We have been busy at Matt+John…
Sorry for the lack of posts.
We have been full steam ahead with work in Medical, FMCG and Technology sectors.
More to come soon.
I ‘heart’ complexity - UK UPA presentation
The slides from my UK UPA talk last Thursday night are here, on Slideshare. Any comments or feedback welcome!
As it’s end of January it’s time to review what the Consumer Electronic brands have in store for us this year. Although Apple isn’t there, CES is still seen to be the show where brands show us their latest technological advancements they like to push onto the market that year. From looking at what has been posted by the different renowned technology blogs this year will be about:
A: 4G Traditionally, CES isn’t a huge mobile event - the biggest phone news is normally saved for MWC in February and CTIA in March - but this year was a little different. Looks like 2011 is going to be the year of 4G, both carriers and manufacturers announced a variety of products that promise to make the next few months really, really fast. 4G makes IP telephony, gaming services, and streaming multimedia a lot easier when on the go. HTC, Dell, AT&T, T-Mobile, LG, Motorola, Samsung and Verizon all presented their next generation 4G products, mostly focusing on smart phones and tablets.
B: 3D For at least the last 2 years many brands have been trying to push different 3D TV technologies on to the market and also this year CES was full of new 3D; thinner, bigger, with glasses, without etc. With all these different technologies out there all trying to gain a market share, 3D still seems to be fighting for a live beyond a nice to have gadget. Looking at some of this year’s latest 3D technologies it looks like brands have chosen to focus on pushing 3d beyond TV. Sony for example has put all its money on 3D and developed 3D camcorders and cameras, and 3D computers. Maybe this will help them push 3D into adulthood.
C: Thin, thinner thinnest It looks like each year brands are trying to compete each other on who can do the thinnest TV of that time. And also this year thin looked to have been a theme many brands worked with. Not all blogs agree one who is the thinnest though, but some that are worth mentioning are: LG’s 2.9mm thin OLED TV, Panasonic’s ultra thin plasma TV and Samsung’s super thin flexible amoled display (not a TV yet, but might become one soon, who knows)
D: Google TV/smart TV Just before CESGoogle TV has undergone some sort of rebranding now called “smart TV”. It gets away from the G-word, and focuses on the internet element. It’s app-based (Android and Linux: a missed revenue opportunity for Microsoft); what will be key though is how much access content owners such as TV stations and film streaming companies such as Netflix allow, or are allowed to allow. Brands like Sony,Samsung and Logitech created “smart TV” boxes.
E: Tablets - Android 3.0 Honeycomb 80 tablets have been launched at CES this year, of which most of them used Google’s newest OS Android 3.0 Honeycomb.Google has launched a ‘tablets only’ version of their operating system Android. Engadget have managed to make a video whilst being at CES, from what you can see on the video it looks quite different to their newest Android 2.3 gingerbread OS for smart phones launched last month .
F: Smart appliances LG announced a line of kitchen and cleaning appliances that use ‘Thinq’, promising consumers better energy efficiency and control. The appliances use a Wi-Fi home network and smart meter to offer features, such as remotely operating appliances from a smart phone or programming them to take advantage of off-peak rates. Being connected to a network also enables the appliances to alert their owners that something is wrong or allows customer service to service a machine remotely.
G: Well-being Last but not least is well-being, another big area brands tapped into.Well-being as well as e-care and concordance are current buzz-words in the health care market. Withings for example announced a Smart Baby Monitor system, and blood pressure monitor – all connect to your iPhone, Android and any web browser. And Sonamba developed a well-being monitor which checks in on older people when it’s difficult to get there. It learns their movement patterns with motion and sound sensors. If, for example, the person normally gets up and about by 8AM, and the device hasn’t seen the person by 9, it will send an automatic text alert that something might be amiss.
These 7 clusters are just an overview of the 1000’s of blog post that have been written about CES, apparently there have been 158,000 CES-related tweets since Monday, January 3, and more than 11,000 page views on CEA’s Digital Dialogue blog which shows how manic CES is. Let’s see what MWC will bring us in February.
Design Council article featuring John
Closing the Gap looks at the role of Ethnography in Innovation: A Design Council article featuring John’s perspective
Skate or BMX?
Skate or BMX that is the Question?
After spending time this year hanging out with skateboarders to understand what made them tick for a client I realised that maybe it or BMX would be something that my eldest Son, Dexter might want to get into. Perfect Christmas present I thought? Or was I being too pushy and projecting my inner needs on to my 8 ½ son?
Owen, one of the Matt+John designers is a keen BMX(er) used to be quite handy like the guy out of E.T. So who best to drop an email to so to get an insider experience account and advice.
His reply below was something of a cultural and behavioural analysis of user life experience of this world and worth a quick blog.
Istarted riding when i was twelve. I rode mountain bikes until i was eighteen and then started riding BMX because the bikes feel so much nicer and mountain bikers are generally flash w*****s.
I would say that unless Dexter has his heart set on starting this kind of thing it might not be the best investment. I was pretty slow to get anywhere with riding and if I hadn’t thought it was cool as f**k (which it is) then I would’ve given up a long time ago. Another thing to check is whether any of his friends are interested in it? It takes ages to learn (especially skateboarding) and you have to have friends who are doing it for motivation and competition. It’s pretty scary in general and it hurts a lot and you’re not going to get anywhere without people pushing you.
If you want to get him one or the other then a bmx will always be good for getting around on and I can help you look for a decent one. One thing to think about maybe if you think he’ll like bmx riding is to look for any bmx racing clubs in your area. There are bound to be some as it’s just got into the Olympics and they’re obviously being held in London next time. Also the best woman in the world is British. Racing is not as cool as freestyle but I wish I had done it when I was young because it teaches you very good bike control and you can always tell the racers at the skatepark or jumps because they’re so smooth and there riding style is good. The other good thing about racing is it is split into age groups and there will be some sort of tuition I would have thought, you probably won’t get either of these at a skatepark. Have a look if there is a race on near you and take Dexter, it will probably be fun.
If I were you I wouldn’t push him into it unless he’s interested. BMX and skateboarding is f*****g cool and definitely something which i’m glad i’ve done for along time because once you get ok at it, it’s really good fun and people are always impressed (especially girls). Also it helps with making friends and confidence and all that stuff that is difficult when you’re young.
One thing to consider also is yours and Miranda’s nerves. My mum had to deal with many a trip to Accident and Emergency and various stitches and broken bones so if he does start then be prepared to worry.
Well there you go. I now know so much more about the BMX culture – but um, I think I might wait until Dexter feels that he wants to do it. Maybe BMX wii is a safer option…but don’t tell Owen.
posted by John
Inventing a brand on ‘Tradition’: Three key pillars of success.
There are three general pillars that give a brand meaning.
The first is the desired brand identity and narrative that the brand wants to portray to its desired consumers, followers and tribe members.
The second is the cultural narrative that these groups ascribe to the brand. The ways in which the consumer needs to re-mould the brand narrative so to fit their cultural narrative to make sense to them in their everyday lives.
Combining the brand narrative with a cultural narrative is a complex process – it relies on the anthropological ability of the development of the brand to deeply understand their consumer. Successful brands allow for their consumers to do this or at least already understand the cultural needs of their consumers.
The third pillar is the concept of ‘tradition’ or the ability to ‘invent tradition’ so it appears as genuine. This involves the brand framing its narrative largely around history, nostalgia and quality (ideological golden years). The great historian Eric Hobsbawn explains in his book that
“ ‘invented tradition’ is taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past. In fact, where possible, they normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past”.
If done right, a brand narrative based on ‘tradition’ (that is invented to some extent) brings pillars one and two together to provide powerful cultural capital for its consumers. If done wrong then the brand success can spiral down into the pit of failure.
Invented tradition and branding street soccer/football.
I started to become interested in the branding of street soccer when my beloved football team, Crystal Palace FC signed Edgar Davids (also known as the Pit bull) this season. Davids was voted by Pele as one of top 100 players of all time.
The reason why this was big news for us fans is because my team currently languish at the bottom of the Championship (The old second division in English football). This is one division below the Premiership (where global superstars demand Baseball sized salaries).
I decided to start to follow Edgar on Twitter to see how he represented himself and crucially his Palace time and was delighted to see him tweet about Crystal Palace in relation being a ‘true’ and ‘real’ footballing club built around home grown grass root talent from the local urban squalor of Croydon in London. Basically, Crystal Palace’s youth policy is based on nurturing local working class talent – this might be called ‘street development’.
Davids is also the image of Monta Streetsoccer that is backed heavily by the Red Bull brand. Monta promotes loud and proud on its rather ‘street’ website that…
Streetsoccer is personal expression. It’s about showing no fear and demanding respect by battling your opponent with skill, technique and intelligence. It’s raw, it’s confrontational, and it’s about the ability to be yourself and hold your own against any competitor, in any environment, on any street in the world. Streetsoccer is you.
Its image, largely defined by ‘street fashion’, forms part of the badge of being a creative self.
In the image above Edgar Davids and other ‘emperors’ of streetsoccer’ jump high in the air doing tricks that look like Karate kicks while wearing baggy, hip-hop style jeans. Playing football in jeans is ‘street’ right?
On a semiotic level denim seems to be a big sell for the brand narrative in Monta Streetsoccer. Even the official Monta ball is made out of either blue or red denim. The football is a size 4.5 (professional balls are size 5). This implies that it is versatile and can be used anywhere in the urban landscape. On a anthropological level the ball is trying to portray an image that is akin to Brazilian beach football, or street football that I have experienced in South African towns where the ball is well worn or even created by using a mish mash of cloth that is tightly bundled together to form the ball.
Just in case the potential consumer did not already get the message that the brand narrative was about football and not just about jeans the branding guys decided to don Davids in his Puma football boots – with studs for grass. So now the consumer is lost due to the brand’s painful and potentially grating approach trying to bond street culture with football.
Red Bull and Monta are making two painful mistakes in using tradition as a means of building its brand message.
1/ Their invention of tradition is not based on football but on a cultural narrative of ‘street’ that is lazily borrowed from skateboard and BMX cultures where fashion is naturally intertwined with the activity. Crucially, skateboard and BMX cultures come with their own traditions, symbolism and rituals (see the origins of Vans). Attempting to simply plant football in this space creates a brand narrative that is rudderless leaving the consumer lost and unable to re-mould it with their cultural narrative.
2/ The notion of football being played on streets is based within a wealth of rich tradition globally. Emotionally this tradition sees the street as something that becomes transformed into imagined stadiums that enable the players to live out their dreams. Monta and Redbull have ripped this dream away, which leaves their brand narrative redundant and dull.
Coca Cola recreating the dream through inventing tradition
OK, enough of me having a go at the great Davids for his role in Street Soccer and lets look at an example that does bind the concept of football and street together well.
Coca Cola has had a long history in sponsoring football events. In the UK Manchester United’s star Wayne Rooney is fronting the TV show called Street Striker on SKY 1HD. Street Striker (sponsored by Coca Cola) fundamentally understands the zeitgeist of their footballing consumers.
The advert linked shows a dustbin truck (trash truck) with dustbin men collecting trash from a cold and rainy Yorkshire residential street. The street is made up of Victorian terrace houses and the street is cobbled. Already the emotional attachment to tradition has been invented and used as the infrastructure of the brand narrative.
The dustbin men come across a football in the street that some boys had left. They start passing it to each other and showing each other tricks – there is laughter and a light hearted mood – no karate kicks or baggy Hip Hop jeans – just working class men having a quick break and living out their passion before being confronted by a Police man, who before ordering them back to collecting trash, kicks the ball into a trash can.
One might argue that the brand narrative here is obvious. However, what it does brilliantly is enable any football fan that is also a potential consumer of the programme (and Coca Cola) to attach their cultural narrative on to the brand narrative (pillars one and two coming together).
So is inventing tradition is a key mediating pillar for the success of a brand? Yes, but getting it wrong scores an own goal (and in Red Bulls case it is a lazy one).
On writing this Edgar Davids has announced on his website and Twitter that he has left Crystal Palace by mutal consent. Maybe Palace were not ‘street’ enough.
Dr John Curran
The mobile handset ‘bandits’ of Shenzen. When influence moves far beyond Hong Kong to Durban, South Africa and beyond.
Whilst researching ‘authenticity’ in Chinese design I came across this FT piece by Kathryn Hille about the influence of bandit phones in Shenzen across the water from Hong Kong (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a6a2f2aa-1af0-11df-88fa-00144feab49a.html).
These fake copies often run under names such as the iPhane or Samsang. Hille’s interesting piece describes how her research has revealed the means by which all areas of brand construction and persuasion tricks aim to assure the owner that the phone they are investing in has an authentic ‘brand-able’ feel.
Her piece reminded me of my own discoveries when researching in emerging markets for a leading phone manufacturer in 2009.
In the townships of Durban, South Africa, myself and a brand manager from the client team discovered numerous ‘Fong Kong’ phones where the manufacturer names were being maintained (e.g., Nokia or Apple) but where only the subtleties of form exposed the faux design.
It struck me that on occasions only in side-by-side tests could owners see the subtle changes in design, performance and authenticity. To me this seemed a far cry from the branding and labeling frauds Hille describes i.e. naming and badging like the ‘iPhane’.
Such Fong Kong phones are obviously increasing in their sophistication and therefore represent an increasing problem for manufacturers. With first hand experience of the quality of the fake products in lands far from Shenzen I feel that the likelihood is that they will expand beyond the current 220 million faux phones in circulation.
It proves to me that it is critical to understand how a brand is morphing in the real world context, far away from the labs and design studios, head offices and factories of the global leading lights.
The ‘bandits’ will continue and the fakes will improve. But only by getting out into the landscapes of consumption can we see what impact they are having on the lives of consumers and the belief in the brands that they are mimicking. Many argue that ‘big business’ in fact benefits from such fakes. This may work in the world of fake Nike apparel, where the gains from ‘free’ advertising and brand promotion may out-weight the expense of pursuing litigation, but it will be interesting to see the benefits and downfalls where ‘tech’ products are concerned. The free brand promotion suddenly becomes less welcome if it is associated with a stuttering faux interface and poor build quality.
It is rare that we are ever tasked to use ethnographic methods to understand the impact of fake products on a brand; usually we are targeting potential opportunities for new products. However, our in-context methods deliver in so many ways that such discoveries are the delightful side effects gained from spending time in the lives of consumers and their worlds of consumption.
See Kathryn Hille’s full video piece showing the malls of Shenzen and the source of one of the largest fake markets in the world. Imagine the filter down effect on developing markets across the world. But also think about using in-context immersions to de-risk the impact of not truly understanding your brand resonance in the marketplace by truly understanding its place in consumer’s world.
Posted by Matt
Seeking the opportunity to thrive on the pressure
Having returned to London from the biggest pressure cooker sporting arena that I have personally witnessed I want to dig deep into how players cope (or fail to cope) with pressure and stress.
Now that the mud has settled, the adrenaline faded away, the golden trophy been soaked in champagne and beer and Monty has finally won something I am left intrigued as to the performance factors behind the winners and losers in the tightest finish in years in the Ryder Cup for a decade.
Referencing in many parts a piece by Rob Hodgetts of BBC sport (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/robhodgetts/)
Holding nerves on the course
How absolutely enthralling the to’s and fro’s of battle proved to be and what a final match decider. But what makes the difference between a Graham McDowell (GMac) 16th putt for a win and a Hunter Mahan duffed pitch in front of 25,000 on 17?
The BBC website produced an excellent article referencing the influencing factors which I adopt below and consider the key influencing factors behind performance.
So, is the capacity for holding one’s nerve innate? Is it a natural ability to stay calm without the help of Beta Blockers? Or, is it based on passion and the desire to win?
The BBC states that if you ask Dave Alred, one of the worlds elite performance coaches who has worked with Jonny Wilkinson prior to infamous drop goal of the 2003 World Cup final and now with Luke Donald, a stalwart and the steadiest of the European team this weekend you come down to one key element - context based training and context based thinking.
Context based training and context based thinking
Dropping into the mindset of the setting one is in is the key for success to Dr Alred. At the heart of the battle the mind has to switch. For Jonny, it is from the mode of defender (when a dynamic open side flanker charges at the channel) to the precision kicker, a surgeon required to control the blood pressure to dissect the posts (when all around is quite and 80,000 eyes look on).
Dave’s recent trainee is Luke Donald, a well-paid comfortable golfer floating around the top 30 until this year. A year with Alred appears to have changed his focus. Over the four days of the Ryder Cup, Luke was one of the most consistent elite of the European team, ice cold on the green.
Since January 2010 Alred set out to transform Luke into the mindset of an “assassin” on the greens – with one shot and one shot only. Luke agreed to "throw the kitchen sink at it for a year" and the 32-year-old has surged from outside the world’s top 30 back into the top 10 and third in the FedEx.
The key to this process for Alred with Luke and Jonny is to make context count. Those that saw the Fed-Ex 2 weeks ago would not be surprised that Luke was such a consistent performer at Celtic Manor. Alred, as he did with Wilkinson and others, has been trying to mould a “mindset for performance” with Donald. And it seems to be working. Alred in an interview with Rob Hodgetts of BBC sport suggests that for people like Luke in changing all aspects of playing focus “You then relish the challenge and pressure and that’s where you get performances like you saw…in particular, when you’re faced with a challenge your mindset is ‘I can and I will’ rather than ‘I hope’.”
The basis of Alred’s technique is to turn practice into a pressurised environment so that rather than just hitting shot after shot, you put yourself under pressure by setting goals, or “absolutes” as he calls them. He focuses on making training as realistic as possible, not the environment alone but the consequences of failure. For Luke this means a pressure filled environment of taking 100 putts and if missing one, start again. As the ‘nervous 90’s’ come, the pressure not to miss elevated due to the consequences of the miss.
So did Mahan not have the metal for the pressure or more likely as of yet he is not training for the ‘absolutes’ in life. After GMac sank a putt on the 16th to return to 2 up with 2 to play Mahan felt the squeeze. With 20,000 people watching on where the norm is mere hundreds his mind must have made the shift to the ‘I hope” mode and the immensity of the pressure took its toll. Hunter hit a good tee shot but did not give it enough due to the tension in his upper body. With GMac on the green he needed to chip it close or even in. Tentative feelings led to the experience of all who can call themselves an amateur golfer, and he duffed the shot. The multi million pound professional hit the earth and the ball jumped mere feet ahead. Practice time and time again had hard-wired successful performance in different conditions but never in this pressure-cooker of an atmosphere. Even GMac stated that this was ’50 times that of going up the final stretch in the US Open”.
Mahan was left after this critical failure a man alone in a mass of the jubilant, a man in tears wondering what had gone wrong. How did I choke?
Stuart Cink himself a man who three putted on the 15th to drop a crucial half point stated” “If you go up and down the line of the tour players in Europe and the U.S. and asked them if they would like to be the last guy to decide the Ryder Cup, probably less than half would say they would like to be that guy and probably less than 10 percent of them would mean it,”
Mahan was brave enough and he is a great golfer. Alred would say that he was just not ready.
"It’s about making sure all the technical work done and it reproduces itself when he is under the cosh and he is becoming increasingly more successful in doing that." [Referring to Luke]
Luke was ready and although not sinking that putt, his play on the other 3 days bringing 3 from 4 points home was in no small part due to ice cold nerves when putting. When it comes to the big shots it is not ‘the biggest shot in his life’ but just the next big shot that he knows he will make. He knows it because he has trained his mind for the context – and critically the consequences.
Posted by Matt
Whilst in Las Vegas (vacationing and not just gambling), I was intrigued to look at the way design has been used to further stack the odds in favour of ‘the house’. Whilst classic tricks such as the lack of windows and clocks in most casinos inevitably increase the amount of time that someone will spend on the floor, spending their cash, I was more intrigued by the subtle use of information design that played upon our innate human behaviours.
The game in particular that caught my attention was Roulette. Each roulette table in the vast majority of casinos has an electronic display in clear view that shows a read out of the last twenty or so spins of the wheel. This simple piece of feedback plays on the innate psychological phenomenon of apophenia: seeing patterns and connections in random, meaningless data.
Logically, each spin of the wheel is an independent event; the previous results have no effect on subsequent results. However, by equipping players with data regarding previous spins, the casino is playing upon our innate tendency to seek patterns and order in data. Hence, several spins that land on black numbers lead to a flurry of bets on red numbers (regardless of the fact that the chance of either is still essentially 50:50 on each spin, if excluding 0 or 00) as the human mind rationalises that it must be time for a red as we desperately seeks to find order and patterns within the random sequence.
On occasions where our ‘system’ prevails and we win, we then suffer from confirmation bias, where we perceive this random result to confirm the validity of our system and the patterns we have imagined, regardless of how often we have lost before (or will do in the future).
The desire to seek patterns and order is related to our evolution. Our ancestors’ ability to identify patterns within their environment helped them survive and evolve. Their ability to find patterns helped them learn more about their environment and allowed them to make predictions that aided survival and reproduction. Hence, when confronted with sets of data our brains automatically attempt to seek patterns and develop rules that will allow us to use these data to make more informed predictions. The problem with roulette is that results are independent, so informed predictions aren’t possible.
Offering players data is the clever trick that the casinos have used, as this plays upon our predictably irrational human traits. Without this feedback, we would only be able to remember a few previous results and would undoubtedly bet with less thought and analysis, which of course would not effect our chances of winning or losing any more than having data from the previous 100, 500 or 1000 spins of the wheel. The real coup for the casino is that someone who believes in a system and patterns in data is more likely to hang around and spend money until their number comes up!
Posted by $hayal
Every Little Helps
At Matt+John we are always interested in how trends change in society in consumption patterns, design, health, politics, economics, and the public sector. Recently the Government has introduced the Big Society which aims at empowering communities to take responsibility and form grass root groups that can influence change. The outcomes will be better services and more united and empowered communities – a win/win situation maybe. Forget the need for Shoreditch design studios to create innovative ideas; the local community centre, if the Big Society has its way, will become the new IDEO labs of the future.
OK, the purpose of this blog is not to deconstruct Big Society thinking. There are enough blogs, journalists, politicians and Post-it note crazy brain-storm sessions that are all falling over each other to define what it is and how it works.
However, Tesco seem to be offering a different means to creating a better society, by adopting a top-down paternal approach. They are tackling the concept of social stigma head on with a retail sledge hammer, and thus moulding their consumers into responsible and accepting citizens. Regardless if this is Tesco’s intention or not, it will definitely make the everyday shopper (all of us) negotiate our own feelings of stigma (instead of going into the sociological meaning of stigma it is worth having a read of this and this).
So how are Tesco being morally good? They have made headlines in the last couple of days by announcing that they will be the first UK supermarket to sell Viagra for 40-65 year old men over the counter. This of course leaves room for us to think up one-line jokes (can’t think of any at the moment). However, Viagra for the ageing male population is an important consumption pattern and consumer need. The use of Viagra can mean that couples have healthy sex lives into their 60’s and 70’s. But the social norm is one where society is supposed to view the older population as non-sexual and void of sexual needs. Research that we have done at Matt+John has shown that this view makes many older people feel invisible from society and therefore lesser human.
They are also, as Matt has suggested here at Matt+John, starting to collapse spaces. By offering Viagra to a range of men from 40-65 year olds Tesco are collapsing the age gap - enabling 65 year old men to be associated with 40 year old men. Furthermore, Tesco are collapsing the space between Viagra – a stigmatised medicine and a retail consumer product that can be brought over the counter.
Therefore credit should be given to Tesco for simply seeing the older population as a consumer with everyday needs and adopting a rather paternal top-down approach to be part of the Big or Bigger society. This is something that industry finds hard to do.
The interesting trend to watch out for in the future is whether simple consumption needs (buying stuff off the shelf) can reduce social stigma around ageing (and other areas) purely by making it ‘normal’.
One of the goals we have at Matt+John is to coach industry (retail and manufacturers) to understand that the older population are, and will be, a strong consumer force. This might be called the Sliver Pound or Dollar (44% of the UK consumer spend in 2008 was made by the over 50’s – Age UK) but it is now worthwhile for industry to be proactive and not reactive and start producing and designing things for the older population that are not assigned to the ‘Stigma Zone’ of the retail store.
Maybe retail can learn from Big Society principles and, as Tesco have shown, vice-versa.
Posted by John