Experiences Shaped

Quick Read: 3D replicas can make a killer demo of not just products but also experiences.   

Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles, France is arguably the most famous bedroom in the history of art.

It also held special significance for the artist, who created three distinct paintings of this intimate space from 1888 to 1889.

(Van Gogh’s Bedroom Painting, Source)

Earlier this year, the Art Institute of Chicago was to throw open an exhibition called Van Gogh’s Bedrooms containing 36 of his works including paintings, drawings, illustrated letters as well as a selection of books and other ephemera known to have been in his possession.

As part of the promotional campaign for this exhibit, the institute did something innovative.

It recreated his famous bedroom in Chicago’s River North neighborhood and threw it open for rent on Airbnb.

Result: the first block of nights sold out in 5 mins on Airbnb. It helped generate massive buzz about the exhibition that saw 200,000+ visitors in just a few weeks making it the highest attended exhibit in 15 years.

See this video for a sneak view into this initiative.

Commissioning 3D replicas to drive awareness and trial of a product is nothing new. Examples like the above show that they can also make for a killer demo in the realm of experience marketing.

For these are professional grade art works at the intersection of consumer psychology, complex 3D modeling, con art and story telling.

Or take the world of shokuhin samples – the hypnotic world of fake Japanese food. 

In Japan, fake food can look very, very real. It’s called “shokuhin sample” (食品サンプル) or “food sample”, and it appears outside restaurants so customers can know what they are ordering.

And it is a damn big deal.

Shokuhin samples have become such an intricate part of the Japanese dining experience that many people stop in front of glass cases filled with fake food, decide what they want, and then enter the restaurant. Some Japanese even complain about the lack of fake food when dinning abroad—that they don’t get to see what they are ordering beforehand!

shokuhin-sample
Shokuhin Sample (Source)

Most shokuhin samples are still hand made by highly skilled artisans whose painstaking craft – honed over several years of training – results in textures and colors that are so precise that it’s often difficult to tell real food from the samples.

Today shokuhin sample manufacturers fiercely guard their trade secrets as business is lucrative; the plastic food industry in Japan, by conservative estimates, has revenues of over 10 billion yen per year.

Unsurprisingly there are also stores that sell this fake food. Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya  is one such shrine dedicated to all things fake food. It has been producing plastic replicas for display in restaurant windows since 1932, but in recent years it’s even wisened up to the tourist trade by selling fake food keyrings, magnets and phone straps as souvenirs.

640px-food_samples_1
Shokuhin samples in a restaurant, source

Journalist Yasunobu Nose has a theory that links the plastic replicas to the visual aesthetic of Japanese food appreciation. In his book titled “Me de taberu Nihonjin (Japanese People Eat With Their Eyes),” Nose writes that food samples are part of the Japanese tendency to “first ‘taste’ dishes by sight, then eat with their mouths and stomachs.” (source)

With such a strong visual aesthetic underpinning the Japanese way of food appreciation, it would be a massive opportunity lost if the food brands (all kinds from ingredient brands to ready to eat brands) in the Japanese supermarkets do not leverage the power of shokuhin samples in their visual merchandising on the shelves.

After all, this is serious performance art that seeks expressiveness of deliciousness and a sincere pursuit of reality as its objectives. While being rooted in local culture.

Can you think of any other multi sensory experiences that can be brought to life with the help of 3D replicas?

Other than sex dolls, I mean 🙂

(Featured Image:  Van Gogh’s bedroom replica as listed on Airbnb)

The IKEA Test

Quick Read: Well let’s just say that if IKEA had considered opening a couples’ relationship counselling centre at each of its stores, it might give the couples’ counsellors a run for their money! 

If there were to be a prep school for wannabe couples, the final test for graduation could argaubly be throwing them at the task of shopping for furniture… together.

Full discosure: Mrs and I somehow aced that test – though she derives an indescribable pleasure everytime she sees this PepperFry commercial.

No wonder then IKEA is parodied to be the #1 place where couples could realise that they actually can’t stand each other!

Probably armed with this insight, Ramani Durvasula – a California-based clinical psychologist is actually using IKEA shopping runs as a communications exercise for her couples therapy. (H/T Racked)

Ask her if IKEA is a domestic wonderland or a map of a relationship nightmare, and you are told that it could be the later. In fact, according to this WSJ report, she thinks the Ikea shopping experience is fraught with anxiety for couples, for example the kitchen models can lead to arguments about who doesn’t do the dishes and so forth.

Speaking of which, doing dishes could be a seperate thesis altogether on the perils of matrimony.

Actually make it ‘doing dishes’ + ‘trying to own the remote’ and you could have a perfect reciple for domestic disaster.

This commercial for Pril dishwashing liquid is a little undiscovered gem along those lines (though it could be accused of packing a little too many of a punch in one single ad).

(sorry non Hindi readers, wish there were sub titles)

And by the way there even seems to be a compelling case that says  – when in need of a marriage therapy, just do the dishes!

So the next time someone tells you that brands could do with some insights from ethnographic and psycho-analytical research. Tell them that the later could also be true.

[Bonus (and unrelated) Read: Nearly 3 years ago, BrandedNoise featured a post called ‘The IKEA Effect‘]

(Featured Image: Rashid and Shirley Smith got married at the IKEA in Elizabeth, N.J., in 2013. Source)

Imagination. For Selling and Unselling

Quick Read: Evoking imagination has always been a classic trick in the marketers’ book. Let’s see some recent examples where it’s been used to sell. And to unsell.

Man-eaters and the ritual of imagination

For four years, Dutch designer Daniel Disselkoen made the same journey on the same tram route to his art academy, and realised that he had stopped looking out of the window and being curious about what he might see. So he developed a simple little real-world hack called Man-eater.

Predicated around the idea that familiarity with a subject, our environment, surroundings or routine can limit discovery, Man-eater is a simple yet compelling call to action to invoke our imagination to make extra ordinary out of the ordinary.

Is at about seeing the world through a child’s eyes? 

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood (yes, there indeed is a museum by that name!) says exactly the same thing in its recent campaign – wherein with a bit of imagination, the medium and the context become the key parts of it’s message. spaceman_aotw

whale_aotw

(Check out the other executions at this blog post)

Banana Bunkers that look like…um.. bananas?

It appears that it doesn’t require a hell lot of imagination to see why this particular product of GroupOn turned to be its most popular post on Facebook ever! Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 11.28.33 PM But GroupOn’s real imaginativeness came to the forefront in what happened after the post went live.

Knowing full well of what is to come, they decided to stay ahead of the hilarity and replied each and every one of the comments on their Facebook post. Check out this snapshot of the epic comments that followed!

Now that’s some great imaginativeness to combat (and perhaps even abet) imagination!

And meanwhile else where..

Can imagination be used to ‘unsell’?

The Gun Shop‘ had recently popped up on Manhattan with a store front that read “First Time Gun Owners” in big, bold letters. The catch? Each gun in the store had been tagged with its history: from shooting a mom in Walmart to the Sandy Hook massacres. The result: imagination that just ‘unsells’!

This video captures it well.

The Gun Shop has been a pop-up demonstration created by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence – a partner of States United Against Gun Violence that seeks to make families and communities safer.

Can you think of any other examples? 

(Man-eater –  H/T Neil Perkin | Museum of Childhood – H/T L.Bhat)

Featured Image: The Gun Shop store front on Manhattan, Source

Food Is Food Is Food. Or Is It?

Quick Read: Good design can drive a price premium –  and this adage could hold good even in a category like perishables. 

Have you heard of flour by Prada, infant formula by Chanel, coffee by Cartier,  fruits by Nike and pasta by Ferrari?

coffee1

(Source: Peddy Mergui: Wheat is Wheat is Wheat)

Well they do ineed exist. Albeit as exhibits by Peddy Mergui under his series titled Wheat is Wheat is Wheat. These funny and provocative exhibits challenge our notions of branding and perception by casting them against a category like perishables/food.

Eggs by Versace anyone?

Let’s drop brand names for a moment and see how else can a product possibly command a price premium. We know tons of examples across different categories where design has helped a product command a premium.

Now, could design play a prominent role in commanding a premium within a category such as perishables? These two examples prove this point.

1. Whole Foods: 

When it comes to applying design for selling something as commoditised as veggies, there’s only one name. Whole Foods.

Avinash Kaushik recently posted this picture and the following lines regarding what he found at a Whole Foods store.

Avinash Kaushik Whole Foods

(Source: Avinask Kaushik)

“Do we shop at Whole Foods simply because the produce is so exquisitely displayed? And we pay a premium?

I think there is something to that. Look at it! Everything so perfectly symmetrical and lovely. There was a sprinkling of mist on all the veggies, drawing out the color and freshness.

For an engineer, me, all this organization definitely had an impact. It looks good, it shows people care deeply about the food, they went into extra trouble, it must be all good (and it was!).

What a great way to get someone to pay a premium.”

His lines encapsulate everything in this context.

2. Nuna Ice – Cream:

Billed by PSFK as a molecular-gastronomy popsicle that is set to take next summer by storm, Nuna is a design innovation in ice-cream born at the intersection of disciplines such as architecture, design and science.

Nuna(Source: Nuna)

According to it’s spokesperson, the Nuna Popsicle is design innovation in a crystal/pyramid shape, and stands for the ultimate refreshment that reflects the sensation of ice crystals bursting on the tongue while causing a unique and intense tingling in the mouth.

While it is expected to have a soft launch in art openings, fashion shows and music festivals during 2015, Nuna – which got its name trademarked recently – is expected to contract with a major manufacturer soon. (source)

Now that’s form following taste!

(Featured Image: Tiffany & Co Yogurt byPeddy Mergui)

The Simmel’s Barrier

Quick Read: A Milan store with debranded perfumes helps consumers find the perfect scent without being distracted by the label. But is branding a barrier in consumer experience?

Wine tasting is arguably a junk science.

WineTasting

There have been several studies conducted over the years to debunk the accuracy of wine tasters in assessing the attributes of wines. A common theme of most of these experiments is an assessment of our capability in being able to accurately identify and analyse multiple sensory stimuli at the same time.

One such landmark study in debunking the expertise of wine tasters is called ‘The Color Of Odors‘. It investigated the interaction between our vision of colors and odor determination and found out that by a simple act of artificially coloring a white wine with a an odorless dye,  you can fool not 1, not 2 but an entire panel of 54 wine tasters into getting it classified as a red wine!

The insight? By just throwing in some basic visual stimuli you can effectively screw up your olfactory assessment skills.

Now add in the other 3 senses and it is not hard to begin pitying ourselves for the sensory overload that we subject ourselves to on a daily basis.

Sensory Overload

The wikipedia page on Sensory Overload speaks about Georg Simmel – a renowned sociologist who writes about an urban scenario of constantly appearing stimuli that trigger our brains’ senses. Interestingly he calls for a barrier that must be erected to protect the individual from this constant stimulation in order to keep one sane.

The new Desirée Parfums store in Milan has identified a particular marketing element as its ‘Simmel’s Barrier’ to protect its customers from sensory overload. What does it do?

It organises its fragrances by aromatic quality, rather than brand. According to this source, when walking into this store, customers aren’t subconsciously guided towards the most expensive perfumes like they might be in another store. Instead, the outlet has decanted all of the fragrances it sells into nondescript tester bottles, which are organized by their olfactory quality.

Assistants guide customers through the options available, helping them to find their perfect scent while also teaching them about the different qualities that make up a perfume. Only when they get to the counter so they get to find out which fragrance they’re buying.

desireeparfum store

(Image source)

With perfume stores using branding as their ‘Simmel’s Barrier’, wine stores might not be far off from adopting the same.

Have you heard of any other examples?

(Featured Image: Jacquelinewilkinson)

Straddle Categories, Redefine Competition

Quick Read: Straddling categories can sometimes help redefine competition and build a unique position in the market place. 

“If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she’s gonna call me Point B … “

began Sarah Kay, in a talk that inspired two standing ovations at TED2011.

Sarah Kay is called a genius. She has invented a new medium, a new way of sharing an idea. It’s called Spoken Word Poetry. Arguably others have done spoken word poetry before, but not like this.

Mixing in the magic of her poetry, presence, and exuberant energy her art form straddles two categories – poetry and theatre. This unique combination has helped her redefine her ‘comparison set’ – not poets and not theatre artistes, but someone at the intersection of both to become a truly unique voice to reckon with.

Today she is the founder and co-director of Project V.O.I.C.E., founded in 2004, a group dedicated to using spoken word as an educational and inspirational tool. Her TED talk has been loved so much that Seth Godin has published her poem ‘B’ by himself.

Why Do We Love Some Comic Strips More Than Others?

Most of us have our favorite four paneled comic strips that we enjoy and share on a regular basis. Why do we love them so much? Is it because they resonate with us at a deeper level? Is it because they have that spark of insight – a blinding flash of the obvious? Or is it because they remind each one of us that we are not alone?

calvin-and-hobbes-relativism(Source: Calvin and Hobbes)

Seth is a cartoonist, illustrator and book designer based in Guelph, Ontario. Based  on his research on Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, his insight is that most of the best known four paneled comic strips have one thing in commonthey straddle the art forms of graphic design and poetry and occupy a truly unique space of artistic expression. He calls such comic strips Visual Haiku and elaborates.. 

It seemed so clear that his four-panel setup was just like reading a haiku; it had a specific rhythm to how he set up the panels and the dialogue.Three beats:doot doot doot— followed by an infinitesimal pause, and then the final beat:doot. Anyone can recognize this when reading a Peanuts strip.These strips have that sameness of rhythm that haikus have — the haikus mostly ending with a nature reference separated off in the final line. (source)

Peanuts - pe_c140414.tif(Source: Peanuts)

What Sets Brita Filters Apart?

Ever heard of Brita Filters? A leading company in portable household water filtration, its products are distributed in more than 60 countries world wide. But what sets it apart is how it straddles categories and redefines competition. As per this HBR article..

Brita filters compete against other filters when they are placed in the kitchen appliances section at big-box stores, for instance. But Brita changes both its comparison set and the economics of the consumer decision when the filters are placed in the bottled-water aisle at supermarkets. Here Brita filters have a competitive cost advantage, delivering several more gallons of clean water per dollar than bottled water. Of course, not all buyers of bottled water are buying solely for the criterion of cost (some are buying for portability, for example), but for those who are, Brita is an attractive choice.

Brita Filter Jugs

As the article goes on to say, in choosing how to position products, there’s a tendency to pay attention to the size and growth of the market and overlook the intensity and identity of the competition. Such times, all it might take is to challenge our playing field (the category) and see new niches emerge for tapping into a new consumer base.

Opportunity – it seems – could sometimes be rife at the intersections.  

For artistic forms of expressions or water filters.

(Featured image: Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson May 05, 2014)

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)

The Allure Of Being Limited: Part 2/2

Quick Read: Value as a concept to a consumer has 2 key dimensions: perceived benefit and perceived cost of a product. But the moment a third dimension called ‘availability’ is introduced, the equation becomes intriguing and interesting, especially when the former is limited – in reach or time.

Imagine someone unboxing a case of 20 blind boxes – each box contains a sealed wrapper that holds a mystery toy within.

For each foil he unwraps and realises the actual toy within – a miniature character –  he lets out an exclamatory ‘aah’. The look and feel of this miniature character makes him marvel at the detail and the exquisite craftsmanship that must have gone into its make, while he also makes a mental note to himself regarding its probable name and where it fits in the larger family of its ‘toy clan’.

And this goes on for each of the 20 blind boxes containing a mystery miniature character within.

Box after box.

And did I tell you that he is an adult in his 30s?

Difficult to imagine, right?

No worries.  For there are thousands of videos here showing this very story unfold. Box after box.

This video here is a good representative version. (strongly recommended dose of some infotainment before you read further)

What did we just see?

Adults –  acting like kids on a christmas morning, unable to contain their excitement as they hold their breath while they unwrap a foil to discover a pretty little toy character within.

Welcome to the world of Urban Vinyl and Designer Toys – a world where toys become prized possessions and collectibles because of two reasons: 

  1. They are works of art designed by prominent international pop culture and graffiti artists.
  2. They are produced in limited quantities  – some as few as 10 to a maximum of 2000 – thereby becoming some of the rarest toys of that kind to be ever made.

Qee series produced in Hong Kong by Toy2R,  Be@rbrick from Japan and the Dunny series produced by Kidrobot are some of the most prominent examples of Designer Toys and Urban Vinyl.

Let’s take Kidrobot – known to be the Mecca of Designer Toys enthusiasts – founded in the US in 2002 by Paul Budnitz. It calls its limited edition Designer Toys as an innovative cross between sculpture and conceptual art, offering not only a powerful medium for today’s international fashion designers, illustrators and graffiti artists, but also the creative canvas for emerging street trends and pop art.

And due to these toys being ‘limited edition’ in design and make they retail anywhere from $5 to $25,000, and many appreciate in value over time. (source)

Kidrobot Dunny(At the intersection of Art and Cult –  The Kidrobot Dunny, Source)

A few more fascinating details regarding Kidrobot and its Dunny Series Designer Toys:

  • Packaging: Each Dunny Designer Toy comes in a foil wrapped inside a blind box. These blind boxes are identical in every way to any other box in a given set so nobody knows which toy is inside. A foil is used to wrap the toy so nobody can open the box and peek inside. (also shown in the unboxing video above)
  • Product Assortment: While the outer case would have some indication of what characters to expect inside, not all of them can be expected to be contained within. Each toy character would have an odds ratio indicating its probability of occurrence within a set. Interestingly there are some characters called ‘chases’ with unknown odds called out as ‘?/??’, while a few are shown mysteriously only in silhouettes. Occasionally, they also include ‘super mystery figures’ that aren’t even indicated on the box, which tend to be some of the rarest ever made of the kind!

Kidrobot Official Dunny Series 2012 Checklist & Ratios(The odds ratios as printed on the cases of Dunny Series 2012, Source) 

  • Kidrobot’s approach to marketing is anything but ordinary: Read here a short interview with Paul Budnitz where he reveals how he has taken a marketing approach opposite to that of most companies.
  • How Kidrobot manages its creative capital: Kidrobot’s approach to distribution of decision making power within the company, its open source design strategy, and how it regularly commissions rock star designers rather than in house artists in order to let a sort of ‘fluidity’ permeate the entire company makes for a fascinating read.
  • Tie ups and Partnerships: Given the cult level popularity and the artistic appeal of Kidrobot’s limited edition toys, it naturally makes for a very coveted partner. For e.g., in Jan 2014 CES, Samsung Galaxy partnered with Kidrobot to land the message about the brand being a new touch point in artistic expression.

samsung_kidrobot_0235wtmk-1280x878(Samsung partners with Kidrobot in CES 2014, Pic source: Slash Gear)

And so it goes on – a fascinating story of how a bunch of unassuming tiny vinyl toys have grown to become icons of pop culture that regularly pull in rabid fans and ardent collectors, who neither mind queuing up for hours outside its stores nor forking out hundreds or even thousands of dollars to buy these designer toys while making its company a multi million dollar brand that it is today.

And when one reads this, sometimes all one can manage to say could be …

…while perhaps even wondering on a wishful note to oneself  damn! where can I get one myself!!”

(Featured Image: Set of Huck Gee’s Night & Day Raku 8” Dunny released in 2011.These were a limited edition of just 500 sets.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)

The Last Of Us And The McWrap

What is common between the latest PS3 game The Last Of Us and the recent McDonald’s addition to its menu The Premium McWraps?

Stealth.

Let’s first take The Last Of Us

If you still haven’t heard of this survival horror video game, you must be hiding under an abandoned bunker in a post apocalyptic zombie infested world.

The-Last-of-Us-key-art

At least that’s how you might feel once the brilliance of this creation hits you. Declared as a masterpiece, for its choice-enabling gameplay, realistic action, emotional depth in the plot, sound design, and environments, The Last Of Us has been the biggest video game launch of 2013 so far, selling over 1.3 million units in its first week after its worldwide release on June 14, 2013  (source)

A key innovation that underpins the genius of this game’s design is its AI system called as Balance Of Power. This enables realistic combat situations and enriches stealth attack tactics to what it calls as Dynamic Stealth.

Dynamic Stealth: While Stealth is not particularly new as a gameplay tactic, the genius of Dynamic Stealth lies in how it makes the player own the consequences of his actions in real time. For example:

  • If you’re infiltrating a secured building and see two guards at the entrance,  you create a distraction, split them up, and take out one of them when he’s off in the shadows. In other stealth games, the second guard would stoically continue to be on the watch as if nothing had happened.  But with Dynamic Stealth he starts to wonder where his buddy went, gets panicky and might even call for extra cover and back up.
  • the game doesn’t pause when the player  is accessing their inventory and assembling weaponry (loading guns, crafting a molotov cocktail etc), so the player’s stealth tactics are governed by real life like rules of space and time.

Instead of  just bombarding the player with a constant stream of actions resulting in cookie clutter shoot and swear sequences, the Dynamic Stealth system lets the user set the pace of his own survival experience and make him fully own the consequences of his decisions and actions. And that for me is the big insight in interaction or use case design from The Last of Us: 

If the system is designed in such a way that it allows the user to own the consequences of his decisions and actions, they’d willingly embrace all its resulting outcomes – both positives and negatives.

Now let’s move over to The Premium McWrap

mcdonalds_mcwrap

Launched on April 1 2013 after 2 years of R&D and a blockbuster like pre-launch fan fare, the marketing mix of this newest addition to the McDonald’s menu can be summarized  as follows: (Source)

Product: The McWrap is a 10-inch, white-flour tortilla wrapped around 3 ounces of chicken (grilled or crispy), lettuce, spring greens, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and cheddar jack cheese topped with ranch, sweet chili, or creamy garlic dressing.

Proposition: “The Subway Buster”

Target Group: Millenials, 18-32, who are looking for healthier and tastier alternatives to their fast food.

Packaging:  The PKG design requires the customers to tear off the top half of the container. “The packaging was a very big, big idea,” says Kasey Short, director of menu innovation in the U.S. “When you unzip the product, there was more excitement.” It’s also designed to fit easily in a standard cup holder; 65% of McDonald’s customers order at the drive-through.

Price:  At $3.99, it’s four times the cost of a McChicken.

Service: Assembled in 60 seconds, the lettuce and chicken peek out of the top, suggesting farm-to-table freshness.

Ingredients:  After lot of R&D, testing and negotiations with the suppliers, McDonald’s managed to add one new ingredient to the McDonald’s arsenal: the English cucumber. That might not seem like a big change, but when the chain added sliced apples to its menu, it immediately became one of the largest buyers of apples in the country! So this addition has a huge implication on the supply chain of cucumbers around the world.

As an analyst sums it up “It’s the best piece of total marketing we’ve seen out of them in a long time. It’s convenient, healthy, fresh, good-tasting, and filling”.  While reading about these specific elements of the mix was definitely interesting, the big reveal for me came towards the end in this Businessweek article:

… the McWrap serves another stealth purpose…..customers may come into restaurants with healthy intentions but fall short of their aspirations…. With salads and now the McWrap on the menu, customers may forgive themselves a little more for showing up at McDonald’s. And if they skip the wrap at the final moment and get a Big Mac and fries instead they don’t blame the restaurant.”

Now that’s a tremendous AHA moment for me in stealth marketing – almost like a Dynamic Stealth tactic in gaming.

As they say – It’s a reality of the fast-food business that what can be ordered in a few words, served up in seconds, and consumed in minutes is often the product of years of research and testing. Because the battlefield here is not in the restaurants, it’s not in the ingredients, it’s not in the fields where the ingredients are grow, it is after all in our minds. 

No wonder then you have battlefield tactics like stealth meant to lure you not just into making a decision but also into owning it.  How’s that for some food for thought?