Brands take note: People want experiences, not more useless stuff

We’re all working harder, longer and getting greyer quicker. Our houses are getting smaller and more expensive to maintain. GenerationY are by no means Generation buy and are more likely to pay exorbitant rent than have a mortgage.

Yes, times are much harder – but our appetite for life has never been bigger.
People are still prepared to spend on going out and sharing a good meal or that special holiday abroad. Think how many times you reminisce over that trip away, that summer festival or that brilliant new restaurant you found in town.

The truth is people remember experiences more than they remember objects. That is because an object is far less personal, where as an experience can be unique to us, it plays on the senses and becomes a memory to cherish. Think of the times you’ve yearned for that sought after hand bag or PlayStation. Only to buy it, love it, cherish it and not long after have the novelty wear off and  the guilt of spending a few hundred pounds to set in.

Now obviously, people have to buy a certain number of products in life to get by. But as competition increases for people to spend their cash, brands better get used to fighting harder for that customer. After all they’ll be looking for an experience to remember and in turn talk about and share with their friends. Social media has taught us just this and more than ever brands will need to think long and hard about how to deliver that unique experience through their products or services in order to standout.

Get it right, it will drive word of mouth and deliver customer satisfaction that rewards the business and customer for years to come. Get it wrong and brands run the risk of just become plain irrelevant.

Is time running out for dictator brands?

Are we reaching ‘the tipping point’, where businesses aren’t applauded for being big and making huge profits, but for what they do and how they choose to do it?

We’re living in revolutionary times and looking back it’s clear the world is a very different place to what it was a few years ago. Global recession, emerging technology, and uprisings in the middle-east have created a much more unsettled environment for governments and businesses to operate in. 

We now live in a truly global village connected 24/7, where technology and social media has given word of mouth a dose of steroids and a platform for anyone to broadcast whatever they care about. The uprisings in the middle-east highlight how easily these tools can turn a minority into a majority overnight. Dictator governments who have manipulated their citizens, businesses and neighbours for generations – controlling them with manipulative propaganda are no longer as powerful as they once were.

So whats this got to do with brands and big corporations? Well they’ve been in the business of manipulation for years too, only they’ve been doing all their talking through multimillion-pound ad campaigns. The thing is people now have the power to hold brands accountable, whether it’s poor customer service or above and beyond product satisfaction, customer experiences and opinions are being broadcast to the world. Embracing these tools and leading this change are GenerationY – the 100 million consumers born between 1982 and 2004 (currently aged 8-30), who represent the employees, shareholders and consumers of the future.

This has meant that transparency and openness have become ever more critical to companies building brands. Companies and business leaders have to think hard about engaging GenerationY with a greater level of social engagement than they might have once done. It goes much deeper than having a Twitter or Facebook presence. GenerationY believe in creating a better, fairer world than we currently live in. The reason “why” you’re in business, as Simon Senek puts it, will be integral to any brands success.

This rising generation who embody confidence, community and trust in a better tomorrow, are realising they have the platforms and tools to make this happen. They are better traveled, more in touch with the environment and constantly connected to the global community. Put simply they care a lot more about the world they live in and leave behind than generations before. As predicts it’s not about brands being flawless, in fact recent research  suggests, “consumers will embrace brands that are flawsome in 2012”, as it shows they have personality, honesty and aren’t cold corporate bodies lacking in empathy or humility. 

Interestingly as I write this Tesco is reporting its first drop in UK profits in 25years and talk about a £1b overhaul of their brand. So is there anything that Britains biggest supermarket, infamous for the slogan ‘Every Little Helps’ could learn from what’s going on in the world around them?

Well if you ask me it doesn’t feel like Tesco has ever had a why? Their focus on cheap has been inherent in the brand ever since Jack Cohen founded it in 1919 in an East End market. Jack Cohen’s business motto was “pile it high and sell it cheap”, to which he added an internal motto of “YCDBSOYA” (You Can’t Do Business Sitting On Your Arse) which he used to motivate his sales force.

In today’s market you simply can’t succeed on price alone and I’m not sure that the internal motto would quite have the impact today Jack might have hoped it once did. As Seth Godin stated in his book Purple Cow, cheap is the last refuge for a brand that is out of great ideas, “In an incremental price war, how will one player beat the other and still win economically?… you can only remain cheap for so long before a competitor comes along who’s even cheaper.”

As Tesco has grown over the years they’ve done just this and created a deep routed culture of ‘cheap’, expressed by a very cold clinical veneer. Furthermore, it would probably be fair to say they’ve taken advantage of their size and power over the years and become an example of manipulation on a global scale. Manipulation of consumers and suppliers and manipulation of officials and town planners. It feels like they’ve been getting away with playing dictator for years and if the latest profit warnings are anything to go by it would suggest people are recognising they aren’t great value either. The sad truth is people think Tesco is ugly and in turn are voting with their feet. 

If Tesco are going to rebuild trust in their brand they need to start reconnecting with people and reveal their human side to customers, suppliers and employees. Put simply they need to show they care and prove it. It has to go more than skin deep and can’t simply be a superficial dash of lipstick. After-all if it is they’ll be exposed by the Twitterazzi. Tesco’s ‘why’ therefore has got to be rigorously articulated through everything they do, believe and in turn say. This means thinking long and hard about how they can achieve a sustainable supply chain that brings value (not just economically) to all those involved. From those building and maintaining relationships with farmers to those working closely with customers in store and at the checkout. To the thoughtful positioning of stores and the impact they have on local community and businesses.

By demonstrating why they care and what they are going to do to change the way they do things, it’s only time before the brand rebuilds trust and relevance once again. The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a maxim that states “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” Tesco’s scale and experience puts them in an unrivalled position to shift their focus and adopt this attitude with a more sustainable style of business, that allows them to think about the long term and not just short-term profit gains. As Richard Branson put across in his recent book ‘Screw Business as Usual’, “…every business person, no matter how small or large, has the opportunity to help create powerful world-changing communities with their staff, customers, suppliers and the general public.” Tesco is just one example of a brand that is at the tipping point of this golden rule becoming ever more relevant.

For those who believe otherwise, tracking done by global business tracking company FTSE has proved: “Companies that consistently manage and measure their responsible business activities outperformed their FTSE 350 peers on total shareholder return in seven out of the last eight years.”

Making it undeniably clear that the democratisation of brands and rise of social business has truly taken hold, leaving companies and business leaders to think carefully about what they choose to do and how they choose to do it, or be at risk of becoming irrelevant.

The new London bus & this time it is purple.

Like the capital’s black taxis, red telephone boxes and infamous red soldiers, the original route-master designed in 1954 has become synonymous with London the world over. The iconic and emblematic red double-decker bus known well for it’s rounded edges and open rear platform was a game changer in its day, allowing people to literally run for the bus and hop on board. For some the open rear platform was a dangerous adaptation, for others a way to make the challenging daily commute that bit easier and if we’re honest, fun. The truth is 60years later and after resigning the old route-master to mere souvenir status, we are returning to the 1950’s design because put simply, it was remarkable and it worked.

The decommissioning of the routemaster in 2000, signalled a change in tactics from those up above. A move from creating the truly memorable and iconic, to importing the safe and boring. That came in the form of a bendy bus. A very good design in itself – that is for navigating the wide boulevards and avenues of Paris or Berlin but as we were to find out, not remarkable at jostling the narrow and crowded streets of London. Granted they were more eco friendly and efficient but the decision to play follow the leader and import what was thought to be the answer, not only undermined Britain’s ambition and reputation for innovation but it took away a key piece of London’s identity. There is nothing more damaging to a brand, may it be a country, city or organisation than failing to innovate and be in pursuit of making things better.

In the words of marketing guru Seth Godin “Safe is risky’ and above all its boring. His book the ‘Purple Cow’ highlights this problem only too well, defining a Purple Cow as anything phenomenal, counter intuitive, exciting… remarkable. Every day, consumers ignore a lot of brown cows, but you can bet they won’t ignore a Purple Cow. We don’t remember ordinary experiences we remember excellent “above and beyond” experiences – that’s when we become passionate and start talking about them!

By importing the bendy bus, London forfeited any kind of unique experience and in-turn created a truly forgettable one. The new routemaster on the other-hand is our version of the Purple Cow. It says, London’s exciting, we’re in pursuit of making things better and in the words of the Apples late Steve Jobs, we’re not afraid to ‘think differently’.

So as the London Mayor, Boris Johnson makes good his electoral promise to bring back the routemaster, can we be sure that this isn’t style over substance? Are we not just resigning ourselves to another bus that worked then but not now? Well yes we can. The ‘Boris Bus’ as I’m sure it’ll be known, is set to once again become an envied icon the world over. Not just for its devilishly good looks and elegant lines, but for taking all the best bits of the original routemaster and making them better. Thomas Heatherwick and Wrightbus, the manufacturers, have designed it from the ground up with 21st century London in mind. The new buses are 40% more fuel efficient than the existing diesel versions, have three doors and two stair cases, one of which has a sweeping glass window making the buses much brighter and spacious than those we’ve become accustomed to. This is an example of British design and engineering at its best and tailoring a bespoke solution to a problem.

At a cost of £1.4m each for the first 8 buses and an estimated £300k per bus after that, some are bound to argue that in a time of recession the project is a costly way to spend the taxpayer’s money. On the flip side it’s projects like these that are a bold statement to the world, that Britain and London is in fact still open for business. A change from humble to confident and a return to being unashamedly proud to be British, surely this is money well spent and better than any multi-million pound advertising campaign. By putting the money into the heart of our economy and choosing to innovate, we can promote Britain’s status for world class design, engineering and truly great ideas for all the world to see.

In summary the new route-master is worth noticing, worth talking about, and for many people will be well worth travelling on. Put simply its public transports and London’s most remarkable brand campaign yet.



Touching the surface. The rise of the tablet

Tablet computers are revolutionising the lives of their owners. The adoption has been swift and momentum is building; their lightweight portability, always-on, high-resolution displays and intuitive interfaces make them the ultimate lean-back device. Leading tablet maker Apple says it sold more than 25 million iPads in 2011, and analysts foresee a mass market, projecting worldwide tablet shipments of more than 99 million in 2012. And with recent statistics released by Mobile analytics firm Flurry indicating that “for the first time consumers are spending more time on mobile apps than on the web” it’s never been more important for brands to sit up and take notice of this powerful platform.

As brands recognize that they have to work much harder to develop trust, loyalty and ongoing dialogue with their customers and employees, tablets give the ability to create highly engaging environments for users to consume and interact with content in a much more compelling way. Combine that with the ability to directly connect to social media channels, eCommerce operations, television and other digital platforms in one seamless device and you have a very persuasive argument that the tablet can develop much stronger relationships than that of print or web. That would be why brands such as eBay are developing ‘Couch Commerce’ strategies, releasing iPad apps that sync with TV programs whilst other reports are predicting ‘Tablets will drive ecommerce in 2012’. But it’s not just consumers that brands can benefit from. Employee engagement has never been more important to brands and communicating your vision and inspiring all staff is important business. Tablets offer the opportunity to train, inspire and communicate to employees in a whole new way – again maintaining and developing valuable relationships that vastly improve customer relationships and understanding.

The further good news is that a significant amount of analytical data can be captured, and used to develop a better understanding of how best to communicate and deliver, relevant content and drive engagement. This can prove extremely valuable for brands trying to work out what products are being viewed, what articles are being read or simply how better to deliver their training. And with early studies indicating that tablet users are more engaged with both editorial content and advertising than traditional media, the chances are if your serious about providing a highly engaging experience it’ll be less about simple, just-for-fun apps and more about highly relevant content driven brand worlds.

Brands mustn’t however forget the overall essence of their brand. As with any piece of brand communication consistency is key and therefore should be part of a broader marketing strategy. To be successful brands will need to develop a strong understanding of what users want from the experience and harnessing the interactive capabilities that tablets and mobile apps have to offer. It’s not a case of just repackaging your website or printed communications – its an opportunity to rethink the whole user experience. This has been a valuable lesson learnt by many of the big publishing houses that recognised the potential for digital content distribution and story telling early on. It’d be true to say they are still getting to grips with it but the sooner they stop trying to squeeze a printed magazine into a screen environment and truly rethink the design by embracing the enhanced usability, connectivity and interactivity it has to offer the better.

At present brands are only touching the surface of what the tablet has to offer in terms of engagement levels internally and externally. As tablet devices become ever more ubiquitous on couches and coffee tables in the UK and in deed the World, marketing agencies and brands really will have to sit up and take notice of this undeniably powerful platform.

I’m going to start my trends for 2012 with a trend bigger than any. It will be adopted by all industries, brands and will have a ripple effect of micro trends throughout 2012, it’s called…

1. SoLoMo (Social, Location & Mobile)

SoLoMo is the integration of social, location and mobile technology. This trend feeds into many of the others for 2012 and could create some breathtaking opportunities. As many businesses and industries have embraced social networking, content will become more specific to you and your location. It’ll drive efficiencies in your daily life, productivity, commerce, and drive consumer insights. Imagine information on health, hospitality, travel, gaming, commerce and fitness all tailored to you and your lifestyle…

2. Screen Junkies

As tablet technology takes hold, screens are becoming more immersive, more personal and ever more intuitive. in 2012 touching, gesturing and talking to screens won’t be the thing of science fiction movies but an everyday behavior. The potential is enormous, Apples launch of Siri is the tip of the iceberg, so prepare to interact with outdoor ads, magazines, moving menus and talking bus stops. Want proof look no further. This video shows a One Year-Old Baby who thinks a magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work!

3. Mobile Money

The idea of touch technology taking over traditional cash transactions has been knocking around for a while. But 2012 will bring the opportunity of a cashless society one step closer and to everyone’s pockets. Smartphones are leading the way; Google, Apple, Samsung and Nokia all have phones in the pipeline. Not to mention the swipe technology from the global card powerhouses Visa and MasterCard that will make paying for things that little bit easier.

4. The revolution will be televised

Apple continue to ‘think different’ and 2012 will see the much – anticipated release of AppleTV. Be prepared for the world of TV and how we consume it to change forever. Use your iPhone to navigate content and download programmes to watch on your TV, Phone, laptop and iPad when and where you want, on the go or in your living room. This will be the ultimate Apple product bringing together the simplicity and elegance of the Apple ecosystem.

5. Generation Go

Unprecedented levels of entrepreneurialism will take hold in 2012, as the lost generation of youth gets tired of sitting and waiting for things to get better, instead choosing to create their own opportunities and businesses. Collaborative working styles and spaces with creativity at the heart will breed true innovation. An opportunity for big business to embrace, support and feed their businesses with fresh thinking creative energy. Virgin is ahead of the pack and set up VirginPioneers in 2011, supporting and growing Britain’s next generation of entrepreneurs.

6. Great British Brands

As the economy around us stutters and splutters British brands can continue to forge their way in to the BRIC markets. As heritage and status are ever more important in China and London can expect an influx of tourism for the Olympics and Diamond Jubilee, expect the red carpet to be rolled out. Luxury brand Mulberry are already experiencing a huge sales boom in China and the Middle East and are now the world’s Top Fashion Stock. Trusty old Rolls-Royce has also bolstered the UK Economy in 2011 with 85% of sales now abroad. The iconic Black Taxi has even gone global with 1000s exported in 2011, from Azerbaijan to Italy orders for 2012 are bound to skyrocket.

7. Mobilised Recruitment

As global organisations grow and fight in the tough economic climate, recruiting and holding on to top talent in 2012 will never be more important. Traditional recruitment tactics will begin to wane and more creative methods to target the savvy internet generation will spring up, such as L’OREALS recently launched online recruitment game REVEAL.

8. Off The Radar

As the original backpacker generation matures and people seek escape from their busy connected lives, travellers will opt to get away on more ‘off-the-radar’ holidays and trips, escaping the crowds and looking for a unique experience in the locale. Authenticity and bespoke itineraries will be key, encompassing exotic, novel and different ways to see the world. The rise of the BRIC nations will entice explorers down untrodden paths and provide them with local adventures. a San Fran startup is leading the way by providing exciting itineraries by locals in the community/country you’re visiting …

9. Honesty Policy

Brands often make mistakes, but not all hold their hands up and admit when they’re wrong and as social media has shown that those who don’t often have their hands held up in shame for them. In 2012 ‘trendwatching‘ predicts by engaging with the consumers, brands will be rewarded for admitting their flaws, showing their human side. Domino’s took this brave or potentially foolhardy attitude by running an electronic ticker in Times Square displaying what consumers really think of the brand in real-time.

10. On-Off

Bringing brand experiences online to into the offline world and vice versa will become big business in 2012. Opportunities abound for brands to help customers connect by providing immersive and engaging experiences digitally and in the real world. From Amazons new delivery lockers located in train stations for ease and convenience of receiving your online orders to theme park wristbands that deliver photos of your day out and queue jumping passes straight to your mobile phone. In 2012 the lines between on and offline will blur. Let’s just hope we don’t take things too far…

11. Easy does it

With all these potentially complex but smart forms of technology and communication, consumers will be looking for products and experiences that are simple and easy to use. As the potential for Information overload grows, keeping things direct and to the point will aid brand engagement in 2012. The convergence of technologies and services into easy to manage offers that enrich everyday life will be welcomed and the less is more mentality will come to the fore; this will also apply to the way brands communicate in 2012.

12. Developing Ideas

Following on from our previous trend this video proves the simple ones are often the best. If this is anything to go by, watch out for some truly innovative design thinking to come our of the developing world in 2012…


Enjoy a happy healthy 2012!

Moving out of that comfort zone

The diary of an independent designer
Several months after moving on from a permanent job of 5 years, it’s amazing how your eyes open to a whole new world that’s actually been around you all along. I imagine its a bit like waking up from a coma, seeing that the world has been getting on fine without you. New choices await… Journeys to work, people to get on with, projects to nail, work to get, a city to explore, cafés to try (yes I am a coffee addict) – all creating a world of challenges and a kaleidoscope of inspiration. It’s as if a burst of fresh air has blown through my brain. The thing is, it’s amazing how much routine plays such a huge role in our life – it can be a blessing, creating structure to our day, aiding us to find solutions, giving meaning to those leading questions and well just keeping us sane. But as a creative I’d actually say it’s more of a hinderance – Repetitive journeys, both mentally and physically are no good at stimulating creativity. The same seat, views both personally and visually, that same person sitting next to you politely nodding at your conversation and ideas when actually inside they’re shaking their heads as you move through the humdrum world of same. After all creativity is about innovation isn’t it? Finding a new solution to a problem, changing perceptions, challenging the norm. Not trudging along the same track that you got muddy down the day before.

So if you think any of this rings true, I challenge you to try something new. Just one thing or two if you’re feeling adventurous that you wouldn’t normally do. It doesn’t matter what it is or how trivial you think it might be, just make sure it moves you a little out of your comfort zone!