February 14, 2014

National Trust and its two audiences

National Trust

Last year, my annual pass at Legoland inspired me to write a blog post. This year we had National Trust membership and as it comes to an end, let me share a couple of observations about our experience.

The recent marketing strategy of the National Trust, which involves repositioning its offer away from grand houses and ‘look and don’t touch’ to happy memories, is well known. Has it been trying too hard to get with the times? It opened the Big Brother house to the public at the end of September last year – I won’t get side tracked on this issue.

What is interesting is to see how this repositioning has been put into practice.

The result is that the National Trust appears to have two main visitor groups: its core audience of ‘oldies’, and now young families too. Though these groups have quite different lifestyles, or at the very least, tend to not to spend their time in the same way, their needs are surprisingly similar in certain regards.

The idea of membership and having a pass which allows you limitless entry makes sense you have more time on your hands. This is the case for those whose children have left home and are retired. It also makes sense for those who are looking for low-risk days out – when you have a pass, it doesn’t matter if you only stay an hour one time as someone forgot to pack the nappies. And you can go again and again, giving you something to explore each weekend, or occupy a full day during the long school holidays. It’s not surprising, therefore, to read that membership has continued to grow despite the recent recession.

Both groups may experience limited mobility and thus appreciate support in this area. Hence, a sensible investment in golf buggies, which appeal to those whose legs have already put into many years of service, as well to those whose legs are still so small that even short distances can be rather tiring. My children found a high-speed ride on a golf buggy to be the highlight of the visit to one property. ‘Oldies’ and young families are also likely to be good customers at cafes.

In other areas, the expectations of these groups are not going to dovetail quite so neatly, and hats off to the National Trust for finding a way to include something which works for both in each situation. Take the shops, for instance. Whilst the oldies may check out pretty mugs and elegant gardening equipment, the young children will be congregating around the displays piled high with tasteful plastic tat that fits pocket money budgets. In the garden, whilst some may admire the carefully designed flower beds, others will be disappearing into tree houses, going on Easter Egg hunts or following other such trails.

The properties themselves are perhaps a higher risk area. However, handy worksheets will keep children curious and motivated to work through the building, whilst others can peer at the detail at their leisure.

And just in case it gets all too much, there are ways in which each group can go off and do their own thing. For the young families, there are often rooms filled with dressing-up clothes and replicas of old toys they can bash to their heart’s content, whilst hard core members can indulge in the nitty gritty of the history on a guided tour in peace and quiet. Given that I fall into the young family group, I must confess that the guided tour is something I have yet to experience.


February 11, 2013

Half the sky

The Futures Company, where I worked for almost a decade, releases extended articles on a regular basis. I had the good fortune to be involved in the early stage development of Women 2020 released in December 2012.

Now the final polished piece has come out, it’s great to have the opportunity to have a proper read through – which I highly recommend (albeit from a rather biased perspective)! It contains many interesting points and wide-ranging examples. Here are three things that caught my attention:

  1. If one charts the changes in women’s lives over the past half century, it is clear opportunities and experiences have changed radically. More women have got educated, up to higher levels and have entered the workplace. However, in some countries, there is a tension between women’s progress in terms of their role as economic agents, and the social and cultural role they are still expected to maintain. Interestingly, there are examples of where technology can help women play within the rules: in Nigeria, working women can have mobile phone conversations with male business colleagues. It would be otherwise unacceptable to meet these male colleagues alone in a face to face meeting.
  2. There is still much progress to be made before it can be said women have made it to the top.  To quote Sheryl Sandberg as cited in the report: ‘Of the 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13% are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top, C level jobs and board seats, tops out at 15, 16%.’ However, it’s not just about the numbers – it’s also about corrosive attitudes. The characteristics usually associated with leadership are seen as typically male, and when women exhibit these traits, they make women unlikeable. As described in a recent HBS article, a woman runs the risk of being seen as ‘abrasive instead of assertive, arrogant instead of self-confident, and self-promoting instead of entrepreneurial.’
  3. We need to rethink the model of how careers progress when it comes to women if they have children. Rather than assuming that having a career means a neat straight upwards projectory, it becomes messier stairstepping – or what I would describe as ‘intermittent flatlining’. A woman will put things on hold whilst they are on maternity leave, and take it slower whilst her children are young, and pick up the pace again when they are older. This should mean things get interesting in the forties and fifties as oppose to the thirties.

As I haven’t yet left my thirties, it gives me hope yet!


July 1, 2012

Project Rebrief – or rehearsing the past

Filed under: Business,Demographics,Futures,Marketing — by xrematon @ 7:11 pm

I’ve just had an entertaining half hour watching through the four films that are part of a recent initiative from Google: it’s Project Re: brief. This involved reviewing four seminal advertising films from a generation ago and thinking about they could be re-imagined for today, using all the resources Google has in its treasure chest of tools.

A couple of observations from stuck me:

  • Someone in the films talks about ‘concepting’. Can you really turn concept into a verb?
  • The films are a great opportunity for some office voyeurism. I am always fascinated to see what other work places are like, especially somewhere as iconic as Google. Sadly, there is nothing extraordinary on show: they still present to clients using big white screens and something that looks suspiciously like Powerpoint, and though they show off whizzy animations on iPads, pencils and notebooks are reassuringly still present for taking notes during meetings.
  • I don’t want to go into whether the new ads are better or not. The biggest take-out for me from seeing the ads is that the process reinforces the importance of proper planning. By this I mean, making sure there is a big, clear, strong idea which acts as the driving force across creative development media planning and execution.
  • This isn’t just playing for fun – the teams actually go through with their ideas. They show them to the client and then shoot the films, build the apps, install the smart vending machines etc. That’s pretty cool.
  • When I still worked properly (by this I mean working into an office), I used to wonder what happened to people in advertising and marketing when they entered their fifth decade as there seemed to be very few around with that level of life experience. However, this film is, unintentionally, a way of showing that older generations can still take part and contribute in this field. The individuals who were originally involved are now in their 70s (the ads were produced forty to five years ago).
  • I am interested in futures thinking, having worked on many projects in this area, but I find the idea of going ‘back-to-the-future’ very intriguing. And it does make me wonder what whether there could an extension or sequel to the project in which the teams had to think about what the ads would be doing in ten years’ time?

January 28, 2012

Additional nugget on older generations as eco-warriors

Filed under: Demographics,Sustainability — by xrematon @ 9:42 pm
Tags: ,

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how it seems that old folk are naturally ‘green folk’. My thought were based on personal experience and observation so I was gratified to come across an article in The Economist which supports this idea. The article was about a new paper which showed that carbon footprints vary by age.

As one might expect, emissions rise as people get older, reflecting the fact consumption increases, for example, someone gets a car, they buy more clothes, they start a family, they get a bigger house, they get another car and so on. However, the analysis showed that reductions start to appear when people are in their mid-60s – giving us a reason to be positive (for once) about the implications of an ageing population.

A final observation – the research was based on looking at the lifestyle of the average American. I expect the angle of the line in the graph might look a little different for consumers from the other side of the Atlantic.

January 10, 2012

Older generations – the unsuspecting eco-warriors

Filed under: Demographics,Sustainability — by xrematon @ 11:24 am
Tags: ,

We live in a world where resources are scarce, and we cannot keep stealing [them] from our children and grandchildren.

Thus speaks Paul Polman, the current Unilever CEO. He is thinking about his responsibilities as the man in charge of a huge multinational company with the potential to have massive direct and indirect environmental impacts. As he observes,

In our own factories, we’re responsible for around three million tonnes of CO2. But if we add in suppliers and consumers, it’s around 300 million.

However, I would like to take the perspective of the ‘truffle hunter’ as oppose to thinking big and wide. Over the holidays, I was in conversation with an acquaintance who was despairing of the behaviour of a mutual friend – Des. Des is a retired gentleman, in his seventies, who in common with a number of his generation, has accumulated a fair amount of property assets over his lifetime, including a small holiday flat in the southern France. However, Des lives a distinctingly parsimonious life which, unwittingly, is likely to have a very low carbon footprint.

What are the details? Well, he doesn’t really heat his house much as he goes out for a walk and to the cafe in the morning and then visits a friend in the afternoon and early evening. He doesn’t put hot water heating on as he goes to the swimming pool for both exercise and to make use of the showers. He buys only second hand (and thus recycled) clothing. He doesn’t really eat much meat, often the biggest environmental blackspot when it comes to food, or if he does, it tends to be in cheap pies, where the actual meat content is generally pretty low and the animals may have been more intensively but also efficiently reared. And what about the holiday flat in France? He gets there by train of course!

I don’t think Des is a rare occurence. How he lives his life reminds me of my uncle – who similarly does not travel, eats tiny quantities of meat and is an extremely modest consumer of material goods. His particular forte is living in permanent semi-darkness as he does not like to waste electricity on lights. I admit this is rather unnecessary given the rise of energy efficient lightbulbs!

I am not proposing that we all follow this lifestyle – it would be pretty miserable – but it is useful counterpoint to the Abel and Cole veg boxes, free-range chickens, water pebbles in your shower, hybrid vehicles, going on holiday to African villages powered by solar panels and so forth.

Go for it Des!

November 17, 2011

Electronic media can be toxic?!

Filed under: Demographics,Technology — by xrematon @ 9:25 pm
Tags: , ,

‘Electronic media are not only an inferior means for children to experience and learn about their world, they can be toxic.’

‘On a more serious note, its just a toy not the work of the devil.’

Well, what to make of those two comments? Which side of the argument do I find myself on?

It was recently my son’s birthday, and I decided I wanted to get him something that would last and not be added to the pile of very much loved, but very annoying-to-tidy-up-every-night pieces of plastics. So I thought it would be good to get an ‘educational’ item, but despite my earlier thoughts, I decided to cop out and get a LeapPad Explorer. If you haven’t come across it before, there’s a picture below. Some call it the iPad for kids, but to me, it’s more like a glorified PDA (remember when they were all the rage, before we had Blackberries and smart phones?)

As you can probably tell, I have mixed feelings about the device, and as is my wont when I am not sure about something, I thought I would check out other opinions online. Hence the identification of the above two quotes. The second one is from Mumsnet, where there were a wide range of views, some more relaxed, and others deadset against the whole idea. One of the latter group included a link to the article from which the first quote came.

So what do I think? My views are very boring – I am neither a fervent techie, nor a tech prohibitionist. It’s just about finding the right balance. But I do get fed up with simplistic assumptions that using ‘tech toys’ (for the want of a better word to describe the likes of LeapPads, Wiis, Nintendos etc) are not creative experiences. My own thoughts echo those captured by a friend in a recent post on a similar topic for her company blog at LadyGeek. I was struck by one of her sentences.

‘We have entered a new era where my children’s imaginations are augmented by technology.’

That’s right – technology can add to what’s there. Otherwise, we might as well as only allow black and white crayons in the fear that it would mean children couldn’t imagine colours themselves. (Ok – that’s a bit extreme!)

My final observation: any fears I might have had that my son was going to become a pale-faced, digit-twitching geek proved to be quickly unfounded. The first night he received the LeapPad, he did play with it obsessively, mainly to use the camera, but on the next day, we were onto the next thing.

So now should I be worrying that he has too many toys? It is true that we  British parents buy an average of 41 toys per year, which is almost a toy per week, creating the biggest toy market in Europe.

Or maybe I should be worrying about the fact that my son will be a luddite after all!

October 25, 2011

For richer, for poorer – which consumers are the best bet?

Filed under: Demographics,Innovation — by xrematon @ 11:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I have been doing some research into the changing dynamics of consumer culture and got side-tracked looking into the growing impact of emerging markets. One facet that is particularly intriguing is ‘reverse innovation’, or as it was dramatically first known, ‘innovation blowback’.

It’s something everyone gets excited about – it allows us to talk about new ideas from new sources; rethinking the obvious; challenges to status quo; design paradigm shifts etc. It can take different forms. There are the ’emerging giants’ who make life difficult for established multinationals, as is the case with Brazil’s Embraer making regional jets to challenge Canada’s Bombardier, whilst Cemex from Mexio is proving to be a worthy competitor for the French Lafarge. The established global corporations are also learning new tricks. A leader in this area is GE, which has its very own Professor-in-Residence, Vijay Govindarajan, who acts as Chief Innovation Consultant. One of example of GE’s successes is with ultra-sound machines. In the US, the ultrasound machine is huge and bulky, costing anywhere from $100,000 to $350,000. GE created a portable low-cost ultrasound machine, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $15,000 that has opened up a huge market in China and India.

But what is there beyond the hype of this bubble? It is certainly true that the principles and approach behind creating these products are inspirational, but their application often has limited relevance. Here, in the UK, I don’t need a water filter that uses rice husks, nor am I interested in a little fridge (as in Godrej’s Chotukool). So what if it can run on batteries – I want something that is 50% bigger, not one that offers me a quarter of my usual storage space.  Amanda Jones, the co-founder of social enterprise Red Button, makes some interesting observations about why frivolous Western consumers like me will struggle.

‘Frugal innovation is about getting people to buy into reality, but [Westerners] don’t want to do that. Why? Because perceived benefit sells. Customers want those 25 apps that they’ll never use because they like to think they are the kind of person who will. For frugal to spread to developed nations, consumers will have to “give up that alternate reality version” of themselves in which they really are “efficient enough to work out what all the bells and whistles do.’

As a twist in the tale, if we look beyond products and devices to the FMCG sector, this is where frugality is perhaps starting to look more relevant. Consumers in Europe are facing continued economic uncertainty – in this environment, value offerings in day to day purchases appeal. One company that has noticed this is Nestle, which develops Popularly Positioned Products (PPPs) for emerging markets. It has recently brought some of these innovations back to developed markets, for example in Spain, where it has altered packaging and quantities to reduce prices.

The final twist: a recent article in The Economist talks of the limits to frugality and finds evidence of the challenge to be profitable serving low income consumers.

‘In the 2010 auctions for 3G telecoms licences, operators bid ten times more for a slice of the airwaves in affluent Delhi, with 18m people, than in east Uttar Pradesh, with 120m people…. That is not to say that selling to the poor masses, and inventing ways to cut prices in order to appeal to them, is not vital. It is, both from a moral standpoint and because India’s stability depends on it. But the big profits lie elsewhere.’

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