When is an ice cream not an ice cream?

It sounds like the start of a riddle but there’s an important underlying message. Namely, organisations should be monitoring the environment they are operating in to see if any changes could be impacting on their business.

A classic model for analysing the impact the external environment can have on an organisation is the PESTEL model. Those of you that are thinking of studying for your professional exams will possibly be thinking that it stands for Parties, Eating, Sleeping, Talking, Entertaining and Laughing but if you’ve passed your exams then you are probably more comfortable with the fact that it stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal.

Whilst all the components of this model can be important, one area which is particularly topical is the “social” component.

Within the social component one change which a lot of countries are currently seeing is people’s increased health awareness and the increase in demand for vegetarian (no meat) and vegan (no meat or dairy) food.

Ben & Jerry’s is one of the world’s leading ice cream companies and they no doubt have a very sophisticated approach to monitoring the environment. One of the more impressive things they’ve done over the last couple of years is to launch some new products which will appeal to the vegan market.

If you are a vegan, then you don’t eat meat or dairy products and whilst you are unlikely to find an ice cream made out of chicken you are extremely likely to find an ice cream made out of milk.

Ben & Jerry’s though have nicely got around this problem by launching a number of flavours of vegan ice cream.

“How can they be vegan if they are ice cream?” I hear you say.

Well, the vegan ice creams are made with almond milk as opposed to dairy milk. Now technically that means they are frozen desserts and not ice cream but I can’t see any vegan being particularly upset about that.

The non dairy range has recently expanded in the UK and Ben & Jerry’s have just launched their first coconut flavoured vegan ice cream.

It’s called “Coconutterly Caramel’d” and blends coconut-flavoured ice cream with ribbons of caramel, Fair Trade chocolate, and cookies.

“Coconut ice cream, caramel, chocolate and cookies” – I don’t know about you but just reading that description makes me feel peckish.

Should you employ good looking people?

Should you employ good-looking people or not so good-looking people?

Whilst the obvious answer would appear to be that it doesn’t matter what a person looks like as long as they can do their job properly, researchers in Japan have found out that the attractiveness of an employee can have an impact on the sales of a business.

Interestingly though, it’s probably not the correlation most people would think applies.

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong studied retail sales in shops and found that the more attractive the shop assistants of the opposite sex were, the lower the sales were. The researchers found that male shoppers were less likely to go into the shop if the more attractive woman in the research study was serving.

Even if they entered the shop with the attractive shop assistant in it, only 40% of them bought something. This compared to 56% who purchased something when a less attractive assistant was serving.

Lisa Wan of the University said “attractive service providers can lead consumers to become self-conscious or embarrassed. This is especially true when the provider is of the opposite sex. Even when the attractive salesperson is the same sex, consumers may feel a sense of inadequacy through self-comparison.

In either case, the shopper may avoid interacting with physically attractive providers, rendering the salespeople ineffective”.

It’s worth mentioning though that the scientists undertaking the research were monitoring a shop selling figures from Japanese comics and the male shoppers were obsessed with computers.

“Male shoppers obsessed with computers” – surely they would only notice the female shop assistant if she was holding a computer?

(Un) Happy Christmas Mr Orangutan

Advertising can have a dramatic impact on what people buy and in countries which celebrate Christmas, one of the busiest buying seasons is upon us.

It’s traditional in the run up to Christmas in the UK for the big retailers to release a major TV advert. The retailer John Lewis for example has released it’s Christmas advert staring Elton John (who reportedly received a fee of £5 million for his input).

For me though the clear winner in the Christmas adverts is the “Rang tang” advert by the supermarket chain Iceland.

The advert was originally produced by the global charity Greenpeace and highlights the destruction of the rainforest caused by the production of palm oil (palm oil is found in many everyday products ranging from food staples such as bread to cosmetics).

The companies that produce palm oil are cutting down vast amounts of trees and as a result the Orangutan apes are really suffering. In simple terms, their homes are being destroyed and they are dying as they have nowhere to live.

Iceland spent £500,000 on putting the advertising campaign together and have pledged to remove palm oil from all their own brand products.

The advert, which was voiced over by actress Emma Thompson, has run into some problems with Clearcast, the body which approves or rejects television adverts in the UK. They have ruled that it is too political and as a result it has been banned from being shown on television.

The good news for this advert though is that Clearcast don’t regulate social media and the advert has been a hit on Facebook and YouTube.

At the time of writing, the advert had been viewed over 5 million times on YouTube.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d urge you to watch it below as it’s a great advert which raises awareness of an important global issue.

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Legal issues for the Big 4

If you ask a person in the street the question “What do the Big 4 do?”, the chances are that you’ll either get a funny look back or if the person has heard of the Big 4, they will probably say something like “accounting”.

The Big 4 are made up of Deloitte, EY, KPMG and pwc and whilst historically they had a strong accounting focus, nowadays they have a much wider remit and include many more business functions than pure “accounting”.

The legal side of business is playing a bigger part now for the Big 4 and earlier this year EY in the UK purchased Riverview Law, one of the “new breed” of legal firms.

Prior to 2012, law firms in the UK in effect had to be owned by lawyers (ie most law firms were partnerships owned by partners who were lawyers). Since 2012 though the regulators have been licensing non-traditional law firms.

Riverview Law is one of these non-traditional law firms and has built a reputation of being a disrupter in the industry due to its clever use of technology to minimise its overheads and offer clients fixed fees instead of hourly rates.

Cornelius Grossman, EY’s global head of law, was quoted as saying “This acquisition underlines the position of EY as a leading disrupter of legal services. It will provide a springboard for current EY legal managed services offerings and will bolster the capabilities that we can help deliver for EY clients”.

Whilst this expansion into legal services is good news for the Big 4, it’s not so good news for the traditional legal companies. The mid-tier legal firms especially are likely to be under threat from the expansion of the Big 4’s legal offerings.

Don’t sweat your exams

Most people enjoy it when the weather gets warmer. Sunny weather often makes people happier but some recent research indicates that a heatwave may not be good news if you’re taking an exam.

Researchers from Harvard Chan School of Public Health found that students who were exposed to hotter temperatures did significantly less well in cognitive tests than those students who lived in a temperature-controlled environment.

The research involved a group of students who had already been allocated accommodation on campus. Half of the rooms had air conditioning and half didn’t.

The students were followed during a 5-day heatwave where temperatures exceeded 26C.

Before, during and after the heatwave, the students had to perform a number of cognitive tests which measured the speed they processed matters as well as their working memory. The results showed that the scores of these students in the hotter accommodation fell by 13% compared to their colleagues in the air-conditioned temperature stable environment.

The researchers said that it was not clear what was behind the drop in performance during an increase in temperature. It could have been because the brain was working harder on maintaining critical body functions such as thermoregulation or it could have been due to a poorer quality of sleep due to the heat.

Either way, let’s hope it’s not a heatwave the next time you sit an exam…

The 3 person honeymoon and Belbin team roles…

Picture the scene. It’s the first night of your honeymoon. You’ve just married a beautiful Italian Signorina called Marianna. You’re Italian and Italian men have a reputation for being some of the most romantic men in the world.

Now, even though some may say this reputation has largely been self created, there are still certain things you should do on your honeymoon and certain things you should definitely not do on your honeymoon.

Due to Italian privacy laws the individuals concerned can only be identified by their Christian names but what did Stefano do on his honeymoon that led to his new wife divorcing him one month into their marriage?

From a project management point of view there are various tools and techniques that can be used to ensure a project runs smoothly. One of these is to ensure that the team is made up of the right type of person as well as the appropriate number of people.

A well known theory behind what makes a good team is Belbin’s team role models.

In simple terms, Belbin’s theory says that people are born with certain characteristics. Belbin gave names to the different types of people. For example, a “plant” is a person that likes to come up with ideas and is usually quite creative. A “Monitor Evaluator” is somebody with a logical eye who can make impartial judgements.

Back to the one month marriage though and Stefano decided that rather than the traditional 2 person project team that goes on the majority of honeymoons he would make his a 3 person team.

To his wife’s understandable annoyance, Stefano’s 3 person honeymoon team included himself, his new wife and his mother.

The project team first started showing signs of a split when the mother-in-law turned up at the airport for the flight to the honeymoon destination of Paris.

A honeymoon in Paris sounds great until you realise that your mother-in-law is staying in an adjoining room at the hotel you’re staying at and accompanying you to every meal and romantic boat trip along the Seine.

One month after the wedding and Marianna left the marriage home they shared in Rome and returned to her home town of Naples leaving the 39 year old Stefano without a wife.

Maybe Marianna is more of a Belbin’s “Completer Finisher” than Stefan and his mum may have thought.

#problemswithreturns

It’s common knowledge that high street shops are struggling. A number of household names have gone (or are going!) out of business and one of the reasons for this is the rise of online shopping.

But the online stores haven’t got it easy and online clothing stores in particular are facing an emerging threat driven by social media.

A lot of people are reluctant to buy clothes online in case they don’t fit properly. To get around this a number of online stores offer free returns.

This has led an increasing number of people to take advantage of the free returns policy.

By take advantage I mean to order clothes that they have NO intention of keeping. Instead, they want to order the clothes so that they can have their photo taken wearing them and then post those photos on social media sites before returning them free of charge.

Whilst this enables individuals to look super trendy in front of their friends on sites such as Instagram and Facebook, it is proving to be a problem for retailers.

The giant credit / debit card provider Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the UK’s credit and debit card transactions, recently undertook some research which showed the scale of the problem.

The research showed that 9% of online shoppers in the UK had bought clothes online with the aim of wearing them for a photo to post on social media and then returning them. The age group who were the largest culprits were 35 – 44 year olds where the percentage rose to a staggering 17%.

Perhaps surprisingly, men were more likely than women to “snap and send back” (12% of male shoppers compared to 7% of female shoppers).

It’s a major issue for online retailers.

George Allardice, Head of Strategy at Barclaycard Payment Solutions said “It’s interesting to see the social media trend further fuelling the returns culture. We know from our research that returns are having a big impact on retailers, with a huge figure of seven billion pounds a year in sales that they potentially can’t recognise”.

In summary, “snap and send back” equals #bigproblemswithreturns

Step on it…

You probably haven’t heard of Klaus Maertens but I reckon that most of you will have seen what he started.

Klaus was a German soldier who back in 1945 had a broken foot and wanted a boot without the traditional hard sole. Together with his friend Herbert Funk, who was a mechanical engineer, he designed an air cushioned sole which led to the global footwear brand Dr Martens.

Since those early days, the product has had an up and down history. In the 1970s they were very fashionable and sales grew. By the time the early 2000s came around they were having production problems and competition from other similar brands of footwear had increased.

They nearly went out of business but a swing in fashion brought them back on track and in 2013 they were purchased by Permira, the private equity group, for £300 million.

Since then their fortunes have prospered and they recently released their latest set of financials.

Revenue has shot up by 20% to £349 million and earnings were up 14% to £50 million.

Their “Direct To Consumer” (DTC) channels are doing very well and now represent 40% of their total revenue. DTC is where the products are sold directly to the consumers and not via an intermediary such as an independent shoe shop.

Dr Marten’s store count has increased by 25 to 94 and the new stores show the global reach of the brand (9 in the UK, 7 in mainland Europe, 3 in New York and 3 in Japan).

Kenny Wilson, CEO of Dr. Martens said: “Dr. Martens has delivered another outstanding year. We are an iconic brand that does things in our own unique, disruptive way and that is unifying our consumers across the globe. The business’ investment in our DTC channels, both in terms of retail stores and E-commerce, is bearing fruit, and these will remain priority channels for us.”

All in all, Dr Martens seem to be putting their best foot forward.

A nice snappy idea…

The Carlsberg Group is one of the oldest brewing groups in the world. They were established way back in 1847 and their portfolio of products include Tuborg, Baltika and of course, Carlsberg.

They sell a lot of beer and their products are sold in more than 150 markets.

The “6 pack” is synonymous with beer and no, I’m not talking about the 6 pack on the beer drinkers abs. Rather, I’m talking about the 6 pack of beer that people can buy from shops.

One unfortunate problem with the 6 pack is that the cans are held together with a plastic wrapping. With so many 6 packs being sold around the world that means a lot of plastic is used.

People are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental damage that plastic is doing and Carlsberg have come up with a pretty innovative solution to reducing plastic on their 6 packs.

They have introduced what they call a “snap pack”.

In the snap pack the cans of beer are held together by glue rather than plastic wrapping. The cans of beer can be “snapped off”.

This saves a significant amount of plastic – according to Carlsberg this equates to reducing plastic waste by more than 1,200 tonnes a year. That’s a huge amount and is the equivalent of 60 million plastic bags.

Bo Oksnebjerg, Secretary General in WWF Denmark, was quoted as saying “Our wildlife is drowning in plastic – and the problem is unfortunately growing considerably. We therefore need to act now. We need less plastic to end up in nature. That is why we consider it huge progress that Carlsberg is now launching solutions that significantly reduce the amount of plastic in its packaging. With these new solutions, Carlsberg has taken the first big steps on the journey towards a more clean and green future.”

Nice work Carlsberg and I’ll drink to that. Or should I say, I’ll snap one off and drink to that…

How to impress over a business lunch…

Picture the scene. You’ve got an important business lunch coming up. You want to make a good impression on the person you are meeting with. What should you eat for lunch?

A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has some interesting findings which indicate that if you have an important business lunch, there are various benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress.

Scientists from the University of Chicago studied nearly 500 people to identify whether eating the same food helped them agree in negotiations.

The researcher’s conclusion was that people who are served the same food are more likely to trust each other, smooth out problems and make deals.

As part of the study, participants in the research were told to imagine they were “investors” who had to decide whether to invest in funds operated by their “fund manager” eating partners. The researchers found that those people who were served similar food invested more money.

Another interesting finding in the study was the link between food consumption and the effectiveness of advertising. The authors said that “consumers are more trusting of information about non-food products – e.g. a software product – when the advertiser in the product testimonial eats similar food to them”.

Back to the business lunch though and although the research found that there are benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress, I’m not sure that if you’re wearing a nice clean white shirt to the lunch meeting you should necessarily follow the other person in ordering that “tricky to eat tidily spaghetti with the sloppy tomato sauce”…