DECEMBER 2012 // THE NEW NORMAL EDITION // ISSUE 50

STATE OF AMERICA

Saying No To College – The idea that a college diploma is an all-but-mandatory ticket to a successful career is showing fissures. Feeling squeezed by a sagging job market and mounting student debt, a groundswell of university-age heretics are pledging allegiance to new groups like UnCollege, dedicated to “hacking” higher education. Inspired by billionaire role models and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick. Risky? Perhaps. But it worked for the founders of Twitter, Tumblr and a little company known as Apple. “Education isn’t a four-year program,” Benjamin Goering, a recent college dropout who now works for a company run by another dropout, said. “It’s a mind-set.”

Via NYTimes

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

Under One Roof, Building for Extended Families – The blueprints of American homes are changing in order to accommodate the new shape of the American family: boomer couples with boomerang children and aging parents, an increasingly multiethnic population with a tradition of housing three generations under one roof, and even singles who may need to double up with siblings or friends in this fraught economic climate. These families are demanding new homes within in homes that have shared and private spaces. Scott Thomas, national director of product development for Pulte Group, the largest homebuilder in the United States, said his company now offers layouts with larger “flex rooms” and an over-the-garage apartment it calls the Grand Retreat. Ryland and KB Homes have been offering similar alternatives, and have seen their popularity increase as multigenerational households become more common.

Via CNBC.com

SMART BRANDS

Modamily  – When marriage is no longer an entry point to have a family, what’s a successful, spouse-less person to do who wants a baby, but has a biological clock that’s running out? When assessing the options, most people tend to think of an anonymous sperm donor, or even “settling” and rushing into marriage. But recently, a shift towards co-parenting has become a societal force to be reckoned with – more common among same-sex couples and outside the US, this child-rearing set-up is taking hold with domestic, heterosexual couples. If the old adage goes, “There is a lid to every pot” can one assume there is also a mother figure for every father figure that lack only the means to find one another? With the family structure consistently being redefined, elective co-parenting is on the rise. With Modamily, a New York-based private social network for people looking to co-parent a child within the US, CEO and founder Ivan Fatovic is hoping the US will follow suit: “What Modamily wants to do is start a national conversation and make people aware that co-parenting is a viable option.”

 

Via Modamily.com

BRIGHT IDEAS

Social Media Is The New Recruitment Tool – As people’s personal and professional life starts to blur, candidates look to social media to help them stand out. Research shows that recruiters spend an average of only six seconds looking at each resume they consider, as resumes, even those chock full of accomplishments, look indistinguishable from one to the next. Even interviews only provide a small window of time for a candidate to show who they are. But now with social media, being active on these platforms allows an employer to see who the candidate really is. For this reason, there’s an increasing interest in having students put together social media portfolios. A candidate can easily link their résumé to their Tumblr blog, website or even Flickr account. Whether or not someone works in an industry where building online influence matters (i.e. public relations, marketing or sales), over the next decade people will be hired and promoted based upon their social reputation capital. Danielle Hohmeier utilized Twitter as a way to secure a job. “I wanted employers to know I was comfortable in that space and give them a chance to get to know me beyond my resume and cover letter, ” she said. “Plus, I figured that if I sent in a resume and they had already interacted with me on Twitter, then I would have some advantage over other candidates.”

 Via Forbes

ON THE RADAR

Know This: Stayover Couples – With more people choosing to live alone and not get married, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia have noticed an increase in stayover relationships among college-educated adults ages 18-29. Stayover couples maintain separate residences but stay at the partner’s place as often as 3-7 times a week. This arrangement serves as a convenient alternative to more lasting commitments such as full cohabitation or marriage. Read more about the study here.

Watch This: For those who want to say no to college, the Thiel Fellowship serves as a viable alternative. Founded by Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel, the Thiel Fellowship believes young people should be actively chasing breakthrough technologies instead of wasting their time and money passively studying in college. The fellowship brings together some of the world’s most creative young people and helps bring their most ambitious ideas to life. Chosen fellows are given two years and a $100,000 grant to skip college and instead focus on their work, research and self-education.

Market Observation: With defined gender roles fading away, we are noting a rise in gender-neutral toys. Mattel, the world’s largest toy-maker, will soon introduce the Mega Bloks Barbie Build’n Style – the first Barbie construction set in the doll’s 50-year history. Walmart’s VP of Toys Anne Marie Kehoe explained that by the end of this year construction toys for girls will present nearly 20% of the construction toy category. This shift is a response to gender stereotypes as well as the fact that fathers are increasingly buying toys.

 

DECEMBER 2012 // ISSUE 49

STATE OF AMERICA

The Falling U.S. Birthrate- The number of U.S. births has been dropping since 2007, when they peaked at 4.3 million, just before the worst economic downturn since the Depression. But now, substantial declines in just one year among certain segments of women suggest a deeper and potentially longer-lasting change in childbearing. The 2011 birthrate fell 8% between 2007 and 2010 with a much bigger drop of 14% among foreign-born women. Many point to the economic downturn as the cause of the decline. States with the sharpest economic declines from 2007 to 2008 were the most likely to have bigger fertility declines from 2008 to 2009. “Most demographers were expecting a mini-baby boom,” says President of Demographic Intelligence Sam Sturgeon. “We anticipated that because the number of women of prime childbearing age has gone up. We were looking at what would have been the grandchildren of the baby boomers.” The boom never materialized,

Via Business Week

 

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

OMG! The Decline Of Texting –  There will be fewer LOLs and TTYLs flying between phones via text as text messaging has posted its first-ever decline in the U.S. The decline is due in part to the rise of a variety of messaging services like Apple’s iMessage, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook which have provided users with free alternatives. Though the decline was small (avg. of 678 texts a month, down from 696) the change is noteworthy because for several years texting has been steadily growing.  The decline is predicted to become more pronounced as more people buy smartphones.

Via U.S. News

SMART BRANDS

Tumblr : A Microblogging Success  – Tumblr’s unique blend of memes pushed it to become one of the top 10 most-trafficked websites in the U.S. Tumblr is a blogging platform that allows users to post mixed media on a tumblelog – a short form blog. With its emphasis on short, pithy posts and habitual use of it as a photo-publishing and social-sharing site, Tumblr posts are more closely related to Twitter feeds than professional, hefty WordPress sites. Founded in February 2007, with the tagline “Blogging made easy”, it collects more than 77 million posts a day across 79 million blogs today. If Facebook is the social network for online identification and authentication, and Twitter is for communication, Tumblr fulfills a different role: self-expression.

Tumblr’s meteoric rise proves there’s a desire for simple, elegant, short-form-content blogs that are heavy on imagery–a model that is being echoed elsewhere in the rise in photo sharing through iPhone apps like Instagram or Color.

 

Via Tumblr

BRIGHT IDEAS

Twine: A Chunk Of The Future  – In the future, your house will send you a text message to warn you that your basement is flooding. It’ll e-mail you if your kids break into the closet where the Christmas presents are hidden. It’ll tweet you when to water your plant. Sounds like the kind of stuff you hear in those fantastical “future of…” videos. Not anymore. Two MIT Media Lab graduates have created a 2.5 inch “chunk of the future” called Twine that does exactly that and more. Twine is a puck filled with internal and external sensors and a Wi-Fi hub which detects anything from moisture to magnetism. Stick it anywhere and it’ll tweet status updates at your command. No coding skills required. To create the aforementioned “house that alerts you when the basement floods,” just plunk your Twine in the basement where its built-in moisture sensor will get wet if there’s a flood. Then head to Twine’s companion webapp, Spool, and create a simple rule-based program: “If Twine gets wet, send me a text message.” And blammo, that’s it. You now have a “smart” house.

Via Fast Co Design

ON THE RADAR

Follow Me: @pontifex –  In a sign of the times, Pope Benedict XVI officially joined Twitter this week and already has half a million followers. His Holiness currently doesn’t have any tweets and only follows 7 other accounts – all of which are versions of his official handle translated in different languages such as German, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic.

Watch This: McDonald’s Canada launched a frank question-and-answer-driven social media campaign that has gone on to earn huge publicity and positive reviews. The “Our Food. Your Questions” campaign created a direct dialogue with consumers by inviting people to ask questions on McDonald’s website, Twitter and Facebook. Answers appeared online and some have been turned into in-depth video explanations. Watch an example here which explains why McDonald’s food advertisements look different from the food available in stores.

Watch This: The world’s first 3D photo booth has arrived in Japan. Using the power of 3D-printing technology, the Omote 3D Shashin Kan will turn you and your loved ones into miniature 3D figurines. It’s a photo booth-style experience that captures your 3D likeness using a special handheld scanner. The process takes approximately 15 minutes and your Mini Me is sent to a 3D printer. The service is only available until mid-January 2013. See examples of the finished products  here.

NOVEMBER 2012 // ISSUE 48

STATE OF AMERICA

Occupy 2.0  – Grungy 20-somethings full of scorn for America’s financial system but unable to articulate a concrete vision for reform — that’s the image most people associate with Occupy Wall Street, a series of anti-Establishment demonstrations launched around the globe in 2011. But now in 2012, less than a year after the last protester was removed from New York City’s Zuccotti Park, the movement has re-emerged as a series of laser-focused advocacy groups that are trying to effect change in a variety of sectors. Led in part by former Wall Streeters, these groups might still promote radical ideas (Occupy Bank wants to overhaul the entire U.S. banking system), but their approach to change is incremental, and this time around they’re playing by the rules. For example, instead of complaining about predatory lending, Strike Debt is raising cash to buy medical debt, then forgive it. “It’s a strategic initiative,” says movement organizer Amin Husain. “We’re affecting people’s lives in a positive way but also exposing the nature of the system.” Perhaps the best evidence that Occupy’s brand of direct democracy can offer both advocacy and efficiency is Occupy Sandy, their most recent grassroots movement which funneled hundreds of volunteers and crucial supplies to storm-hit New York City neighborhoods almost as fast as FEMA.

Via Rolling Jubilee

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

Growing Interest In “Real” Products – Your sweater might be genuine wool but can you trace its fibers back to the very sheep from which it was shorn? This is the granular level of “realness” consumers now increasingly seek. There’s evidence all around us — whether it’s watching someone gush over the sleek design of a new phone and then seek out the perfect hand-carved, petrified-jungle-wood case to protect it, or the proliferation of farmers markets in big cities — people are looking for, and need, realness. The growth of urban centers, the decreased level of personal communication because of technology, and the rise of health scares from mass-produced food are a few of the many contributing factors driving the desire for “real”. There is a powerful urge to get in touch with what people believe is a real and more authentic world, and it’s leading us to a place where signs of realness take on greater value.

Via Fast Company

SMART BRANDS

The Disruption Economy – The upending of traditional business models is spreading like wildfire through the economy, particularly in services that can be easily socialized such as the hotel business (Airbnb), the taxi industry (Uber) and the education market (Coursera). It’s important to note that the social aspect of these services is crucial to their success. For Airbnb the social element isn’t just a nice addition, it’s a key part of how it functions and why the barriers to entry and transaction costs are lowered as a result. For a former user, if they had not had the ability to see a homeowner was connected to a Facebook friend of theirs, they might never have used Airbnb (and they might never have accepted them as a renter). As New York venture investor Chris Dixon described in a recent blog post that startups such as Airbnb and Uber are “regulatory hacks” in the sense that they are designed to do an end-run around existing industry regulations in much the same way the early disruption in telecom was driven by startups that played fast and loose with the rules, eventually forcing regulatory change and becoming the norm. The list of these kinds of companies is only continuing to grow: Kickstarter and Indiegogo have not only helped entrepreneurs raise millions of dollars outside the traditional financing industry, they have also helped trigger changes to federal legislation around small business funding. Today’s regulatory hack is tomorrow’s mainstream industry.

 

Via Business Week

BRIGHT IDEAS

Crowdfunding A Cure – On the popular site Kickstarter, tens of thousands of users have tapped friends, family and strangers to help finance everything from comic books to movies to a dream-enhancing sleep mask. Now, crowdfunding is even helping the sick to pay their medical bills. With U.S. health care costs at least $8,000 per capita, a group of new Web platforms are offering people an opportunity to ask the public for help. Of course families have long held informal fundraisers for such causes, but now creating pages on crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe (where medical asks have trumped education and travel to become the biggest travel draw) and GiveForward allows patients and their relatives to raise a larger amount of money with the help of friends who spread the word via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. What starts as a family affair can eventually reach people all over the world.

Via GoFundMe.com

ON THE RADAR

Culture Observation: This year GIF bested YOLO (You Only Live Once) as Oxford American Dictionary’s official 2012 word of the year. Originally, it was an acronym used as a noun  referring to an outdated “graphics interchange format.”  2012 saw GIF gain traction as a verb, and its new meaning is as follows:

GIF (verb) – to create a GIF file, usually of an image or video sequence relating to an event

 

View This Site: Sharp Suits: A Creative Catharsis is an Irish art exhibit created by ad creatives who chose to turn frustrating client feedback into hilarious works of art. The exhibit includes interpretations of bizarre client requests such as “Can we make the pig sexier?” and “Can the snow look a little warmer?” While posters of the artwork are no longer on sale, past proceeds have been donated to the Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin. View the gallery here

Watch This: Wanting to increase girls’ interest in the male-dominated field of engineering, Stanford engineering student Debbie Sterling came up with the idea of GoldieBlox – an engineering toy designed to encourage young girls’ interest in the field. GoldieBlox differs from other building toys on the market because it comes with a storytelling component which studies have shown is a big draw for young girls. Watch Sterling explain the concept of GoldieBlox in this video that has inspired enough crowdfunding to turn Sterling’s idea into reality.

 

 

NOVEMBER 2012 // HOLIDAY EDITION // ISSUE 47

STATE OF AMERICA

Rise Of Self-Gifting In A Me-Centric Society – We’ve all heard that it is better to give than receive. During the holiday shopping period, there’s a new twist to this old adage: the rise of “self-gifting”. Many consumers are clearly big fans of the idea of giving – to themselves. The “self-gifting” trend, which has been gaining in popularity over the years, will reach all-time highs this year. According to the National Retail Federation, the average shopper who is honest enough to admit they plan to spend on themselves over the holidays will drop $237 on “self-gifts.” That’s a 27% jump in five years. Younger consumers are especially game to embrace the idea that the season of giving is the perfect time for self-gifting. “It looks like young adults have the ‘one for you two for me’ mentality about the holiday season this year, which is surprising given that this is also the age group that typically doesn’t have the income or ability to splurge,” said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director for BIGinsight. Millennials are not more selfish than other generations though. But because they grew up at a time when society placed a stronger emphasis on caring about oneself, self-gifting seems more natural to them, without the negative connotations felt by older generations.

Via TIME

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

The First Multi-Screen Holiday Shopping Season – Multi-screen behavior has pervaded many aspects of consumers’ lives, and that’s certainly true when it comes to shopping. Google commissioned Ipsos MediaCT to find out how people plan to get their holiday gift-giving done this year and found that while just over half will research online and buy in store, a growing number plan to visit stores first and then look for bargains on the item online. Most shoppers also plan to switch devices while researching, relying on links, search and shopping carts to pick things back up. 4 in 5 shoppers will use devices simultaneously to help with shopping. 85% will shop for a gift by starting on one device and finishing on another during the shopping process. The most popular combinations being a computer with smartphone (55%) and a computer with tablet (20%).

Via AdWeek 

SMART BRANDS

Target & Neiman Marcus’ Holiday Collaboration Wins With Story Within A Story Campaign – Anyone who watched Sunday’s mid-season finale of “Revenge” got a heavy dose of Target and Neiman Marcus marketing as the retailers promoted their limited-edition holiday collection. Target and Neiman Marcus were the sole sponsors for the telecast, running five long-form commercials that totaled roughly 10 minutes of airtime during the hour long episode. The spots featured the cast of the popular ABC drama in a “story within a story” that was modeled after the show itself. The unique partnership even enlisted “Revenge” writers and set designers to ensure the ads would appeal to the show’s fans.

Via Brandchannel.com

BRIGHT IDEAS

Block Friday – New York based sustainable goods manufacturer and retailer Holstee took a novel approach to the Thanksgiving sales period last year. On Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), US retailers traditionally slash prices to mark the beginning of the Christmas shopping period, but Holstee took the drastic step of shutting down its website temporarily. For Holstee, Black Friday typically accounts for 10-15% of their annual revenue, but they began realizing the hustle around driving consumerism on that day was exactly the opposite of the mission they’d set out to achieve. As a reaction, Holstee shut down their online store for the day, blocking it with a note kindly reminding their customers of the real purpose of the holidays. Visitors saw a black curtain over the homepage and a note: “We are shutting down the shop to refocus on what is important to us, and it turns out that it cannot be bought at an Early Bird Special. We hope you will join us. : )” Thus, the concept of #BlockFriday was born. This year, Holstee, in partnership with a large number of other retailers, is transforming that single act into an entire movement. What are you blocking off Friday to do this holiday season?

Via Holstee.com
ON THE RADAR

Try This Snack: Retailers like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have come out with seasonal items each year, and this month Pringles made its foray into the growing holiday snack market with the debut of the following limited edition Pringles holiday flavors: Pumpkin Pie Spice, White Chocolate Peppermint and Cinnamon & Sugar. Initial consumer reactions are mixed, but if novelty is a strong enough selling point, you’ll be able to try these flavors yourself at your local Walmart.

Holiday Observation: “It’s estimated that 2 billion apps will be downloaded during the week of Dec. 25 – Dec. 31.”

FastCompany | Nov. 12, 2012
Watch This: The people who brought you Rebecca Black’s “Friday” have deemed it necessary to present to the world another work of art in a song titled, “It’s Thanksgiving.” This song is sung by teen Nicole Westbrook, includes singing into a turkey leg as if it were a microphone, and features a montage as well as a chorus of all major holidays leading up to the “give’em thanks ya’ll” holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

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NOVEMBER 2012 // ISSUE 46

STATE OF AMERICA

The Death Of Online Anonymity  – Ten years ago people were used to having many different personas – at work, at home, with their friends. During this time fewer people used the internet and anonymity was the norm. Now that most people have an online identity on Facebook or the like, anonymity is regarded with suspicion and associated with hackers, abusive commentators and scammers. Aleks Krotoski, author of the forthcoming book Untangling the Web: What the Internet is Doing to You, believes we are entering a new phase of the internet age. “The rise of Facebook and Google ushered in an enormous number of people who hadn’t previously used the web, and this has seen a shift in attitudes towards anonymity.  People themselves are becoming less and less inclined to be anonymous online because it is now associated with bad behavior.”

Via The Guardian 

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

A Tale Of A Motivated Billy Idol Fan –

In another example of an everyday individual making the impossible happen with some ingenuity and a lot of passion, Michael Henrichsen persuaded Billy Idol to play at his birthday party. Over the span of two years, and with the help of some of his friends, Michael created stunt after stunt to capture the attention of the British rocker. He built the

website www.playmybirthdaybillyidol.com to post all the stunts he created which range from having his friends hold banners over highways to collecting endorsements from celebrities like comedian Kevin Nealon, Seattle Mariner Jay Buhner and porn star Ron Jeremy. He put together an ’80s cover band called Nite Wave that began playing a series of charity concerts dubbed “Billy Idol Aid” and raised more than $10,000 for the American Red Cross and Northwest Harvest. When Billy Idol’s people found out about it he maintained a relationship with them until the impossible happened. In August, Idol himself sent Michael a message. “The people of the world have spoken!” Idol thundered. “The dream will become reality…” Finally,  Michael’s dreams came true this October and it’s all thanks to his creativity, determination and the internet.

Via Huffington Post

SMART BRANDS

Toshiba and Intel’s Social Film: The Beauty Inside – Intel and Toshiba have gained the attention of Facebookers by teaming up on a film project with a twist:

giving multiple people a chance to play the leading role. The Beauty Inside is a film series broadcast on Facebook in six parts. The movie tells the romantic tale of Alex (Topher Grace), who has set his eyes on a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but he has a major problem – every morning he wakes up as a different person. This is where the public was invited to get involved as one of the many incarnations of the main character. Budding actors – both female and male – could audition for the role of Alex through an online casting call. Those who tried out were required to record themselves reading an audition script via an app provided on Facebook. 

Via YouTube

*Special thanks to USA Network’s Suzanne McGee for bringing this story to our attention

BRIGHT IDEAS

Invest In Someone, Literally – Upstart, a new startup by a former Googler, is aimed at funding people instead of companies.  Upstart lets graduates connect with a minimum of five financial backers who act as investors in the “upstart.” They provide funds and sometimes mentorship as the participant pursues his or her goal – be it writing a novel or starting a tech firm – in return for a variable share of the next decade’s worth of annual income. Upstart explains, “It’s an investment in you, not your idea or your business” – instead of big employers giving promising grads their professional head start, today literally anyone can do so.

Via Upstart

ON THE RADAR

Try This Platform:

Google+ has partnered with the NFL in the first partnership to fully integrate Google+ Hangouts onto a separate platform. If you’re in a fantasy league set up through the NFL.com/fantasy page, everyone in your league will be able to  video chat by simply clicking the Hangout button. This means you can look at your friends’ reactions as you draft each player and watch them gloat during big plays throughout the season. Since the standard fantasy league has about a dozen players, Google has increased the number of Hangout participants from 10 to 12 on the NFL.com platform.

Try This App: The MoviePass app is being described as Netflix for in-theater movies. For a monthly fee starting at $29.99 users are allowed to see unlimited movies at local theaters nationwide. Membership includes a smartphone app, membership card, discounts at concession stands, and access to advance screenings and events. Watching a movie at a theater is as simple as checking into the theater on your phone and getting your ticket from the kiosk.

Read This: “The Silent History” is a new kind of e-book that  advances the way digital novels take advantage of smartphone technology.  For $8.99 readers can subscribe to the entire story which centers on a near-future dystopia. Everyday new content is automatically downloaded in bursts short enough to be read in 15 minutes. The most striking innovation is the use of GPS to unlock additional narratives known as Field Reports. Field Reports, contributed by other writers, appear as pins on a zoomable worldwide map inside the app, and the only way to read them is to visit the actual location. Once there, you will find yourself immersed in the details of the very location you are reading about

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OCTOBER 2012 // FUTURE OF WORK EDITION // ISSUE 45

STATE OF AMERICA

From Work/Life Balance To Work+Life Fit – The top reasons working Americans stay with their current employers are work+life fit and enjoying the work that they do. This was ahead of benefits, pay and lack of other job opportunities. When people refer to work+life fit, they refer to working differently and more flexibly. The shift away from balance to fit comes as more people prioritize their lives in context to work so that what matters to them personally and professionally can both happen on a regular basis. This has happened because the workplace has transformed radically over the past two decades. There are now few physical and time boundaries between work and people’s personal lives. People are willing to work very hard when required, however, they might want to work from home or come into the the office earlier or later than traditional hours. This open prioritization of both work and life acknowledges a new workplace reality.

Via FastCompany

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

Older Entrepreneurs Lead the Way  – While young pioneers such as Facebook’s 28-year-old founder, Mark Zuckerberg, represent the usual media image of modern entrepreneurs, the reality is that these innovators are now more likely to be aged 50-plus. A key demographic trend identified in a study into US entrepreneurs by the Kauffman Foundation highlighted the increasing prominence of entrepreneurs aged 55 to 64. This group represented 14.3% of new entrepreneurs in 1996, whereas it represented 20.9% of new entrepreneurs in 2011. An example: Mac Lewis, who co-founded FieldSolutions in 2007 at the age of 60 after 14 years with IBM. When Lewis was in his late 50s, he became an early stage/angel investor. Lewis found investing to be a good way to give back, but he said that “being an investor was less active and didn’t get the adrenaline flowing.” As an experienced entrepreneur, Lewis has not only the years of experience, he has lived through the evolution of many new companies.

Via Kauffman.org

SMART BRANDS

AOL Reinvents Email- The way we use email has changed dramatically in the past decade-plus. But David Temkin, AOL’s SVP of Mail & Mobile, argues that email clients haven’t kept up with the changes – with the last major innovation coming in 2004 when Gmail launched. The company isn’t just bolting on some new features to the existing AOL Mail product. Instead, it’s launching an entirely new webmail client called Alto. Alto looks like a mashup of Gmail, Twitter and Pinterest, with incoming mail showing up in a vertical feed along the left side of the page. The right two-thirds of the window is dominated by rows of tiles called “stacks.” These are the source of the platform’s unique look, as well as its innovative functionality. The stacks update dynamically and work continuously, automatically sorting incoming messages, which also appear in your main feed, into five default groupings: daily deals, social notifications, retail, photos, and attachments. These piles reflect the most common categories of email received and the fact that even in the Facebook era, email remains the de facto beast of burden for photos and attachments. Alto uses a visual search to display the content being delivered: Click on the photos or attachments stack and you get an instant array of thumbnails displaying its contents–no searching or opening of messages required. Users can also create custom stacks for subjects like travel, work projects, or family by setting simple rules for sorting by sender, domain, or keywords. By sifting through bulk mail, you end up with the things that really matter in your inbox.

Via TechCrunch

BRIGHT IDEAS

Forget Business School, MBAers Go To Design School – Stanford University’s d.school-the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design-has gained recognition in recent years for introducing the problem-solving concept known as “design thinking” to executives. Design thinking uses close, almost anthropological observation of people to gain insight into problems that may not be articulated yet. Traditionally, companies have relied on focus groups to get feedback on products that were already in development. With design thinking, potential solutions are modeled, then tested and quickly adjusted based on user feedback. Designed to ignite creativity and collaboration, the d.school’s interior looks like a preschool playroom for grown-ups. The school said much of the lay out is for the sake of teamwork. Organizations are taking note. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, game co.Electronic Arts, JetBlue Airways and the software firms SAP and Intuit have worked closely with the school, acting as test cases for courses or posting job openings on d.school boards. Procter & Gamble, Google, Nike, and Fidelity Investments are recruiting heavily for students with a design-thinking background. Given corporate interest, other schools are adding integrated business and design offerings.

 Via WSJ

ON THE RADAR

Try This Platform: Props To You is a project management platform that leverages gamification incentives to get team members to complete real-world tasks in exchange for points and prizes. It builds off the idea that people are more engaged and productive when achievements and teamwork are recognized and celebrated. The platform also provides useful management tools for team leaders to track employee progress, skills and development goals.

Try This Site: If you are looking to move to a new career, start a company, or enhance your current job skills, PivotPlanet may be the solution you’ve been looking for. The site helps connect experts working in hundreds of fields with people looking to pivot their careers. Advisors offer affordable one-on-one mentoring sessions via video conferences conducted on Skype, FaceTime or another method of choice. Mentoring rates vary but can be as low as $50.

Read This: Econovation is a trends book written by entrepreneur, futurist and Fortune 100 innovator Steve Faktor. Faktor points out that we’re moving from consumerism to a producer-driven economy. As a result, the work place is changing dramatically and business leaders who want to keep up will find value in the book’s tips on how to encourage sustainable innovations for the future by tapping into the the new office culture’s proclivity for connectivity, entertainment and fame.

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OCTOBER 2012 // CONNECTED CONSUMER EDITION // ISSUE 44

STATE OF AMERICA

In Tough Times, Americans Reward Themselves By Connecting – While a weak economy caused most consumers to cut back on non-essentials it also helped them continue to spend on devices that helped them connect with others. Thanks to the recession, people were not getting a new home in April 2010 (housing values were 30 % below their April 2006 peak) or a new car (sales were down 21% from April 2008), but that did not prevent Americans from continuing to spend on technology. When the iPad was released in April of 2010, no one thought a purchase of a gadget with a base price of $500 could be justified in the middle of a recession. Yet in the past two and a half years, Apple has sold more than 34 million iPads in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, households spent less on food, entertainment, apparel, and other categories from 2007 to 2011. Meanwhile, spending on communication devices rose more than 10% during the same period. It turns out that even in the face of scarcity, innovation and connection is a powerful attractor.

Via Business Week

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

The Connected Protagonist –

The fusion of the social economy and the digital communications world has created an environment from which a new generation of consumer known as the Connected Protagonist has emerged. Connected Protagonists are aggressive consumers who have an arsenal of content and communications tools that give them the unprecedented ability to bend their world to their wants and needs. These consumers are always on and technology functions

as their sixth sense. Because they see themselves as the leading man/woman in their own epic narrative, they have a role of protagonist in their own lives. This attribute has been inherent in humans ever since we gained consciousness, but the fusion with hyperconnectivity has fundamentally changed the game. Their lives now have an audience, and social platforms are their stage. Their content – the activities they participate in, the knowledge they have, the connections they make and the things that entertain them – shapes their personal story arc and defines who they are and how they are perceived by the world. As a result, Connected Protagonists’ curated content is far from arbitrary. Their “story” is as well-crafted, defined and guarded as that of the brands that try to reach them with messages about what cars to buy or what detergent to use. Brands must understand that the dynamic of “brand to audience” has shifted to “brand to Connected Protagonist to audience.” The role brands play has changed from star to supporting actor, but by playing a real part in the story of people’s lives brands can provide true value.

Via AdWeek

SMART BRANDS

Mercedes Turns Viewers Into Creatives In Real Time – Advertising is getting increasingly real-time as well as more interactive. A new Mercedes campaign, targeting younger consumers, took this idea a step further. Two 60-second spots airing on consecutive commercial breaks during X Factor laid out a story about a musician and his sidekick racing to get to a secret gig. Viewers were invited to suggest the outcome of the scenario by tweeting their opinions with the hashtag #YOUDRIVE. The next night, a 90-second ad aired that included footage from the first two spots, plus the ending selected by viewers. The ads also directed viewers to a YouTube channel where they could view alternate endings and create a customized version of the spot. Rather than inserting themselves into the social thread, Mercedes fueled the social conversations by putting the viewers in the driver’s seat, literally.

Via JWT

BRIGHT IDEAS

Betabrand Turns Customers Into Models – Betabrand, the online clothier known for cult fashion hits like Codarounds, Bike to Work Pants and Caperons, gives customers a chance to be instant models on Betabrand.com no matter how good, bad, or outrageous their photos might be. Unlike other companies with online fan photo galleries, Betabrand actually turns customer photos into the site’s principal product images. To become Model Citizens, customers simply upload their photos to the site where they instantly get a unique product-page URL that makes their photo appear to be the lead model shot on the homepage. They can share with friends, family, and anyone else they want to impress beyond belief. Friends ask, “How in the world did you end up modeling for a clothing company?” And so the social-commerce conversation begins. Each of these photos have invited an average of 20 Facebook friends to take a look and 1 in 10 Model Citizen photos generate a trackable order from a new customer. According to founder Chris Lindland , “So many people send in shots of themselves in Betabrand products, we invented a way to turn them into our site’s superstars.”

Via Betabrand.com

ON THE RADAR

Read This: Today’s connected consumers are better informed and harder to please, and because of social networks they also leave a more visible evidence trail of their opinions. The Connected Customer: The Changing Nature of Consumer and Business Markets is a collection of essays by thought-leaders in the field of marketing and beyond that deals with the growing importance of connectivity. This book offers refreshing ideas for businesses currently reconsidering how to connect with consumers that are increasingly seeking to play a more participative role in their relationship with brands.

Watch This: Ragu’s “A Long Day Of Childhood” campaign highlights the awkward moments of growing up and hopes to remind viewers of how much comfort their favorite brands provided all those years ago. The campaign encourages customers to submit photos of their awkward youths which Ragu then uses to create relateable YouTube videos that celebrate the anxiety-riddled moments of growing up. Check out an example of one of the videos here.

Try This Site: American Express Unstaged is a concert series that pairs artists with a well-known director. Last month The Killers performed in NYC and said they wanted “the whole world on stage” with them. Fans submitted photos of themselves holding up signs saying where they live and filmmaker Werner Herzog directed the concert live stream which displayed the photos on big screens throughout the concert. Fans from all over the world were able to contribute to the experience and feel like they were “on stage” with the band. Check out The Killers’ Face To Face site to see fan submissions and highlights from the concert.

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OCTOBER 2012 // ISSUE 43

STATE OF AMERICA

Temping Is The New Normal – Whether employees like it or not, America’s workforce landscape is changing – edging away from the era of the full-time, salaried workers and closer to a freelance-and-full-time mix of staffers. A study from the human resources services firm Randstad says “contingent” workers are becoming a fact of life at U.S. companies, edging out full-time workers in the process. Workers aren’t exactly fighting, says the Atlanta-based firm, and in fact many contract employees are finding a higher job satisfaction than they did in their full-time, salaried days. Specifically, 78% of temporary and contract workers surveyed rated their experience as “positive,” and 54% of contract workers said they strongly agree with the statement “I am paid what I am worth,” compared with 42% of salaried workers. 

     

Via Learnvest.com

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

More Adults Read Young Adult Fiction Than Young Adults –

Young Adult (YA) fiction may be aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds, but guess what? Tweens and teens aren’t the only ones reading it, not by a long shot. According to a Bowker Market Research study, 55% of YA readers are age 18 or older, while 30- to 44-year-olds comprise the lion’s share of YA e-book buyers. And no, they’re not buying all that YA fiction for their kids or younger siblings. 78% of adult readers purchase YA titles for themselves. And the plot thickens. Who loves good old-fashioned books the most? Hint: Their hair’s not gray. 60% of teens read YA books the old-fashioned way-in print, while older consumers are driving YA e-book sales. Ending their longtime reign as kings of print, Boomers’ share of book purchases dropped from 30% in 2010 to 25% in 2011. In a near mirror-image swap, Millennials buying print surged from 24% to 30%, according to the 2012 US Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review

 

Via Bowker.com

SMART BRANDS

Oreo’s Daily Twist campaign – 

At 100 years old, Kraft Foods’ Oreo seems younger than ever. As part of Oreo’s centennial celebration, the brand kicked off it’s celebration in March with it’s “History” print campaign, which enlisted the cookie to depict historical milestones. That effort showed the cookie’s historic relevance while “Twist” contemporized it in the context of current events. The brand’s “Daily Twist” campaign has made the cream-stuffed sandwich a social-media darling and sometime daredevil. It kicked off June 25 with a polarizing image of the cookie, septuple-stuffed with rainbow filling to celebrate Gay Pride Month — a bold move for a brand that topped $2 billion in revenue last year. Since then, we’ve seen a Shark Week Oreo, a Mars Rover Oreo and a tribute to panda Shin-Shin’s newborn cub — just a handful of 100 iterations that rolled out daily through October. For the final day (Oct. 2nd) of its 100-day campaign driven largely through Facebook, Oreo had installed a one-room ad agency in Times Square so it could take suggestions from the public and debut the final “Daily Twist” image on a digital billboard in New York City.

 

Via Nabsico

BRIGHT IDEAS

Rejection Fuels Creativity  – Are you always the last person picked for a team? When you watched Office Space, did you feel a special kinship to the stapler-obsessed Milton? If you answered yes to any of these questions, do not despair. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Cornell have recently found that the socially rejected might also be society’s most creatively powerful people. It found that people who have a strong independent mind thrive creatively in the face of rejection. “We were inspired by the stories of highly creative individuals like Steve Jobs and Lady Gaga,” says the study’s lead author, Hopkins professor Sharon Kim. “And we wanted to find a silver lining in all the popular press about bullying. There are benefits to being different.”    

 

Via Fast Company

ON THE RADAR

Follow This: #FirstWorldProblems is a popular Twitter hashtag where well-fed people complain about non-problems. The First World Problems Anthem by DDB New York and nonprofit organization WATERisLIFE is an effort to turn the ironic hashtag into a humanitarian campaign. Over 1 million people have viewed the 60-second spot which features Haitian orphans reading actual tweets. DDB has been tweeting the video to original hashtag authors and encouraging them to take action against real problems by donating towards clean water solutions.    

 

Watch This: Facebook recently announced that it has reached its billion-user milestone. To celebrate, the social network has partnered with Wieden & Kennedy to create its first major TV ad which honors its users by highlighting meaningful ways people connect and come together. Watch it here.

Try This Site: WorldCam is a search engine that helps people find the latest Instagram photos from around the world with pinpoint accuracy. It’s a great example of how excessive photo-sharing can become a useful resource. Google’s Street View only allows you to see exteriors of buildings, but Worldcam enables people to see inside public buildings since photos come from Instagram feeds that have been tagged at that location. Do you want to know what the inside of the Apple headquarters looks like or what someone in that building might be having for lunch? WorldCam might be able to help you. 

 

OCTOBER 2012 // ISSUE 42

STATE OF AMERICA

Women Dominate Pop Culture – If last year marked genuine breakthrough for women in comedy, then a new breed of female hero owns 2012. The baddest, bravest superhero this Summer wasn’t a man in a suit of iron. It was 6 yr. old Hushpuppy in indie sensation Beasts of the Southern Wild. “I gotta take care of mine,” she says at one point, which neatly sums up the driving motivation of devoted big sister Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. In the Pixar hit Brave, Princess Merida is more concerned with her own self-interest which refreshingly does not include finding true love. There seems to be a legitimate shift in how pop culture serves and represents women. “The more women on screen, the more people are going to see their choices, their hopes, their dreams, their sense of humor reflected back at them,” says 2 Broke Girls creator Michael Patrick King. No better evidence of this is the next big buddy-cop comedy The Heat starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy instead of the typical two male leads.

Via USA Today

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

Young People More Financially Responsible Than Parents – As older Americans lose jobs, lose homes and delay retirement, their children are watching and reacting. Growing numbers of young Americans are boosting savings, cutting spending and planning for retirement. Many people in their 20s and 30s while struggling with debt, low income and unemployment are still managing to be financially responsible. Young adults are now saving more and starting earlier than people their age used to, according to several broad measures. Of employees under age 25, 44% participated in their companies’ 401(k) retirement plans in 2011, up from just 27% in 2003, according to Vanguard Group Inc. While they still face serious student debts, young people also have cut back on credit-card debt. The under-35 group was the only age group that saw average credit-card balances fall. Ernst & Young, which gives financial-planning services to employees of many large companies, said inquiries from younger employees were up. “Friends of mine in our 20s, we joke that there isn’t going to be any Social Security when we get old enough to collect,” said Sean McGroarty, a DJ. “But it isn’t really a joke. What are we going to do after we retire?”

Via WSJ

SMART BRANDS

Target’s Shoppable Film –

Target is releasing an episodic series of short films starring Kristen Bell, Nia Long and Zachary Abel where everything on-screen is for sale. The company unveiled the three episodes of “Falling for You” last week. The occasion was the first public viewing – in its entirety – of the 12-minute romantic comedy directed by Emmy-winning director Phil Abraham and featuring in nearly every frame some 110 Target-exclusive items from clothing to pencil holders to chairs. The items can also be seen scrolling up the right edge of the screen, where they can be purchased or shared via social media. The plot of “Falling for You,” involves two Target employees (played by Bell and Abel) who pitch competing ideas for the retailer’s fall fashion campaign to their boss (played by Long). The first installment of “Falling,” went live on Target’s website on Oct. 2, with consecutive episodes posted on Oct. 4 and 9. Story-wise, those webisodes lead into a Web-streamed live event scheduled for Oct. 10 in New York City that Target will use to launch its fall fashion campaign. “It’s a very exciting concept,” Kristen Bell said. “It felt very fluid. A lot of it is just showing things in their natural habitat. I felt like it was more natural than a product-placement situation on a film set.”

Via Target

BRIGHT IDEAS

Living In A Social Era – If the industrial era was about building things, the social era is about connecting things, people and ideas. Networks of connected people with shared interests and goals create ways that can produce returns for any company that serves their needs. Things we once considered opposing forces–doing right by people and delivering results, collaborating and keeping focus, having a social purpose and making money–are really not in opposition. New business models have formed to adapt to these forces and thrive in this social era as organizations realize they no longer create value all by themselves. In these new business models, organizations have let go at the top, forsaking proprietary claims and avoiding hierarchy to gain agility and flexibility. They’ve also sacrificed short-term payoffs for long-term prosperity. They’ve recognized “doing work” no longer requires a badge and a title within a centralized organization. Anyone–without pre-approval or vetting or criteria–will create and contribute making this process essential to finding solutions to new problems. More and more companies have embraced consumers as “co-creation” partners in their innovation efforts, instead of as buyers at the end of a value chain. Adaptability has been central to how organizations and people thrive in this social era. So listen, learn and adapt.

Via Fast Company

ON THE RADAR

Try This App: The Social Radio is an app that uses text-to-speech technology to let you listen to tweets and Facebook status updates while you listen to the music you love. This app is especially useful for people driving on the road who a) want to keep their eyes on the road and b) find it clunky to continuously switch between a music app and a social app like Twitter. Download this app and listen to your Twitter timeline, trending topics, and funny hashtags turn into a beautifully mixed audio-experience.

Read This Book: Disney Publishing, a unit of the Walt Disney Company, recently released a digital book for the iPad titled “Frankenweenie: An Electrifying Book,” a making-of look at Tim Burton’s upcoming feature. The e-book, which is free on Apple’s iBookstore, contains original art and production photos, music and video interviews. Disney Publishing is exploring opportunities to update the e-book’s content over time, which has the potential of turning Frankenweenie  into a never-ending story.

Try This Search:Adding to the fun and games already hidden within its search box, Google‘s newest addition is a tool that makes it easier to play “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Just type in “bacon number” followed by your thespian of choice, and the first result will be the degrees of separation between that person and Kevin Bacon.  Not only is Bacon Number a fun tool, but it also demonstrates the promises of a piece of Google search technology called the Knowledge Graph. It is a database that maps facts and how different people, places and things relate to one another.

SEPTEMBER 2012 // ISSUE 41

STATE OF AMERICA

American Dream In The Balance  – Since the phrase was coined more than 80 years ago, the “American Dream” has proved an enduring concept. Advertising agency JWT has tracked how perceptions of the American Dream have shifted in the last four years by comparing findings from a similar JWTIntelligence survey conducted during the last presidential campaign. So what does the dream look like today versus four years ago? Some things actually are the same, including the top five factors that respondents say are a part of what the American Dream means today: finding happiness, personal independence, fulfilling my potential, home ownership and freedom to be able to go anywhere. But there have been changes. Americans today are more likely to believe the dream is about having wealth, access to credit, fame and recognition. This isn’t an unconscious shift–people polled this year say that in the past the dream was more about middle-class values, community, family and getting married. Today respondents say consumption, making a lot of money, fame, equality and succeeding professionally are more commonly part of the dream.

Via JWT

 

BRAVE NEW CONSUMER

Nielsen’s Economic Divide – Over the next ten years, the total number of households in the U.S. is expected to grow by 8%; however, households closer to the poverty level will grow twice as fast at 17%. To better understand consumers across the economic spectrum, Nielsen conducted an analysis of consumer behaviors and media usage. Results revealed dramatic differences in purchasing and media consumption patterns across income levels. Spending on consumer packaged goods varies by income level with higher-income households spending nearly $1200 more per year than lower-income households. Shopping behaviors also vary with lower-income shoppers shopping more frequently and having smaller baskets, while higher-income shoppers spend more than $10 per trip. When it comes to media consumption, income levels influence media purchases and the means by what content is accessed. While higher-income consumers are unique in their access to various devices and media types, lower-income consumers are distinguished in their higher than average consumption of the media they do have access to, including digital media. As devices get more affordable, it looks as technology will prove to be the great economic leveler and give all consumers more access to media.

Via Nielsen 

 

SMART BRANDS

Online Dating Goes Offline- Online dating has gone “retro” with the latest high-tech dating technology, bringing people together the old-fashioned way, with singles parties where people can crowd together at bars while consuming alcohol and flirting. “There have been so many times I’ve met up with someone from the Internet in person and didn’t feel a spark,” said Emily Clapp, who was at a recent beer-tasting event organized by the popular dating site OkCupid. “It’s so disappointing to invest all that time e-mailing and then…nothing.” Like many others, Ms.Clapp says the offline events can help identify a potential date more quickly. Online, they find they can spend weeks or months exchanging messages with someone and then schedule dinner or drinks – only to realize within minutes that the date is a dud. There is only so much you can do online with data. There’s always the unknown factor that has to do with pheromones and human nature, making meeting someone at a bar new again.

Via The Atlantic Wire

 

BRIGHT IDEAS

History Books Come Alive On Facebook’s Timeline- History classes have created a new approach to studying major historical events. Amsterdam-based school, 4e Gymnasium, has taken advantage of the popularity of Facebook and the user-friendly Timeline feature to inspire a curriculum. The page allows students to create posts, link various media and generate dialogue with fellow classmates. The class is focusing on four subjects: Magellan’s voyages, 20th century inventions, Fashion history from 1950-present and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. By focusing on the content and the chronology of events, students are able to experience a larger understanding of cultural and social themes, trends and milestone achievements. Watch the video here.

Via PSFK

ON THE RADAR

Culture Observation: In yet another sign that iPhones are taking over our lives, the New York Police Department has established an iPhone Operation I.D. Program to better protect and serve its smartphone-addicted citizens. The I.D. Program’s goal is to preemptively fight iPhone theft by encouraging customers to register their device’s serial number with the NYPD. Establishing ownership of a device before it’s stolen will let customers recover a stolen device without hassle. If you live in New York, the NYPD has made signing up even easier by posting themselves right outside the flagship Apple store on Fifth Avenue.

 

Yahoo! News | September 21, 2012

 

Try This Site: If This Then That is a startup that helps connect all the apps and websites you use on a daily basis so that digital happenings can have real-world consequences. For example, do you ever take an Instagram photo and then send it to Gmail to print later? You could make a recipe on the IFTTT site which basically says, “If an Instagram photo is taken, then send that photo to Gmail.” After you set the recipe once, the internet automatically does the rest of the work for you. Even if you aren’t a coding genius, you can browse through other users’ recipes and pick ones most useful to your daily life.

 

Watch This Video: This week Justin Timberlake helped relaunched the newly redesigned MySpace site. The visually arresting interface scrolls horizontally, and its focus on visual design makes it look very similar to Pinterest. Aside from aesthetics, the new MySpace is different because it will focus more narrowly on becoming a social home for musicians, artists, celebrities and their fans. You can request an invite for a MySpace account, or you can check out the new site design by watching this video.