Speaking Geek: The Rise of Nerds & Brands

The Economist: “Today there are more reasons than ever to treat nerds with respect: never mind the fact that every company is clamouring to hire them, geeks are starting to shape markets for new products and services … From personal computers to social-media companies like Twitter and Facebook, many gadgets and platforms started out with curious tech enthusiasts experimenting in their garage or dorm room, only to turn into mainstream hits.”

“But nerds’ influence now goes well beyond technology. They hold greater cultural sway. ‘Silicon Valley’, a show on HBO which will soon start filming its fourth season, presents the “brogrammer” startup culture in all its grit and glory, and suggests that mass audiences are transfixed by what really happens behind closed (garage) doors … Each month at least 70m people play “League of Legends”, a complex multiplayer online game; that is more than play baseball, softball or tennis worldwide.”

“Incumbent businesses, too, have started to take their cue from all this nerdiness. Brands like Mountain Dew and Doritos have sponsored video-game competitions and ‘rodeos’ where competitors race drones around stadiums … But if they try too hard to speak geek, large companies will come off as inauthentic and alienating, exactly what they were trying not to be. Nerds may be a powerful commercial force, but many of them harbour disdain for big brands and overt marketing. Firms will have to try hard to send a cool, coded message.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Direct Disruption: The Tide Wash Club

The Wall Street Journal: “Blindsided by the success of the upstart Dollar Shave Club, an online subscription service that chipped away at the dominance of Gillette razors, P&G executives say they are focusing not only on what consumers buy but on how they buy … P&G is experimenting with … the Tide Wash Club, an online subscription service for the dissolvable Tide Pods capsules that are the company’s highest-priced laundry detergent. The company offers free shipping at regular intervals.”

“Another new offering: Tide Spin, an undertaking P&G is calling the ‘uberization of laundry,’ in which customers in parts of Chicago can use a smartphone app to order laundry pickup and delivery from Tide-branded couriers. With the ventures, P&G is delving deeper into the business of connecting consumers directly with the products it makes, especially a new generation less loyal to the company’s big brands.”

“Privately, P&G executives acknowledge the company was caught off guard by the success of Dollar Shave Club, which started in 2011 and says it now has 3.2 million subscribers. ‘It was probably on the radar but we weren’t necessarily having the right conversation around what might disrupt us,’ said a person familiar with the company’s thinking.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cultural Evolution: Nintendo Goes With Partnerships

The New York Times: “Nintendo — which took an early lead in mobile gaming and then proceeded to blow it — offers a lesson in how corporate cultures can make or break a company, especially those that are pioneers in a field … If Nintendo is easily likened to Apple for its autocratic insistence on groundbreaking innovation, it is also like Xerox in that it has failed to take advantage of ideas as valuable as the mouse.”

“Pokémon Go, this month’s gaming phenomenon, came about only because Nintendo has gone years without a hit and was forced to find partners … Pokémon Go demonstrates that Nintendo’s stable of characters … can form the basis for others to develop lucrative mobile games. But that would turn Nintendo into a different kind of company — one … that is content to hit singles and doubles rather than swing for the fences.”

“Nintendo has shown before that it can adapt. It got its start making playing cards in 1889. By the 1970s it was designing video games, leading to the release of the Donkey Kong video game machine in 1981 … In 1983, it added a modem port to the home video game console that would eventually become the popular Nintendo Entertainment System, decades ahead of a time when Xbox and PlayStation gamers connect with one another around the world.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Small Rivals Trip Big Brands

The Economist: “For a time, size gave CPG companies a staggering advantage. Centralising decisions and consolidating manufacturing helped firms expand margins. Deep pockets meant companies could spend millions on a flashy television advertisement, then see sales rise. Firms distributed goods to a vast network of stores, paying for prominent placement on shelves.”

“Yet these advantages are not what they once were. Consolidating factories has made companies more vulnerable to the swing of a particular currency … The impact of television adverts is fading … At the same time, barriers to entry are falling for small firms … Distribution is getting easier, too: a young brand may prove itself with online sales, then move into big stores.”

“Most troublesome, the lumbering giants are finding it hard to keep up with fast-changing consumer markets … As their economies grew, local players often proved more attuned to shoppers’ needs. In America and Europe” shoppers “can choose from cheap, store-brand goods … But if a customer wants to pay more for a product, it may not be for a traditional big brand. This may be because shoppers trust little brands more than established ones.”

“EY, a consultancy, recently surveyed CPG executives. Eight in ten doubted their company could adapt to customer demand.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Intelligent X: Robo-Beer on Tap

Alphr: “IntelligentX’s AI might not actually drink beer, but it is learning how to brew it thanks to machine-learning algorithms.It works like this: IntelligentX has made four different types of beer. People that drink the beer give their feedback to a bot on Facebook Messenger. The company’s algorithm – called Automated Brewing Intelligence (ABI) – uses a mix of reinforcement learning and Bayesian optimisation to tell a human brewer how to push a beer’s recipe in one direction or another.”

“To stop things ending up in a tepid middle ground of taste, ABI is being fitted with ‘wildcard’ ingredients such as certain fruits … IntelligentX insists its method allows brewers to respond to customers’ changing tastes faster than ever before … There does, however, seem to be a fundamental incongruence between the fetishisation of traditional, local brewing at the heart of the current vogue for craft beer, and the impersonal use of an AI to crowdsource the most popular tastes. Then again, if the beer’s good, who cares?”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

PS: Ikea Beyond The Basics

Fast Company: “Every few years, Ikea releases its limited-edition PS Collection—a series of experimental products that aren’t intended to supplant its perennial offerings, but rather to add a jolt of energy into its stores … For its 2017 PS Collection, Ikea’s designers chose a theme they call Young Urban Life, delving into new material research, fabrication techniques, and product types.”

“Some of the more idiosyncratic products include a seating piece that looks like the love child of a Papasan chair and a rocker, a sofa that looks like it’s composed of pillows, and a throw blanket that can be worn like a jacket … For the practicality-minded set, there are still a few space-efficient pieces, like stackable storage bins, collapsible side tables that fold away when not in use, and arm chairs that join to become a love seat.”

Henrik Most Nielsen of Ikea: “Ikea is for the many, but the many are different. We’re trying to attract customers who think Ikea isn’t at the front of design. We’re moving from basics to embodying a strong personality and style.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Post Pink: Game-Developer Barbie

Slate: “Game Developer Barbie is wearing jeans, sensible shoes (!), and a T-shirt that is both nerdy and kind of cute … She has a laptop that is laptop-colored, because women can actually use tech products that aren’t pink. There are no pictures of Ken or fashion magazines around her workspace, just coffee, headphones, flowcharts—not to mention actual programming books (C++ and C#) and action figures (He-Man!). She still likes some pink, of course; this is Barbie, and there’s nothing wrong with pink.”

“Perhaps most striking, Barbie can actually code … The interface appears to be Alice, an educational programming environment, and the code it’s outputting is ActionScript (or maybe Haxe). Basically, she seems to be making a Bejeweled clone in Flash … The back of her box tells us: Game development involves storytelling, art & graphic design, audio design, & computer programming. Because there are so many aspects to creating a game, teamwork is important.”

“Mattel might consider partnerships to create its own programming tools tied to the Barbie universe. Wouldn’t it be cool if kids could make and share interactive Barbie stories—learning some programming while also having the agency to create their own empowered Barbie characters?”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Big ‘G’ Archive: Brand Past as Prologue

The New York Times: “By 1980, General Mills had accumulated so much brand memorabilia that the company established an archive … The archive, which is closed to the public, houses thousands of artifacts in about 3,000 square feet of temperature- and humidity-controlled space.”

“Among the photos, packaging and promotional items are an early rendering of the character Betty Crocker, who was created in 1921 to answer consumers’ baking questions… some of the first clay animation models of Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy; and a box of Cheerioats, the original name of Cheerios … Many artifacts illustrate how marketing and advertising have evolved. Wheaties made its debut as Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes in 1922, only to be renamed two years later in a companywide contest.”

“Through its sponsorship of radio programs like the ‘Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air’ … General Mills introduced its products from coast to coast … General Mills later sponsored cartoons, notably ‘Rocky and His Friends’ and ‘The Bullwinkle Show’ from 1959 to 1964.” Mary Zalla of Landor comments: “You and I watch TV, and every 15 minutes we’re assaulted with commercials … Do you ever associate those brands with the show you’re watching? You don’t … Before, those brands were so closely tied with the TV shows and the talent surrounding them that it gave those brands an incredible start.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Target Store Tests ‘Connected Living Experience’

Engadget: “Last year Target unveiled its Internet of Things ‘Open House’ experiment in San Francisco. The goal was to create a shopping experience that would help customers figure out how connected devices work with each other … Now it’s moving past the testing phase and opening a ‘connected living experience’ in a suburban Minneapolis store … The Minneapolis setup won’t be as elaborate as Open House in San Francisco with its touchscreen tables. Instead it will have large displays above the products that explain how a gadget interacts with other devices. Target will also make sure the staff is up to speed.”

“The store will be the first in what could be a major change to how the retail chain sells electronics … the company has found that its shoppers are confused not only about how these devices work together, but where they’re actually kept in the store. Would a smart thermostat be in the electronics or home section? Putting all the devices together in one spot and creating scenarios that emphasize how a smart light and a connected garage work together not only highlights what’s possible, it helps sell stuff.”

“Target plans on bringing its connected experience to other stores to see how shoppers react. Cupertino, California, and Tribeca in New York City are the next two locations.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail