Brands can do more by creating experiential retail spaces where storytelling plays a crucial part, says Crowd DNA's Essi Mikkola. It's time to help consumers feel a deeper connection with the brands they love…

If you went shopping in a department store 100 years ago, you might have found yourself being followed by a floor-walker. Their purpose was to politely ask whether “Miss or mister was going to buy something?” (if the answer was negative, you’d be asked to leave). Today, retail is facing a challenge that is quite the opposite: how to bring people into the physical stores when almost any product can be found at a lower price online and be home-delivered in an instant.

We know that time has become a luxury for many, and customers go to stores after doing their research online; even checking these reviews while in-store using their phones. So how can brands elevate the physical store experience above the online? As Armand Hadida, founder of the Parisian fashion and lifestyle concept retailer L’Éclaireur explained at the Future Of Retail seminar, creating the perfect experience is like orchestrating a performance. It should spark emotion, inspire and educate, and – in addition to the design – staff play a crucial part in this.

The Store, Berlin
The Store, Berlin

Recently opened in Berlin, The Store is a great example of how physical stores are transforming from points of sale to points of experience. The Store offers a beautiful space where visitors can hangout, eat, get a haircut, see some art and admire a carefully selected collection of artefacts that are displayed so visitors feel as if they are in a friend’s home. And naturally, everything on display, from the vinyl spinning to the couch you sit on, is for sale.

This concept of a hybrid retail, gallery and social space is actually an idea from the past brought into the modern day. As architectural writer Jonathan Glancey explains: ‘Opened in 1909, Selfridges offered bedazzled customers 100 departments along with restaurants, a roof garden, reading and writing rooms, reception areas for foreign visitors, a first aid room and, most importantly, a small army of knowledgeable floor-walking assistants who served as guides to this retail treasure trove as well as being thoroughly instructed in the art of making a sale.’

It seems that many brands are overlooking this art of sale and don’t realise the power their staff could have, if they were trained better. Hadida argues that people love to learn and hear about inspiring real-life stories; staff are ideal brand advocates who can pass on this inside knowledge about the brand, its heritage and the people behind it. Interestingly, the retail prophet Doug Stephens sees a phenomenon in which ‘the store is evolving from being a distribution channel to becoming a media channel.’

Brand loyalty is harder to achieve and maintain than ever, but when consumers find a brand they love, they often become superfans – a passionate group who readily share their experiences on social media. In the saturated world of marketing messages this is exactly what brands need: real stories from real people. Physical stores are ideal places to communicate brand stories through their design and staff, and consumers have the power of a media agency in communicating these forward to the world through their mobiles.

Latest fads like shoppable images on Instagram are encouraging impulsive mobile buying, so physical stores will need to justify their existence even more in the future. For me, multi-sensory experience was one of the biggest trends of 2016 and it’s still continuing to grow. However, brands should keep in mind that the point isn’t just to create sensational experiences with the latest gadgets; it’s to spark personal and meaningful memories, as this is what helps form stronger bonds with their customers.

Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…

360 & VR For Better Insights

We’re increasingly adding 360 and VR to our toolkit - here’s some best practice advice from Crowd DNA director Anna Chapman...

Many of our projects at Crowd DNA involve helping our clients to understand consumer needs and behaviour. And as consumer culture adopts new ways of doing things, we bring these trends into our work. That’s why last year we started to explore virtual reality and 360 cameras for insights work; after all, 89 million VR headsets were sold in 2016 (many of them in time for Christmas).

Consumers have an appetite for VR because it allows them to learn and experience the unusual in the comfort of their own home. From self-development to gaming to shopping, they’re keen to explore these opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to be on stage with their favourite band or fly around the moon without having to spend $150mil? Clients are keen to step into this virtual world too, exploring consumer lives through 360 footage and immersive experiences.

We’re using VR in two ways – as a tool for gathering insights (eg. using 360 cameras) and as a content format for immersing clients in the consumer world and socialising insight. Below are some thoughts around best practice for both.

- Google Cardboard is the go-to device for consumers – it’s inexpensive, easy to use and compatible with most smartphones.

- 360 footage is great for exploring spaces eg. if a client wants to look at the layout or products in a participant’s home.

- Keep VR experiences short (definitely under 15 minutes) – some people suffer side effects like tired eyes and dizziness. Not something you want a client to feel.

- Wearing a VR headset is more fun – and engaging – than looking at a powerpoint deck. Make this an activity at a client debrief or a workshop if you can.

- Think about how the content will be consumed – a 360 photo shot on a smartphone is much cheaper to produce and can be hosted on YouTube (see the Crowd office example above). At the moment this is more impactful and easier to send to a client than creating a bespoke headset experience.

- VR isn’t going to replace real life, it just adds another layer. Similarly, use VR to add an extra dimension alongside other methods and outputs.

Of course, the world of VR is changing rapidly and as it does, so will our methods for gathering and socialising insight. Microsoft’s HoloLens is calling out to developers to get involved in Mixed Reality or MR, which will merge the best bits of VR with Augmented Reality. Once this becomes more affordable, we’ll be able to offer headset-wearing clients even better experiences for exploring insights.


Voice activation is set to become a dominant interface between ourselves and brands and experiences. Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell gathers up notes from our recent work in the field, exploring the barriers to overcome and the opportunities ahead…

It isn’t so much a new thing, but voice activation – or voice computing – is certainly a fast gaining momentum thing. We know this because of the sales and media coverage of devices like Amazon Echo. But, as a business, we also know this as it’s a topic we’ve been asked to explore in several client briefs recently (that’s not something that would have happened much over a year ago).

Clearly there’s a huge opportunity here to create more frictionless and empathetic experiences – particularly in-home, at-work and in-(smart)car. Many of the experts we’ve been speaking to see it as a paradigm shift, something as revolutionary to our relationship with digital utility and entertainment as the rapid advancement of our mobiles was five to ten years ago.

As with most innovations of this kind, there’s a certain clunky-ness to it in its formative stages. Barriers stand in the way of true adoption. Recent data suggests 69% of Alexa’s 7,000 skills either have no reviews or just one review – this implies very low levels of adoption. Of those who enable a voice app on Google Assistant or Alexa, only three-per-cent are still active the week after. Moreover, we’re still to ascertain what kind of relationship we really want with a voice assistant – should it have a name; a gender; where does voice activation intersect with mood recognition and a deeper understanding of what’s on our mind?

Google Home
Google Home

Plenty of challenges, then. But the experts we’ve met believe that, once good use cases become popularised and eulogised, once the recognition process takes the necessary and inevitable steps forward, voice activation will gather pace quickly. They’ve spoken to us about how crazy it will soon look to be swiping away at a mobile. How we need to start comprehending the notion of invisible apps and invisible actions – the invisible interface, ultimately. That we should be ‘viewing’ voice computing as the next great platform.

What’s in it for media and for brands? A lot of our interviewees have spoken about untapping latent intent – all of the new things we will do, or things we currently do but will now do more abundantly – if we don’t have to reach for our phones, and if the cognitive load is reduced. The opportunity is there, they enthuse, for media and brands to be with us more often and more relevantly; to work towards seamless narratives that flow across devices and day parts.

So Nike tell us to ‘Just Do It’, and McDonald’s affirm ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, but how will they deliver against these messages on this emergent interface? Also fascinating is how a lot of the heavily used marketing maxims of recent times – the requisite for brands to have an authentic voice of their own; the need for brands to have a two-way conversation with consumers – will suddenly take on new and more direct meaning in the age of voice activation. Lots to think about – even more to talk about.

Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…



Power Of Audio

Introducing the Power Of Audio - a thought leadership study for Spotify...

We’re super excited to have worked with Spotify on their trailblazing thought leadership study, the Power Of Audio.

The project – which soft launched at CES – investigates and celebrates the role of sound in our lives, as well as looking at what the future of audio holds for brands and consumers.

We worked with 46 consumers in the US, UK, Brazil and Japan, conducting audio diary tasks (including deprivation phases), Skype interviews to dig deeper and filmed ethnographic sessions to truly build empathy around use cases and need states. We discovered a huge amount about people’s audio moments (singing in the shower among them!), how audio is used for mood control and the powerful recognition of brand sounds.

Our expert interviews ranged from artists and producers, to academics, marketing heads, innovators, advertising consultants and content producers. Each of them provided a fresh perspective on why audio matters so much. Themes explored included audio and memory, audio’s role in next generation marketing and the power of the podcast.

Check out our first film below – and you can find more content about the project at Spotify For Brands here. Watch this space for further video releases.

Rise: Superfans

Our first Rise breakfast event of 2017 sees Crowd DNA director Anna Chapman lift the lid on superfans...

Date: March 2, 2017

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, 5 Lux Building, 2-4 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NU

This is the story of fame, obsession and social currency.

Once upon a time no one cared very much about fans or their opinions. Then along came the internet and a powerful group of superfans emerged. Soon everyone wanted to be their best friend.

In our latest Rise breakfast session, we map the evolution of fandom from undesirable outsiders to impassioned influencers. We’ll answer questions like: what turns people into Beliebers in the first place and what do they get from the experience? Most importantly, what are the implications for brands and where’s this whole superfandom thing heading?

Contact Jason Wolfe if you’d like to channel your inner fan on March 2.

Warning: this trailer isn’t suitable for people of a nervous disposition.

Crowd DNA's head of insight and innovation, Matilda Andersson, will be speaking about the importance of visual culture for brands at a free webinar in February...

Here at Crowd we believe that understanding visual culture is essential for getting to grips with consumer culture.

On February 27, head of insight and innovation, Matilda Andersson, shares our thinking when she presents ‘A picture paints: understanding visual culture’ at Atlantic Monday, a Festival Of NewMR webinar.

“Visual language is such an important part of how people express themselves today,” she says. “Brands need to understand this new online aesthetic to remain relevant to consumers.”

Other webinar speakers include Greta Baisch and Yini Guo from Facebook, discussing using platform data to study emerging digital, mobile and social rituals.

It should be a great session. Sign up here.

It's 2017 and we are totally raring to go. Here's two new opportunities to join our lovely team...

Director (Business & Strategy, London)

This is a senior role in the Crowd DNA team which takes the lead in areas such as: external communication of the agency; business development; responding to briefs and project design; developing future strategy alongside our other team directors; briefing in new commissions to the project teams; having a strategic overview on live work.

As such, it’s a role for someone who tackles insight from a deftly commercial perspective, quickly grasping the type of complex business challenges that our clients present us with, and designing compelling solutions to meet those challenges. We’re open to what your background is, but here’s what we’re looking for:

We anticipate a good proportion of your time to be devoted to opening up new opportunities for Crowd DNA outside of current core business streams. Areas of particular interest: extending our potential around product and service innovation, culturally oriented brand strategy, business culture change. Evidence of experience in one/some of these areas will be a good start

Playing a lead role in winning/designing projects is vital but the role doesn’t stop there. We want someone who can also shift mode to briefing in the work to the project teams, providing a degree of senior input across the project duration and working with the relevant directors to ensure we deliver on what we’ve promised

Though we’ve stressed the need to be commercial and alert to complex business challenges, it’s important also that we find someone who’s aligned with the focus on trends, culture and storytelling that’s been so central to the success of this business

Strong verbal and written presentation skills (this is the kind of line that generally gets bandied about in job descriptions, but we really mean it – this is key!)

Innovation and strategic thinking – almost everything is changing in the world of brands and agencies, but never fear! We want someone who relishes this fact and who can play a lead role in crafting new products and services, offering a strong point of view on what a future-facing cultural insights and innovation business should stand for. 

Authoritative voice – as all of the above should make clear, this is a role for someone who wants to be heard and wants to make an impact at a senior level in a fast-growing and highly energised business, carving out new opportunities for the times ahead

The role comes with a competitive salary and benefits package, plus clear paths to new opportunities. To discuss further, please get in touch with Crowd DNA managing director Andy Crysell, providing a covering letter and CV in the first instance.

Director (USA)

Following our successful launch in Amsterdam, and an ever growing number of global projects being run out of our London HQ, we’re looking to launch in the US – which means we need an organised, inspirational, culturally switched on senior insight pro to take the controls, with the position majoring on business development, project design, thought leadership and strategic thinking.

This is a role for an experienced, industry-savvy individual who will relish the opportunity to lead our operation stateside, communicating what we stand for to the industry, building a team, extending on our existing client relationships and bringing in new ones.

We anticipate this role could go to someone currently working in either a planning or insight capacity, but most likely agency-side. You might be in the US right now; then again, you might not

While we don’t anticipate fieldwork being a high priority, long term, in this role, a solid understanding of different research techniques is important

Demonstrating experience of working on multi-market projects will be beneficial, and a sound understanding of the domestic market place in the US essential (media, entertainment and tech, in particular; fashion, retail, finance, alcohol, FMCGs, not far behind)

You’ll need to be an entrepreneurially minded self-starter, ready and willing to build a team around you; and clearly able to demonstrate that you are on our cultural and commercial wavelength

An interest in trends and the type of brands and challenges that Crowd DNA gets involved with (look around this website if you need more of an idea) is important, as is evidence of how you’ve met business challenges in the past

While we certainly don’t view this solely as a sales role, you must be the type of person who has an appetite for building relationships, understanding client needs, communicating what’s great about our agency and, ultimately, winning top notch work

Someone who understands the need to synch up how Crowd DNA USA works with our London and Amsterdam offices; there’ll be differences in how each will operate, for sure, but the culture and ethos must stay consistent

Mostly, we want someone who’s up for some adventure; for wholeheartedly embracing, inevitable setbacks ‘n’ all, taking a great brand into a new market. It won’t be without challenges, but we’re convinced that Crowd DNA’s track record to date + the right person to take the lead will = amazing results

The role comes with a competitive salary and benefits package (with significant flexibility here, dependent on experience), plus clear paths to new opportunities. We’re prioritising New York as our US base, though still open to persuasive counter arguments in favour of other cities. To discuss further, please get in touch with Crowd DNA managing director Andy Crysell, providing a covering letter and CV in the first instance.

Crowd DNA At MRS Conference

We're all really excited by the news that Crowd DNA's head of insight and innovation, Matilda Andersson, will be speaking at the MRS conference in March 2017...

She’s co-presenting our need-states work with BBC’s Patrick Collins as part of the ‘Futureproofing Business And Brand’ session. As the conference blurb explains: unlocking growth, safeguarding perception and projecting the future has never been more of a challenge for business. Challenging times call for creative solutions. In this session, you’ll hear from brands that have tackled these tasks head on with real success. A must-attend session for anyone who wants to set meaningful and lasting change in motion.

Find out more here: