2017

Does this help you concentrate?

Published on: 17 Sep 2017

The Journal of Consumer Research published the results of five experiments into how the level of background noise can impact on performance when someone is working on creative tasks.

The  results are interesting and in simple terms found that a moderate level of ambient noise is better for enhancing performance on creative tasks than both low levels and high levels of ambient noise.

Or put another way, people are more likely to be able to work creatively if there is a medium level of ambient noise compared to where there is silence or loud noise in the background.

So, what lessons can we learn from this if we’re studying?

Whilst the optimum situation and level of background noise is very much a personal preference the science behind it could indicate that we should head somewhere with a mid level background noise.

Now, where could we find such a place?

Well, the local pub around the corner has a great mid level background noise as far as I’m concerned but there are some liquid distractions that will harm studying.

What about a coffee shop or cafe? Again, there would be some great mid levels of background noise but you’ve got to get there and what happens if you don’t find a seat. All of this will dig into your valuable study time.

Well, up step the fantastic website coffitivity.com which enables you to play background coffeeshop noise on your computer whilst you’re studying.

You can’t order a Cafe Latte or Cappuccino but in my opinion it’s a great tool for those who like to study with a non intrusive background noise.

It’s also excellent for people who don’t have any friends to go to the coffee shop with.

Who are you sat next to?

Published on: 20 Aug 2017

If you’re in the office at the moment take a look at the person next to you. Would you say that he or she is a “good worker” or a “toxic neighbour”?

A recent bit of research by economists from Harvard Business School has shed some light on the type of person you should be sitting next to.

If you’re an “average worker” and you sit next to a hard working and diligent person then your performance is likely to improve.

Unfortunately though the opposite is true and if you’re an average person who sits next to somebody who isn’t very good at their job then that badly performing person could well take you down to their level.

The researchers studied data from seating plans and reports from over 2,000 employees. The performance of these employees was rated based on the time they spent to complete a task as well as quality and effectiveness. Their efficiency was based on how often they had to ask for help.

One of the interesting bits of the research was finding out whether when a person sat next to a high performing individual that person’s performance improved because they learnt from the better performing individual or they were inspired by him or her.

When the research team split these people back up again the average worker’s performance reverted back to the average level rather than stay at the high performing level. This implied that the improvement was not due to learning new skills but instead was due to being inspired by the good worker.

When it comes to sitting next to a “toxic employee” who doesn’t perform, the bad news is that the negativity rubs off on the good employee almost immediately.

So it may well be worth trying to sit next to the stars of the office rather than the toxic ones

A quick word of warning though and if the person you sit next to has recently asked their boss to move away from you asap then the chances are that you aren’t the star of the office but instead are…

Is this for real?

Published on: 09 Aug 2017

If you buy a Chelsea or Manchester United football shirt and it turns out to be a fake it can be annoying but if you buy medicines and they turn out to be fakes it could be a lot worse as it could kill you.

Illegal copies and fakes of products are one of the big problems facing businesses today (£300 billion is the estimated size of the global counterfeit market) but some scientists have recently developed what they believe could be a cheap solution to the problem.

The technology is currently being developed by a company called Quantum Base and in simple terms involves placing an extremely small microdot onto the product which gives off a unique light signature.

The microdot is really small and I do mean really small – it’s a tiny flake of atoms which is a thousandth of the width of a human hair. Not only will it be impossible for a human to see but it will be unique. The flake of atoms which will make up the microdot will be unique and cannot be cloned. They will be placed on the product at the production facilities and then the atomic structures will be recorded on a database.

The technique for preventing fake products is that when an individual buys a product such as medicine or designer clothes they can scan their phone over the label and an app on their phone will identify the light source from the atomic structure on the microdot and send it to the database to confirm whether or not it is on the database.

If it is on the database, it’s genuine. If it’s not, it’s fake.

An excellent way of identifying whether the product you are buying is real or fake.

As mentioned, the technology is still be developed and made ready for the market by Quantum Base but it looks very promising in terms of helping to eradicate the problem of fake products.

George Clooney and $1 billion

Published on: 06 Aug 2017

How do you make $1 billion in 4 years?

Well, the answer is fairly straight forward if you come up with a good idea and have some good friends.

I guess it also helps if you are the famous actor George Clooney…

Mr Clooney and two of his friends – Rande Gerber (the husband of super model Cindy Crawford) and Mike Meldman the property tycoon – reportedly used to play golf together and had properties on a golf development called Casamigos (meaning House of Friends in English).

Playing golf wasn’t the only thing that they did together as friends as they also used to drink tequila. The problem was that they found that the tequila they drank was of mixed quality. Some was good but at the other extreme some was pretty bad.

It was reported that Mr Clooney suggested that they create their own tequila which “didn’t burn going down, that was super smooth and … that we could drink all day long and not be hungover in the morning”.

As a result of that idea, back in 2013 they set up a business producing Casamigos tequila and it’s done pretty well. So well in fact that the drinks giant Diageo has purchased the business for $1 billion split between a $700 million initial payment and $300 million over the next 10 years depending on performance.

Given that only 120,000 cases of the Casamigos tequila were sold last year, that’s a big figure but Diageo are obviously looking to scale up sales it up to a global audience (so far Casamigos has been targeted at the North American market).

Either way, it’s a good return for Mr Clooney and his friends and I’m sure they toasted the sale with a shot or two of tequila.

Then again, maybe they decided to celebrate with champagne and we’ll see a George Clooney champagne in a few years’ time…

Gin and whose tonic?

Published on: 24 Jul 2017

Drinking a lot of gin may not be good for you but it looks as though it is good for the tax authorities.

There’s been a change in the drinking habits of people in the UK.

Gin is suddenly very fashionable, especially the flavoured gin made by smaller distilleries. Last year 40 new gin distilleries opened up in the UK bringing the total distilleries crafting gin to 273.

This has made the tax man very happy. The reason he is happy is that there is a very high rate of VAT and Duty on hard spirits such as Gin compared to less alcoholic drinks such as beer and cider. VAT and Duty on a bottle of Gin accounts for more than 75% of the cost of that bottle and with designer gins such as Death’s Door gin retailing at £55 then that’s a pretty good return for the tax authorities.

This increase in demand for gin has resulted in duty receipts from spirit sales overtaking duty receipt from beer sales last year for the first time.

In 2016 the tax authorities collected over £11 billion from alcohol sales which is an equivalent amount to what a 2p increase in income tax would create.

So, they you go, the next time you wake up in the morning with a hang over from drinking too much gin at least you’ll know that the money you spent has proved a tonic for the government and helped increase their tax receipts.

What was Roger Federer wearing?

Published on: 17 Jul 2017

Roger Federer became arguably the greatest ever male tennis player when he won a record 8th Wimbledon title by beating Marin Cilic but did you see what he was wearing?

Now, I’m not talking about his shoes, shorts or top but rather something less associated with the sport of tennis.

Sponsorship is big business for the top sports stars and as far as Mr Federer goes he’s doing pretty well when it comes to sponsorship. Forbes named him as the world’s highest paid tennis player last year when his prize winnings and sponsorship deals earned him over £50 million.

Winning Wimbledon was a good opportunity for Federer to add to his earnings (the prize money for winning Wimbledon was £2.2 million this year) but it was also a good opportunity for the sponsors to be associated with such a successful person (and of course hope that people will buy more of their products!)

Federer has a number of sponsors ranging from Nike to Credit Suisse but back to what he was wearing though and did you notice the watch that he wasn’t wearing during the match but was wearing when he was presented with the trophy?

Another of his sponsors is the Swiss Watch Manufacturer Rolex and after Federer won the match he quickly put his £6,000 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust II onto his wrist before the presentation.

The end result was no doubt a very happy Rolex company whose watch was on the front pages of all the newspapers.

Some great publicity for the company.

Will we see this trend for tennis players putting designer watches on before they are presented with a trophy expand to other sports?

Will we see the captain of the winning team at next year’s football World Cup wearing a watch when he lifts the trophy??

The battery is going on my phone…

Published on: 12 Jul 2017

Do you have a phone?

My guess is that most of you own a mobile phone.

Now, if you look at your phone is it a Vertu branded phone?

Probably not.

Most of you will own a Samsung, Apple or Nokia. Some of these phones aren’t cheap – the latest top of the range Apple iPhone for example retails at over £900.

But if you’re holding a Vertu branded phone then the chances are that it cost a lot more than the top of the range iPhone.

Some of the Vertu range of phones were on sale for £40,000 a few years ago. That’s a lot of money for a phone. It was a luxury brand aimed at ultra-high net worth individuals who would be willing to spend more than the cost of a new Porsche Cayman sports car on a phone.

Perhaps surprisingly it did rather well a few years ago. In 2007, it generated £150 million of sales.

Perhaps unsurprisingly though, there weren’t that many individuals with “more money than sense” who were willing to pay that amount of money for a phone. The company has had a rough ride over recent years as it’s hard to justify paying £40,000 for a phone that has been criticised in a number of areas. The Financial Times were quoted for example as saying the Vertu phones were “technologically modest”.

After originally being set up by Nokia in the 1990s with the strategic aim of building a niche market of hand made luxury phones it was sold to a Hong Kong hedge fund manager for €45 million in 2015.

In March of this year it was then sold to a Turkish businessman for €1 (he agreed to take on the company’s debt of €13 million as part of the deal).

Unfortunately though things have got worse and the company has recently gone into receivership after running out of money to pay staff and suppliers.

An interesting case study which appears to prove that being expensive by itself isn’t sufficient to make a differentiation strategy successful.

Interviewed by a robot…

Published on: 29 Jun 2017

The majority of you have no doubt attended an interview for a job at some stage. Some of you have also probably done the interviewing.

If you have interviewed somebody, how many interviews would you say you would be able to do before you started to lose concentration?

Well my guess is that you wouldn’t be able to do as many as this interviewer can and whilst this particular interviewer won’t be able to ask any difficult questions, one thing it can do for sure is process far more information than you or I could.

Vodafone has begun using artificial intelligence (AI) to screen people applying for jobs at their call centres and shops.

Candidates looking for a job with Vodafone have to record a video of themselves answering questions from a standard questionnaire. These videos are then reviewed by robots. OK, not real robots but computers which have been programmed with advanced algorithms which can assess the candidate’s suitability for the job by way of analysing facial cues and voice intonation.

If candidates get through this scrutiny by the computer then they are put forward for interview by humans.

Vodafone has been using this technology significantly and it was reported in the Times newspaper that about 50,000 applicants have already gone through this AI procedure.

That’s an impressive number and a significant amount of time has been saved by using machines instead of humans. Catalina Schveninger, Vodafone’s head of resourcing was quoted as saying “It takes a tremendous amount of time out of the hiring process: it halves the time and allows us to fish from a much bigger pool”. Ms Schveninger went on to say that “We are the first multinational implementing a programme like this on a global scale. This is the future of resourcing”.

I wonder though whether the AI includes the ability for the computers to detect that you are stretching the truth when you answer the question about “What are your weaknesses?” by saying that you are too hard working and too much of a perfectionist…

Gentlemen, you’ve got 55 seconds to beat your best…

Published on: 22 Jun 2017

One of life’s great mysteries for men when they are at a bar or club is why women always seem to go to the ladies “powder room” in groups.

There could soon be an equally mysterious occurrence that women will puzzle over and that is why men will soon disappear to the “gents” together during a social evening out.

Well, it won’t be to adjust their makeup or to catch up on the local gossip.

No, if UK company Captive Media has anything to do with it the visits to the toilet by men could soon be a great marketing opportunity.

It’s been estimated that on a night out a man spends on average 55 seconds relieving himself each time he visits the urinals in the gents (if you ever saw a person with a clipboard and a stopwatch behind you at the urinals now you know why…)

In the eyes of Captive Media this represents a great advertising opportunity as rather than staring blankly at the wall in front of you (or telling the person with the clipboard and stopwatch to go away) they have developed a urinal-based games console which allows men to, how can we say it but aim and shoot at targets with their “stream”.

The games are mixed with adverts and include for example a downhill skiing game which is controlled by your “stream”.

It remains to be seen what products will be advertised in this way but one thing for sure ladies is that if your boyfriend or husband returns from the gents whilst you’re out together on a social evening and he says that he’s just beaten his personal best then you know what it refers to.

Was this an Innocent transaction by Coke?

Published on: 16 Jun 2017

“Smoothie drinks” have become very fashionable over recent years.

Smoothies are drinks made out of crushed fruit and are seen as a healthy alternative to carbonated drinks such as Coke or Pepsi.

Perhaps the most famous smoothie manufacturer in the UK is Innocent Smoothies. The business was set up in 1999 by three friends who famously gave up their jobs to start the business after they invested £500 on fruit and turned it into smoothies and sold them at a music festival. The business has grown since then and been a true success story.

The brand has a “quirky, playful” image as well as promoting itself to be ethically aware (it donates 10% of its profits to charity).

So, what has Coca-Cola got to do with all of this? Porter’s 5 Forces strategy model is well known to students of professional exams. See our free ExPress notes for more details but one of the forces concerns “substitute products”.

If a 5 forces analysis is done on for example the traditional Coca-Cola carbonated drink then a substitute product would be a smoothie. There is a general trend in a lot of countries towards healthier living and the threat of a substitute product such as a smoothie could be seen as a threat.

In 2009 Coca-Cola bought an 18% stake in Innocent for £30 million and then in the following year increased its shareholding to 58% for a reported £65 million. They then increased their shareholding to over 90% for an undisclosed sum. From a Porter’s 5 forces point of view this is a good move as it means that one of the substitute products is now within the Coke family.

There has been a fair amount of discussion since the aquisition about whether Innocent is still the ethical likeable  “under dog” that it was given that it is now part of one of the biggest companies in the world.

One thing is for sure though and whilst it was certainly an Innocent transaction it was also definitely a well thought out strategic acquisition.

The ExP Group