Photo credit: The Huffington Post
In a world of constantly emerging new technologies, what trends will have the biggest impact on our lives? There are numerous predictions about which technology will be the most transformative and game changing. We picked the top 10 based on their potential to create disruptive change in 2015.
1. Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) describes a landscape in which everyday physical objects connect with the Internet. When an inanimate object receives a digital footprint, that object becomes significantly more powerful as it can be shared and connected with people and places near and far. The IoT is shifting the way we use products. Canary is an all-in-one home security system that includes sensors and an HD video camera to monitor air temperature, quality, and sound. The systems employs machine learning to determine “normal activities,” sending you alerts through the Canary mobile app if these patterns change.
2. Predictive Analytics
If businesses could tell the future based on data they currently have, would they modify the way in which they did business? Of course they would. Organizations are using predictive analytics to extract specific information from mass data in order to anticipate future behavior patterns. Not only does this enhance business intelligence, but it also gives businesses the chance to identify risks as well as untapped opportunities. The biggest reason why businesses fail to employ predictive analytics is their lack of great data. After all, you can’t predict the future if you don’t know how consumers are currently spending their time and money.
3. Artificial Intelligence (Machine Learning)
Machine learning is a marriage between algorithms and data. In particular, it is a science in which computers are trained to analyze and interpret data without being explicitly programmed. With so much of our daily activities monitored through cell phones and internet searches, big data is transforming artificial intelligence, and specifically machine learning. Big brands like Google, Netflix, and Amazon use machine learning to provide recommendations based on your search history or recent online activity. Machine learning can be so complex that it powers driverless cars, or so simple that it completes sentences as you text.
Nanotechnology exists in a world so small that we cannot see it with the naked eye. Yet it has the potential to reshape our society on a grand and global scale. For starters, nanotechnology has the power to transform the automated self-assembly process. This has enormous potential for vertical industries, including retail, healthcare and energy. Imagine if nanotechnology decreased the cost of making computers by half; reduced drug manufacturing by three/fourths; or got rid of our dependence on fossil fuels?
5. Wearable World
Wearable technology provides consumers with the ability to gather and analyze extremely intimate data about their daily habits. Wearable devices also provide a convenience factor that attracts many buyers. For example, smart watches relay alerts from email and social media, share breaking news, as well as provide detailed information on the amount of steps you’ve taken in a day. They offer a connectedness coupled with independence, allowing users to look less at their cell phone. Wearable technology isn’t new by any means, but it is certainly evolving. With fashion as important as function, wearable devices will become a seamless part of our lives.
6. Mighty Batteries
Technology is advancing our world, but how far have we truly come if we still rely on wires and chords to power our devices? The National Institute of Standards and Technology announced earlier in 2014 that they were developing batteries from sodium-based, complex metal hydride. Not only would this make batteries more stable and powerful, but it could also make them cheaper. Improvements in battery technology will change the way electronics are designed and built.
7. Ambient Proximity
It’s not where a promotion is that matters; it is how close the promotion is located to you. Thanks to enhancements in ambient proximity technology, devices like beacons allow smartphone owners to interact more easily with their surroundings. Beacons are small transmitters using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) that push information back and forth between two connected devices in close proximity. Under Armour uses beacons to analyze how shoppers behave in their store, while Apple relies on beacons to increase their mobile payments.
8. Urban Mobility
The transportation industry has undergone massive disruption as innovation in urban mobility alters the way we travel. In particular, ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft allow people to pay for and arrange a ride through a mobile app, eliminating the need for physical cash. Additionally, bicycle-sharing services like New York’s Citibikes, Washington D.C.’s Capital BikeShare, and Austin’s B-Cycle offer eco-friendly alternatives to driving. As more consumers adopt environmentally friendly ways of living, urban mobility will continue to experience massive change.
Accelerating checkout options is key for brands that want to enhance a shopper’s experience. No matter how great your product or service, you’ll upset and potentially lose customers if they are forced to wait in long lines. Panera Bread offers self-service machines where customers can bypass lines to order and purchase their meals. Not only are diners able to customize their meal by specifying exact preferences, but Panera also rewards them for using the self-service machines by giving them a free cookie. Through apps, both Taco Bell and Starbucks offer customers the option to order and pay for their items prior to picking them up.
10. Social Payments
Consumers enjoy convenience. We’re more connected than ever through mobile apps. Thus, the emergence of social payments seems quite fitting given how often we use social platforms. Snapchat recently launched Snapcash, an easy way for friends to exchange money within the text feature. How easy? By simply typing a dollar sign followed by a specific amount of money, you can send cash to friends. Another messaging app called Line released Line Pay, allowing users to purchase items and transfer money within the app. Additionally, some restaurants are adopting social payments so that diners can conveniently split bills.
BeyondCurious is an Innovation Consultancy. Learn more at www.beyondcurious.com
Credit: Jon-Eric Melsæter
Recently I was talking to a technologist friend who said that he thinks most companies are hesitant to include research into their design process because people fear the unknown. Call me naïve, but I was shocked to hear that. To me, while research may start with unknowns, its task is the discovery of knowledge. And knowledge is power -- especially knowledge about your target user. However, the more I thought about what he said, the more intrigued I became with the idea.
Stepping back, my technologist friend had a valid point. Research presents a wide and complex swath of unknowns, from “who should we talk to and how long will recruiting take?” to “what will we learn, and how will the research findings impact the design/dev cycle?” Traditional contextual qualitative research strikes fear into the hearts of many because getting from the unknown to the known has historically been a “black box” process that has taken months, been costly, and provided insights too late to be of much use. Research findings and their ramifications introduce too much instability for most to stomach.
But new technologies and adapted approaches to research are making it possible to understand and serve user needs while minimizing project instability. For example, remote testing tools, in-context recruiting tools, data analytics, and mobile data tracking all shorten the time between data gathering and insights. The trick is harnessing these tools in a way that increases speed while maintaining rigor.
At BeyondCurious, we have done this in part by borrowing some of the thinking and approaches behind agile software development and tailoring them to the research process. For example, rather than two or three month long projects that culminate with a research report, we conduct research in sprints. Just as in Scrum development methodology, where each sprint ends with the ability to ship a minimum viable product, each of our Agile Research sprints ends with a minimum viable set of findings on a specific area of inquiry. Sprints are successive, allowing for rapid pivoting, and enabling the team to follow or jettison lines of inquiry as the product develops. The successive nature of the sprint methodology also means that our knowledge base about the target user is cumulative, giving us both breadth and depth.
We have conducted research sprints across the spectrum of the design process -- from up front conceptual research through participatory design and prototype testing to usability testing. Because research is conducted in sprints, we get from inquiry to insights in weeks, mitigating the usual fear-inducing factors (length of time, cost of research, impact to design/dev cycle). There’s still impact to the project timeline. But early incorporation limits cost down the road. Case in point: in one recent round of usability testing and design iteration we increased our System Usability Scale score by almost 30 points, from 50 to 80. That’s an enormous difference that will have a huge payoff in user adoption of the solution.
How have we been able to adapt lean methods to qualitative, contextual research? In part, this has been thanks to technology. As part of BeyondCurious’ Innovation@Speed methodology and mindset, we are constantly searching for ways that technology can help us be more efficient. To this end, we are doing everything from using online recruiting tools like ethn.io and repurposing web conferencing tools like Skype and Join.me to developing our own research applications.
But the other reason we’ve been able to shift to an agile approach to research has been thanks to a mental shift. Simply put, when faced with a research question, area of inquiry, or limited time frame, instead of saying no, we find ways to say yes. That mental and attitudinal agility has been just as important as the tools we use to enable our Agile Research methodology. The openness, flexibility, ability to pivot, and rapidity of insights generation that Agile Research enables has helped everyone from clients to internal teams conquer their fear of the unknown, and leverage the power of knowing target users. So there’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.
How does a major automotive brand empower both its customers and its sales associates with the technology to create a consistent experience online and offline? Lexus, a division of Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), embraced that opportunity by working with BeyondCurious to develop mobile applications that supported the launch of the all-new Lexus 2015 NX and RC models. A key to success was Lexus utilizing a BeyondCurious methodology, Innovation@Speed, that disrupts traditional product development approaches.
On November 13, BeyondCurious is being honored with an award from the Asian/Pacific Islander Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (ACE) for the work that we have done with our partner TMS Toyota Motor Sales. We were also just awarded a Gold MarCom in Mobile for the Lexus RC App. Both honors affirm the value of taking new approaches to bring ideas to market faster and more effectively, as the following case study demonstrates.
2015 Lexus RC app
A Case Study: Lexus NX and RC apps
Lexus wanted to engage and educate sales associates on two new vehicle lines—the NX and RC—before they even hit the showroom, all while using a digital app that had the broadest reach possible. These apps would go beyond education to provide associates with a genuine selling tool. The apps needed to not only target sales associates but also appeal and be useful to consumers who were researching new cars.
Our Approach: Innovation@Speed
Lexus was a perfect candidate for Innovation@Speed, which allows brands to achieve rapid results. Innovation@Speed consists of four pillars that can be applied to our partner’s business problems: integrated thinking, a hacker mindset, lean methods, and living product.
We always start from a place of integrated thinking, striving to think through all of the possible options and discover what works best. This project was no exception, leading us to examine many different approaches at the outset. It was important that the apps provided information to customers as they research potential purchases and also to salespeople so that they can be better informed. The solution: maximizing interactive content and providing features like virtual reality components which allowed visual vehicle competitor comparisons—an experience that would never even be possible in a physical retail environment. The NX and RC apps capture the essence of the Lexus brand while supporting an informed purchase decision.
A Hacker Mindset
After carefully considering the various options, we decided that using a single code base to design a solution that scaled across platforms (iOS, Android) and devices (mobile, tablet, desktop) was the correct approach. In this way we, saved time, money, and reached the broadest possible audience.
We employed a sprint-based project schedule during design and development, delivering something to the client every two weeks. For clients, this timeline provided greater visibility into what was being created. For the project team, it conferred the ability to quickly surface problems, build minimum viable products quickly, and pivot when a need emerged.
Ensuring that the apps were easily updateable and provided informative analytics were important to overall client success. To that end, both the NX and RC apps make updating and disseminating key information about the RC and NX models simple for Lexus. Analytics that measure user engagement will help Lexus understand user behavior and needs, structuring future improvements. Supporting multiple audiences, the NX and RC apps are living products that will evolve with Lexus’ brand-new vehicles.
On September 9, 2014 the apps launched, supporting hundreds of types of devices. In a review of the apps in Luxury Daily, author Joe Withey characterized the apps as “…useful for any consumer that wants to supplement their research journey…” The apps proved popular for both the consumer and the salesperson, receiving high marks on both the Google Play and Apple App store. Indeed, as Ming-Jou Chen, Dealer Development Communications Manager at Lexus College, Torrance, California, said in Luxury Daily, the apps met their goal, engaging and educating a broad audience: “Both dealers and customers benefit from the them as self-learning tools and it’s great for awareness as well.” Our Innovation@Speed methodology helped Lexus deliver a product that met business challenges with agility and speed.
Helping big brands innovate quickly is our specialty. Explore how we have helped other big brands transform themselves on our website.
After founding and running Web 2.0 conferences for a number of years, John Battelle was fed up. The co-founder of Wired had had it up to here with status quo conference rooms and generic hotel ballrooms. So, while mountain biking with friend Brian Monahan, the two came up with an idea that would turn the conference on its head.
Not long after, they founded NewCo. True to their vision, NewCo does not organize conferences. Instead, they facilitate festivals where curious minds, startup junkies, and entrepreneurs can hear from and interact with innovative new companies in the company's own offices. With multiple tracks or "stages" from which to choose in each time slot, participants curate their own experience to learn and make new connections. NewCo offers an up-close and personal experience of each company in its native habitat, including office tours and insights from company founders.
Past participants have included a range of companies. For example, the 2014 NewCo Festival in San Francisco included well-known innovators like IDEO, airbnb, Pinterest, and Yahoo. But less obvious and equally interesting companies, like Hampton Creek--a food company that operates like a technology company--are equally represented.
NewCo Festivals are hosted around the world and they're quickly gaining momentum. But Battelle isn't just interested in reinventing the conference. He's on a mission to use the NewCo festivals to help a new kind of company thrive. Battelle believes that these new kind of corporations, or NewCo's, with their new ways of doing business, will help create thriving, connected ecosystems in host cities.
So what makes a NewCo? How are they any different from old companies?
- Information First NewCo's are information-first companies that are innovating by changing the usual flow of data so that instead of retroactively reacting, they are proactively shaping their companies' offerings. That also means that NewCo's tend to be flat, since information flows better when it's not bottled up in silos.
- On a mission NewCo's don't just have a mission--everyone has those. They're ON a mission that everyone in the company shares and can articulate. They are about something, and that's what motivates them to continue pushing the boundaries of the possible.
- Positive Change Whether it's making a better mattress or helping reclaim a rundown waterway, NewCo's all feel that what they are doing is making a positive change in the world. They're part of a community, they believe in giving to get.
The next NewCo festival--NewCo LA--occurs on Wednesday, November 19th from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. Over 50 host companies, spanning from Venice to downtown Los Angeles are opening their doors. For registration go here.
Changes abound in how Americans are thinking about healthcare. The Affordable Care Act has wrought tremendous changes in the overall healthcare marketplace, as the focus on patients as healthcare consumers—along with the mandate to incorporate digital technology—has led to industry transformation. One sector at the center of the American’s evolving relationship with healthcare is the retail pharmacy.
Located in neighborhoods across America, the retail pharmacy is uniquely positioned to confront America’s health challenges, including spiraling health costs and access. For example, retail pharmacies have been instrumental in popularizing generic drugs. In terms of providing access, they are much better positioned than hospitals to provide preventive care. With Americans only 2.36 miles away from their closest retail pharmacy, their ubiquity makes them uniquely suited to catering to the needs of the community. And, retail pharmacies are moving further in the direction of providing basic medical services--CVS’s Minuteclinics are a model example.
So what is in store for the future and what new ways are pharmacies using innovative tools to help patients take charge of their health? The future of the pharmacy is currently in flux, but there are some clear trends in how technology and changing service models are playing a role. Here are four innovative tools retail pharmacies are using to improve patient health:
Interactive Health Kiosks
Gone are the antiquated-looking blood pressure monitoring stations of old. Today retail pharmacies are installing interactive health kiosks from companies like Higi-- which partnered with Rite Aid in 2014. In the case of Higi, customers can record weight, blood pressure, and pulse at one of the in-store kiosks and review it through an online account. A health index reduces overall metrics into one number that helps users understand their overall wellness. Participation is incentivized through challenges and rewards in the form of discounts to a variety of retailers.
Next Generation Lab Testing
Walgreens has just partnered with Theranos—a biotech company specializing in minimally invasive blood testing—to disrupt the medical laboratory-testing experience. Theranos will leverage a spa-like soothing environment with the accessible footprint of Walgreens and its fast, minimally invasive testing technology to create a next generation testing experience that minimizes stress and maximizes efficiency.
Digital Health Coaching
Retail pharmacies are also taking an active role in their customers’ health by providing coaching programs. Recently, Walgreens has partnered with WebMD in order to provide these coaching programs to patients. This coaching extends across many different sorts of chronic conditions and is mediated through digital tools.
Pharmacists now help customers remember to take their medication in a variety of ways including calling, texting, and email reminders. Mscripts is another tool pharmacists can use to help patients adhere to their medication regimens. The smartphone app offers customers the ability to refill their prescriptions at the touch of a button and also offers helpful prescription refill-reminding push notifications
Retail pharmacies have proven to be unexpected laboratories for innovative technology and services. Their uniquely large footprint and accessibility make them poised to help the US address its many health challenges.
Code Red: A New Approach to Project Planning
At BeyondCurious, we engage a project planning practice called Code Red, designed to uncover the risk, uncertainty, and fears that exist in relation to any project. Code Red helps us align contingency planning to team energy level, gives us optimism when we need it, and vastly increases quality of output while on the way to the finish line.
The Problem with the Typical Project Planning Process
The typical approach to project planning is to start off every project with a code green status, meaning everything is going well. As teams progress through each month of the project and encounter challenges—whether associated with people, circumstances, or budgets—the status changes from green to yellow. When challenges persist or expand, the project goes into crisis and the status changes to red. Unless you’re able to turn the project around at this point, it is essentially a failure.
It takes an enormous amount of effort, energy, and budget to turn that foundering project around. Relationships are damaged, trust is lost, and you may have to delay or forego valuable opportunities.
What’s the Fix?
In the course of our experience—having run complex, global projects for over 15 years—we have found that the kind of challenges that turn a project status fro green to red aren’t uncovered by the typical, rational planning process. Instead, those challenges stem from variables that people have felt intuitively but have not generally identified and articulated during the planning phase.
Code Red is a response to this challenge and involves flipping the practice of how projects are planned and executed. Instead of starting a project with a status of green, then going to red, and finally exerting a tremendous amount of resources in order to get back to green, we start every project off with a red status. We say, “Let’s plan on project success but let’s also think about all the rational and irrational concerns, fears, uncertainties, and doubts we have even before the project begins. Let’s figure out a mitigation plan so that if we hit any of those scenarios, we can immediately trigger the actions necessary to meet those challenges.”
How Code Red Helps
1 – Aligns Team Energy to Project Needs
If you start off with a project status of red, your goal at the start of the project—when everyone has the highest levels of energy, optimism, and enthusiasm—is all applied in how you get that project from a red to a green status. It maps well to the emotional energy of the team. Ultimately, you are saying, “Let’s scramble up front. Let’s solve for this now, and then we can take it easier at the end.” By the end of the project when the energy starts to dwindle, you’re already in a great place.
2 – Gives the Team Optimism at the Right Moment
Projects are like wars. Project challenges are its battles, and optimism is most needed at later junctures when morale is most vulnerable. When you’re six months in and you see another mistake that delays the project, necessitating an all-nighter, it is hard to muster the energy to tackle problems with sufficient vigor and hope. If, on the other hand, one starts from a place of urgency, going from red to orange to yellow to green, optimism regarding project success can only build over time.
3 – Manages Stakeholder and Client Expectations
Code Red is fantastic at managing expectations of stakeholders and clients. Even if you hit unfortunate circumstances for which you may not have planned, your clients are not likely to be surprised because you have already talked about every possible scenario. They’re much more likely to be collaborative. Everyone is in a problem-solving rather than a finger-pointing mode, and the energy of the group is directed in moving forward as opposed to feeling beaten by circumstance.
4 – Improves Overall Quality
This project planning practice also improves quality of output by allowing more response time. For example, in a digital project, the engineering bits come at the very end. You’ve done research, strategy, UX, and design and by the time the engineers get started on their part, you might only have 30 days left before the launch date. If they encounter obstacles or need to make changes, things become dire. If those possible challenges were uncovered at the inception of the project, the engineering team would have had 6 months to figure out a solution.
5 - More Focus and Urgency
When a project is Code Red, there is increased focus and urgency. Harnessing the team’s instinctual reaction to a perceived threat staves off complacency and triggers the muscles necessary to get you from red to green. Code Red drives change whereas the typical project process engages a maintenance mentality. It is the difference between preserving the status quo and moving the needle.
Code Red has helped us derive better quality results, increase focus, manage relationships with clients, and allow us to maintain optimism in the face of challenging situations. Contact us to learn more about how a Code Red mindset can help your organization.
Ensuring that guests have a consistent, memorable experience is paramount to building your brand in the travel and hospitality space. To achieve this goal, many companies are putting their technology to work in a variety of ways—from location-based promotions to performance support that helps staff deliver high-touch service. As experts in the travel and hospitality space with a deep understanding of human experience, we see three ways brands can capitalize on new technology to deliver next generation guest experiences.
Empower Staff with Mobile Devices
Hotel properties are using mobile technology to empower staff to do their jobs efficiently and deliver seamless guest experiences. Many employees are embracing the use of mobile technology in their day-to-day workflows. We recently interviewed housekeeping staff at a major resort, where employees spoke glowingly about the iPhones they use to receive service request notifications from the front desk via a suite of hospitality management apps.
There were many reasons employees liked using the smart-device over paper spreadsheets. First, it ensured accountability by providing metrics on how long it took to respond to a service request or complete an order for service. Second, it was extremely easy to use—showing us an uncomplicated user interface with simple interactions. Last, it increased efficiency by allowing housekeeping staff to quickly allocate themselves by proximity to guests who needed service.
There is, however, an opportunity to empower employees even further: give them access to more granular data about guests and open up back-of-house management apps to guests through a consumer-facing portal. Allowing housekeepers to access guest preferences would enable them to deliver personalized touches. Guests could also let back-of-house managers know the level of service they are receiving through a rating along the lines of what Lyft or Uber has enabled for drivers. This kind of system would enable a more transparent environment for improving guest experience.
Streamline the Reservations Process
At every touchpoint, prospective guests should consistently be directed to the appropriate employee based on their needs and issues--no matter where or how they come to that touchpoint. If two guests call a resort inquiring about group rates for an upcoming event, they should be routed to the same department. It should not matter at which point they disclose the nature of their trip. A guest who shares her intention with either the main operator or the reservations desk should always be put in touch with the packages or experience department—if one exists.
In our recent experience, slippages in process often occur, especially with larger hotel brands with multiple properties. What’s to be done? As a starting point, larger hotel chains could integrate digital experiences that assist reservation agents--either directing them to transfer the call to a more appropriate department based on stated needs or allowing them to pull more detailed information that might assist the guests in their quests for information.
Guide the Guest with Digital Experiences
One of our most consistent observations in resort properties was the lack of guidance to nearby attractions or in-hotel amenities using mobile technology. We have seen many location-based promotional apps being leveraged by hotels (e.g., Yelp, Total Rewards), which is a kind of guidance. Judging by Yelp reviews, customers take these deals seriously, and their ability to take advantage of them impacts what sort of review they might give the property after their visit. Making promotions hyper-local and guiding the guest is one of the obvious benefits of using iBeacons, giving customers the right promotion at the right time in the right place.
With iBeacon applications popping up in retail stores one would think hotels would be clamoring to implement proximity-based promotions and to leverage enhanced data analytics. However, the creation of next level guest experiences using iBeacons has not yet seen wide-scale deployment in larger properties. Marriott has started to integrate the new technology into select hotels over this past year.
But the possibilities for leveraging iBeacons in the hospitality space are more exciting yet: Imagine a branded hotel app pushed to guests prior to their stay; a short in-app questionnaire allows a recommendation engine to push relevant promotions to the guest as they near certain areas of the hotel. Social media integration drives conversation around flash promotions or events, turning your guests into online advocates. App guided tours of the property or outside disclose historical information or show media as guests near certain areas of the hotel. Giving guests a sense that there is more to the property than meets the eye and injecting serendipity into the overall experience are some of the best promises of implementing iBeacon technology into hotel spaces.
The Stage Is Set
Whether it is creating transparency in the guest experience by opening up back of house operations, using iBeacons to create serendipitous guest experiences, or ensuring consistency in pre-booking experiences, there are so many opportunities for innovation. The question for brands is: How will you use innovative approaches to elevate the guest experience?
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.