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Perils of Purchase

May 22, 2014 Leave a comment

A magical thing happens when we own something. Having made the purchase using our own money we’ve personalized the experience. This is why the computer from the employer is “junk” and why the dinner from a different cook just doesn’t taste the same. When we do it ourselves we place our skin in the game: we personalize the experience or item by connecting to who we are. Our purchases are extensions of who we are: they demonstrate a decision we have made or a preference that reflects who we are. Marketers know we do this and utilize brands as extensions of personality. Are you a Pepsi or a Coke person? Is it Apple or PC, Android or iOS?

Falling victim to the game of branding creates a paradox of experience. Though trying to express our individuality in our purchases we end up subscribing to massively popular brands. We work to select the item that best reflects our personality or that most closely matches our perspectives on life. A certain type of character is connected to brands. Technology companies are particularly skilled at creating cultural connections for its users. Are you an “Apple person”, the ad might seem to suggest. Ultimately our attempts to be unique leave us blandly like the rest. The only way to truly be unique is to build it all ourselves. Program your own operating system and manufacture the hardware in the basement. Work to escape the brands and perhaps you can be unique. Of course this is impossible. Brands are popular because they’re easy to engage with and embrace.

Crust Cuts

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In contemporary media, it is possible for a same-day hired employee to commit acts of such depravity that decades of reputation can be lost. Video of an employee urinating in a sink at a West Virgina Pizza Hut recently emerged. Once broadcast on local media the story “had legs” and made its way to popular “click-bait” sites where rapidly it spread. More viral than the bacteria splashed inside the sink, the story became less about the employee or his actions and more about the brand and the response from those in charge. From Twitter came their comments of “disappointment” and “regret”.

Is a corporation responsible for the actions of every employee? Surely a company as large as Pizza Hut can’t be held accountable for the habits of the few? One lesson that can be learned from this story is the peril of expansion. With greater size comes cost. As the network expands the distances between the components becomes greater. Corporate Pizza Hut (based in Plano, Texas; owned by Pepsi and Yum! brands) must respond for each of its 160, 000+ employees.

With immensity comes more hazard. What is lost as one expands? Communication and awareness. I highly doubt the employee caught on camera concerned himself with the reputation of Pizza Hut. One wonders just how close he was to his own supervisor. Certainly a pizza shop where that type or behavior occurs is one lacking in supervision.

Unfortunately the costs of this expansion become massive in contemporary society. One rogue employee’s act becomes a global reflection on the brand. The internet is a highway of sharing and its streets are filled by cobblestones of rumor. Do we benefit from such revelations? Are these bad actors at the sinks now open to… exposure? Is there really no such thing as “bad press”? One wonders just how busy that Pizza Hut remains tonight? Are employees busy slicing pizzas or bored in their bewilderment. One wonders if they’ve gathered round that sink to ask themselves just why he did it and how quickly things can change.

Commerical Box of Soap

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

The image of a speaker on a soap box is one of the most profound images of democracy. The rugged individual, determined to be heard, climbs a box and uses it to better address the crowd. This image of a “platform” now expands to include social media sites like Facebook where individuals use the site to share ideas. Create a game on Facebook’s platform and one has access to a user base of billions. Many see this as a definite benefit: it’s where the users are and the most efficient way to reach an audience. And while this is true, it is important to distinguish Facebook’s platform from the classic image from which the term “platform” derived.

Facebook is a commercial medium. It exists to make money for its creators and strives constantly to expand its use to as-yet unknown streams of revenue. New apps are new opportunities: both for creators and for Facebook who use its giant network to distribute and collect. Herein lies the power imbalance at the heart of the relationship. For while Facebook provides access to the user base, maintains its existence and popularity, the user engaged on Facebook retains minimal rights in his or her creation. Agree to distribute your ideas on Facebook and you engaged in a trade: significant details of ownership for access to a massive user base.

When one publishes on Facebook, or any social media sites, he or she forfeits significant rights of ownership. What do these platforms say for potential intellectual endeavors? If great creations must utilize corporate platforms to gain access is something lost? In essence we have a system where, in another domain, a chef must launch his own restaurant inside McDonald’s. Yes, he’ll have access to a massive user-base and a popular platform to launch, but what is lost for what is gained?

Impossible to Luddite

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Technological change comes fast. Consider the number of phone numbers you held in your memory a decade ago. Was it more? How has GPS affected your ability to give directions. Many often respond with “Do you have GPS?” when asked to give directions. Technology changes who we are and how we live.

But what of those who loathe technology and instead desire “good old days”? Is anyone capable of existing in a world divorced of technology? Technology is everywhere and impossible to avoid. From grocery stores to libraries every location in society has been affected by technology. One cannot be a Luddite now.

Perhaps most profound about technological change is this inability to avoid it. We need not own technology to be affected. Pew reported in 2013 that just 56% of Americans have smart phones. What of that 44%- are they floundering alone and lost in their world without a data plan and killer apps? Does the user of the “dumb phone” flounder in a world without GPS and data plans? Of course not.¬†Technological change is inherent and profound.

Perils in Pursuits

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

For a select category of products, consumer trust defines the relationship. Mary buys kosher beef with the confidence that her religious beliefs are not contradicted in her use of the product. In a sense, her need for the product stems not from solely her desire; instead, she purchases the item because it allows her to meet religious expectations and deliver pleasure. There is a dual role for products in many transactions- situations in which consumer desire involves multiple needs and expectations.

Consider violations of this trust. Vegans are shocked to hear of animal by-products in Chipotle’s beans. Jewish consumers are stunned to find that their supposedly kosher beef contains horse. The examples are numerous and spread throughout time; though, what remains common with each is this common violation of consumer trust and expectation.

Product failure happens all the time. A battery dies or a pixel fades to black. Consumers have come to understand planned obsolescence and regularly buy new phones, devices and toys despite having working models. Capitalism benefits from this system as innovation drives progress for both consumer and manufacturer. Perhaps the ideal economy is a world in which this dance is perfectly balanced and paced.

Despite this sense of what defines ideal, a world of competition creates benefits to cheat. To cut corners means to reduce costs and severe competition leads to a world where all cuts are on the table. The recent horse meat scandal in Europe is a prime example of the dangers of complicated networks and expected low costs. Expand the network out and more links become involved.

As we work towards greater levels of global competition we will see more violations of this consumer trust. Despite a greater concern for public health, as seen in America’s Affordable Care Act, the networks from which our health and society function grow increasingly less concerned with users who consume. When price becomes priority and reducing it the most valuable accomplishment there are no limitations to the means to reduce cuts. What today may shock us as appalling will likely pale as we demand more for less and blind ourselves with complex networks.

Jurassic Dreams

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

The United States government’s shutdown allows one to consider perks and perils of privatization. Privatize a National Park and get Jurassic Park? A private company is the only way that a fantasy land like that displayed in Jurassic Park could exist. The Federal government functions to “protect and preserve” the nation’s interior. While possible, a private company might think otherwise and function instead with the goal of customer desire.

What if the market demands a more exciting use of national landscapes? Do we need another waterfall to photograph? Might we benefit more from some white water rafting parks? Maybe that beautiful field is just perfect for a roller coaster. For some the goal of “preserving and protecting” is the most important role of the government. Save those sacred places for the future. Such glad handing strikes one as insulting- are we truly unable to resist some latest desires to destroy the landscape? Do such suggestions and goals underpin a belief that greedy capitalists will seek out any and all square inches for monopolization opportunities? Some seem convinced that Walmarts on every corner could actually happen.

A government that goes away allows us a moment to consider its value. Might some areas of government be reduced or eliminated? How might a world of less government work? Let’s consider areas where government might trade its role to industry. No, we still need some regulations as in meat inspection and the countless other areas of consumer protection. We do not need no government; but let us muse on where we might adjust. A little tweaking never hurt anyone.

When In Abscence

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

A daily norm of behavior brings one into a routine of appearance and performance. You arrive at your job, do your work and leave for home. This cycle of function works to justify one’s existence. Don’t appear and the cycle is broken.¬† Suddenly one’s absence provides an opportunity to think again. Don’t appear and a new paradigm opens in your absence. “If he’s never here then do we need him?”

Adjustments take hold and suddenly the adjustments made to accommodate one’s absence become routine. A great hazard comes in simply not showing up. It’s often claimed that “showing up is half the battle” and indeed we can learn quite a bit from this simple phrase. People put a lot of value in the physical appearance of another. While one might be completely useless or even damaging to a situation, the sheer fact that one appears has a power to it. The act of “making an appearance” is one of the most useless, but viable evaluation on our society.

We might consider the very construction of this “making an appearance” phrase. Unpack it to see this verb of “making”. What are we creating when we appear? It is merely a physical existence in an organization? Is it merely a presence or actor playing a role that is developed.

Don’t appear and we learn to question your value. If you go away for a day we learn to work without you. Time’s progression creates a snowball of conundrum when one is not around. Oddly one’s best defense against dismissal is to simply show up. Even if one’s work is completely trivial the mere physical presence allows one to appear to be important. One may be an unused gear or even a detrimental part the machine but simply being part of the engine provides a basis to exist.

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