Oculus Nights Out

Crowd DNA associate director Eleanor Sankey didn't think she was a gamer until she played with Oculus. Now she wants to use it in her day job...

Last week we attended an event hosted by Oculus to showcase the new content landing soon on their Rift and Gear VR. Rubbing shoulders with premier league footballers, tech and gaming bloggers, and Jonathan Ross, I wasn’t convinced it was going to be my thing.

I swore off computer games in the 90s, when SimCity 2000 saw it fitting to destroy Eltown with a hurricane, and it was going to take a lot to make me reconsider.

Kicking off, we coordinated our troops in real-time strategy game Brass Tactics before singing our hearts out in a virtual stadium in SingSpace and finally slashed our way through zombies on Killing Floor.

The experience was exhilarating, if not a little overwhelming at times! With our senses seamlessly transported into these virtual worlds it took no time at all to forget our audience and become unselfconsciously immersed in the physicality of the game. I was hooked.

2017 looks to be a pivotal year for VR with anticipated growth evolving the technology from a curiosity to a tangible tool. Transcending the gaming market, we’re already seeing it used in sports and film with the NBA broadcasting one game a week via VR headsets and Amsterdam establishing the first VR cinema in 2016.

Moving beyond the entertainment space, the technology is being used by the military to replicate conditions of real world combat when training soldiers in bomb disposal and piloting drones. Equally, in the healthcare sector, it’s proving vital for educating staff but also has the potential to revolutionise how we treat pain and physiotherapy.

At Crowd we’ve already been using VR to help immerse our clients in the lives of consumers across the globe in an intimate way that they would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience. And given my experiences last week, I’m very excited to see what we can do next.

 

In this long read, Crowd's Joey Zeelen considers how big business sustainability goals will impact consumers and political parties...

In recent years, we’ve seen more and more multinational corporations committing to make their organisations fully sustainable, while the geo-political trend (Trump et al.) is attempting to backtrack on the Paris Agreement on climate change. I find myself questioning why this progressive takeover of the private sector is happening right now? And how does this affect the consumer zeitgeist? When it comes to sustainability, are ‘progressive’ consumers still best led by governments and politicians or are they perhaps better off shifting their gaze to the corporate world?

To understand why corporations are making the sustainable switch, we need to go back three years to the desert 50 kilometres south of Dubai, where a giant solar panel project called DEWA left a tremendous mark on modern history.

There in UAE – a state paradoxically largely known for its oil reserves – a company called First Solar managed to produce renewable electricity at 5.84 USD cents per kilowatt hour. For the first time in history, thanks to this unsubsidised solar park project, it was possible to produce renewable energy for less than natural resources. Since then, projects in China, Australia, Chile, California, Italy and Jordan have followed suit, after reaching the same energy tipping point.

The simple laws of manufacturing economics are that the more you manufacture with a renewable resource, the cheaper products will become versus the more you deplete fossil materials, the more expensive products will become. The crossing of the fossil and renewable energy cost curves in Dubai opened the financial floodgates for corporations and financial institutions around the world. It sparked a revolution that according to Deutsche Bank ‘will make solar energy cheaper than fossil energy in 80% of the world in only a few years’.

By the end of this year, all Google’s offices and data centres will be powered entirely by renewable energy (from 44% to 100% in one year). The internet giant is the world’s biggest corporate buyer of renewable electricity. “We are convinced this is good for business, this is not about greenwashing,” says Marc Oman, EU energy lead at Google. “This is about locking in prices for us in the long-term. Increasingly, renewable energy is the lowest cost option. Our founders are convinced climate change is a real, immediate threat, so we have to do our part.”

Another example is Unilever; CEO Paul Polman is even known as ‘the Bono of the corporate world’. The company produces 97% less waste from its own production compared to 2008. Unilever is also aiming to reduce its water usage and CO2 emission by 50% compared to 2008 levels. In total it’s saving around $200 million a year due to less logistical, packaging and energy costs. And because investing in sustainability strengthens Unilever’s business plan, its targets are anchored into all layers of the company, even employees have to hit yearly sustainability targets.

And then there is the mighty IKEA that plants a tree for every one it cuts down. 50% of its furniture is sustainable right now and in three years this will be 100%. Last year IKEA had an annual revenue of close to €30 billion and it’s investing €2.5 billion a year in the development of renewable energy and resolving climate issues. IKEA chairman, Peter Agnefjäll, told The Financial Times that since the end of 2015, the company has continued to invest €600 million a year in the further development of wind and solar energy, and another €400 million in helping regions that are hit hardest by global warming. Incredibly, this $1 billion comes on top of the €1.5 billion that IKEA has been investing in renewable energy annually since 2009!

Obviously, this is all good publicity but it also makes perfect business sense. Since renewable production has decreased so substantially in price in the last few years, investing in renewable energy means short-term and long-term growth. Getting involved in sustainability will give corporations a leap over their future competitors that fail to do so now. Take these short-term and long-term business cases and mix them up with an incredibly unstable political climate (which means energy uncertainty) and a lot of consumer expectancy (from the latest Ubiquity Global CSR Study we know that 9/10 consumers expect companies to operate responsibly and address environmental issues) and it seems obvious that more companies will join the sustainability cause in the immediate future.

Now back to our original question: where does this leave the ‘progressive’ consumer? Strangely, but surely, I think that the contrast between the exponential growth of sustainable businesses and the eroding landscape of climate politics will account for a real paradigm shift for consumers. I expect the more ‘progressive’ consumers are let down by governments with short-term solutions for long-term problems, the more they’ll put trust in corporations to lead them forward. Consequently, in the forthcoming years, brands are going to be increasingly taking over responsibility for the future of the world in which consumers live in. This will have major implications on the relationship between consumers and companies in terms of trust, loyalty and salience, and ultimately, it will drive sales.

 

Twitter Passions Meets LFW

We're excited to see Twitter release the first of our Passions film series to coincide with London Fashion Week...

Keep your eyes peeled for more Passions films – covering music, food, health, news, tech and more – over 2017.

See Crowd DNA\Socialise Director Anna Chapman discuss this and other types of superfandom over croissants on March 2. Book your place now.

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.

Rise: Lux Disrupt

We're back with an autumn series of Rise events. First up, get set to discover the future of premium and luxury over breakfast at Crowd DNA HQ (London)...

Date: Sept 22, 2016

Time: 8.15-9am

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

Join us for our next Rise breakfast session on September 22. Titled Lux Disrupt, we’re taking a look at how the digital world is making the concept of luxury ever less tangible, examining key trends in the premium market.

In this session, Elizabeth Holdsworth from our Socialise team will be forecasting how brands can communicate with the luxury consumers of the future; exploring how brands are selling luxury and premium to a generation less interested in material possessions than with likes and lols.

From instantly accessible fashion collections to the rise of athleisure, hip-hop DJs spraying magnums for their Snapchat fans to the high value of sleep, it’s all here.

Join us in the Lux(!) Building for delicious pastries, coffee and juices, and even more delicious insights from the friendly folk at Crowd DNA.  Contact Jason Wolfe if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

As the concept of luxury becomes increasingly intangible in the networked age, brands are experimenting with digital to attract Generation Z says creative delivery exec, Elizabeth Holdsworth...

In the post-recession age of discreet anti-bling (think Kinfolk: rustic, white-filtered and highly Instagram-able lifestyle scenes), the idea of luxury is becoming ever more abstracted, and brands are experimenting with ways to position themselves as aspirational within the digital realm. How do you engage with a generation that has grown up online, visually fluent teens who are skilful digital strategists on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr? Add to the equation that, until recently, this generation neither expected – or have ever had to pay for – online content.

Burberry’s Snapchat campaigns were an early stride in conquering the ethereal world of teen luxury. Since then Snapchat has morphed into the new catwalk. Meanwhile on Instagram, Calvin Klein’s #MyCalvins campaign rolls around in bed with a flawless Kendall Jenner and takes to the skate park with an open-shirted Justin Bieber. Because Facebook’s biggest growing demographic is 55+, teens are seeking refuge away from older generations on platforms that are exclusive to them. Snapchat has over 100 million daily active users, 71% of which are under the age of 25.[1]

Originally released only on Tidal, Kanye West’s seventh studio album, ‘The Life Of Pablo’, is a haphazard attempt to bring luxury consumerism to the digital world of teens, the Gen Z demographic who are less interested in glitzy material possessions than the allure of new technology and services. Fans could only listen to’The Life Of Pablo’ by signing up to the premium streaming service.

Launched in October 2014, Perez Hilton labeled Tidal as ‘the streaming service for millionaires’, where the music itself takes on the flavour of a luxury status symbol. This sense of exclusivity comes from the subscription fee itself and also from the service’s options and respective price points — differences in audio quality that will only be perceptible to those already owning high-end sound systems. Any difference between Tidal’s so-called Premium and HiFi services will go unnoticed by consumers who are most likely to be streaming on smartphones and listening though headphones.

Tidal’s subscriber numbers reportedly doubled in the two weeks following the release of ‘The Life Of Pablo’, but it seems the tide of exclusive streaming is yet to turn. The platform is still dwarfed by services like Spotify, and has also failed to keep pace with Apple Music, which emerged around the same time. Retracting the original plan of Tidal-only exclusivity, ‘The Life Of Pablo’ has since emerged on other music services, achieving much greater impact. However Tidal’s subscriptions look set to explode following the release of Beyoncé’s video album Lemonade, available to view by subscription only.

This isn’t about luxury sound. Teens don’t care about lossless, hi-fi audio. They care about what’s trending, being part of the peer conversation, keeping up with the world’s biggest artists. This is about aspiration, of belonging, selling a more abstract idea of luxury than ever before — a dreamy Instagram still of the Kardashian Klan reclining in white Calvins. If luxury brands want to connect with Generation Z, they need to learn a life lesson from Pablo and continue to communicate these moments digitally, while constantly being aware of the limitations – though growing potential – of the paywall.

[1] DMR, By the Numbers: 60 Amazing Snapchat Statistics.