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How hipsters can help us understand mainstream marketing

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 11-13-13 at 9:26 a.m.

Image for How hipsters can help us understand mainstream marketing


Two fundamentally opposite tensions tug at the core of human nature: the desire to belong to a group, and the desire to express one’s individuality. Take “hipsters”, the urban style-scourge that perfectly expresses this duality: they adhere to a super cool/secret/exclusive fashion code to express their individuality, while all observing the exact same social codes and amassing the same accessories (from fixed-gear bikes to home brewing to vinyl records to skinny jeans to flannel shirts to ye olde moustache wax). Ah, the paradox: I’m so very, very different… just like all of my friends!


Go further back into the cultish domain and we can see the very same tension in the history of tattooing. Originally, in Polynesian or Japanese tribes, tattoos served as a rite of passage, as marks of status and rank, symbols of religious and spiritual devotion. It had a social purpose. Nowadays, in Western society, tattoos are a claim to individuality. In the postmodern world tattoos broadcast “How different and unique am I? Just look at the inscrutable Chinese symbol on my lower back.”


Brands also need to choose: what is my role? Is it to confer social acceptance, or individuality? And there’s a trick: it’s hard to win on both counts the way the hipsters do.


The past decades had been the golden era of Masstige (downward brand extension bringing “prestige” to the masses). Consumers sought social acceptance through “luxury” affordable brands such as Sony or Ralph Lauren. The recipe was simple: you buy the product and you flaunt it. No need for words – the brand itself was evidence of your success. Buy this brand, be culturally superior by aestheticizing and ethicizing the world.


Nowadays, consumers are increasingly developing their own personal narratives. The brand’s role is to retool and help the consumer affirm his Individualism in order to exist more fully. To this effect, we can clearly distinguish three methods that help said consumer affirm and express that precious uniqueness.


Customization: Car manufacturers have just gotten on board this one. You, the consumer, can choose all the options you want, and the brand will build a car to your unique specifications. Or take another perfect example, from a wholly different medium: the Guardian. The influential UK newspaper printed up two different versions of the edition announcing the birth of future King of England, Prince Baby George: one for Monarchists, with Prince George front-and-center; one for Republicans, minus any mention of the child. Talk about customizing reality according to the audience’s beliefs.


Personalization: Tailoring the brand experience to consumer preferences. Look at Amazon, which has made a science of divining your preferences based on an array of information, and adapting to them. But it’s not just New Marketing 101 for the Corporate set. Arcade Fire, Montreal’s globally-hot indie band, used the same premise for the video for We Used To Wait. The song is about nostalgia/love for the teenage years. Type in the postal code for the house you grew up in and Google Street View whisks you to your teenage neighbourhood. It makes the entire immersive experience truly personalized – and moving.


Craftization: Here, the brand invites the consumer to bring his own skills and knowledge into the experience, making it an extension of his self-expression. This one is typically attached to domestic hobbies or – yes – crafts, like cooking, interior design or gardening. Magazine and cookbooks are full of examples of this. And yes, the hipsters are here as well, with their (supposedly) prized small-batch craft beer. None of that Budweiser for Mr. Moustachio.


So, no, Hipsters are not just annoying. They are a genuine cultural example of the tension between the social and the individual in marketing, and the shifts underway as brands retool. But never mind, they’ll say – it’s all too cool for you.



Can Ed Snowden save BlackBerry?

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 10-22-13 at 11:50 a.m.

Image for Can Ed Snowden save BlackBerry?


It was the jewel of Canadian technology: world-renowned success story RIM and its omnipresent and essential smartphone. Remember your first BlackBerry? Who can forget the pride and giddy tech-joy of sending and receiving emails on a handheld telephone, thumbing the Qwerty keyboard, navigating with the little scroll wheel... Not for nothing was it nicknamed a "Crackberry."


But in recent years, the BlackBerry - and RIM - have fallen through the cracks, and into dark times. As the lightning pace of tech evolution has revved up, RIM faces the daunting challenge of clawing a market space for itself against 800-lb. gorillas Apple and Google. The company has struggled and battled through a major rebranding operation, but the question remains: will it be enough?


In order to survive and prosper, a brand must reach and feed a consumer need. It must distinguish itself from the herd and ensure that those two elements form a rock-solid base to support its business model.


Indeed, in business, as in life, one door closes and another opens... but for opportunity's knock to matter, you have to hear it.  Hey, speaking of listening...


Edward Snowden caused a global shockwave when he revealed to us that the National Security Agency actively monitors, surveils and listens to our communications. More specifically, major US tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple "get together" with the NSA to provide them the information and data that people send and share.


Is this the proverbial open door? Can BlackBerry take this opportunity and address the need for control over one's private life in order to tap into a consumer need and differentiate itself from the competition?


Our Panorama (Crop's sociocultural monitor) tells us that respondents who prioritize control over their private lives are also wary of huge corporate entities, advertising and a ravenous consumer society. Perfect: that's precisely what BB's competitors represent!


And security? First among handheld devices, BlackBerry is known for its encryption and security, and for that reason, it is ubiquitous in government circles. Barack Obama famously used one during his 2008 presidential campaign. The U.S. Department of Defense even stated it was essential for national security.


There may be a happy marriage here between public and product, to wit: those who value control over their private lives are also attracted to nature, an ecological lifestyle and locally-sourced products. In short, they have a romantic conception of life. Even more crucial for smartphone suppliers, they seek out technologies that allow them to save time and connect with others. Therefore, a market position that banks on ethical consumption linked to a strong brand promise of control over one's private life could be the winning combination.


The BlackBerry brand went from a dominant player to a marginal brand. With its rebranding and Z10 effort, BlackBerry is fighting Samsung, Google and Apple on the terrain of "innovation that offers a lot of possibility". Can the brand win this battle?


If the answer is no, it has to become a niche brand. Niche is viable but marginal is not. The difference is that a niche brand has a strong USP. It remains to be seen if BlackBerry can own security and if control over privacy can viably support a business model.  Even - or especially - with a competitive market like smartphones, you've got to think outside the box.



Happiness and the sexes

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 09-27-13 at 10:23 a.m.

Image for Happiness and the sexes


Like Life and Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness is an "unalienable right" that the United States Declaration of Independence says all human beings have been given by their Creator and for the protection of which they institute governments. That can seem abstract, but it has a very practical application, to wit:


Happiness and life cycle

Researchers have discovered a U-shape in the human happiness graph over the course of the life cycle, with reported satisfaction declining roughly from the mid-20s to the 50s before increasing again into the later "golden" years (mid-60s). This may seem counterintuitive - but is deeply, inextricably linked to expectation and experience. Younger people tend to be overly optimistic. Nobody believes he'll be the one to experience the messy divorce, the health problem, the foiled or dissatisfying career. Instead, life gets in the ring, knocks you around and puts happiness on the ropes, until expectations are tempered and seasoned by experience in later years.


Recipe for happiness

But the lingering questions are: Who are the happy people? What do they do? What is their trick? Is it innate or acquired?


Beyond the life cycle, we know that happy people (those who self-proclaim to register 5/5 on the Happiness scale: roughly 20% of the Canadian population) have some mental postures in common. For instance, they value life's simple pleasures, and ritual. It is crucial to understand rituals from a branding perspective. Happy people have rituals. Unhappy people are instead mired in routines that they periodically need to escape.


The importance of ritual

There is a profound difference between ritual and routine: Ritual brings deeper meaning to both significant and everyday acts. When moving from sleep to activity, most of us enjoy a simple, almost universal morning ritual - making coffee. Reflect, for a moment, on all the steps involved in that process, and the sensorial aspect of it. How dearly would you miss it if it changed... or disappeared?


Think about your weekend newspaper, the promising bulk of it, implying all the luxurious time you'll have to read it on your day off. Or opening a bottle of wine: the whole ritual of unwrapping the foil and inserting the corkscrew, feeling that tension and then hearing the satisfying plonk of the cork. It's so not the same with a screw top. Routine? Routine removes meaning and implies a mindset in which everything is a chore and nothing offers possibility.


Meanwhile, happy people also tend to love a challenge, and have the energy to address it. They have a sense of being rooted in a community and of being connected to others.


Is happiness the same for men and women

But let's make it more interesting: Is what's true for men also true for women?


Happy women, in fact, are more conservative than their female counterparts. They are leery of families that do not consist of a father and a mother. Religion holds a more important place in their lives, and they often put moral duty before happiness. Happy women are those who feel the frame of their life is firm, even rigid.


Meanwhile, the happy man is more epicurean. He is romantic and attuned to his senses. He is uninterested in spiritual questioning and declares that he is very open to new models of the family. For him, happiness means pleasure coming before duty. Happy men are men who indulge themselves and go with the flow.


To circle back to the United States Declaration of Independence, Liberty and Happiness seem to come together for men, but not for women.


Hey folks - we're just reading the stats here, so please: no hate mail.



Prize draw winner announcement: Study on legal services related to labour law conducted for the Loranger Marcoux law firm.


Posted on 06-28-13 at 9:08 a.m.

CROP in please to announce the winner of the prize draw among those who participated in the study on perceprions, attitudes, and use legal services related to labour law! Mr. Sylvain Poisson is the lucky winner of a 32GB iPad mini.

Congatulations and thanks to all the participants!


Electric this

Categories: Food for thought

Posted on 04-04-13 at 8:35 a.m.

Image for Electric this

It turns out the road to hell really is paved with good intentions - and so is the road to product rollout fail.


Being new, or even progressive, are not qualities that, in and of themselves, will make your product a hit. The automobile industry is learning that as the introduction of the electric car stalls at the starting line.


It shouldn't be that way. Research indicates that consumers harbour a lot of goodwill for the electric car:


-71% of Canadians find electric cars interesting[1]

-71% of Quebecers think the electric car will replace combustion technology[2]


So... why isn't this goodwill translating into tangible purchases?


According to consumers[3], the first motivator for buying an electric car is environmental concern; the second, freedom from the tyranny of oil. Major purchase inhibitors? Sticker shock, and the limited travel range before having to charge the battery. Benefits are external (environmental concern) and downsides are associated with the product itself (price, limited usage). Bad recipe.


Let's talk cellphones to compare. At the dawn of the tech-communication revolution 20 short years ago, only early adopters had the clunky new devices, the antenna on their cars broadcasting to the world "I am on the cutting edge." Status was enough then - but not anymore. Now, with some 5 billion+ people using cells worldwide according to the United Nations telecom agency (ITU), consumers expect their handheld to do everything but teleport them. And it does. Design matters, as the firms chasing Apple have learned, but apps, operation, and capability matter more. It's no longer "See how cool I look with my phone" but "I love what my phone can do." Not so much external validation as internal motivation. It's a computer, a camera, a social media connector. It's wireless , and 4G,  and sexy and powerful.


According to Panoramatm (CROP's proprietary sociocultural monitor), actual owners of electric cars are early adopters who seek social recognition by being the first to try out new products. They are in it for the novelty, more so than for the environment but they would never admit to it. In order to increase the market share of electric cars, manufacturers must target a greater number of mainstream consumers.


While they're helping save Mother Earth, automobile buyers want a car that they can, you know, drive. Yet instead of telling the showroom visitor about what a car can do, auto manufacturers are trapped into telling her about its limitations. That's the polar opposite of selling - it's pre-disastering the sale. What driver wants to go in knowing that his new car has a battery range of 400 kilometres?


Appealing to morality will only take you so far. Think, for instance, of recycling. Everyone you know has embraced it now, but the inherent ethical appeal would fade if you had to carry your trash to five separate bins four blocks from your house. There's only so much you can demand from your target citizen, and even less from your consumer.


Besides recycling, the only other truly "environmental" initiative we've participated in recently, involving a change in consumer behaviour, was the elimination of plastic bags at the supermarket. Beyond showing the world that they care about the environment, consumers adopted it for one good reason: You can carry stuff very effectively.


There's a consistent message here: you can't build a business model on buyers' goodwill - especially not at $40,000 a throw. Electric car manufacturers will have to perfect and then demonstrate the utility of the vehicle before it takes off. They can start by finding and using the voices of satisfied consumers, who can advocate for the tangible inherent benefits of owning and driving an electric car, such as:


-The car is a noiseless environment: I can listen to my favourite music without interference

-The engine has full power from ignition: on the start, I have more torque than a   sports car


Because the key to making an electric car go in the marketplace is what it does for the driver, not the planet.


[1] Crop Panorama 2012

[2] Crop / LaPresse published in LaPresse November 21st 2011

[3] ibid