Ripple Effect

PickleIn The Times a week or so ago, Giles Coren, who is an entertaining restaurant critic but utterly (and possibly justifiably) London centric, or rather, anti-Provincial, asserted that when it comes to eating trends, for every 10 miles you go further from London, you become 1 year ‘behind trend’ (London being the measure of things). With my pro-Provinces hat on, and taking Mr Coren’s claim at face value, it is possible to calculate that being 120 miles from London, round here we are 12 years behind. Let’s examine this further: in south east Staffordshire, it is 2003*, and therefore:

  • We’re off to see Finding Nemo this weekend
  • Cheryl Tweedy is about to enjoy 120 hours of community service for assault (I know)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer is coming to an end
  • The cool ‘smart’phone is a Nokia 3200. Get down to Orange and buy one.
  • It’s the first season of Little Britain
  • Magners? What’s that? Bottle of Orange Breezer please.
  • You wouldn’t be able to ‘share’ this on Facebook, and forget Twitter, its sweaty conception was a couple of years away
  • ‘Wireless’ the new hot tech trend!
  • We’re all groovin’ out to In da club by 50 Cent**

Clearly it’s possible to see the weaknesses in the assertion. I mean, we’re actually getting down to Shake Ya Tailfeather by Nelly, P. Diddy and Murphy Lee; surely you hipster London types have heard of them.

Ah, but there’s the thing. Whilst everyone in Hackney and Bethnal Green is now saying ‘how last year’ to the sort of facial hair growth that creates compost, round here, it’s just kicking off. Plus hairy feet, but there’s probably something else causing that. No, the truth is, as brand builders it’s so, so, easy to fall in behind belief systems which are based on received wisdom, one-off stories and half-truths. Of course, London is an incredible creative hub. It’s also a concentrated population centre, and if you have a couple of spare hours to read Steven Johnson’s ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’, you’ll understand why population concentration is such a critical factor for innovation and advancement.

But whether the ‘ripple effect’ is happening depends more on the audience for your product and where the influence centres are for them. A couple of examples to illustrate the point.

In my old world of beer, it was generally believed that what consumers were drinking in London would set the trend in other areas a few years down the line. So we conducted a study examining this and what we actually found that first of all, it was the trade not the consumers that were important. Generally, it was passionate, entrepreneurial bar owners who were dissatisfied with the standard offer, or had a new take on something else. They would then create a ‘candle bar’. Next, fast follower ‘moth’ bar owners would take the lead from them, either through word of mouth, or via bar shows. The point was though, we found that this was most likely to happen in any (big) city: in fact, we found Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol were highly individualistic and innovative centres, and in a way better for your brand because you could establish distribution more easily and influence more people more quickly, as there were fewer bars. Not so much ripple effect as whack-a-mole with multiple little heads popping up at once (the blighters).

Café culture (immature in 2003 would you believe) is interesting too. We recently did a study looking at new trends impacting this sector with some interesting findings. The drink trends themselves seemed to start anywhere. Flat White in Australia (in the 1970’s) and New Zealand. Then spreading via west coast US and eventually, picked up by me in Liverpool’s Albert Dock in 2009. Starbucks created the much copied Frappucino; now independent bar owners are experimenting in serve. In terms of food, the light snacks on offer are just as likely to be inspired from Asia as they are from a rural Mediterranean influence.

Kids’ food and kids’ snacks are revealing too: where are the influencers here? Urban centres – not likely; actually the research showed, here is where the brand owner can really influence their target consumer very directly – a lot more push in the mix as it were. First time Mums, protectively nurturing their first born; looking for the strong reassurance of something like organic. Parents with older children toughing it up with the constant nagging negotiation that goes on over snacks.

And charity is a fascinating market too, rife with copycat fundraising (Movember stretches to Octobeard; Dryathlon sparks Dry January sparks a revolt with Drinkuary; ‘Plant a Tree for ‘73’ becomes (via many iterations) ‘Plant a Treet for Groot’ (really)). This isn’t trickle down: this is bandwagoning and it’s not particularly original nor successful. In fact, many of the high impact fundraising ideas seemed to start because of the passions of an individual (Movember for instance, didn’t start as an idea for Prostate Cancer at all, but was later adopted by them).

What does all this mean?

Firstly, challenge conventional wisdom. Look for the critical influencers in your market and their relationship with your target audience. If it’s Mums or Dads of young children, then it’s likely to be other parents, grandparents or even institutions (schools, playgroups). If it’s drinkers, where are the bars that are setting tongues wagging and why? How do you influence them?

Secondly, difference. As consumers of things, we are attracted towards genuinely new ideas that are one step away from what we know. If it’s too radical, we may well leave it for a while, or more likely, not notice it. But if a new product is cleverer, better looking, or solves a problem more effectively then it stands a chance of cutting through. Is our offer really that different?

Thirdly, passion. We are attracted towards people or products that demonstrate unfettered passion towards something: a desire to do it better, differently, more unusually. Do we really care about this (it will show)? Or are we just chasing the money?

Fourthly, concentration. There is no doubt that for many brands (drinks, fashion, music for example) that cities are important because they offer a higher chance of multiple connections, quicker. Great. Use them. But don’t be fixated on one place, one market. Look for multiple influences on your connections.

In short, don’t get in a pickle worrying about ripple

*Some would say Tamworth is in 1903, but that would be an unfair and quite insupportable jibe.

** you can make your own conclusions about how much groovin’ out goes on in SE Staffordshire (with apologies to Touch FM)

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success.; +44 (0) 7885 408367;; @crowflieshigh.

© The Crow Flies, 2015