Wearables + Youth

Aurelie Jamard, our associate director for innovation, explores how brands should embark on making wearables that Gens Y and Z actually want to, like, wear...

“Everybody does it…”

This is what Swatch’s CEO Nick Hayek said when he announced that the Swiss brand would be releasing an NFC-enabled watch this month. It’s true, everyone is doing it, but not yet for everyone. 

Last year saw an explosion of connected devices and accompanying apps, with established brands such as Samsung, Sony and Apple leading the way. However, as Alexandra Deschamps, designer and founder of designswarm, mentioned at the Dots conference last year, “ideas in the wearables space are going to market too fast.” Everybody jumped on the bandwagon, launching smart jewels like Ringly and Ear-o-Smart, or turning bracelets into an advertising gimmick for Nivea Sun. However, these products have failed to reach beyond journalists and early adopters, by and large.

Wearables and the next generation of wearers: Gens Y and Z

But what about the long-term strategy? It seems nobody is designing for the next generation of wearers: Gens Y and Z. And, to do that, brands need to understand their different expectations of technology. A recent “non-scientific survey” conducted by eBay Deals’ blog revealed that under half of male respondents aged 18-34 wear a wristwatch and only 23.7% wear one on a daily basis. It’s time to reconsider what wearable tech means for this generation. What do they expect of connected products they’re being asked to wear? How does it fit in with their perceptions of luxury, their love of the sharing economy, and how long do you even own one for? At this stage, the most critical question is why so many brands and start-ups jump are jumping on the bandwagon without considering these issues.

Accessibility, universality and relevance will attract tomorrow’s customers

Many brands are giving it a try: wearables on Android Wear, wearables on iOS, some all-encompassing (think iWatch and Samsung Gear), some very targeted (think Swatch Touch and FitBit), some fashion-led and some others modular. However, Gen Y and Z will need tailored solutions. Here’re three ideas to get you thinking:

Accessible yet unobtrusive – young customers will not part with hundreds of dollars, pounds or euros for a device that does approximately the same as another one they own, just in a different format (however if it does exactly the same and more, it might even replace the device). But they will welcome ways to interact with technology that feel less intrusive and more natural to them.

Universal and compatible – customers demand a universe where compatibility isn’t a problem. After all, what’s the point of owning an NFC-enabled watch that can open your hotel room door if only one hotel is offering the service?

Culturally relevant and personalised – Modularity is key. This is where initiatives such as Blocks and Google’s Project Ara are making a splash. However, the freedom of customisation must balance with simplicity. Choice overload often ends up in no choice at all.

While tech continues to develop (and might eventually cannibalise wearables), it’s down to individual brands to be selective and smart about what tech to adopt and adapt for which target audience. Young consumers are notoriously discerning, so it’s important that Swatch, Tag Heuer, Swarowski and other makers with wearable intentions keep up to date with and cater to their needs. Just because “everybody does it” doesn’t mean that everybody does it right.

The Shy Tory

The pollsters got it wrong and theories as to why now abound. Crowd DNA creative delivery exec Tom Eccles explores the notion of the 'shy Tory' and the impact this mysterious, invisible creature may well have had...

Days, weeks, even months before the 2015 General Election, poll after poll consistently predicted electoral deadlock. Sure, there was the odd percentage swing here and there – but according to the pollsters, coalition governance was here to stay. When faced with the shocking exit polls, many in the political sphere simply refuted their accuracy – Paddy Ashdown infamously promising to eat his hat if the exit poll was true. Ed Miliband reportedly continued to write his victory speech. How could the pre-election polls have got it so badly wrong?

 

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One popular theory making the rounds is that of the “shy Tory”. It goes something like this: a large portion of Conservative voters are ashamed, or afraid to reveal their voting intention – and therefore lied to the pollsters, perhaps claiming to be undecided voters despite knowing, in reality, exactly whose name they would be crossing on the ballot. Charlie Brooker recently described voting Conservative as a guilty pleasure, “like masturbating or listening to Gary Barlow”. In other words, far more people do it than are prepared to admit doing it. In the words of Lionel Shriver, they are “aware that everyone disagrees with them, and so are socially cautious, if not wary or, outside their territory, paranoid.”

So what exactly makes ‘shy’ Tories shy? It is true, that the left are far more vocal about their political leanings than the average conservative. Since the election, there have been cases of shops demanding a “Tory tax”, angry protests and riots in Whitehall, and a general outpouring of grief from the collective left. It is hard to imagine such a public, loud outcry to a Labour victory – despite the fact that a similarly large proportion of the electorate would have voted for someone else. Social media further contributes to this: feeds are bursting with the bemoaning of another five years, even clamouring for electoral reform. Find an open Tory voter on Twitter, and you’re sure to find a barrage of abuse too.

There are some caveats to this theory. While social pressure could potentially cause one to hide their true voting intention, this would surely not be the case in a confidential conversation with a pollster, who you’ll likely never meet. In a similar vein, how is it that the exit polls picked up this vastly different result to the pre-election polls? Did the shy Tories suddenly find the confidence to admit to whom they cast their vote?

Speaking on the BBC’s This Week, Dianne Abbott served up another theory: “lazy Labour”. It is quite conceivable, she argued, that a portion of Labour voters who told pollsters they intended to vote, in fact stayed home. It is also possible that there was an incredibly late swing to the Conservatives, too late for the polls to capture, perhaps even on the day of the election. Or, maybe the pre-election polling process was fundamentally flawed. It wouldn’t be the first time: in 1992, polls similarly predicted a hung parliament, yet voters duly returned a majority for John Major.

The cause of the pollster’s inaccuracy is likely to be the subject of much further debate. Yet this episode, sure to go down in history, reminds us of possible bias and anomalies such as the mysterious, invisible creature, the “shy Tory”. Perhaps it serves as a lesson, that real opinions will only be revealed in truly open, judgement-free environments.

Generation Alpha

There’s Gens X, Y and Z - but who’s next? That will be Generation Alpha - those who’ll live into the 22nd Century and who, very likely, will form their identities in very different ways to what we’re used to, explains Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell...

I recently got to do a talk at TEDx Vilnius on the subject of Generation Alpha – which, while hardly set in stone, is gaining some traction as the term to use for the generation after Z. Here’s a few notes on the subject…

These are those born – shudder – from 2010 onwards. The word of the year that year was ‘app’. It was the year the iPad came out; the year of WikiLeaks. This, it’s fair to say, is the first truly 21st Century generation. More head spinning still, this is a generation that will survive, in significant numbers, deep into the 22nd Century. 

And what a time of change no doubt lies in store for them. Futurist Ray Kurzweil talks about human history’s Law Of Accelerating Returns. In a nutshell, this means that change – social change, cultural change, technological change, all kinds of change – and the rate at which it happens can only do one thing, and that thing is to get faster and faster and faster. And based on this principle, he believes, staggeringly, that the 21st century will witness 1,000 times the progress of the 20th century. This means that if we were to travel forwards through time, say, 40 years, we’d be about equally as astonished as someone from the 1700s would be visiting our world today. Now that is pace.

Generation Alpha is likely to experience a lot then; more than our 20th Century minds can imagine. But one thing that we question whether they will experience is the teen experience of the kind embarked on by previous generations  – something distinct, with a sense of difference over what comes before and what comes afterwards in life, and that plays a major role in identity formation. The teenage experience, the one embedded in our society for almost a hundred years, is most likely coming to an end. 

It’s hotly debated but there’s reasonable support for the notion that the teenage experience, teen culture as opposed to just being aged between 13 and 19, first materialised in the early 20th Century, when a period of education became compulsory and/or was lengthened in many countries. This meant teens were spending a greater time almost exclusively in the company of other teens and therefore creating their own set of codes and behaviours. So what was established as a way to encourage formal learning also encouraged all those pesky sub cultural things about youth that the establishment ultimately came to treat with apprehension and fear.

The teenage experience really got on a roll by the time of the boomer generation. Thereafter followed an ever increasing fragmentation of the experience – new tribes, new codes. Now there’s myriad tribes – from sea punks to ghetto goths, townies to blingers – you make your choice, or blend a few together if you prefer. There’s pick and mix adventuring through near endless tribal options.

From the 1990s onwards the teen experience, youth culture, has been firmly in the sights of brands – it’s become something to leverage and make money from. Brands both took ideas from youth culture and sold the dream of youth culture. The teen experience had gravitated from something to be treated with suspicion to something to be sold and sold hard.

For Gen Z, our youngest cohort this side of generation Alpha, there is now FOMO and FOBO – the fear of missing out and its close friend the fear of being offline. Both of them referring to the absolute essential nature of always being in the loop, culturally and socially super-connected

It’s been a pretty eventful journey for the teen, then. But Generation Alpha – how will it work for them?

2023 is the year that the first of that generation will become teenagers. Will they notice this, though? Of course they will notice being 13, but will they notice the teen experience too? Will it be distinct from what went before and what comes afterwards. Quite likely not and here’s a few reasons why…

Unless a dramatic change in societal norms take place this is a generation that will gain more access to more culture at a younger age than ever before. Exposure to digital means young people are starting to carve individual tastes and create different identities at ever younger ages, way before their teens. And when the devices are wearable or the access to information is embedded in new, currently undreamt of ways, culture, sub-culture, will connect with us sooner still.

The changes are physical, too. Youth will be becoming teens earlier – evidence states puberty in 1920 started at 14.6 years – today it’s 10.5 years. Children are exposed to marketing concepts earlier than ever before. And just as compulsory education was one of the instigators of the teenage experience in the first place, it’s likely education will play a role in the demise of the distinct experience, too. Increases in online learning and mixed age learning models will mean less time spent specifically with those of the same age as you – less time creating those codes. 

Each of these considerations will weaken the sense of the teen experience as a distinct, identity forming experience just that little bit more. But if first becoming a teen is less of a specific event – then becoming an adult, at the other end of one’s teen years, is even less of an event too. Adults, as you may well have noticed, are already finding it hard to leave behind the cultural factors, the trappings of the teen experience – witness so called middle youth; witness everyone clinging on to a little bit or possibly quite a lot, of youth culture.

Traditional indicators of adulthood – moving out, marriage, buying the first home, they’re all becoming more distorted, less uniform. And so the lines become more blurred still. Where the teenage experience starts and where it ends will most likely be near impossible to pinpoint. But what does it mean if the teen experience is no longer seen, as presently defined by psychologists, as a critical period of identity formation, in which we overcome uncertainty, and becoming more self-aware of our strengths and weaknesses.

Does it actually matter? It does matter, because what is indisputable is that our identities will still have to come from somewhere. We will need identity!

By the time of Generation Alpha the mode will, quite likely, be one of perpetual beta. Rather than thinking in terms of the finished adult, emerging good-to-go, ready for the next stage of life at the end of our teenage years, perpetual beta will see a greater understanding that identity cannot be formed overnight – nor even in seven teenage years

Now it would be convenient to be able to proclaim this change irrefutably as a good news or bad news story. But we cannot – the best we can probably do is say it will be exciting, challenging and, most of all, very different. This will no doubt be considerable pressures to contend with – not least the necessity to protect childhood. something it seems we are yet to form a collective view on. But, more positively, there may also be less of a perceived rush to form ourselves.

Less stock held in the idea of anything akin to the finished adult product ever emerging – which, seeing as that’s an idea which has proven itself pretty dismally flawed thus far can be no bad thing. If, as seems likely, we will all be living that little bit longer, then it makes sense for Generation Alpha to lock down the details just that little bit less quickly.

It’s apt then, after the Xs, the Ys and the Zs, to think of Generation Alpha as a true re-set of youth. So though it would be easy to revel in nostalgia for a golden vision of the teen experience, the one played out for decades in films and music, while those experiences has served us well for close to 100 years, it may well be time to move on. 

When there’s 1,000 times the change on the horizon, the cultural codes are certain to change, too. For Generation Alpha, a whole lot of code making and code breaking doubtless lies ahead.

Purpose & Cynicism

It's cool to care, for sure, and we like our brands to care as well. But, asks Crowd DNA consultant Milly Derbyshire, could our cynicism be building?

It’s undeniable – activism is having a moment. From Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech to the ‘aesthete activism’ of the Marc by Marc Jacobs AW 2015 collection, and here at Crowd DNA, even a new tribe of activists joining the leading edge of our Tribes UK framework; these days it’s cool to care.

Brands are capitalising on this age of action by pushing their purpose-led credentials. From banks to booze, brands claim to be fighting our corner, in any manner of social, economic and political causes. But with more brands jumping on the band-wagon, it makes us wonder whether the tide will turn from optimism to cynicism.

Take Dove, the beauty brand that has been championing women’s self-esteem and recently released a new advert aiming to show how women all over the world are devaluing their beauty. The advert, and its predecessors, are undoubtedly very shareable, and have proved incredibly successful for the brand.

But how long are consumers going to (literally) buy the idea that a beauty brand can overcome societal ideologies of beauty? Yes consumers are looking for more purpose in brands, but these higher expectations means they need to live by their purpose, not pay lip service to it. It may not be long before people fail to see empowerment in a body cream.

In the words of Douglas Holt’s cultural strategy theory, we wonder whether a cultural orthodoxy is beginning to emerge, as more and more brands take on the charge of social, environmental and political purposes to sell their wares. With consumers more savvy than ever, it’s uncertain how long those brands that fail to back up words with actions will continue to thrive, leaving a space for brands that are frank about the fact that they are in the business of, well, business! Selling things that you need, and not curing social ills.

The Dollar Shave Club, an American subscription service that mails replacement razor heads for a fraction of the cost of leading razor brands, is a great case in point. With the strapline ‘a great shave for a few bucks a month’ it’s clear that the only purpose they’re championing is saving you money. And how do they achieve it? Presumably by avoiding the huge amounts of money spent on marketing to convince you of an ethical purpose behind the brand.

We don’t doubt that purpose-led brands will continue to rise in popularity (in fact, it’s one of our five trends for 2015) but as the bar is being raised even higher, half-hearted attempts to follow suit will appear hollow to ever more savvy consumers.

Photo credit: Kate Owen (Marc by Marc Jacobs’ aesthete activism)

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

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.

PositionDial

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.

Voteforpolicies

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.

Time to de-stress and solve some problems, as strategic initiatives director Sarah Brierley explores what mindfulness means for insight and creativity...

Mindfulness is having a moment. As a quick Google search attests, it’s a bone fide trend (some say movement) – recent articles abound from the likes of the Huffington Post, Telegraph, Spectator, Jezebel and NY Times (not all of them positive).

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of ‘being in the present moment’ or, as Wikipedia puts it: ‘the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditational practices derived from Buddhist anapanasati.’

Mindfulness is praised for improving creativity, lowering stress levels, improving problem solving, even relieving pain, anxiety and depression. But it has its critics too: some question its efficacy, others say it’s a poor replacement by our atheist society for religion, and so on.

There are mindfulness courses and apps and retreats. It’s much discussed in business and marketing circles – as both a corporate and consumer trend. And it’s becoming a buzzword in insight, too.

Curiosity duly piqued, I recently went to Roy Langmaid’s workshop ‘From Mindfulness To Insight’, pitched as follows:

‘Let’s face it, while a clear mind might be desirable, most of us have to mobilise very busy minds to gain insights… I have distilled and applied the most useful techniques from meditation and the thinking practices that make up mindfulness to our work in commercial insight-seeking.’

Using a series of exercises, Roy taught us (mostly insight professionals but a couple from other professions, too) what it is to be mindful – being in the present moment – and how we can use mindfulness practice to reach insight.

Some of the exercises (eg breathing awareness, the tangerine exercise, body scan) were simple ways of practising being mindful – techniques that encourage you to be in the present moment, notice when your mind wanders and gently bring your attention back to the exercise.

Once we’d got the basics, we looked at how mindfulness practice can be used to gain insight. As Roy explains:

“I often notice insight arises in three main ways:

  • 1) From learning (new information)
  • 2) From reflection (from thinking about the issue)
  • 3) From meditation (from allowing the issue to be there and seeing what comes).”

So, using a real-life problem – anything from a research project to a personal quandary – Roy walked us through an exercise. This involved viewing our problem from five different perspectives (material form, feelings, perception, mental formations and consciousness) in order to reach helpful new interpretations, giving rise to creative solutions to the problem. These different perspectives help you question your thinking, spot connections and expose ‘faulty’ conclusions you may be making – perhaps as a result of the cognitive biases we’re all subject to. It was an interesting new approach to reaching insight, another tool to add to the kit.

But for me, my biggest take out from mindfulness practice is how beautifully it links with much of the thinking around creativity – how allowing your mind to wander away from a problem can lead to moments of insight and let your greatest ideas pop into existence. Put differently, it’s a good route to tapping into system one thinking, allowing your emotional brain to take over from the logical one for a bit and letting it graft stealthily while you focus on something else like swimming, or day dreaming, or indeed the practice of mindfulness.

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!

Changing Identities

Crowd DNA exec Cathy Pearson reports on how the rise of interest in feminism also opens up conversation on the shifting role of gender as a defining feature of identity...

International Women’s Day (IWD), which took place on March 8, is a reflection of the growing awareness of – and support for – gender equality. People are no longer willing to sit back and allow gender to be a deciding factor in quality of life. As a cultural issue that is so important to the global population, it is pertinent time for brands and companies to voice their support.

Many of the prevalent global issues discussed during IWD – domestic violence, FGM and equal pay – have never been so highly recognised and debated than in 2015. All this talk of feminist matters has not only served to make significant impact in its own sphere, but also opened up wider discussions about the shifting role of gender as a defining feature of identity.

Gender has long formed social identities (think women as mothers, men as bread winners) and socially constructed gender remains dominant, but it’s no longer the case that just boys play football, while just girls go shopping. Gender expectations and stereotypes are being rejected and personal influences are transcending male/female boundaries. There is an overwhelming cry for acceptance of people based on who they want to be and what they want to do, regardless of the reproductive organs they were born with. Argentina now allows its citizens to choose from a long list of gender options, including transgender, for inclusion on official documents. And Facebook has followed suit by extending its gender options.

Growing acceptance of diversity in gender identity means interests and aspirations are experiencing huge shifts. People no longer want to follow stereotypical paths set by archaic societal views and instead want to be active in areas they’re personally passionate about. Previously male dominated hobbies are now opening up to become more inclusive of female genders, and life goals shaped around the home aren’t just yielding female interest; there’s fluidity in how gender is progressing and it needs recognition.

There’s a long way to go for gender-influenced legislation, but in a complex landscape you have to celebrate the communities forming around these issues. Offline, LGBT groups are advocates for diversity in sexuality and celebrity ambassadors are growing by the day to eradicate sexism. Online, social media has been extremely powerful for campaigns on gender equality. It’s encouraged conversations around uncomfortable topics, such as rape. Campaigns like #HeForShe – the UN initiative that “brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half” – has achieved viral success with the backing of popular celebrities, such as official spokesperson Emma Watson. However, it has also led people to question the other side of the coin making #SheForHe also go viral.

Brands should look to show their openness to shifting expectations and how gender can seriously affect people’s sense of identity. As outlined in the Crowd DNA 2015 trend The Purpose Revolution, modern consumers demand a clearly defined reason for being from every brand they interact with. Gender equality needs to become part of every brand purpose – however, it must only be used in authentic and meaningful ways and always backed up with actions as well as words.