s a lot that those “take-out, unwrap and serve” brands can capitalize on if they are willing to roll up those sleeves and get their hands dirty!

Okay… that butter should be room temperature to get blended with my “secret” enhancement of that Food Network recipe!

And if you really, really are good, I will give you some of that cookie dough to eat!