Award Number Three For 2014

We started the year winning the Storytelling prize at the Marketing Week Data Strategy Awards. Then came the FIPP Gold Award for our Connected Consumers work for Time Inc. And, pleased to say, we've ended the year by winning the MRS Cultural Insights Award...

We picked up the Virginia Valentine Award For Cultural Insights, to give it its full title, in partnership with University Of Nottingham’s Students Union for our work re-imagining the iconic Portland Building. This saw us combining our ‘Crowd Out’ innovation approach with detailed cultural analysis, exploring what a campus space needs to offer for a next generation of students. Big well dones to all involved and thanks to University Of Nottingham’s Students Union for picking us for the project in the first place. Oh, and that’s the comedian Milton Jones on the left in the pic, by the way.

On The Path To Purchase

Crowd DNA strategic initiatives director Sarah Brierley explains how, through exploring stories, behaviour and culture, we bring shape and order to the otherwise chaotic business of understanding the purchase journey…

At Crowd DNA we’re increasingly asked by clients how they can best understand the paths to purchase their various consumers take. It’s easy to see why: what with showrooming, webrooming and now even ‘boomerooming’ creating new blends of online and offline behaviours, the significance of consumers’ post-purchase brand relationship, and the ever-increasing expectation for personalisation, it’s increasingly difficult for brands to understand how to deliver the right message at the right touchpoint.

What’s more, there’s a multitude of variables at play. Different consumers exhibit different purchase patterns – so frequent purchasers often make faster, more unconscious decisions than infrequent purchasers, and influencers can seek out more touchpoints than non-influencers. We see different behaviours by category too – so an emotional, brand-driven purchase in fashion looks very different from a rational, deliberated purchase in financial services. And the journey looks different if the purchase is considered, or habitual, or impulse, or ‘for me’, or ‘for someone else’, and so it goes on…

With all of this complexity, where do you begin? We pooled our experience and thinking with esteemed neighbours and partners BD Network: enter our combined Path To Purchase Framework.

We think of the path to purchase as a continuing narrative: a story told by brands, followed by consumers. To deliver powerful consumer stories across the path to purchase we need insight into how brands can have most impact at each stage. And of course, the path is not linear – post-purchase, consumers simply loop back to the beginning of the journey.

So in a path to purchase project, we examine lots of consumer journeys through the lens of a simple model, and for each stop on the path, we identify the significant touchpoints and influences.

But we don’t stop there. For the truest read on the path to purchase, we also need to look to the behavioural and cultural factors. At every stage of a purchase journey, decisions can be conscious or unconscious – only by selecting the right research methods and pinpointing the likely cognitive biases at play can we capture the nuances this presents. And no purchase decision is made in isolation of the culture in which the consumer is immersed – so we explore the cultural orthodoxy of the category and identify cultural trends that may be influencing behaviour.

Only after we’ve looked at all of these points do we believe we have what’s required to paint a realistic picture of path to purchase, and to deliver the most powerful consumer stories. From there, we piece the components together in an intensive analysis phase, culminating in deliverables that shine a bright light on the purchase journey and ensure commercial impact for the client. All in all, a culturally-informed slice of understanding with the consumer at its heart.

To learn more, take a look at our one pager on the subject: PDF one-pager or get in touch

Culture Club

Hot on the heels of our Youth Club event, last night we staged Culture Club - a session with Tea Building buddies BD Network, plus guest speakers Lisa Moretti from Seven and psychologist Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, in which we explored how brands face up to the challenge of becoming more culturally relevant. Here's some pics...

Stayed tuned for news of more Culture Club and Youth Club events in 2015.

We Are Recruiting

We're looking for a skilled and culturally switched on addition to our London team, joining as a consultant or senior consultant...

By which we mean someone who’s experienced with qual work at competent SRE through to mid level RM standing. A whirl through our website should give you a strong idea of the type of person who’ll fit in here and the expertise and enthusiasm they’ll need to be able to offer.

We want a good spectrum of online and offline method experience

We want someone who’s confident at building strategic recommendations from research and at sharing them with clients in attention grabbing ways

Someone who can take a lead on projects – and also work fluidly as part of a team

But we want more than that… We want someone who can tell great stories, deliver work with conviction, boldly wrap trends into their outputs, exhibit an agile mindset and an entrepreneurial energy

We work for exciting brands on demanding briefs across multiple markets, so it’d be great if that’s what you do/want to do as well! We offer an empowering, creative, highly collaborative working environment, loaded with truly future-facing insight and innovation challenges to square up to by the day. We offer a competitive salary and package, too, and great scope for career development in a fast growing business that has big ambitions for the years ahead.

To apply, please send a covering letter and CV to Andy Crysell

Re-Booting TV For Youth

How does TV adapt to fit the expectations and needs of modern youth? Crowd DNA insight and innovation exec, Cathy Pearson, went in search of answers at Channel 4's Youth Audience event...

It’s no secret that 16-34s have always watched less TV than their elders. More than ever, they’re busy adapting to life’s transitions and adopting viewing habits to suit their lifestyles. This is why Leonie Hodge, head of audience research and insight at Channel 4, and speaking at the channel’s Youth Audiences event, believes reflecting young people’s influences, aspirations and experiences is a big part of getting programming right. Young people are aware of social issues, they want to discover new things and they’re willing to challenge their own preconceptions, so TV’s ability to influence is huge — but only if broadcasters get it right.

Driving the best TV experience for young people is increasingly about tapping into social and cultural trends, and employing these across new content as well as the genres they love. This means socially purposeful and authentic content with a commercial reach. Topical themes encourage wider conversation and have social cache among young people, but can also deepen their relationship with a particular show or channel in a crowded television landscape. The shows with heritage are those that allow them to resonate with a character, narrative or issue, and gain commitment from young audiences as they continue to use them as social markers.

Young people are looking to programmes first before heading to the channel with that content and if the audience are moving quickly, channel brands need to follow. Technology has been the biggest driver of growth in TV viewing among 16-24s with an increasing number of platforms and destinations for them to seek out TV content. Their digital engagement increases the TV viewing time of young people by an extra half an hour each day on both VOD and DVD, and the success of early digital initiatives that make content widely available speak largely about audience loyalty to seek out content above and beyond TV, according to Victoria Lucas, Channel 4’s series content producer on Hollyoaks.

TV’s once simpler role to entertain a passive audience has been thrown out. 16-34s are active in following their favourite shows and ditching those that don’t cut it. Channels must do more to reach them and reposition their programmes to become the content of choice. The biggest challenges are around producing and distributing content that connects — TV must not just entertain but capture the stories and issues that matter, and tell them from a young perspective. Harnessing this will require broadcasters and creative heads to remain much closer to their young audiences.


We've been looking at some examples of brand innovation that come culturally charged. The common thread? The component which makes the difference is very much at the heart of these companies, rather than a marketing bolt-on. And the innovation is crafted from real world sentiment, not just built from a digital breakthrough. All new-ish brands, here's their stories...

Finisterre: cold water surfing

Think surf culture and the bright colours and karma of Hawaii most likely come to mind, or the sun splashed ways of California. But Finisterre are reimagining the sport in the form of ‘cold water surfing’ – casting it as a culture that’s unique from that of the warm water variant, with a completely different set of rituals, behaviours and, naturally, product requirements. In a sphere as codified in deep-rooted imagery and customs as surfing, it’s quite a feat to have you reconsidering things.

Shinola: bringing manufacturing back to Detroit

Few cities have been through tougher times than Detroit – when the car industry and its wealth left town, poverty and a sense of abandonment set in. Shinola have built their watch business (closely followed by bicycles and other product lines) around reinvigorating the story of this American city and indeed of gutsy American industry. Thus the brand comes with a tangible spirit of striving heavily embedded in its DNA.

Story: if a store thought like a magazine

A store called Story ought to come with a good story of its own and it does. Situated on Manhattan’s 10th Avenue, this is a shop that thinks like a magazine, starting completely afresh every four to eight weeks and bringing together a new issue in which the product acts as content. Previous themes have included Wellness, Love and Made In America. This time it’s Home For The Holidays, an ‘editorialised gift guide’ shaped in partnership with Target.

Big + Beautiful Data

Here's a data oriented double act, with associate director Claire Moon on author/broadcaster Tim Harford's Google Firestarters presentation, and Eric Shapiro, our creative delivery knowledge leader, reviewing David McCandless' talk at a Guardian Live event. Let's go...

In the first of our two reports, author, broadcaster and FT columnist Tim Harford gave two TED-style talks – one titled ‘Big Mistakes With Big Data’ and the second on ‘How To Tell The Future’. Here’s four relevant insights from his presentations.

  1. Data can’t always speak for itself

At first glance, big data promises to render traditional methods of sampling obsolete (because we now have the data for ‘n=all’), and does away with the need for theories and hypotheses because we can simply ‘listen’ to the data by running algorithms to analyse it.

However, the rise and fall of Google Flu Trends – the poster child for big data – highlights the importance of ‘old-fashioned, boring lessons around how we behave with data’ and the enduring importance of human intelligence at all stages of analysis.

Despite working well at the start, the success rate of the predictions made by Google Flu Trends began to fall spectacularly – and because Google didn’t have a theory for why it worked in the first place, it was impossible to work out why it had gone wrong.

  1. The importance of being human

Despite calling himself a huge fan of big data, Tim advocated human intuition over computer learning and algorithms, and explained why speaking to ‘n=all that matter’ is still a far better approach than attempting to listen to ‘n=all’.

As the volume of ‘found data’ increases, big data is becoming increasingly good at telling us what is happening and identifying correlations, but it can’t tell you why it’s happening and if a correlation actually represents causation – you still need to speak to real humans for that!

  1. Be self-critical

Tim’s final lesson was around prediction, and the importance of being open minded. He spoke at length about a research programme set up by psychologist Philip Tetlock that aggregated a large number (20,000) of quantifiable forecasts made by a broad variety of people. Through this experiment, Tetlock found that the success of predictions lie in correcting biases, working in teams, and in practicing ‘actively open-minded thinking’.

In short, the best way to ensure accuracy when carrying out research and looking to the future is to continually challenge what you find and be prepared to change your mind when new information arises.

  1. Research isn’t always about finding answers

During the Q&A session after Tim’s talks, he was asked about his work for the Scenario Planning division at Shell. Tim’s description of it as ‘science fiction’ got a few laughs, but his point was a serious one – research shouldn’t always be about finding answers. Instead, research should be about stimulating thinking.

(If you want a more detailed account of the event and Tim’s talks, check out Neil Perkin’s great write-up here)


In the second of our reports, we heard Mr Information Is Beautiful (more commonly known as David McCandless) discuss his new book Knowledge Is Beautiful, where he spoke not only of the art of data visualisation, but more deeply on the dividing line between ‘data’ and ‘knowledge’.

Psychology tells us seven pieces of knowledge is about the most information a person can hold, so here’s three things to remember from David’s speech to add to the four from Tim’s.

Knowledge is joined up data

Bored with drawing up immaculate and fascinating data representations, McCandless sought to understand and illustrate knowledge in his new book. He came to the realisation that single data sets only tell you so much. If you want to find something new and genuinely interesting, you need to join up different banks of data to paint a clearer representation. For example, if you want to know who’s top dog, you need to look at a huge range of factors, including vet records, dog genealogies and popularity to reach your goal. It’s the same with insights. To find something new, you need to join up different data types and studies, and view them as one.

3/4 of our brain is vision

Astonishingly, three quarters of our neurons are dedicated to the visual system. We’re incredibly sensitive to beautiful things, but we’re equally aware of ugly things. Even more fascinatingly, we have trust in the former, and are suspicious of the latter. It’s why we describe companies with older or more simple websites as ‘dodgy’, and equally why we forgive glamorous celebrities for just about anything (nice corn rows, Justin…). This means no matter how great, relevant, or life changing a piece of knowledge is, we won’t trust it unless it’s packaged in something beautiful that earns our trust. Equally, we need to be conscious of not presenting something incorrect beautifully, encouraging the wrong sort of knowledge – which means data integrity still matters.

Up wide, crash zoom, to the side

Finally, we learned how in order to extract the best information from data, you need to examine it from all angles. That means looking at the whole picture, exploring the tiny details within, and changing the angle of approach. Take the world of cash crops. From afar, wheat is the most planted, sugar cane the most fecund and most popular, and cannabis yields the highest revenue. That last one’s interesting, no? Well, if we zoom in, you can see that cannabis generates £47,660,000 per square kilometer. And if we look at it from another angle, we see in a state where cannabis is now legal, Colorado, that it reels in more tax revenue than Alcohol. The insight? Cannabis is more lucrative than you might have thought.

Rather than point you towards the illegal drug trade, we reckon this is a lesson in analysis: specifically the importance of using frameworks to view data through different lenses and extract the best and most interesting bits.

(You can see more of David’s beautiful works here, and he’d probably want this blog to link to the Amazon page for his new book – we’ll acquiesce and do this here.)

Stars Of YouTube

What's in the DNA of a YouTube superstar? What's the tipping point from speaking to your mum and mates to having roughly the population of Belgium following your every move? And who are the names lurking behind the cross-over likes of Zoella and PewDiePie?

We’ve been exploring all of this and more for a number of clients recently, pinpointing the developing trends driving the notion of the ‘niche superstar’. The strategic thinking of course stays under wraps, but here’s a vid that casts some clear light on this exciting, ever changing, very social world…