Monday, March 30, 2020

Post COVID-19 Personal Space and Interactions: How Will We Change?

This week, I gave the following assignment to my Digital Marketing Class at NYU:

Now we are forbidden Personal Distance (physically) and Social Distance is more than 6 feet-
Please answer:
How will that affect future interactions?
Can the internet be an adequate substitute for Personal Distance?
After Corona, Will the internet become a hiding place to avoid physical personal distance OR will people forever long for and cherish it?

The above questions were based on the chapter in David Meerman Scott’s book, “Fanocracy” entitled, “Get Closer Than Usual.”

Wow. That’s a nonstarter now. Even though the book was written before the COVID-19 Pandemic, it still has tremendous validity now in terms of raising questions about three important issues that will face marketers (AND people in general) after the Pandemic has passed and things are back to normal:

1.Will we ever be the same? How will we handle the different levels of person-to-person interaction, one-on-one and in crowds or public situations? Will there be a temporary shyness/reluctance and then go back to Pre-COVID-19 habits? OR, will we be changed forever?
2. Now and in future, can the internet be an adequate substitute for Personal Distance? IF yes, how?
3. After Corona, will the internet become a comfortable hiding place to avoid close physical interaction? OR will people realize how valuable personal contact is and cherish it more?

This is, of course, all speculation but something we should spend some time thinking about- as marketers and as people who will be faced with those questions sooner or later.

I have to liken this event to the asteroid that struck Chicxulub in Mexico some 66 million years ago and resulted in the death of the dinosaurs, and most of the living creatures on Earth at the time: 11 to 50 miles across, it produced climatic changes that invalidated life as it was.

The Black Swan; The Unknown Unknown; the S**t happens with a vengeance that takes us by total surprise, so we can only think about survival. Aftereffects Unknown. The only Known Known is that we who live through it will never, ever be the same again.

First, we need some education, which Scott give us, on the psychological nature of human beings’ distance from each other. Four Categories were coined by David T. Hall, in terms of distance from person to person or person to people, from the outside in:
1. “Public Distance”- More than 12 feet away; lacks precise interactions, just public;
2. “Social Distance”- 4-12 feet away- a stranger
3. “Personal Distance”- 1.5-4 feet away- Family and Friends
4. “Intimate Distance”- 1.5 feet away; lover, family (AKA In Your Face)
Previously, we could manage these distances as dictated by our emotions, mood, marketing or entertainment objective.

But, everything is changed now- While we appreciated Personal Distance from a performer or a speaker in the past, and we experienced either Personal or Intimate Distance as observers or audience, how soon, if ever, will we do that again?

Just as the creatures that survived Chicxulub, we are marked.

So that’s my take; now my own answers to the questions. (Don’t send this to my students:):

Will we ever be the same? How will we handle the different levels of person-to-person interaction, one-on-one and in crowds or public situations? Will there be a temporary shyness/reluctance and then go back to Pre-COVID-19 habits? OR, will we be changed forever? 
This will never wear off in the normal lifetime of the survivors; older people will want to protect themselves, and the younger, more impressionable, will be marked. While we will slowly reconvene to concerts, baseball games, etc. we will always look at them with different eyes. No more Woodstocks. What is more, governments will look to control mass gatherings to avoid potential problems.

Now and in future, can the internet be an adequate substitute for Personal Distance? IF yes, how? NO, the Internet will never be a total substitute for Personal Distance; as David Meerman Scott says, that is how we are hardwired. BUT, marketers and people will strive to find new and engaging ways to communicate so that people will be happy with virtual personal interaction. What is more, Omnichannel will be a virtual drug fix for customers: Wow, I can control the amount of virtual and personal interaction in my life. TELL ME: What will you think about before entering a crowded bar in the next one, two years or more?

After Corona, will the internet become a comfortable hiding place to avoid close physical interaction? OR will people realize how valuable personal contact is and cherish it more? 
Even if not a hiding place, the internet will be a social and commercial sanctuary, embedded in our minds as a medium that can serve us as well as protect us. So, even if not a hiding place, it will be a comfort place for us. First priority for shopping- the percentage of retail attributed to internet will spike in the short run, maintain its growth longer term. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the ecommerce percentage of retail jump to 25% in the short term (now about 15%)

We will never be the same.

Any person, company or family that does not acknowledge the imperative to observe and change is due for disappointment, or worse.

But here’s the Good News: This Pandemic erases all global distinctions between us. So people anywhere in the world have to embrace the fact that we, despite nationalistic jargon to the contrary, we are all in the same space. Hopefully, it will take a big bite out of Ethnocentrism. That is what we longed for all these years; also will separate those who believe this with those who want to f**k over people they consider less critical than themselves.

The bottom line is how we will change, emotionally and rationally, as a result of what we have had to endure. It is said that shocks to the system are what change us; please let me know if you agree with my speculation above; even if you don’t, tell me what you think will happen Post COVID-19.

David grew to love Grateful Dead, as I did the Rolling Stones. That said, we should all find direction in Bob Dylan; whom I consider the poet laureate of our generations.

So, as inspiration, Let’s hook up with Bob Dylan’s work:

"The Times They Are A-Changin'"

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'

Friday, March 27, 2020

Springtime In Corona City

Where is Everybody?

We are all too aware of what is going on in our city and world- Except the world itself. A lesson? So I wrote this poem:

Springtime in Corona City

The Birds
Are Singing
The Trees
Are Blooming
The Sun
Is Shining
Don’t they know 
What is going on?
Or are they telling us 

“Do not fear
Spring will be here.
Do not fret
The best is yet
to come.
Enjoy this moment
And be Fearless
About Tomorrow.”

It all makes sense
if we stop and listen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

What We Learned About Fashion and Sustainability- from Lotus & Michael-The Art of Shirts

We learned. So can you. 
We can all be better for our customers.
After all, what else counts?

Here are some of the lessons we learned and applied, from many years in the fashion industry, which we passionately carried out in our mens and women’s shirt line, Lotus & Michael- The Art of Shirts:
1- There is almost no plastic or synthetic used in our packing, packaging, or shipping? Only the butterfly clip is plastic (not for long!) . Our shirts are wrapped in paper for shipping to us and to you.
Your typical shirt packaging has plastic clips, plastic bag, plastic inner collar band, and plastic buttons- at least. Shipped in cartons with extra cartons inside. Shipped to customer in plastic zip bags. How much global trash for each shirt?
How bad is this?
Mens shirts volume 2019 (3.5 Billion pieces)
Women’s shirts and blouses 2019 about the same
This means 7 billion items packed in plastic (just the SOLD, not including the inventory)

2- We ship the product to our customers in 100% kraft paper custom bag with the shirts wrapped in paper.
We spent a lot of money and time to develop a package that would be waterproof and not consume resources. Some people’s shirts cost less than our bags.
3- Our buttons are mother of pearl, not plastic, which are thinner (easier to button) and stronger?
Plastic buttons have to be thicker, and are more brittle. SO- hard to open and close, and your laundry more likely to break them, oops.
MOP buttons are a natural shell material which does not need to be so thick, and is much easier for people with dexterity issues (or in a hurry) to manage.
Try replacing those plastic buttons when your laundry or machine broke them…
4- Our shirts should be built of high quality and construction materials so our customers’ shirts will last much longer than today’s average, thus reducing disposable clothing waste in the environment.
In the world of textiles, the fatter the yarn, the less time it spent getting spun tightly to provide great quality; like the difference between a coarse and tight rope. Finer yarns can be woven more tightly and create a dense and durable surface. 
Today’s typical shirt will react poorly to the normal wear and tear you give it; 3-6 months, if worn continuously, it looks like shit and you don’t want to wear it any more (or you do and look like you need a handout).
Our shirts will far surpass those requirements; each shirt is tested BY US to meet the highest durability standard available. Ask your current shirt vendor if they do that.
So one of our shirts per, say, 2 years may equal to 4 of theirs. 
NOW, let’s reanalyze the price and the consequences on our environment.
5- We finish our shirts to be wrinkle free, so our users need to spend less time and energy to iron.
Finishing process adds a benign substance that infuses the fibers and lets the shirt look new and wrinkle-free all day, while reducing the amount of heat and time necessary for ironing or pressing.
6- That both our mens and women’s fit has been tested to be flattering and complimentary on most body types and equally well on both genders.
What company today can honestly say they studied women’s shirt fit and they understand it or, more important, even care about it? We did.
We have decades of experience with fit, and we know that, given the right fit, wearers will all look great. If the fit is right, custom fitting will only improve the fits-great equation by 5% (maybe); So we are spending all that money and time on 5%?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sun Tzu's Six Principles- Wait- 2,500 year old strategy still works today? Yes, It does

REPOST- Still valid after all these years (2500)

Timeless, spot on and still studied today, 2500 years later.  Sun Tzu wrote a lot about Strategy and Leadership, but these six principles are the cornerstone of his teachings, and continue to apply to business today.

First, here they are:

  1. Win all without fighting
  2. Avoid Strength, Attack Weakness
  3. Deception and Foreknowledge
  4. Speed and Preparation
  5. Shape your Opponent
  6. Character-based Leadership

Now, let's look at their application in today's business world:

Principle 1- Win all without fighting
  1. Gain business and/or market share without:
    1. Spending large sums on gaining that share-eg., advertising; advertise cleverly and use social media for your advantage;
    2. Compromising your product by reducing price and/or quality
    3. Do not use price as a strategy- fashion merchandising which makes your offering special will get you an advantage (Inditex)
    4. Analyze costs of growth- more business does not necessarily mean more spend (Think Big, Be Small)

Principle 2- Avoid Strength, Attack Weakness
  1. Find your Market NICHE- what separates you from your competition?
  2. Don’t try to COPY dominant product- IMPROVE or REINVENT it;
  3. Find a customer who has not been served or served properly;
  4. Find a new Geography- eg., urban vs. rural
  5. Fill a need- eg., Untuckit
  6. Incumbents have more money than you so do not compete head on;
  7. Incumbents may not have the will to enter a new market segment-it will cost you less to start up than it will them.

Principle 3- Deception and Foreknowledge
  1. THOROUGHLY research and know your market, your customer- what they have, what they need, what their shopping habits and fashion choices (Untuckit);
  2. Never stop research and discovery-even for a day;
  3. Use all available resources provided by technology (AI, CDP, Social media);
  4. Always be first-do something new every day
  5. There is no limit on disruption (Amazon)
  6. Keep your competition guessing;
  7. Know your capabilities- don’t bite off more than you can chew;
  8. FOCUS on what you do best;
  9. Have better fashion insight than your competitors- hire the team that can see the future.

Principle 4- Speed and Preparation
  1. Speed to Market- be faster better cheaper (maybe)
  2. Gather the best information available
  3. Never give yourself too much credit for what you did yesterday;
  4. Prepare your offering with Common Sense;
  5. Use the best technology available for information and customer service;
  6. Have better and faster service than your competitor;
  7. TALK to your customer;
  8. Be decisive- sometimes you will fail, but not if you don’t try;
  9. Shorten your design/delivery cycle;
  10. Think It Through.

Principle 5- Shape Your Opponent
  1. Make your competitors chase you- not the opposite- make them play in YOUR sandbox;
  2. Second is last- be FIRST
  3. Update/change/grow your offering faster than the competition (Apple)
  4. Your fashion and product/brand image should be an EXAMPLE your competitors want to follow;
  5. Your offering must be simple, accessible, easy to understand and buy.

Principle 6- Character-based Leadership
  1. Hire PEOPLE, not RESUMES;
  2. Hire by CHARACTER fit, with at least the following characteristics:
    1. Courage
    2. Will to Succeed and Win
    3. Intelligence
    4. Loyalty
    5. Likability
  3. A leader will only succeed with a strong TEAM whose skills complement each other;
  4. Build Great Captains, whose character and skills will help you as you grow;
  5. Challenge to change and react, never sit;
  6. Original Thinking-the Fashion Industry is build on CHANGE;
  7. Open- Minded Management
  8. Humility- Never get too impressed with yourself;
  9. Lead By Example-all the above won’t work if it is not part of your style.

Sounds simple, right? How many of you business leaders can state with perfect honesty that the above is exactly your management philosophy, style and execution? (I can)

When we attend the funerals of those brands and institutions that have passed on, we can look at the above and always find the causes.

Study it. Learn it. Succeed. Or don't.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"Lessons In Manliness from The Old Man And The Sea" by Bryan Schatz and, "The Shark, Or Me" by Me-Lessons for all of us-AND Retailers

Article and Poem

I wrote this poem just yesterday; Afterwards, looking for a picture to illustrate, I found the article:
Lessons in Manliness From the Old Man and the Sea by Bryan Schatz

This article is inspirational and great advice, especially now; and, let me be clear- I believe this advice is equally valid for men AND women. I encourage you to read the article (especially if you are an old man or are likely to be), but I will summarize the key points here. And THEN, I close with my original poem about the same subject. Read on:

Lessons in Manliness Summary:
1. "A Man is Not Made For Defeat"
2. A Man Does Not Depend on Luck
3. A Man Bears Pain and Hardship Without Complaint
4. A Man Does Not Boast
5. A Man Finds Inspiration From Others

6. A Man Goes Down Swinging- No Matter His Age

It is this last aspect in my own life that inspired me to write the below poem. I rarely write poetry and feel my style is a big Ogden Nash-y, but this one came out in about 5 minutes. So here it is:

The Shark, Or Me?

A Poem By Michael Serwetz

It doesn’t happen if you sit there and cry;
It happens if you stand up and try.

Then you say, “why me?”
But you should be saying, “why we?”

Because everyone is in the same boat
Like the old man & the sea
who finally said, 
“It’s the shark or me.”

What will you do in the face of the shark?
Will you sit there and cry?
Or, will you stand up and try?


Here is Me (imagine the fish):

Postscript: I have been consistent with this philosophy, about myself and those in the Retail Arena. In my 2018 Article, "J.C. Penney and Sears-The Hollow Men- An American Tragedy", I closed with the following lines from the great Dylan Thomas:

"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Let's do that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Corona Kismet Karma

Corona Kismet Karma

how people treat each other Corona

World, March 2020-

No doubt, we are all (all means everybody, despite age, sex, gender, country) going through a very stressful period due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus globally, and the resultant number of cases in many countries, and, of course, the deaths as a result.

Wow, schools closing, factories can’t open for business (unless they are making masks), airlines taking it on the chin, Stock Market in total panic and retreat (that doesn’t take much, and this is a bit much for those bots to absorb). IF this isn’t a Pandemic, we just made it one.

So, the questions I want to consider are:
1. How bad is this outbreak compared to other flash coronavirus and flu outbreaks in past and recent history, INCLUDING deaths from the common flu that we face every year in US?
2. Are the extreme measures being taken prudent or an overreaction?
3. WHY is this outbreak spreading into people’s body and minds faster than any in recent history?
4. What can we learn about our world and ourselves from this experience?

First, the facts as I have been able to research them from the available, public information to date 03/10/2020-
a. The COVID 19 has infected more people than SARS or MERS, but the percentage of deaths is far lower:

So, while the total number of infected cases and deaths is far higher than SARS or MERS, the  likelihood of death is far lower.

Further, the deaths from COVID-19 are a scourge for older people compared to SARs and MERS. Which makes it less of a pandemic threat to most people.

But, we know that the common flu raises its head as a killer in the US every year. How many people die annually in US from common flu every year? 2017-2018 was a bad year, and 61,000 people died IN THE US ONLY from common flu.

For COVID-19 to reach those levels, approximately 1.8 million people would need to be infected.

Going back into history, the “Spanish Flu” of 1918 was reputed to kill up to 500,000 people. Do the math again-14.7 million cases of COVID-19.

In China, to date the number of new cases has gone down and recoveries are proceeding. Updated count as of 3/11 per 122,745 cases, 4,585 deaths (3.7%)

But wait- why is this flu spreading so quickly compared to past flu epidemics? SARS was in 2003 and not as many people globally were infected (see above); does this mean that COVID-19 is more contagious than SARS?

One week in February 2020 in NYC, there were 17,233 cases of flu reported. So far this season, 106,824 cases have been report in New York.

So what is different? about COVID-19 from other Flu Pandemics? The answer is obvious to me: technology, air travel, and the whole world is FAR more interconnected than it was in 2003. The good news is, if the world was as interconnected in 2003 as it is now, the death toll from SARS would have been far higher.

So what about the extreme measures being taken? China took extreme measures and the disease has already peaked. So we should not be afraid to do the same, albeit a little more difficult here. The case of the National Guard being used in New Rochelle is, in my opinion, an appropriate example of an extreme measure.

I believe people are sadly unaware of just how close the world has become in the last 17 years since the SARS outbreak and what impact this has on living in 2020.

So it scares the snot out of all of us to think that people are so mobile, the disease, for  better or worse, could come from anywhere at anytime; in the past, it would be much easier to identify and quarantine the causes. NOT anymore.

So here’s the Kismet Karma part. In 2020, when we are arguing about trade, tariffs, taxes and medical care, this disease comes along to give us a jolt: Cut the political BS and let’s do something to protect the people (not the politicians), while not destroying the principles and lifestyle that have made us what we are. Tearing down a wall is destructive unless its replacement not only benefits more people, but makes more people happy. 

Here’s another important Kismet Karma point: IN the past, when the epidemic was confined to China or other remote places, we were satisfied to say Awww, and not think too much about the situation of those people facing the disease OR how we could help; now that it is in our own backyard, we became concerned, of course. So what is the lesson for the future?

Stop arguing and start working TOGETHER. Maybe COVID-19 is a signal, at the right time.

And, most of all, realize that we are all people in the same world, and our fates depend on each other. Doesn’t matter if it is China, US, or anywhere else.

And we should recognize that bad karma brings bad luck. So let’s treat each other the way we want to be treated, which includes governments and people working on disease control, hunger, education, conservation, etc.

Let’s take the hint; people are literally dying to tell us.

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