Robert Plant, master of reinvention
Brand reinvention sounds like a lofty, even noble concept. But adapting your brand to changing market conditions and customer behaviors is hard. Just ask Blockbuster (dead in the water) or The New York Times (fighting for its future). If you are a company faced with the daunting challenge of brand reinvention, a 66-year-old rock-and-roll singer has a few lessons for you. Robert Plant, once the living symbol of youthful hedonism during his days with Led Zeppelin, has successfully reinvented himself. As his body and voice have aged, his audience has changed, and the music industry has been upended, he is now receiving the best reviews of his career and selling strong as a solo artist. Here is his formula for success:
1. Be Adaptable
You might say that the Robert Plant brand faced an enormous challenge in the early 1980s. Led Zeppelin had defined his entire career. No one knew him as Robert Plant, singer. He was Robert Plant, the voice of Led Zeppelin. But by late 1980, Led Zeppelin was over. The teen girls who worshipped at his feet were getting older, and Plant was getting older, too. Even if he wanted to ride on the coat tails of his glory years with Led Zeppelin, he knew that he could not hit the high notes on songs like "Whole Lotta Love" forever.
Plant's solution was to adapt, but not abandon, the sound he had created with Led Zeppelin. He took some of Led Zeppelins' influences -- such as Celtic, Arabic, country, blues, and folk -- and shaped them into a sound all his own, devoid of Zeppelin's riff-heavy, radio-friendly rock. For instance, he has recorded a commercially successful, Grammy-winning album of eclectic folk and Americana with blue-grass singer Alison Krauss, Raising Sand. His latest album, Lullaby and . . . the Ceaseless Roar, blends African, American country, blues, and Middle Eastern influences, and his adventurous sound is earning him the best reviews of his career.
Plant's musical journey certainly owes a debt to Led Zeppelin, which also explored a multitude of sounds, ranging from Middle Eastern ("Kashmir") to country folk ("Tangerine"). But Plant has built entire albums of songs that expand upon those moments of musical adventure into a sound that is distinctly his.
Lesson for brands: adapt by building upon what you know. American Express, for instance, continues to successfully change. American Express is far more than a provider of consumer credit cards. The company is a publisher of thought leadership, consultant to small businesses, and even a provider of music content (via American Express Unstaged). The company has built off its core financial offering to become a lifestyle brand.
2. Be Patient
Plant's reinvention did not happen overnight. His first few albums as a solo artist were fairly straightforward rock and pop offerings, drawing heavily on the popular synth sounds that defined the 1980s (see "In the Mood"). He took his time easing listeners away from rock and into world beats, psychedelic, and new age as the 1980s progressed. His experiments were not always successful. Shaken 'n' Stirred, rife with off-kilter rhythms, was considered a commercial disappointment when released in 1985. But there was no going back to the old ways for Robert Plant because there was no literally turning back the clock. It probably took at least a decade before he had settled comfortably into a new sound that was to gain him commercial and critical success. In time, his acceptance as a solo musician -- not as the ex-Led Zeppelin front man -- would come, but not until he was well into his 40s, and he had lifelong experiences upon which to write fresh, new, and personal songs.
Lesson for brands: if you are committed to a brand reinvention, don't let pushback stop you, and be patient with change. Burberry's, for instance, endured six painful years of transition as the brand reinvented itself when Angela Ahrendts became CEO in 2006. And don't let critics lead you by the nose with their social media rants because you've introduced a new product or changed a longstanding service. People are creatures of habit. We need time to get used to new ways. By its nature, changing a brand means taking people to a new place.
3. Tell Your Story
Through his digital presence, Robert Plant tells the story of his own reinvention. On his YouTube channel, he recently uploaded a multi-part documentary (mostly self-shot) about a journey he took to Mali in order to participate in the Festival in the Desert. The footage tells a remarkable story of a musician learning at the feet of African musicians such as Malian multi-instrumentalist Ali Farka Toure. You can see him jamming around a campfire, immersed in the strings and chants that would later make their way into Lullaby and . . . the Ceaseless Roar. On Instagram and Tumblr, he shares a similar story, showing listeners into the influences on his music. He certainly shares more conventional content on digital channels like Twitter and Facebook -- a contest on Facebook, a fan Q&A on Twitter -- but you get the genuine story of his evolution through his visual storytelling abilities.
Lesson for brands: let your customers in, especially when you are changing. Be open and tell the story of your brand journey. For instance, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz openly discusses the company's journey toward being a more sustainable, globally conscious brand.
What Is Your Reinvention Story?
Every brand has its own story of embracing change. Some are more successful than others. What all brands have in common, though, is the inevitability of change, especially in the digital age, where a company like Apple can disrupt industries with a single product release. You might be operating from a position of strength (e.g., Amazon) or fighting a battle because your customers' tastes are changing (as with McDonald's). The question is not if you will bring about a change to your brand, but how?
Human beings are creatures of habit. We like certain foods, we have a morning routine, and we generally like to partake in activities and behaviors that reduce risk and stress. It’s safe, it doesn’t require much thought, and it’s also known as our comfort zone. But if you ask any successful entrepreneur, he/she will tell you that the magic happens when you step outside of your bubble to embrace the unknown.
One of our biggest mantras at BeyondCurious is “unlocking limitless potential.” It’s our company mission and something we strive to live by at work and within our personal lives. Last Friday our CEO, Nikki Barua, interviewed Eileen Moore, the regional president of Flamingo Las Vegas, The LINQ Hotel & Casino as well as The Cromwell (Las Vegas’ first standalone boutique hotel). When asked why she’s been so successful, Eileen responded: “I always took the job that made me the most uncomfortable.”
Here are 3 reasons why you should take Eileen’s advice:
1. You’ll Be More Productive
A relative amount of anxiety pushes you just outside your comfort zone and it’s often referred to as “optimal anxiety.” It’s backed by science and studies have shown that performing under these conditions enhances productivity. When you operate in a state where your stress levels are slightly higher than normal, you’ll maximize your performance because you’re motivated to succeed. Just ask any professional athlete. You’ll rise to the occasion because that’s what the situation demands. You’re choosing the right job if its responsibilities fall outside your normal scope and you’re challenged in new and exciting ways. By embracing optimal anxiety in unfamiliar professional waters, you’re bound to grow.
2. You’ll Enhance Your Mental Health
The phrase “use it or lose it” applies to your physical as well as mental health. By leaving your comfort zone and taking a job that scares you, you’re challenging yourself to think in new ways. One of the most important relationships we have in our lives isn’t with our family or significant other; it’s with our thoughts. Our thoughts impact these relationships and influence how we respond to success or failure in life. By throwing yourself into unfamiliar professional (and life) scenarios that require creative problem solving, you’re stimulating brain activity and therefore enhancing your mental health.
3. You’ll Lead a Fulfilled Life
As a society we’ve been taught that comfort and security are desirable life goals. But living within our comfort zone reduces our openness to transformative life changes and new opportunities. So many people don’t chase their dreams because they’re too comfortable with the way their life is presently unfolding. In Psychology Today Ran Zilca captures this idea perfectly:
“Many of us are like lions in the zoo: well-fed but sit around passively stuck in a reactive rut. Comfort equals boring shortsightedness, and a belief that things cannot change. Your comfort zone is your home base, a safe place not to stay in, but to return to, after each exhausting and exhilarating expedition through the wilderness of life. Take a look at your life today, if you are enjoying a shelter of comfort, break through it and go outside where life awaits.”
Embrace the Unknown
Whether your goal is to be a millionaire, rocket scientist, or simply the best version of yourself, the magic happens outside of your comfort zone. Robert G. Allen, the author of some of the most influential financial books of all time, also echoes the need to step outside your safe zone: “How many millionaires do you know who have become wealthy by investing in savings accounts? I rest my case.” So next time you’re applying for jobs pay special attention to how the idea of the job makes you feel. If you read the job description and it makes you uncomfortable, chances are it’s something you should consider.
Apple Watch is coming, and it's going to have a big impact on brands.
The recently unveiled Apple Watch has been praised, vilified, and dissected by a wide-ranging audience, including everyday consumers, technology geeks, Apple fans, and fashionistas. The new product has also injected some strong style mojo into the Apple brand. But should businesses care about the Watch? Absolutely. Apple Watch will have far-reaching impacts on several industries, from healthcare to automotive and retail. The Watch, which blurs the line between mobile and wearables, will pressure brands across the board to make mobile experiences more personal and less intrusive.
The Skinny on the New Watch
The Apple Watch is the latest product release in an emerging market for smart watches. When it hits the market in early 2015, the Apple Watch will be available in multiple styles, sizes, and options for wristbands. The product will sport several features such as a knob that makes it possible for the user to scroll and zoom without needing to touch the screen. Importantly, the Apple Watch will use the new Apple Pay app, through which users will be able to pay for goods and services with a flick of their wrist at participating stores (akin to a smart wristband you might have used at an entertainment venue like Disneyworld). Based on early reactions from analysts and media, the Apple Watch comes closest to being both a functional mobile device and a fashionable wearable (something that competitors such as Samsung have failed to do with their smart watches) -- which is why the device is creating buzz.
As Forrester Analyst James McQuivey told CNN, "The Apple Watch defines a category in ways that other competitors will now have to work furiously to catch up to. In classic Apple style, the company has introduced a new interface -- the digital crown along with a tap and touch capable surface -- that will make Apple's watch experience significantly easier to use than anybody else's."
The Watch will have far-reaching impacts on many industries. Here are two examples:
Thanks to the new Apple Pay payment feature, the Apple Watch may make the process of buying goods and services as simple as waving your wrist at a sensor. No more fumbling for your debit card, iPhone, or cash while you stand at a checkout line your grocery store.
Apple Pay is a mobile payment service that will make it possible for owners of Apple Watch and iPhone 6 to purchase goods and services at retail locations that use near-field communication (NFC) technology with the Passbook app and Touch ID. Apple says 220,000 locations will accept Apple Pay, including Target, Walgreens, Macy's, and Whole Foods.
You can use Apple Pay on the newly released iPhone 6. So why bother using it with a watch? Because of the convenience factor. There is a world of difference between fumbling for your iPhone to pay for your Starbucks with the MyStarbucks Reward app and elegantly flashing your watch at a scanner. Disney understands the convenience factor: the company has been making a major investment in wristbands (MagicBands) as the next generation of smart cards that you use throughout your stay at a Disney resort. Ease of use means more use, which is good for Apple and participating retailers.
Apple Watch, coupled with Apple Pay, will compel retailers to commit to NFC payment systems -- whether Apple's or a competing platform such as Google Wallet (Walmart will go forward with a competing system). According to Gartner, only about 10 percent of retailers have adopted NFC technology, but Apple Pay could just be the turning point. Apple has already lined up financial institutions necessary to make Apple Pay take hold. And, as The Wall Street Journal noted recently, "Apple has a successful track record of helping to thrust existing technologies or services into the mainstream." The conditions are in place for Apple to do the same with mobile payments in retailing.
Apple has already made forays into the automotive industry with Car Play, its interface that displays information such as maps, navigation, and messages on your car's screen. Apple Watch will likely make auto brands think harder about how the auto integrates with the mobile experience. In other words, think in terms of connected cars. BMW has already developed an Apple Watch app that displays the charge level of a BMW car, a map of where you have parked it, and directions to find your car. The Apple Watch could also replace car keys and other functions that enable you to monitor and interact with your car while you're away from it.
What about the driving experience, though? The Apple Watch's navigation and notification features could be a distraction. But already the Apple Watch has challenged in-car multimedia systems with its contextual reply feature, according to KickingTires. If someone texts you a question, the Apple Watch makes it easier for you to reply with pre-populated responses. "By contrast, many preprogrammed text responses in automotive multimedia systems adhere to a rigid set of answers; this blows them into the Stone Age."
Less Intrusive Customer Experiences
Yes, the Watch is a new screen for brands to conquer -- but it's much more. By its nature, a watch is an extension of ourselves. We don't slip it into our pocket like we do a smartphone; rather, a watch is a more visible lifestyle utility, which is why we take more care when we buy one. Consequently, brands are going to be under even more pressure to create content that is less obtrusive and more visually appealing.
Consumers will be even less tolerant of unacceptable, distracting content when it's visible to them and everyone around them via their Apple Watches. For instance, brands accustomed to notifying consumers via buzzes and lights may soon need to put an end to "notification mentality." It's one thing for a brand to send you a notification on your iPhone while your device is tucked away in your purse or pocket -- it's quite another for your expensive watch to start talking to you while you are on a date. Moreover, brands will likely need to think of the appearance of apps in context of the design of the Apple Watch, especially the more expensive model. We may not care how Candy Crush looks on our iPhones, but we may feel differently about how an app appears on a wristwatch, which is a personal extension of our identities.
Brands have now entered the season of the Watch app. Companies ranging from Starwood Hotels to American Airlines have already gotten onboard to develop Apple Watch apps that do everything from check into your flight to unlock your hotel room door. (Apple granted those companies early access in order to showcase business uses of the Apple Watch in time for launch day.) And we can expect brands to create a bumper crop of next-generation apps for the Apple Watch thanks to the launch of WatchKit, created expressly for third-party developers. In their rush to develop new user interfaces on the Watch, though, savvy brands will keep their eyes on the customer, not the app.
As New York Fashion Weeks closes its doors, the impact of technology in fashion is opening entirely new ones. The fashion industry is known for pushing boundaries in both aesthetics and design. It pulls inspiration from unconventional sources that are oftentimes off-kilter, explorative, and even futuristic. And depending on whom you ask, technology can be described using similar words. The relationship between fashion and technology isn’t new, but it's certainly evolving and there are many lessons to be learned by big and small brands alike. World famous designers are showcasing their collections through cinematic masterpieces while tech companies are hiring high-profile designers to spearhead product design.
Here are three examples of fashion and technology’s increasingly interesting courtship.
Ralph Lauren Models Walk On Water in 4D Runway Show
New York Fashion Week is known for its evocative and edgy designer outfits. But anyone who loves fashion will also emphasize that fashion week isn’t just about clothes, it’s about the way they’re presented. After all, it’s called a fashion show for a reason. An uninspiring production won’t make headlines, nor will it push fashion boundaries. Ralph Lauren was anything but ordinary when he launched a 4-dimensional fashion show in Central Park’s Cherry Hill during New York Fashion Week.
Ralph Lauren used a water-screen projection to create a holographic cinematic experience that fused fashion and technology. By combining live-action movement and computer graphics, models walked virtual New York streets in an event that reimagined traditional runways shows. Holograms of models showcased vibrant colors and designs. And even though Lauren was physically present at the event, his hologram appeared at the end of the show to bow.
“I really wanted to do something big for the new Polo Women’s brand – something set in the city — that felt modern. We returned to Central Park, a place I love, and captured the spirit of Polo with a truly innovative mix of fashion and technology,” said Ralph Lauren. Even though this remarkable show was shot in just two-days, it was packed with over 50 fashion looks, 12 different runways, and a 15-foot virtual lighthouse. Ralph Lauren’s 4D show truly united fashion and technology in perfect harmony. Watch the unforgettable show here.
Google Glass Collaborates With Diane von Fürstenberg
While public approval of Google Glass is still mixed, the product itself is clearly innovative. In an effort to enhance Google Glass’ physical appearance (and therefore encourage more people to join the movement), Google collaborated with designer Diane von Fürstenberg to release a line of designer frames specifically for women.
Screenshot from Diane von Fürstenberg’s conversation with Google Glass lead designer, Isabelle Olsson.
The line is called DVF | Made for Glass and it includes five different limited-edition frames. Diane von Fürstenberg was inspired to design these particular frames by her love for aviator and shield styled glasses. You can purchase the frames, which are sold with accompanying sunglasses, for $1800. Google Glass Lead Designer, Isabelle Olsson, and von Fürstenberg sat down to chat about the progression of Google Glass in this video.
Olsson describes early models of Google Glass as “scuba masks with a phone attached to it and a cable running down to a backpack.” She added that prior to this collaboration, there were only “a couple of frames that were designed to be unisex.” Diane von Fürstenberg is notoriously known for designing women’s wrap dresses and now she can add Google Glass to her list. Her involvement in modernizing this piece of wearable technology illustrates a significant power play by Google. But innovating Google Glass hasn’t been an overnight process. Olsson says that the product’s main transformation occurred over the course of a year to a year and a half. And now thanks to von Fürstenberg, Google Glass hopes to attract more women as well as style conscious consumers.
Apple Hires World-Famous Australian Designer Marc Newson
News about Apple’s Watch has the tech community buzzing. The watch won’t be available until early 2015 and as of now its retail value starts at $349. In an age where smart devices and wearable technology are becoming increasingly popular, it makes sense that Apple would enter the market with a bang. And if we’ve learned anything from the pioneering company, it’s that they plan on staying at the forefront of innovation. What better way to solidify its place as an industry leader than hiring top executives from some of the world’s most respected fashion brands?
Apple recently announced that their design maven, Jony Ive, hired Australian-born designer (and friend) Marc Newson as Apple’s new Senior Vice President of Design. Newson is known for futuristic designs across a myriad of industries, including furniture, aircrafts, jewelry, and clothing. The addition of Marc Newson to Apple’s executive talent makes him one of many high-profile fashion experts to join the team. Also on Apple’s “advisory board” is Paul Deneve, the former CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry, and Ben Shaffer, Nike’s Innovation Kitchen Studio Director.
What Will Their Love Child Be When She Grows Up?
As fashion and technology continue their love affair, we can all learn from their love child. Wearable technology shouldn’t feel like a nuisance, but rather a seamless part of our everyday lives. And in order to continue pushing boundaries, fashion must excite and inspire us. So long as fashion and technology continue their mutually beneficial courtship, the possibilities are endless.
Photo Credit Joi Ito/Flickr
If you had looked in my purse in 1999, you would have been able to predict the iPhone. Inside, I had the following items: cell phone, address book, palm pilot, digital camera, pedometer, lipstick, computer, keys. Seven out of eight of those items have now converged, thanks to the smart phone.
It’s true that not just anyone would have predicted the future by looking in my purse. But an ethnographer could have. By observing my behaviors, including how I used all the tools I carried around with me, and talking to me about my frustrations and unmet needs, it would have been clear that what I needed was not another device, but just one device.
There are a lot of definitions of ethnography, but most boil down to “the observation and analysis of human groups considered as individual entities.” (Levi-Strauss) Ethnography has its roots in anthropology, and has been effectively borrowed by enterprise to understand how to better serve “human groups,” from consumers to workers. By understanding behaviors, values, tools, and unmet needs, enterprise clients have been developing products, services, and messaging to serve those target “human groups;” be they minivan moms, cancer survivors, or tech investors.
Ethnography is not just a powerful way of understanding current human needs and behaviors; it’s also a way to see what the future will bring. In my 15+ years as an ethnographer, I have seen ethnographic research predict the future again and again.
For example, an ethnographic research project on photography predicted the future of photography. Fifteen years ago. By observing the ways people were taking photographs, sharing them, storing them, and using them to communicate, that research pointed to the increasing importance of the photograph as a means of connecting with others and expressing oneself. But it also predicted the disembodiment of the photograph.
Another ethnographic project predicted the convergence of devices, as mentioned before with the Smartphone example. And on a more sober note, yet another ethnographic research project with Financial Advisors heralded the bursting of the dotcom bubble.
Once, someone who doubted the power of ethnographic research asked me, “But how do you know you’re asking the right questions?” The answer is I don’t just rely on the questions I’m asking, or people’s answers to those questions. To understand people, I look at their behaviors. I seek out the contradictions between perceived and actual behaviors. I observe people in context. I look inside their purses. And then I come up with models of that experience that companies can use to meet their users in the future.
Carrie Yury is Director of Research at BeyondCurious, an Innovation Consultancy that creates next-generation, multichannel digital solutions for enterprise clients.
Image credit to Total Innovation Management Foundation
Innovation isn’t reserved for small start-ups. More and more big brands are developing Innovation Labs and hiring Innovation Consultancies to create game-changing products and services. Brands increasingly need to engage consumers in unconventional ways, but only a handful of these brands dedicate in-house resources to systematically understand consumer needs and drive new ideas.
What’s surprising is the fact that many executives prioritize existing goods and services without truly considering how their customers or markets have changed. But some leading brands are doing just that: leveraging new technologies to deliver innovative solutions.
Here are four brands spearheading Innovation:
Nordstrom’s Innovation Lab describes themselves as “a team of techies, designers, entrepreneurs, statisticians, researchers, and artists, all trying to discover the future of retail.” Nordstrom’s Data Scientist, Erin Shellman, said in a recent interview, “the goal of the Nordstrom Data Lab is to deliver data-driven products to inform business decisions internally, and to enhance customer experience externally.”
As consumers become more and more attached to mobile devices, the opportunities for retailers to engage them become both easier and more difficult. While the opportunity is ripe, the means through which companies capture consumers’ attention must be strategic and deliberate. Whether a company uses scannable barcodes to relay detailed product information or mobile apps that allow consumers to skip checkout lines depends entirely on the behavior of their target market.
It's impressive that a company established in 1901 would leverage today’s technology to positively impact the future of their business. Nordstrom’s Innovation Lab is certainly setting new benchmarks in retail. The upscale fashion retailer definitely isn’t the new kid on the block, but their innovation lab has been called “a startup inside a Fortune 500 company.”
Ford Silicon Valley Lab is a self-proclaimed “hotbed of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship” located in Palo Alto, CA. Their team is comprised mostly of engineers in various disciplines, including mechatronics, product development, and embedded software. Paul Mascarenas leads the group as the CTO and VP of Research and Innovation along with K. Venkatesh Prasad, Senior Technical Lead, and Randal Visintainer, Director of Manufacturing, Vehicle Design and Safety.
Not only does Ford have an innovation lab that focuses on user experience and big data, but they’ve taken it a step further by fostering co-creation. Their Innovate Mobility Series encourages software developers to solve mobility issues around the world. There are currently six open challenges listed on their website. Four of the six are shown below:
Ford Innovate Mobility Series Challenges
Co-creation excites buyers by giving them a public call-to-action. By turning consumers into innovators Ford empowers potential buyers by inviting them to participate in the innovation process.
The Home Depot took a different approach to in-house innovation when they acquired Austin, TX based startup BlackLocus back in 2012. BlackLocus builds technology designed to help retailers make data-driven pricing decisions using algorithms. By uncovering consumer spending patterns, Home Depot hopes to make more informed decisions when it comes to what products they should offer and at what price. Since its acquisition, BlackLocus has been renamed the Home Depot Innovation Lab and its focus has remained on how to give Home Depot a competitive edge using software and analytics.
Rather than opening physical stores in new locations or reviving struggling locations, large retailers like Home Depot are using this money to invest in technology. As customers increasingly rely on smart devices for shopping, it is important that retailers understand these new spendng habits before allocating resources to enhancing physical spaces.
Online retail giant eBay has a Research Lab that focuses on creating innovative technologies that “will fuel the growth of eCommerce and help shape its future.” Since it’s inception in 1995, eBay has grown internationally with over 33,000 employees who’ve facilitated the selling of over $67 billion worth of online goods. No wonder the eBay Research Labs consist of seven different in-house groups:
Economics Center of Excellence
Human Computer Interaction
Machine Learning and Data Science
Center of Excellence in Statistical Research (CESR)
eBay was one of the first online retailers to directly connect buyers and sellers, particularly in the auction space. As technology has changed, so has eBay’s platform and the way they’ve engaged consumers. Consider eBay’s website in 2000 compared to 2014.
eBay in 2000
eBay in 2014
eBay’s innovation isn’t limited to their digital presence; back in 2013 they signed a deal with Argos that allowed shoppers to pick up their online eBay purchases from local Argos stores.
Big Brand Transformation
As online sales increase year-over-year, large brands must find new ways to connect and engage with consumers. Both Nordstrom and Ford have been around since the early 1900s with Home Depot entering the market in the late 70s. They’re all classic companies who’ve successfully branded themselves as leaders in their industries. And as they look toward the future, they’ve embraced innovation as a means to stay ahead. eBay joined the party a little later, but they’re at no disadvantage when it comes innovation. In fact, eBay was born on the cusp of the Internet boom so it’s no surprise that they value research.
Sure, big brands can’t always move as quickly as startups, but that doesn’t mean they don’t recognize the need for brand transformation. And even if they can’t dedicate in-house resources to systematically drive new ideas, there are Innovation Consultancies like BeyondCurious that help big brands disrupt themselves before they’re disrupted by emerging trends and technologies.
Sometimes the simplest change can unleash the potential of your work force. A case in point is learning how to talk openly with each other at BeyondCurious. After taking a hard look at ourselves during a challenging period, we recently implemented an approach for more open communication that we call "straight talk." Straight talk is not a euphemism for providing occasional performance feedback; it's a simple but powerful way of thinking that encompasses candid communication across the organization at all times. I believe straight talk can help your company become more efficient and effective, as it has with BeyondCurious.
Straight talk came about after BeyondCurious endured some tough growing pains. We were achieving our goals and scaling to meet the demand, but it was obvious to me that we weren’t taking the most efficient path in getting there, causing unnecessary stress and rework. I was sensing frustration and knew I had to solve the puzzle quickly. Fortunately, in a close-knit organization, you can get the pulse of the work place fairly quickly. And indeed I got to the heart of the matter in short order: we were not being straight with each other.
Ironically, the friendliness of people on our team was generating a challenge I had not expected to encounter. Because we get along so well, too often we were failing to confront each other over issues such as blown deadlines or work that was not meeting expectations. In other words, we were not holding each other accountable, and the lack of accountability was making our life harder than it needed to be.
We realized that only by being straight with each other could we truly sustain a culture of empowerment and growth. We had to learn how to get the point across plainly and directly but to do so without being hurtful. We also needed a process that allowed everyone to feel empowered to communicate this way. Straight talk is that process. These are its elements:
- A shared vocabulary. We agreed on a code phrase, "straight talk," that gives us permission to confront each other in a positive way. "Straight talk" is a verbal signal for both parties that an issue requires addressing. If you missed a recent deadline and I am worried that the problem might happen again, I might say, "Straight talk: our deadline is two weeks from now, and you missed our last deadline. I want to know what support you need so we can make this one."
- Universal application. Straight talk is not just for peers; it applies to everyone regardless of title. I recently had a junior member of my team come up to me and say: "Straight talk: I don’t understand the decision you’re making and I need more evidence so I can support you fully." Straight talk holds us all accountable, equally.
- Always on. There are no off hours for straight talk because there are no off hours for accountability. Unlike feedback that occurs when there’s a trigger or a specific milestone, straight talk is a way of setting expectations and driving accountability at all times.
- Public. Straight talk need not be limited to private conversations. It is an effective way of solving problems or achieving alignment in a group setting. For us, it helped to achieve consensus on matters very quickly.
I introduced straight talk on a Monday morning, and by Monday afternoon, we were all embracing the idea. Clearly, straight talk was meeting a desperate need. Creating a culture of straight talk has already improved the way we work in many ways, such as:
- We are more effective. Expectations are clear, commitments are followed through and performance issues are addressed immediately.
- We are more efficient. Meetings are shorter and decision-making is timely. We don't waste time dancing around issues.
- We are more empowered. Everyone has a voice. Communication feels easy and effortless.
Sebastian and Gretchen using straight talk at BeyondCurious
Being candid is the essence of straight talk. But such candor does not always come naturally in the workplace. Sometimes, we need a tool to help us feel comfortable with candor in a group setting. Straight talk is our tool. What is yours?
New technologies are helping retailers increase customer engagement, support staff performance, and bring data richness to in-store customer analytics. For example: have you ever wondered what areas of your store get the most foot traffic? Do you wish you could push relevant promotions and recommendations to customers based on their purchase history while in your store? Or have you ever wanted to beam instructions to a sales associate suddenly faced with an unhappy VIP client?
Here are 5 technologies giving retail leaders the power to meet those tough retail challenges head on:
Beacons and iBeacons
Swirl, Estimote, SonicNotify, and Urban Airship offer integrated beacon solutions
Beacons (or iBeacons) are small transmitters using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) that communicate with connected devices. Applications range from customer experience management to store layout optimization. Using Beacons, store employees can do things like judge the proper time to approach an individual store guest by tracking their time spent at a product wall. Similarly, collecting analytics on popular spaces in-store over time allows retailers to quickly A/B test their store layouts.
Macy’s deployed Beacons in two stores in late 2013 in collaboration with Shopkick, a location-based app that awards points to customers for physically visiting stores or scanning merchandise. American Eagle deployed beacons in 100 of its stores in January of this year. Other deployments that integrate with Shopkick are slated to occur in whole host of other large retailers including Target, The Sports Authority, Crate and Barrel, and Old Navy.
From more granular customer analytics to increased engagement, beacons promise to make retail spaces and the people who run them smarter and more connected than ever.
Augmented Reality + Smart Glasses
Virgin Atlantic uses Google Glass to offer VIP passengers better service
Combining smart glasses with augmented reality promises increased efficiency in inventory management, more consistent staff training, and increased process compliance. Active Ants, a fulfillment operation out of the Netherlands, increased efficiency by 15% and decreased error rates by 12% after outfitting its stock pickers with Google Glass. Large format retail stores could benefit by implementing this technology to keep shelves orderly and manage in-store inventory.
Virgin Atlantic has taken a step in regard to the last application, using Google Glass outfitted with facial recognition software to help Heathrow airport concierges better serve upper class passengers. According to Virgin, the trial proved so successful that they will “productionise” the use of Glass. Enterprise use of smart glasses and augmented reality has the potential to usher in a new retail era, ensuring consistent brand communication across touchpoints, along with a higher level of performance support.
Facial Recognition: The Next Frontier
Neoface by NEC IT systems offers real-time face recognition for retail environments
Some retailers already use facial recognition as a loss prevention tool, comparing store visitors with known problem guests. However, facial recognition software presents extensive opportunities for serving customers. Retailers can use facial recognition to search out VIP clients and push purchase history along with personalized recommendations to sales floor staff.
Another customer management application of this technology on the sales floor is using software to interpret the emotional state of customers. Companies like Realeyes do emotional response testing by analyzing the facial expression of participants. Once the technology is operational in real time, retailers—especially large format retailers—could deploy sales staff to customers who display some sort of negative affect. How could your business benefit by knowing exactly who your customers are and what they’re feeling?
Theatro Wearable Computer is used by The Container Store to keep employees in touch
Many kinds of wearables hold promise for the enterprise space. Imagine being able to track performance of the sales floor staff or being able to deploy training exercises via smartwatch. The Container Store is one of the first retail stores using wearables to support its sales staff. Earlier this year, they rolled out a pilot program to 35 employees at their Austin store using the Theatro Wearable Computer.
This wearable replaces a clunky walkie-talkie with a sleek device that uses the store’s wireless network to transmit audio signals. Staff can receive previously recorded messages and use voice commands to locate other associates. Already, the company has seen a 30% increase in the volume of directed communication with a 60% decrease in the number of messages everyone hears. In other words, people are hearing the messages that are relevant to them without having to listen to everything else.
Wearables are powerful tools that can help collect information on how your team is performing and offer them help when they need it.
Staples 3D marketplace gives visitors a way to share and sell 3D-printable files
Any retailer that is interested in offering a tangible piece of the brand experience to a customer may want to invest in an on-site 3D printer. For example, home improvement associates could become partners in customer projects, printing out 3D models of proposed improvements to help customers visualize their spaces and get buy-in from family members. For consumer electronics stores, offering 3D printed mobile accessories would engage customers, by giving them ownership of the creative process.
Staples and UPS now have 3D printing services. Staples has opened two experimental 3D printing locations, one in Los Angeles and one in New York. Primarily positioned as community outreach and education, it also gives Staples a hi-tech halo, imbuing the Staples brand with a more cutting-edge image.
How do you see these new technologies impacting your retail business?
BeyondCurious uses our expertise in in-store digital to help large enterprises disrupt themselves before they get disrupted. Learn more about how we help businesses innovate here.
We are delighted to announce that BeyondCurious is featured in Google's 2013 Economic Impact Report.
The report explores how growing businesses leverage Google’s tools to expand their reach and online presence. We’re thrilled about Google’s write-up and we're grateful for all of their amazing services. Read the article below or view it on Google's website here: http://goo.gl/gEV1Sz
"Nikki Barua and Vishal Agarwal were senior executives with flourishing careers at digital agencies when they noticed the growing disconnect between the traditional approach of large brands and the rapid innovation of Silicon Valley. They saw an opportunity to fill that widening gap by helping large brands disrupt themselves before they get disrupted.
In October of 2011, they founded BeyondCurious with no clients or capital, just a grand vision for their new company. In a few short months they were already profitable. Now, less than three years later, BeyondCurious – an “Innovation Consultancy” – has realized its vision of helping large brands make innovation an everyday occurrence instead of an occasional event. Their success is astounding with more than fifty team members, millions in revenue, and a growth rate of 500 percent year over year.
Building mobile and tablet applications that solve business problems for leading brands is a key focus for BeyondCurious. Android apps account for as much as fifty percent of their revenue, and they are quickly becoming a core part of their business. “In fact, as we’re projecting forward we’re seeing that grow even more,” Nikki says.
Operating as an entirely cloud-powered business, BeyondCurious has successfully leveraged an extensive list of Google products to scale globally while competing with multibillion-dollar agencies. Google Docs enables them to seamlessly collaborate with teams around the globe. AdWords, Google’s advertising program, and Google Analytics have become valuable tools for testing new sales and marketing strategies. At the same time, YouTube and Google+ have been integral to building a strong brand. “We were scrappy and took advantage of everything that was out there; it really leveled the playing field,” notes Nikki.
Growth shows no signs of slowing down: Nikki expects to triple her team size by next year and is counting on Google’s products to help her company tackle the challenges that come with such rapid success."
Humanitarian initiatives are spearheading innovation and organizations large and small stand to benefit. As a whole the digital revolution has impacted the way we communicate and share information with each other, but it’s also shaping the way we collect data and what we do with that data. More and more companies are shifting to mobile-based data collection – it’s faster, cheaper, more efficient, and it also enhances the quality of data gathered. Here’s why:
- Efficiency: Mobile data collection and data entry can be performed simultaneously. This reduces the amount of personnel required to collect information as well as the time it takes to complete the task.
- Improved Data Quality: With answer validation checks built into mobile infrastructure, data cleaning is already underway.
- Better Insight: Data can be interpreted in real-time as it's uploaded. This enables trend spotting with visualization tools, including maps and graphs, which illustrate more accurate portrayals of a situation or environment. Mobile technology also ensures "anytime, anywhere" access to field-level data.
- Data Security: Mobile data is collected via encrypted forms and sent to secure online databases ensuring information is securely stored and easily accessible.
Mobile data collection isn’t just helping companies be more efficient; it’s also helping people respond better to humanitarian crisis. One company taking an innovative approach to using mobile data collection in transformative ways is KoBo Toolbox, a Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. KoBo Toolbox is an integrated suite of applications for handheld digital data collection that enhance the speed and accuracy of collecting and sharing information in emergency or conflict environments.
KoBo Toolbox was born out of necessity. Almost 10 years ago KoBo Toolbox co-founders Patrick Vinck and Phuong Pham worked in Iraq, Eastern Congo, and Central African countries to assess how these populations were affected by conflict. After spending countless hours on projects in developing countries, Vinck realized that he had a problem. His biggest challenge was how to gather accurate data on crisis situations efficiently. Using traditional methods, not only would it take over one year to gather all of the results, but by the time data was collected most of the information was already outdated. Seeking a more convenient way to gather and share information, Vinck and Pham turned to mobile. However, since most of their research teams worked in remote locations with limited Internet service, they needed a dynamic mobile platform that worked well even when the Internet wasn’t accessible. After much trial and error, the duo finally adopted Android’s open data kit, and KoBo Toolbox was born.
The resulting suite of apps help gather and share data more effectively, leading to the greater ability to understand and quickly respond to humanitarian crisis. KoBoMap (currently in development) is one example. KoBoMap is designed to geographically portray data, an incredibly useful tool that was previously only available to national or sub-national organizations.
Kobo Map, one of Kobo Toolbox's Mobile Data Collection Apps
All of KoBo Toolbox’s developers work with Vinck and Pham in the field. This ensures that there’s no disconnect between the product and its users. Additionally, KoBo Toolbox operates on an open-source platform, which means it’s free to use and is highly customizable. It works well with limited Internet, utilizes remote administration, and can be used on multiple devices. KoBo Toolbox forms can also be encrypted to protect sensitive data.
The Kobo Toolbox Suite
KoBo Toolbox was made public three years ago and has been widely adopted by humanitarian initiatives. The apps enable organizations to land in conflict and emergency zones and successfully gather pertinent information in 24-48 hours. In fact, organizations like the International Rescue Committee reached out to the KoBo team and requested that the app be tailored to human applications.
In addition to case studies in Kenya, India, and Liberia, the International Organization for Migration recently used KoBo Toolbox following the large typhoon in the Philippines. Teams were deployed on the ground almost immediately and they were already equipped with statistics regarding which areas had access to clean water and available shelters. The John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation was among the first organizations to believe in Kobo Toolbox and further fund its development. So far this suite of apps is supported by the United Nations, US Aid, and Humanity United. And following a $100,000 grant from Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, the KoBo team looks forward to releasing a more intuitive and stable version of KoBo Toolbox.
Humanitarian initiatives have most quickly adopted the idea of KoBo Toolbox and digital data collection. However, the potential in mobile data collection extends beyond the humanitarian field, with many applications for enterprise. Mobile data collection tools can be employed in commodity tracking, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), as well as conducting research. By improving the quality and accuracy of data, organizations everywhere stand to benefit.
Vinck and Pham hope to see widespread adoption of KoBo Toolbox by NGOs. Whereas many humanitarian-focused initiatives paint compelling narratives based on pictures, the KoBo team believes in incorporating hard data to depict stories. Vinck and Pham believe the tool’s ability to incorporate quantitative and qualitative data in recounting stories of humanitarian crisis will positively impact millions of people around the world.