The Hub Cool News

Flash or Future?

survey-64-165Which of today’s most talked-about innovations are here to stay? The results of a Hub reader survey (Jan/Feb 2015). What’s that old saying: The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed? True, to a point — but based on results of our latest reader survey, it is more widely distributed than maybe we realize. Sometimes it isn’t clear that a breakthrough is with us until it is old news. When the Internet first burst on the scene, some dismissed it as "the biggest thing since citizen band radio." Anyone old enough to remember CB radio? When Apple announced it was opening its own stores, many predicted that competing against its existing distribution channels would be fatal. It was, but not for Apple. It took a very long time for microwave ovens to catch on, too.

The question is, which of today’s most talked-about ‘disruptors’ have staying power and which are just passing through? The answer was largely good news for the disruptors. Of the 12 enterprises we tested, eight were deemed ‘a flash of the future,’ and most by a fairly wide margin. Leading the pack was Uber, the $18.2 billion app-driven, ride-sharing service launched in 2009 that is now available in 45 countries and 200 cities worldwide. Despite the objections of conventional taxi services, regulatory challenges and its own management controversies, it is hard to imagine Uber isn’t here to stay. Seventy-three percent of our respondents think it’s a keeper, compared to just 13 percent who think it’s a ‘flash in the pan.’

Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website founded in 2009, got a thumbs-up from 61 percent of respondents. According to Wikipedia, it has generated $1 billion in funding from 5.7 million donors backing 135,000 projects. Tesla, which dates back to 2003, and at this point needs no introduction, followed with 60 percent; this despite intense pressure from competitors over its disruption of the traditional automotive dealership model. Airbnb, which faces similar hostilities, also registered relatively strong approval, at 54 percent. The home-sharing service arrived in 2008, and is now in 192 countries and 33,000 cities. If there was a surprise in this survey, it was how poorly two bastions of innovation — Apple and Google — did. Read The Rest of the Survey Results.

Nobody’s Perfect

nobodys-perfectWhich brands do consumers love best, despite their flaws? ‘Responsibility’ is the weakest of the weak links in the brand experience across a plurality the 12 top brands offered for assessment in the latest reader survey from the Hub Magazine (Nov/Dec 2014). For some, this was defined as ‘social responsibility’ while for others it meant the brand’s responsibility to its consumers on measures like price/value and reliability. The survey presented a set of six attributes that shape the brand experience (quality, availability, personality, responsibility, usability and remarkability) and asked respondents to pick the weakest point of each of the brands. It also provided ‘perfect’ as an option for those who couldn’t find fault of any kind, as well as a comment box to provide the reasons behind their choices.

Of the 12 brands, ‘responsibility’ was the number-one flaw among five (Apple, Google, Disney, Coca-Cola, and Facebook). The word ‘responsibility’ certainly can mean different things. For example, while some cited Apple’s manufacturing practices, most of the criticism centered on the brand’s price/value proposition. Coke, not surprisingly, was knocked for the potentially adverse health consequences of its flagship product. With Google, ‘responsibility’ was tied to matters of privacy. The same issue surfaced with Amazon to a relatively lesser degree. Facebook, meanwhile, was in a league of its own, with 50 percent of readers citing ‘responsibility’ as its greatest weakness. No other brand scored higher than 33 percent on this measure (Coca-Cola).

Samsung was found lacking in the ‘personality’ department by 37 percent. Interestingly, both Amazon and Google scored poorly on personality, too — perhaps surprising for enterprises that tend to be widely admired. On the flip side, Mini Cooper oozes personality but ‘usability’ is its soft spot. ‘Quality’ is Ikea’s greatest handicap, mitigated for some by a strong sense of style. Starbucks and American Express were notable in that the criticisms were fairly evenly distributed across the various attributes. Neither led the pack as ‘perfect,’ however. That honor went to Nike, which was deemed flawless by 22 percent, compared to 19 percent for Starbucks and 15 percent for Amex. Ironically, the overall report on Nike was something less than perfect. Its lowest-scoring attribute is ‘remarkability’ — surprising for a brand associated with innovation. It also scored relatively low on ‘quality’ and ‘responsibility.’ Read The Complete Survey Results.

Global Warning

chris-hoytThe rest of the world lags behind American shopper marketing. A Hub research report by Chris Hoyt and Nancy Swift of Hoyt & Company. This is part two of the 2014 HUB Shopper Marketing Update survey analysis. Where part one looked at global best-practices, part two examines the geographic differences in shopper-marketing practices around the world with emphasis on US versus non-US.

While there are legitimate reasons to think of non-US shopper marketing as simply a less mature version of US shopper marketing, a deeper analysis indicates one particular practice, in fact, puts the two on very different trajectories. To ground this, let us reprise key findings from part one of the global results of the survey. Read the Rest of The Research Report.

Panorama Surveys

A pair of young Yale graduates is taking an Uber-esque approach to the educational experience, reports Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times (9/3/14). Like Uber, Panorama is "using unconventional methods of tech start-ups to reinvent industries that have long been seen as tech backwaters." In this case, they are collecting and analyzing "large troves of data" to help "address problems in American education" — specifically teacher performance. Basically, Panorama has come up with a new way to capture student evaluations.

"Education is just starting to figure out what measurement actually means," says Panorama co-founder Aaron Feuer. "Five years ago we thought test scores were the answer to everything. We’re offering a way to focus on the right metrics." While conducting student surveys is not a new idea, Panorama has made "its surveys more widely accessible than older educational surveys" via "its own scanning system" and "says its surveys and analytics services are about half the price of older survey methods."

Panorama has also developed an analytics dashboard that makes it easy for teachers to access results. Leila Campbell, a young high-school teacher, says Panorama "has been transformational" for her. Even though her students’ test scores were good, students said she wasn’t connecting with them. So, she says she now opens up to them with stories about the vulnerabilities she felt as a college student, and explains why she’s working with them. "They start to get me as a human being," she says. "And they’re willing to follow me when I push them harder." Panorama currently runs its surveys in more than 5,000 schools.

Millennial Mysteries

moosylvania-millennials"No one truly understands millennials … not even millennials," reports Dionne Searcey in The New York Times (8/22/14). That quasi insight comes courtesy of Moosylvania, a digital marketing company, in a report on how much money millennials spend — "$1.3 trillion … out of total spending of nearly $11 trillion." That’s not as much as baby boomers spend, but projections are that this will change by 2020. The conundrum, according to Mooslyvania, is that millennials "need a lot of assurance but don’t like to be marketed to."

The apparent paradox may be personified by Leslie Coronel, who is "careful to shop for most groceries at major chains where she can buy bread at a discount. Yet she often stops at the bakery at Whole Foods for more expensive treats." She will also splurge "if she finds a really expensive dress or shoes she really likes." Exactly how such contradictions differ from previous generations — especially boomers who "embraced consumer crazes" like "Frisbees and bell-bottoms" while also engaging in "counter culture activities" — isn’t clear.

Boomers, like millennials, have also been described as "selfish, entitled and unwilling to grow up." Jason Furman of the Council of Economic Advisors is among those who think the generational gaps are overblown. "There is no strong reason to believe that millennials are dramatically different than the generations of Americans who preceded them," he says. "Rather, it is the unlucky economic times with which they were presented that explains much of their challenge."

Ethics vs. Research

Researchers are grappling with the ethical dilemma of deceiving their subjects "in the name of science," reports Shirley S. Wang in The Wall Street Journal (8/26/14). The argument goes that there are some circumstances under which failing to tell subjects they are being studied is the only way to get accurate information. Geoff Pearson of University of Liverpool applied this premise in a ten-year study of "the behavior of rowdy soccer fans in the UK" after deciding "that just talking to them wasn’t good enough."

So, instead "he joined the fans at football matches to watch how the crowd behavior went from calm to rowdy … He wrote down his observations while huddled in the restroom, talked into a recorder by pretending it was a cellphone and jotted down copious notes after matches. Most important, he didn’t tell fans he was studying them." This flies in the face of "one of the main tenets of ethical research … that participants should be informed that they’re being studied and for what purpose."

Kypros Kypri of University of Newcastle meanwhile reports that "just asking heavy drinkers about their alcohol use sometimes changes their behavior." In this case, the research doubled as a kind of intervention, but without subjects knowing it. Kypros argues that the health benefits outweighed the ethical issues. In Geoff Pearson’s case, the undercover research helped improve policing at soccer matches. A key insight was that disorderly conduct was more likely when police "dressed in riot gear." Things went more smoothly "when police engaged in friendly conversation with the crowd."

Survey Says

“According to Ikea, 11 percent of people are now having secks in their kitchens … Maybe people are having trouble putting their Ikea bedroom sets together.” Ikea says Jay Leno told that joke on the Tonight Show, but as reported by Deborah Baldwin in The New York Times, (3/2/06) the real joke was the survey itself: “Blame that journalistic chestnut known as the trend story, the one with the ‘more and more’ phrase up top,” she writes. “With journalists scrounging for statistics to shore up their latest anecdotal observations, publicists are helpfully flooding the zone with scientific-sounding findings.”

For instance, “precisely 82 percent of respondents in a recent survey said that shopping carts were ‘among the worst’ germ offenders” via a press release from BabeEase, makers of “shopping cart seat covers for germ-phobic parents of young children … A survey for Sears concluded that a woman’s best friend is her tool kit” and reports: “Three out of five women would rather receive an hour of advice from Bob Vila than Dr. Phil … A survey done for eBay and Country Home magazine found that for millions of women, collecting is ‘a way of life'” and “that eBay had made collecting ‘easier’ and ‘more fun’.”

eBay’s PR department really likes the survey thing, apparently: “Another eBay survey, also probing the secret lives of women, uncovered a shortcoming among those who remodel. Nearly half said the most difficult part of the process … is staying within budget.” eBay’s advice: “Many of today’s best bargains can be found on the internet.” Okay, we have time for just one more (and more): “A stunning 78 percent of Americans surveyed had never traveled to visit a patriotic home,” according to a press release from the Wood Promotion Network, issued on the Fourth of July. The release went on to observe that “if they were to visit a patriotic home — Mount Vernon, say — they would be interested to learn that these houses were built … of wood." ~ Tim Manners, editor