The 3 Biggest Mistakes Leaders Make in Managing Their Brands

According to one study from Burson-Marsteller, 48 percent of a company’s reputation can be attributed to the standing of its CEO.

For better or worse, having an active CEO brand is no longer an option. And while there is a growing understanding of the importance of creating a CEO brand, many leaders still aren’t maximizing their personal brands to benefit their businesses.

The leaders I coach seem to fall into three branding categories:

  • It’s not about me; it’s about my company. I don’t want to draw that much attention to myself.
  • I know I need to be creating more of a brand as a CEO, but I don’t know how to do it.
  • I’m actively engaged in creating a CEO brand, but not getting traction.

More often than not, these well-meaning leaders are misunderstanding and usually mismanaging their CEO brands in three major ways:

1. Not thinking you need one.

I know I’m in for a long, hard, uphill battle when I get a call from a CEO (or their assistant) telling me that he or she is being told they “need” to create a CEO brand, but they:

a) Don’t understand why.

b) Don’t want to.

c) Hate this whole idea.

Often, these leaders haven’t distinguished the need for what I call a “parallel brand”–the perfect blend of a CEO’s personal and company brands. While remaining distinct, these two brands complement each other, simultaneously enhancing the reputation of both the CEO and the business.

2. Delegating your CEO brand.

I often hear from an executive assistant or marketing director tasked with researching the field of available providers and sorting out a short list of candidates to work with their boss on creating a CEO brand.

Too often, however, I find that proposals are being requested prior to a conversation with the CEO themselves. I usually counsel the CEO’s agent against this, since it’s detrimental to the long-term outcome.

Why? As highly skilled as these folks usually are, effective CEO branding isn’t a transactional relationship. Working with leaders on their brands is a very personal experience, blending executive coaching, media training, PR, and personal brand management.

You can’t delegate this.

3. Confusing CEO branding with PR.

While media placement in radio, TV, magazines, newspapers, and blogs is an important part of shaping a leader’s brand, it’s really just one aspect. It’s rarely enough to shape a powerful public narrative.

In my experience, there are four specific areas that require attention to build a robust CEO brand:

Reputation management.

This can be both large and small: claiming the CEO’s name as a URL, getting personal social media, staying on top of search engines to update old photos and information, and much more.

Additionally, being a social CEO is a key way to manage CEO reputation. According to one report by BRANDfog, 75 percent of those surveyed perceive that C-Suite and executive leadership is improved by participation on social media. 

Thought leadership.

A big part of developing a CEO brand is deciding what role thought leadership should play. What impact will a thought leadership strategy have on you and your organization, and how can you align it with your larger organizational goals?

The activities of thought leadership for CEO branding vary greatly depending on the answers to these questions and can include traditional PR and media placement, awards, targeted public speaking, publishing a book, and more.

Content marketing.

This is one of the best ways to gain ground in CEO branding, yet it is often considered a second cousin to traditional PR activities when it comes to thought leadership. A robust content marketing strategy is a powerful part of establishing a CEO’s brand. Depending on the individual’s talents and capabilities, tactics can include:

  • A regular CEO blog
  • Writing articles
  • Publishing white papers
  • A weekly podcast
  • An e-book

Executive presence.

Several years ago, the Center for Talent Innovation did a study on executive presence and found that there were six core traits that determined the degree to which an individual leader was seen as having a strong, positive executive presence. They were:

  • Confidence
  • Decisiveness
  • Integrity
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Vision
  • Reputation

The bottom line is that these same qualities are essential to creating a powerful CEO brand. In fact, much of the work I end up doing with leaders is helping them strengthen and translate these same attributes into media readiness, personal brand messaging, and even personal brand identity collateral.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work — it is. But in a world where almost all information is available on anyone at the click on a keyboard, having a strong CEO brand is not a luxury, but a necessity. So the only question that remains for the modern CEO is not “Am I going to do this?” but “How well?”

With Easy Ride trial, Nissan takes new step toward being Uber competitor

YOKOHAMA (Reuters) – Facing a future in which self-driving cars may curb vehicle ownership, Nissan Motor Co is taking its first steps to becoming an operator of autonomous transportation services, hoping to break into a segment set to be dominated by Uber Technologies and other technology firms.

In partnership with Japanese mobile gaming platform operator DeNA Co, the automaker will begin public field tests of its Easy Ride service in Yokohama next month, becoming among the first major automakers anywhere to test ride-hailing software developed in-house, using its own fleet of self-driving electric cars.

Easy Ride, which Nissan plans to launch in Japan in the early 2020s, is meant to feel more like a concierge service on wheels, making – for example – restaurant recommendations while the car is on the move.

The announcement follows an agreement by Nissan and its automaking partners Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp earlier this month to explore future cooperation with Chinese transportation services conglomerate Didi Chuxing.

These moves mark a push by the automaker to avoid becoming the “Foxconn of the auto industry”: a mere vehicle supplier to ride- and car-sharing companies.

“We realize that it’s going to take time to become a service operator, but we want to enter into this segment by partnering with companies which are experts in the field,” Nissan’s chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, told Reuters in an interview this month.

A person close to the deal has said that the agreement is intended to explore opportunities for Nissan and others to supply battery-electric cars to Didi Chuxing for a new electric car-sharing service it is setting up in China.

He noted however that Nissan and its alliance partners could explore a broader agreement, which might possibly involve Nissan providing self-driving taxi technology to the dominant Chinese ride-hailing service.

NICHE MARKET

A self-driving vehicle, based on Nissan Leaf electric vehicle (EV), for Easy Ride service, developed by Nissan and mobile gaming platform operator DeNA Co, is seen during its media preview in Yokohama, Japan, February 21, 2018. Picture taken February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Creating an upscale autonomous taxi service, rather than trying to beat other companies on price, could help Nissan against bigger competitors like Uber, market experts say.

“By doing something with a more premium feel, it could allow Nissan to charge more for its service and potentially relieve some of that profitability pressure they could face if they were to try to race to the bottom in terms of pricing,” said Jeremy Carlson, automotive analyst at IHS Markit.

Automakers are looking for ways to profit from the rise of car-sharing services, which along with self-driving cars, are likely to lead to a decrease vehicle ownership and chip away at future profits.

Slideshow (4 Images)

IHS Markit expects global sales of autonomous vehicles will soar to more than 33 million units in 2040 from 51,000 in 2021, while Goldman Sachs has predicted that the ride-hailing market will grow eightfold by 2030 to be five times the current size of the taxi market.

Nissan has embraced new technologies, launching the Leaf, the world’s first mass-market electric car, in 2010. The company was an early proponent of self-driving cars, pledging in 2013 that it would market fully autonomous cars in 2020.

Although it has been rolling out automated highway driving functions and self-parking capabilities in a growing number of its models, rivals ranging from Tesla Inc to Subaru Corp have installed increasingly advanced self-driving features in their cars.

GM and Daimler AG are building and expanding car- sharing services, and GM has said it plans to launch a self-driving taxi service next year.

Nissan also has its own car-sharing service using its ultra-compact battery electric models, but after years of trials, the service is available only in Yokohama, home to the automaker’s headquarters.

After bringing in Ogi Redzic, who previously led the automotive business group of mapping data firm Here Technologies, to head Renault-Nissan’s mobility services division in early 2016, Nissan in the past year or so has begun to gear up its strategy to compete in the new transportation area.

Its partner DeNA is one of the world’s biggest social gaming networks with 30 million users. The company’s expertise in developing real-time user interfaces and payment systems will help give shape to the taxi service platform.

The company already operates a user-sourced car-sharing app in Japan, and had been developing a self-driving taxi system with a Japanese robotics start-up before teaming up with Nissan.

Additional reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu in BeijingEditing by Gerry Doyle

YouTube and Facebook Trending Tools Highlighted Parkland Conspiracy Theories

It takes a special sort of heartlessness to create a conspiracy video about a teenage survivor of one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. But it takes a literally heartless algorithm to ensure that thousands, or even millions, of people see it.

For a brief period on Wednesday, YouTube awarded the top spot in its Trending section to a conspiracy video claiming that 17-year-old David Hogg, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 students, was in fact an actor. The prime placement of the video, which has since been removed, shocked YouTube users and members of the media alike. It shouldn’t have. YouTube’s screwup is only the latest to highlight the fundamental flaws of the algorithms that decide what gets surfaced across all social platforms.

On Trend

YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter all have a section designed to surface the most newsworthy, relevant information in the midst of a vast sea of content. But time and again, they have utterly failed. In the worst cases, the algorithms backing these trending sections drive bot-fueled hashtag campaigns promoting gun rights to the top of Twitter Trends, and fake news stories about former Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly into Facebook’s Trending Topics portal. Human curation hasn’t worked out much better. Reports that Facebook’s curators suppressed news from conservative outlets in trending topics set off a two-year cascade of crises for the social network.

But even at their most benign, these algorithmically derived trends rarely serve their expressed purpose. Based largely on conversation volume, trending tools naturally drive the public consciousness toward topics of outrage; an outrageous topic trending only adds to the outrage. How many times have you clicked on a trending topic on Twitter, only to see an endless scroll of Tweets decrying that the topic is trending in the first place? The conversation about the trend becomes the trend itself, an interminable loop of outrage that all started because some line of code decided to tell millions of people that topic was important.

The Parkland video topping YouTube’s trending page seems especially galling because it appears to have gotten there not by accident, but as the result of an attempt on YouTube’s part to fix fake news. YouTube says its system “misclassified” the conspiracy video “because the video contained footage from an authoritative news source.” Whatever minimal nuance was needed to block the Hogg conspiracy, algorithms lack it.

Though YouTube got most of the blame on Wednesday, Facebook ought to have shared it. David Hogg’s name also appeared in the company’s Trending Topics section. As of Wednesday afternoon, the first story that surfaces when users clicked his name was a news clip debunking rumors Hogg is an actor. But just three results down sat another video, showing a visibly nervous Hogg stumbling over his words with the caption, “This one is David hogg, the video that keeps coming down on YouTube. Seems like he’s been scripted #davidhogg #actor #falseflag #censorship #floridashooting #florida.”

Top videos under the trending topic “David Hogg,” as seen on Facebook on February 21, 2018.

Facebook

Below that, Facebook ranked another conspiracy post by former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Amber Smith as the top Public Post on the topic, above legitimate news sources like the Toronto Star and CBS Boston. Smith’s post reads in part, “Fascist-Book will take this down soon so view quickly.. David Hogg just 6 months ago was in an anti-gun rally (pictured, gee, no kidding!), he is not a student at the recent false flag event in Florida that was staged to take away your rights. Please, fight for your rights!”

Top public posts under the trending topic “David Hogg,” as seen on Facebook on February 21, 2018.

Facebook

In a statement, Mary deBree, head of content policy at Facebook said, “Images that attack the victims of last week’s tragedy in Florida are abhorrent. We are removing this content from Facebook.”

It’s a standard response that does little to prevent future disinformation campaigns from spreading on the platform, and does nothing to mitigate the damage that has already been done.

Half-Measures

The system is broken. It directly contributes to the spread of fake information that has plagued social media platforms for years. So why not scrap it? Why have a trending module at all? It’s largely because of money, says Dipyan Ghosh, a fellow at the think tank New America who recently left his job on Facebook’s privacy and public policy team. “The Facebook of 10 years or five years ago isn’t the Facebook of today,” says Ghosh. “This Facebook has grown tremendously in its size and influence around the world, and part of that is because of the promotion of particularly engaging content that attracts eyeballs and keeps them on the screen for long periods of time.”

Facebook and YouTube’s best answer so far, other than vague promises of algorithm improvements, has been for each to pledge to build a team of 10,000 moderators to take down problematic content. But more than 400 hours of content gets uploaded to YouTube alone each minute. Ten million humans would have a hard time keeping up, much less 10,000.

Twitter, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that it was making changes to the way automated accounts, or bots, are allowed to operate on the platform, which could have important repercussions for Twitter Trends, arguably the most easily gamed of all of the platforms. These coordinated networks of bots sync up to promote the same hashtag in rapid succession in order to get a given topic trending.

As Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a former FBI special agent, recently put it during a congressional hearing on terrorism and social media, “The negative effects of social bots far outweigh any benefits. The anonymous replication of accounts that routinely broadcast high volumes of misinformation can pose a serious risk to public safety and, when employed by authoritarians, a direct threat to democracy.”

Twitter has stopped short of banning bots entirely, but it will drastically limit the ways in which they can interact with each other. In a blog post, the company detailed a number of new limitations for third-party developers designed to stop users from posting or liking simultaneously from multiple accounts, or to rally multiple accounts behind a single hashtag all at once.

It remains to be seen how effective any of these changes will be at cleaning up these trending tools. Hoaxers and trolls have, after all, found a way around almost every obstacle these platforms have put in their way up until now. Why should this time be any different?

By introducing the concept of what’s trending, tech companies told their billions of users they were going to show them the news they needed to know. And yet at a time when social platforms have repeatedly fallen down on the job, it’s worth wondering whether the public really needs their help.

Trending Machine

Venezuela says launch of 'petro' cryptocurrency raised $735 million

CARACAS (Reuters) – President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday that Venezuela had received $735 million in the first day of a pre-sale of the country’s “petro” cryptocurrency, aimed at pulling the country out of an economic tailspin.

Maduro is hoping the petro will allow the ailing OPEC member to skirt U.S. sanctions as the bolivar currency plunges to record lows and it struggles with hyperinflation and a collapsing socialist economy.

Blockchain experts have warned the petro is unlikely to attract significant investment. Opposition leaders have said the sale constitutes an illegal debt issuance that circumvents Venezuela’s majority-opposition legislature, and the U.S. Treasury Department has warned it may violate sanctions levied last year.

Maduro did not give details about the initial investors and there was no evidence presented for his figure. He added that tourism, some gasoline sales and some oil transactions could be made in petro.

“Today, a cryptocurrency is being born that can take on Superman,” said Maduro, using the comic character to refer to the United States, as he was flanked by mining rigs in a state television address.

The official website for the petro on Tuesday published a guide to setting up a virtual wallet to hold the cryptocurrency. The cryptocurrency goes public next month.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro examines a cryptocurrency mining computer during the event launching the new Venezuelan cryptocurrency “Petro” in Caracas, Venezuela February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Venezuelan Cryptocurrency Superintendent Carlos Vargas last week said the government was expecting to draw investment from investors in Turkey, Qatar, the United States and Europe.

The value of the entire petro issuance of 100 million tokens would be just over $6 billion, according to details given by Maduro in recent months, though no new price information was provided on Tuesday.

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The tokens will each be valued at and backed by a barrel of Venezuelan crude oil, Maduro has said.

Advisers working for the government have in the past recommended that 38.4 percent of the petros should be sold in a private auction at a discount of 60 percent.

Maduro says his government is the victim of an “economic war” led by opposition politicians with the help of the government of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Sanctions levied last year by Washington block U.S. banks and investors from acquiring newly issued Venezuelan debt, effectively preventing the nation from borrowing abroad to bring in new hard currency or refinance existing debt.

The petro will not be a token on the Ethereum network, as was previously disclosed in a whitepaper provided by the government.

Reporting by Corina Pons and Girish Gupta; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Lisa Shumaker

You Won't Get Anywhere by Just Posting on Social Media

Why do so many business owners think that if you posting something on social media, people will flock to you, bang down your door, and buy everything you’re selling? Build it (or post it) and they will come is not accurate anymore, especially in 2018.

So why is all the focus put on what is being posted and nothing else? Because that’s what is easy to see. Everything else takes a little effort, but that’s the difference between treating your social media channels as billboards and using social media to actually socialize with potential customers and clients to generate leads. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or countless others social media channels–it’s time business owners pay attention to more. 

To provide customer service.

This is what gets a consumer to trust you. The time your manager takes to respond to questions and engage in conversation could (and should) drive sales.  

“Your social media is your storefront where customer relationships happen,” said Karla Campos, Founder of Social Media Sass, an influencer marketing company. “Sure you can have great graphics but if you are bad at customer service, it’s definitely going to have a negative effect on your business. We should pay attention to private messages, customer concerns, and customer sentiment.”

To time everything just right.

Strategy and timing are part of the full equation. Flexibility and going in a different direction while staying on point is a strong trait to have as a manager.

This means don’t schedule everything and call it a day. Be live. Be social in real time. When you’re watching your favorite show and see the hashtag to use on Twitter while watching means nothing if you’re watching the next day on DVR. You don’t want to be late to the party on social media when things are happening now.

To go beyond branding.

Basic brand knowledge, decent imagery, and good writing skills aren’t enough.

“Without the strategic pieces like targeting, creating profiles aligned with your ideal audience, regularly reading and responding to the analytics behind which posts engage (or don’t) and why (or why not), posting is not only a waste of time but a waste of money,” said Jamie Prince, founder of Flourish, an integrated communications agency. 

Facebook and Instagram offer great insights. There are also third-party resources you can use too, but why pay for them when the social media giants are telling you how people are reacting to your content for free? Seeing what people are liking, how they’re engaging with it, and when it’s all happening is vital for moving forward with your strategy.

To listen.

If you’re just pushing out content, you’re basically the social media equivalent of a person who won’t stop talking. (Who wants to listen to someone who only talks, and never listens or responds?)

Social media is not a billboard on the highway for people to drive by and look at. If someone posts a question, answer it. And don’t wait a week to do it. Answer it within 24 hours. Make it a point to log onto your accounts once a day to see what people are saying. They’re telling you what they like and don’t like by their interaction, or lack of, so listen.

To respond… and be social.

It is a two-way conversation with your audience, rather than a one-way conversation, that was owned in the past by traditional media.

“An effective and holistic social media strategy includes having a dialogue with your fans,” said Dian Oved, a marketing strategist behind Empower Digital who works to verify big names on social media. “Asking them questions, responding to comments, and paying attention to what is trending on social media is extremely important.”

To generate leads.

Remember when I said you can’t just post and think people will buy whatever you’re selling? That’s because people have been trying that for years. Now, you need to pay those platforms if you want to be seen, especially on Facebook.

Spending some money to create a good strategy with images or video and target your ideal customer or client online can bring in quality leads over time to nurture, then convert.

To work with others.

When you post on your platforms, you’re only reaching your audience. By teaming up with other brands who serve the same audience, you’re expanding your reach.

When you invite influencers or members of the media to post on their social media accounts about you by tagging you or promoting you in another way, it acts as a third-party endorsement. 

To look at data.

The great thing about social media, both organic use and paid, is the access to data. You can see what works, what doesn’t and modify your strategy.

“Even for the most creative brand needs to utilize data analysis tools, most of which are free,” said Monica Dimperio, Founder at Hashtag Lifestyle, an agency that connects luxury brands with influencers. 

Years ago, posting for the sake of posting may have worked. Today, social media is like a science and needs to be approached as the complex marketing giant it is.

'Black Panther' Discussion: This One's Gonna Be Fun

In case you haven’t been near a theater, TV, mall, or interstate overpass, and haven’t seen the news, Black Panther opened this weekend. And it opened big. Like, history-making box office numbers big. With good reason—T’Challa (aka Black Panther) is a hero fans have been anticipating for a long time. As WIRED’s Jason Parham noted last week before Marvel’s latest movie “black superheroes were never afforded the same deification” as their white counterparts, but now Panther director Ryan Coogler has made a movie that shows what a superhero movie can truly be. A lot of us here at WIRED saw the movie over the weekend, and now that the worries of spoilers have receded (yes, this post will have them, continue at your own risk), it’s time we finally talk about it at length. Here we go—Wakanda forever!

Angela Watercutter: OK, I’m not going to say too much right off the bat because I want to know what my colleagues thought, but I will just say that Black Panther lived up to the hype. Like, the anticipation for this movie had been building for months and I was starting to worry that nothing could live up to what fans were hoping for with this movie, no matter how talented everyone working on this film is, but judging from the reaction at the screening I saw, people are thrilled. Did you guys have the same experience? How did you feel walking out of the theater? Did you sense that your fellow theater-goers were satisfied?

Peter Rubin: Angela, we were both in Hall H for Marvel’s panel at Comic-Con last July, and after Ryan Coogler surprised the crowd with some BP footage, we both know what was possible. The mood in that room—among attendees, Comic-Con staffers, and the crew itself—was not your usual “ah, this looks cool!” anticipation. Something cathartic happened in there. And even though I had the opportunity to go to a press screening earlier last week, I skipped it, because I wanted to see it for the first time in a theater full of people who were invested in it.

I wasn’t disappointed. Not by the movie, and not by the feeling of joy and lightness (and yes, Oakland pride) that was occupying every chair at in that theater. Two seats over from me was a young kid, seven or eight years old, in a full-on T’Challa suit; in the 24 hours since I saw the movie, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the T’Challas (and Okoyes and Shuris) all over the country, stepping out into recess feeling like heroes. Justice, you’ve already seen it twice, right? What kind of differences did you notice in the two screenings—either in the crowd’s reception or in your own enjoyment?

Justice Namaste: The first screening I went to (second one is today!) was in Oakland on opening night. The only screening I’ve been in that nearly matched the energy in the theater during Black Panther was during the opening weekend of Get Out, when one of my friends actually fell out of their chair during the pivotal scene.

Visually, no other Marvel movie has ever come close to Black Panther—the lush Wakandan landscapes, the vibrantly colored costumes, even the wearable tech was beautiful. And that moment where the Royal Talon Fighter dips below the veil and we get an aerial look over the Golden City? Jawdropping.

But even with all this to mull over, when I left the theater, what was left ringing in my ears was Erik Killmonger’s last words: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ‘cause they knew death was better than bondage.” In my opinion, the driving relationship in the film was that between T’Challa and Killmonger. (Or, thought of another way, the one between T’Chaka and N’Jobu, but realized through their sons.) T’Challa and Killmonger didn’t spend much time together on screen when they weren’t trying to murder each other—their lack of real dialogue was one of the movie’s more disappointing choices—so the tension between them was largely ideological, but it still drove the story. The “son reckoning with his father’s legacy” trope is a staple of the MCU, but it’s a limited one. Using a villain like Killmonger to complicate the idea of what heroism actually looks like, though? That’s a much more fascinating story.

Phuc Pham: As much as I enjoyed watching T’Challa grapple with both his opponents and his emotional demons, I couldn’t shake the sense that his heroic arc was a copy-paste of the superhero’s journey that Marvel has come to rely on. I mean, this is the fourth guy that has had a plot twist regarding his father upend his world.

Killmonger, on the other hand, was much more interesting to me. While T’Challa does his whole superhero thing, his archenemy points to actual systemic oppression, grounding Marvel’s universe in the real world in a way that feels new and bold. His motivation, essentially, is black liberation the world over—which to me qualified as the biggest heroic endeavor in the film. (At least until you realize that the means to achieve that end are vibranium weapons and a high body count.) Like you, Justice, I wish T’Challa and Killmonger had spent more screen time hashing out their ideological differences. The scenes when they engage in ritual combat are visceral—no Black Panther powers allowed!—but also seemed like wasted opportunities for some fight chatter about how best to rule Wakanda as well as improve the lives of the African diaspora.

Watercutter: Totally. I also wanted Killmonger and T’Challa to have more time to actually talk about their differences. Because, unlike almost every other Marvel villain before, Killmonger didn’t just want to rule to be a ruler. He wanted liberation, and in that he and T’Challa weren’t too far apart—they just had different ideas of how to achieve it. In that final scene that Justice mentioned, I truly didn’t want Killmonger to go. I wanted him to join T’Challa and stay in Wakanda. That, to Jason’s point, doesn’t happen often in these films. Maybe it happened a bit with Loki, but he’s always been a character with many allegiances. (And yes, Peter, I remember that Comic-Con Hall H panel—I’ve never felt anything like that a SDCC, and doubt I ever will again.)

Jason, in your great review last week you talked about how Black Panther showed what a superhero movie could do. What do you think it demonstrated in how it portrayed both its heroes and villains?

Parham: I didn’t think Michael B. Jordan’s acting was particularly strong, but I do agree that Killmonger as a character was perhaps the film’s most compelling—because he really wasn’t your typical antihero. I think Jelani Cobb at The New Yorker was correct in that the real villain was history itself. Killmonger’s rage was merely a product of the times, and all the despair he’d seen firsthand around the world. That’s a heavy burden to reckon with, but not an untrue one. In doing this, Coogler positioned the film in a really smart way, giving it historical currency but also contemporary heft, and all without feeling like he was trying to make some obvious political statement.

One of the more brilliant aspects of the movie—a credit to Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s fine script—was its insistence on complicating character arcs, especially with people like W’Kabi and M’Baku, who expertly straddled the line between good and bad. Then there’s someone like Okoye, who is fiercely loyal to Wakanda in every regard. Her inner confliction felt so palpable—being forced to serve an unfit king and wage war against her lover (Danai Gurira’s Okoye was maybe my favorite character, along with Shuri and M’Baku). Everyone felt like they were doing what was best for Wakanda, which you can’t really fault them for. It felt like a truer reflection of what it means to be alive in the world today. Black Panther succeeds on so many levels. I’m curious: what did everybody think were some of the stronger aspects of the film?

Namaste: This is the obvious answer, but I just have to say it—the women. The strongest part of the film was undoubtedly all of the women characters. And that extends to the women behind the scenes as well. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, Angela Bassett’s Ramonda, Letitia Wright’s Shuri (and of course Okoye and the rest of the Dora Milaje) were complex characters whose identities and motivations did not revolve solely around men. The audience saw Okoye as both a warrior and a lover, Nakia as an undercover spy who’s more concerned with protecting human rights than gathering intelligence, and Shuri as a younger (and better?) Tony Stark.

Not to mention the fact that their actions and beliefs are key to driving the story forward. Nakia is the first character who really pushes T’Challa to consider what Wakanda’s responsibility is to oppressed people across the rest of the world. And T’Challa would likely be dead 10 times over without Shuri’s engineering brilliance. Speaking of which, I’ve seen Letitia Wright being called the breakout star of the film, a title she most certainly deserves. As Shuri, she delivers some of the funniest lines, while also masterfully navigating a series of tense and heart-wrenching moments. Sure, T’Challa might be the Black Panther, but these women are far from secondary characters.

Pham: I’m so glad the writers decided to adapt Nakia and the Dora Milaje away from the ways they’re set up in some of the older comic book runs, where Nakia has an unrequited crush on T’Challa and the Dora Milaje—in addition to their role as royal guards—are a pool of potential queens. So extra kudos to film-Nakia for asserting she doesn’t want to be a Dora.

There hasn’t been an MCU film that’s as focused on technology since the Iron Man trilogy, and I was struck by how hopeful Black Panther, both the movie and the character, are how a future shaped by it doesn’t have to be dark and bleak. Production designer Hannah Beachler has said how Blade Runner inspired her vision of Wakanda’s capital Birnin Zana, and it shows. The dense urban landscape, replete with pristine skyscrapers and dusty merchant stalls, certainly hearken to traditional cyberpunk environments. Here, though, Afrofuturism shines figuratively and literally. Wakanda forgoes the dim and damp settings of futuristic cities (why are the streets always slicked with rain?) for a warm glow that almost makes you root for Killmonger’s vision of an empire upon which the sun never sets.

Thematically, the film also bucks the trend of Marvel movies in which new technology always begets catastrophe. Tony Stark’s bleeding-edge armaments always seem to end up in the hands of terrorists while Chitauri tech enables a middle-aged megalomaniac to hunt high schoolers in his spare time. Meanwhile, T’Challa not only prevents vibranium from being weaponized but also closes the film with plans to open a Wakandan outpost in Oakland—a city adjacent to Silicon Valley wealth yet wracked by a 20 percent poverty rate—to share and exchange knowledge. In an age when technology is often abused for nefarious and disruptive ends, the Black Panther’s techno-optimism seems to be a call for fewer divisions, not more.

Rubin: The rest of you have already ticked off just about everything that made this movie so appealing, so in hopes of adding something new to the mix, I’ll close with the idea that Black Panther created an entirely new lane for the MCU. After all 4,000 characters band together to (presumably) defeat Thanos in the two Avengers: Infinity War movies, Marvel is going to need a way to move forward, and Wakanda’s entry onto the global geopolitical stage is one of those ways. The MCU has its cosmic arm, its street-level arm, its mystical arm—and now Wakanda links the political intrigue of the Captain America movies with the deeply personal stories of a fully-fleshed world.

Does that mean we’ll see a Dora Milaje prequel movie in 2021? An M’Baku standalone? Only time will tell, but with a roster of new characters, ready-made internal conflict, and a rising cadre of filmmakers who are ready and able to tell these stories, the MCU’s prospects as a long-range paracosm have never been better.

How Augmented Reality is Transforming B2B Sales Process

The gap between someone’s expectations and reality is a persistent problem in the B2B sales world. Far too often, customers have a very different belief about what the product should be and what they receive. The result might be something that’s the wrong size, color, shape, or doesn’t function the way the customer expected. This unfortunate process leads to disappointment, inaccuracy, and painful revisions.

In other words, what the customer wants and what the company can do are often two incredibly different things. Buyers love endlessly customizable products and options, but salespeople often balk at this idea, believing that customization may interfere with inventory and cycle time metrics. Not every manufacturer can keep up with uniquely tailored goods for each customer. That’s why augmented reality and 3D visualization should play a vital role in the sales process.

Leveraging 3D & AR technologies are proving to be ideal for rapidly achieving customer confidence in the purchasing process. The more complex or spatially-oriented a product is, the riper it is to adopt a visual selling strategy. These applications offer customers a whole new world of immersive experience as they can see with their own eyes exactly what to expect. Allowing them to take part in the design means greater satisfaction, personalization, and loyalty.

The Power of Visual Configuration

Atlas Software, a cloud-based sales platform, says that visual configuration helps increase sales efficiency by 24%, boost conversation rates by 10%, and decrease the sales process by 30%. Furthermore, companies that have reached ‘digitally maturity’ yield 19% higher lead-conversion rates, 35% more quotes, 34% superior performance, and 105% larger deal size when compared to those who rely on outdated legacy systems and sales processes.

“Manufacturing is ripe for disruption from 3D and AR technology in the sale process because it allows customers to be immersed in a complex product without the time and expense that is tied to [a] physical product in brick and mortar environments,” said Atlas Software CEO, Marc Murphy.

Murphy believes that sales play an integral role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (also called Industry 4.0) and it forces manufacturers to ask themselves how their investments are effectively changing the purchaser’s buying experience. 

Smartphone AR applications are quickly moving AR to the mainstream. Companies and sales teams will have to adapt to the market’s quickly changing demands and expectations as computer power and hardware is doing so to keep pace with visual platforms.

The next generation of manufacturing salespeople will need to leverage emerging technology–it’s the fuel for modern relevancy and growth. 

How To Track Elon Musk’s Roadster On Its Journey Towards Mars

The successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy earlier this month was a landmark technical achievement, but it has quickly come to be symbolized by something a bit sillier — the image of a red Tesla Roadster floating through space, with a dummy in a spacesuit behind the wheel.

The car and its passenger — known as Starman — were the test payload for the Falcon Heavy, and they’re now on a long journey out into the solar system. If you’re curious what that path looks like, an aerospace engineer and SpaceX admirer has put together a website that uses NASA data to track the Roadster’s course. It’s called Where Is Roadster?, and it’s fascinating, with both live data on the Roadster’s location and an interactive tool that shows its future course.

It’s often mentioned that the Roadster is “on its way to Mars,” which can give the impression that it’s making a beeline for the Red Planet. But the Roadster, like all things in the galaxy, is subject to the tug of gravity, so instead of a straight path, it’s tracing a long arc away from Earth and the sun.

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And the distances involved are truly vast. Right now, the Roadster is still much closer to Earth — 2.25 million miles away — than to Mars, 137.5 million miles away. Meanwhile, Mars is moving too, so when the Roadster first intersects its orbit this July, the planet itself will already be millions of miles away. After that, the Roadster will actually return to something close to Earth’s orbit, though again, Earth itself won’t be anywhere close.

According to the site’s data, which is taken from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Roadster won’t actually be close to Mars until early October of 2020. And as far as we know, it doesn’t have any landing equipment or thrusters that would make it possible to actually get the car down to the surface.

Unless, of course, Elon Musk has another big secret up his sleeve.

Stocks To Watch: Retail Heavyweights To Center Stage

Welcome to Seeking Alpha’s Stocks to Watch – a preview of key events scheduled for the next week. Follow this account and turn the e-mail alert on to receive this article in your inbox every Saturday morning.

All eyes will be on the retail sector next week, with Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Home Depot (NYSE:HD) both reporting earnings on Feb. 20. There is going to be a lot to unpack in the reports from the Dow constituents that combine for a 7.88% weighting of the index, including the impact of wage inflation and tax reform on full-year guidance. Both stocks tend to create some ripples with peers, which places companies such as Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW), Target (NYSE:TGT) and Costco (NASDAQ:COST) on the watch list. On a broad scale, a confident tone from the retail heavyweights could take some of the sting off the underwhelming January report on U.S. retail sales. Checking the tape, Walmart is up 51% over the last 52 weeks and Home Depot is 31% higher.


Notable earnings reports: Superior Energy Services (NYSE:SPN) and Mosiac (NYSE:MOS) on Feb. 19; Home Depot, Walmart, Dominos’ Pizza (NYSE:DPZ), MGM Resorts (NYSE:MGM), Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) on Feb. 20; Pandora (NYSE:P), Ctrip.com (NASDAQ:CTRP), Boston Beer (NYSE:SAM), Jack in the Box (NASDAQ:JACK) and Wendy’s (NYSE:WEN) on Feb. 21; HP Inc. (NYSE:HPQ), First Solar (OTCPK:FLSR), Herbalife (NYSE:HLF) and Apache (NYSE:APA) on Feb. 22; Pinnacle Entertainment (NYSE:PNK), Hunstman (NYSE:HUN) and Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE:COG) on Feb. 23. See Seeking Alpha’s Earnings Calendar for the complete list.

3%: The yield on the 10-year Treasury danced to as high as 2.94% last Thursday as it came tantalizingly closer to the 3% yield some analysts see as potentially significant to dividend favorites like Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), Exxon Mobile (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX). While concerns over higher rates seem to have receded a bit, there’s still some adjusting to do for investors to a new mix of higher rates and inflation factors. Goldman Sachs thinks companies with low labor costs could stand out in the new environment. Names that make the Goldman short list include Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG), Molson Coors (NYSE:TAP), Citigroup (NYSE:C), Deere (NYSE:DE) and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX).

IPOs expected to price: Crescent Funding (Pending:CFUNU) on Feb. 22.

Analyst quiet period expirations: Eyenovia (NASDAQ:EYEN), Pagseguro Digital (NYSE:PAGS), Menlo Therapeutics (NASDAQ:MNLO), Gates Industrial (NYSE:GTES), Solid Biosciences (NASDAQ:SLDB), Restorbio (NASDAQ:TORC), ARMO Biosciences (NASDAQ:ARMO) and PlayAGS (NYSE:AGS) on Feb. 20.

Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference: This is a big one for the retail sector. In past years, plenty of guidance updates and M&A talk has poured out of the conference. Due to speak on Feb. 20 are General Mills (NYSE:GIS), Conagra Brands (NYSE:CAG), Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), Ingredion (NYSE:INGR), Mondelez International (NASDAQ:MDLZ), Hain Celestial (NASDAQ:HAIN). On Feb. 21, it’s Kellogg (NYSE:K), Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM), Coca-Cola European Partners (NYSE:CCE), Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB), Altria (NYSE:MO), PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) and J.M. Smucker (NYSE:SJM) giving updates. On Feb. 22, the agenda includes talks from Unilever (UN, UL), Procter & Gamble (PG), Valvoline (NYSE:VVV), Nomad Foods (NYSE:NOMD), Newell Brands (NYSE:NWL), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), International Flavors & Fragrances (NYSE:IFF), Spectrum Brands (NYSE:SPB) and Hormel (NYSE:HRL). Finally on Feb. 23, Danone (OTCQX:DANOY), Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL), L’Oreal (OTCPK:LRLCF, OTCPK:LRLCY), Church & Dwight (NYSE:CHD) and Nestle (OTCPK:NSRGY) take the stage.

Fedspeak galore: While it’s been hard to get a handle on which stocks are moving lockstep with interest rate concerns, traders get another crack this week with a glut of Fed speechs sitting on the calendar as potential party spoilers. Harker speaks on Feb. 21, while Dudley, Quarles and Bostic are all due to talk on Feb. 22. Then on Feb. 23 it’s Rosengren, Dudley, Mester and Williams all due to expound on central bank policy matters.

FDA watch: Jazz Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:JAZZ) is expected to hear from the regulator on a review for sleep disorder treatment solriamfetol.

Sales update: Raymond James Financial (NYSE:RJF) on Feb. 21.

Analyst/investor day meeting: Tractor Supply (NASDAQ:TSCO) and Radware (NASDAQ:RDWR) on Feb. 20; DineEquity (NYSE:DIN) on Feb. 21.

Box office: Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) Black Panther is expected to generate huge weekend numbers, with some estimates ranging as high as $180M. The Marvel film opened in over 4K theaters. Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) Peter Rabbit and Universal’s (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Fifty Shades Freed are also in the early part of their runs, while Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is expected to rack up another $8M. Next week, Paramount’s (NYSE:VIA) Annihilation, Orion Pictures’ Every Day and Warner Bros. (NYSE:TWX) Game Night all debut. The U.S. box office is running about 4% behind last year’s pace for first eight weeks of the year, but has picked up recently. Across the industry, the impact of MoviePass (NASDAQ:HMNY) on admissions and concession revenue for AMC Entertainment (NYSE:AMC), Regal Entertainment (NYSE:RGC), Reading International (NASDAQ:RDI), Marcus Corporation (NYSE:MCS) and Cinemark Holdings (NYSE:CNK) is still being gauged.

Extraordinary shareholder meetings for M&A votes: FCB Financial (NYSE:FCB) and Heartland Financial USA (NASDAQ:HTLF) on Feb. 20.

Non-deal roadshow: Carnival (NYSE:CCL) on Feb. 20; Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) and Take-Two Interactive Software (NASDAQ:TTWO) on Feb 22.

Barron’s mentions: General Electric (NYSE:GE) is profiled in the cover story in a piece that tips to the cautionary side. Boston Properties (NYSE:BXP) and SL Green Realty (NYSE:SLG) are two of the REIT stocks seen as attractive. Hovnanian (NYSE:HOV) is a called a speculative bet.

Babe Ruth: It can’t be ignored that several Seeking Alpha users called their shots last week in the comment stream, including kauba with Twilio (+35%) and stevedas on Preogenic Pharmaceuticals (+11%).

Sources: EDGAR, Bloomberg, Estimize.com and Nasdaq.com.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

Airport Controllers Trade the Tower for a Screen-Filled Room

The next time you fly into Florida’s Fort Lauderdale airport, look out the window and see if you can spot what’s missing. The answer? A 160 feet high tower.

That’s what airport officials at the airport say would have been necessary for them to be able to safely control the movement of planes on the ground, taxiing to and from gates and runways at the recently expanded airport. That would be doing things the old fashioned way, by line-of-sight—aka looking at the planes. Instead of an elevated perch, ground controllers at FLL have an even better view from inside a nearby squat, building.

“They have no windows in their building,” says Mike Nonnemacher, the chief operating officer for Broward Country Aviation Department, which controls FLL airport. “It’s all done by radar, and augmented by a system of CCTV and infrared cameras.” A new computer system takes the data from those cameras, and other sensors, and stitches it together into one giant virtual vista.

Controllers sit in front of a video wall, which shows them what’s happening in real time. The infrared images offer improved visibility at night and in the fog. Wearing headsets, they calmly issue cryptic sounding instructions to pilots, and then track the plane moving. It’s the first of its kind in the US, and could set the bar for other airports around the country.

Gregory Meyer/Broward County Aviation Department

In the US, the FAA runs air traffic control, which sees planes safely onto the tarmac. But responsibility for moving these huge machines around on the ground falls on the airport or airline. Their wingspans, which look so elegant in the air, are just a protruding hazard on the ground. Pilots don’t have great visibility out of the cockpit windows, so they rely on ground controllers to tell them which gate to taxi to, where to hold, which path to take, and to warn them of other vehicles like fueling trucks or passenger busses crossing active taxiways. It’s a complicated dance, becoming ever more so as air travel booms and airports expand, allowing takeoffs and landings with barely 30 seconds between them. Airfields usually have one or more towers, so ground controllers can see everything that happens from the runways to the gates.

The layout of the Fort Lauderdale airport makes it a great test case for something new. One row of gates is hidden from direct view of ground controllers, so they used to send someone on foot to scout the scene, report back, and help them keep track of aircraft on a dry-erase board. Tired of all the back and forth and eager to avoid the cost of building a looming tower, they went the virtual route.

The result is that windowless building, inside which ground controllers take in feeds from 66 CCTV cameras, and FAA radar data that includes each plane’s location and call sign. “We take a lot of information, from lots of sources,” says Betros Wakim, the head of Amadeus Airport Technology in the Americas, which designed the software to stitch all that together and present it to controllers in useful ways.

When a plane is ready to leave its gate, ground controllers first make sure it’s safe to move. With their virtual views, they can train cameras toward the plane, check its flight number, and then check the surrounding area. Pushback can be rather hazardous.

“You always have construction and maintenance people who need to be on the runway to do repairs,” says Patti Clark, aeronautics professor at Embry Riddle University, and a former airport manager. Wild animals might be taking a stroll through the grounds. By combining cameras with the radar data, ramp controllers should be able to spot all that, and ward off disaster. “The human factor is always involved, but the more useful and reliable tools you can provide to the human, the better the situational awareness is,” says Clark.

No surprise then, that Nonnemacher says he has already had phone calls and visits from other airports interested in recreating the system, including Tampa, Dallas, and Toronto.

One day, virtual airfield control could remove ramp control centers from airports altogether, freeing up space for terminals or cargo handling areas. It’s all just data, it can be piped anywhere. There’s precedent in Europe; London City airport has just replaced its air traffic control tower with a remote system, and controllers sitting 120 miles away. That same tech is being used in Australia, Sweden, Norway, and Ireland.

So the next time you come in to land at FLL, don’t bother looking for that non-existent tower. Instead, see if you can spot the little building, with the folks inside making your path to the gate—to freedom—quicker and safer.


At the Airport