I'm a title. Click here to edit me.
Why are immune support supplement sales dropping?
How studying meaning can reveal the “why” behind market shifts and protect you from making hasty decisions. In 2020, COVID-19 was sighted as a major cause for a massive spike in immune support supplement sales. In fact articles like this projected that the growth potential for 2020 would be the highest in a decade. Publications like the Nutrition Business Journal went as far as to project that immune support supplement sales would spike above 25% (up from 8.5% growth in the previous year). But, something changed. People stopped buying. In fact, market data from the last 6 months indicates that sales of immune support supplements have dropped by more than 30%. To better understand the “why” behind this drastic shift in the market, we turned to our MotivBase Trends platform to study the changing meanings that are shaping the culture of immune support supplements. The difference a year can make. We began by looking back at the culture of immune support supplements a year ago, during the peak of the sales spike. Immediately, we can see that the cultural data and the market data did not align. While purchase behavior was showing growth, cultural data was indicating high levels of volatility in consumer culture. From an anthropological perspective, a topic (like immune support supplements) is mature when it is consistently understood to mean the same set of things to large groups of people. Conversely, a topic is considered immature when the meanings that it stands for are constantly evolving or exhibit inconsistent patterns. But when a topic is volatile, this is our AI system saying that there is so much inconsistency, we can’t calculate growth. We can estimate where it sits on the maturity curve, but there is so much disagreement or new meanings entering the cultural universe, that we can’t confidently predict that a topic is increasing in relevance with consumers.
In other words, people might have been buying immune support supplements, but they didn’t agree upon or deeply understand “why” This can also be seen in some of the tensions that present themselves in the topic universe or the dominant meanings that consumers were associating with immune support supplements back in 2020. If we zoom in on the dominant topics that were shaping the culture of immune support supplements in 2020, we can see that consumers were unsure about what the “right solution” was. On one hand, they are looking to vitamins and multivitamins as a potential way to bolster immunity. But we can also see that food (and more specifically the role of nutrition) is also very prominent in the culture. The more we explore the meanings, the more we can see that consumers were going through an awakening, where they were starting to become increasingly aware of the role they needed to play (through diet in particular) in supporting or protecting their immune system. But they are unsure on what is truly, the best solution. This lack of clarity is also very present in the Ethnographic DNA of the consumers who were most engaged in the culture of immune support supplements. In 2020, these were people motivated to take steps to enhance their longevity, and protect the wellbeing of their loved ones. They were in the throws of COVID-19. They were scared. They were looking for ways to take control of their health, but in the process they were deeply confused by the product information that was being presented. But at the core, people in 2020 were fearful of harm, occurring to themselves, and their loved ones. They were trying multiple solutions, but were unclear on if they were actually taking the right steps. The big supplement shift in 2021. When we fast forward to the present, and examine the culture of immune support supplements, we can see two important shifts in the culture. The first is that while the maturity has stabilized and slightly increased, the size of the population that this culture is relevant to, has actually decreased. Secondly, we can see in the topic universe, that unlike 2020, the dominant meanings that consumers are associating with this culture, are much more educated and nuanced than a year ago. Consumers are clearly being more selective in the choices they are are making as indicated with topics like “certain supplements” or the direct association now being made to Vitamin B and its role in keeping the immune system strong, making new red blood cells, and transporting oxygen throughout the body. The association with vitamins and supplements has decreased. But more importantly, the conversation has shifted from what foods should be eaten less (and what supplements should be used) to what nutrient rich foods (like flax seeds) should be eaten more (in lieu of relying on supplements). In other words, while COVID-19 may have driven a large number of consumers to purchase immune support supplements, it also drove them to educate themselves on how they could truly bolster their immunity. This can also be seen in the Ethnographic DNA for 2021. The key driver is no longer fear of harm to you or your loved ones. It is fear of falling prey to a vested agenda. People are wrestling with doubt in the “system”, and wrestling with the belief that the medical industry is designed to profit from our sickness. But most importantly, the dominant motivation is one that says that the solution is most likely not entirely encapsulated in a pill or gummy. If you want to regain control of your body and health you need to embrace a more holistic approach to your wellbeing. More Money. More Problems. Normally, our clients are excited when we see more affluent consumers engaging in relevant culture. But in this particular instance, the drastic shift in the type of consumer that engaged with immune support supplements in 2020 versus 2021 is troubling for the supplement industry. In 2020, consumers from households making less than $50,000 were very dominant in this culture. When we take this into consideration, with our topic universe and ethnographic DNA in mind, we can ascertain that COVID-19 drove a large number of consumers to try immune support supplements as they were fearful for their health. But this also drove large numbers of people to question the validity and efficacy of immune support supplements. One year later, in 2021 we can see that lower income consumers abandoned this culture in droves. Instead, the culture is dominated by households making +100k. But these consumers are not willing to accept that any or all immune support supplements will truly help them better control their health. Instead, they are embracing a holistic approach. They are gravitating to natural solutions. They are looking to nutrient dense foods to bolster their immunity. This is where they are spending their money. Conclusion: Our research technology specializes in studying meaning, and more accurately predicting growth opportunities for our clients. One of our key roles in 2020 was preventing our clients from getting distracted by short-term behavior, or getting enamored with things that were garnering a lot of mentions. Focusing on top 10 lists of what people are saying or only focusing on what people are doing will never give you the full picture of what is happening in culture. Cultural data, like the data above, can help us better understand the emotional journey that consumers are going on, to better predict the longevity and potential for a trend. The reality is that while COVID-19 may have forced a group of consumers to over engage in the immune support supplement category for the short term, the culture was very small, and not showing culture growth to prove that this sales growth would continue. If you are a client, I suggest that you run a search on “immune support” and “skin health” to see a culture that is not only growing consistently, but that is going to break into the mainstream in the next 12-24 months. This is why adding an anthropological lens to your business is so important.
Feature announcement: microculture filters.
We are very excited to announce the addition of a new 'microcultures filter' feature to our application to improve the speed and ease of self-serve or DIY analysis. The purpose of this addition is to help users quickly and easily isolate the part of a macroculture that pertains to a particular theme of meaning. In essence, we have created a tool that isolates parts of the meaning-web so we can understand those parts more easily. Let me give you an example. Let’s say your macroculture (starting point) is natural cleaning. You begin by searching the topic “natural cleaning” and examine the resulting meaning map. Now, you see a topic that interests you – ‘harsh chemicals’. You now want to understand what this topic means in the context of the underlying macroculture of natural cleaning. Now, all you have to do is click the topic and add it to the microculture search bar. The result is a new meaning map that is focused on that part of the macroculture (of natural cleaning) that pertains to harsh chemicals. To understand exactly what harsh chemicals mean, we can now dive into this new map of meaning and quickly get a clear sense of what harsh chemicals mean in the context of natural cleaning. For example, here we can see that the harsh chemical microculture is really focused on those types of cleaning applications where the elimination of odor and bacteria are top concerns. These are areas where consumers think more heavily about the use of harsh chemicals and associate these chemicals with allergies, skin irritation, the weakening of nails, and the use of excessive amounts of water. All this was of course extracted in a matter of 90-120 seconds of analysis thanks to this 'microculture filter' that allows us to quickly isolate parts of the macroculture that we’re interested in. The rest of the analysis remains the same. We still deliver the sizing, maturity, and ethnographic DNA of the microculture as we always have. That does not change. This implementation is all about our continued endeavor to make our technology more friendly to quick DIY application. If you are a client and you are reading this, you will receive an email from our customer success team later this week confirming when this change will be visible to you in the application as well as in the reporting we deliver. Ultimately, the goal for this improvement is to make the process of identifying microcultures easier while in DIY mode.
The Self-Care Snare
How inaccurately defining a culture can cost a CPG billions In Nestlé’s latest move to capitalize on the growing demand for minerals and nutritional supplements, the Swiss food giant has spent $5.75 billion to buy the main brands from Bountiful Co. In fact, this Wall Street Journal article goes on to say that these types of acquisitions are being driven by CPGs like Nestlé scrambling “to add health and wellness brands as shoppers spend more on self-care.” But this begs an important question: Is there a natural, consumer-led connection between the culture of supplements and the culture of self-care? Or are CPG companies making billion dollar assumptions without understanding the consumer-led perspective? To answer this question we decided to leverage the Motivbase Trends platform. In what follows, we use our anthro-lens to see if supplements naturally emerge when you explore the culture of self-care. Or if the self-care assumption could lead to Nestlé trying to force a square peg into a round hole. The Consumer-led POV: First and foremost, when we examine the culture of “self-care” we can see that it is, in fact, growing. This culture is currently seeing 86 million consumers directly and indirectly engage with the topics that are linked to practicing self-care. And, that population is predicted to grow by 11% in the next 12-24 months. Additionally, we can see that consumers are in agreement with what “practicing self care” means. This is, in essence, what maturity represents. The more a culture matures, the more consumers are using similar language (imagine people using synonyms) when discussing and defining the culture. Cultures in the early consensus are still malleable. They are being shaped by the consumer, and can be shaped by brands or companies that invest in educating the masses further. But as cultures mature and enter into the mainstream (or mainstream acceptance as seen in our Zone of Innovation), they become more established in the mind of the consumer. Often we are tasked with the goal of finding cultures (or trends) that are just about to enter mainstream acceptance. Because once a culture passes into the established idea territory, they become rigid in the mind of the consumer. There is general consensus, and consumers have a checklist in their mind of “table stakes” that need to be satisfied if you want your product or service to be relevant to people in that culture. In such an environment, the only way to innovate is to achieve complete compliance with the consumer's expectations (their mental specifications). Practicing Self-Care is almost an established idea. As we can see in the chart above, the culture of practicing self-care isn’t just mainstream. It is inching closer to the established idea territory meaning that the expectations and needs of the consumer are quite set. It will be difficult to force a new idea into this culture. So do vitamins and supplements naturally emerge? Short answer. No. At their core, consumers who are engaged in this culture are driven by the belief that it is important to work towards establishing a healthy routine and strive to achieve balance. This is bigger than just taking natural steps to improve one’s physical well being. It means caring for your mental wellbeing, and considering your spiritual wellbeing. But, when we examine the most dominant meanings (or topics) that naturally emerge in the culture of practicing self care, vitamins and supplements do not naturally emerge. Instead, we see that the consumer-led POV is one that is looking to find natural ways to overcome anxiety, recondition the mind to think more positively, increase exercise and improve overall sleep. Even the consumer's emotional DNA illustrates that these consumers are looking for the most natural ways possible to achieve the goals above. The consumer’s primary attitude is to seek out products that have undergone the least amount of modification from their original state (these are considered the safest). This attitude pertains to both the processing a product has undergone, as well as the source ingredients used to make it. The closer the product and/or ingredients are to their naturally occurring state, the better the product becomes. Self-Care versus Overall Health. While the topic of “Self Care” may get more mentions, it is the topic and culture of “Overall Health” that holds the deepest, and most valuable meaning for vitamins and supplements. Granted, this culture is currently relevant to a smaller group of consumers (68.7 Million Americans between the ages of 18-64) it is predicted to grow and reach 89.3 million consumers in the next 12-24 months. We also see that it is less mature, with higher growth trajectory than “self-care” meaning there is more opportunity to shape the narrative around who a supplement may provide the added benefits one needs as they look to take control of their health. So do vitamins and supplements naturally emerge? Short answer. Yes. Extensively. Dietary supplements, nutritional supplements and health supplements are all front and center when we examine the culture of “overall health”. Secondly, we can see that the consumer is focused on “wellness” or finding a way to improve their diet, exercise regime and their approach to supplementation in order to improve their immunity, overcome weight issues and protect their general health. Even the emotional DNA for this group reinforces a greater openness to supplements. Yes, they too look for natural and unaltered products to feel like their choices are better for their health. But their drive to achieve balance and the fact that they are motivated to incorporate technology and science as a way to improve human life makes this culture more relevant to a company looking to drive growth in the vitamin and supplement industry. Looking at Supplements in the Self-Care culture: If you are CPG making investments into supplements and vitamins, you need to be aware of where there is a natural fit for your future business in the hearts and minds of the consumers who will finance your return on your investment. Currently, the cultural connection between supplements and self-care is just not as strong as it is to the culture of personal performance or the culture of improving one’s overall health. When we force our system to identify the intersection point between self-care and supplements, we can see some interesting areas of focus present themselves. For example, the role of sleep is front and center. And the role of supplements in helping facilitate better sleep hygiene would be a key starting point for any company looking to forge a stronger connection between supplements and self-care. It also appears that if you can illustrate the role supplements can play in improving mood, the more likely you are to drive relevance within the self-care culture. But you need to understand that this is not only a less mature culture but was also until recently, volatile. Is the culture growing? Yes. But it is still in early consensus and still not predicted to enter the mainstream in the next 12-24 months and given its volatile past could get disrupted again. Conclusion: This is not to say that Nestlé’s investment will not payoff. Supplements and vitamins are growing in the midst of this pandemic. But it's less about self-care than it is about investing in one's overall health and wellbeing. The distinction between the two can make or break success here for the company. Which is why you will constantly here us say the following mantra - meaning matters. But if your goal is to identify areas of opportunities in the next 12-24 months to reap the benefits of the acquisition, self-care is a snare that will prevent you from tapping into and connecting with the consumers who are naturally looking for the solution you have to offer.
MotivBase Joins NielsenIQ Connect Partner Network
The partnership will help to identify and predict cultural trends and the impact they have on products and performance. MotivBase, a technology-enabled research company and AI Anthropology platform that supports Fortune 1000 Companies, announced today it has joined the NielsenIQ Connect Partner Network, the industry's largest open ecosystem of tech-driven solution providers for retailers and manufacturers in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. As a Connected Partner, MotivBase now offers a solution that can decode and quantify the meanings behind emerging cultural trends while simultaneously using NielsenIQ data to match what trends really mean to existing products and their marketplace performance. This allows companies to instantly identify gaps in the market and link cultural data to market data to quickly validate decisions. Mutual customers will now have the capability to marry MotivBase’s predictive capabilities with NielsenIQ’s robust sales data to better inform innovation, R&D, and decision making. Through this relationship, CPG companies will be able to decode and quantify growing trends in consumer culture with MotivBase’s AI Anthropology Engine, while verifying the business potential with NielsenIQ’s sales data. “Companies leverage MotivBase to map the meanings that consumers are attaching to the things they consume. As culture shifts, and these meanings change, they reshape how and what consumers buy,” said Ujwal Arkalgud, CEO and Chief Anthropologist at MotivBase. “By tracking them we can predict what’s going to happen. By joining the NielsenIQ Connect Partner Network, we’re giving Innovation and Insights teams quantitative proof of performance in the now. MotivBase predicts the future. The NielsenIQ data quantitatively validates it using data from the past and present.” MotivBase is the first insight platform to merge cultural data and sales data, and the users of the platform will be able to search the MotivBase database, and access both trend and NielsenIQ data instantly. In addition to access to the platform, the MotivBase team of PhD social scientists who build bespoke trend reports leveraging the technology will be incorporating this new data set into deliverables for all CPG companies that are mutual MotivBase and NielsenIQ customers. "There is power in partnering up and we're happy to have MotivBase on board within the NielsenIQ Connect Partner Network," said Brett Jones, Global Leader, NielsenIQ Connect Partner Network. "MotivBase's merging of technology and the social sciences help to bring an anthro-lens to our NielsenIQ data. MotivBase powered by NielsenIQ is a win-win for shared clients." About MotivBase
MotivBase is the world's first and only AI Anthropologist that can decode the hidden meanings behind consumer interactions. The company works with 130+ corporations globally at the front-end of innovation and their work has contributed to $5 Billion + in directly attributable new revenue.
Myth to truth
How trends really develop. A lot of what we do is study how "myths" get created and proliferated in culture. Myths exist everywhere. Most commonly, one can think about myths as beliefs and ideas about products, issues, topics and trends that are not scientifically sound. But myths are so much more than just about scientific adherence. Myths are in essence meanings associated with a culture that aren't fully established yet. For the French Anthropologist/Semiotician Roland Barthes, Myths were ideas and norms in culture that when established appear as FACTS of nature. Over the last five years, since the inception of our company, we've worked tirelessly to bring a model to life that can measure not just the creation of myths, but also the moment in time when it converts into a "fact of nature" as Barthes describes it. Let us take the example of Sustainability in order to illustrate this point. First - our topic universe organizes the dominant meanings associated with a culture. This allows us to identify the dominant ways in which consumers interpret a particular topic or trend. This is what Barthes refers to as "ideas and norms" in culture. Second - our maturity curve calculates the amount of consensus there is among consumers about what that culture means. When a culture is in early consensus for example, as illustrated in the example below, we know that myths aren't yet fully formed. They exist in the form of a series of signifiers. But as is the case in the example below, these signifiers are continuing to push the culture toward myth creation. Let's take a slightly different example, this time looking at the culture of "sleep quality". Here, we see that in people's minds, sleep quality is strongly associated with supplements, improving sleep habits, and taking the necessary measures to reduce anxiety and stress. These are all myths today because they already sit in the "mainstream acceptance" stage of maturity and are continuing to grow. At some point these myths will eventually evolve and turn into established facts of nature - i.e. clear cut ways in which sleep quality will be interpreted by most in society. Why does this matter? As long as a culture holds myths or signifiers of potential myths, there's room to shape and reshape that culture. Once a set of myths becomes established facts of nature, we (as in brands and organizations) cannot do a lot about them except follow them and build solutions that adhere rather than reconfigure. To be clear, this does NOT mean we cannot innovate in a culture with established "facts of nature". Of course we can. We just cannot reshape meaning in the same way. We have to compete on price, features, benefits, access and perhaps most importantly, adherence to the "fact of nature" or the established meanings in that culture. Are there exceptions to the rule? There are many cases where a mature culture resets because of either a single major cultural event like the current pandemic or a series of events happening over a period of time. In such cases, we do see cultures reconfigure themselves back from very mature stages to immature stages. Yogurt is one such example of a culture that has gone from having "facts of nature" associated with it (e.g. healthy, helps us be regular, helps in weight loss etc.) to suddenly having a series of net new signifiers. Putting it back into early consensus stage with a series of new meanings associated with cutting dairy from one's diet and the perils of added sugar, to the lack of gut health benefits and much more. All mostly negative from a health perspective. So is there a positive to this reset? Yes. There's an immense opportunity to decode the emerging myths around Yogurt and create Yogurt 2.0. There's always ways to solve these problems, if we examine a culture or a shifting trend through the lens of meaning and look at how new and emerging myths might affect our current and future solutions in market.
Will your business adapt or perish?
A fireside chat with Gillian Tett, about the need for more anthropology in the corporate world. Mention the term ‘anthropology’ to most people and the first thing they may think of is evolution. Or the study of how creatures adapt or perish. Corporate anthropology isn’t that different. Only, it is the study of people and the meanings they associate with your product or services. This insight allows a business to more effectively adapt to changes in culture. And businesses that fail to adapt, are at risk of extinction. This idea - the adoption of anthropology in the corporate world - inspired a fascinating conversation at MotivBase's first of several fireside chats. On April 15th, MotivBase CEO Ujwal Arkalgud was joined by social anthropologist Gillian Tett. Not only is Gillian the chair of the editorial board and editor-at-large, US of the Financial Times. She is also a Best-Selling Author whose new book “Anthro-Vision” tackles the need for companies to embrace anthropology. To view the full conversation on our Youtube Channel: But for a summary of the conversation here are the key points covered in the chat. An intro: The role of anthropology in business and innovation.
Gillian talks about her background in anthropology, her field research and her journey to working with the "Titans of Wall Street". Why 'meaning' matters? And why it's anything but fixed.
Gillian and Ujwal talk about how everything carries meaning and that all meanings are evolving and changing. If you want to understand how changes in culture may impact your business, you need an anthropological lens to map and track these changes. Why big data by itself isn't the solution. It's about how big data is used to study and decode the diversity of meaning that exists out there.
Ujwal talks about the problems with traditional forms or research that require asking consumers questions and Gillian talks about the problems with "tunnel vision" and and the need for Anthropological Intelligence. Big data is a compass, but if you don't look up to see the forest, you're destined to walk into a tree. What is Contextual Intelligence? Re-envisioning the role of traditional Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence in studying the millions of conversations on the internet.
Artificial intelligence isn't enough in and of itself. Ujwal and Gillian talk about the need to go beyond mere mentions to incorporate models that contextualize what is happening in a culture. It's not enough to know what people are saying. You have to answer the question "Why?" How 'meaning' allows us to get past shiny-object-syndrome.
Ujwal and Gillian talk about how Anthropology can help prevent getting hypnotized by short-term behaviors and instead, focus on long-term cultural meanings that are more likely to withstand the test of time. How Cambridge Analytica built AI models using Facebook 'likes' and why they don't solve the problem of studying 'meaning'.
Gillian talks about the danger to following data only based on mentions or likes. There is more to the picture than meets the eye. Ujwal talks about the value of long form content and discourse. Using the lens of 'meaning' to understand how much of a disconnect there might be between a company's perceived purpose versus the consumer's expectations of that purpose.
Ujwal talks about how companies are not asking if their brand or organizational purpose are aligned to the consumer's expectations and definitions. Gillian talks about the importance of thinking of your company as based on human relationships. If you don't understand the internal or external definitions of a metric or purpose that you use to define and set expectations, your business will struggle. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Gillian for joining us. It was a great conversation and we look forward to our next collaboration. In the meantime, we are now looking forward to the upcoming and second fireside chat that will feature acclaimed Cyborg Anthropologist Amber Case. Amber studies the interaction between humans and computers and how technology is changing everyday life. She is currently a 2021 Mozilla Fellow working on the future of money, alternative business models for the web and creator compensation. In addition to her TED Talks, Amber was named one of Inc. Magazine’s 30 under 30 and Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology. She was also named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2012 and received the Claude Shannon Innovation Award from Bell Labs. To sign up for the next fireside chat with Amber, click here. About the MotivBase Fireside Chat Series:
Over the past 5+ years, MotivBase has seen the power of anthropology and how it can serve business leaders in predicting where culture is going and what will be more relevant to their consumers in the short and long term. In this series of conversations with some of the biggest and brightest business minds, our CEO and Cultural Anthropologist Ujwal Arkalgud will be talking about how anthropology is critical at decoding the implicit meanings that get assigned to cultural topics, ideas, issues, and trends. In each session, Ujwal and a guest speaker will unearth and showcase the value of anthropological thinking in driving innovation in an environment that is culturally becoming increasingly fragmented and complex. To learn more about MotivBase visit our website at motivbase.com.
The future of food delivery in America.
An anthro-lens shows us what food delivery will mean to people in the near future. Second only to China, the United States is projected to spend over 26 billion dollars in food delivery in 2021. In fact, experts anticipate that the global spend for food delivery will top 200 billion by the year 2025. That’s a lot of pizza and spicy chicken sandwiches. Combine this demand with the growing number of bullish investors pouring money into start-ups or a global pandemic reducing in-restaurant visits and it's no surprise that the food delivery industry is becoming increasingly crowded. So who will rise to the top of this food pyramid? What solution will survive these metaphorical hunger games? For that, let’s turn to our MotivBase Trends technology. The Local Connection First and foremost, our system identified a clear connection between food delivery and local business. In essence, consumers want to have exclusive access to special eating and drinking experiences in their homes, while also feeling like they are supporting local businesses. Secondly, it is a very large market that is exhibiting substantial growth. By mapping and quantifying the meanings consumers are associating and using to engage with this culture, we can see that food delivery in the context of local restaurant dining is relevant to 134.1M Americans between the ages of 18-64. And it is anticipated to grow by another 29.1% in the next 12-24 months. Growth in this culture is driven by consumers' interest in delivery options for food and beverage that go beyond regular meals. Consumers are eager to order signature cocktails, craft beers or specialty coffee blends to enjoy in their homes, while also having the feeling that they are supporting local businesses in the process. But people are feeding more than their bellies. This link to local can also be seen in the emotional DNA of the food delivery consumer. Leveraging our AI Anthropology engine, our platform identified the most dominant motivation as: Food delivery consumers want to prove that they are active members of the community. In essence, these consumers want to feel like they are an active and engaged member in their neighborhood. They believe their role as a consumer equates with civic engagement and they derive great pleasure from socializing with shopkeepers and other customers. Local community is important. With this understanding, it is no surprise that consumers have voiced concerns about food delivery apps overcharging restaurants, and gone as far as creating anti-food app apps like Not-Ubereats.com. But there is also a selfish and more intrinsic motivation at play. Namely, that food delivery can also play a key role in helping consumers feel socially superior. These are people who pride themselves on being one step ahead of everyone else. Food delivery services don’t just help them feed their bellies. The ability to quickly, easily and regularly try new foods and then share their experience (either verbally or through social media) allows them to reinforce how interesting they are. The key ingredients to Food Delivery In addition to understanding the macroculture, and the key emotional drivers of the consumer, we can leverage the MotivBase Platform to identify the microcultures that are shaping the future of food delivery. Three key microcultures presented themselves. Businesses that solve for these microcultures will have a competitive advantage over their competitors. 1. Hybrid Meal Options: Meal delivery is a popular option for consumers who struggle with dinner preparation during the weekday work grind. They look for workarounds that will help them to get a hot and tasty meal on the table. They express enthusiasm for specialty delivery options from favorite restaurants that include meal kits, bulk meal boxes or chef-prepared family style dishes containing several meals for the week, par-baked ingredients(e.g., pizza dough) or restaurant-made frozen foods that can be finalized and heated up at home to guarantee freshness and optimal temperature.
Consumers are also starting to think of some restaurants (typically higher end ones) as a hybrid type of grocery store where they can also get specialty ingredients and provisions (sauces, condiments, homemade pasta, etc) delivered to them.
This microculture is currently relevant to135.5M consumers and is anticipated to grow by 29.4% in the next 12-24 months. 2. Specialty Drinks & Treats Consumers look for ways to bring the bartender and the barista into their homes to create the feeling of a night out at the bar, a relaxing moment at the cafe, or a normal day at the office.
As a result, they are turning to food delivery for items that go beyond a regular meal. They want to enjoy alcoholic beverages or specialty coffees, indulge in snacks, or satisfy particular cravings from the comfort of their homes. When it comes to alcohol, consumers are not just looking for the delivery of regular bottles of wine, beer or liquor, but they express interest in bringing the bar experience into their homes. This means delivery of prepared signature cocktails, craft beers and other alcoholic drinks they can otherwise not simply buy from the corner store.
This microculture is currently relevant to122.3M consumers and is anticipated to grow by 48.9% in the next 12-24 months. 3. Socially Conscious Delivery Consumers try to be socially conscious when ordering food, and like the idea of ordering from Black-owned restaurants for example.
The pandemic has generally made people more socially conscious of their consumer choices. When it comes to food delivery, for example, they want to try to make their eating and drinking experiences more purposeful. For example, they discuss wanting to support Black-owned or other minority-owned eateries. They read about food delivery apps that include sections highlighting Black-owned restaurants or filter options that make it easier to search for these businesses.
They also talk about food delivery drivers and worry about unethical employment practices that leave them vulnerable to dangerous working conditions and underpay. They want assurance that tips meant for drivers go directly to them and not the companies they work for (an example of the types of questions they are starting to ask).
This microculture is currently relevant to129.6M consumers and is anticipated to grow by 32.4% in the next 12-24 months. Conclusion: Food delivery can’t rely on just delivering something that tastes good. They have to consider how using their service makes consumers feel good. As competition mounts, the companies that understand their consumers' emotional needs and satisfy these critical microcultures, will be one’s to get the biggest piece of the 200 billion dollar pie.
How women’s health will be won by innovators who challenge the current state of inequality.
When it comes to health, the world treats men and women differently. Consider the topic of pain. Take a moment to think about the last time you truly experienced major discomfort. Now, imagine how frustrating it must be to have that pain marginalized simply because of your gender. This is a challenge women have been wrestling with for years. In 2018, the New York Times reported on how doctors can often downplay women’s health concerns. And as recently as this April, research by the University of Miami found that when men and women patients expressed the same amount of pain, observers viewed female patients' pain as less intense and more likely to benefit from psychotherapy versus medication. Whether it is issues around reproductive science, feminine hygiene, or many, many other issues that pertain to women’s health, women do not have access to a level playing field when trying to get the care they need. So what does this mean for innovation and insight teams looking to connect with women, specifically in the context of their health? In short, the companies that champion equal treatment, are the companies that will culturally prevail. Because if you explore the culture of women’s health, you will see that there is a cultural movement mobilizing that wants to challenge both inequality and stereotyping. Exploring dominant meanings in the culture of Women’s Health Using the MotivBase Trends Platform, we are able to identify the most dominant meanings that consumers are linking too and associating with the culture of women’s health. As you can see in the topic universe, consumers are concerned about gender stereotypes and prejudice. Consumers in this culture are also looking to increase the conversation around the issue (Talk Women) and improve the role of education, specifically among women, so women can then better advocate for themselves. The more we examine these meanings, the more we understand the underlying problem consumers are struggling to solve, and reveal how big the opportunity of championing women’s health could be for an insight and innovation team. How big? When we calculate the cultural growth occurring in the context of women’s health, we can see that this wave is primed to enter mainstream acceptance in the next two years. While relevant to 33.4 million people today, that number is primed to increase by 29.6%. Interestingly, growth in this culture used to be volatile but has started to stabilize. Meaning people are coming to a consensus on what is important when expressing their expectations around women’s health. By exploring the changes in topics that dominated the culture over a year ago, we can see that the pandemic increased awareness and accelerated a growing concern that there are stark inconsistencies in how men and women are viewed and treated. This is having a dramatic impact on the way people think about women’s health, and specifically how much they are “believed” when they are talking about the pain and suffering. Sadly, this issue affects the lower middle classes more. And the conversation is largely being driven by younger adults, and by women. Which is likely a large part of the problem. There is not enough general awareness and concern posed by older women, or men. Help Women Be the Change they want to see in the world If your organization plays in the women's health space, then you should be building solutions and innovations that aid in the equal treatment of women's health concerns. First and foremost, companies need to ask if they are satisfying their consumers core motivation when it comes to this issue. When we analyzed women’s health on our Trends platform, the most dominant motivation was consumers looking for help to reduce stigma around health issues. Namely, how can you help play a role in reducing the stigma around issues and topics that have traditionally been seen either as a symbol of weakness, moral wrongdoing, or inferiority. We can also see that consumers are actively looking to demystify issues via education and challenge conventional limits imposed on people because of their gender. This issue will increasingly grow in relevance with people as it becomes more dominant in culture. So no matter what your product is, if you are looking to be relevant to to women's health, this needs to be taken into consideration. Conclusion: If you are looking to build an innovation platform for women’s health that will withstand the next few years, you need to consider this emerging cultural shift. Because female consumers will find a way to level the playing field themselves. Companies that empathize with the challenges faced by women and find ways to empower them, will be the ones with the competitive advantage.
The difference between what people say and what they mean.
In the world of linguistics and anthropology one of the foundational concepts that we discuss often is how words by themselves are meaningless. What gives a word meaning is dependent on the context it is placed into in culture. Take a simple example. A red light by itself carries very little meaning but when placed into a system of traffic lights, it means STOP. We could just as well create a *new* system where let’s say green means STOP and red means GO. There is nothing innately true about the color red that makes it the only color for a STOP signal. In the same way, there is nothing innately true about any other word (be it an idea or trend or even issue). Its meaning is insignificant in and of itself, but when placed into a context it can mean many things. Despite "systems of meaning" being a well-known framework in the fields of cultural anthropology and semiology, the corporate market research industry has done very little to leverage this framework in an effective manner. That is why we are surrounded by hundreds of companies that focus solely on what is being said, how many times it is being said, and in what time frame. These companies focus on quantifying ideas based on the use of words and the frequency and volume of mentions those words receive. This approach does not just blatantly disregard some of the most critical developments in the field of anthropology and linguistics, but also yields results that can be dangerous to the companies using these insights to drive action, be it for their brands or innovation projects. Let us explore a tangible example to illustrate this point further. If you examine consumer conversations around health and wellness, you will notice that the term 'collagen' has been rising in mentions and popularity since 2014. In fact, it appears to have hit peak popularity in 2021 (google trends also agrees) - if you look at it through the lens of volume mentions in a time frame. So, does this mean a beverage company should launch a collagen-boosting beverage? If it were that easy, that is, to simply examine topics rising in mentions within a category or industry and innovate based on it, corporate innovation success rates would be closer to 80%. But the reality is quite the opposite. Corporate innovation failure rates are closer to the 80% mark, and real innovation opportunities, especially ones that can be sustained over longer periods of time are rather difficult to find, let alone execute. Now let us ask the question we should be asking of ‘collagen’. When you apply an anthro-lens (anthropological lens) onto this problem, you will find that you're less concerned about the fact that 'collagen' shows up, and more concerned about what it means when it shows up. Here is a visual showing us the meanings consumers associate with 'collagen' in culture. We can see in the image above just through quick reflection that there is no clear or obvious connection to beverages or food. In fact, 'collagen' is very much being placed into a culture of supplement taking. And it has a clear purpose assigned to it, most of which revolves around stress relief, skin, and hair health. By examining the system that 'collagen' is naturally or inadvertently placed into in culture (by consumers through the natural way they talk about 'collagen'), we can see that this is not quite a culture that is associated with taste, refreshment, enjoyment, etc. All the things that a beverage company might desire when considering a new flavor or type of beverage for innovation. Furthermore, we also see that while 'collagen' is a growing trend or of growing interest to consumers, it is still relevant to a small portion of the population ~32M consumers in the United States. The maximum "size of the pie" is small, and within that culture less than 30% of the audience agrees about the purpose that 'collagen' serves in their lives. By taking an anthro-lens to the question of 'collagen' we have been able to, in a matter of minutes, see through what people are saying to get to what they really mean. Through the anthro-lens, we can see that the answer to the question – “should we launch a collagen-beverage?” is likely a NO. But it also requires further exploration. You can see that if this were to occur in the beverage space, it would have to likely take the shape of a product that is not build for enjoyment or refreshment, but rather built for a functional health benefit, like a pill would be. You can see why collagen-supplements are better suited to addressing the cultural needs emerging than a refrigerated beverage manufactured by a traditional beverage company. The anthro-lens allows us to ask about what something means and get past the shiny-object-syndrome to pay attention to the underlying reasons why something might be "trending". Through the process, it allows us to identify opportunities that truly exhibit a cultural fit (i.e., the meanings consumers assign align with our business objectives) and therefore offer longevity and sustained business benefit. The next time you see something that’s a measure of what people are saying, ask what it means and see where that takes you.
Sustainable packaging (for beverages) is not just about the environment.
One of the common challenges that Insights and Innovation leaders share is working on issues that must meet specific technical definitions and wrestle with moral stress or social pressure. Sustainable packaging is one such topic. Sustainable packaging has a very specific implication for someone who must think about the regulatory and operational aspects of bringing a sustainable solution to life. But this task must also overcome a fair amount of perceived guilt and social pressure, both within the organization, and in the outside world. For example, every time you ask the consumer why they should care about sustainable packaging, you get a familiar answer - it is about saving the environment. And, even within an organization, the mere use of the word “sustainable” as a signifier of packaging creates a blatant assumption – that its purpose is to be better for the environment. But in the world of linguistics and anthropology one of the foundational concepts that we discuss often is how words by themselves are meaningless. What gives a word meaning is dependent on the context it is placed into, in culture. The same is true of sustainable packaging when it comes to beverages. When you see the world through an anthro-lens you realize that assumptions can be dangerous. Words do not always mean what we think they mean. And often, meanings are illogical. But the more we understand the consumer-led perspective, these meanings can be wonderfully powerful in helping us drive more effective and impactful innovation. So lets look at the meanings around sustainable packaging (in the context of beverages) using this anthro-lens. First, and most importantly - it is not just about the environment. In fact, environmental impact is a small part of what this culture is all about. The most dominant set of meanings that consumers associate with sustainable packaging are linked to quality ingredients and quality products. In essence, what the consumer is telling us is that if a product is carried in sustainable packaging it is more likely to be considered superior in quality and to have superior ingredients. Naturally, the flip side of this is that if the packaging is not sustainable, the quality of the liquid can be called into question. These meaning are inextricably linked. But here is a plot twist. The overall culture of sustainable packaging (in the context of beverages) is volatile and not growing. What does that mean? It means consumers are not increasingly in agreement about the purpose and meaning of sustainable packaging for their beverages. A lack of convergence in meaning shows volatility in a trend or idea in culture. But the plot thickens. While the macroculture of sustainable packaging is volatile, the microculture of quality ingredients is growing and offering opportunities for innovation. This is not an uncommon scenario to see where a macroculture exhibits volatility (consumers are not in agreement about their interpretation of the topic and its purpose in their lives) while a microculture within it, shows growth and better opportunity in terms of mainstream relevancy and population size. This is only one microculture of many in this space, that indicate consumer demand for solutions that promote more sustainable beverage packaging. But what is so critical to this specific microculture is that if this trends continues to grow, consumers will increasingly raise their expectations for beverage products. The companies that will have a competitive advantage will be the companies that understand: If you want your beverage to be perceived as being high quality, it will require more sustainable packaging. If you have your beverage packaging to be perceived as sustainable, the liquid will need to be high quality. You can see this also reflected in the ethnographic DNA uncovered by our AI Anthropologist in this context. This is about much more than just responsible living. The symbolic capital driving this space is much broader than better for the environment. How many such initiatives do you have in the pipeline, or in market, where you think you might be leaving growth opportunities on the table because of taking the obvious road? This is why we study meaning and why we wake up in the morning to do this thousands of times each year for some of the largest organizations in the world. Meaning is anything but obvious. And it is anything but logical. But it never fails at outlining the "specifications" or "requirements" from the consumer's perspective, to legitimize an idea and consequently your solutions, in market.
Stop talking. Start Doing. How to Take the Innovation Leap.
I used to work in advertising. Imagine massive teams of account executives, strategists, developers and creatives tasked to build massive, integrated campaigns. Especially, when we were pitching a new company or client. At the risk of oversimplifying, the first step in this process was to let the strategy teams come up with a plan. They would do some research. Develop an understanding of the core consumer. Identify what motivated them to care about the product or service. Then they would build a brief. And then the debate would begin. Is the strategy sound? Is the consumer the right consumer? Is this really what motivates them? Then we would develop creative territories. And the second debate would begin. Is the creative on strategy? Is it going to resonate with the right consumer? Will the idea motivate them? Does it have legs? So many late nights. So many arguments. So much analysis paralysis. But eventually, someone would break away from the pack. Someone would take the leap. Oftentimes, at this one global shop I worked at, it was this veteran Creative Director. He would go to war with the entire team about why 2 or 3 areas were the right way to go. And, more often than not, we would follow his lead. My boss called him a “first mover”. “What is that?” I asked. My boss responded, “The person who’s confident enough to get started, even though they may not have every single answer.” “But what if they’re wrong?” I asked. My boss smiled. “Well, it’s easier to pivot if you have momentum. And you’ll never get anywhere, unless you take that first step.” Did the territories change? More often than not, yes. But did having someone push us out of the birds nest force us to figure it out? Absolutely. The Innovation Leap Now that I work in innovation and support global Consumer Insight and R&D teams, I think about this scenario a lot. Because while our research platform offers a tremendous amount of insight, and we can calculate predictions that are incredibly accurate, we simply can’t control our client's organizational culture. So at some point, someone is forced to take a leap. Luckily, the majority of the organizations we work with don’t rely on a person being the ‘first mover’. Instead they have trigger points built into their innovation process, to help them determine whether they have reached a level of confidence where they are ready to take action. Others understand that different parts of the organization require different types of research inputs in order to build the collective confidence for the organization. These organizations take our cultural data (microcultures of meaning) which point toward the future. They then use sales data as an overlay (to get a sense of what is currently happening in the market). This serves as a nice way to see where the gaps are. But some organizations lack the internal structure to “build momentum”. In those companies, it's usually up to an individual to be the “first mover”. These people have vision, are highly motivated and love to push boundaries. They rally teams, build consensus, and drive innovation. But, if these people leave the organization, then you are often left with a team that gets so focused on barriers and limitations that the innovation train ceases to leave the station. Avoiding Analysis Paralysis In January, David Farber posted a great article called Avoiding Analysis Paralysis: When to make a decision. In it, he talks about how many innovation teams struggle with constantly worrying about having all the answers and alleviating all the risks. David says: “The more I thought about it, the more I realized that today’s focus on iterative design and test-and-learn loops can, if not implemented properly, create a hazard for organizations. Even companies with “agile mentalities” and well-constructed Stage-Gate innovation processes often find themselves getting stuck in endless loops of testing without moving forward. While I wholeheartedly advocate finding opportunities to mitigate risk with research and adopting a “fail fast” attitude, innovation is ultimately about commercializing new things.” David then goes on to outline 5 keys to avoiding analysis paralysis. Namely: Customer Feedback — Validate that you are solving a real problem. Market Sizing — Determine that the problem you are solving affects a large enough population. Strategic Fit — Decide whether your organization is the right one to solve the problem. Risk Analysis — Identify the risks you might encounter and create a plan to mitigate them. Business Model Viability — Ensure that the organization has the technical ability to create the solution and that doing so is financially viable. As I read David’s article, it struck me how well this framework he had built aligns with the type of work we do at the very frontend of innovation. Because one of the most valuable uses of our MotivBase suite of tools is that they can be used to reduce the risk and anxiety that can lead to analysis paralysis. 1. Customer Feedback One of the core features of MotivBase is to provide a consumer-led perspective of culture in the context of a product, category or service delivered by our clients.
MotivBase Trends uses contextual analysis to identify the dominant meanings that consumers are naturally associating with a topic or trend. This includes both the direct associations that they are making, but also the indirect associations. The end result is a map of the dominant meanings that are shaping interest, expectations and opinion around anything and everything. We call this a cultural analysis but it is, in essence, untainted consumer feedback revealing the most dominant meanings the attach to a topic that could impact your business.
Secondly, MotivBase Needs uses consumer review data to deliver detailed joy and pain points. This allows us to not only identify occasions of usage, and the steps that consumers are taking when using a product. It allows us to surface the dominant Jobs To Be Done to assure that a new innovation is being tailored to solve the most dominant problems consumers face in the market. 2. Market Sizing When I asked a client why our ability to size both the maturity of any topic in culture (and how many people it is relevant to) was so valuable, she said that sales data is a snapshot of today. MotivBase gives her the market size of tomorrow.
Even better, our predictive model can anticipate how quickly a trend is growing with over 80% accuracy. 3 .Strategic Fit Mapping meanings is only one part of our IP. The second is having an AI Anthropology engine that can look at the language used when consumers engage around a topic or trend, and determine the dominant motivations, attitudes, values and fears that consumers are revealing. This provides our clients with an ethnographic DNA that helps them confirm that their potential innovation is emotionally targeting the right consumer. 4. Risk Analysis Within every macroculture, there are microcultures that need to be considered if you want to understand how an idea will be interpreted and how to create a product that will be embraced.
By grouping dominant meanings, and sizing their maturity and relevance, we can not only look at the potential of a trend, but we can dissect the most dominant demand spaces that are propelling it forward to identify opportunities and threats to innovation. If you want to see an example, check out this sample report. 5. Business Model Viability As you can imagine, this falls on our clients.
But with all four of the above topics supported, our clients can focus more on thinking through their channel strategy, if the organization has the necessary startup capital, where they may need to depend on outside partners, and other key aspects of making the project viable. Conclusion: The beauty of this, is that when armed with the above information, you are not only armed to shut down any naysayers in your organization. But you have the confidence to take action. And if you are in senior leadership, you have a resource that can better inform your team, so that they have the insight and data they need to be “first movers”. If you're interested in learning more about how to leverage MotivBase for innovation, email
Testing Concepts: Using AI Anthropology to Test Innovation Concepts
When people ask us where we fit in the innovation lifecycle, we often like to reply by saying this: MotivBase sits at the front end of innovation. But while early trend identification and culture mapping represents a lot of the powerful insight work we do, our team is increasingly being asked to help verify a hypothesis or potential execution throughout the concept creation process. In fact, the clients that have celebrated the most success in the last year, haven’t just started their journey with us. They have returned to our AI Anthropological model to validate their thinking once they have built concepts. Our job has been to assess if these concepts will be relevant when analyzed using a consumer-led lens. The ideal situation is one where we are used at the very outset. We provide a foundational report on a culture that is critical to a business line or category where our clients know they need to make inroads to remain relevant. This initial work is often high level but reveals the key consumers who are shaping the culture, identifies the microcultures that are most prevalent, and it gives us a prioritization based on what is growing in relevance in the market. This work is often the jumping off point for our clients. It provides a cultural perspective that's then married with third-party sales data (one of many integrations and partnerships we are currently working on behind the scenes) and points an innovation team in the right direction. Naturally, many clients use this initial report to identify a key territory that not only excites consumers, but that aligns with their companies’ operational goals. With this added focus, we may “zoom in” on a culture and uncover additional nuance or detail that will drive better concept creation. But here’s what might surprise you. Once the concepts are created, many clients are running another sprint with us to validate the ideas. In fact, some of our clients, who have concepts generated before they started working with us, will have us validate ideas that are new, even though they were not built using our “anthropological” insight gathering. Why? Because during the concept creation stage, teams may end up using language that either may not mean what they intend it to mean, or may create the wrong implicit perception about a product or concept when it's eventually put into market. So here's how we help our clients through the concept development and testing process: 1. Concept creation phase With an idea in tow, clients will provide us with the overview of the concept. Our job is to identify “consumer language” for the key elements of the idea. This process validates (or may challenge) that the concept aligns with critical consumer expectations when it comes to envisioning a solution. For example. If you think ‘wellness’ and ‘wellbeing’ can be used interchangeably, you would be wrong. The consumer believes these to be two distinctly different things, and therefore, understanding which microculture your innovation serves is critical to its success. But identifying this language also allows us to go on to step 2. 2. Concept Sizing and Testing Once we have matched or married the consumer-led language with the concept, we can now explore its relevance today, and calculate its predictive relevance for tomorrow. But we can also examine the key consumers (or tribes) that are most engaged and driving growth in these microcultures. With a deep understanding of the motivations, values, attitudes and fears, clients are able to develop a more empathetic understanding of the consumers that are most likely to be interested in a concept without ever needing to take the flawed song and dance approach of recruiting an audience and asking them questions. Sometimes this validates that a concept is hitting the target the client wanted to attract. Sometimes it reveals tweaks or changes that need to be made. Sometimes it reveals untapped, profitable cultures that our clients never knew were reachable by a solution they could bring to market. 3. Concept Decoding When we dive into the meaning that consumers are linking to a potential concept, we can validate that our clients understand the most dominant truths, needs and reasons to believe. Not only does this allow us to identify the "specifications" necessary to make the concept believable to the consumer. We may also uncover previously unknown benefits that better encapsulate the solution and that will do more heavy lifting when the product goes into in-market testing, or eventually, into full execution. Conclusion: The best innovation process is an agile and iterative process. While we wish we could take credit for this model, the truth is it was born out of requests made by our clients who saw the value in our tool, but asked if there was a new way we could leverage our data. The result is it's fast (5-10 days of research) and it is a predictive model that assures a concept aligns with where culture itself is headed. But the real lesson from this MotivBase innovation is that AI Anthropology isn’t just relevant to the frontend of innovation. It is a tool that can be used and applied at multiple points during the innovation lifecycle to assure that you never lose sight of the people who are most critical to a product's success. If you are interested in learning more about how we are testing and validating innovation concepts, please reach out to me at .