Register  |   Contact Us  | 

CES 2014: Where everything connects to each other, but not always to consumers

Posted on  16 January 14  by 


by Katie Elfering

Now that the CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights team is back from Las Vegas, ready to stop watching the Michael Bay gaffe GIF, and almost done battling the “nerdflu” that comes from sharing space with 200,000 of our closest techy friends, it’s time to think about what we saw at this year’s CES.

As was expected, this year was all about connectivity and the Internet of Things. Crock-Pots, toothbrushes, fridges, washing machines — if there was a way to make it “smart,” it was at the show. Big brands, like Samsung and LG, launched new options for connecting the home, including native-language texting with appliances (LG’s HomeChat), which lets consumers set up modes and behaviors for their appliances. While the technology in these networks is definitely innovative, it misses one key aspect of consumer behavior: It’s rare for consumers to own an entire suite of one brand’s products. Today’s consumers mix and match their home appliances and electronics, so while these brand-centric ecosystems are innovative and interesting, they don’t solve a real need in consumers’ real lives.

show_exh-directoryWhat does? Our team was impressed with Revolv, a home automation system that picks up where Belkin’s WeMo products (another of our faves) left off. Revolv serves as a central, brand-agnostic hub for consumers to connect the “things” in their homes, from Philips Hue lightbulbs to Sonos stereo systems to, conveniently, Belkin’s WeMo products. The DIY aspect and flexibility made it a winner in our minds, even if the price point and high-end brands still haven’t brought it down to a mainstream level. Another good DIY option? Sense Mother, which lets users connect “cookies” to everything from toothbrushes to coffeepots in order to help them track behaviors.

Beyond connecting every smart device imaginable, the other big buzzword was “wearables.” This year’s show included a “Wrist Revolution” section on the floor where smart watch makers and fitness device hawkers could showcase their wearable wares. While many of these wearables won on aesthetics or functionality (but rarely both), a few caught our eye as standing out from the crowd. Garmin’s Vivofit upped the fitness-tracking game by augmenting workout activities based on what the wearer could reasonably accomplish, making workouts more effective. LG put the tracking in tech that consumers already use to work out: earbuds. Its Heart Rate Earphones do exactly what the name suggests — measure a user’s heart rate during a workout and report back to the brand’s Lifeband fitness tracker.

As is expected with the wearable hype, health and fitness took center stage at CES. But while fitness trackers were everywhere, it was the brands that went beyond workouts and into more holistic health that caught our attention. Netatmo’s June brought a blingy aesthetic to sun protection, alerting wearers when they’ve been outside too long without protection. Withings moved beyond scales and blood pressure cuffs with Aura, a sleep-tracking system. InteraXon offered demos of Muse, a brainwave-tracking headband that helps consumers relax and de-stress. Lumo Lift helps consumers correct their posture, thanks to a discreet wearable that attaches to clothing.

As we’ve said for the past few years, CES has become less about revolutionary product launches and game-changing innovation. The show is now more about evolution and finding ways to truly integrate these technologies into consumers’ lives — and this year was no different. While the Internet of Things and wearable tech inch closer to the mainstream, we’re keeping our eyes on the ways that these trends are becoming more actionable and accessible to consumers in the present moment.

photo credit:

The year in eating and drinking: New Year’s Resolution edition

Posted on  8 January 14  by 


by Charlotte Beal

At this time of year, the food media is dominated by tips and recipes for resetting diets and eating more healthfully. It’s basic good timing after a couple months of debauchery, but a deeper investigation of the consumer zeitgeist reveals more interesting ways that food and beverage brands could capture attention right now. CEB Iconoculture’s Food and Beverage Year in Review takes a look back at our most compelling content of 2013 to assemble the full plate of where eaters are today, behaviorally and psychologically. Here are just a few of the timely applications:

im_2013EditionOurmostreadstoriesa_384263_2Add another layer to the cliché of healthy eating by entrancing eaters with experimentation and diversity. Our research shows that consumers are seeking out new flavors like never before. Marketers should leverage the intersection of nutritious, novel and ethnic wherever possible.

Set the diet rules, but let the consumer be in the driver’s seat for indulgence. There’s a reason why diets that allow for debauchery some days and extreme restraint on others are popular: They tap into the modern consumer’s tension over control vs. exploration. Think about ways to find the sweet spot in that equation.

Help consumers explore and discover within a relative safe zone. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is rooted in hyper-accessibility. So much choice is leading to strict avoidance of certain ingredients or products. Demonstrate to shoppers that they don’t need to ban your product, they just need to legitimize it with new uses and broader spectrums.

Thrifty consumers demand more for less

Posted on  23 December 13  by 


by Gwyneth Holland

Strapped for time and money, Europeans want to embrace thrifty habits without sacrificing quality. Post-recession, value has never been more important to consumers across Europe, leading them to cut costs where they can, and making no-frills consumers out of many. These thrift-focused consumers now make up 56% of the EU5 population, according to our survey (up from 47% in 2010), and as their numbers have grown, so have their expectations.

fim_MediaNoFussNoFrills_384004_2No-frills purchasing used to be driven solely by price — quality, effort and simplicity were less important than cheapness. Consumers would put up with pretty much anything for rock-bottom prices, right? Back in the day, maybe. Now, after years of premiumisation and savvy deal-hounding, they expect good-quality goods, seamless service and rock-bottom prices.

And those expectations are being applied to more categories. Where no-frills once was a preserve of FMCG brands and fast-fashion brands, it has grown to be an important part of many brand families. Many brands believed that keeping prices low would keep consumers interested, but as quality and service levels dropped alongside cost, cheap and cheerful became cheap and nasty — making even the lowest prices poor value.

Instead, the new no frills focuses on quality, simplicity and low prices, with categories as diverse as travel, grocery, automotive, utilities and even fashion getting rejuvenated by offering more for less.

photo credit: oregemind Archimedia,



Permission for artisan to grow

Posted on  23 December 13  by 


by Kara Nielsen

I have had a ringside seat under the tent of the artisan food movement. I grew up, as most Gen Xers did, surrounded by iconic American brands and goods: Kraft Singles, Kellogg’s breakfast cereal, Hershey’s syrup. But when I moved to Berkeley, California, after college, I discovered a new world of small businesses peddling food like I had seen only in Europe during my studies: artisan cheese at the Cheeseboard Collective, wood-oven baked Acme Bread, Cocolat chocolate truffles.

fim_SmallMindsetMedia_384027_2From that perch I have spent the last 15 years watching this movement catch fire and grow, spreading to furniture makers, clothing designers and ceramists. As farmers’ markets multiplied, so did the number of jammers and pickle makers, confectioners and cured-meat purveyors. I never would have guessed that this interest in handcrafted goods made from carefully sourced materials and distributed within a local marketplace would have spread so far. Sure, as a food professional, I cared enough about quality and ingredient pedigree to shop local and artisan. But everybody else?

Well, yes, it seems that a lot of people care about quality, flavor and creative design. In CEB Iconoculture’s 2014 Top Trend report The “Small” Mindset Goes Big, we chart the growth of artisan, finding it today nudging up against mass. We asked consumers if they care about craft and local, and they do — to the point where it reinforces community wellbeing — yet they still care about the things that big businesses offer, like lower prices and a wide selection. They’re also OK with in-between artisan goods — many of which, like Blue Moon beer, serve as a gateway to smaller-scale offerings.

Our report outlines three approaches that larger companies can explore in pursuit of the craft-minded consumer and shows examples of who’s doing it right. This is all good news for consumers who are increasingly able to access new, cool, high-quality creative goods from the farmers’ market or from the large retailer. After all, we can’t all live in Berkeley.

photo credit: Alicia,

When second-best is good enough

Posted on  19 December 13  by 


by Hans Eisenbeis

My father grew up during the Great Depression, the son of poor dirt farmers in North Dakota. The fear of economic insecurity shadowed him his whole life, even after he’d become a successful physician. And one quirk he’s held on to his whole life is that he likes to shop for cheap stuff, especially when he goes into a hardware store. My childhood home was full of $2 bargain-bin screwdrivers that were always breaking or bending, rusting or stripping. He’d never buy the lowest-priced things, but more often than not he’d go for the second-lowest.

fim_ProxLuxeMedia_383757_2Fast-forward to my generation. We Gen Xers are notorious for demanding high quality and authenticity from our brands, and yet we too have suffered under an economic cloud that has lasted most of our lives and has put real limits on our spending power. Our strategy for dealing with this apparent paradox? We often want the highest possible quality, but we’re skeptical of paying top price. More than a few 40something friends and family members I know specifically target second-best products because we believe we’re getting top quality without paying that extra premium for top billing. We’re happy with “good enough” because quality and durability trump prestige and exclusivity — those somewhat abstract or hedonistic qualities we associate with the very best luxury goods.

That was my theory, anyway. And when CEB Iconoculture decided to test this theory, our research indicated that many consumers — across all generations and income brackets — are using these kinds of strategies to maintain their lifestyles. We call it “Approximate Luxury” (Prox Luxe for short), and we believe it will define how post-recession generations will continue to aim high for aspirational goods, services and experiences while dealing with the kind of long-term limits to income and spending that haven’t been seen since the 1930s.

photo credit: CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights image



What does your money look like?

Posted on  19 December 13  by 


by Hans Eisenbeis

The word “salary” is from the Latin root of “salt”.  Why? Because ancient Roman soldiers were often paid not with coins or cash but with blocks of salt — so valuable was the spice in the ancient world that it had significant value as a kind of currency. In fact, throughout human history just about anything that had value and was easily transferred has been used as money. In World War II prison camps, soldiers often used cigarettes as a form of money. Among pre-historic Mayans and Aztecs, cacao beans and cotton were common denominations. In some parts of Africa today, mobile-phone minutes are as good as the official local currency.

fim_MediaTheShapeofMoney_383670_2Today, with the global ubiquity of computer networks, money has been abstracted to the point of existing only as encrypted ones and zeros. That may sound a bit theoretical, but in practice it’s as simple as inputting the digits from your debit or credit card at an ecommerce website like Amazon or eBay. Indeed, humans right ’round the globe have grown comfortable with money as a simple raw, transferable number — pick your denomination in US dollars or euros or yen or even bitcoins.  Last year, there were 19 trillion debit transactions that took place via ACH, and that’s just electronic debit transfers taking place on one network. In coming months and years, you’ll be hearing all about various “digital wallets”, mobile payments and smartphone apps that give new shape to the old idea of money all over the world.

Funny thing, though: At the same time that alternative payments have ballooned, the amount of cash in circulation has also increased. The US Federal Reserve estimates that there’s about $1.2 trillion in circulation, most of it in $100 bills and most of it outside of the US. Seems that no matter how abstract the idea of money gets, nothing is quite as reassuring as a fistful of Benjamins tucked under the mattress.

photo credit: Stephen Downes,


The “I” in Other

Posted on  10 December 13  by 


by Charlotte Beal

Daily headlines demonstrate that the US is far from becoming a post-racial society of color-blindness and copacetic togetherness: Saturday Night Live is under fire for a lack of diverse actors, Barneys has been shown to discriminate against black shoppers, and just last week Wisconsin governor Scott Walker fired an employee for tweeting racist remarks about Latinos.

fim_IInOtherMedia_383532_2And yet CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights research shows that consumers are increasingly identifying with values like diversity, equality, compassion, curiosity, learning and creativity. They’re increasingly demonstrating their support of these values by seeking out new friends, new foods, new languages, new neighborhoods and new trips. Younger consumers (tweens and teens) in particular are struggling to see the “shock” in family portrayals that are consistent with increasingly dominant demographic statistics. In short, diversity — being open to new ideas and experiences — is taking on a new role in American culture as the official currency of the curious and the cultured. The US might not be a post-racial society, but it is an ever more comfortably multicultural one.

What does this mean for marketers? Demographic shifts and changes in values over time have normalized the notion of multiple points of view, and consumers are now more able to project themselves onto blank slates of different colors and cultures. In other words, if your target is an 18- to 24-year-old white male, don’t assume you need to hire an 18- to 24-year-old white actor to show your product in use — but also don’t assume you need to throw in a token figure from every race or ethnicity. Rather, consider focusing on a nonwhite character as the token universal figure. Show that you’re a partner in openness or even that you help consumers explore the full cultural spectrum. We’ve got some specific ideas for brands here.

photo credit: CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights image

E(motional) Retail

Posted on  4 December 13  by 


by Katie Elfering

After a recent shopping spree, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a handwritten thank-you card in the mail, complimenting my purchases and my style, offering additional customer service, and encouraging me to come back for future shopping. The catch? My spree happened online.

fim_ERetailUSMedia_383199_2E-retail is making a move to be more emotional — and it’s not just indie brands that are leading the charge. (My shopping spree was at a mid-level mass brand.) While convenience and access are still driving values that move people to shop online, consumers are demanding more: more personalization, more experience, more emotion.

CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights’ 2014 Top Trend report E(motional) Retail explores this movement. As consumer expectations are crossing siloes and channels, e-retail is adapting to be more like in-store shopping (and in-store is finding ways to be more like e-retail). This crossover brings more emotion into the shopping equation, marrying the best of both shopping worlds to create a truly consistent cross-channel experience.

Of course, we’re not completely there yet — not every online purchase needs to be emotionally charged and not every category can compete on that level of experience. But as consumers’ expectations continue to cross channels and blur boundaries, brands will need to consider how to balance the practical aspects of online shopping (access, convenience, thrift) with more emotional and personal desires (discovery, curiosity, creativity). We’re at the beginning of an e-retail emotional roller coaster, and consumers expect brands to be along for the ride.

photo credit: CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights image

Balancing the Social Media Diet

Posted on  25 November 13  by 


by Rachel Steinhardt

It is the time of year when many of us turn our thoughts to appetites. First come the exuberant holiday indulgences, and then, with the arrival of the new year, the thoughts of virtuous restrictions.

In recent years, many consumers have been on a bit of a social media bender: signing up for new accounts, accepting and seeking friend requests, sharing thoughts and images with their amorphous virtual communities. Mistakes — they’ve made a few. But they’ve also reconnected with friends and discovered like-minded strangers. Some have begun to limit what they share online as a way of curtailing their unbridled participation.

fim_SocialMediaDietMedia_382666_2 Consumers are, by now, seasoned enough in the wild ways of online social networking that they’re ready to contemplate how best to integrate it into their lives. They’re ready for sober reflection, and maybe even some resolutions to guide their digital behavior in the coming years.

In Balancing the Social Media Diet, our top trend in the media, entertainment and technology coverage area, we dig into the different and nuanced ways that consumers might take these first steps into personal digital accountability. For some, cutting back will be the answer: taking breaks, minimizing contributions and keeping low profiles can provide much-needed peace and calm. Others, especially Gen We and Millennials, want to stay all-in on their social networks but are becoming savvy about tricks that help them stay safe, spontaneous and selective with their personal brands online. And there’s a certain cohort of brave consumers who we think will find online homes within a different sort of network, in communities that cater to deep values and personal improvement rather than prioritizing family vacation photos.

The bottom line is that decisions about social media consumption and contribution in the coming year will be very personal, and as with anything controversial — politics and religion come to mind —  everyone will take a stand on what it takes to achieve digital equilibrium, but only some will be vocal about it. Brands will need to be sensitive to consumers as they sort out their views and translate those philosophies into action. For great examples of how some brands have already begun campaigns that heed subtle consumer cues about social media, check out the “What’s Working” section in each “Balancing Act” within our research brief.

In the meantime, fully expect social-media-fueled debates around the holiday table. Our own family and friends provide the best examples for just how diverse social networking behavior can be — and everyone knows someone who could benefit from well-considered online moderation.

photo credit: CarbonNYC,




Creative instinct calling

Posted on  22 November 13  by 


by Sumaa Tekur

The world over, more consumers want to go it alone, be their own boss and do what they love. The desire to plunge in and do the new, coupled with a volatile economic environment in which corporate jobs are not safe anymore, has led to a rise in solo business ventures. And with their startup ventures, they’re catering to equally passionate, ambitious and curious consumers. These are consumers who seek unique products and services that tell the story of someone just like them who fought the odds and emerged successful. They want to support such innovators, stand by them and patronize their brand, irrespective of the size of the business.

fim_EntrepreneurialSpiritMedia_382720_2At CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights, we believe that this relationship between entrepreneurs and consumers will only grow stronger in time, creating a colourful ecosystem of even more consumer choice. Read about this big shift in the marketplace in CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights’ 2014 Global Top Trends report Entrepreneurial Spirit Connects Consumers.

It has an overview of what’s happening with the growing entrepreneurship trend around the globe, why brands cannot ignore this marketplace shift, what it means to exclusivity-seeking consumers and how individual entrepreneurs and big brands alike can win their attention.

photo credit: CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights images