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I remember when virtual reality tried to go mainstream in the mid-80s, big, heavy headsets and poor computer graphics let you walk around a world that looked like a big pixel. It was interesting but even the teenage me was unimpressed. Jump forward to now and virtual reality has become cheap and nimble.

Enter Google Cardboard. For about $15 you can have a virtual reality headset sent to you. Slide your smartphone in, put your headphones on and you’re off.

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Sure there are more expensive headsets from Samsung or Facebook, but why bother? The experience on Google Cardboard is excellent enough to make you lose your balance or walk into chairs.

The New York Times sent its subscribers a free headset a while back and has been putting excellent content on its VR app: NYT VR. For now it’s just a cool toy, but I can see how the marriage of cheap headsets, smartphones, and apps, will lead to new ways to communicate, learn, get the news, etc.

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.

Merriam-Webster has released its list of new words being added to the 2012 update of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary. This years list includes 25 new words and their exact definition as defined by Webster. From “brain cramp,” “e-reader,” and “underwater” to “f-bomb” and “sexting,” the list provides a revealing look at American culture.

Who determines which words make the cut? Merriam-webster.com says their editors monitor the changing language and add new terms to the dictionary once those words come into widespread use across a variety of publications. Influences range from the global financial crisis to technologies to Oprah Winfrey and her signature phrase “aha moment” (a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension).

Curious as to what made the list in 2011? Here’s a nice recap:

At W5, we’ve been thinking a lot about mobile phones lately. It’s a fascinating topic for research. The depth of the emotional and physical relationship between the user and the device is sometimes staggering. It makes me think of my own technophilia and wonder if the phantom rings and vibrations I feel are just feelings of love unrequited.

We love our phones, but do they love us back? The relationship tends to be one-sided. There is shockingly little research on the emotional insides of our mobile phones. We never ask “how are you feeling?” and thus we never know.

Matt Edgar took a boldly empathetic move in an Ignite Leeds presentation, speculating as to what our phones are actually thinking. It’s illuminating. Here’s the video:

 

Attention males ages 18-35, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but according to Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, you are not the coveted demographic in the tech industry anymore. 

According to, “Sorry, Young Man, You’re Not the Most Important Demographic in Tech” by Alexis Madrigal, women are purchasing more tech products than men. Women take the lead in the following tech purchase categories: Internet usage (17 percent higher usage than men per month); mobile phone voice usage; mobile phone based location services; text messaging; GPS devices; and even Skype. According to Time Magazine, in 2007, women accounted for 45% of consumer electronics purchases, 58% of online retail purchases, and 44% of the NFL fanbase.  This shows that women are no longer yielding to the stereotypes that limit their purchasing power to clothes, shoes, and washing machines, while the men purchase the fast cars, sleek televisions, cool phones, and game consoles.  Women want it all, and they are willing to purchase it now.

Companies are catching on to that fact. It is not enough to advertise a sleek model on the hood of a fast car. Now car companies are showing women behind the driver’s seat accomplishing their goals. According to the article, “Marketing to Women: Surprising Stats Show Purchasing Power & Influence” by Steve Parker Jr., women account for purchase more than half of new cars and influence at least 80% of vehicle purchases and spend 200 billion on new cars and mechanical services per year. The purchasing power of women is evident in the popular Honda Commercial below, where a woman who has just been proposed to immediately takes a moment to think, and then says that she has stuff to do before getting married.

 The bottom line is that like many other companies in the market, the tech industry is realizing that to achieve success they have to cater more to female customers.

So, I’m sorry guys, you’re just not as special in the tech industry anymore.

Millennials present marketing, advertising, and market research professionals with a unique challenge. A distinct combination of social, cultural, and environmental influences have formed a generation of consumers with very specific needs and touch points.

A force of approximately 80-90 million strong in the US, with an estimated $200 billion in purchasing power, Millennials are not an audience to be taken lightly. Understanding Millennial consumers’ mindsets, values, and purchase patterns and behaviors through creative and innovative Millennial-specific market research methodologies is essential to the success of most mainstream brands and products.

Our white paper, W5 on Millennials, outlines key characteristics which affect their attitudes toward and interaction with products and the marketing surrounding them, as well as how W5 approaches gaining a true understanding of how to effectively communicate and connect with them. Here is a snapshot of this force by the numbers:

24% of Millennials say that ‘Technology use’ is what most makes their generation unique, the #1 answer (Pew Research 2010)

50 median number of text messages teenagers send every day (Pew Research 2010)

48% of Millennials who say word-of-mouth influences their product purchases more than TV ads. Only 17% said a TV ad prompted them to buy (Intrepid Study 2010)

47% of 16-to-24-year-olds are employed, the smallest share since government started recording data in 1948 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011)

46% of Millennials say they’ve had vigorous exercise in the past 24 hours

45% of Millennials highly associate their lives with simplicity, compared to 51% of Gen X and 58% of Boomers

44% of Millennials say that marriage is becoming obsolete, compared to 35% of Boomers who feel the same way (Pew Study 2010)

43% of 18-24 year-olds say that texting is just as meaningful as an actual conversation with someone over the phone (eMarketer 2010)

42% of teens say the primary reason they have a cell phone is for texting. Safety was second at 35% (Nielsen Study 2010)

41% of Millennials have made a purchase using their smartphone

40% of Millennials think that blogging about workplace issues is acceptable. Compared to 28% of Boomers (Iconoculture 2011)

39% of Millennials have a tattoo (Pew Study 2010)

38% of Millennials count themselves as Democrats, 28% Independents, 26% Republicans (Brookings Institution Study, March 2011)

35% of employed Millennials have started their own business on the side to supplement their income (Iconoculture 2011)

33% of Millennials live in cities and 14% live in rural environments

32% of Millennials say they don’t like advertising in general, compared to 37% of the general population (Experian Simmons Study)

31 the age of the oldest Millennials in 2011

29% of Millennial workers think work meetings to decide on a course of action are very efficient. Compared to 45% of Boomers (Iconoculture 2011)

28% of Millennials have a gun in their home (Pew Study 2010)

27% approximate decline in email usage among those ages 12-34 over the past year (ComScore Study 2010)

26% of Millennials say they are not affiliated with any religion (Pew Study 2010)

23% of Millennials think they will still be with their first employer after two years (8095 Live survey 2011)

21% of Millennials say helping people in need is one of the most important things in life (Pew Study 2010)

20% of Millennials are Hispanic. Millennials are more racially diverse than any generation before them (U.S. Census Bureau 2011)

19% of Millennials have voted on American Idol (Pew Study 2010)

15% of Americans ages 25-29 who had never been married in 1960, compared to 55% in 2011 (U.S. Census Bureau)

14% of the Millennial population is African-American (Pew Study 2010)

12% (only) of Millennials disagreed that they should pay more for higher quality items (Intrepid Study 2010)

11% of Millennials have boomeranged back to their parents house after graduating from college because of the recession (Pew Study 2010)

8% of 18-29 year-old internet users have used a location sharing service such as FourSquare (Pew Study 2010)

7 average number of jobs a person will have by age 26 (Intrepid Study 2010)

6 # of text message sent by those ages 13-18 every waking hour (Nielsen Study 2010)

4 average number of times that Millennials eat out per week (3.39 per week to be exact), more than any other generation

Unless I am stocking up on a massive load of groceries or getting a lot of produce, you will find me checking out at the UScan when I’m grocery shopping. I like that it’s faster and I don’t have to feel ashamed about the multiple bags of candy I am buying. However, when produce is involved I tend to go to an actual cashier. I hate when I grab an apple that doesn’t have a sticker  and have to go through the list to find the type of apple I picked up (that’s if I’m lucky enough to remember if I grabbed a Fuji or Gala). It is impressive how many sticker-less veggies I find.

If you are like me, I have some great news. Toshiba Tec is now developing the Object Recognition Scanner, which reads items without the use of barcodes. It looks at colors and patterns of different products to determine what type of produce you are purchasing without having to type in a code. It can even differentiate between two types of apples! With this technology, Toshiba Tec now has the large task of  developing a comprehensive database of produce and other products to be recognized by the scanner. This database would be sold with the scanners so that individual stores would not have to train the machine themselves. The database will have a full year’s worth of data so that all vegetables will be included no matter their season. Even though this product is still in development, I can’t wait until it hits the US, and in particular Durham, NC. I’d probably buy more produce just to test it out!

Check out the video below to see how it works!

SXSW2012 is underway. A beautiful marriage of technology, film and music, the 2012 conference lasts ten days, with SXSW Interactive lasting for five, Music for six, and Film for nine days. Growing from 700 registrants in 1987 to nearly 20,000 in 2011, SXSW continues to be one of the highest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy.

As you may be aware, SXSW Interactive is focused on emerging technology, a focus which has earned the festival a reputation as a breeding ground for new ideas and creative technologies. Not attending? You can still be a part of it. Thanks to SXSW.com and @SXSW (Twitter) you can stream live keynote speakers and get festival highlights and headlines. Interactive Live Streaming Events for tomorrow, March 13, include:

Combine technology, film, music and Austin, Texas, in March, and you have a festival too big to ignore. If you haven’t jumped on the SXSW bandwagon yet, what are you waiting for? Hop on and see what its all about.