Friday, July 27, 2012

Helping The Helicopter Moms & Dads Let Go!

Here it is late-July… hotter than Hell.  Literally.

More than 35 years ago, I remember my marching band re-grouping and beginning another season. 

We would gather together early in the morning and practice no later than 9am to avoid the summer Georgia heat.

Back then the school year would begin around the third week of August. 

The newspapers right now are full of the Back-to-School ads.  The commercial breaks on cable nets from Cartoon Network to TLC to Nick at Night are filled with Back-to-School spots.

When I went over to Target to pick up some items the other day, the seasonal section of the shop had transformed from outdoor furniture and gardening supplies to notebooks, backpacks and iPad computer cases.

Soon school will be back in session and the morning rush hour traffic congestion will be back in full force… but at least the kids will be gone from the Starbucks I venture to for my morning coffee.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a great article about how colleges are putting in programs to manage the “let go” point between new students and their helicopter parents.

The title of the article read: “Helping Mom and Dad Let Go”

It was fun reading it.

The article very directly quotes college leadership that the issue of the helicopter parents is rooted more deeply with the parent’s inability to let go than the student’s dependency on the parent.

The article features a picture of a young son smiling and a parent sobbing at an orientation gathering where the new students are being dismissed to go be students.

I would not be surprised if that son is not whistling, “free at last, free at last.” 

And if not that tune… then “100 bottles of beer on the walk, 100 bottles of beer…”

Rodney Johnson, executive director of parent services at George Washington University is quoted in the article about the challenge at-hand…

“Our job is to take the gas out of the helicopter, so that by the time their children become seniors, that helicopter is grounded, and the students can take care of themselves.”


I will never forget how several students in the classes I have taught have shown up regularly with their moms tagging along. 

I also will never forget answering my cell phone one evening and having a parent demanding that I share their child’s test score before the child received the grades the next morning.

On more than a dozen occasions, I have had to explain to a parent that they have no right to know their child’s grades…their child is an adult and they have a right to privacy.

More than 90% of colleges and universities have specific staff teams designed around helping the helicopter parents cut those cords.

Twenty years ago, parent-specific programs were rare and hard-to-find.

I know for academic institutions there are little positive outcomes from this Boomer-Millennial co-dependency phenomenon.

BUT… marketers… there are opportunities for you!

(1)  Concierge service is an opportunity point of entry with Millennials groomed by their helicopter parents.  Without a question, W Hotels might have been the first ones to see the future unfold as their brand foundation support beam.

(2)  Personal, real, human assistance is driving Millennials to use travel agents.  Millennials post the highest use of travel agents of any generational group… even more than their grandparents.

(3)   Retailers should chuck the term “salesperson” and put on the hat of “personal assistant” to help the Millennials pick out everything from their wardrobe to new home décor… and just FYI… we are talking about the retail salesperson working at the Target-like retailers…not the custom tailor shops!

(4)  Healthcare players… everything from docs to doc-in-the-boxes to dieticians should be jumping at the chance to transform from care-givers to fitness coaches.  Obama-care pays for “proactive wellness” and healthcare players need to take hold of the Millennials whose helicopter moms are still making the lunches to take to work.

There are even more great opportunities and I would list them out… but then again, those ideas can be a great revenue source for EXPERIENCE over the course of the next several years!

Its hard to believe that it has now been close to 10 years ago, but my comrade Hope Schultz and I took on a project back then of a new bedding product that primarily was targeted to college students.

We went out and spoke with students at Northwestern, Vanderbilt and the University of Georgia.

While the key insight uncovered in the chat groups with the kids signaled great opportunity for our client… now that I think back about it, maybe that key insight could be used today in those university parent services program.

Those helicopter moms and dads just cannot let go. 

BUT alas, the bedding those kids sleep on each and every day and night on campus just might be a parental calling.

The key insight we uncovered?

The average male student changes the sheets on their bed… once a year.

The average female student changes the sheets on their bed… once a semester.

I am not making up what we heard.

If I were a helicopter mom right now… I would be dashing over to Target and buying up several sets of sheets, a 5 gallon jug of detergent, overnight shipping boxes and pre-paid return envelops…

Sounds like a great “back-to-school” promotional opportunity to me.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Rise Of A New Change Wave

I post new blogs about once every 3-4 weeks now…

…But, I saw an editorial earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal and just had to carve out time this weekend and post what is the real story of what’s going on.

Just over two years ago as we were technically coming out of the Great Recession according to the Washington politicos, I cited five broad trends that I call “Change Waves” – very significant macro-trends that will challenge businesses and their brand dynamics over the course of the next 5-10 years.

One of the Change Waves is titled “High Tech And High Touch.” 

I cannot take full credit for the name.  John Naisbitt coined that phrase in his book Megatrends back in 1982. 

However with mobile media today, that change wave has taken on new meaning as technology truly goes mobile and the Cloud unites all of us together. 

I facilitated part of an off-site strategy planning session for a financial service client this past week and I highlighted the fact that technology advancement for the sake of technology advancement in and of itself, will not work.

Some of that group smiled… especially the VP of HR. 

BUT… back to why I am posting this in less than two weeks of the last posting…

There is a new “Change Wave” in the making that is surfacing quickly. 

It is something that is impacting the marketplace on a Global front… and certainly something that is influencing the Washington politicos in this election year.

The “Change Wave” is what I will title, “The Rise of the Working Class.”

Quickly, I have to qualify that this has NOTHING to do with UNIONS and ORGANIZED LABOR. 

In many ways, it also has NOTHING to do with SOCIO-ECONOMICS.


In basic terms, the “Change Wave” is the rise of identity, mission, lifestyles and values of individuals who get up every day and go to work to earn a living… individuals taking charge and finding work… individuals placing values on earning versus taking… being active and not passive.

Yes… it shares some aspects of one of the “Change Waves” titled “Acquisition of Self”… but it moves the focus beyond “me” to “us” vs. “them”… note, not “we.”

Now to the editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

On Friday, July 13th, an editorial ran titled, “The Middle Class Needs A Lifeline.”

The co-authors go by the names of Mr. Carville and Mr. Greenberg. 

Most of you reading this that are not part of the Millennial Generation, should know who these guys are… both were advisors to Clinton and they now have a “non-profit” group called, “Democracy Corps.”

At this point in time, I really could care less if you vote Blue or if you vote Red.

These two members of the Washington Politico simply don’t get what is rising up right in their midst.

As believers sitting high from their educational platforms, they look down upon the world beyond Manhattan and the world beyond DC and quickly conclude that those who have… not just wealth, but “educational perspective” and power… need to throw “a lifeline” of aid to keep the middle-class from drowning.

As “The Rise of the Working Class” takes shape, expertise and valued perspective will rapidly move from the halls of Harvard, Manhattan and Washington to “Joe the Plumber” and “Jean the Nurse.”

Trade organizations will evolve into a new format and what some might not even think is the same genre, but those organizations will command more power than the Senate Ways & Means Committee, the EPA and MBAs.

The Working Class will re-define “success,” “intellect” and “knowledge” with values centered around “initiative,” “dedication,” “just reward” and the simple phrase “I earned it.”

Icons of “success” are quickly moving away from import cars, private jets and hired help. 

And brands like Target, Starbucks, WalMart, KIA, Apple, Expedia and Facebook are unifying those that work to spend money wisely.

What I post in this blog is not just what I wake up in the morning expressing as opinion. 

What I post in this blog is what I observe when I get onto the elevator of my 9th floor office in the chic shopping district of Buckhead-Atlanta and put away the keys to my Infiniti and pile in my Jeep Patriot to go out into Main Street USA and talk with people.

The “Aha” moment for me that indicated that what I describe is moving forward fast took place in a coffee house chat group I facilitated in Florence, South Carolina.

Florence, South Carolina is not only entrenched by what Carville and Greenberg term as the Middle Class, it is also populated by a true group of folks who have been tightly tied to the textile, distribution and manufacturing labor base.

In the coffee house chat group, we had a set of folks attend who currently use a credit union. 

Most of the participants were African-American and a share of the participants was not only made up of older Baby Boomers, but some were close to 70 years old.

Many of the individuals spoke about how they and their families were hit hard by the Great Recession.

But they quickly spoke about how much they valued the people working at the credit union because they took the time to sit down and put together plans with them so that they “could pull themselves out of the downturn and get back to saving money for better times.”

I was so intrigued; I probed their responses even more asking them to share more about what the credit union did for them.

One of the participants was just over 70 years old.  He was a veteran of the armed services and proudly wore a U.S. Veteran’s baseball cap. 

He shared with the group that he did not graduate from high school. 

Instead he enlisted into the army and served more than 20 years.

When he got out, he went to work in a manufacturing plant and he saved a significant share of his pay.

He literally said that he “pulled himself up by the boot straps” and worked to earn where he was today.

The rising Working Class is not comprised of just those working the 9-to-5 jobs.

It includes fast food workers, entrepreneurs, police and ER teams… it includes bank branch managers, quality control managers, accountants, attorneys, physicians and preachers.

It includes people that are standing up and saying “enough is enough” and if the government and corporate offices cannot do it, we will do it ourselves.

They not only run from any lifeline offered… and God forbid if it comes from the academic and political “elite”… they resent it.  

Brands that embrace them, recognize them, admire them, respect them, thank them and reward them will see their brand sales rise.

Here it is on a late Saturday afternoon and after saying I would NOT work this weekend, I did.

So once this posts, I will pour my Jack and Coke Zero and make a toast to my brothers, sisters and peers who strive hard, sweat a lot and stand proud… here is a toast to the Working Class…

Something tells me that Washington and academic elite are in for a wide awakening experience.


Monday, July 9, 2012

The Media World Is Changing Faster Than We Think!

One of my first strategy projects back in my days at Time-Warner involved projecting out just how much satellite television would gain over cable television.

Time-Warner knew at that point that the smaller-sized satellite dish was going to provide a more price-affordable option for DirecTV and Dish to market to consumers.

The big seller at that time, was that satellite was providing access to a vast array of networks that cable simply could not provide. 

The prediction was that the satellite providers were likely to take over about a third of the market… and in some cases, could take over up to 50% share.  Those higher markets being less populated more dispersed population groups. 

I presented the study at an executive meeting at the old Time-Warner building in NYC. 

Since then, a couple of interesting events took place…

(1)  Expanded broadcast access with a set of new players entering into the competitive mix… the most pronounced being AT&T with U-verse
(2)  The roll out of broadband cable
(3)  The melding of conventional television with Internet programming

As a result, many of the unique selling claims that the satellite providers touted quickly became of little differential value. 

Not only did cable expand its channel offerings, but a greater variety of high-definition channels and DirecTV’s football package were no longer unique to just satellite access.

Satellite providers also lost out big time on the marketability of their user base to local and regional advertisers.  They provided limited local access and never netted enough penetration on a local level to break out their served geography in satellite zones aka cable zones. 

There is a story about the satellite and cable providers that ran over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal. 

The article notes that the satellite provider stock is trading at 10 times forward earnings estimates versus Comcast trading at 15 times and Time-Warner at 13 times.

The article also goes on to say that the satellite business in the U.S. has reach market majority and what is keeping DirecTV and Dish afloat is expansion in less penetrated, more rural markets like Latin America and the developing nations in Asia. 

They often say that when times get tough, enemies become friends. 

A little over a year ago, I had lunch with two Comcast sales reps. Now I must qualify quickly that I paid for my lunch and they paid for their lunch. 

Listening to these two reps tell me about the new alignment of Comcast with DirecTV and Dish reminded me of listening to high school buddies the Monday after their high school football team beat out the cross-county rival.

These boys at lunch were very excited to tell me that now advertisers buying Comcast would also have coverage on DirecTV and Dish.

The media world in 2012 still lives in the mass marketing days of the past. 

These folks continue to get pumped that bigger is always better.  I sometimes wonder if they mix Viagra with their martinis they sip while lunching together.

A year ago, when I responded to the Comcast reps and said that was good that they were merging audience delivery, I also highlighted how much more effective they could make the zoned buys. 

Quickly the smiles faded from their faces. 

Zoned buys?  Why would you want to make a zoned buy?  Buying Comcast market-wide provides “better delivery” than the network affiliates.

When I asked them if they found value in targeting their media buys against niche market segments, they quickly replied “yes,” but they could much more effectively deliver “Adults 25-54” through a full market buy than by cable zone.

Okay.  Whatever.

I presented that research study to the Time-Warner executive team back in 1998. That was 14 years ago.  What was seen as a threat back then, never really materialized.

I might be going out on the ledge with this prediction, but 14 years from today… July 8th 2026, I will put $100 on betting table that “mass marketing” cable television will be in a similar position as DirecTV and Dish today. 

It is true that when times get tough, enemies become friends. 

Problem is, new “enemies” rise up from out-of-no-where and soon the old enemies fade away.

Maybe when what we term as “Generation ZOOM”… the next generation following the Millennials who were birthed from 2000 forward… hit the business world starting about 10 years from now, they will finally revolutionize the media world in getting the sales team operating from a new marketing audience paradigm. 

I will also bet that 14 years from today, those satellite dishes will be stocked up in the back storage room of the Smithsonian along with the 8-track and cassette tapes, non-flat screen television sets, desk-top computers and CD players. 

By the way, I also read an article that it looks like Apple will be re-tooling the docking ports on the next wave of iPhones hitting the market this fall. 

Add to that Smithsonian storage room the iPhones produced since intro as well!

Pssst… the media world is changing faster than we think … literally!