Agile Dev Methods

Crowd DNA's insight and innovation director, Chris Haydon, revisits 78 high energy hours in Hamburg, in which we explored the strengths of an immersive, sprint-based approach to creative testing...

The team here are just back from running an intensive week in Germany. We were looking to deepen our understanding of the German consumer’s use of social media – to develop a sensible ‘jumping off’ point for creative development.

We approached the project with a strong sense of what it means to be German in 2015. We planned for influence factors ranging from the structure of formal education (a system which encourages each argument to be viewed from both sides), through the closeness with which the media links US ‘spying’ on Chancellor Merkel with US social media to the broad disregard people have for anything trivial or ‘me me me’.

We went armed with lots of ideas, questions and stimulus. Much more importantly we went as a multi-discipline team – researchers, client brand owners, designers, planners, copywriters from four counties – each with their own objectives but with a common plan, to learn ⇒ test ⇒ refine ⇒ learn … as much as we could over three-and-a-half days.

As researchers we want to feel we’re enabling people (participants/consumers) to understand and reflect their true selves; to stick as close to what they ‘mean’ as they can. Creatively, the team want to understand why people respond to stimulus the way they do. Execution-level responses can be useful but what they really want are clear creative guidelines (which allow them to do what they’re good at – crafting a compelling narrative). From a client’s perspective, it’s the need to see (and believe) all of this within the bigger business/product/market picture that’s key.

We each committed the week to this project. We aimed to only think about the questions at hand and the people/country/culture/context we were immersed in. We ate, drank and lived it through eight consumer workshops glued together with instant debriefs and live stimulus development. A broad schedule with a commitment to flex anything that we thought would push us forward.

It sounds like a big commitment of time but when you see the value that this level of immersion brings to ideas and understanding – and getting from a standing start to a set of creative guidelines, fully agreed on by all parties, in 78 hours – it’s pretty amazing.

Exploring relevancy and cultural context as Aurelie Jamard, our associate director of innovation, shares a few notes from last week's 'young and disengaged' breakfast panel session...

The topic of last week’s event at RKCR/Y&R was focused on young people and their disengagement from politics, but also from brands and, let’s put it out there, from older people, too. Three inspirational speakers shared some reasons as to why young people might feel disenfranchised, but also some tips to engage meaningfully with them.

Chris Preddie is the youngest man to receive an OBE at the age of 25. What did it mean at his age? He initially thought that he got into trouble with the law but quickly realised that it meant he’d done better than David Beckham. He reminded us all that communication was key to engage with young people and that politicians and brands should go and talk to their youth audiences, as the only way to get truly honest feedback from them but also to show that they care. Otherwise, how are these young people supposed to engage with politics or brands when their first priority is to “survive”?

Mimi Turner was next to tell us how the LADBible managed to engage so successfully with young lads online or, how she describes them, “good men”. The LADBible’s content is participatory, it comes from the community and it is uplifting (whereas older, more cynical generations might be thinking that bad news sells, people have always wanted to be happy through the ages).

Rajiv Nathwani concluded the session by giving pointers on how to engage with young people online across social media channels, even if your brand’s core audience is composed of an older demographic. His one take away was to put audiences first and think in terms of what they want, instead of what we think we know they want. In his words: “the user rules.”

My take away (and what we all live and breathe everyday working at Crowd DNA) was nicely summarised by all three of our speakers: “I can talk to young people because I understand their culture,” said Chris, “We know what lads want when it comes to politics – they want #CoolEdMiliband,” added Mimi, and “If content is king, then context is god,” concluded Rajiv by quoting entrepreneur and investor Gary Vaynerchuk. In a nutshell, it’s fully understanding and harnessing the cultural context to any insight or innovation that will make you relevant in your audience’s eyes. If you don’t know where to start, have a look at how we go about visiting and talking to young people all over the UK: watch our Tribes Road Trip video. We promise, they don’t bite.

Playing political games

There's a slew of interactive tools and quizzes emerging, aimed at those in need of a little election guidance, notes Crowd DNA insight exec Charu Agarwal, with young voters a particular target...

With April comes plenty of sunshine, the Apple Watch and the lively onslaught of political campaigns as the UK general election nears.

Those wishing to avoid the inevitable “Who’re you voting for?” might struggle while manifesto madness is in full swing, padding out news feeds and social media. I’ve certainly enjoyed the swell of Farage memes appearing alongside the usual food-stagrams and festival chatter.

But speaking as a millennial, while it’s fun to joke, rest assured we’re still very serious about our vote…  

At Crowd DNA, we know well that the young voters’ disillusionment with current government isn’t apathy towards politics as a whole. This past year has seen the rise of the Activist youth tribe and online arenas such as Facebook and Twitter expanding as places for expression and discussion.

The wider internet has in turn reacted with new offerings. A number of interactive tools and quizzes have been rearing their heads, aimed at those in need of a little guidance. Here’s a run-down of some of the emerging players… 


Verto is a tool designed with young people in mind. You’re shown three policy statements per topic (eg education). It’s Tinder-esque format lets you swipe left to agree and right to disagree – the more swipes you do, the bigger a picture it builds about the parties that relate best to your values. It also uses your location to compare results with nearby users and the national average.

The brains behind Verto is democratic movement, Bite The Ballot, whose aim is to get more young people voting. They’re taking steps in the right direction by condensing policies into easily digestible, bitesize sentences. However, when it comes to building an accurate picture of someone’s political makeup, the ‘less is more’ approach may limit how insightful, and ultimately useful, it actually is.


Another site, PositionDial, gives a more colourful analysis of where your views lie on the political spectrum. You’re shown a series of statements – eg I support the Human Rights Act UK – and asked to rate them on a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Beyond calculating which party you sit in, it also intends to educate its users by personalising the feed with news based on your attitudes as well as opposing views.


The website’s tagline of ‘Vote for policies, not personalities…’ sums up how it functions. You simply pick the topics you’re interested in, it anonymously lists all the policies and you pick your favourites.

It’s one of the more recognised options, having been around in the 2010 election. This time around, they’ve embellished it with lots of interactive tickboxes and visuals. While three or four topics is more than enough to get your head spinning circles, it seems like the best tool for genuinely helping users compare parties and make an informed decision about their vote.

The conclusion? Gamified tools like these seem to be taking steps in the right direction. Potential for shareability is high, especially among young people with limited knowledge but a desire to be heard. They’re clearly making politics more accessible. So while the future of online democracy is yet to be fully determined, let’s give it a vote of confidence for now.

Magazines That Matter

Crowd DNA's Andy Crysell checks in on Print Is Dead. Long Live Print - a new read exploring the emerging school of high quality DIY titles that's shaking up the tried and tested ways of magazine publishing...

Writer Ruth Jamieson’s new book, Print Is Dead. Long Live Print, takes a thorough and thoughtful look at how the magazine industry – one that’s been written off as dead and buried in many quarters – is finding new energy from independent titles that are generally fashioned around specific cultural touchpoints. It’s an ecosystem of hundreds of mags speaking to hundreds of tribes, such as the slow living and traditional skills found in Hole & Corner, the food and drink creativity celebrated by The Gourmand, Manzine‘s anti-men’s mag stance, The Green Soccer Journal (putting the beautiful in the beautiful game),  the music and wine musings of Noble Rot, authentic style aficionados Jocks & Nerds and the intimacy of understated women’s title Oh Comely.

Print is Dead. Long Live Print
Print is Dead. Long Live Print

So it’s out with old cultural stalwarts, independent or otherwise, like The Face, Sleazenation and Spin (to name just a few of the titles to have failed to survive the dominance of digital) and in with a new form of DIY publisher. New form because whereas DIY once meant fanzine aesthetics and a passionate but lo-fi tonality, the new independent offerings go big on attention to detail and cultural credibility. As Jamieson puts it, ‘they revel in the physicality of the magazine. They play with format… They lovingly craft issues that are beautiful, collectable and timeless objects.’

It’s a field in which innovation is crucial: new business models and distribution channels are being sought; as are different ways to connect print with digital and, most importantly, magazine brand with reader. It will be interesting to see what the major league publishers learn from these independents. The multi-dimensional success of Monocle indicates that it is possible to scale fresh approaches to making publishing pay. Purposefulness, audience affinity and a good dose of lateral thinking can really take you places.


Facebook Open House

Our Coming Of Age On Screen study for Facebook got an airing at the brand's Open House event last week, with Crowd DNA associate director Claire Moon on hand to present and debate the findings...

Last week I was invited to speak at the inaugural Facebook Open House event, where representatives from various industries came together to talk about what it’s like to grow up in today’s hyper-connected world.

As the opening speaker, I was able to present some of the most interesting and relevant findings from the work we carried out on behalf of Facebook during summer last year. Titled ‘Coming Of Age On Screen’, the study involved us talking to more than 11,000 young people in 13 different countries about what it’s like to grow up in a world where they are constantly connected and share their lives on social media.

My presentation was followed by a panel discussion, featuring:

– Aman Matharu, digital marketing manager, beverages, at Pepsico

– Shira Feuer, head of social media and digital marketing innovation, EMEA, at Disney

– Bejay Mulenga, youth entrepreneur and founder of Supa Academy

The panel discussed and contextualised the findings from our study, and offered insight into how some of the world’s biggest brands are seeking to engage with Millennials today.

One of the underlying themes of the discussion was content overload. Each member of the panel described the challenges of securing engagement in a world where content is being served to young people in a constant, often jumbled, stream. They debated what it takes to make ‘thumb-stoppingly good’ content, and the tension between content that is made to be discovered, versus content that is designed to be searched for.

Bejay challenged the enduring distinction between the online and offline worlds, suggesting young people don’t see the difference and that brands need to utilise both in tandem in order to resonate and cut through the noise. 

Other hot topics included influence and authenticity. Shira talked about Disney’s work with newly acquired Maker Studios, and how the brand’s goal is not to feed content to people themselves, but instead to encourage sharing so that content comes from friends and is more likely to be deemed authentic.

But despite all the talk of millennials, the point that I was left thinking about long after the event was one made by Bejay: we need to look past millennials and observe the behaviour of children. They are the true digital natives and their use of technology is already drastically different to what has come before. Here’s hoping this audience are the focus of a similar study in the near future!

Inspiring Innovation

Crowd DNA knowledge leader, Aurelie Jamard, and exec, Berny McManus, share notes from Time Out innovation director Eleanor Ford's Shoreditch House talk on the innovation spectrum – from collaboration to renovation to retrieval...

Innovation is a hot topic. It’s a forward thinking concept that generates excitement, energy and fresh perspectives. So the obvious question to ask at this point would be: if innovation is so hot, then why hasn’t every company adopted and integrated this concept into their business? The short answer: misconceptions exist around innovation.

Many companies see innovation as a radical, disruptive change that is near impossible to tackle, when it is actually about acknowledging your company’s strengths and adapting them to an evolving context. In a nutshell, improving on what you do best.

In a recent talk at Shoreditch House, Eleanor Ford (director of innovation at Time Out and founder of LikeCube) detailed how innovation should not be seen as a total departure from a company’s ethos. It’s about fostering a culture within a business to allow for adaption and malleability in product and service design. Innovation should not indicate a loss of identity for a company, but it will ensure that it stays culturally relevant and competitive within its market.

We’ve handpicked a few of our favourite ideas from Eleanor’s talk to inspire innovation within any company.

Technique #1 – Incubation

Time Out has a dating legacy (you might remember the days of dating ads in the print mag…), so it makes perfect sense for the brand to experiment in that space today. Except that replicating a winning formula from the past was never going to cut it. As Eleanor puts it, it’s important to retain the brand’s identity but to adapt it to a new context. So Time Out have been incubating a dating product that enables users to meet new people around their favourite occupations in their city, from swiping date ideas all the way to quickly meeting offline.

Technique #2 – Acquisition

Acquisition is another way for Eleanor to inspire innovation at Time Out. Absorbing other companies whose skills suit a particular niche in the market can only be beneficial to a big group like Time Out in bringing a breath of fresh air and specialism into the company. As a result, Time Out acquired a company to help them engage with customers directly via blogs and offer a platform for user-generated content that can be up-voted by users themselves, in the same way Reddit does, for instance.

Technique #3 – Adaptation

If you’ve travelled to Lisbon recently you might have stumbled across Time Out’s Mercado Da Ribeira, which is essentially a farmer’s market version of the magazine. You can find every section of the title represented through market stalls, shops and restaurants picked by Time Out critics, but also via a dedicated event space that hosts concerts and a club. For this new product, Time Out adapted their core values to a physical space in a different country, deciding to translate what they do best into a new context.

Time Out's Mercado Da Ribeira
Time Out's Mercado Da Ribeira

It’s great to see companies innovate both internally and externally, whether on a big scale or by dipping their toes in the water. If you don’t know where to start, why not give a try to one of the techniques above? And remember, innovation is not about ignoring the past, but about using it as a foundation to inspire something new.

Eleanor also referenced how Fiat kept the spirit of their Cinquecento car (beautiful design, small size, affordability) when they re-launched it in 2007. However, changes in proportions and disposable income meant that a literal translation of the old model would have not worked for the market today.

Podcast Renaissance

A decade down the line and podcasts are hitting a peak, with increasingly innovative and attention grabbing content coming to the fore. There's considerable variety in the format but, says Crowd's strategic initiatives director Sarah Brierley, they rarely come better than when putting you in shoes you’ve never walked in before...

I’ve become a little bit obsessed with podcasts recently. My current favourites are: The Bottom Line, The Why Factor, TED talks, 99% Invisible, The Moth, Radiolab, Love + Radio, This American Life and, of course, the much-discussed Serial (host Sarah Koenig and producer Dana Chivvis pictured above).

I don’t think I’m alone – as says: ‘Serial’s success is the most visible example of a renaissance in podcasting – a format that has been around for a decade but which has received a recent surge of interest from consumers, investors and advertisers.’

Podcasts are free, on demand (perfect for bingeing on), portable and can be customised to your tastes one episode a time. And their quality is increasing to such a degree they are becoming something of an art form.

Of course, podcasts come in many different flavours – from fact to fiction, comedic banter to academic esotericism – but I’ve noticed there are clear themes around the ones I’m listening to: they educate me or they tell me a real-life story. In my digitised multi-tasking life, they feel a valuable, even valid way to spend my time (or indeed enrich another activity like cooking). Somehow more ‘justifiable’ than, say, listening to music, consuming podcasts means I’m not wasting a moment. And I wonder if this determination to make even downtime count is in part driving the popularity podcasts are currently enjoying.

A recent Guardian article puts this well, describing our: ‘…21st-century mania for cramming everything we do into every single spare moment of downtime. We text while we’re walking across the street, catch up on email while standing in a queue – and while having lunch with friends, we surreptitiously check to see what our other friends are doing. At the kitchen counter, cosy and secure in our domicile, we write our shopping lists on smartphones while we are listening to that wonderfully informative podcast on urban beekeeping.’

So while it’s unsettling to think that we don’t know how to stop doing all the time, and should perhaps just go off grid now and again, I’ll be sticking with the humble podcast. There’s a seemingly endless supply of high-quality content that’s not bombarded by the repetition and sensationalism of so much other media. There’s something to suit any mood or moment; and quite often, for 30 minutes or an hour, they put you in shoes you’ve never walked in before.

Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYE Stern, has produced this take on who's going to win, and who's going to lose, out of the so-called GAFA big four - Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple (though there's obviously plenty of conjecture over whether they really are the big four these days). It's entertaining, it's informative, it moves very fast...