Turn on the radio in the morning, and one company or another is getting it in the neck. Amazon for allegedly not paying taxes. Barclays for bonuses. Last week, it was British Gas for pushing up prices.
If businesses increasingly need to create social value as well as commercial value (if only to keep Radio 4 off their back), what’s the role of brand in this?
We know brands in the short term can help generate sales revenue. Think about Coca-Cola. And that they can create the internal focus that increases efficiency and so cuts costs: GE might be a good example. Brands also have a longer-term commercial impact. They create permission in the marketplace for innovation and expansion - as with Google. And they protect companies against risk - millions still buy Toyota cars in spite of successive recalls.
Could all this work for social value too? A brand like Fairtrade encourages people to buy in a way that improves conditions for producers: it pushes up wellbeing. Brands can also help minimise the harm companies do, by holding them to account: Innocent famously chose its name so that consumers couldn’t attack it if it ever did anything guilty.
And brands can work towards longer-term social value too. A brand like Wikipedia creates the commitment of thousands of contributors to build an unprecedented resource of knowledge for us all - on everything from LTE technology to Game of Thrones (my two most recent searches). And a brand like Zipcar motivates people to share rather than own a car. In these ways, brands drive behaviour that maximises the creation, and minimises the destruction, of resources, human and natural.
Two questions arise.
How many brands are great across the board? At driving revenue up, costs down, new opportunities up, risks down? And at increasing wellbeing, decreasing harm, maximising resource creation, minimising resource destruction? Can anyone really hit all eight of these? Google, maybe?
And how do the eight interact? Is innovation more effective if aimed at wellbeing? If you’re seen to be increasing human resources, will your revenues go up? Click on the image below to see my first pass at mapping this all out. More investigation needed.
Robert Jonesis visiting professor at University of East Anglia and Head of New Thinking at Wolff Olins.
Taiwanese born Po-Chih Lai has crafted a very nice add-on milk frother that fits with the original moka pot. The Milk Brother is a great example of how to innovate with respect for the original product, which still serves up great no fuss coffee.
Also check out Po-Chih Lai’s other projects, I love his sensibility and thoughtfulness.
This is an interesting one to watch. The concept has been out for a while but seems like it’s finally ready for market. I am not sure we need it, but who cares, let’s see what kind of impact this will have on the world.
Even though it still looks a bit Star Trek-y, wearing this device on your face, it’s great to see Google embracing design, in both graphic, online and product.
With the help of the local community’s kids, the street art collective Boamistura transformed dark narrow spaces in one of Sao Paolos favelas into colorfull little treasures. They used the always striking and popular perspective trick (anamorphosis) to write positive messages on the walls. Above, “doçura” means sweetness in Portuguese.
We have all fought our way to work in a jungle of rain and umbrellas, trying not to poke an eye out on others, or our selves. This concept, an umbrella that could use air to protect users from the rain, is not available (yet) but would be very welcome in the world of “rain protection.” Maybe it could even be solar powered so the battery is charged before the rain comes.
Is growth dead? We’ll be hearing lots from the business community this week as the great and the good mingle at Davos. The theme this year is ‘Resilient Dynamism’ (a Davosian phrase book might be rather handy if you’re attending). There’ll be a lot on the economy – fiscal cliffs, triple dips, a return to the gold standard etc. And a lot on innovation – antidote to our fiscal woes and all round growth tinkerbell.
Technology (information mainly) is the platform from which most innovation is seen to spring these days and some believe it’s reached a plateau in terms of GDP (or productivity) growth around the world. Why is growth slowing and have we really run out of gas? According to The Economist, the argument runs along three lines.
The first is that ‘extensive’ growth is delivered through volume – adding more or better labour, capital and resources. Over time returns diminish as things begin to flatten out. In simple terms, you can’t produce more workers or educate them more highly, not in a way that propels you forward in leaps rather than small steps compared to your neighbour. We’re told this is where the developed world is, with the rest of the world not too far behind. Even China is outsourcing these days.
The second theme is around ‘intensive’ growth. Where we find better ways to use labour and resources. Powering along improvement in welfare and incomes, with the economy growing even when the population decreases. This kind of growth is often credited to ‘technology’ and a rising middle class. Although technology is a catch all title that includes things like laws and regulations. Developing countries can still manage fast growth in this area, while richer nations struggle under the weight of ever increasing legislation and bureaucracy. Making ideas like Kickstarter, operating outside of the usual restrictions, feel like a breath of fresh air.
The third theme is basically experiential, ie ‘progress’ appears to have slowed down and we can see it with our own eyes. In the early to mid-20th century we went from riding horses to driving cars, lighting our houses with candles to nuking our food in microwaves. If we’d carried on at the same rate of progress I’d be teleporting to New York while writing this rather than sitting on a 7-hour flight from London. And the seat would be more comfortable.
Is progress and innovation simply a matter of taste? Are we enjoying the application of ‘social’ technology more than broader (more productivity friendly) forms of technology advancement? Would we be figuring out how to build teleporting infrastructure if time on Facebook wasn’t so much fun? Would this type of technology innovation drive GDP growth statistics more clearly?
The optimistic view is that we’re simply experiencing a time lag. That big shifts take decades, even generations, to fully mature. And that plenty of innovative bets are in play, many off the back of healthcare such as the ability to ‘print’ new organs. A time lag is certainly what some research findings out of Boston College and the San Francisco Federal Reserve are suggesting.
At Wolff Olins we talk about optimism and ambition – a lot. We focus on positive impact and changing the status quo – it’s our obsession and what makes us special. And we work with businesses and people that feel the same way. These same businesses and people are changing the world, how we think about it, how we interact with it and what we put in it - in small and big ways.
The spirit of innovation is very much alive and well from what I can see. The biggest handbrake looks to be our own ability to adapt speedily and the rigidity of some institutions standing in the way. I see this frequently in both companies and government bodies failing to create the kind of cultures where innovation can thrive, and where bureaucracy often wins.
It’s such an extraordinary time of change and so much seems possible.
Wouldn’t it be great to hear those smart guys (there appear to be no female CEOs attending) at Davos talk creatively about how where we can take the world next?
Hayat is well-known here as the first woman from the Gulf to earn a PhD in biotechnology. She left home, alone, and went the UK, got into Cambridge, then MIT and then Harvard to do her post-doc work. There, she co-founded Diagnostics For All, which offers ultra-low-cost point-of-care diagnostic tools for people living beyond the reach of medical infrastructures.
Our work with Hayat began in 2011, when she came to us with the ambition to translate her passion for science and social innovation into a solution for unemployment in her home region, the Middle East. The ambition that eventually became i2.
Despite substantial government investment in education and training, roughly half of 20–24 year olds in Saudi Arabia are still unemployed—the region needs a solution that’s both sustainable and scalable. Hayat’s dream is that beginning today, with the opening of applications to i2, stories like hers will become less exceptional and more possible for every young innovator.
With years of hard work and a fierce determination to connect innovative practitioners, educators and creatives from around the world, Hayat will launch the Institute and its Fellowship Program tonight.
The Fellowship develops and supports young scientists/engineers/future entrepreneurs in the Middle East through a holistic ecosystem of resources, programming and mentorship. Selected fellows spend 8 months working as a group to develop their individual business ideas. Access to a well-connected ecosystem creates the conditions for innovation and economic and social change. Later in the process, a business venture conference is held to introduce those young innovators to investors.
For us, it was never an option not to work with Hayat because of the consequences of not getting involved with such a great idea. It’s a critical moment for the Middle East and i2 will bring young people the chance to have the right platform, to know what to do and how to connect to the right people, in order to make their dreams reality. Good luck today, Hayat!
In our London office, one of the many ways we stay inspired is by finding learnings in the everyday. This week we held an ideas sharing session for the Pizza Pilgrims, a new Italian street food business. The founders, brothers Thom and James Elliot, sell pizzas from their van, which they brought back from the south of Italy. For the time being, the van resides at Berwick Street Market, Soho. Before leaving Italy they spent six weeks driving across the country on a ‘pizza pilgrimage’ meeting with chefs, growers, and suppliers to learn the art of creating authentic pizzas.
Street food popularity has boomed in the past couple of years. Low overhead means food prices are comparatively low while the standard is high, appealing to those who want more than the average fast food meal. Customers are excited to frequent an alternative food locale that is not only tastier, but also personable, authentic, and tied to the local food culture.
Taking it a step further, the Pizza Pilgrims have developed their venture by incorporating social media heavily into the mix. By publicizing their latest location, getting feedback on recipes and even crowdsourcing ingredients through Twitter, they have already amassed a dedicated following. Utilizing social media in this way enables street food vendors to market and promote their products by reaching their target audience without spending vast sums.
Pop up restaurants like 9@TheDispensaryand BUKHARA Pop-upalso effectively use and rely on this technique to manage and attract huge crowds at short notice.Thom and James talked about digital hype as a new way for food sellers to engage with the consumer, transforming their experiences into memorable, social ones that are more meaningful than an ad. Social media allows the consumer to discover and participate with these small brands, allowing them to feel part of something exclusive and novel.
As they’re growing, how can Pizza Pilgrims expand while staying true to their roots? What can the Pizza Pilgrims learn from the likes of Meat Wagon and Pitt Cue, who both have made the transition successfully from food truck to permanent premises? While each brand is unique, street food vendors who have grown successfully share certain characteristics - they have remained authentic and true to the spirit of their brand throughout. Staying social is another key: Hunting down the location of your favorite slice or the perfect burger is half of the fun and a major part in the customer’s experience of the brand.
After sharing ideas to help the Elliot brothers point in a clearer direction for their future, they then pitched up their van outside our London office and fired up the oven for us to enjoy their tasty pizzas.
Rebecca Goodwin is a creative specialist at Wolff Olins London.
Re-thinking the boring, traditional lecture model, Lost Lectures takes attendees into secret locations “designed to surprise, delight and bring the imagination to life.” To give you a taste, this month’s theme is “Lost at Sea,” featuring a National Geographic adventurer, a time traveller and an improv comedy duo.
Felix Barrett, Creative Director of Sleep No More, will be taking immersive theatre to the next level. He’s setting up a travel agency that takes a city as its backdrop so your life becomes a show. According to Barrett, “There’s nothing better than giving something to an audience that has no idea what they’re walking into.”
Dans Le Noir is a chain of restaurants across scattered across Europe and NYC where customers eat and drink in complete darkness. Dans Le Noir has been around for several years, but continues to surprise and challenge guests’ sense of taste and smell.
When was the last time you were surprised?
Melissa Andrada is a strategist at Wolff Olins London. She’s passionate about the intersection between technology, social good and brand. A recent London transplant, she spends her spare time exploring the city for fun, unexpected experiences. @themelissard
This past Saturday, London’s Tate Modern museum turned off its power so that visitors could explore their galleries using only the light of the Little Sun. Check out this Wall Street Journal story for more details.
Little Sun is an ambitious work of art by leading artist Olafur Eliasson and solar engineer Frederik Ottesen. Wolff Olins worked as a development partner together with Eliasson and Ottesen to create a groundbreaking inverted distribution business model through which the lamps can be sold at both a profit for local retailers and an affordable price for consumers.
The Tate Blackouts will continue until September 23. Meanwhile, as of today, U.S. residents can now do their part in helping to address the global energy challenge by purchasing Little Sun for $25 + $5.95 at http://shopus.littlesun.com/onestepcheckout/ (NOTE: U.S. orders currently have a delivery time of 30 days)
Little Sun is a response to today’s global energy challenge. It is a beautiful solar-powered lamp that produces five hours of light from five hours of charging. Its light enables people off grid to study, share, cook and earn.
As development partner we’ve helped make Little Sun happen by articulating the idea, creating the brand and defining a radical business model, ‘profit to point’. The model ensures that profits increase the closer distributors are to the point of need and is possible because Little Sun is a work of art.
This summer Eliasson is presenting Little Sun at Tate Modern as part of the London 2012 Festival, which runs across the UK until 9 September 2012.
Thanks to everyone involved in making Little Sun happen.