Making Athletes Better, Socially

under_armour_newOn the heels of a strong close to 2014 and annual sales and profits growth of 32% and 28% respectively, Under Armour hosted a meeting with the investment community, addressing its recent acquisitions that, when combined, create the world’s largest digital health and fitness community. Aptly named Connected Fitness, CEO Kevin Plank, along with the leaders of the newly assembled Under Armour digital team and CFO Brad Dickerson, spoke to rationale, strategy, and opportunities.

In true entrepreneurial fashion, Plank started Under Armour as a football player who couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a T-shirt on the market that was light and wicked sweat, which would improve his (and athletes generally) performance. The rest, as they say, is history. The guiding principle from his inspiration 19 years ago, to the more than $3 billion in annual sales just reported, is the goal to make the athlete perform better. This remains the goal with the MapMyFitness acquisition (in 2013), Endomondo (acquired January 2015), and the MyFitnessPal purchase (closing in the current quarter). In the digital world, Under Armour now has more than 120 million unique registered users in its online community. [Read more…]

Monitoring the Digital Watercooler

iStock_000023334231SmallEver since the first merchant set up a tent at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, the world’s first mall, or Sears met Roebuck, employees have complained about employers.

But there’s a new twist on the old dynamic thanks to that digital water cooler, a.k.a.  social media. It’s where the “look-at-me” or “listen-to-me” generation spews out opinions and every excruciating detail of their daily lives in 144-character rants or selfies.

Companies are wondering about their options when it comes to protecting their reputations from sometimes-libelous comments or disciplining employees who violate social media policy. [Read more…]

FOMO & the Retail Experience

iStock_000018141330SmallA Nation of Smartphone Junkies

It’s a truism that an overwhelming number of people today are addicted to their electronic devices. According to Pew Research, the cell phone has been the most quickly adopted consumer technology in the history of the world. Over 90% of American adults (97% of the under-35 crowd) own them. It is estimated that by the end of this decade, all but the oldest, youngest, poorest and most technophobic among us will own smart phones.

We use our phones as camera, alarm clock, board game, metronome, magazine, map, bank, GPS tracking device, bank, TV, and more. Mostly, though, we use them for their original purpose: to stay connected. We can reach out to friends and family members instantaneously, and know where our kids are at every moment of the day or night. We can keep up on breaking news while hiking in the Adirondacks. We can watch a revolution unfolding in the city center of a Middle Eastern country thousands of miles away. Increasingly, we can do more than one of these things at a time. [Read more…]

Brands Looking Forward, Look Back (Way Back)

gracearticle1Many of the most successful rebranding efforts of the last year, the most forward-facing of them all, have all used the same weapon of choice: their archives. Brands as highbrow as Dior, to as proudly lowbrow as Levi’s, have looked to the creative history of their designers to add a layer of narrative and credibility to the contemporary context of their brands. And while this type of endurance-branding may be partially a result of The Great Recession, Millennials. Are Eating. It. Up.

This is because Millennials are natural researchers; many of us were somewhere between 18 and 8 when Google arrived in our homerooms. While we haven’t always had smartphones, we have always had access. I don’t need to tell you how this has manifested in our shopping habits online. But much less is known about the compulsive way many Millennials forage online archives for stylistic inspiration. Think Netflix “binge-viewing,” or better yet, a “Google K-Hole” (an allusion to a Special K or Ketamine bender, in this case resulting in days lost to Googling). Online archives such as Getty Images or Google Image Search welcome us, for free; which is why it is easier than you may think for an influencer Millennial to pick up an obscure Fellini reference. We are such active researchers that we tend to forget what we saw, where. We can get to the point that we have to rely on our browser’s history tab over our own brand fidelity and crowded memory. [Read more…]

Big Data “Has No Clothes”


It’s a strange world and these are strange times we are living in. We witness nerdy Edward Snowden, outing and vilifying the NSA for seeking to make the world’s population transparent, while at the same time making himself transparent to the entire world. And, I suspect at some level, he’s been quite enjoying his sudden (transparent) notoriety, however controversial it might be.

Yet the irony of Snowden’s purpose in outing the NSA is that his fellow Millennials seem to live, breathe and happily embrace transparency in everything they do, from posting every flake of cereal they ate on Facebook, or tweeting about the bug that just ran across their desk, or “I’m walking down the street now,” and, of course, the height of transparency, “sexting” (which, I know is not confined to Millennials – witness Anthony Weiner).

So, Snowden believes the NSA is invading the privacy rights of citizens, while a whole generation (his, and commercially, the most important for the retail industry), has expanded the acceptance of transparency in their lives, almost beyond limit.

Snowden’s purpose and fate are beyond my pay grade, but the irony of “bad” big data (“Big Brother”) according to Snowden, and “good” big data, apparently welcomed by his cohorts, did not escape me. And the discussion of big data could not be more timely. It is the buzzword of the day, almost replacing “omni-channel.” [Read more…]

What’s Up With Social Shopping?

Social Shopping is not a brand-new concept, but the term defines a set of phenomena that have been occurring for several years now. At its essence, social shopping has been focused on ecommerce to a great extent and has flourished in a number of areas, most notably in coupon code sharing, and of course Craigslist. But as the number of smartphones and other Internet and app-capable devices has increased, these phenomena have begun to spread like wildfire into the world of brick-and-mortar retail.

social_shoppingFirst, let’s look at where we are. There are several defined categories of social shopping;

  • Group Shopping (bargain hunting)
  • Shopping Communities (crowd thinking)
  • Recommendation Engines (advice)
  • Social Marketplaces (buyer to seller connection)
  • Shared Shopping (online collaborative group experiences) [Read more…]

Innovators Unite!

kennethwalker“I told you so” seems to be the rallying cry of all the retail pundits out there who think they were smarter than Ron Johnson.

Every one is throwing stones and is offering multiple reasons for what went wrong at JCPenney. The reasons for failure are easy to categorize, and I sense a bunker mentality is settling over the retail community.


In a business where real change comes very infrequently, the danger of the JCP fiasco may be the end of trying to do anything innovative. Many companies try and fail, but learn their lessons and bounce back by trying again.  The worst thing JCP can do is to go backwards to the status quo.

The vision Ron Johnson brought to the table was revolutionary.  The execution in hindsight was clearly flawed. Unfortunately very few people even got to experience what “the vision” was, as few elements were completed. It could have been a game changer for the retail community.

Current JCP management has a very focused and talented leader. The key investors in the company are smart and have the future in mind.  I hope this team will execute properly and harness the vision and innovation that Johnson began.   It would create a sorely needed new, and unique, customer experience.

Shoppers are always looking for something new. If they try it and like it, they will come back and tell others.   Word of mouth has a very big mouth…it’s called twitter and Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and the rest of them.

The poor execution of a vision should not be an excuse to abandon innovation.

What Your Intern is Really Thinking

Intern at workI’m here to set the record straight about the Millennial work ethic, by giving you a little insight into the world of internships. They have become the popular alternative to entry-level positions, and businesses have convinced my generation that this is an acceptable way to start a career. If you don’t continue on to graduate school (hoping that the job market will open up when you get that Masters), many of us find ourselves in a job black hole where we can’t practice what we’ve learned, and at the very least, pay back our student loans on time (the average in 2011 was $26k). And all this plays out with collateral damage in terms of Next Gen’s loyalty to employers and desire to build a long-term career with one company. Remember, we are risk averse, want financial stability and a future worth working for.

What’s really happening here? All businesses today, from top corporate hedge funds to design firms to retail stores to your neighborhood nonprofit, rely on interns. And let’s face it, you can get just as much out of an intern as you can from entry-level staffers — right? So why not give some deserving under-employed college grad the chance to beef up their resume, right? You’re really helping alleviate the famed Millennial unemployment rate (now 13%), right? What kind of 20-something really needs job security or healthcare, right? [Read more…]

Y Do I Care?

ydoicareAnd Why You’d Better Care About These Five Words of Activation

Brands love me. They find me in the recesses of my social interactions and they ask (read: incentivize) me to be their brand ambassador. Who am I? I am any Millennial/Gen Y, and broke as we are reputed to be, we are quickly (like in the next five years) about to start outspending your other favorite customers, our parents, the Baby Boomers. And brands (not all, but definitely the ones we will be interacting with for years to come), are quickly taking the initiative to not only put themselves where we are, but also to make themselves known as one of us.

You might ask, “How do they do that? How does Nike become a twenty-something?” I will tell you how: they speak to us like we speak to each other. Because for the first time, your brand is in conversation between posts made by my own twenty-something friends. And how better to relate your brand to me and my friends than by using terms we use, or that excite or interest us. Clearly, I am not talking Internet-speak (LOL)—I am talking activation words; words that convey to us who we want to be; how we understand the world to be; or even how we would like the world around us to become. Because those who understand the way Gen Y ticks, understand that more than anything else, we are an aspirational generation. Helping us aspire—feeding your brand vocabulary with words or concepts we aspire to—activates us as customers that want to interact with your brand, both socially and commercially.

I’m going to share with you five words of activation that have the potential to activate your Gen Y or Millennial customer, and why knowing what each one means and why it matters will let them know you know the “Y.” [Read more…]

Will Robots be the New “Associates?”



It’s zombie-land out there.  Nobody talks anymore.  They tweet and text.  Nobody meets anymore.  They tweet, text, email and occasionally have phone conferences.  And, we don’t need the Manti Te’o hoax (“catfishing” or whatever it is), to know that tweeting, texting, Facebooking, Skyping, falling in love with an avatar on Second Life and whatever else I don’t know about yet, is the new ‘dating.’  Digital simulation and stimulation is the new human touch.
Wow scary!  But, not to get all philosophical on you, what does this have to do with retail strategy? The short answer: everything.

On one level, the virtual world is more awesome, exciting, rewarding, easier, more convenient, less intense, less demanding and so forth, than the real world.  So, on that level, a person might rather be an avatar and get the heck out of this “messy” human world.  And, I fear many of them do just that, at least mentally.  I know I’m exaggerating, but only to make the point.

Anyway, for the majority of us who don’t literally “check out,” retailers must, at the very least, provide as many of the latest gizmos, gadgets, techie toys, videos, etc., both in store and online.  Virtual reality must be as much a part of the shopping “experience” as the store’s real-world restaurants, gelato and coffee stands, fashion shows, and whatever else. [Read more…]

A Private Story

(The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent)

He’d been an interesting but troubled friend in my youth. Tom had arrived at our fancy New England boarding school as a shy eighth grader interested in books, politics and music. He told us that his father, who was a 63-year-old New England gentleman farmer when he was born, had been T.S. Eliot’s roommate at Harvard. That story was beyond the construction abilities of 1960’s teenage braggadocio, so we believed him.

The Robin Report - PrivacyDuring the spring of our junior year his father died, and Tom lost it. He failed his final exams and was told he had to go to summer school to keep up with his class. He returned in the fall and promptly dropped out. In our yearbook we put a picture of Tom holding up a dime (the cost of phone call back then) and a seven-digit telephone number.

The late teenage years can be a very troubled time. Paired with the political and social climates of the era, Tom’s issues were not unique, just early. Ten percent of our boarding school graduating class that year was dead within a year of leaving school, mostly due to suicide. It was the goody-two-shoes guys that went first, having been shocked at how different the world was from what they’d been led to believe.

I graduated and promptly rented an apartment for the summer in Boston where I had a job with a publishing company on Beacon Hill. Halfway through the summer, by what circumstances I don’t recall, Tom turned up at my door with his pregnant girlfriend seeking a place to crash. They stayed in the apartment until my lease ran out in the end of August. She found a job, he didn’t. As I left for my freshman year in college, they moved into the back of Tom’s aging farm Jeep. I didn’t see them after that. That was 42 years ago.

I am not big on reunions. I went to my high school’s 20th and got asked by some sniveling Boston Brahmin where I “summered,” and realized I had not fit in back then, much less now. I did have a conversation with someone about Tom. Over the next 20 years I crossed paths with the same person three or four times. Each time we talked about him. [Read more…]

Quotes to Remember


Just before ringing the bell in celebration of Facebook’s IPO, founder Mark Zuckerberg had this to say:

“Right now, this all seems like a big deal. Going public is an important milestone in our history. But here’s the thing. Our mission isn’t to be a public company. Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.”

Mark, listen up! Your #1 priority in running a public company (valued on the idiocy of mass hysteria), is what? Growing the business and making money! [Read more…]