honeycomb engagements in-flight

Report from the Aircraft Interiors, Catering and On Board Services Expo in Hamburg, Germany (April, 2012)

All brands can learn from a theme apparent in aviation design, technology and business: be bee.

Everywhere I looked at the ExporI saw “honeycomb” patterns and structures: from textiles, to stacked seat designs, from organization systems to cushioning material, from exhibition maps to display architecture. I learned that honeycomb is one of nature’s most elegant and strongest structures, packing a lot of content (people, exhibits, cutlery, amenities, etc.) into a small area. In addition, it’s a metaphor for our era dominated by social networks.

The airline industry, like a lot of businesses, still runs on the strength of human relationships and its “knowledge network.” The industry is small, tight and personal, with very little personnel turn-over. “Shhhhh,” they told me. “We want to keep it a secret how great this industry is.” Conferences, like this one, are key for face-time amongst people residing all over the globe. The four days were packed with “break-out” sessions and networking events. Every nook and cranny was filled with the buzz of people conversing, exchanging ideas and solidifying B2B trust.

This year, the star of the show was social networking: technology systems for inside airplanes AND social media coverage of the show. Tweet Walls shared real-time participant thoughts, bloggers outnumbered traditional journalists, and exhibitors pushed-out invitations on FourSquare.  Airbus announced new airplane designs that have built in “social zones” and in-flight entertainment companies boasted systems that support the trend towards BYOD (“bring your own device”, as in passengers using their phones, ereaders and tablets for self-tainment).

The lesson: the business of brand-building still relies on a combination of “hi tech” and “hi touch”; real-time face-time cannot be replaced by “iComms.” Human interaction and real life communities, not simply online communities, remain core to our behavior. Technology and social networking merely add a rich extra layer to life… and attract bees to a real-world honey pot.

twitter + gong show + reality tv = younow.com

A new phenomenon has hit our culture: younow.com… it is live video streaming/chat with strangers,  where you the viewer can vote the streamed broadcast on/off the air. It’s similar to Skype in that it’s live video chat. It’s similar to Chatroulette in that it’s random AND it has a simultaneous chat stream.  It’s similar to YouTube in that it has broadcast channels. It’s similar to Yelp in that you rate people/broadcasts.

The goal of the broadcaster (i.e., the person at the other end of the camera broadcasting) is to maintain viewer interest and get them to keep voting for the stream to continue broadcasting (i.e., green thumbs up vs. red thumbs down). The streams are organized by topics (e.g., Music, Politics, Talk, etc.). However, most of the chatter is Twitter-esque drivel, where people aren’t saying anything meaningful.  Many of the broadcasts are video diaries of mundane musings and partially formed ideas.  So, votes seem to be based on the broadcaster’s sincerity, personality or appearance. This is a medium where “style” trumps “substance.”  Compelling personalities win votes.

Younow.com is “Reality TV 2.0″… hyper-real interactive web TV.  The “Gong Show” voting feature forces the broadcasters to “perform” and play up to the audience. The voting (every minute) keeps a constant stream of broadcasts and new personalities coming online from the queue. “Group Think” seems to be evident as well; when it appears the majority of viewers are skewing towards a vote, then it looks like the rest of the viewers jump on the band wagon and side with the general sentiment.

Younow.com reminds me of a talent show I recently attended at the Apollo Theater in NYC, where the audience’s screams determined the performer’s fate. What ended up happening is that blocks of like-minded audience members formed and found each other and then they started to coerce opposing blocks. Sometimes though intimidation and sometimes through charm. The audience’s stance (the mob) was as unpredictable as a flock of flying birds, and I found myself giving thanks that I was not in a Roman Colosseum.

Given that the broadcasters on Younow.com are from all over the globe, it’s a virtual “united nations network” cultural exchange, where viewers are asking the broadcasters (via chat) cultural questions about music and language (e.g, can you say ‘I love Harriet in Norwegian?” and “Which do you like better, the music from Eminem or Robin?”). The website is essentially a way in which to interrogate someone. The person is literally under the spotlight. For this reason, it’s an excellent cultural anthropology tool. I wonder if there’s a way to apply “social listening” filters to hone in on relevant conversations (e.g., direct me to broadcasts that mention words that interest me)?

Anyway, this website is brilliant. It will surely evolve into a billion-dollar-buy-out or an IPO because it perfectly plays into several trends:

  • Quest for celebrity
  • Craving to express (and be heard)
  • Hashtag activism
  • Crowd-sourcing content
  • Drive to collaborate
  • Cultural curiosity
  • Voyeuristic rubbernecking

keynote speech: curious culture

At the Airline Retail Conference (ARC) in Singapore last month I presented a curious trend. Literally.

I combined my professional interest in “curiosity” (being curious is how I earn my living) with my personal interest in curiosity; in December I completed a Master’s Degree in Education from Pace University, where I focused on “curiosity in classrooms” and how to “teach” and inspire curiosity. In connection with this, for two years I synthesized dozens of articles, research reports, websites and books on various aspects of “curiosity.” AND, I conducted my own body of research on curiosity for my thesis.

So, I’ve become somewhat of an “expert” on the topic of curiosity and I’m putting what I learned into practice in my day-to-day life.  Hence, I’ve adopted a new self-professed title/role/persona of a Chief Curiosity Officer.

My keynote presentation, titled “the Curious xCursionist”,  can be watched on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlWfws3z518

However, here’s some key points about our curious culture:

benefits of curiosity include happiness

For all you curious cats that are “meta curious” (i.e., curious about curiosity), it is a  state of mind and mood. Curiosity can be developed: taught and nurtured. It is separate from IQ. It is contagious. And, it’s addictive (think why you can waste hours playing Seduko). It’s been proven to prolong life, lead to stronger relationship, help with coping with chaos and change… and leads to happiness. And everyone wants to be happy. In  fact, our culture is down-right fixated on the “pursuit of happiness” which is probably why so many Americans are taking mood-lifting drugs. The United Nations has named April the month of “Happiness and Wellbeing”, with Friday the 13th of April declared “National Happiness Day.”

rising curiosity in culture

If one does a simple Google Trends word search (aggregated and normalized) it shows a sharp increase in “How” and “What” questioning from around 2007.  And specifically, Asian countries  (emerging markets) are asking more questions than developed markets, lead by the Philippines, India and Singapore (see below). In addition, search engine usage is growing exponentially, especially as more people carry WiFi connected smartphones.

curiosity drivers

A number of things are happening in the world right now that are creating a “perfect storm” for a “curious culture”. The combination of the following six phenomena are driving curious behaviors:

  • Big Data – Leaps in processing power make it possible for us to process more data, info and insights than ever before, expanding our horizons.
  • Content Creating Tech – A new and constant stream of technology and software inspires us to explore, create data and develop new content.
  • Democratic Data Today, everyone has access to information and information and ideas are being shared like never before.
  • New Visualization – New ways of looking at, parsing and communicating information and exploring  real and conceptual worlds have been developed in the past 2 decades, fueling discovery.
  • Non-Fiction Media – “How It Works” type TV, magazines, books, websites and apps promote exploration. (Some say the reason why there is so much reality “How It Works” media out there is because it’s cheaper to produce than fiction.)
  • Innovative Design – Advances in design, coupled with an appreciation for novel and different design, pushes us into a world of the “unexpected.”

six tactics to tap curiosity

Research shows that curiosity can be “planted” and nurtured. Of course the implications of this for education are enormous; nurturing curiosity in learners for self-guided growth could be an antidote to a broken education system.

However, in our own day-to-day lives, we can pique other’s intrigue and curiosity (Those of you writing online dating profiles take note.) And, in branding and marketing, these six techniques serve to create interest and meaningful engagement:

    • Tension
    • Secrecy
    • Fantasy
    • Play
    • Novelty
    • Power

If you want to know more about the specifics of these techniques  you need to contact me. This is the subject of my Master’s thesis and is proprietary intellectual property.  It’s fascinating stuff.  Stay tuned.

prediction: SOC (share of connectivity) replaces SOV (share of voice)

Culture is everywhere. It permeats everything, so I’ve been pondering “how” things get into our culture today (i.e., today’s cultural infrastructure, given the connected, social world we inhabit).

This year experts predict that mobile phone access to the Internet will surpass computer Internet connections.  Additionally, pundits say that this is the year that >50% of Americans will carry a Internet connected smartphone.  As the number of smartdevices and WiFi connected machines in consumer’s lives increases, and the connected ecosystem expands, then it seems likely that it will become easier and faster to impact culture. Memes will spread faster. Trends will have shorter adoption periods, peak and burn out faster.

Consequently, share-of-voice (i.e., how LOUD a message is heard) is an antiquated communications measure.   As brands, politicians, celebrities, movements, companies, institutions, etc. strive to be heard they will engage with us throughout the ecosystem. This means the future of communications will be competing for share-of-connectivity (SOC). “SOC” is shorthand for connecting with people in meaningful ways, seamlessly across all the channels in the ecosystem.

I foresee that “SOC” will replace “SOV” in the marketing and branding world. The new measure of effectiveness will be SOC.

Those who want their messages to cut through all the noise will need to design trans-media (trans-device) messages and experiences, to engage connected people via multiple touch-points. This means that brands and personalities will become ecosystems too.

SOC Example: Nike

Nike is an ecosystem that has infiltrated our culture in countless ways.  Nike+ proves that the company is masterful at commanding SOC. Nike generates content and taps consumers for content. They offer software for content and store it in the cloud. Nike exploits the Internet and offers many Apps which run on any OS and every possible device; they even produce their own peripheral devices. Nike owns the lion share of the sports category’s SOC as a result of this approach.

trends in emerging tech + behavior

Social media such as Pinterst, Flicker, Google+, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter and Facebook are entrenched in our culture and technology. It’s impossible to tell if technology is driving consumer behavior, or the other way around. Thus, it makes sense to look at the key emerging tech trends (the big stories of CES 20102) with a “social” lense.

So, I set out to see if I could correlate Facebook functionality with technology trends and real-life behavior. My hypothesis is that in many ways we behave on Facebook as we do in real life, and thus, technology trends must mirror this.  In fact, Facebook’s functionality can be a metaphor for human functionality; what consumers do on Facebook is also what they do in real life and the products on show at CES reflect and enable these behaviors. So, Facebook becomes an organizing principle for CES’s tech trends. Consequently, I created a trend newsletter that showcases technologies and trends at CES 2012 that enable consumers to:

  • Share
  • Manage
  • Create
  • Allow
  • Hide
  • Wink
  • Like
  • Search
  • Post
  • Ignore
  • Status
  • Poke
  • Profile

You can read and/or download the newsletter here:  iME Trend Newsletter

CES 2012: 4D… design + data + democracy + durability

I don’t typically connect this blog (my personal blog) with my blogging at work (which is Strategic Planning Director, Trends + Culture @ The Kaplan Thaler Group), but I’ve received a number of messages from readers asking for more insights into CES 2012 and trends. So, here’s a blog post on KTG’s website detailing 4 trends (click here or on the graphic below).  More on CES to come in the next few days…

2012: a year for “social flares”

intro to CES trends: technology enabling social flares

I’ve just returned from the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where all the latest consumer technologies are showcased from around the world. I’ll be writing (and speaking) about technology trends and cause-effect consumer behavior in the coming weeks. However, I want to preface everything with a thought. A concept. An outlook. Possibly a trend on its way to becoming an accepted way of life in America: what I’m calling “Social Flares.

what is a “social flare”?

I’m defining “Social Flares” as social activity, such as movements or social changes, that quickly coalesce, gain momentum, make impact, and then dissipate as fast as they began.  Like flash fires that combust once intense energy is exhausted. In some cases the flares are big and cataclysmic. There’s a saying in some cultures that “if you fall in love fast and hard, you fall out of love fast and hard.” Same principle. For example, look how quickly Occupy Wall Street galvanized and then fell apart (OWS no longer occupies a block or the news).

Similarly, fashion and Internet memes catch on quickly, gain huge momentum, replicate, then come to a screeching halt, and fall out of favor and become irrelevant; of course, some make an impact and are absorbed by culture. For example, OWS has certainly changed the discourse of the upcoming election. We live in a culture of extremes. We are a culture defined by intense passion. As a culture – society – we latch onto things quickly (flare up) and then drop them quickly (flare down). Sometimes “Social Flare Ups” make a lasting impact, like a solar flare.

tech and social media drive “social flares”

Technology is at the heart of Social Flares. Social media is the backbone of this behavior because it allows us to research and share information, promote ideas and action, quickly find people who share our views, and basically exhaust a topic. We’ve gone from a handful of “broadcasters” to countless “peercasters” as anyone and everyone is Citizen Reporter. Think of the Arab Spring, how it came into being and how we barely hear anything about it anymore. The intensity in which we throw ourselves or attention into a topic burns out quickly, and our attention moves onto something else. We use technology (our phones, TVs and computers) as tools of voice, vote and vim.  Without our devices and our networks “social flares” would be more like “social gurgles”… weaker, slower, less focused. We owe the intensity and magnitude of social flares to technology. Thus, this year “CES” was really the conference dedicated to Connecting Everyone Suddenly. ” 

humans are simply sun-sensitive sacks of brine

Do you believe that animals can sense the weather? Does your mood change at different times of the month or year? SADness, which is the abbreviation for “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (i.e., winter blues) reached an all time high in 2011 with 10 million Americans diagnosed (nearly 10% of all people living in New Hampshire are apparently afflicted with SADness). FACT: our bodies are made up of +80% of water, which makes us humans mere sacks of brine. Ecosystems fueled by electrical impulses. Thus, we (like animals) are highly sensitive to the pull of the celestial bodies. Our chemistry responds to light, temperature, gravitational pull and electromagnetic fields. The later – electromagnetic waves (i.e., radiation) – in our world is largely impacted by solar flares. Gamma rays wash over our bodies and travel through our bodies 365/24/7, depending on the sun. In the book Solar Rain, by Mitch Battros, an entire chapter is dedicated to the behavioral impact of solar flare activity, attributed to ADHD, depression, anxiety and social misconduct.

In a newly published 132-page report from NASA titled Severe Space Weather: Social and Economic Impacts, “experts detail what might happen to our modern, high-tech society in the event of a super solar flare followed by an extreme geomagnetic storm. They found that almost nothing is immune from space weather—not even the water in your bathroom.”  According to the report, our technology-dependent world is threatened because our power grids are vulnerable to solar flares.

2012-13: dare to flare

Solar flares occur around sunspots; they are parts of the sun which erupt in a huge energy release of electrons, ions, and atoms. The clouds of radiation typically reach the earth 1 or 2 days after the event on the surface of the sun. The sun’s solar flare activity, interestingly, varies day-to-day, but tends to follow in an 11-year cycle (called the “solar cycle”).  We are currently on the up-curve, nearing the peak, of an 11-year cycle with activity peaking in 2013. In fact, scientists are warning that governments should prepare for technological disruption in 2013 due to increased electromagnetic activity.

There was a solar storm in 1859, the biggest recorded, which knocked out the telegraph system all over Europe and America.  Newspapers reported that telegraph pylons threw sparks and some telegraph systems appeared to continue to send/receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies. This brings meaning to the expression, “ghost in the machine.” So, think about the implications of increased solar activity in our device-driven worlds today?

solar flares = social flares?

It is interesting to compare human behavior with solar activity. I posit that “Solar Flares” cause-effect “Social Flares.” Look at the graph above: it is interesting that the two biggest human hits to life on earth in the past decade (9/11 and the US Financial Crisis),took place during extreme periods of sun flares (maximum and minimal activity).

It does seem that “Social Flaring” could be on the rise, just like Solar Flares. Perhaps this is due to fervor created by the upcoming Presidential election? What is the correlation and/or causation between Solar Flares and Social Flares? Wouldn’t that be an interesting predictor of human behavior? Will global social unrest continue to escalate as Solar Flares plateau, or will we see periods harmony after 2013?

social flares are the new social norm

My bet is that “Social Flaring” is here to stay, irrespective of the sun, because our behavior has been permanently changed by technology. Technology exacerbates our innate lizard-brain human behaviors: to gossip, influence others, wield power through knowledge, affect positive change, control the world, etc. As long as we can communicate real-time with the world, we will get caught up in “flares.” I think the new social norm will be “Social Flare Ups,” with lots of “activism” and “vocalism.” It will be hard to decipher which Solar Flares represent the majority because even small factions with big voices (and expert command of social media) will burn through the clutter and be noticed.

social flares for social change

The opportunity is to harness the ease in which “Social Flares” can be conjured as a tool for good. To fight the good fight. To make significant changes to improve humanity.

a “trill” 2012 trend… “trillion” is the new “million”

This is the year that we – average 99% Americans – comfortably talk “trillions.”  We’re in the era of “tera.”

Remember when “million” was “mega” cool?  When millionaires were really, really rich? When millions of bottle caps were uncountable? Unimaginable even?  That was our society up until about the 1970s. Then, In the 1980-90s we started to hear about “billions.” China’s population reached 1 Billion.  McDonalds sold 1 billion hamburgers. The earth was confirmed to be 4 billion years old. Our computers started processing in billions of bytes, i.e., GigaBytes (GB). Forbes started publishing a “Billionaire’s List” and Bill Gates was reported by Forbes to be a “billionnaire” at age 31 (wow!).

With the the Internet Bubble in the 1990s-early 2000s, we became too familiar with huge numbers in the form of Megabytes (MB) and Gigabytes (GB). America became flush with Dot.com millionaires, and “million” lost its awe.  Heck, there are 1 billion App downloads each week now. There are 1,210 billionaires in the world as of March, 2011.

We are at a point in our culture where “trillion” is the the new “million.”  A trillion = million x million. Computer processing speeds have leaped to Terabytes (TB) to deal with this “Big Data” era. Obama proposes cutting $1.5 trillion in tax increases. The news proclaims “there are trillions of earths in our universe.”  We now read in print “t” where “m” or “b” once sufficed (e.g, outstanding US public debt as of today is $15.2t).

Note: a technology and information/data guru friend and blogger, Michael Elling, pointed out to me that in the tech world “trillion” is old news. Big Data and and The Network (e.g., CISCO) is “well beyond ‘trill’ and even ‘penta.’ The current vernacular in tech culture is ‘exabyte.'”  Acknowledged. But, I maintain that average joe citizens like me are not there yet.

But given that “trillion” is bandied around like “million,” do you comprehend just how big a TRILLION is?  When we talk “Big Data” in Terabytes, we’re talking really, really, really big. When we talk about a $1 trillion bailout, we’re talking a whole lot of money. Unfathomably large sums of money: see the graphic illustrations on the left which show what $1m, $1b and $1t looks like relatively. A trillion is a trillion-times larger.

Twenty-twelve is “t” time: a time where we talk trillions at the dinner table.   You don’t need to be “trilliant” to get BIG, big numbers and “Big Data.” But, it’s good to be “trill”….an adjective used in hip-hop culture to describe someone who is considered to be well respected, coming from a combination of the words “true” and “real.”

So, here’s a toast to keepin’ it “trill” in 2012.  It looks like it will be a “trilling” year! This is a nod to my blog last year about “squealing” culture manifesting in  oscillating points of view, shifting polarities,  fluttering marketing dynamics, extreme bursts of activity (e.g. Occupy Wall Street’s fast rise and fall).

holiday store windows: metaphors for 2011 cultural trends

Each year I analyze the holiday window decorations along Fifth Avenue NYC (namely, the extravagant windows of Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman department stores) because they tend to illustrate the cultural zeitgeist. The windows are essentially mirrors on society, reflecting what’s going on in culture, and what’s in the hearts and minds of consumers as we end the year.

Maybe I’m reading too much into the window decorations, but I find their themes to be a sign of the times, and this year is no different. In fact, I think the windows have perfectly summed up some major trends in America right now. (See my window analysis last year.)  The windows – like windows into the soul of America – symbolize the collective hopes and drivers of the nation as we start a new year.

I don’t know if this is the intention of the teams of window designers, who spend the entire year constructing the windows with mind boggling details at astronomical costs. But, from the benign store press releases launching the seasons’ windows, it doesn’t seem to be a conscious medium for social commentary. The retailers say it’s purely a branding exercise in extravagance, escapism and entertainment. You decide…

There’s another fascinating aspect of the windows worth keeping tabs on; every year the ante is upped in the competition for window gazers with the use of emerging technologies and story-building to bring the stories to life. Retailers understand that in this technologically wired age, static 2D window decorations don’t cut it anymore. They need to be interactive, moving, 3D, connected and extend into social media.  Foot traffic needs to curry Internet traffic, and vice versa (which is true for all retailers today). Thus, the creative teams behind the windows are not merely window dressers, but rather multi-media story-builders. The windows are merely one portal into their stories.

saks fifth ave: the land of the bubble makers

For the second year Saks Fifth Avenue has glommed onto the visual themes of snowflakes and bubbles – symbols of joy and hope. This year, Saks commissioned the writing and illustration of a bespoke children’s book, titled “Who Makes the Snow.” The storyline, set in Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store, centers on two hidden, magical worlds that collide: the under-world that makes bubbles, and the upper-world that makes snow. The book is sold exclusively at Saks.

The windows reflect parts of the storyline, but focuses on The Bubble Makers. The Bubble Makers use Victorian styled mechanical contraptions to manufacture copious amounts of bubbles. The look is a throw-back to 1980s “steampunk” fashion. The bubble making machinery (pipes, gears, whirly gigs, etc.) look like a collaboration between Willy Wonka, Dr. Zeuss and Makerbot.

The light show: every 13 minutes a huge dramatic “sonne et lumier”  show is projected onto the façade of the store. The show features an animation of machines and gears producing snowflakes and bubbles, which dance, mingle and merge. The gears of a clock tick down the time much like a time bomb. Time – the ominous passing of time – is the main take-away. Separately, several promotional videos were produced (by Pentagram and Iris) and posted on the Internet to promote the storyline and create buzz; good examples of how a myth or brand story can be built across media channels. Thanks to technology, window gazers can also enjoy the 3D show at home;  They only need to scan QR codes on the windows which takes them to a YouTube video of the show.

Do you see the irony of celebrating Bubble Makers? We live in a Bubble Economy. Much of the woes of our society are attributed to this Bubble Economy. We’ve just come through a Recession caused by the bursting of the Real Estate Bubble. The Debt Bubble. The current Stock Market Bubble, where stock values are over-valued/inflated, is fuelled by Dot.com IPOs, such as the overpriced $12.8b Groupon IPO. The new Dot.com Bubble is driven by “the cloud” and “social commerce” hype. Are we due for another Dot.com bubble burst in 2012?

Bubbles are also metaphors for jobs. Bubbles are ephemeral, changeable and highly responsive to slight changes in the breezes… just like employment today. The Recession, combined with new technologies, has forced America to fundamentally change the way it puts people to work. Our culture is becoming more transient as people commute longer distances for work. Americans today work multiple jobs and/or part-time jobs, sharing jobs with both humans and machines.

Further, manufacturing bubbles – which are essentially air – is how many Americans feel about their careers these days. On blogs Americans express frustration that they don’t contribute to society in a meaningful and tangible way, and they don’t see the fruits of their labors. America was built on manufacturing, but today most of the country’s production is out-sourced overseas. Today, Americans make and sell ideas, stock options and information. Not tangible “things.”

ABC News and Diane Sawyer declared Christmas 2011 as the “Great Made in America Christmas” asking shoppers to buy American. This promotion was designed to kick-start local job creation and celebrate American industriousness. While polls earlier this year showed that Americans cared little about “made in America” labels, a surge in nationalism and soci-economic concern seems to have reversed this trend. There are now hundreds of blogs, websites and FaceBook pages devoted to “Made in USA.”

bergdorf goodman: carnival of animals

Last year Bergdorf’s holiday windows were a tribute to the travel and adventure. This year the store claims it’s windows is a celebration of exotic fantastical places where mythical kingdoms of animals dwell. Indeed, each window is a unique animal habitat, which draws in and transports the viewer. We all want to travel to these places where the animals commune with humans and play together in harmony. Isn’t that an idyllic vision of peace on earth”?

However, the windows have individual themes worthy of discussion. There are four window themes which could be construed as marching orders for Americans in 2012: make, learn, explore and socialize. Those are my pithy summaries of the windows; the actual titles are “Artists and Models” (make), “Teacher’s Pets” (learn), “Testing the Waters” (explore), and “Breaking the Ice” (socialize).

MAKE – In the “Artists and Models” window, made entirely out of wood and leather, a menagerie of animals sit for the artist-cum-mannequin and help her to construct animals. In her animal infested atelier she produces tangible, useful items. In fact, utilitarian tools: horses. (Note: the Equine theme is prominent in fashion and décor trends right now.) This resonates with Americans who are finding ways to make stuff, driving the trend in “garage manufacturing.”  Websites like Ponoco.com match designers with cottage manufacturers, and other sites, like Etsy.com facilitate sales. Consumers are learning how to make stuff in the media (think: Make Magazine, How It’s Made, HGTV). Kit-machinery, like Makerbot, and rental machinery from Lowes and Home Depot, offer the tools. Today, self-worth and social currency is summed up as “you are what you make.

LEARN –  The window titled “Teacher’s Pet”, depicts a library of zoological textboks, and thus is made entirely of paper. The paper bestiary is being enlightened by a Jean Brodie-esque mannequin. This classroom is a celebration of learning. Timely, as education is on everyone’s minds and lips these days. Education reform will be a major talking point in the 2012 elections. In New York City, the education system is in crisis: corrupt and bankrupt.  Education in America has been underfunded and under-tended for some time, with catastrophic social consequences. The Occupy Wall Street was a protest largely waged by new college graduates who have found themselves ill prepared for the American economy and blaming the “Education Bubble” (more bubbles!), which is the belief that college fees are inflated. The antidote to this is online education, which is one of the most important trends in America. Also, there is movement away from traditional education (i.e., college BA degrees and MBAs) towards skill-focussed education, which equip people with vocational skills so they can make and fix things. Whatever your political beliefs, the one thing we all agree on is that the future of America rests in an educated population. Learning is a priority. According to Yankelovich, 64% of Americans are prioritizing “stretching self to try new things.”

EXPLORE – A window made entirely of hand-cut Italian mosaic tile (and purported to be the most labor intensive and expensive single window in Bergdorf’s 112 year history), is aptly named “Testing the Waters.”  Here a “mer-mannequin” explores a rich underwater world. She appears to be holding the sea animals at bay as THEY explore her.  We are an “exploration nation” driven by our inherent heterogeneity and entrepreneurialism.  We satisfy our desire to explore cultures on the Internet, watching travel TV shows and sampling exotic tastes. According to Yankelovich, 62% of Americans say “satisfying a hunger for new experiences” is a priority. The number one reason Americans travel today is not leisure, but rather to “learn something new.”  And our mobile phones, equipped with Geo-Location, maps and Augmented Reality apps, enable us to explore and search like never before; cell phones are modern day gyroscopes.

SOCIALIZE –  The “Testing the Waters” window is a peek into an arctic cocktail party of guests of woolly and furry fauna family.  The hostess, who is the center of the conversation, appears to be tending to her guests. Isn’t this an obvious metaphor for our culture’s fixation with social networking? Everything in our lives today has some aspect of being online to be “social” and/or focused on “conversations.” According to Yankelovich, 84% of Americans go on line everyday!  Social is where “hi tech” converges with “hi touch.”  However, this real-time face-to-face party also mirrors another trend in society worth noting: rejecting FaceBook in favor of FaceTime. Increasingly Americans are opting out of virtual networks and digital dialogues, replacing them with human-to-human networks and meet-ups. Websites like Meetup.com are popping up to facilitate meetings and human interaction. Many of these meet-ups are focused on group crafts and production (think: knitting, cooking, pottery, quilting, scrapbooking, etc.). Socializing and social networking is moving away from networking and towards working.

2012 = MAKEXII

In conclusion, the window dressing themes this holiday season point to an important trend in America: renewed interest in manufacturing, industry and production. 2012 will be a year focussed on “making and producing,” not merely thinking, dreaming, conceiving.  Americans will seek out skills that will enable them to produce stuff and fix stuff. Skills will range from low-tech plumbing,  carpentry, cooking, etc. to hi-tech writing/programming software that drive technologies, such as home CNC and CAD tooling machines, embroidery and textile printing machines, etc. The focus will be on craftsmanship and processes. We will learn HOW to make things from a growing body of “how to” blogs, YouTube videos, books, magazines, TV shows and meeet-ups. Americans will satisfy their desire to make things with their own hands and ingenuity by moonlighting and starting up garage manufacturing ventures. Micro venture capital will erupt on funding websites like Kickstarter.com.  The market will be flooded with Apps that help Americans to be more productive and make. So, let’s make the most of 2012!

a deeper truth about millennials

To put it bluntly, Millennials are shallow. Or, at least that’s what conventional wisdom, as put forth in Nicholas Carr’s New York Times bestseller, “The Shallows” would have you believe. Many argue that technology and mass media are to blame for this trend, particularly pervasive among Millennialls. But is it true? Certainly, the rise of high-tech gadgets and constant connectivity have shaped us into an increasingly distracted culture with more options that ever, but does that mean it’s made the 30-and-under crowd less in touch with what matters?

Not necessarily!

Technology is also responsible for enabling Americans to immerse, search, discover, analyze, track and plan like never before. In fact, those supposedly shallow, tech-savvy Millennials, are actually demonstrating an extraordinary depth both on- and offline. They’re going deeper into issues, deeper into themselves, and searching for meaning through deeper life experiences.

facts: how millennials are displaying depth

According to Pew Research Center (2011), Millennials cherish the same values in brands and businesses as they do in people: truthfulness, genuineness, social awareness, respect and humility. (Not exactly what you’d call “superficial.”)

In addition, these consumers are:

  •  Rejecting Fame: 86% say fame is not important to them and 29% want to remembered as a generous person who positively changed the world.
  • Conscientious: 69% recycle paper, plastic of glass at home and 57% volunteered in the past 12-months.
  • Knowledge Seeking: 74% are willing to sacrifice “a great deal” for their education and 66% define success as being “smart and well read.”
  • Humble: 58% think it’s important to work if you don’t need the money.
  • Curious: 70% seek immersive, interactive, hands on experiences and 78% want to learn something new when they travel.
  • Thoughtful: 63% think filial piety is important and 75% strive to have a good relationship with their parents.
  • Open-Minded: 52% feel people ought to be free to lead “any lifestyle” and 33% consider themselves citizens of “the world” instead of Americans.

Sources: MRI July 2011, Pew Research Center 2011; Yankelovich 2011

We’re also seeing cultural trends in the Millennial segment that illustrate depth, not shallowness, such as:

  • A return to long-form blogs and journalism. (Even 140-character Twitter is being used to disseminate long articles and posts serialized via #longreads.)
  • A surge in new university courses that go into more depth on subjects like “Deep Ecology,” “Deep History” and “Deep Politics.”
  • Movies with complex, philosophical mind-bending plots, such as “Inception” and “The Matrix” As does long, highly complex and detailed fiction, such as “Twilight,” “Harry Potter” and the “The Girl Who…” series.
  • The rise of “Deeper Dating,” a new and less superficial form of speed dating.
  • Soul-searching pastimes like Yoga (There are over 11 million yoga practitioners in the US.)

opportunity: go deep, not shallow with marketing to millennials

What ought to be exciting to marketers is that there are +50 million Millennials between 18-30 years old with spending power. They are playing against type, paying attention to the nuances of a brand story and reading the long-form text in fine print. They are keenly interested in the minutia of a brand’s provenance, footprint, ethics and sustainability. They are seeking more visceral, immersive brand experiences and opting for deeper, more meaningful brand engagements.

They’re not shallow skimmers; they’re deep divers. And it’s up to marketers to deliver. So, they would be remiss if they skew too far in the direction of sound-bite-banner-ad-FaceBook-banter-short-term-ad-hoc-style-over-substance-superficial marketing approaches.  Today, there’s a real opportunity for authentic brands with heritage, complexity and a great story to go deep with Millennials for deeper returns.

Deeper_Trend_Report_Oct1_PDF Download

Click on the link above for a PDF of a Trend Report, titled "Deeper" that explains how to market deeper to Millennials. It showcases emerging technology and design from SXSW 2011 and the NYU ITP Sprint Show 2011.