Thursday, May 30, 2013

Baby names written in the stars

With the increased interest in astro-physics and the wonders of the universe and solar system, I wonder if new parents will start looking to the stars for baby names?   Here’s a selection of what might be the most suitable candidates, in terms of cultural neutrality, ease of pronunciation and social aspiration. 

What do you think?  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Is waste the new theft?

In times of plenty, there is no such thing as waste.  Few protested when the Victorian hunters decimated the wildlife in the pristine African and American wildernesses for sport.  As the 20th century progressed, nobody in their right mind questioned the need for televisions to have standby buttons, for cars to be fast or for razors and nappies to be disposable.   It wasn’t waste, it was profit and progress.  It was innovation.      
Today, when we look at a well-lit motorway, a deli salad or a flushing toilet, we don’t see waste, we think how lucky we are to have so much choice and convenience, to have so many luxuries and labour saving devices at such reasonable prices.   We feel protected, pampered and proud.

At the same time, there’s a whole world of waste that consumers don’t see.  Until the recent horsemeat scandal, we would have only a vague idea that multiple ingredients were trafficked around the world and back to make a single burger.  We don’t see the entire harvests ploughed back into the field because they aren’t the right size or colour.  We don’t know that making a single gold ring can generate more than 20 tones of crushed rock that has been soaked in toxic chemicals including cyanide.  Nor do we realise that the water footprint of a half litre of soft drink is estimated to be between 170 and 310 litres depending on the origin of the ingredients.
We are relieved rather than annoyed when cinemas, swimming pools, planes and trains are half empty and love getting something for nothing with a buy-one-get-one-free offer.  It never occurs to us that the empty space or the free offer are a waste of resources, because we’ve paid for the bit we use.
Even when waste is right under our noses, we tend to give ourselves and others an easy ride as a sin of omission or a regrettable necessity.   For example, we are so fussy when we choose our fruit and vegetables that the supermarkets logically apply the same buying criteria with their suppliers. We are uncomfortably aware that we don’t need to drive around the corner and could easily walk, but we don’t have time.  We know that millions of gallons of water are lost every day through leaking pipes but we don’t want higher bills to pay for a wholesale upgrade to the sewerage system.   We can see for ourselves that household items are over-packaged but as long as we recycle, that solves the problem, doesn't it?

There are signs that this is changing.  Whilst activist groups and charities have started to campaign against waste, it has become a standard element of most companies’ Corporate and Social Responsibility that they reduce, reuse and recycle more.  There are campaigns to encourage greater prudence in consumer consumption and a growing general awareness of waste.  We fix dripping taps, tut about patio heaters and lavish floodlighting and happily endorse campaigns to end the scandal of throwing perfectly edible fish back into the sea dead to meet catch quotas.  
After all, nature doesn’t waste. 

But what we haven’t seen yet is any challenge to the view that waste is a victimless crime.  Like smoking in the 1990s, waste is increasingly seen as anti-social but not an actual offence.  Waste is expensive – we are starting to understand that – but it’s not against the law and until that happens there will always be people prepared to pay more to do it, or pay less instead of not doing it.  When a cup of coffee costs the same from a disposable paper cup or a consumer's own reusable cup, where's the incentive? 
 Perhaps one way to find a solution is to look back to a time when waste came under the double whammy of social censure and legal restriction.  With the advent of two world wars suddenly the resources that seemed so unlimited were dramatically curtailed and our island nation was forced to become largely self-sufficient.  Our burgeoning throw-away society became one of wasting and wanting not.  The US and UK’s Governments’ approach is still a brilliant study of mass behaviour change.  On the one hand, it quantified the benefits of reducing waste:


Whilst making it clear it what the consequences could ultimately be:      

At the same time, it gave people the questions to ask themselves:

… whilst giving people step by step instructions on what to do and making it look fun and fulfilling at the same time.  Reducing waste was positioned as an exercise in creativity and self-expression, the opportunity to make something new and exciting to be worn with pleasure and pride. 

Side by side with this, the introduction of rationing was a great leveller – equating waste with injustice


… and, as the black market developed and people grew weary of endless scraping and saving, eventually escalated into the portrayal of those who subverted the system as traitors, not spivs.  


What this clearly shows is the war on waste needs to be fought on two fronts against a common enemy.  On the one hand, there needs to be policy and regulatory change.  Waste needs to be penalised, not necessarily with criminal charges (at first) but with higher costs, greater operational barriers and restrictions.   The penalties for waste could provide a useful source of revenue for national and local government in the same way that parking fines make a valuable contribution to council coffers which help to fund local schools, hospitals and other amenities. 
If we apply this to say, the use of water, energy or paper, we might see a system whereby homes and businesses are allocated a ‘ration’ and need to give a good account of why they need more.  There needs to be a fundamental difference between this and the carbon trading system whereby companies can effectively pay a premium to neutralise their footprint.

On the other hand, there needs to be powerful cultural and social change to collectively drive, support and help enforce these new policies.  The public needs to be shown the hidden waste that’s all around us, the worst offenders named and shamed and conversely, those who are taking active steps to reduce it should be celebrated.  At the same time, people need to be told exactly what to do and be rewarded with stories and social status to recruit others to the cause.   

If we look at more recent behaviour changing campaigns, it’s very interesting to see, for example, how the concept of the ‘enemy’ has changed over the years.  For example, the first ‘stop smoking’ adverts portrayed smokers as anti-social.  If you smoked, you were stupid, inconsiderate and possibly impotent.  Oh, and you stank, too. 

But more recently, campaigns have shifted the blame away from the smoker to the cigarette as the enemy.  The cigarette became the punchbag, quite literally, for ex-smokers to attack.   So, in the war on waste, it won’t work to make the consumer the ‘villain’ but it could instead be the companies and public sector organisations who are cheating us, our communities and wider society in the interests of profit. 

When it comes to giving consumers precise instructions on what to do, the ‘five a day’ campaign took the line that people already knew why they should eat more fruit and vegetables and focussed instead on creating an easy and simple plan for consumers to integrate into their everyday lives. The campaign for alcohol units took exactly the same ‘show and tell’ approach.  We can all count to 13. 

Another approach used in the war, that of openly giving consumers the straight facts that they could then re-tell in their own conversations and use to justify their own decisions and behaviour, will need to be a key part of how brands tell their ‘waste reduction’ stories direct to consumers, not buried deep in a CSR report.   For example, McDonalds is already using this strategy as regards the provenance of the ingredients in its meals, giving them a prominent position on its website and optimising them for search on Google.

But bearing in mind that consumers don’t tell stories about brands but about themselves, companies will need to ensure that they help consumers to say ‘I don’t waste’, rather than ‘Brand X, which I buy, doesn’t waste’. 

So, what history teaches us is that if waste is going to be the new theft, the consumer needs to be the victim not the villain.  The thief can be an attitude or a culture, a government or a company.  We can’t go around telling people they’re stealing from their community or society, or from each other but we can tell them that ‘others’ are stealing from them and it’s time to fight back.  


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Me and My Matrices

I've got a bit of a thing for the Boston Matrix.  I'm developing quite a collection.
1. The Cause Matrix

This one shows showing how you can segment the causes that a brand might champion in order to create advocacy and engagement:

Big Bangs
These are the causes with the highest reach and resonance, enjoying a high level of interest among a large and dedicated community of advocates (or, conversely, detractors). This is the space where brands can have most influence – but is likely to be the most crowded and competitive

Ghost Towns
These are the causes with little reach and resonance – at least, at the moment. However, this also means that it’s unlikely other brands own this territory and there are no strongly held perceptions to change or problems to solve. Opportunities to own and develop if well promoted.

Storms in a teacup
These are the causes with little wider reach but highly engaged, agenda-driven coalitions. These are the communities to target in order to reach their stakeholders. But the watch out here is that brands may not be welcome, opinions may be fixed and emotions run high.

Hot Air Balloons

These are the noisy but often more fleeting and superficial causes, where lots of people make one-off interactions but aren't really committed or take collective action.  There are opportunities to capitalise on the visibility but it will be difficult to build deeper engagement. 
2.The Storytelling Matrix
This one shows how you might segment the consumer base on the basis of their storytelling propensity and potential.

Idealistic and emotional, these people have a strong point of view but often lack time or resources to actively engage. If it’s quick and easy, they’ll recruit their extensive social networks to the cause. If it slows them down or shows them up, they won’t bother.
Active, engaged and influential, these are the people who take pleasure and pride in giving their full support to the causes they care about and in wearing the badges of belonging that come with it.
Armchair Activists
Conservative, secure and cosy in their comfort zone, these are the people who are happy to learn more about or endorse the causes they believe in –but don’t actively engage.
Disengaged and disenfranchised, these are the people who rarely have a strong point of view or propensity to act. They have little to gain by engaging with causes that don’t directly impact their quality of life.

3. The employee matrix
Finally, here's one showing how a company can segment its employee base as part of its talent recruitment, retention and reward strategy (or, come to that) its internal comms strategy.  

Rising Stars

These are high value employees with a combination of useful skills and experience and a high level of productivity and motivation. Their salary cost is relatively moderate but staff turnover is high as they progress onwards and upwards on a swift trajectory. There can also be political issues as they maximise their visibility and influence within the organisation.

Problem Children
These tend to be the youngest and/or newest employees, with little past experience and negligible productive contribution to the organisation but they are highly motivated and goal oriented. They will be low cost in salary terms but require a high degree of professional development and pastoral support and mentoring.They are also unlikely to remain with the organisation for more than a few years.

Cash Cows
These are people whose careers have plateaued but who still add a great deal of value to the organisation through their skills and experience – particularly if they receive development and training to keep them current.Motivation can however be an issue, as can politic as they protect their status and position.They can also be expensive as they require packages commensurate with their experience and status.

These are people whose skills and experiences are obsolete, have no interest in (or opportunity for) development and training and who are slipping down the career ladder. Motivation and productivity are key issues –as are costs – because these employees still command high salaries particularly if they have been with the organisation for a long time.

4. The Citizenship Matrix

Here's the last one of this current collection, showing how the population is segmented by their propensity to do 'good' in terms of engaging with social causes, supporting charities and their local communities.  Basically, it's a market map of the Big Society.

Approval Seekers

Aged 15 – 35 (but particularly 15-24) across all social groups. Willing to learn, ambitious, energetic and experimental, care about how they look to other people and want to be the centre of attention, a keen sense of adventure, early adopters.  Claim to be willing to volunteer and have strong views on ethical and environmental issues.  Can lack social confidence and are more risk-averse than they seem.  

Agents of Change

All ages (but particularly 45- 55). Predominantly AB social group. Members of community and children’s organisations, often taking active role.  Socially and environmentally committed, take part in fundraising and donate to charity, ethics and provenance are key buying criteria, optimistic and creative. 

Walled Gardeners

Mostly aged 65 plus. ABC1 social groups.   Members of church and community organisations but don’t take active role, although do give to charity and contribute to fundraising initiatives.  Believe in duty and tradition, don’t want responsibility, spend a lot of time at home, with regular rituals and routines. Feel put upon by intrusion and irritated by change, but keep up appearances and don’t show their feelings. 

Social Sceptics

Mostly aged 35 plus, C2DE social groups. Spend a lot of time at home. Life is a struggle, computers confuse them, have money worries, very sceptical about ethical and environmental issues but otherwise don’t have strong views about anything, disenfranchised and disempowered. 

Reset Britain

What our online behaviours tell us about how we have changed

Have we gone straight from recession to austerity without a break?

What lessons have we learned and how are we using that knowledge?

What steps are we taking to protect our finances and families?

Are we fighting for our rights or keeping a low profile?

Is our British humour still intact?

In February 2009, in the depths of the recession, I wrote a thought piece titled Chin Up Britain in which I used search data from Google to explore how the online population of the country were reacting to the economic crisis.  In particular, I wanted to know whether the assertion, by brands and the media alike, that we were a cowed, passive and pessimistic nation, responsive only to increasingly hysterical headlines and special offers, was borne out by the data.
What I discovered confounded this assumption.  We were still falling in love and fantasising about high performance sports cars just as we did in the good times. We were no more depressed nor considering divorce nor leaving the country than we were before.  In fact, we were more creative, robust and resourceful than ever. 

 So now that we’re in the position of being able to look back at the credit crunch proper but look forward to an indefinite period of austerity, what can the online data tell us about the changes that the economic crisis brought about? Are those changes only temporary or indicative of a longer term societal shift?  We have we, as a nation, learned from the experience and how is it shaping our current behaviour?

In particular, I have looked at whether these changes occurred as a result of the recession, or whether they are part of a wider trend, both in terms of broader societal trends and the changing role of the Internet and how we connect and engage with it in our daily lives. 

 As before, I have found some surprises, with data that contradicts the school of thought currently popular in the media that we have gone straight from recession to austerity with no intervening period of rest and rejuvenation. But at the same time, I also found plenty of evidence at odds with the assertion by many consumer brands that we want to forget the recession and move on.   The true picture, as always, is both simpler and more complex.

So, if we take as our starting point the question ‘How have we changed as a nation since the credit crunch?’ the immediate answer is that we’re determined not to be caught short again.  Although searches on the Recession are at their lowest level for several years, there is still a higher base level of interest than before the crisis, so we’re not prepared to forget it just yet.  Likewise, searches for the term ‘latest news’ have undergone a slow and steady growth since late 2007 – coincidentally or not – the time of the first wave of the banking crisis.   

 What’s more, this trend has continued to rise.  Of course, we have increased access, via Twitter, newsfeeds and 24 hours news channels, to the latest news, but not markedly more so in the last year or two.  I therefore wonder if the recession made us aware of the need to be on our guard and not be taken by surprise again.

At the same time, there has been a measurable increase in searches for the ‘facts’ about contentious issues, such as climate change, global warming and energy.  As the recession made us re-evaluate the credibility of institutions such as the banks, perhaps people are starting to realise that just because somebody makes a proclamation, or is a popular commentator on a subject, or even has expert credentials, that doesn’t make them trustworthy. 

We can see the results of this search for the truth in the search patterns for savings accounts and high interest investment products.   Until mid 2007 search demand for both followed the same, steady annual pattern, of dips and troughs as we alternated between ‘admin’ and ‘holiday’ mode:    


Yet after the banking crisis, searches for ‘high interest’ dropped away as consumers realised there was no such thing.  But although this decline has levelled off, demand for high interest savings products is far lower overall than in 2007, indicating that consumers have no expectations of getting much of a return on their investment for the immediate future.

 But while our need to face up to reality increased, our appetite for escapist entertainment has actually increased.  During the recession searches for ‘funny videos’ did not decline but remained steady.  There was no growth – but simply no change as we put our lives on hold.  But in August 2009 there is a sudden spurt.  It’s as if we suddenly felt able to let go and celebrate the end of the recession with a barrage of humour, which has been maintained ever since.    

 The data on online gaming, namely Bingo and Poker gives us another perspective into our attitudes to entertainment before and after the recession.  Since early 2008 demand for Poker has levelled off and slowly declined.   Perhaps this is a result of natural maturing of the category – or perhaps the only people playing poker during the recession were the regular players.  I wonder if this is because Poker’s traditionally reckless, maverick image just felt too irresponsible to prospective players at a time when they feared for their jobs.


But Bingo is another story.  After a period of slow and steady growth from 2004 onwards, 2008 and early 2009 (that is, the worst of the recession), were the record years for Bingo.  This makes complete sense.  After all, Bingo is perfect recession entertainment – it’s cheap, cheerful, colourful, exciting and accessible.   

But what’s particularly interesting is that while Poker has continued to decline, 2011 has seen a resurgence of interest in Bingo.  As there’s a distinct economic chill in the air now, maybe Bingo players, who tend to be the ones with the most uncertain incomes and employment prospects and most at the mercy of rising food and fuel prices, are turning once more to the comfort of their lucky numbers.

There is one change in the way we engage with the companies in our lives that does seem to be symptomatic of a wider societal shift, as well as connected to the recession and that’s in our demand for Customer Services.  We can see how, at what was arguably the low point of the recession, March 2009, there was a sudden surge in searches for Customer Services. There were no legal or market changes that could have driven this.  Rather, it’s as if we as consumers suddenly and collectively decided that we would stand up for our rights – and maybe also get a better deal by switching to a new supplier.    


The brands associated with these searches are the everyday companies we engage with – mobile, entertainment, utilities and interestingly, these are the brands that rely on churn to increase market share, who are big promotional spenders and who have recently focussed on the web as a customer service channel rather than simply information and transaction. 

 As with Bingo, we can see that during the later half of 2010 and the first half of 2011, we relaxed a little but the last few months have seen another surge in demand.  This seems to indicate that we’ve recently started to prepare for another period of economic winter.

 So is the recession a driver for the 2009 and 2011 surges?  It’s hard to say for sure – perhaps February 2009 was the point at which consumers had had enough of being lectured by brands about how hard life was and how poor and hopeless they were and decided to take control.  Maybe it was the moment we decided to fight back against the recession – starting with the shoddy service we were getting from our phone, gas and TV companies.   

 We can see further evidence of this trend for self-actualisation when we look at data around the Christmas of 2009 when there was a sharp spike in demand for home-made Christmas decorations and although the spike was lower for Christmas 2010, it was still markedly higher than previous years, indicating a long term trend.  Indeed, we can see demand starting to rise already as we prepare for another home-made Christmas.


Anybody who has ever been to a craft shop will know that the materials for decorations can end up costing a great deal more than a trip to Poundland, so this can’t be to save money.  It seems to me that we are determined to make Christmas our own, to personalise our celebrations and enjoy the particularly old-fashioned satisfaction of making, rather than just buying things. 

Another way to look at this trend toward self-reliance is in the way we confide in the Internet and how the data represents a mirror of our anxieties and ambitions as a result.  For example, if we compare searches for ‘minimum wage’ with ‘redundancy’ over the last five years, a fascinating pattern emerges.  Between 2004 and early 2008, searches for redundancy had slowly declined, as our fears of it happening to us had subsided.  At the same time, our interest in the minimum wage increased, driven partly perhaps, by the influx of immigrant workers taking low paid jobs and also as a mark of our confidence in our worth as employees.   


But in early 2008, this comfortable situation dramatically changed.  Suddenly, our interest in the minimum wage melted away as we were glad to have a job, any job, and our anxieties about redundancy grew to a peak in February 2009.   Since then, searches for minimum wage enjoyed a modest increase in 2010 and a more dramatic climb in 2011, whilst searches for redundancy, if not back to pre-recession levels are at least steady.  So whilst we’re expressing our lack of certainty in the economic climate in some ways – by escaping to the Bingo and by shopping around for better mobile phone and broadband deals – we’re not worrying about our jobs.   But it’s worth remembering, the credit crunch actually began in September 2007 and it took about a year before people starting losing their jobs so this confidence may yet be misplaced.

 So, in summary, are we living in a Reset Britain?  The answer is most definitely yes – but not in every aspect of our lives.  In some ways, we haven’t changed at all – in other ways, we have grown up and wised up.  We’re more confident and demanding – but only when we hold the balance of power.  We’re more creative and self-reliant – especially when immediate friends and families are going to enjoy the results.   But most importantly, we’ve learned our lesson from the recession and although we took a bit of time off in 2010 to relax and rejuvenate the recent events of 2011 have been a wake-up call and we’re taking a close interest in what happens next so we won’t be caught out again.