Saturday, February 28, 2009

How high will PL go at Walmart?

Walmart is reformulating and repackaging its Great Values food brand, with the intent to significantly increase its market share (it's already, they claim, the #1 food brand in the country).

Which raises a question: how high will Great Value's share go?
According to Information Resources, Inc., the Chicago-based market research firm, private label accounts for 17.6% of dollars and 22.5% of units at Wal-Mart. One securities analyst — Deborah Weinswig of Citigroup — has been quoted as saying that private label might skyrocket to 40% of dollars at Wal-Mart within the next three years. She figures that if Wal-Mart carries the top three branded products in a given category, it could substitute one of them with its own brand.
Even if, as the article argues, the 40% number is too high, if 30% or so is more like it, that still means major food brands will lose ten to fifteen share points at the world's biggest retailer. What is that going to mean to them?

If Great Value is going to be getting that big a share of sales, then it probably also means, as the Citigroup analyst noted, that some brands will be squeezed off the shelf. Which plays into Walmart's efforts at "SKU rationalization":
So Wal-Mart went deep on benchmarking its competition to understand where the product range started and stopped within a given category. Then it worked to achieve a clear offering — paring down to the right number of SKUs so that categories weren’t diluted and fuzzy. With SKUs cut by 10% to 50%, Wal-Mart has been able to achieve higher sales. Fleming says he hasn’t yet seen departments that have lost sales from SKU cuts.
I'd hate the be the #3 brand at Wal-Mart right now.

Forecast says local advertising will drop through 2013

A forecast by BIA and The Kelsey Group says that local advertising (much of it supported by trade promo funding of one sort or another) will decline sharply in all categories except online over the next five years.
Between 2008 and 2013, local ad spending will decline at a 1.4 percent compound annual rate to $144.4 billion. In contrast, the share of interactive ad spending will more than double from 9 percent in 2008 to 22.2 percent in 2013.
The question for many traditional media (especially newspapers) will be whether they can grab a significant portion of the online growth. In a great many markets, the newspaper web site is the leading local site, but newspapers have not grabbed as big a piece of online revenues as they would like.

If they don't get more of the online money, we'll probably see more papers, and maybe some broadcast outlets, joining the Rocky Mountain News.
Traditional media -- including newspapers, direct, broadcast, Yellow Pages, out of home, cable TV and magazines -- are forecast to decrease from $141.3 billion in 2008 to $112.4 billion in 2013.
I'm curious how much of the loss of revenue in local advertising is traceable to funding moving to in-store promotion.

Saks will stop deep price cuts

Saks, which took a lot of heat from fashion designers and other retailers for their deep discounting in Q4, said they won't continue the practice, but they are expecting to reduce prices overall, with the help of their suppliers:
Saks said it was expecting its vendors to provide products at price points more in line with the current climate.
The Q4 price cuts, as much as 70%, caused Saks' margins to drop from 37% to 20%, at the same time sales were dropping 15%, Lower margins on lower sales is a nasty combo.

Barbie in Shanghai

Mattel is opening a Barbie store in Shanghai, according to People's Daily:
World's premier toy company Mattel is expected to open its first Barbie flagship store in Shanghai next month in Shanghai, the country's economic hub, in hope of a market expansion in China when its global sales contracted.

The 3,500 square meter, six-floor Barbie flagship store along Shanghai's trendy Huaihai Road, is expected to open on March 7 to celebrate the brand's 50th anniversary, said Julia Jensen, Mattel's vice president of Public Relation and Communication International said in an e-mail to Xinhua.
A number of major brands and retailers seem to be looking at international expansion as a way of growing through the hard times. Mattel's sales in 2008 were down 1%, but Q4 was down 11%. Mattel has been in China for seven years now, according to the article, but this is their first major store.

The competition doesn't sound frightened:

"The market positioning of Barbie is quite different from Chinese toy brands. I don't think the flagship store would have much impact on the sales of Chinese toys," said Xie Min, the business department head of Huaihai Youth Articles Store, several hundred meters away from the pink Barbie flagship.

"China's toy market has long seen foreign brands including Winnie the Pooh and Mickey. Compared with them, Barbie is still less competitive in terms of its franchisers and product chain," says Xie.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Definitions and metrics

In an article entitled, "What Is Shopper Marketing, Anyway?", Ad Age tries to get to a meaningful definition of Shopper Marketing (something I've tried myself).

A few definitions are offered. Here's an exercise in gobbledygook from an agency: "any stimuli or any marriage of a brand with a shopper or consumer along the shopper continuum which turns them from consumer to shopper to buyer." Which is so broad as to be meaningless.

Something more to the point is this from Kimberley-Clark:
K-C officially defines shopper marketing as "integrated-marketing programs based on a deep understanding of shopper attitudes and behaviors designed to build equity for the brand and differentiate the retailer while the consumer is in shopper mode and prepared to make a purchase," said Mark Scott, VP-sales and shopper marketing.
It's often said that "you can't manage what you can't measure." It's equally true that you can't measure what you can't define. I've written before that I see Shopper Marketing as being the nexus of trade promo and brand advertising which, if correct, would mean that such promotions would need to be measured in ways similar to traditional media (e.g., reach and frequency), and also in trade promo terms (volume lift, incremental profit, etc).

The aborted PRISM initiative was an effort to develop the former, while several companies offer the means to do trade promo measures. But there still is no consensus definition, which means that there are no consensus measures, which means that establishing best practices and benchmarks is still somewhere off in the future.

Newspapers still make a profit

The title for this post may come as a surprise, but Ad Age made a good point today -- for all the bad news in the newspaper business (the Philadelphia newspapers joined the line at bankruptcy court), the business is still profitable. The problem is that their ownerships, many of whom bought up multiple papers in recent years, are so buried in debt from the buyouts that they can't pay the bills on the reduced profits they're getting today.
"Not a lot of papers are operating at a loss," said John Morton, the veteran industry analyst. "There are roughly 1,400 daily newspapers. We only hear about the top markets. That leaves at least 1,300 papers out there."

Publicly owned newspapers averaged an operating profit of 10.8% in the first three quarters of last year, Mr. Morton said. That's not the margin enjoyed by newspapers when they were monopolies, but it's not nothing either.

Ten percent plus is better than the oil companies were doing when gas was at four bucks (something to think about the next time a paper runs an editorial denouncing "excessive profits"). The problem is that it's only half what profits were when projections were made justifying, for example, the $13 billion debt from the buyout of the Tribune Company (now in bankruptcy).

Ad Age has some interesting stats. For example, Lee Enterprises, which just reported a loss of $889 million, actually had a 20.8% operating profit; the loss was from write-downs on the value of holdings. Even Tribune Co. made a modest 5.4%.

So, once again, gloomy as the picture is for newspapers, the business is not going to disappear. The fundamentals are sound, and after the weakest players are eliminated and the rest downsized, the survivors will likely prosper.

Leibowitz to be appointed FTC chair

Jon Leibowitz is to be appointed today to chair the Federal Trade Commission. Leibowitz is currently a member of the commission, so President Obama will need to make another appointment to fill the vacancy.

Leibowitz's views on Robinson-Patman enforcement are unknown (since nobody bothers to talk about it much). He has taken strong positions on privacy issues, which could have impact on on-line marketing practices, and possibly on some in-store practices (e.g., studying shopper behavior via camera, and possibly even collection of loyalty card info).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

P&G expects to hold the line on price hikes

This looks likely to be one of a long series of posts on the Great CPG Price War of 2009. First there was this, in which I speculated that perhaps the price hikes are a hedge against uncertain economic conditions (following the model of the '70s). Then we discussed the Delhaize-Unilever spat.

Now we have P&G's CEO A.G. Laffey saying that the price increases his company put through last year will stick.

"Our products don't deliver value [just] because the prices on the shelves are lower," A.G. Lafley, chief executive of Procter & Gamble Co., told analysts and investors at a conference here.

Like several other industry executives who spoke at the event, Mr. Lafley said his company doesn't plan to roll back the significant price increases it has made over the past several months.

There also is a report in the article that Safeway suspended shipments from P&G in late December, but that appears to have been an inventory decision, rather than part of the pricing fight.

Executives from Clorox, Nestle, and Kimberley-Clark are also quoted as saying they will hold on to their price hikes.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The decline of dedpartment stores, chapter 50 (or so)

The Dallas Morning News has an interesting article, "Shoppers departing department stores - and may not be back" hitting on a theme I've posted on often -- the terminal decline of what was once America's principal shopping channel.

There are a few good statistics in the article, one being that there are now ten chains in the category doing $3bil or more; collectively they do $110bil, which is about one-fourth Walmart's sales. How the mighty have fallen.

The most interesting line from the article is this one:
The new mantra for one of America's oldest retail categories: When the economy rebounds, everything will go back to the way it was.
It's probably true. For those chains that survive the recession, things will return to normal. "Normal" for this channel, however, is a long, slow decline. In the almost forty years I've been observing department stores (my first job in this business was in the advertising department of Goldwaters in Phoenix) I have watched them go through several economic cycles. In each recession, they hit a bottom that was a bit lower than the last time; in each recovery they reach a top that was a bit lower.

Meanwhile, brands that have for decades been sold exclusively through department stores are looking for other ways to reach their consumers. An example cited in the article is Estee Lauder, which is now sold on-line. If my brand were heavily dependent on department stores for distribution, I'd certainly be seeking alternatives.

Kmart goes PL on shoes

Kmart cut their relationship with Footstar, which had been running its shoe departments, at the start of the year, and is now producing its own shoes.

Kmart has taken its shoe business in-house and is introducing low-priced sneakers endorsed by NBA player Al Harrington and women's shoes aimed at attracting the "frugalista," a retail executive said Wednesday.

"We were neglecting to serve our Hispanic and African-American customers," said Nick Grayston, who served as CEO of Foot Locker's U.S. business before becoming president of footwear for Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings Corp. last June.

"We've injected some fashion in our shoes, which had been sadly lacking," he said.

They have a line of men's/boy's sneakers endorsed by Harrington (of whom I've never heard, but I'll assume he's a mildly big deal), priced as low as $19.99 -- which seems to be taking a page out of Steve & Barry's book.

I haven't been too worried up 'til now

But when I find out that Girl Scout cookie sales are down, it's clear that the sky is truly falling.
National numbers are not yet in, but regional Girl Scout councils nationwide are seeing the impact of the down economy, as well as bad winter weather, in declines as large as 19% in pre-order sales, which took place January through early February.
I will do my duty to jump-start the economy by buying a couple extra boxes of Thin Mints.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Microsoft adds to the blur

I posted an item several months ago about the blurring between channels, between manufacturers and retailers, and between both of them and media. Microsoft has apparently decided to jump on the blurwagon by hiring a long-time Walmart exec to head up a retail division:
The move is a sign of the deeper role consumer-technology companies are playing in the retail business, despite the many risks of straying from their traditional businesses of making hardware and software. Apple, of Cupertino, Calif., encountered widespread skepticism when it first began opening its own retail stores in 2001. [...]

At the same time, some large electronics retailers have fallen on hard times amidst the weakening economy. CompUSA Inc. last year closed most of its retail stores, while Circuit City Stores Inc. is in the process of shutting down all of its stores and laying off more than 30,000 employees.
As retailers become their own suppliers through private labeling, and as the number of potential channel partners shrinks through consolidation, it seems inevitable that we will see more suppliers playing retailer.

More on the food-price battle

In the comments to my previous post on pricing tensions between suppliers and food retailers, Mark Ahrens pointed us to the Unilever-Delhaize dispute in Europe, where Delhaize tossed hundreds of Unilever products out of their stores.
Unilever spokeswoman Aurelie Gerth said Delhaize, which had already removed 70 other Unilever goods before October, refused to buy all the brands the company offered and wouldn’t guarantee new products would get shelf space. Though talks continue, there’ll “probably not be a solution this week,” she said.

“We didn’t agree to their terms, so they refused to grant us discounts,” said Delhaize spokeswoman Liesbeth Rogiers. “That would really boost our purchasing prices and we can’t and won’t pass those on to our customers.”
Throwing out one of the world's leading CPG companies seems like a pretty bold step, and one suspects Unilever won't be out for long. But I was struck by this step that Delhaize has taken:
Delhaize plans to sell the remaining Unilever products it has in stock, and has put up signs in its stores directing shoppers to alternative brands and private labels, Rogiers said.
In regard to food prices in general, a bit of perspective might be in order. This item from WomensDay has, among other things, comparative prices (adjusted for inflation) for food products -- in the 1950s, a dozen eggs cost the equivalent of $5.29, and in the '70s a pound of round steak was $9.33. The next time I gripe about prices, I'll try to keep those in mind.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I love the Wii

And not just because it's a lot of fun. I also love the Wii because it's a great marketing story. Nintendo, if I recall the numbers correctly, was trailing Sony and Microsoft fairly significantly pre-Wii. Hardcore video gamers (such as my son) turned up their noses at Nintendo's products.

So Nintendo simply redefined the market, creating a family-friendly game system that facilitates rather than impedes social interaction, and that appeals more to adults and little kids than teen boys. It was marketing genius -- if you're losing in the existing market, create a new one.

And it has paid off big-time. The video game business is one of the bright spots in the economy, with January sales up 13% over last year, and within that growing market, Wii's console sales are double those of Playstation and Xbox, while the top three games are all for the Wii.

And besides that, Mario Kart is a blast.

P&G no longer tagging displays for Walmart

I'm not sure what to make of this item:
The Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G), a pioneer in the use of Electronic Product Code (EPC) technologies in the supply chain, has ceased placing EPC tags on promotional displays bound for Wal-Mart's RFID-enabled stores.
Although I haven't followed the subject closely, from the early days of RFID I have thought that its most significant application, from a trade promo standpoint, was in tracking displays for purposes of compliance monitoring. The article seems to support this view, quoting a P&G exec: "... the work we conducted with Wal-Mart has shown that this use of the EPC can deliver improved promotional effectiveness, better sales and, most importantly, higher shopper satisfaction."

So why stop doing it? It appears that Walmart was was not cooperating with the project. The article cites a P&G supplier as saying that "the company is frustrated that Wal-Mart's sales associates have not acted on the data in order to improve compliance with promotional programs."
P&G's managers, the contract manufacturer explains, "were asked to put the tag on and absorb the cost of that, and I think they felt Wal-Mart should be doing more to live up to their end of the bargain. Why put the tag on if Wal-Mart's not going to act on the data?"
P&G of course is not going to say anything like that. But they seem to hint at it:
"We've been working on these applications for close to 10 years. We have learned that to secure sustainable benefits, the use of EPC requires deep levels of collaboration between the manufacturer and the retailer, and a commitment to use the actionable visibility provided by the EPC to change business processes. "
Hmmm ... Walmart not collaborative?

Local TV in decline

There was a time when being granted a license to operate a TV station was equivalent to having a license to print money -- with margins as high as 50%. Local TV stations, especially network affiliates made tons of money regardless of how they were managed or marketed. There was no way they could fail.

Of course, pretty much the same was once true of newspapers. But not anymore:
LAS VEGAS -- Lisa Howfield, general manager of KVBC, the NBC affiliate here, watched last year as the broadcast-television business began to shrink. She started cutting. She combined departments. She made do with old equipment, and did away with luxuries like yearly sales getaways.

In December and January, she laid off 15 employees, or 6% of her staff. After the weatherman left last month, one of the morning news anchors took on both jobs. "It's like a bad roller-coaster ride," says Ms. Howfield. Her station's full-day viewership is down 7.7% this TV season from the same period last year, according to Nielsen Co., and Ms. Howfield expects her ad revenue in 2009 will be down 30% from 2008.
To the combination of media fragmentation exacerbated by the economic and advertising downturn, you can now add the threat (beginning to be openly discussed by network honchos) that the networks may decide they don't really need local affiliates, given the levels of cable/satellite penetration. Why, the networks are asking themselves, should we split the (shrinking) ad revenues with the affiliates, when most of their viewers are watching us on cable? Why not just switch our programming to cable and keep all that lovely money for ourselves?

This probably won't happen in the next couple years (as the article makes clear), but it will happen reasonably soon. When it does, another important medium for local advertising will decline, pushing still more trade funding into the store.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A bit of speculation on food pricing

A week or so ago, I posted an item about the increasing tension between supermarket chains and their CPG/food & beverage suppliers who raised prices in 2008, but have not lowered them since. As usual in such cases, there are two sides to the story.

I also quoted from a news item that commented on a sidelight of the story:
But analysts say they're already seeing an increase in so-called promotional dollars, or money that vendors give to retailers to subsidize temporary discounts like two-for-one offers.
I have ever since been musing on that sidelight, and wondering whether it might in fact be a key component of the story. This is, I hasten to say, pure speculation, and I have no way of knowing whether it has any foundation in fact.

Let's start the speculation with a bit of history. The great increases in CPG/food trade promo spending -- when spending as a percent of sales doubled and tripled to near today's range of about 15%-20% -- occurred in the 1970s. They resulted, those who were involved tell us, out of the massive inflation of that decade and out of the government policies that attempted to deal with the inflation.

In 1971, the government instituted wage and price controls to fight inflation. As almost always happens with such policies, they failed, and were withdrawn in 1973. Inflation continued throughout the 70s and into the early 80s. Many manufacturers raised their prices more than necessary after the controls were lifted and kept them high throughout the decade, offsetting the excess increase with allowances to their retailers. They looked at this as insurance against reimposition of controls -- they had higher prices on the books to protect themselves from government auditors -- and meanwhile the allowances effectively cut their prices down to reality.

So much for the history, here comes the speculation: I'm wondering if part of the suppliers' reluctance to cut their prices now has a similar foundation. In the face of economic uncertainty, and with the likelihood of huge government deficits that could trigger inflation, are suppliers hedging their position by keeping relatively high prices on their books, while effectively decreasing the real price through allowances? If so, history tells us that once the new levels of trade spend are established, it may be tough to lower them.

As noted, this is just speculation, but I'd be curious to hear from anybody who has information to support or debunk it.

Chaos in the luxury market

Wall Street Journal reports on the fallout from Saks's deep discounts on top fashion lines.
When Saks Fifth Avenue slashed prices by 70% on designer clothes before the holiday season even began, shoppers stampeded. "It was like the running of the bulls," says Kathryn Finney, who says she was knocked to the floor in New York's flagship store by someone lunging for a pair of $535 Manolo Blahnik shoes going for $160.

Saks' deep, mid-November markdowns were the first tug on a thread that's now unraveling long-established rules of the luxury-goods industry. The changes are bankrupting some firms, toppling longstanding agreements on pricing and distribution, and destroying the very air of exclusivity that designers are trying to sell.
Other high-end retailers followed suit, as did many of the designers who have their own retail outlets. But will consumers who grow accustomed to designer shoes at $160 be willing to pay $535 again when the recovery comes?

Besides creating a suspicion of high prices among consumers, Saks's actions broke the unwritten law under which designers and retailers operated: "Leave the goods at full price at least two months, and don't do markdowns until the very end of the season."

Some designers now are looking for ways to protect themselves in the future. Among the options being considered: Giving department stores only a limited assortment of goods, retaining the top items for their own outlets; or, operating leased departments with department stores.
... New York design house Derek Lam, which is known for cocktail dresses that sell from $1,200 to $3,500, is opening its own New York store next month. To protect itself against other retailers' discounts, it's thinking about creating "special editions" of its lines that wouldn't be sold in Saks and other retailers.
In hindsight, Saks admits that it may have over-reacted.
"We didn't need to do what we did in accessories," Mr. Frasch says. High-end shoes and handbags would probably have sold out, even at higher prices, because shoppers see them as more practical wardrobe updates than another new outfit.

The retailer is still not out of the woods. Saks shares were recently trading at $2.72, down from $22 in December 2007. In mid-January, it laid off 1,100 people, or 9% of its work force, and could close some stores.

This year, Saks is spending about 20% less on merchandise to keep inventories lower, but Mr. Frasch acknowledges the number is only a guess. The luxury-goods business is "absolutely flying blind," he says.

His boss, Mr. Sadove, agrees. "One of the big questions that people are asking," he says, is: "Will people ever buy at full price again?"

I'll be interested to see if the Saks approach or the Abercrombie & Fitch approach (refusing to cut price) is more successful.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

P&G expanding car washes

Procter & Gamble has bought an Atlanta car wash chain and will use it as a foundation for expansion of their Mr. Clean experiment.

The move follows an August announcement by P&G that it was seeking franchisees to expand the car wash centers throughout Ohio and Kentucky, including with locations in the Dayton area. At the time it operated two local operations – in Deerfield Township and Evendale – and offered services at Fountain Square garage in downtown Cincinnati.

Now, Mr. Clean Car Wash operates 16 locations, including the two corporate-owned sites. Three other franchised locations are in the works.

On the one hand, using the Mr. Clean name on car washes certainly sounds like a natural brand extension. On the other, going into the car wash business seems rather distant from P&G's core competencies. On the third hand, who am I to question P&G?

Update on automotive channel-stuffing

There are continuing reports of car dealers being pressured by manufacturers to take on excessive inventory:
[Chrysler] has urged its dealers to take on more inventory in February and March as it looks to boost revenue ahead of a first quarter deadline to secure additional government aid and prove that it is viable.

Automakers book revenue when vehicles are shipped to dealers, not when they are sold to customers.
The problem for the dealers is that they already have an average of five months inventory on their lots.

Fewer stores, fewer brands, fewer choices

As consumers, we will need to adjust to fewer choices during the downturn -- fewer choices of where to shop, as stores close, but also fewer choices in the stores that remain open. Suppliers cutting costs will take fewer chances with new products, and retailers cutting inventory will trim their assortments.
Toy maker Mattel, Inc., which posted a 49 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit, said its focus this year will be "cost and spending reductions." It added that it's cutting back on underperforming products. Whether that means fewer choices with Barbie or Hot Wheels isn't clear yet. [...]

The caution can already be seen in the lean assortment of spring items in stores like Banana Republic and AnnTaylor, which have empty space in areas once teeming with tables of merchandise.
Another way we will see fewer choices is likely to be retailers cutting not just assortments (carrying a dress in three colors instead of five), but also cutting suppliers and brands:
"How many different brands of men's black shoes do we need?" is one example of the questions Macy's is asking itself, Chief Executive Terry J. Lundgren told the The Associated Press this week after the chain announced it was cutting 7,000 jobs. "We have to do a better job in turning our inventory," he added.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Touching increases value

An interesting piece of research says that touching an item may increase its value to consumers.

Researchers from Ohio State University and Illinois State University tested how touching an item before buying affects how much they are willing to pay for an item. A simple experiment with an inexpensive coffee mug revealed that in many cases, simply touching the coffee mug for a few seconds created an attachment that led people to pay more for the item.

The results, which were published recently in the journal Judgment and Decision Making, found that people become personally attached to the mug within the first 30 seconds of contact.

Handling the mug increased the value of the mug by significant percentages, based on what participants were willing to pay in an auction setting.

Not definitive, of course, because it's just one study. But it seems intuitively reasonable, and has implications for online and bricks & mortar marketers.

Macy's changes course (or do they?)

Macy's is announcing that they will be doing more localization, both in merchandise and marketing.
The retailer will eliminate its current structure -- a relic of its May Co. acquisition that had stand-alone divisions such as Macy's Central and Macy's Florida -- and streamline functions into two corporate offices. Marketing, merchandise planning, buying and stores' senior management will be located in New York, while finance, human resources, legal and real estate will be housed in Cincinnati.
That's cool. But this is just an extension of a change they announced a year ago, and that I commented on last April. They don't exactly turn on a dime, do they?

The real concern is the one I expressed last April (though I was no doubt too harsh -- I must have been feeling really crabby that day): The raison d'etre of the merger that created Macy's was nationalization (national advertising, national merchandising, economies of scale). Now they are abandoning that, and going back to having 69 regional marketing/merchandising plans. Macy's is the bellwether of the department store channel and they are demonstrating that they really have no vision or direction for the channel.

A first in Second Life

TPMA held its first event in a virtual world yesterday, hosting a series of panel discussions via Second Life. I moderated the three panels, which featured lively discussion on collaboration, customer-centricity, and positioning trade promo programs for recovery.

The panelists -- Peter Eschenberg (Hitachi), Harris Fogel (O4), Blake Watts (Plan4Demand), Jim Nadler (afterBOT), Tom Strubel (Oracle), Phil Conner (IAB), Lauren Robinette (Cisco), Armen Najarian (DemandTec), Chris Wiesen (SAP) -- did a great job, and there was lots of interaction from the attendees.

It was different and it was fun. This was a case where the medium was at least a big part of the message. The content was important, of course, but it was also an opportunity for all of us to try out a new medium and see whether it can be an effective way to communicate.

I think the medium passed the test. There were few technical glitches and none of any significance. We deliberately kept things simple, but now we know that we can add other elements (slides, maybe video). And most importantly, we learned that this is a format for delivering information that engages the audience more than traditional webinars. I'm not saying this will replace webinars -- there are limitations as well as strengths -- but its another option to consider.

PS: Armen posted about the event on his blog -- get his view here.