TIME energy

Gas Stations in 24 States Drop Prices to $2 a Gallon

Mark Monaham, owner of the Raceway gas station in McComb, Miss., changes his fuel price billboard, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. Gas prices throughout the region continue to fall as oil prices plummet.
Mark Monaham, owner of the Raceway gas station in McComb, Miss., changes his fuel price billboard, Dec. 19, 2014. Daniel Lin—AP

Christmas comes early for many commuters

An oil boom has pushed gas prices at some stations, as of Saturday, down to as little as $2 a gallon.

Price tracking service GasBuddy.com found that pockets of low prices below $2 have also cropped up across the country, while average prices across the U.S. are tracking at $2.43 a gallon.

“As of this morning, there are 24 states with prices under $2 a gallon,” GasBuddy’s senior petroleum analyst told USA Today.

Commuters in Missouri have reaped the biggest windfalls, with gas dropping to $1.96 a gallon in Springfield–and even lower in some outlying towns.

With Saudi Arabia’s announcement in September that it would keep the oil flowing, despite falling prices, analysts predict that gas prices have not bottomed out just yet. American Automobile Association analysts expect prices to fall by another seven cents, just in time for Christmas.

Read more at USA Today.

TIME Media

Sony Chief Says ‘We Have Not Caved’ on The Interview

"We have not given up," Michael Lynton said after his studio cancelled the movie under pressure

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton defended his company’s decision to cancel the release of The Interview on Friday, even as the company refused to rule out releasing the movie in other ways.

Lynton said Sony’s decision was prompted by movie theaters opting not to show the film after hackers, who U.S. officials believe are linked to North Korea and who have wreaked havoc on the studio by disclosing emails and other company information, threatened 9/11-style attacks. Moments earlier, President Barack Obama had called the move to cancel the Christmas Day release a “mistake.”

“The unfortunate part is in this instance the President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Lynton said on CNN. “When it came to the crucial moment… the movie theaters came to us one by one over the course of a very short period of time. We were completely surprised by it.”

Read more: You can’t see The Interview, but TIME’s film critic did

Sony said in a statement later Friday that its decision was only about the Christmas Day release.

“After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform,” the studio said. “It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”

Obama told reporters he wished Sony had reached out to him before canceling the film’s Christmas day release. It depicts a fictional assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” he said. “Imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone who’s sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

Lynton denied the studio had given into the hackers’ threats.

“We have not caved. We have not given up,” he said. “We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

Read next: Obama Says Sony “Made a Mistake” Pulling ‘The Interview’

TIME Companies

Uber Is Trying to Patent Its Surge Pricing Technology

The practice recently fueled criticism when users in Sydney faced rising prices as they tried to flee the area of a hostage crisis

The fast-growing ride-sharing service Uber wants to patent a pricing technology that has come under fire from critics who accuse the company of price gouging.

The technology, which Uber calls “surge pricing,” is among at least 13 patent applications the company has filed with the U.S. patent office, which typically become public 18 months after filing, Bloomberg reports. So far, most of the applications have been initially rejected for “obviousness” or because they were otherwise ineligible, but there’s been no decision yet on the surge pricing technology.

Read more: This is how Uber’s surge pricing works

The company, which was founded in San Francisco in 2009 and has already expanded to more than 50 countries, has defended the practice, which adjusts prices in real time based on the amount of demand in the area.

But Uber, already under pressure in jurisdictions around the world over regulatory and safety concerns, drew renewed criticism when the service raised prices in Sydney earlier this week as users were trying to leave the area around a hostage crisis.

[Bloomberg]

TIME

Watch Fortune’s Live Year-in-Review Show

Fortune’s first ever live show will begin today at 3pm Eastern.

Welcome to Fortune’s first ever live show Fortune Live: 2014 Year in Review, hosted by Fortune assistant managing editor Leigh Gallagher. The show will start streaming on this page at 3pm Eastern time.

The opening roundtable will feature Fortune editor Alan Murray, assistant managing editor Brian O’Keefe and tech editor Andrew Nusca discussing the biggest stories of 2014.

Then Disney CEO Bob Iger will talk with Fortune writer Michal Lev-Ram about technology and the creative process.

The Exchange Interview: Technology mogul Robert Herjavec chats with Leigh Gallagher about his hit show Shark Tank, plus the emergence of cyber security as a preeminent issue for business at large.

Watch as Fortune contributor Sue Callaway test drives the Lamborghini Huracon.

Plus: senior editor Jennifer Reingold and writer Dan Roberts share their business predictions for next year.

The full show and excerpts will be available to watch on-demand after it streams live.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Mobile

T-Mobile to Pay $90 Million to Settle Cramming Case

T-Mobile
An employee sets up a new Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy 3 smartphone for a customer at a T-Mobile US Inc. retail store in Torrance, California, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Wireless carrier had originally called FTC lawsuit "unfounded"

T-Mobile has agreed to pay at least $67.5 million in customer refunds to settle claims that its customers were the victims of cramming, the Federal Trade Commission said Friday. Cramming is a once-common tactic in the telecom industry through which third parties hide unwanted charges for things like horoscopes and love tips in customers’ wireless bills.

In addition to the refunds, T-Mobile will pay $18 million in fines and penalties to attorneys general in every state and Washington D.C., as well as a $4.5 million fine to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Mobile cramming is an issue that has affected millions of American consumers,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “Consumers should be able to trust that their mobile phone bills reflect the charges they authorized and nothing more.”

The FTC originally filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile over cramming claims in July. At the time, T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who has staked the company’s reputation on being more fair to customers than rival wireless carriers, called the allegations “unfounded and without merit.” T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

T-Mobile will be required to contact all current and former customers who had unwanted charges crammed into their bills and offer them refunds. The company will also have to get customers’ consent before putting third-party charges on their bills in the future.

The T-Mobile case is the latest in a series of cramming settlements that the FTC has brokered. AT&T agreed to pay $105 million in refunds and fines for cramming charges in October.

TIME technology

People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Better Versions of Themselves

LinkedIn
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product

There is the famous story about Steve Jobs when he invented the iPod and everyone in the news and the rest of the tech industry scratched their head a little. MP3 players had been around for quite a while, what was so different about the iPod?

Of course, people argued many things were different, but one of the key aspects was how Jobs marketed and presented it:

“1,000 songs in your pocket”

When everyone else was saying “1GB storage on your MP3 player”, telling people about the product, Apple went ahead and made you a better person, that has 1000 songs in your pocket.

Our friends over at User Onboarding wrote an incredible post and graphic, showcasing how this framework looks on a higher level.

In particular, the image itself proved to be popular—understandably. It’s a great way to describe clever marketing that focuses on benefits rather than features.

I’ve heard people talk about using benefits instead of features in marketing, but I’ve always struggled to understand the difference. For this post, I explored this in a bit more detail and dug up some examples of companies who do this well.

Features vs. benefits – how to grasp the difference

Here’s how our friends at User Onboarding explained features vs. benefits:

People don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves. When you’re trying to win customers, are you listing the attributes of the flower or describing how awesome it is to throw fireballs?

It also included this Tweet from Jason Fried on the topic:

When I read about this some more, I found some great blog posts that broke it down even further. One from the ideacrossing blog describes features as “what your product or service has or does” and benefits as “what the features mean and why they are important.” In fact, oftentimes products contain features, that are absolutely unused, which can be a big source of waste.

So, it seems like features are the “what” of your product or service, while benefits are the “why” behind it.

I also found a really neat, old marketing quote that’s often attributed to Theodore Levitt (he attributes it to Leo McGinneva in this paper), on why people buy quarter-inch drill bits:

They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.

So, the customer wants to make a quarter-inch hole for some reason. They buy a quarter-inch bit for their drill in order to achieve this. Marketing the drill bit based on its features (it fits into your drill) wouldn’t be as successful in this case as marketing it based on the benefits (you can create a quarter-inch hole).

So after all of this reading, I finally distilled the difference into a sentence that I think makes it easy to distinguish between features and benefits:

A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product.

But hey, enough the theory, let’s dig up some amazing examples from some of the best companies out there:

Some great examples of companies making you a better version of yourself

To get a better idea of how this works in practice, I thought it would be useful to take a look at some well-known companies who use benefits in their marketing strategies. Here are a few that I found:

Evernote: Remember Everything

Evernote can’t remember everything for you. In fact, it can’t remember anything—it’s software. What it does is offer features to let you save and organize things. Remembering everything is what you can do with Evernote—the benefit!

Twitter: Start a conversation, explore your interests, and be in the know.

Twitter has used a few different benefits in their tag line on the homepage but they’re still focused on benefits. Each of these three things is something you can do with Twitter. Not a feature of the product. Of course, for saving time on Twitter with scheduling your Tweets and seeing analytics, I hope you’ll still find Buffer useful.

Nest Thermostat: Saving energy is a beautiful thing.

I love this one, because it’s so clever. In just six words, the Nest Thermostat tagline tells you what the biggest benefit is (you’ll save energy), and something about what makes the product unique (it’s well-designed; it’s “a beautiful thing”).

LinkedIn: Be great at what you do.

LinkedIn has gone even further by referencing the customer in their tagline. Saying “Be great at what you do” makes it clear that the idea is you’ll be great at what you do if you use LinkedIn. It’s very customer-focused, rather than pushing features of the product or company mottos front-and-center.

Github: Build software better, together.

Another super simple, but clear tagline. Github has a really obvious benefit to sell to customers, and features don’t even play a part in the tagline.

I’m sure there are lots more companies doing this well. Do you have a great example?

Oh and if you liked this post, you might also like 5 ways to get through writer’s block or content marketing fatigue and 6 Powerful Communication Tips From Some of the World’s Best Interviewers, which are right in the same direction of coming up with a better way to communicate with your customers.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

TIME Companies

T-Mobile to Refund $90 Million for Unwanted Charges

A T-Mobile banner in New York City on Sep. 27, 2014.
A T-Mobile banner in New York City on Sep. 27, 2014. Daniel Bockwoldt—Daniel Bockwoldt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

The mobile phone company had originally called the complained “unfounded and without merit”

T-Mobile agreed to refund its customers at least $90 million for placing unwanted third-party charges on phones, the Federal Trade Commission announced Friday.

If approved by a U.S. District Court, the wireless carrier’s agreement to refund customers for so-called “mobile cramming” would resolve a FTC lawsuit that was initially filed in July, when the company was accused of billing customers for unwanted charges, including horoscope, love tip and celebrity gossip services. T-Mobile allegedly received 35% to 40% of each charge, the FTC said in its July lawsuit, and it was reportedly difficult for consumers to get the refunds they were seeking from the company.

Along with T-Mobile resolving the lawsuit, the phone carrier will also pay additional fines, including $18 million to attorney generals across the U.S. and $4.5 million to the Federal Communications Commission, according to the FTC.

“Mobile cramming is an issue that has affected millions of American consumers, and I’m pleased that this settlement will put money back in the hands of affected T-Mobile customers,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

A representative from T-Mobile was not immediately available for comment on Friday.

But the company’s top executive has previously commented on the case. After the complaint was filed by the FTC on July 1, T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere made the following statement on the company’s website: “We have seen the complaint filed today by the FTC and find it to be unfounded and without merit. In fact, T-Mobile stopped billing for these Premium SMS services last year and launched a proactive program to provide full refunds for any customer that feels that they were charged for something they did not want.”

He added, “We believe those providers should be held accountable and that the FTC’s lawsuit seeking to hold T-Mobile responsible for their acts is not only factually and legally unfounded but also misdirected.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME apps

Picture This: Instagram Could Be Worth $35 Billion

The Instagram logo is displayed on a smartphone on Dec. 20, 2012 in Paris, France.
The Instagram logo is displayed on a smartphone on Dec. 20, 2012 in Paris, France. Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images

Photo-sharing service owned by Facebook could be worth that whopping amount, according to a new estimate by a Wall Street analyst

Instagram, the photo-sharing service owned by Facebook, could be worth a whopping $35 billion, according to a new estimate by a Wall Street analyst.

Citi’s Mark May issued a new valuation estimate for the popular app, far above the bank’s prior $19 billion valuation, a loftier view on the asset that May attributed to Instagram’s announcement last week that it had reached more than 300 million total users.

“While Instagram is still early in monetizing its audience and data assets and its financial contribution to Facebook is minimal today, we believe that it is quickly gaining monetization traction and would contribute more than $2 billion in high-margin revenue at current user and engagement levels if fully monetized,” May wrote in a research report.

The sky-high valuation makes Facebook’s 2012 acquisition of Instagram look like a slam-dunk. The social-media giant only paid $1 billion for Instagram in a cash-and-stock deal.

And Facebook’s move to make money off Instagram is just getting started. Instagram began to roll out ads in its photo stream in late 2013, with video ads debuting on the platform roughly a year later. Citi’s May expects that 2015 will be the first year that Facebook begins to develop “more meaningful off-Facebook revenue streams,” and that includes efforts to make more money off Instagram.

Even with Instagram’s likely higher valuation, it is still a relatively small piece of Facebook, which is overall worth more than $220 billion. But the photo-sharing service’s new valuation estimate by Citi would suggest it is worth more than Twitter, which has fewer monthly active users and a market capitalization of almost $24 billion.

That valuation gap could potentially widen. May said that he expects Instagram could continue to rapidly add users and expects the gap in total viewers between Instagram and Twitter will continue to widen. By the end of 2015, May forecasted that Instagram could have 420 million users verses Twitter’s 319 million.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Food & Drink

Children of Elderly Couple Say a Meatloaf Killed Their Parents

Bob Evans says a lawsuit "is entirely without merit"

An elderly West Virginia couple died after eating tainted meatloaf at a Bob Evans restaurant, according to a lawsuit by their children, who are seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The suit by Mark and Ann Starcher claims that about nine hours after their parents’ meal, Virginia and Harold Starcher became “violently ill” and went to the emergency room, CNN reports. The lawsuit says the dad then suffered a stroke and both parents died over the next several months in hospice care.

A spokesman for Bob Evans said the company sympathizes with the family but says there “is no basis to the allegations contained in the complaint and the suit is entirely without merit.”

[CNN]

TIME Treasury

U.S. Sells Off Last Major TARP Investment, 6 Years On

U.S. taxpayers made around $2.4 billion in the Ally investment

The U.S. has finally sold off its remaining major investment in the Troubled Asset Relief Program, six years after beginning to bail out auto companies, banks and financial institutions in the depths of the Great Recession.

The Treasury Department announced Friday that it will sell its remaining stake in Ally, the former financing division of General Motors, capping the end of its last major TARP investment and the auto rescue program.

Treasury touted that selling the nearly 55 million shares netted $1.3 billion for taxpayers, and $19.6 billion overall after spending $17.2 billion on Ally. However, the government’s overall losses on the $85 billion auto industry bailout were about $10 billion, the Detroit News reports.

After former President George W. Bush signed TARP into law in October 2008, the U.S. poured hundreds of billions of dollars to stabilize banking institutions, AIG, the auto industry and families facing foreclosure.

“The Auto Industry Financing Program helped save the auto industry, more than one million jobs, and prevent a second Great Depression,” said Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew.

“Thanks to President Obama’s leadership, our economy has rebounded from the depths of the financial crisis and is now creating jobs at the fastest pace since the 1990s. There is more work to do, but as we exit the last major financial investment, it’s important to take stock of the progress we have made, and the critical role TARP and the Auto Industry Financing Program played in getting us to this point.”

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