Here We Go Again, In 3D

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Recently surgeons at Utrecht University’s UMC in the Netherlands replaced the entire top of a 22-year-old woman’s skull with a 3D printed customized implant made from plastic. The woman, who suffered from a rare disorder in which her skull was gradually becoming thicker and thicker, would eventually die as her skull compressed her brain. Over the last several months, numerous, compelling tales have emerged about the 3D printing of prosthetic hands for injured children and adults in war torn countries around the world.

An article in 3D UNIVERSE reported on a 53-year-old man named Jose Delgado, who was born without most of his left hand.  Jose has used multiple types of prosthetic devices over many years, including a myoelectric version that uses the muscle signals in his forearm to trigger closing or opening the fingers. The cost of this myoelectric device was $42,000, the cost of his new e-NABLE, 3D printed hand, about $50.00.

For many, the term 3D printer conjures up visions of a machine much like those found in nearly every home office and connected to the family PC or laptop, which produces exact copies of documents from a digital file at the touch of the print icon. While three-dimensional printing of tangible objects has not yet reach that level of simplicity and size, the day of such wizardry may not be far away. A Harvard Business School graduate, Grace Choi has come up with a way to disrupt the $55 million makeup industry with her new mini 3D printer, named Mink. It will allow users to print out any color of makeup using FDA-approved ink, right in the home.

3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional object from a 3D model or other electronic data source where successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. Originally a technology used by tech savvy hobbyists, 3D printing has fast become the next great technology disruption. Predictions of consumers casually downloading digital designs of everything from shoes to furniture and printing out a new family room ensemble or a pair of high fashion heels for the annual New Year’s party has many industry leaders taking notice to the potential impact of the newest technology craze.

As more raw materials become available at less cost, and smaller simpler machines are engineered, the likelihood of a 3D printer in every home is closer to becoming reality. A startup called “New Matter” thinks its Mod T printer can bring 3D printing to the mainstream.  The company will offer its Mod T, priced at just $249 starting early in 2015 and will allow consumers to make desirable and usable products from hundreds of digital designs, downloaded from the Internet.

The deliberate evolution of 3D technology has a “been there before” ring to it. Computing, was once a little known technology performed by number-crunching, techno-geeks in out-of-the-way rooms filled with huge, buzzing machines.  It was a time, not all that long ago, that few understood its potential to revolutionize every aspect of human life and still fewer who envisioned a time when such powerful, life altering technology would be found in devices around everyone’s wrist or in everyone’s pocket.

Here we go again?

Cutting The Price Without Diluting A Brand’s Value

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What do you do when your company bumps up against the limits of the market segment and comes to the realization that every consumer in a struggling economy expects discounts? If you are J. Crew, and want to continue to dominate in your higher-priced fashion segment while seeking broader consumer appeal, you create a new, lower priced brand and new distribution model.  The new brand is to be called “J. Crew Mercantile” and will feature lower-priced clothing and accessories sold online and at separate retail stores in traditional malls and shopping centers away from the company’s outlet locations. The company reports that the new lines will be priced competitively with their Outlet Stores with prices mostly under $100.

Like the majority of retailers, the New York-based chain appears to be working to recover from a cutthroat holiday season, when rivals relied on deep discounts to attract shoppers. Net income tumbled to $5.92 million in J. Crew’s fourth quarter, down from $10.2 million a year earlier. Still, revenue grew almost 7 percent to $686.2 million in the period, which ended Feb. 1.

Offering lower price versions of successful products is not unusual in industry, apparel or otherwise, but unlike The Gap, who moved to distribute a lower-priced line of products through their Old Navy stores, the new J. Crew endeavor seeks to capitalize on their already iconic name by attaching their brand to the new line of offerings. While there is always a premium market for exclusivity, luxury and high fashion, there is a certain amount of risks in attaching a high-end brand to a lesser quality product. Care needs to be taken to avoid dissolving the consumers’ value-added perception of the higher priced products.

Cloning a lower cost line of products is not without precedence. John Deere, the recognized leader of agricultural equipment and home maintenance equipment was running out of consumers willing to pay upwards of $8,000 for a lawn tractor to mow the lawn on weekends and managed to successfully connect to a much larger market by redistributing the new lower-priced line through different distribution channels. While the new line carries the iconic John Deere brand, it appears that it has not diluted the brand’s image at the higher end of the market. It is clear that both consumer segments are comfortable with the differences in the offerings.

But fashion is a different animal from agricultural equipment. Much of fashion’s consumer appeal is founded more on image than quality of materials and serviceability. Few buyers of high fashion select their apparel for long use and durability over years and decades and while lower costs can lead to more sales over shorter fashion seasons, J. Crew’s established consumer base may balk at paying twice as much for a garment that carries the same label and image as the much lower-priced apparel. It all comes down to consumer perception, and we all know that consumer perception can be the most persistent and dominating factor in marketing.

Creating a New Brand Among Giants

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Steve Allen once told his audience the he expected The Tonight Show to last forever. He made his comment as the first host of The Tonight Show, which he debuted on national television on September, 27, 1954. Born from a popular local program on the NBC Affiliate, WNBT in New York City, the now famous late night entertainment show has lasted more than 60 years, making the Steve Allen comment the most prophetic of statements in an industry where “forever” is often defined as little as one night or one episode. Allen, along with announcer Gene Rayburn and bandleader Skitch Henderson, stayed with the program for three years and were successful in introducing program mainstays like, the opening monologue and the now venerable comedy sketch. Over the next five decades Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Jay Leno performed the role of host, each adding their own brand of comedy, wit and talent to make The Tonight Show the most iconic late night talk show in U.S. television history.

While each host has successfully etched their own indelible mark and individual uniqueness on the shows history, the format and many of the tropes developed over many years remain a mainstay of the show, creating a loyal and dedicated following among generations of late-night TV viewers, the fundamental reason for the show’s long-running success. Each keeper of the stage, during their respective tenure, brought to the endeavor their own delivery, style, personality and brand of comedy.

This year’s passing of the late-night torch to Jimmy Fallon has spawned the usual debate and controversy, mostly centered on his capability to live up to such monumental standard fore-bearers as Paar, Carson and Leno. While mindful of such elevated and inevitable comparisons, Fallon appears to be smart enough to not attempt to be a Carson or Leno, aware that while imitation is often seen as the best form of flattery – pure imitation, in the entertainment world at least, leads a performer to nothing more than a relative membership in a crowded club of Elvis impersonators. Membership in the iconic Tonight Show club will require Fallon to develop and establish a brand that will satisfy several generations of existing loyal fans while attracting his own generation of Tonight Show loyalists.

From the very beginning of his tenure, Fallon vowed to be true to his successful Late Night Show format, saying that his Tonight Show will be the “same show” as he is doing now, “I’m not going to change anything.” And true to his word, Jimmy’s Tonight Show features some of his Late Night best-known bits, such as “Egg Russian Roulette”, and the weekly carry-over of the popular sketch: the absurdist “Thank You Notes” segment. The extensions are evidence that Fallon intends to establish his own brand of The Tonight Show and follow a strategy of integrating that which is working elsewhere within an already historically successful format. Messing with such well-established success, while courageous, often can lead to disaster of historic proportion.

However, the most recent ratings indicate that the gamble may very well be paying off for Fallon, the show’s producers and the network. For the most recent May sweep, “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” dominated the space with a 1.14 rating in the 18-49 viewer segment, which is Tonight’s highest for a May sweep in five years. Fallon out-delivered his competition, out-performing Letterman by a 31% margin and topping Kimmel by a 35% advantage. Whether Jimmy Fallen can continue to polish his own branded and solidify his own success among his former titans remains to be determined. But for now he seems to be creating his own traditions equal to the giants who came before him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating a Company Culture Conducive to Success

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In the beginning, most entrepreneurs are so consumed with getting all the tangible aspects of their product and service just right for their introduction that dealing with an intangible like creating a company culture just isn’t anywhere on their radar screen.

At the outset of most new business ventures, the principle actors are usually a small nucleus of collaborating individuals who fill multiple roles and wear many different hats. The company culture, out of shear necessity, becomes a product of their individual drive, ambition and personality. But as the organization grows, and decisions become less centralized, creating a set of core values and ideals that represent a strong and clear culture can give everyone within the company the proper framework from which to work. It is important to instill values and ideals earlier on, so as the business grows, these ingrained standards remain consistent with the goals and objectives of the organization’s strategy. Merck CEO, Richard Clark, says of corporate culture: “The fact is, culture eats strategy for lunch, you can have a good strategy in place, but if you don’t have the culture and the enabling systems that allow you to successfully implement that strategy, the culture of the organization will defeat the strategy.”

The makeup, size or shape of an organization’s culture doesn’t come prepackaged, off the self and in one size that fits all. Creating an environment that promotes shared values and ideals takes leadership. An organization’s culture is determined mostly by how its leaders act, so formulating a leadership team that embodies the beliefs and attributes that are representative of the company, its mission and its brand’s reputation is essential to developing a company culture. Team members should embody the company’s values and be empowered and enthusiastic about spreading the mission. Look for employees that have a good balance of technical capabilities and leadership skills, those that can build great relationships with customers as well as brainstorm and innovate with colleagues.

Once established, institutionalize the culture to make certain that it is scalable and flexible enough to grow with the organization as it gets larger. Make it part of the company’s structure to walk the walk and talk the talk from every level.  Prioritize and focus – be sure every leader and every team member has the vision and understands and shares in the mission’s success.  While it is important to establish and keep popular traditions, don’t fall victim to unique and quirky trappings like at-work video game centers, juice bars, cappuccino machines and an open “bring your pet to work rule.” What matters most to people is personal fulfillment, rewards, professional development and being a contributing member to a winning endeavor. Reward employees who advance the culture, and be open and honest with those who don’t. Creative and dedicated people will rise to the challenge of meeting reasonably high expectations of performance.

Nothing ever perpetuates itself, completely and unaided, to a successful conclusion. Communicating the values and culture explicitly and continuously, both internally and externally, will result in employees who understand the culture, and why it’s important to make it an integral part of what the company does.

Done well, the culture will represent the values, mindsets, and behaviors that constitute an environment conducive to success; to better able a company to execute on strategy and to have employees that maintain a focus on customers and competitors alike.