“Frankenstorm” probably wasn’t the right nickname for Hurricane Sandy. Sadly, it’s pretty clear that storms of Sandy’s magnitude are no longer fantastical, once-in-a-generation monsters—they are becoming the norm. Frankenstorm implies that there is a certain degree of separation between us and the pandemics, cyborgs, and economic collapses typically confined to the realm of science fiction. However, it looks like we’ve caught up:
What happens when we get a dose of (anarchic) dystopia? Apparently, we buy more stuff—stuff that allows us to operate independently of established systems and outsmart a future that is starting to look like our wildest imaginations. In this autonomous age (#LaissezFuture) there is a greater demand for brands that provide personalized, proactive, intuitive service.
II. Some Examples
Disaster-preparedness retailers certainly took note. Sales figures for The Ready Store, purveyors of self-sufficient, disaster retreats Practical Preppers and Vaughn Concrete Products, and Eton emergency radios have boomed in what the New York Times dubbed the “Mad Max economy.” Wal-mart and Costco now have a purchaseable “year’s supply of food,” much of it freeze-dried.
Smart thermostat Nest, the Volvo XC70, and MIT Media Labs’ Proverbial Wallet model all rely upon predictive data to save energy, prevent impulsive spending, and filter clean air for their users.
Price tags for 3D printers—machines that incrementally “print” layer upon layer of an object—have steadily dropped over the past two decades. The Makerbot Thing-OMatic is an affordable, easy to assemble and operate 3-D printer, which enables people to “fab” whatever they want out of plastic. It has attracted a vibrant online community that trades designs and tips on how to produce shiny little toys in just a few hours. Beyond trinkets, 3D printing holds the potential to turn homes into customized mini-factories—a vision not far removed from the self-sustaining disaster retreats sold by Practical Preppers.
This year, Berlin-based start-up Changers released a portable solar-powered phone and tablet charger. Consumers can transfer energy from the sun to their mobile device, measure their energy consumption by connecting their charger to the Changers website, and accrue energy credits to use as currency on partnering retail sites. In addition to being environmentally conscious, the Changers charger reflects an increasing consumer desire for self-regulation in all aspects of life.
III. What this means for brands
As more people embrace customization and alternative methods of making money or saving energy, brands should act as facilitators as much as producers.
- Make your product a personal service, not a just physical thing (ZipCar and AirBnB).
- Create a platform for communities, and adapt to the needs of your consumer (Google Crisis Map, Barclay Share Card).
Kate Welsh is a strategy intern at Wolff Olins New York.
We recently put together a quick Survey Monkey on what startups need, which we shared with founders and entrepreneurs in our network at Wolff Olins. We’ve been sharing our analysis of the results in a couple of posts on the Wolff Olins blog (see our previous postsWhat’s the single biggest challenge facing your startup?andWho do you go to for advice?). This is our third and final post in this series, and it’s focused on how startups envision their future.
“Acquired” was the top response to our survey on what startups need.
“Leading” or “No. 1” came in second, with “Sustainable” coming in third.
Whether your business ambition is acquisition, market leadership, or sustainable growth, you need a strong purpose to get you where you need to go. A strong purpose can help tell a more powerful exit story to investors. A strong purpose can help identify gaps in the market and the most important consumer needs. A strong purpose can help create a roadmap for sustainable growth.
Every month take some time to sit with your co-founders and/or teammates to ask yourself, the big questions, “Why do we exist? What role do we want to play in people’s lives?”
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to build a brand that will not only help you reach your business goals, but also, increase your impact on the world.
Interested in getting some outside perspective? On November 26, I’ll be teaching a class with WOLO lead strategist Jemma Elliot on how to develop a strong brand purpose and bring it to life across your business at General Assembly London.
Not surprisingly, startups trust their peers more than anyone else. Just over 82% of respondents said they go to other startups and entrepreneurs for advice. Social media came in at second best, with 62% recipients using Blogs, Twitter and Tumblr, etc. for advice.
Some of my favourite resources for startups are General Assembly and Skillshare (full disclosure – I’ve taught at both), two alternative education companies that offer classes for entrepreneurs and those aspiring to be ones. I’m also a big fan of Y Combinator’s Paul Graham’s archive of essays. Union Square Ventures VC Fred Wilson’s also has a great series called MBA Mondays that covers business school basics, such as Profit and Loss Statements and Balance Sheets.
Stay tuned for more results and tips on what startups need.
We recently put together a quick Survey Monkey on what startups need, which we shared with founders and entrepreneurs in our network at Wolff Olins.
We’ll be sharing our analysis of the results in a couple of posts on the Wolff Olins blog.
The biggest challenges are creating an all-star team (29%) and making money (32%). You need the first to get to the second.
Finding the right people is a challenge. You might find people with the right skillset but not quite the right cultural fit. One tool we find especially useful for recruitment and retainment is having a manifesto that communicates your vision and key behaviours.
Your manifesto should serve as your rallying cry – it should be a document that inspires people to get on board and work until the wee hours of the night. It should serve as a decision-making filter for whom you hire and what kind of culture you create.
Making money is often the white elephant room. Everyone knows it’s important, but no one knows the answer. The assumption is: start by building a huge user base, then money will follow. It’s what Facebook and Twitter did.
At Wolff Olins, we believe you need to think about both from the start. To think through this challenge, we use a range of creative tools like the business model canvas to explore the potential business models and revenue streams.
Stay tuned for more results and tips on what startups need.
I was planning a trip home to NYC and the first question I asked my sister is: “Where should we eat?”
Ten years ago, my first question would have been: “Are there any good shows happening?” Like many Seattlites who grew up in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, I spent my youth seeing Death Cab at local venues before they got big, scouring indie record stores for hidden gems, and creating mixed tapes for my friends
Fast forward to 2012. The closest thing I have to a mixed tape is my Spotify playlist.
Thanks to technology, music is more personalised, democratic and accessible than ever. It began with the iPod, which revolutionised the way people listened to music. We went from buying CDs and listening to whole albums to downloading MP3s and listening to individual songs. The “Top 25 Most Played” song list became one of the most telling and intimate parts of our cultural identity.
More recently, we’re shifting from downloading to streaming. Through Spotify, I have millions of artists and songs just click away. Through Pandora, I can go on autopilot at work and listen to Phoenix and bands that sound like them. I couldn’t live without Spotify and/or Pandora, but they take away the magic of discovering a new band or musician. Sure, concerts and shows bring back some of the magic, but it’s just not the same.
Hipsters and non-hipsters alike now ask: “Have you tried this new restaurant?” Chefs are the new rock stars. People follow David Chang in NYC, Heston Blumenthal in London, or Tom Douglas in Seattle as if they were the lead singer of the band.
Unlike music, technology has not yet erased the magic of discovering a new restaurant or chef. While Yelp and Zagat have made it more challenging to keep favourite spots hidden, going to a restaurant or eating your way through a food market is such a visceral, multi-sensory part of culture that it has to be experienced in person.
Melissa Andrada is a strategist at Wolff Olins London. She’s passionate about the intersection between technology, social good and brand. Lee Fields is currently at the top of her Spotify starred list. @themelissard
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.
1. If we’re looking to invisible Mayans for the answers to our world-historical crisis, then something, somewhere, has gone very wrong. Against a background of peak oil, protein, attention, and confidence, perhaps we’ve reached peak future… Despite the monsters, this is not the time for retrenchment. Far from it! Instead, post-normal times call for post-normal measures; they urge you to up your game. In the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson, ‘when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.’
2. At a more human level, I find that I am unable to relate to people who are deeply into any sort of cyberculture or other future-obsessed edge zone. There is a certain extreme banality to my thoughts when I think about the future.…Technology only becomes interesting once it becomes technically boring. Technological futurists are pre-Fieldists. Marketing futurists are post-Fieldists.
3. It’s similar to the experience of getting a cell phone call for the first time. “This is weird, this is magic.” It’s not just newness, either—it’s an experience where the previous understanding of the universe is broken. You don’t get many experiences like that if you don’t do drugs or have some sort of meditative practice.
Design and inspiration resourceStylusjust held its annual Creative Forum where Chief Creative Officer Ryan Ross focused his presentation on the intersection of fantasy, technology, science and play, through the macro trend, Altering Perceptions.
Within this macro trend, Ross detailed four sub-trends: Playful Wonder, the Real/Unreal, Digital Reality, and Fantasy Scapes.
Immediately evident in all of the trends presented during the hour-long talk is the move away from human reality. Whether augmenting our senses, reviving the dead, or taking us away to far out dimensions, what struck us most was the lack of humanity.
Stylus touched on a product for sensorial exploration created byWA/HH Quantum Sensations. Its lipstick-sized dispenser fits in your pocket and delivers a powerful burst of hot flavor (the sensory experience of alcohol, without the bother) that increases in intensity and can be sprayed on whatever you consume. Another noteworthy example, a 4D amusement park in South Korea, allows visitors to live vicariously through an avatar while interacting with other avatars on screen.
As has always been the case, the greater the advancements we make in technology, the further separated we become from other humans. Yet, for the first time in our history, we are now beginning to behave less like humans and more like the robots we grew up thinking of as make believe. In many ways, sci-fi is becoming reality.
Billed as “The Real/Unreal” by Stylus was Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku—an entirely computer-generated sensation who recently sold out her first “live” concert in the US in April 2012.
We’re all for future-facing innovation (especially if it means experiencing the affects of alcohol without the aftermath!), but we’d be even more curious to see the implications on the most human of brands, in an increasingly dehumanized world. How might a brand like Skype, a tech company who at its core is all about real human-to-human connections, fit into this picture? Can a brand embrace technology and “playful wonder” without drifting too far into “fantasy scapes”?
The companies that can answer certain questions about where we as humans fit in this new world will have an opportunity to stand out in a very different way.
A few questions this raises:
When do we decide on a final frontier?
What differentiates the dead from the alive? (Think Tupac at Coachella)
The human from the non-human? (Hatsune Miku?)
How does a brand remain “human” while still being forward-facing?
(This is the fifth Future Patrol, a monthly series of macrotrend posts by WONY StrategistEmily Segal. You’ll see Wolff Olins’ established macrotrends called out with a hashtag.)
Ford Keyfree Login
I. What it is:
Ford Keyfree Loginis a new app that uses Bluetooth and a Chrome plug-in to automatically unlock your Facebook, Google, and Twitter passwords, as long you approach the computer with a preapproved smartphone nearby.
Created by Ogilvy Parisfor Ford France, it’s both a marketing riff on Ford’s NFC keyfobs for cars and a legitimate tech product made by an ad firm for a car company.
Though the functionality of Ford Keyfree isn’t exactly a new thing - apps like Lastpass get a similar job done – it’s the first that requires no typing whatsoever, and the first one made by Ford. After all, who can lay better spiritual claim on the idea of “mobile” than a car company? Ford Keyfree portends a future in which you’ll never again have to declare your identity through a set of numbers and letters – just zoom along the Google superhighway with an Android in your jeans.
As Fred Levron, exec director at Ogilvy, Paris said in a statement: “Ford Keyfree technology is built on a strong digital belief: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.”
It’s a big pun, but not necessarily true: marketing through a product that’s completely outside of Ford’s traditional space is a pretty inventive move.
As a marketing strategy, Ford Keyfree fits into the category of the #Useful behavior from our recent Gamechangers report: rather than using tech or big budgets for novelty impact, companies are funding real products or services that make consumers’ lives easier or more convenient, blurring the divisions between offer and communications, industry and agency. In Ford’s case, Keyfree positions them as interdisciplinary, tech-sensitive, and clued in to what consumers need (likely for very little money compared to traditional campaigns).
Taking Nike’s success with Nike+ and their Nikefuel API as a key example (“Why Nike is Now a Tech Company,” Digiday) it won’t be long before all successful companies will be “tech companies.”
“If I already own an iPhone and a Mac, why isn’t Apple doing this on its own? Talk about incentive to have a closed ecosystem…?” Mark Wilson wonders in in Fast Co. Design (“Ford Schools Apple With Clever Phone Login App…Wait, What?”), and the Atlantic Wire agrees: “Ford’s ‘Keyfree’ App Is Something Apple Should Have Invented”.
If media incredulity is any indication, Ford Keyfree is a great reminder that no brand is disruption-proof.
III. Related issues + examples
+ Ford Keyfree brings up basic but important digital security questions. For instance: how secure is Bluetooth? How sensitive is my information? How should we protect our passwords? Lowering the threshold of your next Facebook post might be very exciting to a digital marketer but less advantageous for the user. Where is the threshold between convenience and vulnerability?
> The app Lockitron allows you let someone into your house with a text message
+ A bigger question is how personal identity is defined by these kinds of products. In the case of Ford Keyfree, the only thing you have to do to ensure your existence as the rightful user is hold a smartphone.
+ What happens with seamless logins when there’s financial information involved? In an age of accidentally purchased Kindle eBooks and robosigned mortgages, not to mention the potential of a surreptitious Kinect camera, it’s a bit chilling to imagine quite how invisible payments could become. As we mentioned in our #Funny Money post, related to our #Instapurchasing trend, there is such thing as too seamless especially when it comes to money.
> Dashlane payment app’s express check-out feature stores and autofills your payment info, making any ecommerce as frictionless as Amazon One-Click
With its infinite capacity and continuous stream of information, the Internet has become an inadvertent, all-inclusive archive. We have countless options for documenting every moment and thought, but what about erasing them? Last month, The Atlantic’s Megan Garber predicted the next generation of digital products will aim to destroy this archive rather than preserve it. And maybe this sort of digital amnesia isn’t such a bad thing.
Last Great Thing is an experiment put on by betaworks-based News.me to address anxiety from information overload. Every day in May the website invited one person to share something he or she loved, from stories to articles to videos. The catch is that there is no archive, and once the day was gone, so was the story.
Jake Levine, the general manager of News.me told NeimanLab, “We criticize Twitter…for failing at being a place where you can find things after they’ve rushed past you. If we don’t want to be that, then we might want to include an archive, but as soon as we include an archive, we make this less about everyone experiencing this in the moment.” Limited-time content forces readers to slow down and read, rather than just bookmarking it for later.
Image via theverge.com
Speaking of slowing down, Robin Sloan’s Fish app is a “short but heartfelt manifesto” that is essentially a stripped down essay exploring the difference between liking and loving something on the Internet. Each line is set on a different page, and with no back button, links, or options to copy and paste, the reader must focus and really consider the content.
Image via snapchat.com
Snapchat is a newly released iPhone app that allows you to put a viewing time limit on photos you share with others. You select the expiration for an image, send it, then in classic Mission Impossible fashion, it will self-destruct when the time is up. Aside from derailing any embarrassing photos from getting into the wrong hands, Snapchat is part of a larger trend toward reigning in the freewheeling Internet and, as Garber writes, “help us to reclaim the productive limitations of the analog…and that, in turn, will allow us to re-appropriate remembering — not just as a passive assumption, but as a deliberative choice.”
Image via CNN
The necessity to set limits for ourselves and embrace our feeble memory capacity (take a look at that crazy chart above!) can actually make us more open and free to create ideas. As Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, writes: “If all our past activities…are always present, how can we disentangle ourselves from them in our thinking and decision-making? Might perfect remembering make us as unforgiving to ourselves as to others?”
The more that the mainstream concept of time shifts, the more our basic consumption models will also likely shift. In her monthly trend column on this blog, strategist Emily Segal looked at “immortal” consumers who consume in the context of a very long time scheme. She wrote aboutThe Long Now, an organization that “hopes to provide a counterpoint to today’s accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common.” Basically, they are trying to get people to think past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. The Last Great Thing, Snapchat and Fish are all born of a similar impulse.
To be forward thinking, we need to separate the past from the present, rather than living in the past-as-present. Controlling the amount of information we are exposed to may also help with creative problem-solving in general. Neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer stresses the importance of daydreaming in order to figure out complex issues. The “default network” of the brain works only when the rest of the brain is inactive, and by letting the mind wander it allows our brains to solve problems that most likely can’t be solved by constant interaction with our digital devices.
So, how do we manage this “archive” we already have? When so much is available on the Internet anywhere, at anytime, it’s no longer about how to find information but how to use it. Maria Popova of Brain Pickings writes, “As we move from storing units of data…to saving pathways to and among them, our frameworks for thoughtful interpretation, which include the curation and contextualization of information, will become of crucial importance.”
Curation has become a new form of authorship and a way to direct and provoke conversation. It’s not simply enough to inundate consumers with rehashed information that can lead to overwhelming anxiety and wasted time. There’s now a need to make that information meaningful and relevant to people’s lives.
Last Great Thing, Fish, and SnapChat all propose radical alternatives that focus content to make the Internet more psychically sustainable. Focusing content and engaging readers adds value and not clutter to the digital archive. We wrote in a report this year that as fragmented channels and myriad segments force companies to engage in dialogues rather than monologues, “it has become crucial to create valuable and useful product experiences that enrich customers’ lives.”
In this environment, the designers, brands and businesses who make purposeful, useful choices can use the vastness of the Internet for smarter and more effective communication and experiences.