Generation Z

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the ‘Engaging Youth – Hot Trends & Insights’ Conference at the Museum of London Docklands and it certainly lived up to it’s name.  A jam packed day full of largely client side speakers from the likes of Twitter, BBC, Cancer Research and News UK to name a few, sharing their experiences and work they have done with teens and young adults. Each and every paper was fascinating, with the stats and stories they shared reminding me how important it is that we recognise the differences between this group and those who have been before. Whilst debated amongst speakers whether we can really call Gen Z ‘digital natives’, (with some arguing only children today are true ‘digital natives’) it was most certainly agreed that this is an audience, that as challenging as they may be, brands need to win over.

At Razor, we’ve been doing lots of work with this age group, talking everything from soft drinks to Vlogging so it was great to hear directly from clients the challenges and struggles they’ve face and to be given examples of how they’ve found success. What was apparent across talks, and a real ‘PHEW!’ moment as a market researcher, was a consensus that for brands to successfully talk to teens and young adults, they haveto engage with them and spend time in their worlds. Dan Walsh, Head of Marketing at the BBC, addressed this issue head on when he said we must ‘quit making marketing for marketers and make campaigns that build and develop the real dreams and ambitions of your audience’ – he described how BBC 1Xtra listened to and spent time with young adults, understanding their worlds in order to make campaigns that inspire them and importantly, give something back to them.

Tariq Slim (Head of Tech and Telco at Twitter) gave some good examples of how brands can give back by engaging in two way conversations, listening and responding to what young people want in real time. He confirmed what we hear from a lot of the young people we’ve spoken to, that brands need to be having these honest, ‘live’ conversations and talking to them on their platforms and at the times they are online, because if they aren’t, someone else will be. And when it comes to platforms, trends are changing faster than ever before, ‘social media’ can no longer just be bundled into one bucket so brands need to understand the different purposes different social media sites fill – Ben Whitelaw from News UK boldly claimed that “Facebook is now a graveyard, used to arrange events” and “video is no longer a 16:9 media format that you just ‘play’, it’s become something that’s experienced” – this is clearly apparent in the rise of platforms like SnapChat, Vines, YouTube and Periscope and I wonder whether brands could be doing more in their comms to reflect the tone and content that Gen Z are watching

I left the conference with my brain working overtime thinking of all the new facts, figures and ideas I’d learnt, Gen Z are certainly a savvy bunch who very much want to know what brands can do for them and I for one will be keeping a close eye on this important generation.

What is an insight? Ask Werner Herzog

Clients pay us to ‘find’ them and we spend hours deciphering for them but remind me again… what exactly is an insight?

There are many competing definitions out there. This video from the APG gets close but is probably better on what an insight isn’t than what an insight is.

Like all things in life (or in my life, anyway), I think the answer lies in the philosophy of Werner Herzog.  For those that have never heard of him, Herzog is an incomparable German film director and documentary-maker. Incomparable because in the making of his film Fitzcarraldo, a film about a man who pulled a boat over a mountain to get to the river on the other side, he actually pulled a boat over a mountain. Incomparable because, while being interviewed by Mark Kermode outside his home in LA, he was shot by a sniper with an air rifle and barely flinched, declaring it an ‘insignificant bullet’. I could go on but suffice it to say, he is a director of incredibly powerful films.

So what does he have to do with insights? The guiding philosophy of his filmmaking – the thing that ties his documentaries to his works of fiction – is an idea he calls ‘ecstatic truth’ (stay with me now). He defines this in opposition to the ‘accountant’s truth’, which is concerned only with recounting facts; ecstatic truth, on the other hand, is the deeper, more illuminating truth beneath the facts. The only way you get there is through effort, style and craft. In documentary cinema, where debates about the ethics of representing ‘reality’ are ever-present, this idea has come in for criticism but I think it has parallels to what we do in qualitative research – another endeavour concerned with representing reality.

Bad research is the mere relaying of findings – ‘he said that’, ‘she said this’ (what Werner would call the ‘accountant’s truth’). Good research – research that generates insights – involves the interpretation of those findings to arrive at a truth that belies them. An insight, then, is a sort of ‘ecstatic truth’. It’s not the truth, rather a persuasive, powerful and illuminating reading of the facts. And, let’s not forget, something that will hopefully unlock the client’s problem.

So there’s my attempt at defining an insight, via Werner Herzog. Of course, if you buy into this definition it also means an insight (and qualitative research in general) is unfalsifiable but we’ll conveniently save that for another blog post. 

(PS. In a good example of his ‘ecstatic truth’, here’s a video of Herzog on the depressed penguins of the Antarctic. Just listen to that voice.)

Premier League Re-brand

The Premier League introduced their newly rebranded logo this week, in an attempt to appeal to both fans and sponsors. The UK’s top football league was created in 1992, and due to it’s global fan base, managed to sell the 2015 TV rights for a record £5.136 billion – yes billion! After working with the London based Design Studio and Robin Brand Consultants, the stripped back, simplistic and modern logo has now been revealed. Barclay’s have been the lead sponsor of the league since 2001, which is a partnership due to end in 2017. The league will now have seven partnered sponsors with Nike and EA already involved.

The rebrand has prompted mixed reactions; with some annoyed there is no longer a reference to the sport in the new logo. But what was the key reason for change? The idea is that this new identity will feel less corporate, going back to grass roots, the communities and supporters who play and watch the sport.

The managing director of the Premier League, Richard Masters says, “Our current visual identity is very corporate, very blue and white like lots of other sports brands are”. The focus is looking to move away from the numbers and the money, towards the work off the pitch and the people that play on them. The more the brand can relate to the fans, the more appealing it will be to the sponsors, soon to be Nike and EA. The logo will launch officially at the start of the 2016/2017 season, and will hopefully benefit the English league’s global image, competing against the likes of Spanish and German leagues.

‘Whatever you do, don’t buy our product’ – The value of putting off consumers

Earlier this year Ikea’s head of sustainability declared that ‘peak home furnishings’ had been reached. We’ve all got too much stuff, he said. The irony of this statement would be overwhelming were it not for the fact that it’s actually fairly common behaviour these days.

Take Heineken. Under the snappy title of ‘Moderate Drinkers Wanted’, their recent TV campaign celebrates a man who turns down a bottle of Heineken and retires home early. How responsible of them.

The most overt execution of this approach was made by Patagonia – the original Responsible Company – in 2011. They released a full-page ad in the New York Times breaking down the environmental cost of their R2 fleece with the injunction ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’. In a triumph of cognitive dissonance, sales of the jacket went up that year.

But if the product really is bad for us/society/the planet, why are they continuing to make it? And why are they putting the onus on us to reduce our consumption of it, rather than on themselves to reduce supply? Of course, that’s not the point. It’s about principles.

Implicit to every contradictory declaration not to buy a product is a rather worthy set of values: ‘we’d actually prefer that you didn’t buy our products because we care more about you/society/the planet than making money’. Whether this is authentic or not is a moot point (and whether that’s even provable is equally moot) – because there is a commercial imperative to all this.

As research has shown, the proverbial Millennial is much more inclined than previous generations to make purchase decisions according to their values. As a result, brands are beginning to reflect these values back at them – hence the recent rash of right-on messages. But with increased scrutiny over those that fail to deliver on their promises, only brands that are able to convince of their sincerity stand a chance of prevailing in this increasingly moralistic landscape.

Telling people not to buy your product, then, is just one way of expressing this sincerity. And as brand value is increasingly equated with values, expect to see much more of this sort of thing: ‘Don’t buy our product’ (buy our values).

The Global Language of the Emoji

There is certainly a case for emojis to be claimed as a global language, as its popularity and usage continues to surge with generation Z, Millennials and above. The concept behind ‘emojis’ has been around for centuries, perhaps less commonly known as iconography, which is defined as ‘pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject’. So do not be fooled into thinking this method of visual communication is a 21st century idea invented and used only by the ‘youth’!

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Recently, I received a text message where a friend was ranting about some first world problems, to which I could’ve easily ignored, but I wanted to show a certain level of interest. As busy day-to-day life started to take over I just didn’t have time to construct a perfectly written, sympathetic reply. It seemed easier to simply send an emoji of the facial expression associated with the issue [Grinning face with smiling eyes]. This acknowledged the message and without typing a single word, I had shown some form of sympathy. The emoji also works so well along side text due to the difficulty of tone. For instance, sarcasm, which is near impossible to show through a text, is now easily understood with the simple addition of iconography.

Some critics are claiming that emojis are creating an ‘illiterate generation’ as words are being replaced by images for simple communication purposes. I find this hyperbolic. By using emojis, you must have an understanding of the words and meaning associated to them, which by no means will make people illiterate.

As I have been reading around the subject, I stumbled upon an interested website, emojitracker.com. The website shows ‘real time emoji use on twitter’ which gives you a live reel of how frequently (rapidly) these symbols are being used in peoples tweets. The site has masses of data around the usage; how one could interpret and benefit from this is another matter.

McDonalds have taken advantage of emojis popularity in a recent advertising campaign using a series of images to tell a story. The billboards displayed across the UK used different emojis to tell the tale of how McDonalds makes people happy; or so they claim too. Whether or not you believe the advert, it certainly has a simple and effective message. More importantly, everyone understands what it is saying to them. It does the job and you can’t dispute that.

Clearly, emojis are not just used on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and such by generation Z. They are used across many formats, by individuals (of all ages) and now by corporations for communicative purposes in advertising/marketing. Evidently this is not just a phase nor will iconography ever replace good old fashion words, but they are certainly providing a more dynamic addition for the masses.

Living life through her own lens

I admit it. I am an Instagram addict. Look on my account and you’ll see close to 1000 posts, a brimming collection of images including montages of my dinners, my friends, my dog, a generous helping of selfies and of course a whole bundle of beautifully edited #instaquotes. So it was quite surprising when last night, whilst listening to one of my favourite podcasts, I found myself whole heartedly agreeing with the familiar voices discussing their views on our society’s seeming obsession with living their lives through the lens of their smartphones.

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The conversation took me back to a gig I attended a few months ago in Kentish Town. I love live music; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a classical orchestra or a 90’s garage remix, there’s something magical about being in a room with a bunch of strangers all fixated on the creative outpourings of whatever musical genius is stood in front of us all, holding our lighters up in appreciation. At least, it used to be like that. Now it’s more like, holding your iPhone up to add to your Snapchat story, or to video the whole event OR waiving your iPad around trying to take endless selfies. Yes you read that right. Selfies with an iPad! Who takes a iPad to a gig? Well, apparently lots of people do… And actually now that I come to think of it, lenses and screens and devices are now LITERALLY everywhere. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a handful of people stood taking a photo or video of whatever is going on around them, no matter how mundane it might appear to be.

The tablet-wielding fans peppered throughout the dozen or so rows ahead of me at that gig in Kentish town meant that my view of the stage was actually pretty restricted. I guess it’s my own fault for thinking my eyes and ears were all I needed to attend a live gig. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for capturing the moment, but what about if you’re so concerned with capturing the moment on a device that you actually end up missing out on the moment itself- or even worse ruining the moment for others?

Are our memories now that bad that unless it’s caught on camera we can’t recall it ever happening? Perhaps it’s not about remembering; perhaps it’s about proving to other people that we’ve done and seen the things we say we have? Furthermore, perhaps it’s all just about social currency and our own outward portrayal of the lives we live?

Eitherway, I’m not sure I like this whole living life through a lens ‘thang’ that seems to be going on. I think it says a lot about where we all are as a society right now, and where we’re headed. I’m guilty of doing this exact thing (perhaps not to the extent that I carry a tablet around with me everywhere), but perhaps from now on I’ll try to be a little more selective in the moments I choose to capture, just so my brain doesn’t forget how to hold on to those memories on it’s own, but also so I don’t get in the way of someone elses.

Keep it simple Stupid

It’s ten years now since the book ‘The Paradox of Choice’ was published – the central theme of which is that more choice does not always equal better decision making. Classical economic theory maintains that more choice is always better for the customer. But as is often the case, what might be true of homo economicus is not necessarily true of home sapiens. As humans, we’re not capable of meaningfully comparing our choices when there are large amounts available. In fact, bigger choice can actually make us less satisfied with our final decision – the more options we have had to reject to reach our preference, the more we suspect we may have made the wrong decision, and the less happy we are. Simple, straightforward choices between fewer items leaves us more likely to make a choice, and more satisfied with the choice we make.

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So the typical supermarket aisle – with 28 different tomato ketchup options, or 228 air freshener SKUs – may not just be benignly useless, but may in fact be doing damage to a customer’s ultimate satisfaction with their shopping experience. Tesco were recently in the news for seeming to latch onto this phenomenon – they are reducing their SKUs by 30% to help people ‘baffled’ by the choice on offer (although whether there is a less altruistic motive around profit levels is up for discussion!).

Since its publication, the central themes of ‘The Paradox of Choice’ have of course been up for robust debate. But as consumer researchers, it is clear to us that consumers don’t engage their brain for every purchase – neither do they want to. After all, there are far more important things in life than what can of baked beans to buy. So instead when faced with mountains of choice, consumers default to heuristics – shortcuts to purchase – to help them make their decisions. We know how important NPD is, but we also believe that self-serving innovation shouldn’t be the default option for our clients who come to us with business issues around fragmented markets and decreasing market share. Instead, we believe investigating the heuristics and true emotional drivers around our clients’ brands, and coming up with strategies to capitalise on them, is at least as important as adding yet another SKU to the aisle.

A few days ago we were discussing this with one of our media clients – in these days of endless content options, what is the role for a traditional TV or radio channel? Are we, as consumers of content, happier now we have 70+ channels, or is the Fear of Missing Out making us feel like no matter how good the content we consume is, there is always something better out there which if we were just connected enough, or cool enough, we would be discussing round the water cooler? Will ‘channels’ as we know them even exist in a few years’ time, or instead will the media brands we now take for granted instead act as curators to and decision facilitators for the vast amount of content available?

It’s not just in our product and service decisions that the paradox of choice comes into play. Psychologists are conjecturing that the advent of online dating – particularly low involvement, high volume sites like Tindr – is negatively impacting our ability to maintain long term relationships. In the ‘old days’, the number of people you could meet was relatively finite. So you might find a person who fits you pretty well, and simply work harder to make that relationship last – after all, who knows when the next chance will come along? But now, a quick ‘swipe right’ will get you countless new opportunities to find the ‘perfect person’ – so perhaps those little annoying habits that we might have previously overlooked will send relationships to the scrap heap quicker than before.

We believe there are implications for research, too. Clearly, surveys that show vast lists and long grids run the risk of getting meaningless results (yet brands still hang onto their gargantuan brand trackers!). Who really compares items on 10, 15 or even 20 different characteristics? We believe that well designed, concise, simple surveys will give far more representative and useful findings than 45-minute monsters.

And in qualitative research, while workshop exercises such as brainstorms, projectives, and collages can be brilliantly effective, we believe too much research runs the risk of being over-complicated, designed to win projects with ‘clever thinking’, rather than with the consumer in mind. Sure, some consumers relish the kind of creativity we ask of them – but asking consumers to jump through hoops doesn’t always access their true behaviours and motivations. We believe research should be designed with consumer wellbeing in mind as much as our clients’. And often, this means taking a step back from the complicated methods that seem to be becoming ever more common, as every agency looks for a point of difference. At Razor, we love a creative technique, when applied sensitively, at the right time, in the right project. But above all we believe in using great moderators, speaking to the right people, and keeping it simple.

The Misfit Economy Explained

We live in turbulent economic times. Hyperbolic as it sounds, change and uncertainty are the only guarantees now. As a result, the old ways of doing things simply won’t cut it anymore. But in the figure of ‘The Misfit’, authors Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips think they may have identified the qualities needed to survive and thrive in this new landscape.

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So who exactly are they, these misfits? They’re the ones operating on the fringes (though not exclusively), challenging convention and applying their ingenuity in the face of often considerable resistance. They’re resourceful, creative and full of belief – in themselves and in what they’re trying to do. And there’s lots we can learn from them.

In ‘The Misfit Economy’, Clay and Maya Phillips detail the exploits of misfits operating in spheres as diverse as hacking, drug trafficking, camel milk trading and, weirdest of all, management consultancy. They even dip into history: we learn that pirates – of the peg-leg, black beard variety – pioneered a form of radical democracy, ‘hacking’ the command and control structure found on merchant ships.

This notion of ‘hacking’ is intrinsic to the misfit approach – not in the sense of cracking code but rather ‘taking on the establishment in order to change it for the better’. Together with ‘hustling’, ‘copying’, ‘provoking’ and ‘pivoting’ it represents one of the five essential principles of the misfit mentality. To bring out our own ‘inner misfits’, these are the qualities we would need to adopt.

Of course, its quite difficult to imagine how you might do that when your point of comparison is a lord of the criminal underworld. But it is to the author’s credit that they also include examples of ‘insider misfits’ as well – those in major corporations who are trying to re-shape the way things are done.

Focussing on both the formal and informal economies in this way also helps us to see not only the parallels that exist between them (namely, the pursuit of profit) but also how they can learn from each other. This is particularly interesting when it comes to the principle of ‘copying’: could the copycat practices of the black market actually foster innovation rather than hinder it? Protecting ideas from so-called copycats means they don’t get exposed to ideas which might actually make them better – and lead to more lasting innovation.

For this and many other reasons, ‘The Misfit Economy’ makes for a provocative, insightful read. If you’re looking for an unorthodox book on business – a ‘misfit’ one, even – then look no further.

The Smartest 16 year old we know

Being a teenager, I often feel a bit like a guinea pig. One of millions enduring a mandatory science experiment, concocted in a lab of white cloaked men and women. If this was a science lesson, I would be expected to identify the ‘aim’ of this investigation, and I feel it would be something like this: to investigate the effects of social media of the human mind.

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The old age question seems to be: do the media, the celebrity image and the models affect the self image of vulnerable, easily influenced teenagers? Well, the answer is not really. At sixteen years old, it is not those glossy images that make me rethink my appearance (since everyone became aware of the existence of Photoshop) but the images directed straight onto my phone screen by people much closer to home. The constant bombardment of the perfect ‘selfie’ is enough to make anyone feel rather inadequate. I admit, seeing all the white toothed, perfectly pouted, eyebrow plucked – to within an inch of their lives – images of people I ‘know’ (notice the quotation marks, since to ‘know’ someone in social media terms for my age group can constitute as loose a connection as a friend of a friend’s friend) it does somewhat instil a sense of disaffection when looking in the mirror. I do not myself face a real crisis of self image, but the art of comparison is one that I seem to have mastered: comparing my own appearance to others, comparing others to others. This trait has inevitably translated into having a slightly more judgemental view of myself and other people, as reluctant as I am to admit that. If this is a reflection of all my contemporaries, surely our generation and all those that follow will have more critical perceptions of other people?

The very nature of ‘social media’ should be to be sociable whilst using it; obviously, sitting behind a screen on your own is anything but. Sometimes I find myself using my facebook account to feel connected to others, when the apparently alien concept of spending time with a person escapes my consideration. What is more, I often find that a majority of the ‘friends’ I have on facebook and those I ‘follow’ are people I am neither interested in or particularly like, yet I spend a lot of time finding out about their ‘outfit of the day’ or what ‘throwback’ they are reminiscing about each Thursday. When I consider how all those hours trawling through newsfeeds of this nature could have been spent talking to a real human being, it does make me a little ashamed. If anything, social media has made me lonelier than I was before, as I have found it is easy to forget that typing is different to talking, and ‘liking’ is poles apart to connecting with someone in the way our forefathers used to do: face to face.

It is easy to recognise the negatives of it all, but without action – taking a stand to go cold turkey and delete the apps from your phone – all this discussion is relatively pointless. I know that once I have finished typing this up, I’ll reach for my phone and loose myself in the online lives of others until I’m satisfied. I suppose it’s like an addiction: the habit you can’t kick. It’s my reliance on the stuff that worries me: it’s almost like without it, you are not in the loop, not involved, not included, and if you’re constantly removed from this bubble of likes, comments and post: you’re invisible.

Of course, young people are not the only ones subjected to the ugly side effects of ‘liking’ and ‘posting’, older generations arguably experience these psychological effects with as much poignancy as teenagers do. But as we have grown up with this technology, in a way no other generation can claim to, we have evolved and developed our characters with social media in mind. We adapt to our surroundings, and if our surroundings feed us with the fuel to criticise the appearance and lives of others, as well as encouraging us to be absorbed in the virtual world in sacrifice of reality, I don’t imagine this adaption to be in aid of making us better people, rather a lonely bunch of bitter narcissists.

Sitting back at the desk in period 5 Biology, I would probably then be encouraged to make a prediction as to the outcome of this experiment. It is hard to do this without assessing the long term effects on our generation, and obviously these have not surfaced yet. However, I have a strong feeling that when the results of the experiment are recorded and analysed, an unattractive reality will be uncovered.