You can remove this barrier to entry but it may well kill you…

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Any organisation that can create a barrier to entry which prevents new competitors entering the market can, in theory, keep prices high.

Economies of scale (think Airbus or Boeing), branding (think Apple) and distribution channels (think Coke) are all excellent examples of barriers to entry but one of the toughest barriers to break through are government licenses.

If a licence is needed to operate in that industry then that is the ultimate barrier. After all, without the license the company can’t operate.

Japan is the home of sushi and as you would expect some of the top sushi restaurants can be found in Tokyo.

Sushi is fish and we all know that fish is healthy for you. It may come as a surprise then that one particular sushi delicacy in Japan could end up killing you rather quickly if it is prepared incorrectly.

Certain parts of the poisonous blowfish are considered by many to be the ultimate in sushi. It tastes gorgeous although to be honest I’ve never tried it so I’m taking somebody else’s word for this.

I’ve never tried it because I’ve never had the opportunity although even if I did have the opportunity I would have a few doubts. The reason is that as well as the edible parts of the fish, some of the organs of the fish are filled with poison called tetrododoxin which is more deadly than cyanide.

Now, if you’re eating blowfish then one thing for sure is that you want the chef to know what he or she is doing. You don’t want them making a little slip of the knife and including by mistake some of the poison as before you have a chance to say “does this fish taste a bit funny to you?” you would be on your way to a quick death.

The Japanese government have therefore heavily regulated this part of the sushi industry and there are only a handful of locations that have a licence to prepare and serve blowfish.

In October though new laws are coming into place which remove the need for a licence (or to use business strategy terminology, remove a barrier to entry).

So the good news for anyone that fancies trying some of the blowfish is that it’s likely to become a bit cheaper after October. The question though is whether price will be the key decision making factor when people are deciding to eat a meal which if prepared incorrectly could quickly kill you…

Is this segmentation or discrimination?

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The banking profession has had it pretty rough over the last few years. Whether you refer to it as the credit crunch, the liquidity crisis or the banking crisis it’s been tough for the banks and a number of banks have had to be rescued by government funds.

There’s also a lot of competition between the banks and a French based bank, Societe Generale, has attempted to win new customers by introducing an innovative product targeted at a particular segment of the market.

In simple terms segmenting the market is ….. wait for it ….. splitting it into ….. wait for it ….. segments (not the most detailed explanation in the world but hopefully it gets the point across!).

These individual segments can then be targeted using the marketing mix (the 4 Ps).

See if you can guess which segment of the market Societe General are targeting with their pink and gold coloured “Pour Elle” bank card.

First of all if you understand French then the name of the bank card may give you a few hints but if not then two of the main items within the “Product” component of the mix are:

1. Handbag theft insurance of up to Euro 200 and

2. A hotline where card holders can call out an electrician, locksmith or handyman free of charge twice a year.

Yes, the new bank card seems to be well and truly targeted towards French male accountants the female segment of the market.

A nice move by the bank but surely this is discrimination as what’s to stop a man wanting handbag insurance or being able to call out an electrician?

Well the good news for any men out there that are interested in these things then there’s no discrimination as the card is available to both men and women and in fact it’s been reported that approximately 5% of the holders of the “Pour Elle” bank card are men.

Would you have been quick enough to think of this?

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Sometimes people can be in the office and come up with a great idea. Whoever it was that came up with this idea at the Fiat office in Sweden should in my opinion get a bonus.

There are creative guys in many offices but my feeling is that what happened below was more of a “thought of on the spot” idea rather than a project that was planned weeks ahead.

The Google “Street View” website is a great site and enables people to (as the name suggests!) see the street view of many locations around the world.

The panoramic photos on the site are taken by special Google Street View cars that have roof mounted cameras on them.

Over in Scandinavia it looks like a creative individual at the Fiat offices in Sweden saw that a Google Street car was in the area and followed it before getting ahead of it and quickly stopping outside the main entrance to their rivals, Volkswagen.

Anyone who currently does a search on Google Street view for Volkswagen Sodertalje offices in Sweden will see an image of a lovely red Fiat 500 parked right outside the main entrance to the Swedish Volkswagen offices.

Brilliant! A great bit of creative thinking and guerrilla marketing by Fiat.

To be honest it’s probably pretty good for Volkswagen as well. After all, there are now no doubt more people who have seen the image of their offices in Sweden than would have been the case if a Volkswagen was parked outside instead of a shiny new red Fiat 500.

If you’re a single lady, should you get a red car?

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Despite car companies spending millions on R&D and new product launches one of the first questions people tend to ask if you say you’ve bought a new car is “what colour is it?”

Up until recently the most likely answer to that question would have been “silver”.

However, after 10 years at the top of the popularity car colour charts silver has fallen to the number 2 position.

The most popular car colour according to leading transportation coatings company, PPG Industries, is now white.

According to their figures 21% of this year’s new cars across the globe have been finished in white.

There are however some regional differences. Namely:

Asia/Pacific – silver 25%, white 23% and black 17%

Europe – black 26%, white 19% and silver 16%

North America – white 20%, silver 19% and black 18%

According to a PPG survey, more than 75% of car buyers said exterior colour was a factor in their purchase decision but as the above figures show though there doesn’t appear to be a huge variety in colours with the 3 main colours of white, black and silver dominating.

But what about the colour red though? After all, our ExP logo has a big red dot in the middle so we like the colour red.

Well, an interesting study in the European Journal of Social Psychology has identified that if a lady wants to make herself more attractive to men then she should consider wearing more red colours.

The study concludes that

“In two experiments, we investigate an analogous effect in humans, specifically, whether red on a woman’s shirt increases attraction behavior in men. In Experiment 1, men who viewed an ostensible conversation partner in a red versus a green shirt chose to ask her more intimate questions. In Experiment 2, men who viewed an ostensible interaction partner in a red versus a blue shirt chose to sit closer to her

No doubt the marketeers are already onto this so does this mean that we’ll now see car companies starting to promote red cars for single ladies?

Would it make the news if you lost your laptop and mobile phone? It would certainly be a risk…

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Some people have a lot of free time.  Some of them use it for recreational purposes and others use it to make requests to UK government bodies under the Freedom of Information Act.

An interesting Freedom of Information Act discovery that was recently published on, perhaps surprisingly, the BBC news website is that BBC staff lost laptops, mobile phones and similar devices last year to the value of £241,019.  That is really rather a lot of laptops.

The fact that somebody saw fit to make the request of the BBC shows how diverse the Corporation’s stakeholders can be and how surprisingly interested seemingly external or unconnected stakeholders can be.  Having to admit to losing property that ultimately belongs to the public of such a high value doesn’t do much for reputation.

Using the TARA (transfer, avoid, reduce, accept) framework for risk management much beloved of the ACCA Paper P1 examiner, an appropriate response to this risk might be to try to “reduce” it.  This is because it is something that is likely to happen, but would probably be assumed to have limited impact on the business.

However, if something changes, such as the introduction of legislation that allows the public to obtain answers to questions that the BBC would really probably prefer weren’t asked, the reputational damage risk may become greater.  This would then lift the TARA response to “avoid”, since the impact on the business would now be high and probability high.  This may mean that the policy changes from providing smartphones for staff to requiring them to buy their own and pay part of their bill in expenses.

It’s just a little illustration of how stakeholders can have surprising effects on a business.

So then, do you know where your laptop and smartphone are right now?  Go check.

Is it better to spend a penny or save a pound?

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Love them or hate them but low cost airlines such as Ryan Air and EasyJet are here to stay.

Since low cost airlines entered the airline industry 20 odd years ago they have shaken up the industry.

Easyjet for example now carry more passengers than any other UK airline and the Irish airline Ryanair long ago surpassed the Irish national carrier Aer Lingus in terms of revenue and passenger numbers.

These airline’s business models are classic no-frills low cost models where passengers don’t pay a lot but in return don’t get a lot.

In effect they only get the flight and they have to pay for everything else. Ryanair passengers for example that don’t print out their boarding card at home are charged the princely sum of £40 to have it printed at the airport.

There are reports though that Ryanair are considering taking the no-frills approach to a new level.

To keep the cost of training crew and maintaining spares at a minimum, Ryanair only have one type of plane – a Boeing 737-800. This model of plane has 3 toilets on board but Ryanair want to remove 2 of these toilets so that they can fit an extra 6 seats on the plane. This will then free up space for 6 more fee paying passengers.

Their existing capacity on their standard plane is 189 so removing 2 toilets will raise their passenger capacity by 3%.

Ryanair have reportedly said that the additional revenue generated by this extra passenger capacity could result in the average price of a flight ticket being reduced by £2. There would of course no doubt be extra profit for them as well from these extra passengers.

This extra revenue for them would be pretty good but if you look at it from another viewpoint there could be some uncomfortable logistical issues on board.

With 195 passengers and 6 crew all sharing the one toilet there could be a fairly long queue of people going down the aisle of the plane waiting for the toilet to be freed up.

The risk of a certain type of mid-air accident will no doubt increase although the real worry of course is if you see both pilots at the back of the queue hoping up and down with their legs crossed…

Look on the bright side. At least it smells nice…

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Have you ever dropped a cup of coffee at work? What about spilling a glass of water?

Maybe a more interesting question to ask a forklift truck driver that (currently) works for the Kerry Logistics in Australia is “have you ever dropped a container full of 462 cases of a customer’s wine that were worth £664,000 and all the bottles were smashed?”

Unfortunately for this unlucky forklift truck driver the answer is yes.

The container held 2010 Mollydooker Velvet Glove Shiraz bottles of wine produced by winemaker Sparky Marquis which sell for £122 each.

Mr Marquis told reporters that he was “gut wrenched” that the wine bottles had been smashed. The container held one third of his winery’s annual production and was destined for delivery to the United States.

There are two important business lessons to be learnt from this.

Firstly, always make sure that valuable items are insured. Sensibly the wine was insured so the winemaker won’t be out of pocket.

Secondly, there’s no harm in having a sense of humour.

Mr Marquis was quoted as saying that when the logistics company opened up the container “they said it was like a murder scene.” With a touch of classic Australian humour he added “but it smelled phenomenal”

Author Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote “Wine is bottled poetry”.

I can imagine the words that came out of the forklift driver’s mouth when the container was dropped were anything but poetry.

Can a bottle of Coke save a child’s life?

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Coca-Cola is one of the worlds’s largest companies and is certainly one of the best known global brands.

The company is good at lots of things and one thing they are extremely good at is working with their bottlers and managing the Coke distribution channel.

Coke-CSR-exampleAfter all, the distinctive Coke bottles and cans can be seen in shops in all corners of the world. They certainly can get their products to the distribution outlets.

I came across a report the other day involving an inspirational person called Simon Berry.

Simon spent some time working in Zambia as an aid worker and quickly spotted that one of the major causes of death amongst children in that area was from diarrhoea. It’s a shocking statistic but in some countries, 1 in 9 children die before their 5th birthday from simple preventable causes such as dehydration from diarrhoea.

The sad thing is that there is a relatively cheap and easy cure for this life taking disease. A simple mix of oral rehydration salts and zinc supplements can provide the appropriate immediate nutritional and hydrating fluid that is necessary to save a child’s life.

The big problem though is that this cheap and easy cure isn’t in the remote villages that need them.

Simon and his team started looking into ways of getting the life saving medicine to the remote villages that needed them.

A fantastic solution has been identified. Namely, to produce the medicine in packets that would fit into the spaces between the bottles in the Coke crates. As a result, the medicine can be delivered alongside the Coke bottles without taking up any additional space (and hence without increasing the cost of transporting the Coke).

The photo above shows a father and his lovely daughter together with one of the specially designed anti-diarrhoea kits that fit into a Coke crate.

In my opinion this is an absolutely brilliant idea – life saving medicine being delivered via Coke’s world class distribution channel without taking any additional space up on the delivery trucks. A great partnership between the commercial sector and the Not-for-Profit sector where all parties win.

The idea is currently being piloted in Zambia and more details can be found at colalife.org.

Congratulations to all concerned for such a great project.

Is your corporate logo truly global or does is only stretch to cover a single continent?

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104 years ago Theodor Tobler and Emil Baumann invented the chocolate bar Toblerone. The name is a play on the names “Tobler” and “Torrone”, the Italian word for honey and almond nougat.

tobleroneIt is one of the most recognizable brands in the world and anyone that has travelled through a major airport will almost certainly have seen the famous chocolate bar produced by Kraft Foods for sale in one of the duty free outlets.

One of the most important aspects of a successful brand is the logo.

The Toblerone logo is well known but do you see an animal hidden inside it?

Toblerone originated in Bern, Switzerland – a city whose name is rumored to mean, “City of bears”. Look at the logo again closely and you will find a bear facing to the right and stood on its hind legs.

Although I’m biased I love the ExP logo. According to the designers it is fresh, sharp, simple and easy to remember. Also, the “ExP Man” in the middle emphasises the people aspect of the business.

It’s great but there is another logo which I think is extremely clever.

If you look at the Yoga Australia Logo what do you see?

At first glance the logo may look like a simple picture of a woman doing her yoga exercise but if you look at it carefully the body posture is creating the Australia Map.

A great design and thankfully I didn’t pose for it as the map would have looked like a crumpled mess.

Forget your Gucci handbag, you’ll just be scratching the surface…

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We all know that the pharmaceuticals industry is big business.

The industry is facing considerable challenges however, with a large proportion of the “blockbuster” drugs due to come off patent in the next few years.

risk-exampleDrug companies are all too aware that they might well need a big breakthrough soon in order to sustain their historical levels of shareholder return.

A lesser known threat to the industry, and more direct threat to us individually, is the rapid growth in fake prescription drugs.  Patents protect a patent holder against a legitimate business from copying their product.  It’s not much use against criminality.

Fake Gucci handbags may be an annoyance to Gucci, but nobody dies when they are purchased.  Fake drugs can be sufficiently dissimilar to the real product to allow diseases to build up resistance to the genuine drug.  An overdose may be fatal in the short-term; an under-dose may be fatal in the longer-term.

So there’s a significant incentive for all concerned to maintain integrity in the production and logistics chain that gets the genuine drugs to those in need.  Countries where prescription drug usage is culturally common and poorer countries are probably most at risk.

A Ghanaian company, mPedigree, has come up with an ingenious and simple solution.  Working in conjunction with bona fide drugs manufacturers, it assigns a code to each packet of pills.  This is then added to the box, in the form of a scratch card.

When customers buy the product, they scratch off the scratchcard style covering on the box and then send a free text message / sms with that code.  If the product’s codes are genuine, a text message is immediately sent back to verify their authenticity.  If not, the customer knows that they have just been sold a potentially dangerous dud.

Of course, there will be risks to this process, such as criminal elements infiltrating the process of allocating codes, but this is a smaller risk to contain than the wider risk of fake drugs, but this is a process that an auditor could even give an assurance opinion on.

Given the worldwide very high penetration of mobile phones and the cheapness of text messages, this is a fascinating solution to a big problem.  Maybe in future it could be refined to also warn if drugs are genuine but beyond their sell by date (time expired drugs can also become dangerously lacking in efficacy).

What a wonderful, simple idea.