Ideas And Their Six Degrees Of Separation

Quick Read: Ideas, like people, could be said to have their own “6 Degrees of Separation” i.e., any idea in the world can potentially be related to another idea in the world with a maximum of 6 connections. And if this hypothesis is right, it can have major implications on marketing. 

What are you thinking right now? This comic by Richard McGuire appeared in 1990.

Richard McGuire(What Are You Thinking Right Now, Richard McGuire. Source)

While it is a wonderful comic and a fun reflection on how we think, for me it is a brilliant work that manages to encapsulate within the confines of a comic panel – the interconnectedness of our thoughts and ideas.

Speaking of which, just as this theory that any two people in the world can be connected to each other with a maximum of 6 steps, my hypothesis is that:

Any two ideas in the world can be related to each other in less than or equal to 6 degrees of separation. 

In other words, if you think of each idea as a node, I contend that you could potentially connect any two nodes in the “idea universe” with a maximum of 6 connections.

(One way of proving this could be as a corollary of the 6 Degrees of People Separation and mixing it with the notion that ideas make a man. And voila! You can have even a far right capitalist ideology being related to a far left communist ideology within 6 degrees of separation.)

people-exchanging-ideas-26061929(Ideas and connections, stock image)

Why is this fascinating? If the hypothesis is proven right, it can potentially have two major implications on how ideas can be sold.

Implication #1: 

Let’s take Recommendation Engines, the intelligence behind “If you like this, you might also like these” kind of recommendations that you see on Amazon

A good recommendation engine – in search, videos, online shopping, travel etc.,  has far reaching implications in delivering more relevant content to users, thereby driving sales and growing retention within the platform. In fact, as per many accounts, some companies have even gone so far as to realign their business objectives in light of recommender-driven demand, such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Disney and Apple.

Now, what if we abstract this concept of “six degrees of ideas’ separation” into an iterative, machine learning algorithm that can build up, in real time, a user’s idea map – i.e., a construct that maps out the interconnectedness of user’s ideas?

We can then perhaps use it as the back bone of a more powerful recommendation engine.

So instead of dishing out nearly hard coded, precedent based recommendations – with imperfect results –  what if the smart logic embedded in the recommendation engine can rapidly learn, iterate and replicate my idea map resulting in recommendations that almost feel like – mind reading?

That’s when I might be able to see breathtakingly personalised assortment of search results, advertisements, content and retail options appear in front of me almost at the speed (and diversity) of my thought.

Implication #2: 

Given that any of my existing ideas can potentially be connected to other ideas – and thereby products – out there, having an insight about my idea map can potentially help you sell me a new product/service. How?

By carefully structuring your sales pitch in a way that takes me gently through the different related nodes from my existing ‘idea state’ to a new ‘idea state’ that could probably help me better relate to your product.

Easier said than done, I am sure. But the outcomes here could be as thrilling as they could be scary – a signpost of every major scientific advancement over the last few decades.

On a related note..

If you enjoy the creative process of discovering and connecting disparate ideas into an insightful whole, check out Seenapse.

Seenapse

A creative technology start-up, Seenapse is an ‘inspiration engine’ that assists in your creative process by exposing you to non-obvious idea associations between seemingly disparate concepts. It is currently in a closed beta but you can get an invite by using the code: strandsofgenius. (source)

(Featured image source. H/T Austin Kleon for the riff on Richard McGuire and Faris Yakob on Seenapse)

—————————-

PS: This is my 100th blog post on BrandedNoise which got its 2020th subscriber today! A big thank you to all the readers out there who have been the source of my strength, inspiration and support. Looking forward to many more blog posts to come and a journey fuelled by creativity, curiosity and fun. A big thank you once again!!

Diffusion – Of Ideas, Infections and Innovations

Quick Read: Why do certain ideas spread faster than others?  Diffusion – a social process where people talk to people is still the way that ideas and inovations spread. Stories from diverse fields like health care and ethnic foods provide further evidence.  

Did you know the story of the humble Doctor’s coat?

Till a major part of the 19th century, a doctor’s coat used to be black in color. Why? Because a visit to a doctor had an air of ‘finality’ attached to it, almost like the solemn nature of a funeral. As per this historical account, until the late 19th century, seeking medical advice was usually a last resort and frequently a precursor to death. The reason? Poor hygiene standards in medical practice.

In fact, back in those days,  a doctor’s badge of a busy practice was their black coats stiffened with blood and remains of previous operations. Practices like washing hands, sterilising instruments were virtually unheard of in medical practice during those days.

Naturally infection became the curse of surgery – becoming the single biggest killer of patients who underwent even uncomplicated procedures. Infection was so prevalent that the discharge of pus from a surgical wound was thought to be a necessary part of healing!

Ever since then, many medical practitioners tried hard to conceive of and spread the idea of basic sanitation as an effective means to combat preventable life threatening infections. But failed.

For e.g, Ignaz Semmelweis published the earliest known studies that showed basic hand-washing to be effective at reducing mortality rates of surgery patients. His findings were known to have offended the doctors! Even Louis Pasteur’s Germ Theory or Joseph Lister‘s concept of antiseptic surgery techniques contributed little to the mainstream propogation of the idea of sanitation in health care.

grossclinic(“The Gross Clinic,” by Thomas Eakins, 1875. Source)

The break through in seeding this key idea came over the course of several years as follows.

It turned out that the key message to teach surgeons was not how to stop germs but how to think like a laboratory scientist. A few pioneering German surgeons siezed upon this idea – of the concept of surgeon as a scientist – and seeded this in their students’ minds, many of whom were young medical practitioners from US and other countries.  The result?

The students swapped their black coats for pristine laboratory whites and returned to their home countries as ambassadors not only for the use of antiseptic practice to kill germs but also to prevent germs.  Evangelising through their own students and colleagues, they finally spread the ideas worldwide.

So, the idea of basic sanitation and sterilization for health care and germ prevention spread not because of academic journals or publications, but because of social diffusion – where people (medical practitioners) talked to people (students).

Spreading a Miraclous Solution. One Person At a Time

In many parts of the world, Diarrhea remains the world’s biggest killer of children under the age of five. ORS (Oral rehydration solution) has been known to be a simple yet effective cure for the illness which required a miraculously easy formulation that can be made at almost every home around the world  (water + sugar + salt).

In 1980, a Bangladeshi nonprofit organization called BRAC embarked on a nationwide ORS adoption drive. How did they go about this? The organization didn’t launch a mass-media campaign. It attacked the problem in a way that is typically dismissed as impractical and inefficient: by going door to door, person by person, and just talking.  

ORT(Door to door ORS Education by BRAC, 1979 . Source)

They hired, trained, and deployed thousands of workers region by region who went door to door through more than 75,000 villages and showed 12 million families how to save their children with this simple solution. Eventually, the knowledge became self-propagating and child deaths from diarrhea plummeted more than 80%  between 1980 and 2005. The program was stunningly successful. (source)

Shifting gears a bit and moving over to Ethnic Foods..

 The Greek Yogurt Revolution In The US

Till 2005, Greek Yogurt was a niche segment in the US with a market value of just about $60 million. But in just 5 years a new brand, Chobani has gone to become one of the most explosive food start-ups ever to hit the market netting more than $1 billion in annual sales and rejuvenated the entire Yogurt category in the US. How did that happen?

Ofcourse, Chobani, under the visionary founder Hamdi Ulukaya,  had a brilliant execution of its mix – from clutter breaking packaging, category defying in-store placement (he is known to have insisted that Chobani packs be merchandised in the main dairy area, not in the specialty section), competitive pricing and appealing flavours.

Chobani(Chobani Ad Campaign extolling its fruity goodness. Source)

But fortunately for Chobani – the timing was just right. Consumers were adopting healthier snack options into their busier lifestyles. So much so that when someone opened a pack of Greek Yogurt, it inadvertently became an instance of conspicuous consumptiona prominent scenario of social diffusion enveloped in a message of healthy tasty snack. 

So each time a pack of Greek Yogurt was opened, it created awareness and generated talkability around Greek Yogurt’s health benefits and unique taste. And this was even before its first mass media campaign. As Niel Sandfort, Director of Marketing at Chobani says..

“Before you even think about mass media or paid media, you have to have your ducks in a row on a number of fronts.”

So by the time, the company embarked on its first mass media campaign, the size of the population that was aware of or bought Chobani at least once, reached a “tipping point“, allowing the product to take hold widely. The result? An explosion in the growth of the Greek Yogurt segment. 

Today, the Greek Yogurt category – once a niche segment –  now accounts for 36 percent of the $6.5 billion in total U.S. yogurt sales (source) with Chobani being the number one seller in the category, with nearly 52% market share in the US!

Perks Of Being A Party Food

Guacamole – is an avocado based dip that originated with the Aztecs in Mexico. But in less than a generation, it went from an unknown Mexican delicacy to becoming part of everyday cuisine as a dip, condiment and salad ingredient. This growth of gacamole  was partly because it’s a party food. i.e., people discovered it when others shared it. 

So in essence, while we yearn for frictionless, technological solutions, people talking to people is still the way that ideas and innovations spread. In fact,Diffusion of innovations – a theory by Everett Rogers that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread throughcultures – says diffusion as a social process of people talking to people is central in spreading an idea or innovation among the members of a social system.

Meanwhile Sabra – a PepsiCo owned company that sells Middle Eastern food products in the US  – is fretting that 80 million Americans have never heard of hummus

(H/T: to Seth Godin for this riff on Guacamole, to Atul Gawande for this valuable article on idea diffusion in medical practices. Featured Image source 

3D Printing, Value Chain and Lawyers

Quick Read: 3D Printing as a technology can can have revolutionary implications on all the 3 key stages of a value chain –  Manufacturing, Distribution and Retail. And not to forget lawyers!

Let’s Start With Manufacturing

Today Lego finds itself going to war with the 3D Printing technology. Why?

Because, what has happened over the last decade to music, newsprint, film and photography now seems to be threatining the world of shapes and objects. As this Washinton Post says..

Soon hobbyists…. will be able to craft their own (lego) bricks, thanks to 3D printers that make fabricating those plastic parts as convenient as going to Toys R Us. With such technology, entire structures can now be reverse-engineered, reduced into a pile of components and snapped together in minutes. 

Lego’s sophisticated molding process that currently enables it to produce 55 billion Lego pieces a year is probably not under an immediate threat from the 3D printers. But once the technical challenges like being able to meet the established tolerance levels for finish, texture and fit of various materials and being able to operate at scale are solved, which –  many experts believe is just a matter of time – Lego might be at a major  risk.

lego_ironman(Lego Ironman, Source)

So the recent remarks from Lego’s CFO John Goodwin who said “3-D printing is a fascinating development and certainly opens up a lot of new avenues” gain significance as a first ever major acknowledgment by Lego about the impending storm.

This has even led to some analysts predicting that the future for Lego could be as an Intellectual Property publisher of the digital models of their blocks, not unlike the modern record company which doesn’t actually create physical tracks anymore but just owns the IP rights of their music.

Moving Over To Distribution

Distribution (and inventory management) are known to be Amazon‘s expertise. But faster shipping can come at a price. For e.g, in Q1 2013, Amazon’s shipping costs were 4.7 percent of revenue (source). So it has reportedly been testing the grounds for newer, cheaper and faster delivery methods like drones.

But here is – what could potentially be – the billion dollar question. 

What if the whole value chain starting from maintaining inventories of raw materials, industrial scale manufacturing, packaging, palletising, shipping, bulk breaking, transporting, warehousing to distributing were to become redundant? What if we manufacture goods just in time near the final destination?  

As this article says, that’s where 3D printing comes in –  by producing goods in exactly the ordered configuration precisely when they’re needed, 3D printing is ideal for filling gaps in the supply chain (which reduces uncertainty), keeping inventory low more generally (which saves companies money on shelving) and reducing waste (which occurs when the goods aren’t sold).

Called as Just In Time manufacturing, UPS has already started to venture into this business model in a small but significant way. And the initial results are reported to be more than encouraging.

3D Printer UPS Store(3D Printer at a UPS Store, Source)

So when the largest shipment/logistics company in the world begins such seemingly ‘odd’ experiment around On demand 3D printing, it can only indicate one thing.

Even the distribution behemoths are swearing by the mantra – if you can’t beat them join them. 

And Finally Speaking Of Retail

This year’s SXSW – the annual music, film, and interactive festival being held in Austin as we speak now (from March 7 – 11) has been generating a good amount of buzz.

Oreo‘s Trending Vending Machine is an example.

Envisaged by Mondelez as a fun experiment with Twitter, the concept is a mash up between the vending machine experience and social media based real time marketing. Named, Trending Vending Machine, it has been offering the SXSW attendees Oreos with 3D printed flavours picked from trending tweets and delivered to the attendees in 2 minutes (source). This marketing effort includes the hashtag #eatthetweet.

While this certainly makes for a pretty good engagement driving initiative by Mondelez where the world of social media hashtags meets cookie cutter biscuits – literally, the underlying story here could be that of the emergent possibilities of 3D printing in the retail sector where:

  • Inventories for the retailer are non-existent and limitless at the same time!
  • Shopper engagement becomes the norm, in fact the key enabler for the whole set up
  • And finally personalisation becomes a category code, and not just a fancy differentiation strategy

In fact, going by this logic, 3 D printers could even upend the very concept of retail sector as we know it today!

After all, why would anyone even bother to walk down an aisle when all they need to do is perhaps just download a design, chose a nearest 3D printer and click PRINT?

Or shall we call it MAKE?

Some food for thought on a related note: Thanks to 3D Printing, professions like Intellectual Property and Law can be in good demand for a long long time to come!

(Featured Image: 3D Printed edible Lollies at CES 2014, Source)

Convenience – With Capital ‘C’

Quick Read: Recent innovations across sectors underscore how Convenience is at the core of their offering to the consumers who are happy to pay a premium for the same. While these could have disruptive implications to traditional business formats, they too are not far behind in figuring out the new playing field – otherwise called Convenience with a Capital ‘C’.  

Convenience as a core value proposition is getting all pervasive.

And for proof of this, one needs to just look at the vending machines in Japan or the jidohanbaiki as the Japanese call them.

Japan, they say, is like the spiritual hub of the vending machines. In fact according to this CNN report, there are currently around 5.5 million vending machines in Japan, which is one vending machine for every 23 people in the country! You have them across categories spanning every conceivable kind of location.

You have vending machines at street corners, restaurants, coffee shops, toilets, even in trams and on mountain tops selling everything from canned drinks to drinks that are supposed to be a surprise till you buy them, from hallucinogenic herbs to charms, from books peddling porn and erotica to those listing test questions for exams, from footwear to bras and panties. Almost everything and everywhere!

Regardless of the amusement that these jidohanbaiki or the vending machines in Japan evoke from people around the world, the simple grain of human truth that seems to emerge out of all this is the fact that people tend to value convenience over price on many an occasion –  irrespective of the category and location. And more so in the recent past.

More recently a Japanese food company Kagome has installed vending machines at the start/finish lines of one of the city’s major running routes to sell fresh red tomatoes to the exhausted runners. The tomatoes are priced at a 280-gram bag for 400 yen ($3.80) and a 180-gram bag for 300 yen ($2.80) which is nearly 270% higher than the price at which you would have gotten it at a supermarket in Tokyo. (as per Tokyo market prices at the time of writing this article). Despite the price premium, reports suggest that these tomatoes are selling well, given that these vending machines are said to be replenished every day.

Kagome(Kagome Tomato Vending Machine. Source)

What does the consumer value here? Kagome – it appears – is not actually selling tomatoes through their vending machines, but a natural alternative to energy drinks and bars delivered at your convenience.

Let’s Take Pharmacy

Disrupting the equation that patients traditionally had with their doctors, insurance agents and drug stores, IDEO has recently worked with a startup to design PillPack. This short video explains the concept neatly.

As this FastCompany article says, PillPack is an end-to-end pharmacy and delivery service for pharmaceuticals that is using design to vastly simplify the process of swallowing pills each day. You don’t have to worry about pillboxes, reminders, refills, insurance, co-pay, ad hoc doctors’ prescriptions etc; PillPack takes care of all that for you. All you need to do is tear off the latest M&M Fun Size packet and swallow what’s inside when it tells you to.

Costing $20 per month for the user, PillPack’s service is an interesting example of how – despite several regulatory, legal and FDA challenges that govern drug/drug delivery –  selling healthcare in a convenient package could indeed be big business. In fact, the company has now successfully raised $4M in funding from investors and is boldly stepping up its bid to become the top mail-order pharmacy disrupting all existing players in the traditional value chain.

PillPack

Again, which business is PillPack in? Drug delivery? Or is it Convenience in medication?   

Fashion Retailing

Lamoda is an online fashion retailer in Russia. Albeit with a twist. Not only does Lamoda’s uniformed deliveryman bring the clothes that a customer orders, but he also waits for her to try them on, offers fashion advice, takes returns, and processes her payment on the spot.

Lamoda(Delivering the experience of your local store at your door step, Lamoda. Picture source)

As per this Businessweek report, Lamoda currently employs about 700 couriers and services 1.5 million active users in Russia with sales of more than 6 billion rubles in 2013 despite the logistical challenge of having had to deliver mail orders to the world’s most sprawling nation, spanning nine time zones with an extremely unreliable postal service. The fact that Lamoda looks at it as a serious bet on the business of offering convenience to its customers becomes apparent when you look at its underlying cost structure.

Reports say that despite the cost of delivery for Lamoda accounting for as much as 25 percent of an order totaling less than $1oo, the company doesn’t charge for shipping and keeps prices at the same level as in stores. As a result, its 2013 annual expenses were expected to have exceeded its annual sales. And the interesting part is this. These current losses haven’t stopped investors from betting big on Lamoda’s potential. Over the past two years, Lamoda has raised more than $200 million from billionaire Len Blavatnik, JPMorgan Chase, Kering etc.

Is Lamoda selling clothes? Or Convenience? It appears to be a moot question again.

Retailers not far behind in the new game

Interestingly the underlying theme common in all these 3 examples – Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines, mail order pharmacy business model of PillPack and Lamoda‘s clothing courier with a twist of convenience – is unmissable. The brick and mortar store as it stands today is at threat.

But it appears they are not far behind. For the first time in decades US cities are said to be growing faster than suburbs with customers seeking convenience more than anything else. So, stores like Target and Walmart are embarking on major experiments in scaling down, finding the right locations while ensuring the right formats in order to cater to this convenience seeking urban dweller.

With emerging markets rapidly catching up in spending power, with money value of time increasing for average consumers and an infinite ocean of choice to choose from in virtually every single category, convenience has already become a key differentiating factor.

Probably in a very near future, most products and services will have offerings that sell convenience as their core value proposition. Otherwise they are perhaps in the fitness industry.

(Featured Image: Vending Machine atop Mt Fuji, Japan. Source)

Video Games As Disruptive Innovation?

Quick Read: Today’s video games like Grand Theft Auto V, are more than just stunning life like gaming experiences. We could have some exciting possibilities here – where experiential & interactive branding can be embedded in games. And more interestingly, a world where video games can be virtual beta testing grounds for new product and UX design. These could be potential disruptive innovations for fields like Market Research and Product Design. 

Visit Los Santos & Blaine County – where plastic surgery, bad movies and big sharks rule the roost – see for yourself.

So says the landing page of Grand Theft Auto V – the super hit block buster action adventure video game that has been rated as the fastest selling entertainment product in world history.

It broke industry sales records by earning US $800 million in the first 24 hours of its release, and US $1 billion within its first three days.

gta-5-grand-theft-auto-99

One of the key features of the game is that it has an Open World game level design – i.e., a world where a player can roam freely through the fictional city of Los Santos and is given considerable freedom in choosing how or when to approach objectives. So as a character in the game you have the freedom to spend your time pursuing adventure sports, lounge about by the beach, go shopping, visit the local artisan, enjoy music and other such entertainment options.

Los Santos(The Landing Page of GTA-V that lists the possibilities and features of Los Santos city and Blaine County)

But Fernando Pereira Gomes – a street photographer by passion and a game enthusiast who went to the midnight launch of the game and played the night away, noticed something even more interesting.

He noticed that the characters in the game had phones with cameras at all times during the game play. This means the players can practically take pictures from within the game(!) and upload these. So with this new tool, and the huge world of Los Santos and its streets, he started experimenting with the camera and went on to take some truly stunning photographs that he has started to share on his blog. Ever since its launch, his blog and the pictures have been rapidly climbing up the popularity charts – thanks to the ingenuity of his idea and the beauty he captures from within the game’s landscape. See a demo video on how he does it here. Now that is Street Photography taken to a completely new level!

He goes on to say..

What I found was remarkable. The game is so realistic that it felt like being in the streets outside, running around for shots, anticipating passersby’s movements and reactions. In a way, it was also incredibly frightening that these algorithms could look so real, or is it that we ourselves are becoming ever more algorithmic?

StreetPhotoV(Los Santos Street Photo by Fernando Pereira Gomes sourced from his blog)

On first look this is fascinating for two reasons:

  1. For the GTA V’s rich media, content and the game design that enables such  interesting possibilities (makes a definitive commentary on the evolution of game design).
  2. And for the creativity and ingenuity of someone like Fernando Gomes who has ventured beyond the apparent possibilities in the game and went on to make a mark for himself.

On second look, and from a marketer’s and a product designer’s stand point, I thought there could be even more compelling possibilities dormant here waiting to be realised. Two things I could think of:

In Game Experiential Branding

In game branding is nothing new. But how about adding an experiential / interactive angle to this ‘in game branding’? More specifically, how about, say a brand like Samsung, tying up with the game franchise and embedding its full camera functionality in the game’s camera phone? Wouldn’t it be an interesting way to let the gamers – many of whom tend to be tech’s early adopters and thereby potential customers of “the latest phone out there” –  try out the phone’s exciting new features?

The opportunities of ‘customer involvement’ here could be limitless – almost life like with little risk involved while affording an almost first person experience of the phone and/or its camera to the user. The best part is the free marketing that these early adopters could do for the brand if and when they share these pics on their social network.

A Virtual Beta Testing Ground For The Upcoming Wearables  

Let’s take Google Glass as an example  (one among the most awaited wearables in the market for 2014). As we speak now, it is in its Beta testing phase with some early adopters signing up to use, explore, develop and test new possibilities. In fact an Android developer Mike DiGiovanni looking to test the concept of using Glass as a second screen, has managed to capture Grand Theft Auto’s crucial in-game GPS interface, beaming it to the player’s Google Glass eyepiece in real time (source).

But how about embedding the functionality of  something like Google Glass within the game and let the players use it and explore its possibilities by themselves? I would guess something like this could give a treasure trove of real time feedback and insights to the product designers in order for them to refine its design and functionality.

Google Glass

Implications

Ben Hammersley  in his must read WIRED article on Wearables as the 3rd wave of computing, rightly says that when it comes to something like Google Glass, how our social progress plays out will be just as interesting as the technology itself. The social component of the implications would probably need to be tested and tried in real life, but the technology component and its possibilities can perhaps be tested in the game’s ‘reel’ life already today.

And may be when the game design becomes so smart to be able to reflect life like social dynamics – a not so unlikely prospect in the near future –  we might not even need the good old focus group or the hordes of beta testers!

Now, that could be a disruptive innovation for market research and product design!

Market research agencies and product designers of the world – hope you are investing in video games. No?

(Featured Image: Source, Fernando Pereira Gomes Street Photography on the streets of Los Santos within the game Grand Theft Auto V)

The Business of Belief

Quick Read: Every business that we know of can be said to be in the ‘business of belief’. While a majority of these business thrive on building and sustaining our beliefs, there are also ones that thrive on breaking down and challenging our beliefs. 

Arguably every business that we can think of can be said to be in the Business of Belief.

While most businesses that we see around can prove this point, RIEDEL glasses are a very straight forward example.

RIEDEL is an expensive line of glassware designed to deliver the wine’s ‘message’ via the carefully crafted form of the receptacle. In other words, Riedel has built a thriving business of glassware by driving a belief that the shape of their glasses can make wines test better!

Skeptical? The story goes that even experts and wine critics were – several of them skeptical of this seemingly implausible claim.

And yet today, hundreds of wine experts, and thousands of customers now swear it’s true. Taste tests throughout Europe and the U.S. were said to have proven time and again that wine — expensive or inexpensive — tasted better in Riedel glasses.

riedelo

Except it’s not true. At least not empirically. (source)

When subjected to double-blind testing that doesn’t let the taster know the shape of the glass, people found no detectable difference in taste between glasses. Objectively, the shape of the glass just doesn’t matter.

But subjectively, when belief in the story and the experience of the glass are added back in the mix, it matters. And the wine does taste better to these people. Today some Riedel glasses sell for more than 100 dollars each and people covet these over other lower priced glass ware!

Therefore, sensing a branding opportunity that is waiting to be leveraged, Coke has recently tied up with Riedel to come up with a glass that “is designed to enhance the drinking experience”. The Coke site goes on to explain..

Shaped by trial and error by a panel of industry experts and Coca-Cola lovers, this form captures the distinct spices, aroma, and taste of Coca-Cola and creates a magical sensorial experience… A unique glass for a taste like no other.

RIEDEL+Coke(Riedel + Coke, Source)

While this ‘glass act’ by Coke drew myriad views from the F&B industry, it nevertheless makes for an interesting commentary on Riedel as a company that has thrived by systematically building a business of belief.

Meanwhile elsewhere…

Interestingly there also exist businesses that build a following for precisely the opposite reason – by belying beliefs and tearing down expectations each single time they offer something to the consumer.

Take The Art of Dining – a business that sets up theme based pop up dining experiences – as an example.

As part of their model, Ellen Parr and Alice Hodge, put on theme-based pop up restaurants mostly in London. The venues – always unusual and unexpected – have so far included a 16th century mansion, an eel and pie shop, the Victorian Dalston Boys Club, and the army barracks on City Road while the themes range from wartime rationing to the Food of Love. The whole experience is like eating within an interactive art installation. Each of their dining event is thus an experience that belies conventional expectations and common beliefs on what is to come.

A Night With The Mistress(Themed as ‘A Night With The Mistress’, guests were required to put on a blind fold when they ate, Picture Source)

Their recent series called Say Cheese – the photography of Martin Parr in five courses, is the duo’s latest example on how they have cemented their expertise in their signature experiential model – Set up expectations, evoke the guests’ pre conditioned beliefs and pull the rug off their feet as they take the plunge. 

This is how it works:

  • You enter a typical English café setting: gingham table cloths, plastic flowers on the table, pictures of Lady Diana and Mrs Tatcher, copies of the Sun etc
  • The waiting staff are mostly English, wearing floral pinnies
  • And this is where it starts to get interesting -You don’t get a conventional menu, but a set of 5 photos by Martin Parr – the legendary photographer
  • And here is the twist: the food looks just like the images but tastes completely unlike what you expect.
  • For eg. An English tea cup is filled with a tea coloured liquid, poured from a tea pot, which turns out to be a delicious Tom Yam Soup. A doughnut is actually a South Indian savoury, made from lentils and served with a coconut chutney. And it goes on

Martin Parr(Each of the five courses saw Martin Parr’s pictures come to life in bizarrely unexpected ways. Compilation of pictures from here)

See the short video here to get an idea on the actual execution

http://vimeo.com/69361520

Say Cheese! The World of Martin Parr in 5 Courses from GOLIGA on Vimeo.

This pop up experience was also offered in Tokyo in 2013 and as per Time Out Tokyo, the tickets costed  ¥12,000 per person, and were limited to 50 people per night. Food, it says, doesn’t get much more high-concept than this.

Now that’s a business that is actually built on belying beliefs!

(Featured Image, Of Wine Glasses and Beliefs. The Riedel Wine Glass Company Brochure, Source)

The New Marketing Mindset

Invention and Innovation could sometimes be polar opposites.

Seems counter intuitive, right? But when you read this brilliant piece on Segway, it would seem almost commonsensical. Segway, the article posits, failed because it was focused solely on inventionbelieving that it alone has come up with the perfect idea for a great product. The company didn’t spend as much time or effort on innovation the ongoing iterative process of going back and forth with the consumers to test and understand what the market wants and ensuring that the product meet their needs.   

This on going iterative process with the consumer to test and understand what market wants and applying these learnings to make your product meet their needs has a specialised name today.

Growth Hacking.

Depending upon who you are / what you’ve been smoking / or what you’ve been reading recently, this could possibly be the first time you hear this term or probably even the zillionth! Whichever be the case, Growth Hacking as a term is topping the charts in popularity, appeal and relevance to describe a must have mindset in the world of product design and marketing.

Coined by Sean Ellis in this legendary article, Growth Hacking is essentially marketing albeit repurposed to the evolving dynamics of consumer, product and consumption today. Chances are that most of us would have been witness to, experienced, and were target consumers of live Growth Hacking experiments. Don’t believe me?

  • Did you yearn for an invite for a Gmail account back when Gmail was introduced? That was neat Growth Hack from Google!
  • Did you refer your friends to try out Dropbox to get free storage space in return? You were being Growth Hacked!
  • Do you remember those end lines in mails that said something like Sent from my Blackberry/iPad/iPhone..? Growth Hack, it was!

Read about the 10 of the best growth hacks of all time here. Aaron Ginn’s page is a great place to start on a journey to explore more resources on Growth Hacking and Ryan Holiday’s book Growth Hacker Marketing could make for a great primer on this topic over an afternoon meal.

Today ‘Growth Hacker’ as a term has gone mainstream even in the jobs’ lexicon. For it is not unusual to run into marketing job postings that come labelled as “Wanted Growth Hackers”!

While case studies of how Growth Hacking has worked out for (now) big brands like Instagram, Pinterest or Airbnb make for a fascinating read, lesser known examples can give an equally compelling perspective and an insight on how Growth Hacking can actually move the needle. The story of Bilingual Child – an iOS App to teach Spanish for kids – is a recent example. Not content with how their sales were panning out, the team at Bilingual Child went on to delve a bit deeper into the data and discovered a Growth Hack. The result:  they tripled their revenue by adding one button! Read the story here.

Bilingual Child

(Source, Medium. Click on the picture to read the story)

Well, if you have come this far you could be forgiven for thinking that Growth Hacking is majorly applicable to software products or startups. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Amy Webb was having no luck with online dating. So she figured out the system, monitored and measured the impact of her  ‘hacks’ and went about achieving what she set out to do – finding her match. Hear this story of how she went on to hack her online dating life — with frustrating, funny and life-changing results.

Is this Growth Hacking? You bet it is – Amy’s bold and calculated attempt to drive growth in the quantity and the quality of potential matches for her. The core essence of her approach is equally (if not more so) applicable to something like say updating my LinkedIn profile. And that for me is a compelling takeaway from her TED talk.

So the bottom line is clear, irrespective of the field of application – a company, a product or even a person, the ability to delve into data, bring in curiosity and operate with a mix of creativity and an analytical ability has huge implications in driving growth. No wonder then, Growth Hacking is said to be redefining the very mindset of marketing as we know it.

After all, when was the last time you had a name for a discipline that neatly encapsulated the objective and the enabler of the activity in a single breath?  

(Featured Image, Medium’s collection on Growth Hacking, Another great resource on this subject)

Remarkable And What Lies Beyond

When you look at a photograph, read a novel or eat at a good restaurant what do you expect?

A good capture of a single moment in time, a nice story and a decent meal. Right?

What if these expectations are messed up and you need to discover for yourself a whole new experience in consuming these products/services? Let’s start with Stephen Wilkes.

The Photograph

Each photographer tends to have an area of interest. i.e., a fascination of architecture or people or nature etc. But what if as a photographer, you are fascinated by architecture and people and cities and also nurture a love of ‘shooting history’? Stephen Wilkes is one such guy and has a way of going about it.

  • He starts at a vantage point that can afford a panoramic view of the location of an iconic land mark
  • Then he shoots what he calls the ‘naked plate’ – a shot of the land mark with absolutely no one in it – in other words  a completely deserted landscape of the location
  • Then over a span of over 12 to 15 hours from dawn to dusk in a day, he takes nearly 1,500 pictures of the same location from the same angle, while also taking mental notes of the shifting landscape and the random events unfolding below him
  • After this action at the location, he then selects about 50 final shots from which to over lay the final composite picture that seamlessly merges the action that had unfolded between dawn and dusk at that single place in a single shot!

Result – pictures of a place that are panoramas in ‘Day to Night’ that can throw your brain off the hook. Each picture in this series can look like a magical landscape suspended along a tapestry of time. Don’t believe me? Then let his pictures from his newest body of work titled ‘Day to Night‘ do the talking.

Shanghai

(Stephen Wilkes, Source, Shanghai, Bund)

Times Square

(Stephen Wilkes, Source, Times Square)

The November 25 Edition of TIME features a photo essay based on Stephen’s work. As the article puts it,

A lot can happen between sunrise and sunset especially when Stephen Wilkes is photographing it. 

The Novel

OK, so this is going to be difficult. For how do I write about a book that redefines the very experience of a book?

S. – a novel by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst, released on Oct 29th 2013 is a first of its kind experiment in book design, layout, narratives and structure. It is a book that stands out because of its unprecedented ambition, creativity and inventiveness.

For the first time you might actually feel a need for a ‘guide’ on how to read a novel! There are three enmeshing story lines in S. :

  • First you have the story in this book by name “Ship Of Theseus”
  • Second you have the mystery about the fictional author of this book by name V.M. Straka
  • And third you have the dialogue between the two readers of this book by name Jennifer and Eric, who communicate to each other via hand written notes along the margins and inserts

Designed by the New York-based design firm Melcher Media, this is a book that can easily be an inspiration for a generation of designers, writers, novelists, publishers and marketers to come for years! Read this FastCompany article for more details.

As the article says..

It’s difficult to decide exactly how to start reading S.–a sort of 3D Infinite Jest with a pop sensibility–and nearly impossible to imagine how it ever got written.

See this video to get a feel of what is inside the book

Trying to explain this book is like trying to explain the plot of ‘Inception‘ and raving about the genius of its concept. The only way to appreciate the ingenuity of this art form is to get a book and start reading. I – for one – cannot wait to begin my magical adventure with S. and discover a whole new experience of consuming a novel!

The Restaurant

Earlier this month, DiverXo has become just the eighth Spanish restaurant to win an unbeatable third Michelin star. With an unassuming kitchen that measures just 30 square meters, it is the only establishment in the Spanish capital to hold the honour. But that’s not the big deal.

The big deal is how DiverXo – led by the Spanish chef David Munoz – turns every single convention on its head as a restaurant.

  • For starters, upon entering, every diner is given a one page manifesto on how to best enjoy the food in the restaurant. All they need is to surrender every preconceived notion and suspend judgement and just do as they are told
  • Once seated, DiverXo offers a choice between a ‘short menu’ (7 dishes,  €95, lasting 2.5 hrs) and a ‘long menu’ (11 dishes,  €140, lasting 4 hrs).  Both menus are exquisitely choreographed as unprecedented gastronomic experiences by the chefs
  • For e.g., as per TripAdvisor,when a dish arrives on the table prepare to be instructed to eat with even a spatula!
  • And as per this AFP article, no sooner do you dig into say – a raw cod fillet drizzled with boiling olive oil and accompanied by potato skins and pickled chilies, don’t be shocked if a cook bursts in to you and lays on hot mayonnaise
  • Later, as you chew more another chef could arrive with a cream of cod and sea urchin

And the shocks and surprises continue.

rp-diverxo-1

(DiverXo, Artful dishes that push the limits of fusion cuisine, Source)

Besides, as per this AFP article ..

  • Even the design of the food can tend to defy expectation. For e.g., a fiendish ketchup of chili and tabasco makes the dish of duck dumplings and fried ducks’ tongues resemble a blood-splattered murder scene
  • The menu lists not ingredients but rather sensations: sweet, sour and, in the case of one star dish, the “Hannibal Lecter”, sharp

As the article says..

The self-proclaimed “brutal” approach of this tiny eatery, where the cooks rush to add ingredients to diners’ plates mid-bite, has made it one of the most unusual restaurants ever to join the world’s gastronomic elite.

In summary DiverXo is a first of its kind restaurant where the rules are simple: Come with an open mind, trust the chefs, expect to be shocked and prepare to be surprised as you embark on a culinary adventure like never before.

May be food is almost besides the point here. Or may be it’s all about the magically shocking experience of what a restaurant has never been yet!   

All about experiences that redefine the product, category and consumer expectations

So the next time when we think of ‘elevating consumer experience’, it could be worthwhile to remind ourselves of these extra ordinary examples that go beyond this ‘elevating the experience’ mould. Three brave, ingenious and creative examples where the very experience of the product has been redefined, our expectations as consumers defied and all norms of the category disbanded.

So now you know. What lies beyond remarkable?

Magic –  after all –  could indeed be serious business!

Know Thy Neighbor Nextdoor

Share it, Tweet It, Pin It, Like It, Stumble Upon It, Digg It and the list goes on..

Every conceivable kind of content that we consume on the internet today comes with explicit social networking markers.

Today with over 1000 Social Networking sites known to exist globally and 16 virtual communities with more than 100 million active users to date, Social Networks/ Virtual Communities have truly changed us and as also our definition of SELF(!). For most of the activities that we partake in our daily life like work, sports, hobbies, shopping, travel, dine, drive, and the list goes on, there is a virtual community / social network for each if it.

Now a social network built exclusively for local neighborhoods – called NextDoor is in the news for stepping into the elite territory of start ups.  On NextDoor.Com, each neighborhood is a closed social network where users have to verify their real name and address to gain membership. Once we are in, the idea is to be able to connect with our neighbors, strike conversations, while finding out everything from local deals, finding nearby help or even be alerted of neighborhood crime.

nextdoor_iphone_blog

(Image Source)

Developed on the insight that The Neighborhood has always been one of the “original social networks”, it has recently raised $60m fundraising led by John Doerr, the Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers partner who led the IPOs of the likes of Amazon and Netscape and Tiger Global Management – prominent VC firms. (source)

This latest round of fund raising values the company at nearly $ 500 m as NextDoor.Com is slated to expand to more than the currently listed US neighborhoods on its site. Nirav Tolia, co-founder and CEO of Nextdoor, says there was already “incredible demand” abroad and goes on to say..

 “We see this whole notion of building safer and stronger communities is not an American thing at all, it is something all people share”.  

What I really like about the idea of a Neighborhood focused Social Network is the degree of relevance that can finally be attributed to the potential ads that can be placed in the network and the ways in which it can benefit all the players in the equation:

  • The Advertiser: Businesses in the locality can micro target the ‘captive’ user base in the neighborhood via their ads while also nurturing a local community of customers on an ongoing basis. The biggest opportunity here is for the SMBs.
  • The User: A user can find the most relevant offers from around her apartment rather than get bombarded by offers from across the country if not the world!
  • The Publisher: The publisher can facilitate the precious need of SMBs in the locality to micro target and reach out to their customer base in a very cost effective way, while also being able to track and optimize listings on a real time basis.

It’s almost like combining the best parts of Yelp, Craigslist, Foursquare, Path and Facebook with a liberal dash of a local flavor.  Like any other virtual community while it does come with its own privacy related nuances that need to be managed if it were to thrive across localities for the long term, one thing is nearly certain ..

We can finally get to know our neighbor. Albeit at least through the window of our screen.

PS: Two interesting things that you might want to check out:

  1.  To celebrate the ‘most neighborly holiday of the year’, Nextdoor launched just in time for this Halloween, a Treat Map to give you an insider’s guide to the best streets for treats in our neighborhood (relevant mostly to the US as of now)
  2. Funnily, Nextdoor has a page on Facebook 🙂

Soundscapes And Sonic Tapestries: Part 2/2

What do Cyborg Artists, Automobile Engineers, Game Designers and Branding Specialists have in common?

At least those featured in this blog post, that is. Surprise, surprise… all these have sound at the core of what they do!

See the part 1 of this thread here. In part 2, let me share some fascinating examples whereby sound and our ability to decode sound waves is complementing and supplementing our perceptual experience in truly astounding ways!

Sound As A Complement To Our Perceptual Experience

Sound (and its design) can be deployed in a very strategic manner to compliment our perceptual experience. Two compelling examples:

(1) Soundscaping In Product design: We know that there are armies of designers and engineers that work towards designing and developing  a car – it’s mechanics, electronics, aesthetics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics etc. But did  you know that car companies  also employ sound experts to design the noise of a car? Read here a fascinating account of how GM makes a car sound like what a car is supposed to sound like. On that note meet Kara Gordon  – GM Noise & Vibration Performance Development Engineer who has designed the quietest Chevy.

(2) Sonic Logos In Branding/AdvertisingSonic Branding is big today. Think about the sound of ‘Intel Inside’, a call on Skype, the default ring/message tones on your phones and you’d get the idea. In fact Audi’s heart beat logo is said to be one of the most recognized sonic logos in the world today.  By the way did you know that after 14 years of using this sonic logo, BMW in March 2013, has changed it to this? This change didn’t get many fans by the way.

Sound As A Supplement To Our Perceptual Experience

Sound (and our ability to decode sound) can potentially also supplement our perceptual experience in new and interesting ways. Two examples again:

(1) Audio Games: What would happen if someone wanted to take the “video” out of video games and make users rely solely on their other senses?

At first the idea of Audio only games might sound like just another lateral marketing -isque variant (of video game formats).  But when you read about Deep Sea,  or about  Vanished you’d see that we are at the cusp of another revolution in game design and experience. These games are some of the best (if not the first) of its kind that explore the frontiers of what sound  (and our ability to decode sound) are truly capable of.

For e.g., Vanished – an iOS game as of Oct 2013 –  uses the iPhone’s internal compass and accelerometer to recreate a person’s movement. Players hold their phone in the direction they want to travel and touch the screen to walk. When in danger, they shake the phone to attack. All exploration is done with the help of audio only cues; as players move, the world “rotates” and provides different sounds.

Vanished

(iPhone Screenshot of Vanished – The Audio Game, Source)

(2) Hearing Colors: They say that you can see sound, but can you hear a color? Apparently Neil Harbisson can!  His profile on TED says this.

Artist Neil Harbisson was born completely color blind, but these days a device attached to his head turns color into audible frequencies. Instead of seeing a world in grayscale, Harbisson can hear a symphony of color — and yes, even listen to faces and paintings.

So there we have – some truly  fascinating examples from the recent past on how sound (and our ability to make sense of sound waves) is being leveraged in some truly exciting ways.

The next time you remind yourself to pause for a moment to appreciate the scenery and to ‘smell the flowers’, don’t forget that you could also take in the richness of the surrounding soundscapes in all their aural splendor.

All you need to do is incredibly simple. Listen.

(Featured image source)