Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks for Some Hopeful Signs for Retailers, Jobs, Factory Output and Home Construction

Don't underestimate the power of a Black Friday shopper

So Americans are getting soft, you say? We’re getting, fat, lazy, unmotivated as the rest of the world passes us by, you say? Well you haven’t seen Americans shop on Black Friday. If there’s one thing we don’t need to outsource it’s the ability to find a deal. Before you choke on that turkey wishbone in laughter, think about how the web is transforming the shopping experience. Consumers have never been better armed with comparative pricing information, specs, sizes, colors and where to find the best deals. Retailers have to keep opening earlier, competing with both online and bricks-and-mortar sellers and motivate their employees to work, longer, harder and faster when they’d normally be home (sleeping) with their families.

OUR TAKE? When properly motivated, Americans can do anything they set their minds to with resourcefulness, determination and stamina—kind of like a nation of small business owners.

Macroeconomic indicators

For the holiday season-to-date, consumers have spent $9.7 billion online -- marking a year-over-year growth rate of 14 percent, according to new comScore data. During the first 20 days of the season -- which began on November 1--daily online spending peaked on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at $688 million, comScore reports.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since early April, a sign that layoffs are easing and hiring might pick up--it was the fourth decline in five weeks. Meanwhile, a Commerce Department report said that builders started slightly fewer homes in October, but submitted plans for a wave of apartments, a mixed sign for the struggling housing market.

A rebound in manufacturing could lead to more hiring. Factory output grew in October for the fourth straight month, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. Production of trucks, electronics and business equipment all rose, and building permits, a gauge of future construction, rose nearly 11 percent. The increase was spurred by a 30 percent increase in apartment permits, which reached its highest level in three years. Need more? Construction starts of single-family homes, which make up about 70 percent of residential home construction, rose nearly 4 percent last month.

While new homes account for just 20 percent of the overall home market, they have an outsize impact on the economy--each home creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Online video can boost your business

Still not sure if online video is worth it? Check out these new findings from

-- Nearly 80 percent of U.S. Internet users –180million+ people—will view online video over the course of the month

-- The typical Internet viewer watches almost 20 hours of online video per month
--The average online video consumed is a full 5 minutes long
--The most watched videos add value by “teaching viewers something or covering a topic they care about,” says comScore.

What B2B marketers hope to accomplish with social media tools

According to new data from Chief Marketer’s 2011 Social Media Marketing Survey it is:

-- Drive traffic to websites (66%)
-- Generate sales or leads (48%)
-- Address company fans (47%)

Yes, times are tough. But give thanks this time of year that you have the brains, the team, the family support and the resources to figure out ways to get through it. You will. And we’ll all be stronger for it.
Happy Thanksgiving. HB


Friday, November 11, 2011

Job openings at highest level since August 2008

‘Quit rate’ at 3-year high and 7 out of 10 employed workers ‘mailing it in’ at best

OK people. It’s over. The recession is officially two years in the rear-view window. Let’s get back to business already. You’re not going to get an official memo from the Government saying it’s safe to start hiring people again, or it's OK to invest in capital improvements you so badly need, or to build out your marketing platform so you can get actual qualified leads.Remember those? What else do you need to make a decision?

But what about the euro zone crisis, you say? Don’t waste your time watching the daily gyrations of the financial markets. Check your portfolio one every three months or so, but don’t use stocks as a proxy for the state of business conditions or the economy. It’s a glorified casino driven by program traders, hedge funds and short-term speculators.

People are working, and more importantly quitting for better jobs

Here’s what’s important: New claims for jobless benefits in the United States fell last week to their lowest level since early April and the country’s trade deficit unexpectedly shrank in September, pointing to a slight improvement in the sluggish economy. More encouraging was a Labor Department report showed a strong increase in the “quit rate” -- the number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs for a new one rose 5 percent in September and hit its highest level since November 2008. It means that workers are finally more confident that they can find new work if they are unhappy with their current positions—a recent Gallup Survey found the 71 percent of U.S. workers are “not engaged” in their jobs or “actively disengaged” form their work.

Greater turnover in the job market now means more opportunities for the 14 million unemployed or under-employed workers seeking to get back into the workforce.

Out Take: Stop focusing on the unemployment rate. It’s stuck like a rusty wheel at 9 percent and doesn’t accurately reflect what companies need to grow and thrive. We think a better measure is the number of job seeker to job openings. That ratio is down to 4.1, from a peak of 6.9 workers per opening in the horrible summer of July 2009.

If you’ve got a job. Now’s the time to find a better one. If you’re looking for work, make sure you don’t settle for the dregs left behind by a former employee burned out by the recession. Find something that matters—and pays you commensurately for your skill. If you have a company, make sure you do whatever it takes to keep your best people happy and by all means, make sure you’re capturing all the knowledge, contacts and processes they have stored in their brains and personal hard drives.

There’s going to be a “brain drain” of epic proportions soon—and you won’t get a memo letting you know when it’s officially started. If you’re not careful, all your organizational “smarts” could go walking out the door on a moment’s notice.

Where smart marketing comes in

That’s also where smart marketing comes in. It’s not just to raise your brand and generate qualified leads—it’s a time-tested way to keep your name in front of the best talent and vendors in your industry. When you cut back on your marketing, you not only choke off your lead funnel and brand awareness. You make yourself conspicuously absent relative to your competitors and lose opportunities to capture great talent. That’s right, think about all the great people who just might have spent one too many late nights at the office without feeling adequately appreciate by their bosses. If you’re not top of mind with them, they’re certainly not top of mind with you.


Friday, November 04, 2011

Thriving in a SOCIAL ‘Vucu’ Climate for B2B Marketers

Forget the markets and employment numbers. 10-year forecast might be easier to make than a one-week call

“I could probably make a 10-year forecast easier than a one-week forecast,” quipped Rod Smythe, Chief Investment Strategist of Riverfront Investment Group at a high-end wealth management conference we attended on Tuesday.

Whether it’s the financial markets, the job market, pro sports or even the weather, we’re in an incredibly volatile time and this era of uncertainty is wreaking havoc on our collective psychology. Smart B2B marketers will stay focused on their long-term goals without panicking or chasing the next fad. Just be ready for a lot more VUCU. We’ll get to what vucu means in a minute. In the long run, we’ll get through this and in many respects we’re already there. Say what?

Just two weeks ago, I was swimming in Long Island Sound on an unseasonably warm October day. Stocks were plummeting as the U.S. seemed destined for a double-dip recession and Greece and other Euro Zone players were headed for a sure default on their debt.

How quickly things change. Monday I was trick-or-treating in the snow with my kids here in the Northeast. Stocks are back to break-even for the year and have risen significantly as economic data suggests we’ve fended off the threat of a Euro Zone meltdown, a double-dip recession, and stronger than expected corporate earnings. China’s hyper-growth economy (and inflation risk) slowing and last week’s GDP results showing 2.5 percent annualized growth in Q3, our strongest effort in a year.

So, while personal income is falling, consumer spending has risen at a 2.4 percent annual rate–three times faster than Q3 according to the latest government stats. Despite a persistently high percent unemployment rate, confidence may be returning. Credit card debt is inching higher, sales of cars and major appliances are rebounding and consumers are hording a lot less in their savings accounts (again).

Living in a vucu world

We’re living in a “vucu” world, said Dana Anderson, a Kraft Foods marketing VP who was widely quoted at last week’s Association of National Advertisers conference in Phoenix which attracted a record 1,700 attendees.

Not familiar with Vucu? It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous which is going to require a new set of skills she said. Marketers and advertisers will need learn from experimentation, and be open to intuitive, rather than rational solutions to problems.

OUR TAKE: Amen to that, but much easier said than done. True, tough times call for bold steps and recessions have historically fostered some of the greatest innovations. But, when millions of salaried media workers are scared to death of losing their jobs, the risk of a failure pinned to one’s performance review is a stronger deterrent than usual.

Business spending hot, hiring is not

According to the Commerce Department, business increased their capital investments at a 17.4 percent annual rate. Economists say business spending has been strong throughout the recession, an optimistic sign because investment in factories, offices, equipment and software is often a run up to hiring.

And from a micro-perspective, the office building in which we work was less than half full when we moved in two years ago. It’s 100 percent occupied now. That’s right. No vacancy!

Is technology replacing humans in the workforce?

According to the authors of “Race Against the Machine” a just-released book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee is a scary deep-dive into the job fallout from advances in technology. The authors, who are directors at the MIT Center for Digital Business, warn that automation has picked up in recent years because of a combination of technologies including robotics, numerically controlled machines, computerized inventory control, voice recognition and online commerce.

Since the “official” end of the recession in mid 2009, payrolls have been flat, but corporate spending on equipment and software has increased 26 percent, they note. According to Factset Research, the productivity gains from technology seem to be falling to the bottom line. The S&P 500 companies are expected to report record profits—nearly $1 trillion--and the corporate profit share of the U.S. economy is at a record high when millions are out of work or facing foreclosure of their homes.

It’s true that hundreds of thousands of sales and marketing jobs have been lost or impacted by technology, but Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue companies still need humans for many higher level tasks requiring intuition, creativity and solutions. Leave narrow, literal minded assigned tasks to the computers they advise and smart humans—including B2B marketers—will learn how to create a “partnership” with technology.

SOCIAL, and we don’t mean Facebook

Marc Benioff, founder of the popular cloud-based sales CRM solution,, frequently says we’re in the midst of an IT revolution based on the acronym SOCIAL—S is for speed; O is for open; C is for collaboration; I is for individuals who can now instantly reach around the world to network and collaborate; A is for alignment (all your ships moving in the same direction) and L is leadership, both top down and bottom up.

In a New York Times Op-Ed piece, Thomas Friedman, quotes LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner on the power of the IT revolution: “It makes it easier and cheaper for anyone anywhere to be an entrepreneur and have access to all the infrastructure of innovation.”

OUR TAKE: Whether you’re a sole practitioner, a 10-person regional outfit or a Fortune 500 powerhouse, you need to have everyone—and every machine—at your organization aligned and in a nimble entrepreneurial mindset. Make some mistakes. Make ‘em hard and fast and see how quickly you can learn from those mistakes.
That’s how we’ll get out of this economic first gear and great B2B marketing is what’ll get us into the overdrive phase.