Capturing The Love Of Travel

One of our most recent – and most impactful – projects was built for booking.com, who wanted help to get closer to the intense excitement their customers feel about holidays and trips. Simply put, folks don’t swipe right on travel brands, they’re swiping right on travel itself. And booking.com wanted to use that energy to fire up the brand even more. So we set out to discover how to authentically capture love for travel – and foster brand love in that journey.

At the Qual360 global conference 2024, Linda Koelemij, booking.com Manager Qualitative Research & Insights, and myself will talk about how we took the brand back to its origin of loving travel. Here are three of the key destination points we arrived at on this project… 

Not how they book, but why they book

We wanted to achieve an organisational and marcomms shift, and make employees and agency partners think differently and more diversely about holidays and trips. Rather than the purpose of travel being a function; to visit a city or to go to the beach – we looked at why people book. What role does a trip fulfil in their wider cultural/ or personal context? Through personal travel diaries, virtual visits, and IRL dream trip sessions, we learned that booking travel is about fundamental emotional jobs. Participants told us about  wanting to connect with their loved one – to experience joy, freedom, belonging, happiness, indulgence, and the list goes on and on. This is why they travel. This is the goal they want to achieve. This is their job to be done. And it’s definitely not functional.

Our journey to finding brand love for booking.com

It all starts with stories… 

We really enjoyed hearing stories like the German couple having loud s*x as they took a holiday without their young children. The amazing research stories revealed human truths… truths that were endearing, emotional and just very real and fun: Perfect food for creative partners to riff from and create more diverse and authentic campaigns. And these groups of truths led us to fundamental jobs to be done – learnings that were critical for marcomms, the marketing funnel and creative diversity but also for product teams to design new features around.

From a fling to brand love

Ultimately all the human truths revealed ten fundamental jobs to be done. And it was through knowing about these – the quick escape from everyday life, the great annual reset, the pivotal life-changing trip – that we could strategise from fling to brand love. It’s this perspective on customers and travel that is now helping booking.com get closer to their wealth of customers and why they do the things they do. Helping with journeys, channels, marcomms and general audience understanding. It’s a great destination to have arrived at. We love booking.com and can’t wait for our next research date…

If you’d like to learn more about how cultural insights can help a brand ignite more brand love, get in touch: hello@crowdDNA.com

Elevating Semiotics With AI

Commercial Semiotics, like other industries, is experiencing trends toward automation – with similar hopes and trepidations. So when I was asked to speak at the MRS Semiotics and Cultural Insights Conference 2024, I wanted to focus on how we determine the optimal balance between human and AI involvement – the good signs, as it were. 

The three following themes here were my introduction at the event to how semiotics and AI can begin to unlock new dimensions in research, creativity, and – most crucially – customer understanding:

Leveraging AI: Enhancing our rigour and breadth of our Storytelling and Analysis

While commercial semiotics is an established and rigorous methodology, AI supported semiotics can provide added robustness to our approach. By increasing the amount of source material we analyse, it gives us hundreds of visual and textual evidence across categories – to further validate, enhance and innovate aspects of our storytelling and analysis for even richer insights. 

Demystifying AI: Bridging the Knowledge Gap and Establishing a Common Understanding 

In the market research industry in general, as with semiotics, there needs to be education on what AI is exactly to demystify it, as we don’t have a common understanding of it. We at Crowd DNA and the wider Strat7 Group have developed an AI working group where we provide cross agency show and tells and internal webinars to sensitise team members to what generative AI is, its capabilities and limitations. 

A partnership. Our Human Expertise and Technological innovation 

Semiotics can be enhanced with AI, but human creativity and insights is still very critical – especially when advising clients on business decisions and providing strategic and credible recommendations and outputs. 

Undoubtedly, AI is beginning to reshape how we work as Semioticians. And at Crowd DNA, it is part of our offering and we aspire to use it to give better, more scope to our outputs (whether that means strategists have time freed up for more creative tasks, or clients use it to analyse vast amounts of data efficiently). We know there’s lots of areas of integration between semiotics and AI that are just beginning to be explored…

The MRS Semiotics and Cultural Insights Conference 2024 is on 1st February 2024. For more information go to https://www.mrs.org.uk/.

If you’d like to learn more about how we use semiotics to reach real cultural insights, or more about our AI solutions – powered by strat7.ai – please get in touch: hello@crowdDNA.com

Thurs October 5 at 1pm & 5pm BST / 12pm & 5pm EST. RSVP by clicking the first session here and the second session here.

Everything’s A Mess... a webinar on how brands can navigate uncertainty 


As you may have noticed, it’s been a turbulent few years. Shocks of uncertainty feel like they’re coming more seismically and frequently than ever (though, spoiler alert: things have always been uncertain) leaving us, and brands, and consumers in a constant state of flux. 

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is good to come from uncertainty, and in chaos lies opportunity. So, how can you find a way through? 

What should brands do or not do? Are you a hand holder, facilitator of escapism, or relatable realist – and what’s right for your brand?


At Crowd DNA we’re all about embracing the messiness of culture. It’s where we think brands can really thrive, and we relish our role as specialists in navigating unknowns. In this webinar we’ll:

_Discover how uncertainty can be a motivator for both consumers and brands

_Explore the human needs that are heightened in response to instability

_Use our trends and semiotics expertise to provide guidance on how brands can speak to these needs, across visuals, language and more


Join Rachel Rapp, futures director, and Amy Nicholson, associate director, futures, on Thurs October 5 to get stuck into the mess.

RSVP by clicking 1pm BST / 8am EST here and 5pm / 12pm EST here.

Cultural strategy executive Jasmine Lo reflects on her time spent during Crowd's Culture Club internship programme…

The start of a new year is always a good time to process experiences and jot down any learnings for the year ahead. Last summer, I joined Crowd’s Culture Club programme as a cultural strategy intern. The experience was a whirlwind in the best way possible. With time to reflect on it since becoming a permanent member of the team, I thought I’d write a bit of a note to self and share some things I’ve taken with me from the journey. 

1. Trust in the process of figuring it out

It is rarely a straight line to landing the right role and company. It certainly took me a while before I found Crowd. I don’t think I’ve ever completed an internship that felt as fulfilling as Culture Club. Being thrown straight in as a newbie is terrifying, but it’s the most effective way to learn, and Crowd has you shape-shifting and figuring it out from the get go.

2. There are so many ways in

It is always eye-opening to learn all the ways folks at Crowd made their way to the company. A non-linear career of funky job pivots or travelling across countries through the years is something we are united by. With such an array of experiences across industries and cultures, it’s no wonder Crowd does things a little differently. 

3. Confusion became my best pal, so, I will let it ground me

I have never been so pleased to have no idea what was going on than here at Crowd. Culture Club armed me with the openness to keep asking myself and others questions along the way. Every day was (and still is) totally different and it forces you to ask questions. Before joining Crowd, I had rarely seen research done with such creativity and empathy. The process itself is a source of endless inspiration.

4. Solidarity and support come in so many forms at Crowd

Who knows where little conversations here and there can lead to. One of the best pieces of advice I got when I first joined was: “it’s not about doing the most in order to prove yourself – that’s not what we’re about at Crowd – it’s about tuning in and being really present and talking to others”. As a newbie, that was invaluable to me. There is always someone at Crowd I feel able to reach out to and that’s really special and important to hold onto.

5. My cross-cultural chaos matters

This is cultural strategy after all. The more cultural nuance the better. I need to trust in the things I do know because they help me navigate a lot of what cultural strategy is. Our individual intuition to navigate conversations is everything. 

I’ve now joined the strategic insights team permanently, but I will always look back on my early months at Crowd with fondness. Culture Club is a prime example of what an internship should feel like – you should be able to walk away and into whatever role is next for you confident in the possibilities ahead. 

Curious about the Culture Club internship programme? Read all about it here.

Roughly 14 years and five months in the making, finally we've got round to writing our book. How We Work With Culture tells our story - the important stuff and the weird bits and pieces. But why bother? CEO and founder Andy Crysell explains...

First up, an admission. Probably should’ve written this a long time ago. Not now, almost 15 years into the Crowd DNA story.

So why now? Well, better late than never. Also because, as we grow, as we become more global, communicating what we stand for becomes ever more important to get right. We can’t just hope that this will all drift through the ether, like we perhaps could when Crowd DNA was a handful of people sitting around the same table. Now we’re not even sitting in the same timezone.

Prior to creating How We Work With Culture, what’s in here had never all been put down on paper in the one place. It had been talked about in instalments. Shared in various presentations, workshops and company get-togethers. It had existed in the heads of various people (much of it in mine). It often ended up hidden away in the mysterious depths of our Google Drive.

What do we hope to achieve with this? To give our team, particularly new arrivals, a stronger sense of what we’re about. The confidence to dive into the wonderful messiness of working with culture. And if there are people outside of the business who are also interested in what we’re about, that’s great, too.

We hope it will demonstrate that, despite all of the aforementioned messiness, Crowd DNA has craft to it – something we can call… a way. We want to be seen as a unique proposition, and to define and inspire a next generation of cultural strategists. We think How We Work With Culture has a big role to play here, too.

But then in some ways it’s just nice to have the opportunity to tell our story. All of the things we chat about. The stuff we try to make sense of, and somewhat obsess over. The big strategic things, but then also all of the weird bits and pieces that make up our narrative. All of it, in its own way, is important.

With thanks to the entire Crowd DNA team, whose creativity and energy never fails to amaze. Special applause for Chloe Swayne for all of the fabulous design work (and perseverance) that went into creating How We Work With Culture. And to our group managing director, Dr Matilda Andersson, for her contributions here, but more so, for her commitment to Crowd DNA itself.

Andy Crysell, founder and CEO

Crowd Culture Trip

The annual Amsterdam Dance Event is an experience close to our hearts. Here's what happened when Crowd DNA went out, out...

There are a couple of reasons why we wanted to write about the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) this year. First, we’re very proud to call Amsterdam one of our homes, and we like to get a chance to talk about what’s happening on our doorsteps. 

Secondly, we’re strongly inspired by all of the DIY energy at the core of dance music. Blending things, improvising, getting tech to do things it wasn’t meant to do, grassroots creativity – it’s all very much in our (Crowd) DNA.

ADE has been bringing cutting edge music, club nights, industry seminars, film screenings, art exhibitions and record store happenings to the Netherlands capital since 1996 and is attended by over 400,000 people, reveling in this mix of sub-cultural expression. Here is a taste of our experiences at the five-day event this year…

 

Last Night A (Female) DJ Saved My Life – Andy Crysell, CEO & Founder

DJs/writers/dance music historians Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton staged a talk and party at ADE, marking the launch of the second edition of their highly definitive Last Night A DJ Saved My Life book. For anyone who hasn’t encountered it, Last Night… heads deep into the psyche of after dark culture and the role of the DJ, telling an inspirational underground story that weaves from reggae to disco to house and beyond.

The big shift in the new edition comes from Bill and Frank’s acknowledgement that, in the first, the input from female-identifying DJs was glaringly light. They’ve put that right this time – recognising the impact of many women DJs across many genres, including the fascinating story of Celeste Alexander, the only female DJ ever to spin at Chicago’s The Music Box, the iconic home of Ron Hardy and year zero house music.

They noted in their talk how they now aim for 50/50 female and male line-ups at their own parties and that, on top of everything else, it simply makes business sense: “doing this has completely renergised who turns up for our nights.”

Spearheaded by the likes of Charlotte De Witte and Amelie Lens, female DJs have made a monumental impression on dance music over the last half decade. But there are those, less known, who came before them. Telling their story – and thus the origins of modern sub-culture – is important to do. Props, while on the subject, to the women DJs who had a big impact on me in the past. Smokin’ Jo, Kelli Hand, Princess Julia, Nancy Noise, Lisa Loud, DJ Paulette, to name a few.

 

Beats And Burgers – Joey Zeelen, Director, Amsterdam and Stockholm 

After the success of the pop-up PAINDEMIE, the restaurant specialising in toastie burgers recently opened a permanent location in Amsterdam Oud West. The building on the Kinkerstraat consists of two floors. The interior downstairs is inspired by a Japanese subway station where burgers, sandwiches and grilled cheese are served. Upstairs is an art deco, Japanese listening bar where vinyl records are played all weekend.

The restaurant has gained a true cult following over the last few years due to its surprising food, interior design, humorous Instagram posts and collaborations with in-vogue chefs.

During ADE the owners decided to host an early evening rave with upcoming Dutch DJs JEANS and Mairo Nawaz. Both played psy/Goa trance and techno for four hours, while the restaurant staff continued flipping burgers. The result is best described as a Blade Runner-dystopian-retro-futurism party… with amazing food. 

Normally, we would be sceptical of these types of concepts. Rave culture doesn’t easily get appropriated, and brands showing up almost always seem desperate. But this was a great example of how a brand connects and amplifies underground music culture in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. Success is dependent on a symbiotic relationship, where the artists, the culture and the brand all benefit. And that’s what happened here.

 

EDM Wellbeing Escapes – Irina Dimitriade, Associate Director 

For the metal-head in me, dance music has always been something that other people did. Until ADE 2022. There were so many amazing things about it, like seeing an entire city come together into a giant party for five days and nights. But what really did it for me was discovering EDM as an instrument for wellbeing.

ADE is a great reflection of how electronic dance music is expanding and becoming a holistic instrument for inner peace. It started with Mark to the Music, a mindful art experience at the Museum van de Geest (aka Museum of the Mind). Here, Jolien Pusthumus, a neuro-sensitive mindfulness trainer, guided us into a deep meditative journey while we created art to the amazing atmospheric beats of DJ Marcelle. 

This journey continued with Reflections – a live music and meditation experience at Delight Yoga, one of the most beautiful studios in the city. For one long hour, the voice of Kat Pither from Yogi Bare and the live electronic music of Jesse Marcella guided us into a deep meditative state. The sense of expansion I felt when I woke up was out of this world!

And finally, my journey ended with a complete let-go at Nxt Museum x Transmoderna AiR, immersed in audiovisual dance culture, with sounds, pixels and NFTs. I never expected that an intimate escape into my own mind in museums and yoga studios would actually lead me towards a new tribe.

 

Creative Curations – Eleanor Bickers, Cultural Strategist

Located at the old military base Het Hem in Zaandam, this industrial backdrop was the ideal place to find an exhibition about the history of rave. Here it felt like we were lost in a radical alternative to contemporary society. It was reminiscent of trying to find a rave – getting lost in the tree-lined routes that snaked around the outdoor event, and all seeking out a collective experience.

With this type of energy, the exhibition had begun before we had even arrived. As cultural researchers, it was a highly interesting and immersive route into an event. Inside the old bullet factory, Sweet Harmony: Out of the Underground told the story of the history of the Dutch rave scene in the eighties and nineties, with contemporary perspectives of queer techno politics and resistance.

It explored the idea that rave culture shouldn’t (just) be romanticised, as it’s a complex ecosystem of liberation, togetherness, and unmediated human interaction. We were encouraged to select our own path through the exhibition. The event curation kept us on our toes – such as with the absence of lengthy descriptions. Rave culture may have been talked about many times before, but the experiential nature of Sweet Harmony helped us look at it with a fresh narrative.

As part of our ongoing commitment to workplace diversity, we’re partnering with the 10,000 Black Interns initiative…

As a global agency with offices in seven cities, working at the intersection of brands and culture, people – and all their many, wonderful, kaleidoscopic backgrounds – form our foundations. Diversity, therefore, is a huge part of what we do, and what we stand for as a team. 

But we’re aware of our limitations. Building a truly diverse company is something we constantly have to work at – and sometimes we have to call in help from elsewhere. 

That’s why we’re excited to partner with 10,000 Black Interns, a charity dedicated to creating opportunities for underrepresented young Black talent talent. We’ll be joining a line up of businesses promising to cumulatively hire 10,000 Black interns amid a push to improve the diversity of the UK’s professional industries. Last year, 70 percent of the applicants said they wouldn’t have received an internship if it hadn’t been for the programme.

Our partnership with 10,000 Black Interns means we will be offering three paid intern opportunities in 2023 through our Culture Club programme (a significant number of Culture Clubbers go on to permanent roles at Crowd DNA). If this is something that interests you, head here to apply. And please share this news with anyone else who might want to hear about it. 

 You can read more about 10,000 Black Interns here; our own internship scheme, Culture Club, here and our commitment to the MRS Pledge here.

Crowd DNA In Los Angeles

Hello Los Angeles. We're so happy to be opening there today and Crowd DNA founder/CEO Andy Crysell explains why...

It’s a proud and exciting day at Crowd DNA today, as we lift the curtain on our seventh office. This time our adventures take us to Los Angeles and we’re delighted to welcome on board David Stewart as our head of agency.

Why Los Angeles? Well, first up, why anywhere? We could do much of the global work that we do just from London, our original base. But we know we create a more compelling and human business by being about more than that. By placing ourselves closer to people and to the source of culture. We are more interesting for our clients and we bring together a more interesting team, too; one with broader perspectives, reference points and stories to tell.

London, Amsterdam, New York City, Singapore, Sydney, Stockholm – we’re proud of our leadership and of our teams in each of these locations. The mind-blowingly good work they create, the purposeful collaboration between them, and just how passionately they all dive into the inherent messiness of our culturally charged commercial advantage ethosThey have made Crowd DNA so very much more energized and thrilling than anything I could’ve cooked up just from London alone.

Yeah, but why Los Angeles? It’s a fascinating place – its origin story through to the distinct sub-cultures it’s created. My first visit was in 1997. I was there, as a journalist, to interview Wu-Tang Clan (who’d decamped to the city in the hope of getting their album finished) and, within three hours of me landing, what became known as the Real Heat (as in the movie) Bank Robbery kicked off, with the sky full of smoke and helicopters, and wall to wall coverage across every TV channel.

I’ve been back multiple times since – sometimes for a day or two, sometimes working there for four or five weeks. No other bank robberies of note, but it really is a place that gets under your skin. Some people from the UK and Europe get kind of sniffy about Los Angeles, thinking it soulless or center-less. I think it’s a place of limitless possibilities. Fabulous communities and people making new things happen, often from scratch. Los Angeles has its own kind of creativity.

We expect the briefs that Crowd DNA Los Angeles receives to be as varied – and amazing – as across our other offices. But we are particularly excited about the opportunities we will have here to dive deeper into the future of entertainment, a space that’s always been strong in our work. Web3, fandom, platform disruption, game-changing new content and ever more immersive experiences. So much of this is of interest to our clients (both in media/tech, and across other categories) and we’re keen to get closer to it all in Los Angeles.

Why David Stewart? We’ve had some fantastic conversations with David over the last couple of months and we can tell that he cares about the right stuff, the important stuff – both in the work and in our culture. His brilliant experience at agencies such as Kelton, Coherency and Jigsaw International helps too. We think he’ll be a wonderful addition to our senior team and we can’t wait to get to know him better.

And if you’d like to get to know him better, you could always check the Los Angeles openings on our careers page. We’re looking forward to now building out our team there.

Or if you’d just like to learn more about what we’ll be doing in Los Angeles, perhaps how we could collaborate in some form or fashion, do reach out to me or to David. (a.crysell@crowdDNA.com / d.stewart@crowdDNA.com).

Crowd DNA Los Angeles – a nice way to start the week.