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A recent humorous article about “killing the email signoff” filled me with a sense of relief as I came to the realization that I am not alone in my agonizing deliberation about email signoffs. I have spent way too much time, and thought way too deeply, about the appropriateness of signoffs and what meaning the signoff I was using conveyed. Using the signoffs “best,” “regards,” or “sincerely” often left me feeling empty and entirely insincere and signoffs such as “cheers,” or my all-time least favorite “ciao,” left me feeling fake, cheesy or unnecessarily pompous. Working in the context of the military makes the whole process much easier as everybody simply signs off V/R (surprise an acronym!), Very Respectfully, even if you have absolutely no respect for the person that you are emailing.

So I often just revert to “thanks,” but then am left wondering what I am thanking the person for. More often than not I just go with nothing and wonder if the person on the other end thinks I’m being rude.

As the article states, siImagegnoffs are a relic of actual letter writing (yes those pieces of paper that you put a stamp on and mailed) which was much more infrequently done and thus carried much more value and meaning than the multiple emails we send and receive daily. So if you receive an email without a signoff, don’t take it personal, it’s just part of a long overdue cultural shift.

This is one of my favorite (PG rated) some ecards. Current or former iPhone owners can relate. Your apps are in a sense like players on a team. You have your team captain, the most important app. For most this would be either email or Facebook. And then you have the rest of your starting lineup: Alarm Clock, Maps, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Safari. You also keep the second string around for when you’re traveling or killing time: Netflix, Yelp, Flight Tracker, Angry Birds, Draw Something.

How often do you use apps? Would you say you’re addicted? If you’re anything like the 762 smartphone owners surveyed in Apigee’s 2013 Mobile App Behavior survey then I bet you are. Of those surveyed, 82% said there are critical apps they can’t go without — not even for one day. Those include email (57%), Facebook (41%) and alarm clock apps (31%).

Curious about how much time you spend on apps on your phone? There are (of course) app’s out there that will actually monitor your app usage and supply you with all the horrifying details. But meantime, let’s see how smartphone owners across the U.S., UK, Germany, France and Spain use their apps:

2013Apigee_Infographic_02

mzl.ucmlbqhf.175x175-75We often hear about technology’s double-edged sword: it’s intended to bring us closer together but more often than not, it distracts and disrupts us from making real human connections. As we continue the debate on technology’s role in facilitating honest and emotional communications, engineers, programmers, and designers are taking baby steps toward making technology feel more human.

Take for instance, the new free app from Rebtel: Re:Beat. This is the first app to take a function of the human body-the thud thud of a heartbeat-and turn it into a digital “love note.” The app works like this: the camera and flash function on a smartphone “senses” the beat of a person’s heart by measuring subtle changes in the color of their fingertip. Next, the rhythm is animated as an image of a beating heart. As a Valentine’s Day bonus, the app provides a couple of heart warming messages to send along with the personalized heartbeat.

Rebtel, one of the world’s largest mobile VoIP providers, designed the app as an homage to the everyday connections their services provide. According to the company “…sending your heartbeat to someone dear to you is a perfect way to express the depth of your love, especially if you’re not able to see them in person.”

Want to send a human connection in a digital package to your sweetie this Valentine’s Day? Here’s a link to the app. And from me to you, dear reader, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Despite the looming Mayan apocalypse there are still those looking boldly to the future and offering their prognostications for what our world might be should the poles fail to shift and the tides not rise.

Here is an assortment of trends for 2013 and beyond.

Frog Design examines the future of technology with the Tech Trends that Will Define 2013.

Mashable is looking ahead too with 11 Big Tech Trends for 2013. There is a lot to be excited about. I’ll give you one hint: ROBOTS.

Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2013 is 17-5641, otherwise known as Emerald.

Say hello to baby Thor. Ancient names are among the Baby Name Trends for 2013.

“Snackification” and more in Baum+Whiteman’s Food and Dining Trends for 2013. (PDF)

The National Intelligence Council, the strategic thinking arm of the U.S. government, is looking far ahead to the Global Trends for 2030.

Harper’s Bazaar’s Most Anticipated Hair Trend for Spring 2013: Knots.

What you’ll be watching: the Atlantic’s 18 Films to Look Forward to in 2013.

And finally, no one is looking forward to the apocalypse more than Jets’ fans: 5 Changes the Jets Must Make in 2013.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Here at W5 we recently completed a research project for a company testing a change in the way customers order one of their core products. To accurately gauge reaction to this change we interviewed people at locations where they purchase this product. The discovery process of diving down the rabbit hole of such unique and varied consumer interactions is one of the most fascinating parts of conducting consumer insights research in diverse industries. I mean, who knew that the way consumers think about and buy socks could be layered with so many levels of complexity?!

However, the real challenge I enjoy in conducting research is to frame the research question in a greater social and cultural context.  Decisions are not made, nor actions taken, in a vacuum. So while this research was very esoteric in focusing on the product itself and the ways in which customers think about how they purchase that product, the deeper issue this research raised was people’s resistance to change.

When companies decide to make big changes, for whatever reason, those decisions are not entered into lightly. The benefits of introducing change must be measured against the potential blowback that will occur as a result of those changes to any well established brand, product or process.  The classic example of such blowback being of course the New Coke debacle, which was more accurately speaking a blowback against the elimination of original Coke.

In more recent times we have seen negative reaction to change every time Facebook introduces changes to their user interface. The pattern is predictable with Facebook announcing the changes, Facebook users denouncing the changes and threatening to cancel their accounts, the changes being implemented and eventually frustration to the change dying down.

In purely rational terms it should be clear that fear of and resistance to change is irrational. Why must something that is new and different inherently be worse? I suppose that whatever the new thing is must be judged in comparison to whatever it is replacing. As the saying goes – don’t fix what ain’t broke. But on the flip side of that coin is belief that there is always room for improvement.

Change is the only constant

According to research (discussed here) that questioned the human aversion to that which is newer, or more accurately, a preference for that which is older, there is an inherent belief among humans that things that are older are better. Study participants who were told that a piece of European chocolate was first sold 73 years ago rated it as better tasting than those participants who were told it was first sold 3 years ago. Similarly, participants who were told that a painting was painted in 1905 found it more appealing than those who were told the painting was painted in 2005.

But why? What is it deep within the collective human psyche that drives us to believe that which is older is better and that change is threatening? This is a question that I don’t have the answer for, although it is something that I will continue to ponder and hopefully gain insight into through future conversations and observations.

As we well know, the only constant in life is change. The attempt to understand the unknown variable (the reaction to change) and encouraging people to embrace that change, is the real challenge.

Anyone with a Facebook or Twitter feed has most likely experienced FOMO (an acronym meaning “Fear Of Missing Out”) at least once in their life. For most, it’s a weekly or even daily occurrence. I first learned about the condition during a brief autumn vacation to the mountains of North Carolina. While basking in the warm sun splashing down into our hotel’s pool area, I flipped through a copy of Glamour magazine for a little mindless entertainment. An article about women’s relationship with social media caught my eye. According to the article, the constant connection provided by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is hurting women’s self-esteem. Turns out when women see others, particularly their peers, posting (a) awesome pics of last weekend’s amazing bar crawl, (b) updates about their adventures in Mommyland, (c) a video of themselves wind-sailing of the coast of Fiji, or (d) anything better than what they are doing at present, they turn a critical lens on their own lives. Yes, our ability to tap into everything about everyone else’s lives has left us feeling highly dissatisfied and depressed with our own.

Since reading this article I’ve watched for signs of FOMO in action all around me. I quickly discovered that FOMO is everywhere and it’s not just impacting the ladies. At the MTV Music Awards the underlying theme seemed to be “NOW.” A live Twitter feed spit out real-time updates of red carpet appearances while fans were encourage to connect/comment on video generated from the awards show on Facebook and MySpace. Then all the social buzz was reported on by the MTV hosts. It was a hodgepodge of action, reporting the action on social media, and then reporting people’s comments on social media. The sponsor of the MTV awards was Pepsi featuring their “Live For Now” advertising slogan. Social media hashtags like #YOLO were bandied (“You Only Live Once”) about without abandon. The heartbeat of the MTV nation seemed to pulse “now, now, now” with each update on Twitter.

As a culture, we’re so obsessed with “now” that we’ve forgotten the beauty and simplicity of the mundane. Constant planning of and reporting our experiences to the world around us is making us want to say yes to it all and then fretting when we can’t. We’re wringing our hands, constantly checking our Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feeds to see who is doing what, and attached to our smartphones so we don’t miss a thing. Brands and marketers have picked up on the potential power of encouraging consumers to do more by hitting that tender FOMO button. Recent marketing campaigns from AT&T and Smirnoff featured slogans like “Don’t Be Left Behind” and “Be There.”

This holiday season I encourage you to wake up and smell the FOMO in your life. Look at how much time you spend tracking your social media feeds and engaging in digital rudeness (checking social media and email while engaging in conversation or activities with others). Notice how pop stars, movie stars, advertisements, television shows, and major television networks are obsessed with the here and now. Then, take a deep breath and realize that what you’re doing this very moment is important too and forget the hype.

For more details on the FOMO phenomenon check out this in-depth analysis on the causes, effects, and implications of FOMO by the creative minds at JWT.

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare…never really my thing. Don’t get me wrong, I have a Facebook account. But, if I had to classify myself I’d say I was a “light” user, checking it maybe two or three times a week. Social media didn’t play a daily role in my life.

That all changed one Sunday afternoon when my Mom convinced me to “just build a board or two” on Pinterest; coaching me through how it worked, the idea behind assembling collections of themed images to a board, how to follow her and so on. I recall the conversations changing to the dangers of social media addiction next. Little did I know how slippery that slope would be.

Since that Sunday I’ve been an avid Piner and find myself ‘selling’ or arguing in Pinterest’s defense from time to time. So, you could imagine my excitement when I stumbled across Clive Thompson’s recent article in Wired, In Defense of Pinterest. The article talks about how a therapist has been using Pinterest with her clients as a way to “paint their internal worlds.” To help express the nature of their depression, clients use Pinterest to collect photos and organized them based on themes to encourage categorical thinking and describe their emotions (and have done so successfully).

Indeed, Pinterest offers users a chance to step out of their world to create virtual worlds – fantasy dream home decor and landscaping, Cinderella weddings, and “oh the place’s we’ll go.” How is this different from other social media sites? As Huffington Post writer Bianca Bosker argued, Facebook and Twitter are inwardly focused (“Look at me!”) while Pinterest is outwardly focused (“Look at this!”). It is the world as seen through not your eyes but your imagination.

At W5, we are using the power of Pinterest to help us understand consumer behavior. Similar to the therapists struggle of helping her clients express their emotions, researchers struggle to capture the unspoken ‘whys’ that drive their behavior. You hear time and time again, “consumer can’t tell you what they want.” But they can Pin it.

Lately there has been a movement toward embracing quirky personalities and offbeat cultural trends. Do you have a beard and like to beat box Haikus? Or do you wear geek-chic glasses and say catch phrases like “wonka wonka”? Well then congratulations! You’re the new kind of “cool” weird. Society’s recent embrace of modes of style, behaviors, and human interactions that go against the status quo has become an all out pop culture obsession. In the past year, geeky cool has been celebrated in the media on screens both small (Fox’s “New Girl”) and large (the recent theatrical release ParaNorman). Now the trend has migrated to major label brands like Nike. To promote the new “weird is cool” attitude proffered by the ParaNorman film (a tale of a young boy who can see ghosts and is shunned by his friends and classmates), Nike has released a special edition of film-inspired Nike Air Foamposite One sneakers. Nike announced the new shoes via the following promotional ad:

The Foamposite One shoes, released in a small batch of 800, were up for grabs via a Twitter campaign challenging fans to tweet the @ParaNorman account with pictures of themselves being weird as a kid with the hashtag #weirdwins. Fans who tweeted the weirdest photos won a pair of the limited edition sneaks. The Nike ParaNorman campaign not only represents a great cross-brand promotional strategy (for the film, the shows, and their master companies) but also plays into a bigger cultural movement toward embracing oddities. It’s also important to note the irony of the campaign: a coveted symbol of hyped fashion trends (Nike shoes) are a reward for celebrating those very uncool, awkward, and socially embarrassing moments of childhood.

What do you think of Nike’s spin on weird as the new cool? Tell me in the comments.