Archive for July, 2011

Coming shortly – the future of social networks

Andrew Curry writes:

Our thought leadership series, Future Perspectives, is designed to share new thinking about a whole range of issues which we think could be of interest and concern, either to organisations or individuals. So far, we’ve tended to publish these in fairly conventional formats – The World in 2020 and The Future of Global Brands were both published as reports.

The latest piece, though, is about the future of social networks. The work’s been led by Alex Steer in our New York office, and it seemed to make sense to publish it online first. So, from Monday through Thursday next week, we’ll be running a series of posts written by Alex which outline this new thinking. There will be tweets as well. The work identifies a series of tensions, or ‘pivot points’, which will shape the evolution of the social networking space. What are they? Check back here next week to find out.

The full ‘Future of Social Networks series involves five blog posts: Posts One and Two discuss where we are today, and what underpins online behaviour. Posts Three and Four look at user tensions which create different behaviour online, and Post Five looks ahead to some of the implications for the shape of the social networking space and for innovation. The image at the top of this post comes from Place It Local, and is used here with thanks.

29 July 2011 at 11:33 am 4 comments

Piercing the Shard

Andrew Curry writes: The Shard is inescapable from our London office. The city’s soon-to-be tallest building, a piece of concept architecture by Renzo Piano, can be seen from our office windows and most of the approaches to the office.

Obviously, size matters, at least to architects of a certain age and a certain gender. And it also seems to matter at a certain time. As the economist Andrew Lawrence has demonstrated with his Skyscraper Index, announcements of buildings billed as the tallest are an unerring leading indicator of the top of the market, that boom is about to go bust.

Behind the branding of ‘the Shard’, the building’s brochure promotes a “vertical city”, which seems not so much cutting edge as strange sixty-year old Corbuserian throwback. But in a sharp post over at the London Review of Books, Rosemary Hill points out what a modern city The Shard would be – a city with no public space:

A city without a centre, no school of course, or church, or art gallery, town hall or library, just a great glass millefeuille of individuals getting on. … Other, horizontal cities are going the same way: selling off town halls, letting high streets wither in the blast of supermarket competition and closing libraries.

Of course, the privatisation of public space has been one of the recurring themes of the last fifteen years, the darker underside of property-led regeneration. London’s City Hall, for example, eight hundred metres downriver from the Shard, sits on land which seems like public space but which is privately controlled (as protesting photographers pointed out recently). Le Corbusier had an honest ambition to build a city in the sky. For the Shard, it’s just marketing. But in a recession, you have to drum up some excitement about all that empty space.

The picture at the top of this post was taken by The Futures Company designer Gus Newsam. It is published here under a Creative Commons licence.

19 July 2011 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Advertising after messaging

Alex Steer writes: Chances are, if you work anywhere in marketing or media, you’ll have read something like this at some point over the last two years.

The advent of social media has changed the communications landscape forever. The old rules of advertising – in which brands pushed marketing messages out to consumers – no longer apply. Consumers, empowered by social media, are savvier and more demanding, looking for authentic brand experiences, not just messaging. To thrive in the age of social commerce, you need to provide dynamic opportunities for consumers to connect and co-create with your brand.

OK, I made this example up, but could easily have been pasted together from scores of white papers, blog posts and conference presentations. It’s the kind of rhetoric that makes us feel we can see the future, and that the future is nothing like the past.

Just one problem. It’s wrong.

Like a lot of wrong ideas, it’s a patchwork of truths. I’d like to pull out three of those truths here, then throw in one more obvious truth, to show that they create a different future environment for advertising from the received wisdom above.

The first truth is that good advertising is inductive. It presents a join-the-dots of images and information, but it leaves you to draw the conclusion, and make your own lasting association between product, advertisement and brand. That inductive spark is what draws people into good advertising – it’s why ‘Just do it’ (do what?) is a better slogan than ‘Nike products improve your sports performance’; why Apple chose ‘Think Different’ (about what?) rather than ‘Computers with an unusual operating system’. Good marketing involved engagement and co-creation long before it could be interactive.

The second truth is that digital media channels are taking the burden off advertising. It’s easy now to raise an eyebrow at old ads, crammed with product information and claims. But digital channels provide opportunities to connect with people at more points in the purchase cycle, from early consideration (websites, apps) to after-sales support (Twitter, instant messaging). In a ‘just-in-time’ information environment, less shouting is required.

The third truth, as Andrew Curry noted in his piece on the future of advertising, is that consumers are better interpreters of media messaging now. But this is a long-term product of the old media, not just the new. Sheer volume of exposure makes us both less attentive to individual messages, and more critical of them when we do notice them. Some long-term shifts in social values and attitudes to power and authority are also driving this.

I promised the fourth truth would be obvious, and it is. We may all know that markets are conversations, but this is often quoted as if all it said was ‘markets are not diatribes’. But conversations are purposeful as well as interactive. So the fourth truth is that, in a media environment with more noise and fragmented attention, it is more important for marketers to get to the point.

This fourth truth casts doubt on the idea that advertising’s role now is just to represent a brand’s values entertainingly in an ongoing dialogue with consumers. It suggests, instead, a future in which advertising messages need to be more surgical and more rewarding of attention – delivering that engaging, inductive payload to the right people, in the right channels, and just in time.

This is a moment of change. The power of media participation is in the hands of a public impatient with propaganda and noise. But the alternative to noise can be signal as well as silence. Advertising needs to step up, not give up.

 

The picture at the top is courtesy of Coker College, and is used with thanks.

12 July 2011 at 9:19 am 4 comments

The futures of fashion

Claudia Rimington writes: What is the future shape of fashion retailing? We did some internal micro-research on this recently in our London office – exploring the drivers of change which may shape the sector and identifying some of the ways in which fashion brands may change as a result.

We came up with six possibilities:, laid out here in no particular order:

  • Caravanserai: An online store which sells the “most beautiful fashion from around the world”.  Maori scarves and cashmere knits from the north Himalayas are typical products. Clothing is rare, fair trade and tagged so you can see the artisan who made it.  A brand for well travelled ABC1s.
  • Trunk Show: A pop up store which sell one off garments by emerging talent, such as artschool fashion grads or graphic designers.  At the show you meet the maker, buy unique items and take part in a one off event.  You have to be ‘in the know’ to find out about it and news circulates only a few days before. Locations include construction sites and disused buildings.
  • Neetwear: A company founded and ran by ‘NEETS’ – the British government’s slightly dismissive acronym for people ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’.   By working for NEETWARE, the NEETS get a start with a job and some skills. The clothing they make is high quality basics with twist: functional/crafted duffle coats and jeans.
  • Iris: A clothing store which makes tailored clothes using digital technology. Customers are measured up by advanced scanning technology in an in-store booth.  The items they want are customized and sent in the post.  Targeted at the busy female urbanite who wants things ‘just right for her’.
  • ‘Tailor’ made: A brand which connects you with talented ‘tailors’ in developing countries.  The tailors sit on an umbrella website, where they sell their eclectic but high quality garments. You get distinctive clothing at a fair price – fair for everybody involved.
  • Selica: A brand which sells exceptionally high quality garments with a minimalist aesthetic. Clothes from here are ‘investment pieces’. Each item lasts for years (pieces come with a Five Year guarantee) and can be worn everyday – the straightforward designs guarantee to match all items in the wardrobe.

The thinking behind such sessions is to keep us on our toes in thinking about how innovation spaces might develop in a particular category or sector, and as ever the challenge is imagining how such emerging futures might scale. Of these, ‘Tailor’-Made seemed to have most potential: crafts portal Etsy meets micro loan site Kiva before crashing headlong into the strong trends around the intention economy.

The picture at the top of the post was taken by TheCyberGypsy, and is used here with thanks.

8 July 2011 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

Changing green

David Bersoff writes: In the US, the current thinking is that ‘green’ and sustainability have become flaccid consumer touch points. But while The Futures Company has found decreases in the level of green activity, our analysis shows that these decreases are not evenly distributed. Instead, the biggest declines in green behavior were disproportionately centered among those with the least commitment to living green.

Apparently, without a tide of marketplace excitement, media attention and green chic to sweep them along, the least committed dropped many of the behaviors in which they were previously engaged. In contrast, the more committed became somewhat less zealous in some areas, but stepped up in others for a net gain in green activity participation.

In contrast to the behavioral data, the attitudinal trends show a significant cooling towards environmentalism even among the greenest consumers.  While it is not uncommon for behavior sometimes to outstrip attitudes, this is not a stable state of affairs. Decreased attitudinal support may over time lead to the erosion of green activity participation if left unaddressed, especially regarding those activities that are not perceived to yield secondary benefits. In addition, with a less fertile attitudinal soil to plant them in, it becomes much more difficult to introduce new sustainability-oriented behaviors into the marketplace, especially those that require significant lifestyle change.

Ultimately organizations need to develop long-term strategies for helping people lead greener lives that can be effective even in the face of consumer passivity and lack of interest. Going forward, to the extent possible, green needs to baked into marketplace offerings, and not offered as an option that consumers can take or leave.

But the history of sustainability over a generation has shown quite sharp peaks and troughs in consumer engagement. There are real risks for organizations in deciding to wait until the next crisis before taking decisive action on sustainability issues. If they do, they may find that the severity of both the expectations and the necessary speed of response will be far more expensive and disruptive than taking the lead today on sustainability issues – regardless of the current environmental ennui in the US marketplace.

The image at the top of this post is from Carbon Rally, and is used here with thanks.

4 July 2011 at 9:22 am Leave a comment


The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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