xrematon

December 15, 2016

The new Design Museum – photo essay

Filed under: Innovation,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 7:45 pm
Tags: , , ,

Something visual for a change….

This week I had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Design Museum, moved from its old site in London Bridge to a newly refitted building off High Street Kensington.

The building is nestled alongside Holland Park and set a bit of a way back from the bustle of the street. The museum is also close to the block of luxury flats which were developed simultaneously and formed part of the same property deal (more detail on this, and about the architects, can be found here.)

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The most striking feature about the building is the huge (some might say over-sized) atrium into which one walks on entering.

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The atrium certainly creates a lovely airiness, but it also means that everything else is either squatting in underground bunker floors or squeezed off at the edges. As an example of the latter, let’s take the cafe, often an important part of the museum experience – a place to sit, rest weary legs and chat after gazing at an endless vista of intriguing displays. In the Design Museum, the cafe is not more than a glorified small alcove off to one side of this atrium. It has no access to daylight (there are no windows) and, even though I visited at a non-peak time (early-ish morning midweek), it was already very full.

However, I did enjoy spying other elements of interest in the building, such as the spiralling beams coming off the triangular skylights…

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…as well as the concrete pillar stretching up one side.

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As my visit had no ambitions beyond getting an impression of the museum, I did not explore the exhibits in any detail. but here are some that caught my attention.

Firstly, one almost de rigeur for a design museum – a vase made by 3D printing – surprisingly light.

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Secondly, the more ‘off the wall’ item – a jacket woven from human hair – which I found personally so repulsive that I couldn’t to be near it any longer than was required to take this picture.

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Thirdly, a rather random, whimsical offering – a close-up from a kitchen mock-up constructed entirely out of wood.

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My final image are the water jets you come across as you walk back to join Kensington High Street. I am sure they will be a great hit with children on hot summer days, though I don’t think you will find me coming back to appreciate them. I would rather spent the time admiring the rural aesthetics of my garden.

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November 16, 2016

Rematerialism

Compared to the boom consumption decades of the post-war era or the bling-times of 1980s, in more recent years, it could be maintained we have been living in a post-materialistic society. This was true in the buoyant affluence leading up to the global financial crisis and Great Recession when, putting it crudely, we had everything money could buy and we became interested instead in seeking the best, most glorious experiences. Red Letter Days, which lets you buy balloon rides and bungee-jumping as gifts, was the poster child organisation for this set of attitudes. Going through the recession and financial squeeze kept post-materialism still in there, but the motivations and perspectives behind it were different. With little spare money for excess and indulgence, we came to understand what was actually most important to us, and that was often spending quality time with family. In that environment, staying in became the new going out – a more modest experience, but an experience nonetheless.

However, I wonder whether attitudes might be shifting again. Experiences are still very important, in part because of economic pressures: having experiences can be relatively be expensive (compare the cost of meal out vs cooking at home). But now ‘things’ could get more expensive too given that the low value of the pound is pushing up the price of imports.

Beyond the simple economics of higher prices driving a sense of scarcity and thus the need to appreciate material goods, I wonder whether there is something in the way in which we ‘approach’ objects which is changing. There are two dynamics to this:

  • In certain sectors, we are moving to a prioritisation of ‘usership’ rather than ownership. It’s clearest with cars, when we can use Uber or some kind car rental scheme in order to answer our mobility needs other than through buying a vehicle. It’s also pretty big in media: we download films or albums when we want to watch or listen, rather than picking up a box from our shelves. This means that when we do buy ‘something’, it is rather special. Look at how everyone can’t resist getting a fine and fancy notebook in which to write their meeting notes.
  • In addition, the idea of repairing an object and investing in making it last is getting more mainstream. Patagonia is a leader here and on its website, it is possible to access a comprehensive set of easy-to-follow repair guides, from learning how to repair a baffle on a down jacket to replacing the slider on a plastic tooth zipper.

When our lives were full of wonderful experiences, we could fill post lovely pictures on social media of  happy people laughing on sandy beaches etc; I am not sure photos taken whilst descaling the kettle to make it last longer will really have quite the same impact.

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October 16, 2016

Story telling – part II

Filed under: Business,Consumer Trends,Marketing,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 8:25 pm
Tags: , ,

This is the second and final post thinking about story telling, something which the marketing world is rather keen on at the moment. In my first post, I explored the different levels at which stories can be used. In this post, I am sharing learnings from having looked through Christopher Booker’s “The Seven Basic Plots”.

In this work, Booker describes the seven basic stories which seem to act as archetypes and recur in great tales from across time and across cultures. To be fair, with all this increased interest in stories, the marketing world has cottoned to these seven basic plots as a source of reference and inspiration.

However, there are perhaps more interesting elements to Booker’s analysis of stories that have been overlooked. In the last section, he explores how, in the past 200 years, many of these archetypes have been subverted and inverted. “They have become detached from their underlying archetypal purpose. Instead of being fully integrated with the objective values embodied in the archetypal structure, such stories have taken on a fragmented, subjective character, becoming more like personal dreams or fantasies.” Booker goes on to explore how this shift explains and reflects the shift in individual human consciousness that has occurred in recent history.

I don’t want to go that ‘deep’, but it made me wonder whether the idea of playing around with archetypes has or could be a source of creative inspiration. Here are some initial reflections.

  • It might appear that advertising is creating its own archetypes which can then be distorted. Parody is the clearest example of this – and the Aldi version of Man on the Moon comes to mind here.
  • In addition to the archetypal plots, Booker also identifies archetypal roles that individuals in the seven basic plots might play. These include the Mother, Father, Child and animus/amina (the character that embodies the qualities of the opposite gender to the hero/heroine). In a world where it is increasingly accepted and perhaps expected that men take on child care and domestic duties and that gender identity is not fixed, one might argue that rethinking these archetypes is necessary in order to have relevance today. Fashion is certainly getting interested, but this is likely to be more style than substance.
  • Part of the reason that the archetypes begin to distort is due to the arrival of an author and their personality. What we are seeing in marketing is a different change in the centre of gravity within narratives. Brands can now be less about story telling and more about story making; and it is the customer who in fact ‘has’ the story or, at the very least, is actively involved in it.  Think about the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign where the brand sets the stage and provides a prop, but it is the customer who is the protagonist.

Whichever way these trends and shifts play out, it is worth ending on the fundamental reason why stories have so much to offer in marketing. Stories add to the humanity of brands. Without that narrative, everything is dominated by features, data and discounts and that sounds a bit boring to me.

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September 10, 2016

Story telling part 1

Filed under: Marketing,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 3:54 pm
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Now the dust has long settled over the big creative outburst in advertising at Christmas and before we start over again, it seems, according to this survey from Google, that the John Lewis ‘Man on the Moon’ offering was most popular.

Though I personally preferred the less sentimental Mog advert from Sainsburys, I was intrigued by the way in which the ‘Man on the Moon’ invited you to literally ‘continue the story’. This little phrase got me thinking….

You hear lots about story telling in the world of brands at the moment. You can sign up for story telling workshops where you learn how to use techniques from the screen writer’s toolkit; there is an agency, Aesop, that claims to focus on taking this approach, and brands have been ranked according to their story telling ability. But where exactly are the stories in marketing and what sort of tales are they? Having done a bit of digging and thinking, it seems that the use of stories operates at different levels but with lots of fuzziness blurring them all up.

  1. Some adverts, whether TV, cinema or online content, are literally played out as stories – there is a sense of narrative to them. The story provides the creative framework and dynamic. The Sainsburys Mog advert is a good example here.
  2. Stories can exist at a higher level – in terms of the story the brand or company tells of itself. This can be a story about its heritage and founders, the journey it has been on and the like. It’s a story that can be articulated to both internal and external audiences. Lots of luxury brands do this kind of story telling – consider this statement from Christopher Bailey at Burberry, ‘It’s not just a coat. That coat has a story. People want the soul in things. They want to understand the whys and the whats and the values that surround it.’
  3. The third level is most indistinct and hardest to clearly define – people use stories as a catch-all term to describe what a brand is about – its values, strategy, positioning and purpose. Some would say that Coke’s story is about happiness.

But stories are not all equal – there are different ways in which a narrative can progress. The mighty tome from Christopher Booker, ‘The seven basic plots’, is useful for giving ideas here. I’ll explore that further in my second blog post on story telling. This gives me licence to say ‘to be continued’….!

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August 13, 2016

The way things should be

Filed under: Business,Customer Service,Marketing,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 8:31 pm
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I am occasionally inspired to write stories about positive customer experiences.  It doesn’t happen that often, mind you.
This time it’s Amazon’s turn to be under the rosy spotlight. Let me tell you the story…..

Once upon a time, on Jan 3rd 2015, a lucky little girl was given a Kindle Fire as a belated Christmas period. She played happily on it through out the year, but sadly, during the Christmas holidays next year that much beloved Kindle was left on the floor and trod upon, cracking the screen so badly that it no longer worked. Kind Mummy decided to get in contact with Amazon to find out what could be done. She pressed the magic May Day button to talk to a nice helpful person, realising as she did so that it was exactly a year to the day that the Kindle had been first purchased – in other words just outside the 12 month warranty period.
Mummy spoke to Dee, explaining what had happened, being quite open about the fact that it was due to sloppy treatment that the Kindle stopped working. But lo and behold, Dee waved her wand and said that a new Kindle could be delivered to the little girl free of charge, but we just had to be patient and wait a few weeks for it to appear.
The days went by and turned into weeks. After less time than had originally been discussed, the little girl and her Mummy had a knock at the door and took in a big brown box. Quickly cutting open the box and then, without any fuss at all, unfolding the clever special packaging inside, which didn’t have any of that nasty sharp cutting plastic, the little girl and her Mummy found a lovely new (reconfigured) Kindle shining inside.
They lifted out the Kindle and switched it on. After just two minutes, by logging into her Amazon account and bringing up the profile of the little girl, Mummy was able to breathe a sigh of relief and handover a completely functional Kindle with all the games and apps and lovely things now all there to a now very content little girl. And they all lived happily ever after.

Cake

July 1, 2016

Disrupt Yourself

Filed under: Business,Coaching,Innovation,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 9:48 pm
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Disrupt yourself

I have some confessions to make: in my first year of work, I often went to the library as an important way to get information and new ideas; and on one occasion I had to catch a late afternoon flight from Paris to take a VHS tape of an ad mock-up to the co-ordinating agency in London as the last Fedex delivery had been missed. There was no other way to get the creative work over. This was an analogue world and created tasks that now seem more than faintly ridiculous.

So it was with interest that I picked up my latest ‘worthy tome’ (part of my ongoing effort to broaden my reading matter beyond ‘story books’) had the catchy title of “Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work – Disrupt Yourself” by Whitney Johnson.

Sadly, the book disappointed. Though my opening anecdotes highlights I am only too deeply aware of the changing context in which we lead our working lives, none of this came through. It was a rather one-dimensional self-help book giving lots on the ‘how’ to bring changing into one’s professional life, but with little sense of the burning platform of ‘why’. To me, it would have been more compelling to also highlight the risk of redundancy of opting for stasis and certainty.

The introduction presents an interesting challenge – that of applying what is traditionally regarded as a business concept – the S curve – to individual experience. I have already read a book which used this ‘conceit’ of using business practices for personal problems to good effect (futures techniques to navigate personal life choices).  In ‘Disrupt Yourself’, there was less of a single-minded approach and more of a ‘pick and mix’ one to referencing examples/analogies from the business world as well as individual experiences. This links to another shortcoming – it suggests that personal disruption is more relevant for the more entrepreneurial, ie those who naturally conflate their professional development with the development of a business. What of those who those who aim to operate within the system? Or are they just redundant anyway?!

In a similar vein, I also would have liked examples of people who tried to change and it didn’t work; is disruption really for everyone? And what about negotiating forced disruption that is thrust upon you rather than proactively seeking it? Clearly, the latter sounds ‘better’ (more aspirational/what we know we should be doing), but there may be valuing in taking a softer approach to help others cope with unsought change.

Finally, I would like to highlight the connection between ‘Disrupt Yourself and another book I recently read about growth mind sets. Both present the importance and value to be gained from challenging oneself to continue to learn and make progress, but there are interesting differences of approach. Whilst the Dweck book is a eulogy to redefining failure as an important to step to improvement, Johnson gives more space to acknowledging how rubbish failure can actually feel in reality and that it can be worthwhile accepting this. In the chapter entitled ‘Give Failure Its Due’, she writes, “When I fail, I am mortified, but I am also heartbroken. I have envisioned a future in which I would achieve a goal, and perhaps be hailed as the conquering hero. And then I didn’t and I wasn’t. I have learnt it is important to grieve….We often think of loss of a marriage or a loved one, but there is also the loss we feel when a professional dream – even a small one – is dashed.” Thoughtful and though-provoking.

As a floating freelancer who has never bothered to set up their own company, I constantly need to reinvent myself as I chase after the latest opportunity/hot prospect, whether it is a project about shopper trends, international development or cancer care. Disrupt myself – indeed I must.

May 25, 2016

The Big Shop

Time for me to be ‘untrendy’. When we hear about how grocery shopping habits are changing, it’s all about ‘a little and often’ and how we are falling out of love with the big weekly shop.

Well, I would like to tell you about a recent visit I made to a new supermarket that is not all about convenience trips, but somewhere very big (80, 000 sq foot). It’s the Sainsbury’s store at Westwood Cross in Thanet, which opened in November 2014. As I have explored in other posts, Thanet is more worthy of exploration and evaluation than you might at first think on encountering a part of the country which is flat till it reaches the muddy grey sea and populated by people who are older and/or less affluent than their other Kentish peers.

Sainsbury land

I have been meaning to check out this Sainsbury’s for some time now as its arrival was heralded with much fanfare (it would create jobs, require changing the local road system, be the epitome of the latest and best in sustainable design etc). I found this nice leaflet online which helps to give a sense of how the store was a big deal. Note in particular the community initiatives – which I assume were meant to help make the new supermarket be part of the local scene, rather than to create a scene. But I must confess I am little underwhelmed by the employment of just one local construction management trainee and the donation of soil to a local campsite to help construct a new golf course!

Going inside the store itself was sadly also rather underwhelming. Walking through the threshold with a sense of great anticipation, past the plug-ins for electric vehicles (setting false expectations for something quite different), it was still a Sainsbury’s.

Sainsbury car park

This meant nice enough clothes and household goods, and nice food, but failing to give the impression of an emporium teeming with a rich abundance of exciting items. The aisles were very wide – not doubt good for avoiding trolley crashes – but it compounded the sense of emptiness you get from looking at shelves which could be fuller.

Sainsbury inside

However, it was not a fruitless journey as I did manage to find an item I had never come across before and wasn’t even looking for: giant couscous. Have you ever tried it? NB not worth the trip to Westcross!

April 22, 2016

Quantified me

Google searches 2015

The above image gives you an insight in the minds of a nation – what are the people of the UK uncertain about and interested in? (I have picked the graphs that intrigued me – there were obviously lots on sport and celebrities!)

I can also get an insight into myself, all without having to join the club of those armed with some kind of wearable device. There are lots of organisations with whom I interact doing all the data collection already. Let’s see what I can uncover…

Firstly, back to Google. It is possible to obtain information about your account, including how you use the panoply of different Google applications. As I have the function which tracks location switched off and don’t really use YouTube, the main aspect of my use I can analyse is standard web searching. As the below screen grab shows, I have notched up an impressive number of searches over the past 10 years (though actually, as I have no point of comparison, I can’t tell if this above or below the ‘average’).

Google search  history

I am not so impressed with the fact that Wikipedia comes up highest in the list of my top search clicks. Perhaps I can at least be proud of the fact that it isn’t facebook and that the other sites listed are more respectable!

Next – money. I recently received an annual statement from my credit card provider, which included some charts breaking down my expenditure each month and by category.

Credit card statement

Well, this is superficially interesting, but rather frustrating once I start looking into the data further. What was going on that meant I spent so much in June? A large amount of spending in November makes sense as there are birthdays and Christmas presents to buy. And the breakdown by category is also rather limited. As I shop online for groceries, that explains why a large slice is for supermarkets, but what about the big area of ‘other spend’? Hmm, not sure I shall bother to look at this in the future again.

Third and finally, Amazon. We all are only too aware of the fact that Amazon is keeping track of what we buy as recommendations pop up based on our purchasing history. But, I wondered, is there is more on my quantified self beyond this? Not really. All I could uncovered was the ability to look through my previous orders, admittedly going back more than 10 years.

Amazon orders 2005

This did reveal the extent to which I have increased my shopping through Amazon. In 2005, I placed a mere three orders! A decade later, I made 101 purchases and this year is set to be even more of a bumper harvest for Amazon. By March, I had already made 55 orders. Hope Jeff Bezos is rubbing his hands!

March 19, 2016

Print double bill – the long and short of it

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Marketing — by xrematon @ 3:13 pm
Tags: , ,

It doesn’t take long to get lost in the endless flurry of pieces that chronicle the dire state of the struggling print newspaper industry. Apparently, print ad revenues are now the lowest they’ve been since 1950, when the Newspaper Association of America began tracking industry data and when the U.S. population was less than half its current size. And over in the UK, national daily newspapers lost half a million in average daily sales over the past year. So it is clear things are not looking good in this sector, which is why my eye was caught recently by two new print media initiatives. Each is trying to find its ‘special place’ and fill a gap in the market, but with very different understanding of what that gap might be.

My first exhibit is a UK daily newspaper, ‘The New Day’, which launched at the start of March 2016. Its ambition is to cater to ‘normal’ women (primarily) and men who don’t get what they are looking for from the existing newspapers. Alison Phillips, the editor, describes what her paper is attempting to offer as “balanced opinion” and “positivity”. The former is a reaction to her awareness that “normal people cannot understand why papers feel they have a right to tell them how to think and vote. They find it patronising and insulting.” And the latter, positivity, is about not writing news that just all focused on doom and gloom.

Reading ‘The New Day’ revealed that these editorial ambitions have been realised, quite literally. Offering a balanced opinion is done by having ‘opinioneers’ presenting each side of an argument, as well as explaining developments through ‘why-isms’ and ‘what-isms’. The positivity is also quite visible – not only in the inspiring quotes that seem to pop up all over the place as well as through the opportunity for personal goal setting  introduced on the inside cover (see image below). Positivity comes through most prominently in the newspaper’s motto printed at the bottom of each page.

New Day

A somewhat paradoxical aspect to the paper is that whilst it bases some of its appeal on the fact it is print (as evidenced by this statement from the editor: “Children spend too much time on screens. And parents spend too much time on Facebook. The truth though is that you don’t feel good about it. You know you’re wasting your life on screen time. It’s a bad thing. Print is totally different. It still has all those connotations of being a good thing. It’s good to sit down and read, whether it’s a newspaper or a book); in its design and layout, it borrows much from the online environment. This is not just in terms of the informality of its prose and the curated aspect of its news coverage (no in-depth or ground-breaking journalist here), but also in the very short articles dotted about the page and the use of lists.

Commentators have been less than 100% complimentary about this new paper. And whilst I got the paper (admittedly free due to an issue with the cover price not coming through correctly at the till), I am not sure I would be willing to invest further time or money on it. It is indeed struggling to reach its sales targets.

My other new print experience is 1843, the new re-launch of Intelligent Life, the sister publication to the Economist. This magazine aims to offer a very different reading experience. As described by Emma Duncan, the editor, it is about offering “something longer, slower and more thoughtful.” It does indeed feel more weighty and kept me away from my screens for several hours more than the flimsy ‘New Day’ managed to. Whilst I enjoyed some articles, for instance, the travel piece on Antartica and the exploration of what Chinese students go through in order to get a place at American universities, some of the other articles felt more insubstantial than the ones in the New Day. A criticism of the latter is that it treats big topics in a superficial way; in 1843, there are small ideas which are explored with an excess of words. Examples include a four page spread written by some who got diddled trying to buy super fine wine, or long piece by a creep at the Economist on how they actually love working really long hours at all times of night and day.

I got 1843 free too (I am devoted and loyal Economist subscriber) and I can’t say I will be ‘unwinding’ with their new offering. After all that, I’m happy to stick with my beloved (free) supermarket magazines!

Print double bill

February 21, 2016

Eating across the generations

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Innovation,Marketing — by xrematon @ 9:10 pm
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I stirred my spoon disconsolately, looking at the concoction in the bowl in front of me: prawns in miso broth with udon noodles and some slices of red pepper for add of extra colour. This meal had been a special request from my children and as I sat forlornly, thinking how I would have prefer something nice and creamy or at least properly spice-y and sleek with oil, it made me realise how taste preferences and eating habits vary across generations, even within a family unit.

In a way, the fact my children asked for Japanese broth is because I have been a victim of my own success. Some time ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution to try a new recipe each week and this commitment has seen me diversify well beyond meat and two veg. It has led to children who may ask for globe artichokes – I got very excited one season about trying as many different vegetables as possible – as well as for things I really don’t like – such as the prawns still swimming around sadly in the miso broth. They’re too much like chopped up fingers or earthworms in my opinion.

My children’s generation will have grown with parents who like to invest time and effort in food; parents who themselves grew up during a period when food went from being not much more than fuel into a massive industry which itself fuels many different forms of media and entertainment. We remember the Angel Delight and Findus Krispy Pancakes we ate in our youth and now aspire for something different for our own children.

Cut beyond the middle-class snobbishness about processed food and there are more interesting implications to consider for the food industry of these aspirations to eat well. Take lunchboxes for example: no longer will they simply contain sliced white bread with cheese spread, a packet of crisps, a bit of fruit and a Penguin. Sandwiches are more of a rare sighting these days – in their place come wraps, oatcakes, bread sticks and many other delights. Whereas I grew up thinking the most important thing in a packed lunch was bread spread with something, this expectation is no longer there and the habit to spread is fading. Tellingly, sales of traditional sliced bread are on the decline in the UK, as they are too for dairy spreads.

There is an interesting dynamic going on with the generation in between my own and that of my children – those that are young adults now – Millennials I suppose. This group is also ‘into’ food – but with more style than substance. And it can lead to some rather paradoxical outcomes. A survey in the US found that 50% of Millennials refer to themselves as “foodies,” but 60% of those self-identified foodies still visit fast-food restaurants at least once a week (compared with 48 percent for older adults).

There are also more serious implications about this gap between passion and cooking ability: it doesn’t come cheap. Research, this time from the UK, found that 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK spend more on food than any other age group because they know so little about cooking and had a greater outlay due to eating out more. There is something to be said for bog standard home cooking.

Perhaps later once everyone else has happily finished off their prawns, I could sneakily do myself some fried eggs.

Japanese broth

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