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.

Parallel Personas

What do years of being a consumer researcher do to a person? Chris Haydon, our insight and innovation director, lies back on the couch and opens up about the effects of a decade seeking answers...

On reflection, being a researcher really has shaped me. At some point I morphed from being an inquisitive person into a series of different parallel personas; tools designed to seek the truth(s).

It’s no longer enough for me to understand why my DPD parcel will be “delivered between 9.57 and 10.57” (and not “between 10 and 11”) – I’m now compelled to look at it from different angles and share at least one plausible explanation* to get others thinking differently about it too.

When Madonna falls over on stage at the Brits, a researcher thinks: ouch, how embarrassing, poor old Madonna, did she break her pelvis, what a great performance that ruined, what’s that track called, this needs clipping down to three seconds, wonder if that’s online yet, this’ll get shared around, oh no – the memes are coming, click bait opp, Twitter storm a-brewing, Brits 2015 = Madonna, genius move (again), the world’s so cynical…

It pays to do this, to think as a range of different people in each situation. Empathic human, savvy consumer, marketer, potential customer, world-weary cynic – because then, bang, multiple universes emerge from each question. You’re on a path to enlightenment.

Understandably, I guess, this pervades my other life too (though they’re not really separate). Normal social conversations, not unlike chess matches, kick off with one from a set of ‘agreed’ openings.

Question. What did you think of that film?

Standard answer set. The acting was good, the story wasn’t very plausible, the locations were nice. It made me think. It was sad/funny/harrowing/stupid. Let’s go for a drink.

Researcher answer set. All the above plus… Who’d spend nine quid on popcorn and a drink? Why do they insist you’re there by eight when it doesn’t start until 8.35? Did you notice that all the products in the film were Sony? Do you think so-and-so is planning a singing career off the back of this? Why was that character Chinese? Let’s go for a drink (- hello, no don’t leave, come back).

So this skill can be both a blessing and – used unwisely – a curse, but it’s still something all consumer researchers should work to develop and embrace. I’m certainly still doing so.

* do we read 9.57 as any time starting with a 9 and 10.57 is about 11 – so we’re really accepting a longer window (say 9.30 to 11.20)?

The Alternative Elder

With a generation of left field creatives hitting their 60s, cultural permission is being created for old(er) guys to copycat a new set of style codes. Crowd DNA managing director Andy Crysell advises retailers to get set for different slants on sexagenarian-plus male fashion sense, in yet another example of tribal identity extending far beyond the confines of youth culture...

On recent travels across Europe and the US, we’ve noted a rise in guys aged 60 plus dressing, well, differently. We’ll resist calling it hipster-like, but it’s definitely alternative, and it points to new cultural factors that previously did not exist for older men. A generation of left field creatives are reaching their sexagenarian years but rejecting a switch to more accepted style codes. Think David Lynch (69) and David Byrne (62) – both possessing a look which makes clear that good fashion sense for 60 plus guys extends beyond the sartorial mainstays of the stuffy ‘classic’/’suave’ look.

It’s long been said that men are more likely to copy fashion looks that appeal to them, rather than actively seek advice (ie, men are less likely than women to ask where an item was purchased) and thus this new breed of older style gent provides a fresh set of reference points, granting permission for others to follow suit. It’s a marker of a shift in cultural orthodoxy, of changing societal expectations, and we expect it to evince itself more forcibly as acceptance grows. How will this play out on the high street? We don’t anticipate Marks & Spencer dropping the comfy cardigans just yet, but a gradual adoption within more mainstream environs is bound to happen. 

It tallies with boomer generation work we conducted for a media client last year, in which we identified a wider spectrum of mindsets, interests and viewpoints among older people than previously noted (also a softening of the generation gap). Cultural tribalism, in essence, has now reached the boomers, with the Alternative Elder just one manifestation to bear in mind.

To specialise or diversify - that, says our strategic initiatives director, Sarah Brierley, is the question for most brands today. But can they, and should they, be reaching for both at once?

I’ve been thinking about two opposing trends that we’re seeing more and more of among brands.

  1. Diversification

Some brands are getting better at trying their hand at anything – not afraid to think big (commercial flights to space with Virgin Galactic, anyone?) these brands try radical if risky new ventures that have the potential to transform and grow people’s relationships with them (think Tesco, Google, Amazon).

  1. Specialisation

Other brands are choosing a single purpose, doing one thing really well. These brands are all about utility and simplicity (think Pinterest, Airbnb, Spotify).

Both these trends are shaping how consumers think about brands.

  1. We expect the unexpected

Diversification (when done well) opens our minds to possibility. These brands earn our permission to go beyond their original remit – why NOT bank with your supermarket, use a car made by your search engine or watch a TV series created by an online marketplace like Amazon?

Here, the world is the brand’s oyster so brands should THINK BIG.

  1. We expect simple excellence

We’ve also got used to specialists offering a highly-focused, best-in-class version of their chosen product/service. These brands can be big – Spotify is huge and global but its offering remains clear and single-purpose. Or small – Freedom lager is an award-winning English brewery selling only craft lager, having chosen clear focus over a wider product range. What all these brands have in common is expert single-purpose products/services. Being average just doesn’t cut it.

Specialist brands set the bar high so brands must BE SINGLEMINDED.

Best of both worlds

Perhaps in response to this, many brands with a wide product range are breaking down their offering into smaller, branded, single-purpose chunks, enabling them simultaneously to diversify AND specialise. Facebook is a great example of this: it’s evolved from a single product to six separate apps (Facebook, Camera, Messenger, Poke, Pages and Paper). This unbundling brings clarity of purpose for both the consumer and the brand, enabling each product to be the very best it can.

So perhaps it is possible to have it all – to both diversify and specialise. Whether you offer one product or 20, it seems the key to success lies in clarity, focus and excellence.

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...

Notes On Gen Zs

From bouncing balls to using Minecraft as a research tool, Crowd DNA managing director Andy Crysell jots down assorted notes from the MRS Gen Z conference...

With presentations offering a mixed bag of the interesting and, to be honest, rather prosaic, the MRS Gen Z conference in London saw a range of client and agency-side folk wrestling with what makes this cohort tick, how brands should engage with them and the challenges of researching them. Here’s a few notes captured from the event.

+ The MRS previewed some well considered new deliverables (short films and PDFs) designed to make their guidelines on researching youth/kids more easily digestible.

+ Back in the same room: whereas families were at once stage drifting to different rooms in the house, drawn to their own TV/entertainment preferences, the proliferation of handheld devices (kids in the UK have access to eight devices on average, and own 3.4 -Viacom/Nickelodeon research) is bringing them back into shared spaces – if doing different things while there. The scope to deliver shared experiences, albeit of a more future facing kind, thus is increasing.

+ Also from Nickelodeon, they’ve deployed facial coding to explore the appeal of advertising against five emotional traits and to demonstrate the value of advertising in the right media environment. While a method that is hotly debated in terms of its true credibility, it points to the increase in use of observational research techniques.

+ New(er) methods: there was a panel discussion on these, with references to using Gen Zs as trendspotters (we liked the idea of turning this into an online detective game); co-creation to tap into the notion that this generation are all inventors at heart; wearable cameras (good with specific tasks/issues of recall in mind, logistical hell if used without proper purpose!); grappling with quant (gamification is talked about more than used, but there’s plenty of scope to improve how visuals and copy are applied – we call this story-fying rather than gamifying; and thinking about the behind the scenes parts – ie, using trade off techniques – rather than just how shiny your interface is). Crowd DNA are well versed in all of these areas/challenges. What’s of course key is making sure the methods used are fit for purpose, accepting there will always be compromises and that perfection through one method alone is near impossible to come by!

+ The BBC’s Children’s Audiences team mixed up the presentation style by popping a ball into the audience and asking that we throw it between us. If you caught it you got to choose a number on the screen, about which the BBC team them revealed some data-derived insight. A nice stab at making the delivery of the work more interactive and therefore more memorable.

+ “We’ve all been children but not in this time”: one of those remarks that’s as obvious as it is nonetheless easy to overlook when designing and analysing work. Gen Z really are squaring up to a unique range of opportunities and challenges, and it would be lazy in the extreme to let our own experiences of childhood shape our interpretations of this cohort.

+ Risk averse: a term that came up a lot on the day. A risk averse generation with risk averse parents. An interesting area to explore further as there’s no doubt more nuances to it than that – perhaps the old cultural codes of what constitutes risk no longer apply.

+ Futurist Yesmin Kunter provided an interesting run through play and development. We got to see where hacking culture meets kids toys in the shape of new robots coming to the market; where eco consciousness meets toys in the form of the Kosmos wind turbine and 3D printing of Hot Wheels. She also, intriguingly, talked about using Minecraft as a research technique/platform with Gen Zs – definitely an idea worth exploring further.

+ John Conlon, VP of research at Viacom International Media Networks UK, offered some interesting perspective on how insight is being re-cast. Less about what’s happening and more about what will be happening. Less talking to consumers; more talking to experts and more observational techniques (from semiotics to smartphone video diaries).

+ It’s a few years old, but there was a well placed nudge to revisit education/creativity specialist Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA talk on changing education paradigms. It’s definitely worth a watch, both for the ideas discussed and the lovely delivery of them in this adaption of his speech.

+ Oh yes, and while we have you, we recommend you take a look at our own videos exploring the differences between Gens X, Y and Z. We love them, and hope you do, too.

When I Used To Be A Planner

Our Amsterdam-side strategic initiatives director, Lydia Jones, is a planner no more. Oh, hold on, she's more a planner now than ever. Think we'd best let her explain...

When I first uttered those fateful words, ‘when I used to be a planner’, in my second week at Crowd DNA, I had a little moment. Am I really not a planner anymore? After eight years in advertising with that job title, it felt weird to relinquish it. But with three months now at Crowd getting stuck in all over the place – from toothbrushes to cheese – I realise I’m might be more of a planner now than I was at any ad agency.

Gone are the days when agencies had in-house research departments with a team dedicated to moderating groups, setting up surveys, doing your desk research, and running TGI reports. Gone too are the days when every project had two months of planning time, where planners shut themselves away in a room and stroked their beards, noodling over the precise articulation of a proposition. These days, you’re lucky if you get two weeks. So planners now have to do their own research and mostly that means turning to their trusty friend Google. Trouble is, everyone else also has access to the same free but never-the-right-markets, never-the-right-target, or perfect-but-from-2005, reports that you do. So a planner ends up making do and extrapolating, ie, ‘making shit up’. Many planners are highly skilled at Making Shit Up. They have to be. I know I was. My strategies were a thing of beauty!

In my ad career, I’ve worked at many different agencies: direct, digital, above the line, old school, new school, old dinosaur, and shiny new start up, And apart from a handful of groups, a couple of surveys, and a few hastily put together vox pops for pitches, I never did any primary research. Never. In eight years. Most of the time, I didn’t even have access to proper secondary research (Mintel subscriptions were cut along with the free fruit). So it’s no wonder most planners nowadays are expert storytellers and deck crafters, but pretty terrible when it comes to talking to real people.

That’s partly the reason why I joined Crowd. To actually do some proper primary research, a skill I should’ve been well versed in by now. But secondly, I joined Crowd because they get those challenges faced by agencies today. They work fast, they tell stories, and they don’t make planners wade through hundreds of terribly ugly powerpoint charts. And they’re nice.

We are an agencies’ research department. We are their planners. Bonus being they don’t have to fork out for breakfast for us every day.