Monthly Archives: July 2007

China’s Online Backlash?

I have been lurking in a number of message boards online that have been discussion the China food safety issue.  One thing that has caught my attention is the type of information I keep seeing.  Now either the same person frequents the same boards I do, or there is something going on.  I really don’t know.  But so far I have heard in at least three boards the following lines, word for word:

 

“99% of imports to the US meet the FDA standards.”

 

“If you don’t buy from Wal Mart, you are anti Chinese.”

 

“You are a racist if you don’t buy Chinese products because of 1 or 2 bad products.”

 

I’d like to address each one.  First of all, the FDA admits to inspecting only about 1% of imports.  That does not mean the other 99% are up to US safety and health standards, that just means the consumer is left to figure out if it is or is not. The truth is, nobody knows what percentage actually meets US food and safety standards, since we don’t check enough shipments to determine this.

 

Not shopping at Wal Mart does not make you anti Chinese.  As in any capitalist system, consumers are free to choose what supplier they do business with, that’s plain economics and not everyone likes Wal Mart.  I don’t because I don’t feel Wal Mart the company is in line with my values.  If they change their focus and become in line with my values, I’ll shop there.

 

And no, you are not racist if you don’t buy products from China.  One thing I’d like to point out, there are many Chinese outside of China that produce quality goods that you can be assured are of good quality.  So it is not a Chinese issue if you don’t buy products from China.  Keep in mind, I don’t consider Taiwan part of China yet I do consider them Chinese.  Second, it’s more than 1 or 2 bad products.  Chinese is always in the top three of rejected products of those the FDA does inspect and the top source country of recalled products that are not initially inspected.  So it is wide spread and across all sectors. 

 

I think it is important to address these issues so that consumers can be aware of some of the tactics used.  These are shaming tactics and very poorly done.  Inform yourself as a consumer and be aware that you have a right to choose and be informed about how your products were produced, where and by whom.  If those products do not match with your values or ideals of what you want to purchase, don’t let pressure tactics push you to buy what you truly do not want.

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Filed under Branding, Business, China, Consumerism, Customer Satisfaction, Food, Globalization, Health, International Trade, Life, Marketing

Hello AIG

Seems that little article on AIG got some attention.  Hello to whoever it is from AIG who has paid many a visits yesterday and the day before.  Did you find what you were looking for?  Yes I can see you, and I can see you visited quite often, about a dozen times in a 24 hour period, that is, a dozen times an AIG address visited here, not sure if it is all the same person.

 

I wonder, did you find this on a feed or do you have sniffer programs set to find anything that mentions AIG?  Whatever the case, it would have been nice to see some feedback from you guys, since you were here so many times.  I actually have a number of classmates that work at AIG, I don’t talk shop with them but can’t say they volunteer to talk about work either. 

 

Might I make a little suggestion, if you are going to go rifle through someone’s blog and look at all their stuff, engage in dialog.  This is what I was referring to when I first wrote about you, which I might add, I was very light on you.  I could have gone into detail but that really wasn’t the point.  That would take up far too much time and I have a lot of other topics I wish to hit upon.  But, your constant visiting with no dialog, kind of shows what I’m talking about and maybe I should go into detail in the future.

 

I’m part of your PESTEL analysis.  I’m one of those external forces that can impact your business and brand image.  So yes, I actually do matter.  Someone in your marketing department should be engaging me to understand the perception of the market place, like your competitor did, Mr. Grobler who posted a nice comment and brought his company to my attention, which I hadn’t known about before.  I learned something new by that, I like that. 

 

See, brand and marketing is about engaging the market, which you failed to do this time.  You came, numerous times, looked around a lot and said nothing.  We live in a web analytics world, everyone who pays attention to their traffic, checks who is coming and why.  That’s why I have an article on Vitamin C not produced in China, I get one or two hits a day for that here, it’s something people wanted, and so I gave it to them.  Customer satisfaction drives profits and drives business.  Profit centers don’t drive business, profit center managers, don’t drive business, customers do.  And perception drives customers and it is blogs like this that help shape perception.  And you have to engage the market to actually know what they want and you haven’t done that to the extent that will help you when a really serious player comes along to take your lunch.  Don’t think just because this is marketing lite, that I don’t know your business or what I’m talking about; I keep this simple for a reason. 

 

So if you come back to read this, my email is in the About the Author section. 

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US Country of Origin Labels, a Brand Advantage

I was watching the news last week and the debate over the US law on the country of origin for foods.  Current only fish is being enforced.  Most foods are to have these labels but special interest groups are fighting it.  For example, the beef industry wants to have Canadian and Mexican beef called US beef.  Most polls show that 90% at the minimum and even one showing 100% of consumers want to have country of origin labels.  So this would seem like a no brainer.  It is a law, why would any American company want to fight consumer trend?  With recent problems with the food coming from China, I as an American brand manager would jump at the idea of plastering “Made in the USA” all over my product! 

 

Over the weekend I did a rather informal study of food labels for country of origin.  Most did not list this information.  I visited my local supermarket and Costco.  To my surprise though, Costco’s Kirkland brand had the highest number of products that did list country of origin for their food products.  I looked at frozen vegetables, meats and processed foods and based on all the brands, Kirkland had the highest number that listed this information.  I have to admit, I was surprised, happily surprised.  It’s nice to see Costco is on the ball with this issue.

 

I was equally surprised that many brands that claim to be organic, sustainable or otherwise trying to show that they are some how better than mass produced foods, did not list country of origin.  This surprised me, if I were a brand manager at one of these companies, I would want to source locally and then advertise it like mad.  Especially with the recent scares from China.  Some of them used elusive terms like “created in the USA.”   Does that mean it was thought up in the USA, made in the USA, processed in the USA?  In fact there were a few of these terms out there that eluded to that this was not really an American product but they knew seeing USA on the label would look good.  A savvy shopper knows better than to fall for that.

 

The ever popular, “processed in the US” was on a lot of products.  Or my favorite was one company that had American flags all over the package and “proud to be an American brand” on the label, yet “product of China” in really small print!  That was rather amusing, I’m not saying who this is, I am actually waiting for them to reply to my emails about that.

 

Poll after poll says American consumers want country of origin on the label.  More than half of the products I looked at did not have this information on the package.  For the mass produced items, the consumers of those probably don’t care about country of origin.  For a product that speaks of wholesome or pure, good for you, country of origin is just something that should be a part of the packaging.  More information makes for informed consumers.  If you are sourcing from China and worried about the impact on your bottom line if consumers found out, good idea to find a new source!  Perception as anyone in marketing knows is just as important as the facts.

 

I really do not understand the backlash by some industries to the country of origin.  We are talking about putting a line on a packaging, the cost of that is so small it is not even worth worrying about.  Informed consumers make informed decisions and end up being long term loyal customers.  It’s really simple; country of origin labeling is good for the brand.  As long as where you source is in line with your brand.  If not, well, then you have a problem.

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AIG, Marketing isn’t Going to Save You

Ah yeah, AIG again, this company can supply me with more material for articles than China’s food safety problem!  The basics of the current issues are, a group of reinsurance companies (of which AIG is one) agreed to fund a workers comp fund and each year, companies would put in their fair share of the total.  But AIG has been cheating the fund and the other companies have had to pick up the slack, which cuts into their profits and ability to give fair rates.  This seems like one more thing in a long and growing list of problems with AIG.  The more I dig into this company the more I really have to question if this is a company to do business with.

 

AIG used to use the tag line “we know money.”  No longer, haven’t seen that in a few years after the accounting scandal that brought Hank their former CEO down.  Since then, AIG has been marketing more and more, I have seen their print and television ads quite a lot.  It first started with the auto insurance and now to other units of the company.  The overall theme seems to be that AIG can save you money and be there for you.  Sounds like a good idea.  I do agree that it was a smart idea to drop the old tag line, with all those accounting problems; it would have just been a great line for cracking jokes about the company.  But this is one time where marketing is really not the answer to helping the company’s image.

 

A simple newsfeed search will show that AIG has a lot of legal problems, there must be at least half a dozen states suing them or threatening to sue them for something.  There are also, many message boards and blogs from people claiming to be customers, really ripping into the company at a level that is rare. 

 

I’ve seen a spike in AIG ads and I believe this is an attempt to try and stave off the fact that they just are not really customer friendly.  They operate on the profit center model, which kind of sums it up, profits, that’s what matters.  Customers make profits, that’s what matters to me.  Good service and good client relationships is what drives the profits.  I’d call them customer centers if I were in charge and then go out of my way to prove it. 

 

Don’t get me wrong, I think AIG will continue to grow, there are plenty of people who want an insurance company to sue anyone who tries to make a claim.  But I think as consumer tastes change, we are seeing the last of the giants of this kind.  The AIG model is just not going to stand up to consumers who demand better service and treatment.  At least I sure hope so, if we all end up working in such models as AIG’s, that’s going to be one scary world.  And I love the world of business but there are just some models that just should be relegated to the history books. 

 

I think if a real insurance company came along that focused more on customers than on profits, they would put these big players out of business in two decades.  Sounds like a long time but not when you are talking hundreds of billions of dollars in assets.  For the AIG’s of the world, clean up your act, or the new consumer tastes will clean it for you.

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Your Unlimited Internet Access Does Have Limits

Here is an interesting article from the Star Tribune about a Comcast customer’s experience with his so called “unlimited access.”  You can read the details by following the link, what I want to focus on is the move by Comcast and how it could be handled better.

 

I certainly understand Comcast’s point of view, if someone is hogging a lot of bandwidth, that can be bad for service overall, but I think that level must be rather high.  If you look at Comcast’s commercials, they leave you with the impression that, you can download a ton of stuff all the time.  So Ken Glover probably was just doing what Comcast itself implies is what you can do with their service.

 

The thing that gets me though, is how Comcast has handled this, it is a case of marketing and customer service disconnect.  They won’t even tell Mr. Glover what the limit is that he needs to keep under.  So how can he do his part as a customer if he doesn’t even know what his limits are?  As the article states, on the site bradbandreports.com, many other have reported this same problem that Mr. Glover has had, and have said they were never informed of the policy.  So it appears Comcast needs to do a bit more work on explaining the limits of its unlimited access.

 

The problem for Internet companies are, they like the weekend surfer, the person who only checks their email at night and maybe do a little Internet shopping.  For them it’s a big bonus.  There they are, charging $40 plus a month for basically a little drip of bandwidth.  It’s like having a luxury sports car but only driving 30mph, never really seeing what that engine can do.  But as we move more towards a connected work and personal life, more people are demanding more and more bandwidth for what they consider just common everyday surfing. 

 

So as people’s tastes change in surfing and more data is needed, I don’t think it is going to be a good business move to start to limit more and more customers.  Instead, a savvy provider will see these changes coming and take steps to expand their network’s ability to handle to inevitable.  Then while other providers are showing degradation in service, that provider that now took the steps to improve will be in a position to better gain new clients. 

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“Strange” Milk from China in the Dominican Republic

I came upon this interesting article that was just released.  Dominican officials are on the look out for what they call “strange milk from China.”  The DR is a net exporter of milk to China, and the price in question is far below market value.  This lead DR officals to put out a warning about this milk as it may not be up to human consumption levels. 

 They fear that, because the global price of milk is rather high, someone may be selling something that is not fit for humans, in order to make a quick buck.  This would not be the first time DR has had problems with products from China.  Like many other countries, they too, have had problems with tainted products and are very cautious of any more possible problems.

It is good to see the DR officials are on this rather fast.  It seems they may have learned from past experiences.

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Zhou Qing, China’s One Man Looking Out For Everyone

Zhou Qing is a man I’ve heard a lot of, he is the guy that goes around researching how bad the problems are in China in terms of food and health safety.  He has taken a lot of abuse in his quest and he’s a guy that we should all thank for at least trying to make our food better. 

In this article which takes us on his tour of a factory in China, the common practices of the lack of food safety are enough to shock anyone.  In fact is you just ate lunch, you probably don’t want to read this.  There are some minor parts that get rather graphic and the ingredients are enough to make you want to vomit.  Read about it Here.

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