Our first Rise event of 2019 kicked off with a myth-busting, how-to presentation on working with leading edge audiences. Get the inside track below…

You can download our Leading Edge report here.


At the end of February, Crowd DNA’s managing director Matilda Andersson and senior consultant Roberta Graham talked about how leading edge consumers can take insight projects into fresh spaces and new ways of thinking. Setting out by asking whether the leading edge can help predict what’s next (spoiler: yes it can), Matilda began answering by tackling the common fears and misconceptions associated with this methodology.

She quickly established that these participants are not only the cool kids, hipsters and early tech adopters, but instead display a core set of attitudes (self belief, optimism, openness, collaboration, network-orientated, critical thinking) and behaviours (consultative, creativity, curiosity, go-getting, persistence). Matilda also emphasised that it’s these behaviours that set them apart from the mainstream – rather than cosmetic factors like their job or their sense of style.

So, how do you find leading edgers if you’re looking for these (sometimes hard-to-spot) behaviours? Matilda highlighted that the concept of leading edge is relative to the brief and the category, and that’s where you can get specific about what you want and need. Roberta then explained how less conventional recruitment methods can help clients get to the best people that fit those criteria. Street casting, Instagram ads and hashtag analysis can all offer effective routes to cultural gatekeepers, ready to give new and interesting perspectives. Leading edge methodology is all about the power of the (right) one, able to speak on behalf of many.

But, the most important thing to remember when working with leading edgers is collaboration. These consumers are people genuinely interested in shaping culture – talking to them as participants rather than respondents can lead to massively insightful concepts. Co-creating, giving them ownership and immersing yourself in their lives and their views lets you get inside their world. It might even answer questions you didn’t know you had. It’s also important to look for weak signals, from which you can build strong signs and forecasts by rooting those signals in wider culture – leading edgers often offer up more abstract ideas that can lead to bigger thinking. Roberta explained that adding a semiotic lens in this way means that you can question where leading edge behaviours sit within current cultural trajectories, defining which may have longevity and which behaviours are unlikely to make it to the mainstream.

Lastly, Matilda pointed out that even when leading edge behaviour doesn’t make it to the mainstream, it can still give us valuable clues – we just have to look beyond the obvious. Leading edge strategies can appeal to a mainstream mass market in an aspirational sense – people want to buy into brands that are relevant and ahead of the curve.

Matilda and Roberta left us with three key takeouts for using the leading edge effectively:

– Ask yourself whether the behaviour is rooted to current human tensions or needs to assess whether it will enter the mainstream

– Establish whether you want to focus on identifying fast culture (ie fads) or slow culture rooted in our values and societal codes (rituals). Then ladder these behaviours back to what’s happening in a wider context to spot bigger shifts on the horizon

– Decide whether you’re looking at global futures or local realities. Not all ideas flow in the same direction, some trickle out across geographical borders, but others don’t – and this will affect who you talk to, and how you translate your findings into strategies

 

The Girl Scout cookie phenomenon - it's got positivity, simplicity; oh yes, and Supreme-like drops. Crowd DNA New York’s Hollie Jones checks out a business model which brands can learn contemporary lessons from...

As an English (wo)man in New York, though admittedly for almost a decade, I’ve enjoyed a long time fascination with the Girl Scout cookie phenomenon. For those not familiar, in 1917, Girl Scouts in Muskogee, Oklahoma, began fundraising for their troop by selling homemade cookies in a school cafeteria. Girl Scout troops around the country continued the tradition, and they rose in popularity until commercial bakers started making cookies for the Girl Scouts to sell. More than 100 years later, Girl Scouts are still going door-to-door, selling cookies as part of a thriving business, raising roughly 800 million dollars a year (and topping the sales of Oreos).   

Tis once again the season, and this year it has been difficult to avoid the hype. My social media apps have been filled with friends desperately seeking ‘the plug.’ Those lucky enough to have an in with a Girl Scout troop proudly display their cookie bounties on their stories and thus demonstrate their social superiority. Our co-working space neighbors put their much-coveted cookie prizes on display in their glass window– in full vision where they remained until decimated; their cookies a prize too good to be shared.

Just in case you wanted to look at some more cookies...
Just in case you wanted to look at some more cookies...

But how did we get here? Like any enthusiastic cultural strategist, I leaned on trusty pop culture sources – looking to film, television and literature to establish my world view on scouting in the US. My takeaway? A perception of scouting that is hardly complimentary. Pop culture taught me that scouting comes with a stigma. It is a social pariah, demonstrated best by the gawky, immature Boy Scout and the mean, manipulative Girl Scout that are both common tropes in film, television and literature.

Take Russell of Disney/Pixar’s Up – an overweight boy never seen without his Wilderness Explorer uniform and merit badges. There’s Sam Shakusky, the protagonist of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom – a bed wetting outcast with an obsession for the outdoors. Nickelodeon’s The Mighty B presents Bessie – an ambitious (read-obsessed) Girl Scout never seen without her uniform and Penny, her clumsy, obese and taffy-obsessed best friend. Even Ross from Friends falls victim to a manipulative Girl Scout, who beats him in a cookie selling contest by giving her uniform to her much older sister.

In spite of this reputation, Girl Scout cookies are a pop culture phenomenon and a marker of social prestige. The cookies are the subject of memes, they have a hashtag on Twitter, they made an infamous appearance at the 2016 Academy Awards Ceremony and Jennifer Garner took to Instagram to advertise her own plug. Even Cardi B is in on it, retweeting Girl Scout Kiki’s remix of her single ‘Money’ to almost five million followers.

What can we learn from the success of the Girl Scout cookie? And what lessons can other brands, struggling, or looking to overcome a dowdy reputation, leverage to find a route to recovery?

MIRRORING HYPE MODELS

In many ways, the Girl Scout cookie trade mirrors the model upon which many hype brands place their success. Particularly in the New York City area, where Girl Scout cookie stands are nowhere to be seen, the model emulates the ‘drop’, where scarcity and social media hype supercharge the traditional supply and demand model. Getting your hands on a box of Samoas is almost as exciting as being first in line for the latest Supreme drop. And just like hype brands, this new model fuels a lucrative resale market. When seeking out our very own Girl Scout cookies (for research purposes, obviously) we found budding entrepreneurs selling boxes on eBay for more than double the price.

SIMPLICITY

Beyond hype culture, Girl Scout cookies appeal to much broader consumer values. In a market where consumers are often faced with a paradox of choice when it comes to products, and are overwhelmed by technology and being always on, simplicity is always valued. Links to scout culture represent simplicity, release, and a flashback to times that were simple. The packaging is uncomplicated, and ultimately, they are just cookies – humble and nostalgic, reminding many of childhood, pure and simple.

POSITIVE AMERICANA

In a tense political time, where the idea of being ‘American’ is used by competing political sides as both a badge of honor and an insult, scouting has unquestionably positive links to America and American culture. The Girl Scout cookie is beloved, an American treasure with integrity that cannot be challenged.

SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Social responsibility and championing women are non-negotiable for today’s consumer. As well as being a female-led organisation, Girl Scout values are focused on doing good and driving change. The purchase of Girl Scout cookies are a mode by which consumers can express civic mindfulness, supporting entrepreneurialism, worthy causes and female empowerment with each purchase.

A staple of American pop culture, and sold for over 100 years, it’s perhaps surprising how well Girl Scout cookies fit into the modern, hype-driven model of brands and products. We think it serves as a lesson – that you don’t have to be in fashion or tech to be culturally relevant.

 

We’ve been moving on our How To Speak (Wo)Man work recently, with Crowd DNA’s Elyse Pigram and Joey Zeelen sharing it with clients. One of the key themes: whether we should even be talking about binary expressions of gender in the first place…

This is not the first time we’ve talked about how brands can address gender (in fact, we’re doing it again soon in Singapore), but we’re finding good sense in combining both of our presentations on the topic to deliver a holistic view on ensuring brand messaging rings true. 

First, Elyse has been looking at femininity today, exploring why it is that women still don’t feel represented by brands. This part of the presentation uses a simple Jungian framework of female archetypes traditionally perpetuated in media and culture, of ‘the innocent’, ‘lover’ and ‘caregiver’. The examples from brands of childlike playfulness, domesticated housewives, and barely-dressed women provide evidence of how not to speak to today’s woman.

Moving into the present, Elyse shows that there’s no longer just one archetype – or stereotype-fits-all. Women are seeking to reclaim their identity, in all its varying forms, which means reframing and rethinking the way womanhood is represented to make it more diverse, inclusive and strong. Women as the ‘everywoman’ (think Dove’s Real Beauty, HBO’s Girls), ‘heroes’ (think Always’ Like A Girl, Beyonce, the latest Wonder Woman films), ‘rebels’ and ‘creators’ are the key archetypes to focus on and offer brands direction on how to be relevant and representational.

This shift in female narratives has been boosted by cultural movements such as #MeToo, better trans visibility and open discussion changing the conversation around what it means to be a woman in 2019. Now more than ever, there is a sense of urgency for brands to get it right in the ways they express themselves to the modern woman. Elyse emphasised that this succeeds through brands sharing the fluid and varied experiences of women. (You can download our How To Speak Woman report here.)

Having established that approaches to female identity are changing across society, media and advertising, Joey then looks at how the land lies for masculinity – what does it mean to be a man in 2019? Over the last couple of years, a lot has changed (you can take a look at our 2017 research here to see how things have moved on). Gender is becoming more fluid and non-binary, and masculinity more individual.

We see men speaking more freely about their feelings (Prince Harry tackling mental health), and turning their backs on traditional ideas of what it is to be a man. Mainstream media – such as Beautiful Boy and McCain’s We Are Family ads – has been disrupting ideas of nuclear families and father roles have been represented to be more playful and emotional. But amidst all this, there is still a long way to go. With much talk swirling around of ‘masculinity in crisis’,  Joey identifies three main tensions that need to be addressed by brands:

1. Toxic masculinitystill being peddled by cultural figures such as Donald Trump and Piers Morgan

2. Wellbeing and mental health – male suicide remains the biggest killer of young men in many Western societies

3. How to align feminism and progress masculinity – how can men be authentically supportive and work out their place in propelling the cause forward?

While we’re still figuring out the definition of being a man, brands need to keep opening up the conversation and (as with femininity) challenging stereotypes.

To finish, Joey and Elyse summed up the key takeouts for brands and what this all means for how to speak (wo)man:

– We need to recognise that femininity is all about individuality and celebrating difference

– We need to keep working to define and shape new expressions of masculinity that are nuanced and empathetic – and not binary

– Brands need to walk the talk, and back up their messaging with credible action

– Let’s celebrate and harness male goodwill towards female progress

– Consider producing products that don’t have a  gender – try talking to men and women as one

– Take male relationships out of the locker room, and nurture closer connection

– Talk to your audience, not about them. By engaging people with different experiences, and expressions of gender, we can better express and represent them

If you would like us to come and talk to your company about expressions of gender in modern day culture, please email us at hello@crowdDNA.com

Tegan Morris on what it means to be a project producer at Crowd DNA - and why they’re crucial to making the magic happen...

Project producers are a vital part of the team here at Crowd DNA, and no, we’re not the same thing as a project manager! While there are parallels with a traditional PM, the producer part of our title (sounds fancy, doesn’t it?) reflects the intellectual investment we have in each and every project that we’re a part of; and our genuine interest in the work we do for our clients. Not just the fixers and organisers, we have as much of a role to play as everyone else to make the work first-rate, collaborating with each member of the team – from executives to creatives – to get the job done. More than just managing projects, we help to craft and cast them, so that we can tell meaningful stories through culture.

Getting recruitment right

One of the most important parts of a producer’s role is recruiting for research. But this is very much about moving things on from more conventional definitions of recruitment. You’ll notice that, at Crowd, we work with participants, not respondents. This is to reflect the purposeful collaboration we strive for in all of our work – not just with our clients and internal team, but with the people that help shape the research.

Instead of combing CVs and chasing people with phone calls, we want to really understand what makes each person tick, and exactly why they’d be right for the brief – which often means thinking outside the box for ways to get them involved. The producer is in charge of sourcing participants and experts, using innovative recruitment techniques and nurturing relationships with our partners who help us find the best people. It’s important to remember that choosing well means they’ll bring just as much value to the research as our in-house team, so recruitment is crucial to the project’s ultimate success. Managing and developing this globally on behalf of the wider team is one of the reasons the role is fundamental and exciting. You never know who you could be talking to on any given day – for one project it might be a behavioural scientist or wellness guru, while for another it could be Gen Z food influencers (here’s how we recruit for leading-edge work, for instance)

Keeping all the ducks in a row

We’re known for our planning abilities – you’re likely find us wielding post-its and colour coordinated schedules at every stage of the work. We’re overseeing multiple story narratives (from different projects), characters and set pieces all at once. You’ll find us putting our multitasking into action in these key areas:

Time – Producers construct and keep track of timelines, key dates and deadlines throughout the whole project, making sure the team are delivering on schedule.

Logistics – All the hows, whens and wheres are handled by the producers, problem-solving and adapting to any changes along the way to figure out how best the methodology behind the project can be realised on a practical level. Whether it’s figuring out how to keep children focused for an hour of research, how a team is going to fit in a tiny car for ethnographies or just working around national holidays – it’s the producer’s job to turn ideas into reality.

Budget Producers manage the budget and keep an eye on the costs of individual projects. Staying on top of this is one of the essential parts of the role – it is only the project lead and producers that oversee this side of the project; so being the point of contact for all project expense is a key responsibility.

A beginning, middle and end

One of the best bits about being a project producer is that, along with the project lead, we’re with projects from start to finish. This is a real privilege and means we get to dive into all aspects of the business, making our role incredibly varied. From shaping how client’s objectives will turn into a reality, speaking to people from all walks of life, to seeing final creative outputs taking form, we get to be a part of the story all the way through.

Project Producer Awesome-ness:

Seeing a project from inception to successful conclusion and knowing you helped to shape it

Collaborating with all teams in the business and the variety this brings

Ownership – having real responsibility throughout

Building relationships with the team, clients and partners

Simultaneously solving problems and thinking creatively

Take a look at the exciting roles we’re currently recruiting for at Crowd DNA here, or email us on hello@crowdDNA.com

When Gen Z become parents

As Gen Z start to reach parenthood, Crowd DNA New York’s Eden Lauffer forecasts what brands should expect from the next wave of parents...

Pew Research Center recently defined Gen Z as those born between 1997 and 2012 (so, today’s seven to 22 year-olds). From what we know so far, they’re a diverse and open-minded generation who’ve grown up enjoying the benefits of social media at their fingertips. Yet, equally, they’re also a group associated with high levels of anxiety and an overwhelming pressure to project success, both online and off.

Now that older Gen Zers have started to enter the workforce and, generally speaking, more of them will begin having children a few milestones down the road, it’s interesting to think how this group will approach and redefine parenthood. Furthermore, with a personal shopping power of $143 billion (according to Forbes), brands should be prepared for this generation to soon take family household shopping by storm. They may still be young, but we thought we’d wish away their years with a few key ways to start thinking about this next generation of parents.

Breaking The Mold

According to NPR, 48 percent of Gen Zers in the US are non-white and, according to Ipsos Mori, only 66 percent identify as ‘exclusively heterosexual,’ making them the most diverse cohort in history. This has already built a generation of outspoken individuals, taking a stand on issues like LGBTQ rights, racial bias and inequality, and plenty of other issues. As parents, Gen Zers are likely to value empathy and teach their children tolerance and acceptance of others.

Naturally, brands that embrace diversity will continue to thrive. Many parents have already strayed from typical gender norms when it comes to baby toys and names – and this will no doubt extend further. In the realm of fashion, for example, brands that were born genderless, like Phluid Project, will continue to prosper, with genderless clothing something more children’s fashion brands should definitely consider (Gap are already paving the way with their neutral baby clothes).

The Power Of Social

Gen Zers are also stereotyped for spending hours curating their lives on social media. While this may have negative associations with mental health, it could also have positive use cases for parenting.

In a study done by Collage Group, over 70 percent of Gen Z females without children felt FOMO regularly, but only 36 percent with children felt the same. It seems the presence of kids may actually reduce some of the negative impacts of social media. For example, Gen Zer Kylie Jenner has spoken about her desire to keep her role as a mom private from her (very) public life. This change has bled into her overall social media use: cutting back on what she posts and the amount that she does so.

Furthermore, being a generation known to trust recommendations from social media feeds when it comes to brands and products, this may also bleed into their shopping choices for children. They currently respond well to the recommendations of peer influencers, which may later translate into parenting purchase decisions and kid-friendly brand advice.

Everyday Coping Mechanisms

In recent years, the teen suicide rate has increased drastically – over 70 percent among 10-17 year-olds from 2006-2016, according to USA Today. However, 37 percent of Gen Zers also reported seeking help from mental health professionals (CNN), which is significantly higher than millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers.

As parents, Gen Zers are likely to emphasize the importance of mental health. They’re expected to help their children deal with life stressors in a different way than their parents did for them. Digital-native brands that help promote good mental health, such as Headspace and Talkspace, will likely thrive and give way to like-minded services designed for kids. Mindfulness apps aren’t just to benefit adults – Gen Z parents will likely get their children in the practice of using tools of their own. Apps like Calm, which tells stories to soothe users to sleep, have been recommended for kids, as have other apps that help kids with anxiety through journaling, body awareness and meditation.

Gen Zers are already firmly taking the reins on social issues, such as mental health, as well as paving the way for new types of family units, via genderless purchases. Brands will need to pay close attention to Gen Z’s values in order to keep up with this high spending, change-igniting generation on the brink of parenthood.

We're excited to be bringing our How To Speak Woman work to Singapore on March 7...

How To Speak Woman: The Asia Edition

Date: March 7

Time: 9am-11am

Location: The Great Room, 3 Temasek Avenue, Level 17 & 18, Centennial Tower, Singapore

Hosted by the lovely folk at 72andSunny, our How To Speak Woman work touches down in Singapore on March 7, for a special Asia edition.

Presented by Crowd DNA Singapore managing director, Emma Gage, we’ll be exploring how the female experience is at the eye of change in Asia, as women take charge of the conversation and start to redefine the way they look, the way they behave and the things they can be and can achieve.

But in a region where strict definitions of womanhood and femininity are engrained and change has come suddenly, the tensions are clear. So who exactly is the modern woman across the region? What does she want from change? What are the things holding her back? How should brands and business be representing her evolution?

Join us on the day before International Women’s Day for smart thinking (oh yes, and great snacks). If you’d like to attend, please contact HowTo@crowdDNA.com. And feel free to pass this invite on to colleagues.

It's been an exciting (and busy!) start to the year - here's two new roles we're recruiting for...

Senior Consultant, strategic insights team (£35,000-43,000pa)

We’re recruiting for a senior consultant to join our Hoxton Square team. Reporting in to one of our directors, this position is for someone who’s ready to play a key role (generally as project lead or co-lead) on consistently exciting, often global, briefs for clients across categories such as media, alcohol, fashion and finance; and where the emphasis is on immersive methods and getting to powerful strategic outputs. The work leans heavily on bringing a truly cultural perspective into play – naturally, we expect this to be very much your thing.

In more detail, here’s what we’re after:

– We imagine you’ll have around three to five years experience, probably in an insight environment but this could be elsewhere in marketing and media

– Demonstrable track record across areas such as project design and management, conducting mixed methods and drop dead awesome analysis/debriefing

– A tangible enthusiasm for presenting work, running workshops and for reaching bold conclusions that combine creativity and good commercial sense for our clients

– First-rate writing skills (we expect you to be contributing to our blog and producing reports)

– Proof of experience at integrating trends into your work (potentially quant, semiotics and other disciplines also)

– Our work generally involves multiple markets – we looking for someone who relishes the opportunity to travel and develop narratives and strategies that have global relevance

Consultant, strategic insights team (£25,000-32,000pa)

We’re seeking a strategic insights consultant – in particular, we’re looking for someone who has an aptitude for/experience in working with influencers, and across cultural passion points such as music, football and street culture. You’ll get to work on amazing projects for some of the most exciting brands in the world, reporting in to senior leads and collaborating as part of the wider team on projects at the intersection of insight, strategy and culture. A specific area of focus will be working on the development of our global network of experts, creatives and cultural movers.

In more detail, here’s what we’re after:

– We imagine you’ll have around 18 months to four years experience, potentially in an insight environment but this could be elsewhere in marketing and media

– You’ll come well armed with useful cultural contacts and will be keen to build out this network further

– You’ll have a good understanding of new trends in areas such as how brands are seeking to connect with music, football and street culture

– All these great ideas and insights you have in your head, you’ll be comfortable presenting them out loud to others, helping clients to understand the relevance of embedding their brands in culture

– You’ll be a thinker, for sure, but we also want a doer – someone with the drive and initiative to problem solve

– All of this exciting stuff doesn’t let you off the hook in terms of organisational skills – you’ll be able to show good evidence of how you keep work on track


The roles come with great benefits (betterment scheme, training, sabbatical, company lunches and days out, flexi hours etc) and the opportunity to progress in an exciting and progressive business. To apply (attaching a CV and covering letter), please get in touch with Dr Matilda Andersson.

When Social Meets Semiotics

Crowd DNA social listener, Benjamin Long, and semiotician, Roberta Graham, discuss the power of combining two distinct methodologies to bring online conversations into real life strategy…

As the world, replete with all of its complexities, continues to be uploaded online, social media platforms are vital for keeping up with fast-moving trends and the conversations that happen around them. But, as cultural analysts, how can we effectively and structurally make sense of all of the noise (and emojis)?

At Crowd DNA, we believe that fusing two methods together is usually better than just one. With understanding online culture, for example, applying a semiotic lens to the analysis of social data helps us make concrete sense of trends in real life, in real time.

Using semiotics in this manner provides current cultural context, which can help to validate or disprove the social listening insights. Here’s how we go about it:

Start With A Solid Question

The huge sample sizes generated through social listening are both a blessing and a curse. It can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack. Having a solid question in mind is the best way to ensure that the insights you surface actually align with your original business objectives. Starting with wider cultural research can also help find more nuanced or emergent ways to target the demographic that you want.

Branch Out

While being specific is essential, analysing how other categories play out on social media can also provide new perspectives as, when different themes collide, unique trends can be formed. Semiotics helps this exploration by casting an analytical eye across broader culture and making stylistic or attitudinal connections to suggest relevant shifts within your own market or category.

Context Is Everything

While some cultural phenomenon exist only online – such as memes or Instagram flop accounts – most do not. Here is where the blend of social listening with semiotics really comes into play. It’s vital to combine social data insights with a broader analysis of the cultural landscape that they operate within to gain a rich understanding of the interplay between digital and physical worlds.

What They Say Isn’t Always What They Mean

As in real life, what people say (or do) online is not necessarily reflective of how they behave in their everyday lives. To crack through this contradiction, we often look beyond the words that people use and conduct a semiotic analysis for greater understanding. This type of exploration can be key to unlocking the hidden insights within a post’s imagery, semantics, or lineup of emojis!

Not Everyone Talks

Remember that public social data will likely be skewed to those more confident in voicing their opinions, which is obviously problematic. Meanwhile, the quiet majority who use the internet to absorb information and inspiration (rather than shout their opinions) are more likely to engage with posts by liking, sharing and commenting on them. Looking to engagement data is therefore as important as the post itself and can help provide a valuable measurement of the many – not the few.

If you’d like to learn more about how we fuse social listening with semiotics to reach real cultural insights, please get in touch: hello@crowdDNA.com