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Dark stores and coercive diplomacy

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I came across a couple of interesting terms recently: dark stores and coercive diplomacy.

Dark stores

Gartner for Marketing (formerly L2 Inc.) were talking about a new development at Amazon’s Whole Foods subsidiary. It was what Gartner called digital dark stores. The first one has been established in Industry City to serve much of Brooklyn, New York.

Amazon themselves called it a ‘permanent online-only store‘ on their blog.

So whats the difference between dark stores and the ‘last mile’ warehouses that Amazon uses for fulfilment in places like London?

  • Looking at the limited amount of photos available, this doesn’t feel warehouse-like. There wasn’t obvious automation in the pictures. Instead it feels like a supermarket that’s well stocked, but lacking price tags and shopper marketing accoutrements. Gartner describe it as ‘technically a grocery store’, which implies that there might be zoning or planning regulations that they might be working around
  • It is only for the Whole Foods brand; rather than fulfilling Amazon Fresh and Amazon Prime Now items

This isn’t just an Amazon thing. Gartner points out that American supermarket brands Kroger and Giant Eagle have also embraced the order-only store model. More at Gartner for Marketing here.

Coercive diplomacy

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute published a report on September 1, 2020 called The Chinese Communist Party’s coercive diplomacy. It was written by Fergus Hanson, Emilia Currey and Tracy Beattie. Hanson, Currey and Beattie analysed ten years of Chinese government diplomacy. In there words:

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is increasingly deploying coercive diplomacy against foreign governments and companies. Coercive diplomacy isn’t well understood, and countries and companies have struggled to develop an effective toolkit to push back against and resist it.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is increasingly deploying coercive diplomacy against foreign governments and companies. Coercive diplomacy isn’t well understood, and countries and companies have struggled to develop an effective toolkit to push back against and resist it.

This report tracks the CCP’s use of coercive diplomacy over the past 10 years, recording 152 cases of coercive diplomacy affecting 27 countries as well as the European Union. The data shows that there’s been a sharp escalation in these tactics since 2018. The regions and countries that recorded the most instances of coercive diplomacy over the last decade include Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and East Asia.

There seems to be an escalation of economic and non-economic measures deployed. Economic measures would include:

  • Trade sanctions – such as the recent ban on German pork products. This was rolled out just a few days in advance of a trade negotiation meeting between China and the European Union
  • Investment restrictions in strategic industries such as the ‘agreement‘ that Yahoo!, Softbank and Alibaba had over Alipay (which included what would now be Ant Group). Strategic industries like state security is notoriously (and deliberately) ill-defined in China
  • Tourism bans
  • Popular boycotts such as Korean corporate Lotte being driven out of China and the 2012 anti-Japan protests where the public smashed Japanese stores, attacked factories and burned Japanese cars

Coercive pressure is also applied at below state level on businesses. It may also be applied on individuals, based on the data leak provided from Zhenhua Data seems to imply.

Non economic measures include:

  • Arbitrary detention. The best example of this would be Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor detained as part of China’s dispute with Canada. Another example might be Australian citizen Karm Gilespie. China didn’t admit it had detained him for over six years, until they announced his death sentence in the summer
  • Restrictions on official travel
  • State-issued threats which are usually issued on a regular basis as part of wolf warrior diplomacy. (Wolf Warrior is a set of two films with a Chinese action hero, a la Rambo – but with less humour).

Some of the imputus for coercive diplomacy might come from the Chinese Communist Party’s continued rancour over Qing dynasty-era unequal treaties. More China related content here and more on retailing here.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When Chinese State Security police knocked on ABC journalist Bill Birtles’ door, he realised he was no longer safe in China – ABC News – interesting how business and finance reporting has been hard for the past few years. Which is one of the reasons why scandals like Luckin Coffee happen. Chinese state security is incompatible with the kind of transparency needed for good business reporting. More on Luckin Coffee here.

Mulan’s official Chinese poster advances a nationalist agenda — Quartztweaked its posters, fascinating run through he symbolism

Minitel: The Online World France Built Before the Web – IEEE SpectrumFor a generation of French citizens, Minitel wasn’t about hardware, switches, or software. It was about the people they chatted with, the services they used, the games they played, and the advertisements for these services they saw in newspapers and on billboards. Many of the services that we associate with the Web had predecessors in Minitel. Before there was Peapod, there was 3615 TMK (Tele-Market), a service that enabled Parisians to order groceries for same-day delivery. Before there was Cortana or Siri, there were Claire and Sophie, services that provided personalized information using natural-language interfaces. Before there was Ticketmaster, there was Billetel. And before there was telebanking, there was Minitel banking

Brand Equity May Be Auto Industry’s Biggest AI Risk | CLS StrategiesThe AI Risk Index reflects a substantial gap between what is intended and what is perceived by critical stakeholders. The results are stark—especially in the context of substantial investment and many more years of public scrutiny as AI is improved—and reveal a growing crisis of trust. Though an average of 62% of Americans are familiar with companies in the transportation industry, only 35% have a positive opinion of them (compared to 43% for non-automotive manufacturing and 41% for retail companies) and only 37% trust them (compared to 44% for manufacturing and retail companies). Even more concerning is that the transportation companies most heavily involved in AI technology drive this sense of distrust, more so than traditional carmakers. That may explain why only three out of eight transportation companies analyzed during the third quarter of 2018 mentioned advancements in AI at all—indicating that auto companies are either communicating poorly or not communicating at all.

Amazon’s profits, AWS and advertising — Benedict Evans – interesting analysis of where Amazon makes it’s money

Strategic Management: Evaluation and Execution – Table of Contents – great book available in the creative commons

BlackBerry Is Planning a Comeback. For Some, It Never Left | WIRED – a bit like me and Nokia feature phones LOL. On a more serious note you see this kind of loyalty on lots of diminished, but distinctive brands. SAAB would be the classic poster child

2007 forever – The Magic iPod – resurrecting AplusD type mashup culture

Facebook May Be Ordered to Change Data Practices in Europe | New York TimesFacebook is facing the prospect of not being able to move data about its European users to the United States, after European regulators raised concerns that such transfers do not adequately protect the information from American government surveillance. – this comes under the Irish data commissioner. More here – Facebook Fights Irish Privacy Watchdog’s Data-Transfer Curbs – Bloomberg

Human values: understanding psychological needs in a digital age – BBC R&D – really interesting work done by BBC Research and Development that could be applied to site and app design

Douyin, China’s TikTok, permanently bans live-streamer who verbally harassed young women on the streets | South China Morning Post

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Jargon watch: orchestrated media

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I decided to revisit the idea of orchestrated media recently. I had been working on the SEO of a post from 2011. This post linked out to an article by BBC research and development on orchestrated media.

Picture of a test card from CCTV in Beijing
Test card from Chinese public broadcaster CCTV.

The BBC where aware that media consumption had become more complicated. Attention whilst watching the TV at one time competed with the occasional trip to the kettle; or flicking through a newspaper that was to hand but otherwise undivided. What became the TV changed with the advent of content distributed over internet connections to the web and mobile devices. But it wasn’t only about the proliferations of screens, but also how it interplayed with other media.

It doesn’t necessarily imply simultaneous consumption of content via these different media forms. Nor does it imply the consumed content is related across the screens (e.g. an audience member may be using Facebook or Twitter for a completely unrelated purpose, while paying less attention to the TV show).


Thinking in those terms is perhaps unnecessarily limiting in scope and misses the broader picture around the opportunities of social media, creating more seamless media experiences, and how these flow from home environment to beyond.

Jerry Kramskoy on the BBC R&D blog on ‘orchestrated media

This gives marketers a number of interesting things to think about. When is TV not TV. Think about live event programmes like The Apprentice or Britain’s Got Talent where social acts a ‘giant sofa’ as viewers share their opinions on what they see on screen. Twitter has tried to tap into this link between TV and discussion in its marketing efforts.

As broadcasters, the BBC started to think of the potential in a two-way conversation that was far more democratic than SMS polling, email or letter bags and phone-ins.

Orchestrated Media (OM)to refer to this experience of interaction, synchronisation, and collaboration of programme and companion content across devices. OM creates a new form of audience engagement with the broadcaster. Let’s start with some high level goals

• Enable interactivity around the content (voting, games) and synchronisation thereof, based on time and/or events (such as a producer-console triggered “button push”)
• Enable richer exploration of programme
• Enable social network interactions through sync-related information and content identifiers for replay purposes
• Migrate content between the TV and mobile devices (such as a load-and-go service that runs overnight to load the mobile with video corresponding to the unwatched portion of a program, or a resume-for-home service that picks up viewing on the TV from where it left off on mobile)

Some of the necessary components in reaching these goals include
• Visual feedback of shared interactions on TV screen
• Private interactions on mobile screens
• Support for not only live experience but also time-shifted and on-demand and pay-per-view ones
• A back-channel to broadcaster for interactions, behaviour etc
• Audio for different languages, directors commentary, clean audio etc, selectable per individual, synchronised to the programme
• Accessibility for all above
• Application life-cycle and runtime management

Orchestrated Media – beyond second and third screen (II)

This seems to be aimed to provide a seamless anytime, everywhere experience. Think of the way services work in the background as part of Apple’s ‘Continuity’ service layer. As marketers, if we’re thinking about an orchestrated media landscape, how do we hand off between channels and provide prospective customers a similar kind of seamless experience. How do we manage long term and short term attribution and feed these insights into proportion of media spend?