Friday, July 1, 2022

We are the supply chain problem.

We can’t go a day without hearing, or sharing our own story, about a seemingly simple purchase that is taking eons to arrive, an impatience that has heightened in a next-day culture.

In casual conversations we hear people cite the cause as having something to do with lazy workers, politicians, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, or myriad other heard-then-repeated explanations.

Turns out, we are the problem: Our business models, our disconnected systems, our labor practices, our personal shopping choices. We are the forces straining the system.

That’s why this WSJ video is so fascinating. It starts with the sobering truth, that global demand is greater than what supply chains can handle. From there it unpacks the thorny thicket of disconnected problems raging through the system – i.e., through factories, ocean shipping, ports, trucking, and distribution centers – all made worse by rapid changes in DTC business models and the resulting shift in consumer shopping behavior.

And, spoiler alert, this story might not have a happy ending. Our supply chains may be forever strained without a massive rethink of how we solve – and connect– the problems.

For those of us who don't have time to binge a 54 minute video, here are some key highlights:

Supply Chains scaled down when Covid hit (e.g., capacity, inventories, labor, etc), expecting that global consumer demand would contract.  It didn’t. 

Shipping ports are a fragile point of failure. Our ports, most notably the Port of Long Beach here in the US), represent a singular intersection of the problems spanning ocean shipping, trucking, labor and consumer demand. 

We don’t have enough truckers in the US.  Nearly 10M people have a CDL license yet only 3.5M are driving. Why? They are poorly paid (new drivers barely earn minimum wage), are seldom home, and work 14+ hour days. 

Seismic changes in consumer behavior, acclerated by eCommerce and DTC models, are further straining supply chains, which must now deliver more products to specific addresses instead of mass deliveries to fewer big box stores. And as we know, more and more consumers embraced online shopping during the pandemic 

Distribution centers experience high employee burn-out. People working at these fast-paced, always-on distribution centers experience work-related injuries at a rate that’s nearly double coal mining, construction, and most manufacturing industries. (Turnover at many of Amazon’s distribution centers exceeds 100%.) 

We have a shortage of last-mile delivery drivers.  These are the drivers that more often than not are working for delivery partners subcontracted by Amazon and others. (This is why Amazon started its own package delivery company, which will in time be the largest parcel delivery company in the US.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Are EVs in the dial-up phase?

Several comments on my x-country EV roadtrip travelogues questioned whether the growth in the charging network can possibly keep up with increasing EV sales (a question also posed in this CNBC article).

This is where the lesson from Moore's Law comes in handy: We should expect battery capacity and range to increase exponentially, concurrent with network growth.

There was a time when the internet was shiny and new that we connected to it via dial-up. (If you're old enough, you'll undoubtedly remember the noises your modem made and how loooooooong it took to connect!) Back then we had no clue about the next-gen technologies – connectivity accelerants such as Broadband, Bluetooth, WiFi – that would soon emerge and radically change how we'd access the web.

The point? It's risky to predict the future based on today's technologies and infrastructure.

Monday, June 6, 2022

X-Country in an EV: Day 5...the home stretch!

Today is Day 5 – and the home stretch! – of my x-country drive in an EV. 

I set out to see firsthand if “range anxiety” is a valid pain-point that will stop broader EV adoption.  After five days driving from Detroit to SoCal in my Mustang Mach-E, EV range and the ability to easily recharge is not a problem. 

Charging stations are everywhere.  

Electrify America and Walmart have partnered well to ensure a fast charger is never out of reach.  (Though there’s so much opportunity to upgrade the CX at the charging stations, as I’ll outline below.)

The connectivity between the FordPass app and my Mach-E’s NAV system is seamless – the app mapped the route and charging stations and sent that itinerary to car’s NAV system.  

Oh yeah, my “fuel” bill is cut by more than half!

But let’s face it:  Driving an EV long distance requires more stops.  

The Mach-E has a 270 miles range, yet I never stretched it to that limit, opting instead to charge every 200 miles or so.  This added time to our trip, but having additional short breaks made the trip less tiring. 

There is so much opportunity to improve the quality of the CX at charging stations.  

I’ll focus on Electrify America, only because, thanks to their network, every single stop I made across the country was at EA, and predominantly at Walmart Supercenters.

Electrify America’s charging stations are well branded, clean and easy to use.  But there are steps they can take to improve the experience and help OEMs scale EV adoption:

Reduce the failure rate:  We typically found two out of eight chargers were not working. That might be an acceptable fail rate, but not if the two that aren’t working are the only two 350 kWh fast chargers.  (To be clear, at no point did we pull in to an EA charging station and not find a working charger.)

Improve night time lighting:  Journey Mapping will likely show that people charging at night find themselves in a remote area of an empty parking lot.  How might EA help people feel secure, perhaps through brighter lighting, a 911 alert button, etc.

Add (and monetize) amenities:  Minimally, vending machines. Ultimately, a waiting lounge with TVs, WiFi, etc.  With eCommerce on the rise, therefore fewer people in the parking lots, I would imagine the shopping center owners will be open to new revenue opportunities. 

For those of you that followed this travelogue, thank you.  I’ll spare you more posts about the EV odyssey.  

Now you’ll just have to suffer through posts about my electric mountain bike.  :)

Sunday, June 5, 2022

X-Country Drive in an EV: What's unfamiliar is actually familiar.

Welcome to Day 4 of our cross-country drive in the Mustang Mach-E.

Austin is in our rear view mirror this morning, destination El Paso.  

A great foodie and music town, Austin remains one of my fav cities in America, bringing back tons of fun memories with Bob and Stuart from when we’d visit our clients at Dell. 

Sarah and I took this southerly route to visit my sister and Tesla-driving brother-in-law, Denise and Steve, who planned a great night at Llama Kid, an off-the-chart delicious Peruvian restaurant.  As an added bonus, Sarah got to spend time with Leah and Craig who were up from Houston for a wedding.  

And as much as Bailey is a great roadtrip companion, it was great to take a break from sleeping in dog-friendly hotels. (Bailey is eyeing me with scorn as I type this…)

Days 2 and 3 took us from Nashville to Dallas, followed by yesterday’s short hop to Austin.

I think I learned more about driving an EV these last two days than I had in the last two months. 

For example, late Friday night, somewhere along the long, dark stretch between Texarkana and Dallas, I experienced for the first time the frightening sight of the LOW BATTERY alert.  My palms started sweating.    

Then I recalled how many times the LOW FUEL alert in my gas-powered car would tell me I had only 50 miles of range left in the tank.  Same with the battery alert – 50 miles left.  The alert came on again at the 25 mile mark, and even though I knew this was simply information and not a dire warning, I was on high alert.  

I know what you ICE lovers are thinking:  “Sure, the range warning lights may be the same, but I have gas stations everywhere.”  True that.  But with the Mach-E, the App and NAV system conspire to get your car to a specific charge station with a pre-determined reserve of battery range.  So far, this hasn’t failed us.  (We made it to the Electrify America charging station in Royse City with 15 miles of range remaining – just as the App and the Mach-E had planned.)

There are other parallels to EV and ICE “fuel economy.”  Want to stretch your range in a gas-powered car?  Well, don’t speed, nor do you accelerate fast or brake hard.  Same in an EV.  

The one difference I encountered was the impact of hilly terrain on EV efficiency.  (Is it different than an ICE vehicle?  Not sure, but I know I hadn’t factored this in). There were parts of Arkansas and the Texas Hill country where the power efficiency dropped. (Our midwest friends will never have to worry about that!)

Now, I do recall in my first post from the road that I promised to talk about the “robots.”  We’ll get to that tomorrow, when we witness Sarah’s first experience with hands-free, autonomous driving.  

That, and what Sarah and I believe was a UFO sighting.  (How’s that for a S1E4 cliff-hanger?)

Friday, June 3, 2022

The Elephant in the EV Room: "Range Anxiety"

 Day 2 of our cross-country drive in the Mach-E.

We made it to Nashville from Detroit, but before launching into EV roadtripping, I have to give a huge shout-out to Nashville – such a beautiful and fun city! As a music lover and writer, I have no clue why I never spent time here. Sarah and I enjoyed great music and hanging with a bunch of aspiring musicians. (Bailey was solely focused on the BBQ.) We will return!
Which brings us to today’s EV update. Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room – “range anxiety.” We made yesterday’s 550 mile drive from Detroit to Nashville with only two stops to recharge, each stop lasting around 35 minutes. EV charging stations are everywhere. Before owning the Mach-E, I never noticed them because, unlike gas stations, they’re not on all four corners of an intersection. Where they are is in your local shopping center parking lot. Electrify America, which has the most ultra-fast DC chargers across the country (ChargePoint has the most

chargers overall) seems to have chosen Walmart as its location of choice. Both charging stops yesterday, as well as today’s upcoming stops from Nashville to Dallas, were at Walmart Supercenters.
Before starting out yesterday I was admittedly worried about range. We packed light to reduce weight in the car; thought we’d have to limit AC usage (which draws on the battery); and drive the speed limit (horrifying!). But in truth, none of that was necessary. The app plans when and where to charge. The car displays current battery range and distance to the next pre-planned charger, leaving nothing to worry about. And if you don’t want to plan ahead, the NAV system finds charging stations as easily as it finds your Latte fix. On the back half of yesterday’s drive I lost all range anxiety and switched the Mach-E into “unbridled” mode. The performance mode didn’t degrade efficiency and range all that much. Today’s leg will be a bit longer as we travel from Nashville to Memphis to Dallas…fully unbridled…with AC turned up to 11. 🙂

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Zen and the art of an EV roadtrip.

I remember the anxiety I had when I cut the cord and switched from Cable TV to streaming.  Could I still watch live sports? Would I get all my favorite programs? Sure enough, with YouTube TV, the answer was a resounding yes to both questions. 

Now I’m cutting a new cord — the gas pump — as I take my new Mustang Mach-E on a cross-country trip.  And like the time I cut Cable TV, I'm experiencing the same questions.  Will it have the range for a long drive?  Will I waste hours recharging along the way?

Well, today is Day 1 on the Mach-E's first ever long distance drive, as we say farewell to Detroit and head to La Quinta. 

For those of you thinking about buying an EV, I’ll be sharing daily posts to help alleviate so-called “range anxiety.”  (Trust me, in pressing the start button this morning, I’m taking a big trust-fall to shed the comfy muscle memory of ICE vehicles.)

Today’s cool feature:  The FordPass app which plans the route and most efficient charge points, then sends the trip plan to the car’s NAV system.  I’m placing my full trust in the robots! (Including the robots that will drive the Mach-E the majority of the trip.  More about them later.)  

PS:  Robert M. Pirsig's book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, had a great impact on me.  His story about growth and discovery while on a long-distance motorcycle ride still resonates with me today.

Bailey loves the “Frunk” where we’re stashing all her worldly possessions, such as kibble & dried sardines.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Navigating the Consumer "Pleasure Revenge"​ – advice from Mark Twain, a Surfer and a Futurist Named Popcorn.

The post-pandemic "Pleasure Revenge" is accelerating consumer spending and a return to pre-Covid behaviors.

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Americans are returning to gyms in big numbers; booking vacations and plane trips; rocking out at concerts; and going to popcorn-scented movie theaters to see Hollywood blockbusters such as Spider-Man.

What the WSJ missed is that we see this same human behavior after every major shock to the national psyche, as well as the inevitable post-exuberance counter-trend...which brings us to Mark Twain, Faith Popcorn and Laird Hamilton.

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes."

Mark Twain told us this would happen.

The national and personal sacrifice endured during WWI was followed by the Roaring Twenties. After WWII, the U.S. economy boomed as Americans bought homes, moved to the suburbs, drove the latest tail-finned beauty from Detroit, and had many, many kids. The economic malaise of the '70s ushered in the 1980s and "Beemer"-driving Yuppies with a voracious appetite for wine, martinis and cigars. And following the severe emotional and economic pain inflicted on 9/11, per capita consumer spending began to steadily climb.

"For every trend, there is a counter-trend."

This "Pleasure Revenge" – popularized by trend expert, Faith Popcorn – taps into a deep human need to soothe pain and maybe even re-exert control over our lives after having had our "normalcy" abruptly taken from us.

But as important as it for businesses to have strategies to profit during the post-crisis Pleasure Revenge, Ms. Popcorn cautions us to think beyond that exuberant period and prepare for the counter-trend, a theme she frequently cites.

What might a counter-trend look like a few years from now? Well, consider that each of those boom periods mentioned above eventually led to an equally large counter-force.

The Roaring Twenties was followed by the Great Depression. The insatiable consumerism of the 1950s and early 60s preceded the economic stagnation of the 1970s. In 1989, Yuppies woke up to Black Monday – their first global economic crisis. The post 9/11 economic growth abruptly crashed in 2008 because of the subprime lending meltdown.

Which brings us to surfing.

"Surfing's one of the few sports that you look ahead to see what's behind."

So what should businesses do? Well, perhaps take inspiration from surfing legend Laird Hamilton. Like a riding a heavy wave, get too far ahead of it and it will crush you; drop in too late and end up nowhere. Timing is everything.

Businesses must invest in products and experiences that satisfy the current unbridled demand and consumer spending.

But as Laird Hamilton advises, be aware of what's following from behind – a big counter trend that may lead to an eventual economic downturn. Best to not invest and expand with a mindset that this frothy consumer spending will never end. It will.

Just ask Mark Twain.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Fear and loathing in Las Vegas - CES 2020

We live in a world in which culture moves at the speed of technology. Each big advancement – the internet, search, mobile, wifi – has liberated us from what had been holding us back.

CES offers marketers a time to sift through the noise and find the signals pointing to how people are feeling and how behavior may change in the near future.

So how are we feeling? Well, it appears we’re more than a tad mistrustful.

The optimism of tech is being overshadowed by its darker side – an increasingly complex algorithm that divides and perpetuates bias; social platforms that allow falsehoods to pose as truth; screens that foster an aversion to making actual human contact.

We don't need to attend CES to know this. What I did take away from CES is that our mistrust extends beyond tech to the world around us. Ironically, we're turning to tech to protect us from the ills we sense in society.

The home and health categories, in particular, conveyed interesting signals about how people are feeling as seen through the lens of a range of consumer segments and brands.

If I were to write the movie trailer for CES, it might read like this: “In a world that feels dangerous, dirty and difficult, a world in which people no longer trust institutions to solve problems, heroes are taking charge to make their world better.”

Here are three signals I observed:

The world feels dangerous, but my home is my personal fortress.

We've all heard the old saying that "my home is my castle." Tech brands are helping us create crocodile-filled moats around our castles. There are more and more “smart locks”, all following the path paved by Ring, featuring key codes, security cameras that can be accessed on our phone, even fingerprint readers.

Tech is also protecting us from “porch pirates.” The Danby Parcel Guard is package locker for our front door, enabling FedEx to place the package in a box that can only be accessed by the homeowner with a personal security code.

Our anxiety around personal safety extends beyond home intrusion and theft. Climate change is is hitting closer and closer to home, with near constant news footage of flooding, hurricane force winds, and fires. Woodside Homes showcased new houses that can better withstand natural disasters through new building techniques and materials. 

A very real anxiety is increasingly felt by an aging population that is confronting the perils of getting old while living alone at home. AddisonCare is a virtual caregiver that monitors activity in the home, medication intake, reads biometrics to create a “safe-health” home. Welt introduced a smart-belt that can anticipate and help prevent falls among older adults.

The world is polluted and dirty, but my home is my personal clean-room.

Clean-tech was everywhere. In-home air purification was a major theme, ranging from wearable air purifiers to a lamp that purifies air in the home.

BreezoMeter provides personalized, hyper-local air quality assessments to give people information to make better decisions about going outside and reducing exposure to polluted air.

Technology is also rescuing us from the bacteria lurking on the many things we touch throughout the day. HomeSoap is a very stylish box that uses UV-C light to disinfect kids toys, TV remotes, etc. Another of their products, PhoneSoap, is a 10-minute phone charging box that also uses UV-C to disinfect the item we touch most during the day. 

Life feels difficult and time-starved, but the world inside my home is easy.

Most of us have experienced how voice assistants make the complex feel effortless. This same effortless living is being enabled by a wide range of technologies. For example, ViaRoom uses AI to learn behaviors and automate the home environment, including appliances, climate, shades and lights.  

Looking well beyond web-connected kitchen appliances, Samsung is designing kitchen counters with robotic arms to help chop and prep, and also applying AI to help plan meals and monitor nutrition.

Activities that require us to spend time driving somewhere else, e.g., visiting a doctor, can be done on our schedule from home. EyeQue provides vision exams through your smartphone. MedWand enables your doctor to provide physical examinations over the internet.

And in the battle against a stressful world, restorative sleep seems to be our new weapon of choice. Sleep-tech had a huge presence at CES. Philips showed a deep-sleep headband. Sleepace can measure our heart rate, breathing, movement, and ratios of light vs deep sleep to optimize sleep through lighting, smart beds, etc. All of this follows in the footsteps of Sleep Number.

So what should a marketer do?

It has never been more timely for marketers to earn trust from the customers they serve. 

Research has been showing a growing mistrust of many institutions, including government, tech companies, social media and some forms of organized religion. This was on full display at CES. 

But we also saw a way forward. Companies can earn trust through genuine empathy backed by real solutions – human-centered products and services that empower people to take matters into their own hands to create a safer, cleaner and easier world for themselves and the people they care about.