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MotivBase joins forces with Lux Research
I’m truly excited to announce today that we’ve joined forces with Boston-based Lux Research to expand and accelerate the development of our capabilities and the clients that leverage it for the purposes of R&D, Strategy and Marketing. As you may already know, we’re a passionate bunch of anthropologists and we truly believe in the power of the work we do to decode implicit belief systems and meanings shaping the future of the ideas, trends, and issues that matter to your business. Lux Research isn’t much different. Like us, they too are powered by a fantastic technology and an extremely talented group of researchers. If our teams have PhDs and advanced degrees in the social sciences, Lux‘s team has PhDs and advanced degrees in the material/hard sciences. It’s a marriage that is meant to be. MotivBase can be applied both upstream and downstream of Lux. If MB can help you decode the implicit beliefs shaping the future of sustainable food packaging (for example), then Lux can help identify what existing and new technologies can solve the consumer’s needs. For every cultural need MB identifies, Lux can identify technological solutions across the supply chain, help you ascertain their commercial viability, and even help you put the ideas into motion. For Innovation, Strategy, and R&D teams that leverage MotivBase, this development is a big step in our ability to not just decode and predict trends and shifting forces in culture, but also help you identify the right technological (and commercially viable) solutions that can address the consumer‘s needs as well as meet organizational goals and targets. For Marketing - this means an accelerated pace of development of MotivBase’s capabilities over the coming months and years and the continued drive to push the limits of how organizations can leverage the power of anthropology and technology to create true consumer-centricity. For us - this is a huge step in maximizing the power of our incredible technologies - MotivBase Trends, Signals, and Jobs. As a growing business, we will now have access to the expertise and resources needed to not just scale but do so in the right way - so as to continue to attract and retain the best talent in the world, and push the envelope in terms of the quality and value of the insights we provide our incredible clients the world over. If you’d like to learn more please reach out to me at ujwal (at) motivbase.com About Lux Research: Lux Research is a leading provider of sustainable innovation research and advisory services, helping clients drive growth through emerging technology innovation. Lux Research combines technical expertise and business insights with a proprietary intelligence platform, using advanced analytics and data science to surface true leading indicators. With quality data derived from primary research, fact-based analysis, and opinions that challenge traditional thanking, Lux empowers clients to make more informed decisions today to ensure future success. Lux Research employs more than 125 talented and motivated researchers based in Boston, New York, Amsterdam, Singapore, and Tokyo. For more information and insight from Lux Research, visit our blog, connect on LinkedIn, or follow @LuxResearch. Link to full press release.
Hiring: Researchers, China/Japan Focus (Advanced Degrees preferred)
This is your opportunity to join a company that is at the cutting edge of cultural anthropology, big data, and AI. We are pioneers in the field of technology-enabled ethnography at big data scale. We call it, big data ethnography and it powers front-end innovation across the Fortune 1000. We are currently hiring researchers with proficiency in Mandarin and/or Japanese to support our growing client base. A typical day in this role would involve studying the culture of anything and everything — from plant-based proteins and sustainable packaging in food, to the future of women’s sexual health (and its impact on the consumer packaged goods industry). Our clients make investments to future-proof their business using the results of our research. General Responsibilities will include: Mastering and becoming a champion of the MotivBase platform and methodology. Working with other researchers to deliver completed analyses and reports using MotivBase, including accurate reporting and analysis of Chinese and/or Japanese data. Over time, this role may be client-facing. That is, if you have the aptitude for it, you could be presenting research (typically over video conference) and interfacing with the client through the process — from project briefing through to delivery. You’re the right candidate if: You’re a quick study and feel comfortable with well established concepts in the field of cultural anthropology. You’re a good writer. You are comfortable reading and analyzing Mandarin Chinese and/or Japanese qualitative data. You have an eye for detail and can be obsessive about quality control. You’re comfortable with technology — apps for presentations, document creation, conference calls etc. You like to work fast, efficiently, and in an environment that is high energy, but also can be high pressure. You keep up to date on developments in the fields of the humanities, social sciences, and consumer culture in general. Graduates or candidates for advanced degrees (PhD, MA) in fields such as anthropology, political science, sociology, or history are preferred. Ph.D. dropouts are welcome. Even encouraged. To apply, please email rich (at) motivbase (dot) com. --- If you'd like to learn more about what we do, check out this YouTube playlist.
The Why Meaning Matters Podcast: Season 2 is Back!
In Season one, we tackled the role of anthropology in business. We also looked at why studying meaning was critical if you wanted to understand where culture was going and how it may impact your work and the success of the projects you are bringing to market. In Season 2 we look to explore a wide range of cultural shifts underway, and how they are reshaping different categories and issues. Let’s take a look at some of the areas we covered thus far: Episode 1. The Future of Interior Space - The Meaning of Home Decor & Design In this episode we explore the meaning of home design and decor via three themes - accessible living, calming retreat, and working & learning - and how retailers can jump on the opportunity of helping consumers to create multifunctional spaces. Episode 2. The Future of Fashion - The Meaning of Luxury Apparel In this episode we delve into the meaning of fashion by exploring size inclusivity, the second-hand market and sustainability. Just like in the conversation around home (in episode 1) - there’s a discernible shift in the conversations and the meaning of Luxury apparel presenting an opportunity for those in the retail space to capture more hearts and minds. Episode 3. The Future of Community Immunity- The Meaning of Infection and Disease In this episode, we explore the changing meaning and consumer understanding of infectious disease. Infection and disease has been seen by North Americans as an ‘other’ problem. But, triggered by a global pandemic striking close to home, that cultural meaning is changing by leaps and bounds. Episode 4. The Future of Skincare - The Meaning of Healthy Skin In this episode, we look to uncover what it means to have healthy skin in today’s society. MotivBase and folks in the skincare industry have been tracking and waiting for the meaning and importance of skin health to become mainstream. And now, it has! Our hosts make the connection between wellness and skin health through deep healing, achieving balance and embracing imperfection and why that’s important to the industry moving forward. Episode 5. The Meaning of Wellness and Altruism - A Case Study In this episode, we discuss the results of a report produced from a recent partnership with Nielsen IQ where MotivBase. In it, we were tasked with decoding the implicit meaning of altruistic purpose when it comes to health and wellness. What is altruism in the context of wellness? Fundamentally, when it comes to our health and wellness, it’s a human being’s recognition that, for our own betterment, for our own mental health and physiological health, people also need to do things with others in mind. Sign up to make sure you don’t miss a future episode. Each week, we are talking about how meaning shapes our experience and sets our expectations. Be sure to sign up via any of the links above, or add us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to your favorite Podcasts.
Twenty Questions Insight and Innovation Teams Can Answer with MotivBase
When people think about MotivBase, the first word they usually think about is “Meaning”. Meaning is what we are obsessed with. Because what something “means” is constantly evolving in culture. And by analyzing how meanings may be undergoing change, we can make foresight work more accurate, improve innovation planning, prioritize R&D decisions and even hone communication efforts. How? Let’s look at the Top 20 Questions you can answer using MotivBase. Question 1. Who is the most important consumer to make my project more successful? Whether you are starting your innovation journey or looking to position a brand message for an existing product to an audience, MotivBase can examine a culture and identify the people that are most important to a product’s success. Our PhDs can identify what culture a solution belongs to, and our AI Anthropology engine can surface the consumers driving the growth of that culture. We can provide a breakdown of their socio-demographic details as well as their dominant motivations, attitudes, values and fears. If you are asking yourself “Who are we doing this for?” We can help. Question 2. What are the key requirements for my product or service to succeed? Every product or service has a culture. And if you have consumers, we can study the meanings that are shaping their expectations. Our team will use our technology to identify the culture most relevant to your product or service, and then follow the consumer’s breadcrumbs to identify and prioritize the requirements that are shaping their expectations. Question 3. What are the barriers to adoption for my product or service? Have you ever wondered why consumers just aren’t gravitated towards a solution? Do you need to find the things that may be getting in the way or holding consumers back from adopting your product or innovation? We can specifically look for the challenges or obstacles to help you eliminate the barriers or help the consumer overcome the issues they may have with your product or service. Question 4. Are there unexpected cultural forces changing consumer expectations? The social justice movement had an impact on how consumers value packaged food. The last presidential election had an impact on women’s fashion. Because we can identify where cultures intersect and meet, we can do more than tell you what is trending in your category. We can go look for the unknown, and sometimes unlikely cultural forces that may reveal big opportunities or important threats. Question 5. Does my industry definition of a benefit match the consumer’s definition of the benefit? Are you banking on a benefit and about to invest in linking your product or service to this key strength that lies at the heart of your offering? Many of our clients will perform a feasibility analysis (included in their engagement with us) just to have our team confirm if their definition aligns with the consumer's. If it does, they're off to the races. If it doesn’t in 5 days we can come back to tell them what elements of the definition is aligned, and what elements need to be reconsidered. Question 6. What are the key components (ingredients) that are best suited for a product or service? Sometimes clients want very tactical information to inform their innovation initiatives. Not only can we explore a culture to get to the most dominant components or ingredients that clients are linking to it, we can decode why certain types of components are winning in the mind of the consumers and prioritize which have more long term potential. Question 7. What is the consumer language that will resonate when describing or presenting a product or service? Because we study meaning by looking at the words consumers readily associate with a topic or culture, we naturally can decode the most dominant and relevant language. This isn’t always logical, but it is a pure breakdown for the keywords that are most prevalent and will likely ring true if used to communicate with the consumer. Question 8. What are the most important trends that will impact my business in the next 2 years? Motivbase allows our PhDs to look at the most important trends that are currently relevant to consumers. But we can also predict if they are increasing in relevance with broader, more mainstream consumers. This allows us to pinpoint trends that are important today, and that will likely peak in the next two years. Question 9. What are the most important trends that will impact my business in the next 5+ years? For those clients that have access to our Motivbase Signals technology, we can extend the scope of our analysis and increase both the data set we study and the contextual boundary of the culture universe that is important to our business. This allows us to go find trends that may be less dominant in the present, but that are exhibiting large amounts of growth that will shape our category in the long term. Question 10. Do my brand pillars align with the consumer’s expectations for my product or service? MotivBase doesn’t just provide insight at the beginning of the product development lifecycle. Many times, clients will come to us to get a consumer-led POV on what a brand pillar means to their lives. In these scenarios, the client has a hypothesis or a position statement for a product. Our job is to identify the culture that matches that position, explore and size the key elements and size it’s potential to take a great idea and make it even better. Question 11.
Is a news story actually relevant to my business or is the media creating hype that consumers don’t actually care about? Just because a lot of people are talking about something, doesn’t mean that consumers a) understand it, or, b) care about it. Many times, a client will ask us to take a news topic, and provide a consumer-led POV on the issue, to gauge how drastically it needs to be considered and addressed. Question 12. Does Senior Leadership’s Strategy align with consumer expectations for my product or service? Senior Leaders often have directions they want to take the organization. This can lead to corporate strategy or new areas of focus for innovation initiatives. When these directions are based on the Senior Leadership’s industry experience, it can be very helpful and beneficial to get a consumer-led gut check. Our research is often used to validate these decisions, or to challenge some preconceived hypotheses and assure that the consumer’s true needs are being met. Question 13. Does my product have the right to play in a culture or with a certain type of consumer? Will a change to my product be well received? You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. Yet, many times an industry lens can push us in a direction that doesn’t align with the emotional needs and motivations of the consumer. If there is any doubt, Motivbase can assess how open or accepting key consumers will be to an idea. But we can also help if you are making changes to a product, by helping you anticipate how consumers may react. Question14. What trends should I prioritize in the short and long term? When we decode a culture, we can plot trends based on the size of population that a trend is relevant to, and identify how much it is growing in culture. This allows our clients to not only better understand what is happening in a culture that is important to their business, but it also helps them pick areas to focus on in the present, and plan for the future. Question 15. What is the single most important thing to the consumer when it comes to my category? Communication briefs are best when they have a clear, and unique “Single Most Important Thing.” Because our platform can pinpoint the motivations, attitudes, values and fears that shape the emotional needs of a consumer in the context of culture, our reports can feed into and improve creative briefs, to better guide communication efforts. Question 16. Why do consumers have an irrational need for something from my product or service? Sometimes consumer behavior can be counterintuitive. Despite rational or logical reasons for why they should act one way, they follow their emotions and act another. Because we can decode the associations consumers are naturally linking to a topic or trend, we can help teams understand why logic may not be enough to connect with the people that matter most to your project. Question 17. Are there emerging trends that will make my product or service relevant to a larger group of consumers? Because we can size how relevant a culture is to a population, we can compare different trends to identify if there are more “sticky” trends in culture that are going to resonate with a larger, more mainstream audience. This often helps clients find faster, and more efficient ways to position and promote new ideas in the marketplace. Question 18. Are there occasions where my product or service is a better fit for consumers? For those clients that have access to our MotivBase Jobs To Be Done capability, our team of PhD researchers can use our system to analyze millions of consumer product reviews. From this data, we can pinpoint both the underlying needs the consumer is trying to fulfil and also identify the key occasions where these solutions are more effective and most relevant. Question 19.
What are the unexpected consumer needs that are being ignored by our category? Even if you think you know everything about a category, many clients will task us with doing exploratory research to go searching for the things we simply don’t know and we use our Signals platform to achieve this (examine early signals of change). This can be some of our most awe inspiring research, because the value of finding an unexpected insight can be transformational for many clients. And being the first to discover it, can provide a client with a first move advantage. Question 20. What do I do to prepare my product/service for success in light of major world events? Sometimes the world throws us a curveball. We have done extensive research on the impact of COVID on multiple categories. We have looked at how the Social Justice Movement will reshape how we think about food. If you are concerned about how a major world event or major news story may impact your business, we can explore those cultures and tell you how consumers are linking these things together and changing how they think about your product or service. Conclusion: If you have a question we haven’t captured here, don’t hesitate to ask us if we can leverage the platform to answer it. Some of the questions above were posed by a client, and we simply did a feasibility to see if we could get the client the insight they so desperately needed. If you think you have a question, contact me at email@example.com and we can have our team of PhDs take the question, and do what we call a “Reality Check”. Think of it as a 24-hour feasibility, where we use our platform to see if there is something worth exploring. As they say, there are no bad questions. Only dangerous assumptions.
New features in 2022: Improvements to MotivBase Trends
I'm happy to announce a series of new developments coming to MotivBase Trends in January 2022. It's been a fantastic year for us, not just in terms of our growth and impact within organizations, but also in terms of major breakthroughs in deepening the application of anthropology to studying millions of consumer conversations in context. Specifically, 2021 has been a year where we've focused heavily on data, its breath and its depth in allowing us to report on more nuanced socio-demographics, as well as in improving our self-serve functionality aiding clients to easily identify microcultures of opportunity. Here are a list of improvements and new developments, available to all starting January 2022. Demographics: For US market analysis MotivBase Trends will now report on a broader set of demographics, adding 65-74 into its age breakdown. This will give our users and clients the ability to understand how culture is impacting the older populations in the US. Furthermore, in the US, we will now also report on mixed race consumers, having broadened our dataset and our understanding of the ethnic and racial breakdown of the country. These additions are only available in the US market at the moment. Other markets to follow. Self Serve Feature Improvement Our technology is built to function a bit like a telescope. You need to first point it towards a "system" of meaning - we can this a macroculture. Once you point it there, you are zooming in to explore various parts of that system to identify clusters of stars (basically clusters of meaning). We call these clusters microcultures. Identifying microcultures can be a fairly lengthy process mainly because it requires the user to explore 200 dominant topics most closely related to the macroculture, then cluster many of these topics to identify possible microcultures, and then 'double click' into those microcultures for a deeper examination. While this process results in incredible discoveries, we always receive feedback about the fact that it is a fairly lengthy or time consuming process. Time of course being something that our clients often lack as they run from one meeting to the next. So, we made it our priority over 2021 to explore this issue further, to try to find a way to get the machine to intervene after a user has homed in on a macroculture. The idea being, if the machine can crunch 200 topics down to 20 or 30 possible microcultures, then it becomes significantly easier for a user to pick 3 to 5 to 'double click' into. The net result of course being that the user can identify microcultures in a tenth of the time that it otherwise took to do so. This is why we're particularly excited about this development. When you run a search now, our AI Anthropologist will take a few extra seconds to crunch through the macroculture to identify 20 to 30 possible microcultures straight away. Gone is the need to wade through 200 topics and create clusters of your own. The machine already does the clustering and surfaces topics or most-likely candidates for microcultures. All you have to do then is pick 3 to 5 of these microcultures that look the most relevant to your business and click to apply them to the microculture tab for further analysis. And off you go on your journey to exploring each chosen microculture in all its glory. Here's a quick video walkthrough of exactly that process. Introduction of signals capability into Trends. We're also pumped to announce that those of you who have access to our signals technology will now also have it directly integrated into our Trends platform. Which means you can do direct comparisons of dominant meanings against emerging meanings in a matter of seconds! Reach out to your customer success lead for more information. Cheers. 🥂🍾👊🏾
The Fart of War
How emerging concerns around methane will impact dairy consumption Burps & farts. They are hilarious. But their impact on climate change is no laughing matter. Especially when it comes to the methane gas generated by livestock. As this article illustrates, belching bovines produce 26 percent of U.S. methane emissions related to human activities, second only to natural gas production (29 percent). And, since more and more consumers are educating themselves on how their consumption is impacting others, we at MotivBase wanted to better understand how expectations around methane gas and dairy were shifting. Namely: Who cares about this issue? What are the growing demands that consumers will increasingly place on brands and companies that require dairy production for their products? To uncover the answers to these questions, we leveraged our MotivBase Trends Platform to perform an anthropological analysis of the meanings consumers link to Methane Reduction, in the context of buying dairy products. Consumers want to advocate with their wallet When we explore this culture of methane reduction, our system can analyze the language used by consumers as they directly and indirectly engage around a topic. By applying structural anthropology to studying online data, we can not only identify new and emerging priorities for the consumer. But we can identify the unspoken motivations, attitudes, values and fears that are hidden in the language and word choice used by people as they discuss an issue. Consumers who care about methane reduction believe in relying on scientific data and logic to make decisions on what is or isn't good for them, their families, their communities, and the planet. Not only do they value eco-centricity, but they are fearful that major corporations have too much power over a relatively compliant population that's being kept in ignorance. As a result they are motivated by a deep desire to prove they are trying to make the world a better place. This group is driven to make a difference through their actions. In their minds, this is more powerful than just words and helps to make the world slightly better than how they found it. This movement is early on but growing. When we examine how mature this mindset is in the marketplace, we can see that it is relevant to 34.8 Million Americans, and that it is still an “idea” that sits in Early Consensus. From an anthropological perspective, a topic is mature when it is consistently understood to mean the same set of things in culture. And conversely, it is considered immature when the meanings that it stands for are constantly evolving or exhibit inconsistent patterns. The further down the right a topic sits on the maturity curve, the more consistently it is understood by consumers to mean something(s) to them in their lives. But while this movement is early on, our system predicts the population size will grow by +60% and the topic will reach mainstream acceptance in the next 12-24 months. What is driving growth? Within the Macroculture of Methane Reduction, our team of PhD Social Scientists was able to follow the breadcrumbs left by consumers to identify 4 key Microcultures that are driving increased awareness and concerns around this issue. Consumers are Realizing Grass-fed = More Gas Consumers are learning that dairy cows digest and absorb grains more easily than grass, producing less methane. This microculture is relevant to 36.3 million Americans and growing by 34%. These consumers appreciate the environmental benefits of a quick-digesting diet that delivers more nutrients to cows and reduces their methane output at the same time. But they share concerns that growing grain for cattle may use up too much land. Healthy Cows = Less Gas Consumers believe that methane emissions can be reduced if dairy cows' lifespan is maximized because so much methane is produced in the weaning and maturation years of replacement cows.
And they think that humane treatment of animals is the best way to achieve longevity. For example, they're reading that regular rest from milking reduces exhaustion and helps prevent painful inflammatory conditions (e.g. mastitis) that lead to premature slaughter. This microculture is relevant 28.1 million Americans and growing by +40%. Burp Bibs to the Rescue.
Consumers are increasingly looking to the dairy industry to use the latest biotech to improve cows' digestive chemistry and collect, convert, and recycle methane. This includes learning about solar-powered, wearable methane collectors that capture the methane that a cow exhales and turns it into CO2 and water. Or Burp Bibs that can be placed around a bovines face. Relevant to 24.1 million consumers, this desire for modernized solutions in agriculture is growing by +41%. Consumers are “over” over production:
Overproduction in the dairy industry means overproduction of methane emissions. This microculture is relevant to 19 million Americans but is growing by +33%. Consumer are increasingly getting frustrated by the food spoilage that comes from unsold dairy, and they think farms should scale back production to match consumer demand to eliminate food waste and reduce methane emissions. Conclusion: While the culture of reduced methane in dairy is still relatively small, we are seeing more and more consumers question the choices dairy producers make. As more and more people grow increasingly aware of how their choices impact the environment, the more they will start to consider how their personal dairy consumption impacts the world around them. Will consumers start to demonize grass-fed dairy, as they increasingly link this to promoting methane production? Will consumers be willing to spend more for products where they feel confident the animals were treating humanely, not just for the good of the animal, but for the good of the planet? Our findings would indicate the answer is yes. But the rate of this change will depend on which companies embrace this consumer-led demand and make them more accessible to a larger, more mainstream group of consumers.
Understanding the Boob Window
How consumer expectations for female superheroes are changing. For decades, the superhero universe has been dominated by men. Male characters have been thrust in the limelight, while female characters have been leveraged as supporting roles, or mere victims for our caped crusaders to save time and time again. Recently a shift in culture has led to more gender representation amongst superheroes, specifically in film. Captain Marvel and Black Widow have had their own blockbusters produced in the Marvel universe. Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn have become lead characters in multiple DC movies. While the media has largely focused on troll culture (especially during the casting of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel and that film’s subsequent launch), we here at MotivBase were curious if this type of thinking was as dominant as social media and the news would have us believe. Or was there something deeper and more meaningful hiding behind all the chatter? As we well see, there is a culture shift underway challenging the toxic masculinity that has been associated with hero culture in the past. To explore this area, we used our MotivBase Trends Platform to explore the culture of female superheroes. Naturally the tension of female heroes being compared to their male counterparts. But as we can see in the screenshot from our platform posted above, there is also a direct association with the culture of female superheroes and the desire for strong female characters. Consumers are linking this culture with how comics treat women, how movies approach building a female cast and how females are not just underrepresented as heroes, but also as villains in film. But perhaps most interesting is the association consumers are making to the role of how female superheroes are physically portrayed and how their costumes often hypersexualize the character. This is captured in the topic “Boob Window”. A Boob Window is a hole in clothing or a female superhero’s costume that shows a woman's cleavage. It can appear on the front of the chest or on the side, but the intent is to make the costume more revealing. In order to better understand why the topic or meaning behind the boob window is so dominant, we double-clicked into this culture. As we can see in the topic universe, this is not a “troll” championing the sexualization of female super characters. In fact, it is the opposite. The Boob Window is a cultural artifact being used by consumers to say that the superhero genre needs to be more respectful of its depictions of women. Consumers are increasingly contemplating the unrealistic body images that can be found in superhero universes. The purpose behind why a costume is designed a certain way is being discussed. And consumers are more readily comparing the way we treat female heroes to how we treat their male counterparts. Perhaps, most interestingly, true comic aficionados are rejecting when a film adaptation sexualizes a female character's outfit, and deviates from an original comic design that didn’t showcase that character’s breasts. One example of this is the choices made during the movie X-Men Apocalypse when Olivia Munn’s costume for her character Psylocke added a Boob Window to the already revealing original design. When we turn to what is motivating this shift in culture, we can see that consumers want to be seen as someone who has the desire and ability to succeed in life. And they are not afraid to work hard, as they believe that this effort will be rewarded with positive outcomes. But we can also see that this desire for a more balanced approach to how female superheroes are portrayed is intrinsically linked to how women are portrayed in the beauty industry and by a growing awareness in how a patriarchy has driven unhealthy and unrealistic expectations for women. What does this tell us about the future? First, it points to a push towards more equality in the universes of superheroes. Old tropes are being challenged, and expectations are being reset. Secondly, this push towards a more body positive approach to the female form and femininity is not just taking place as consumers consider the female superhero. This trend is emerging in the retail landscape, the fashion industry, and (as we mentioned) in beauty. Cultures are not isolated and distinct. They intersect and impact each other. We anticipate this trend will only grow with time. As we can see in the chart above, the culture is currently relevant to 35.7 million people, but is predicted to grow by more than 14% in the next 12-24 months. Conclusion: While we often are distracted by the loudest voices on social media or the latest topic to trend on Twitter, we have to remind ourselves that a lot of chatter does not, a trend make. In order to understand if something is consistently growing in importance in culture, and is likely to have a long term impact on how we think, we need to go beyond what is being said to explore why things are being expressed. As we can see with something as specific as the boob window, there is something deeper transpiring than the mere talk of cleavage. It is a shifting expectation that women deserve more respect. As parents introduce superheroes to their children, they are more aware of how this sexualization has a negative impact on self esteem. As more women become fanatics of the Marvel and DC universe, they start to expect their heroes to be treated with equal respect to how male heroes would be treated. Because that is a fantasy, they want to also see transpire more in the real world.
Are plant proteins really the way of the future?
What market data and projections will not tell you. According to NielsenIQ, the Fresh Meat Alternative category has grown by over 25% this year (last 52 weeks) compared to the period before. But so has Traditional Fresh Meat, although only at 4.2%. I was recently in a meeting where an executive used these data points to tell her team that they needed to accelerate their plant protein innovations because they were missing out on important growth opportunities. At first glance, one might be tempted to conclude that plant proteins are the way of the future. But a quick look at the comparative size of the alternative meat category gives us much needed perspective. The fresh meat category is twenty-four times the size of its alternative counterpart, making what previously looked like a rather nominal 4.2% growth rate appear a lot more significant. While this type of market analysis is necessary and can provide a good understanding of what might be going on, it does not help us understand why. Queue in the music...here comes the Cultural Anthropologist. Understanding why the marketplace might be exhibiting two seemingly contradictory behaviors is exactly the type of question for which you need to keep the anthropologists around. Because their job is to study and decode meaning. By asking not what people are saying or doing but rather what they mean or imply by their actions, anthropologists can decode ‘the why’ behind shifts in culture and help us avoid the tunnel vision that market data often creates. To do this in the context of plant proteins, an anthropologist must study the natural language and specifically, the words that are used by consumers when they are engaging in conversations in the broader context of plant proteins. This is fundamentally what the field of structural anthropology is all about. It tells us that the structure of language in any context is representative of the structure of the human mind. Which means, studying the language used in and around plant proteins allows an anthropologist to understand and pinpoint the most dominant interpretations of plant proteins in people's minds. For example, if a lot of the words used in this context are about nutrition, then an anthropologist asks why there is so much discourse around it only to discover that it is because people are concerned about whether alternative meats will lack the nutritional density of their traditional counterparts. In fact, in a recent study that my team of anthropologists conducted using MotivBase Trends, examining discourse among more than four hundred thousand unique Americans around alternative meats and plant proteins, we discovered that the meanings around “plant proteins” were quite different from the meanings around “alternative meats” or even “faux-meat burgers”. When people talk in the context of “plant protein”, they are referencing a new way of eating and living. The requirements are significantly more stringent for consumers in this context because they are thinking about it as a lifestyle change to adopt more plant proteins in their day-to-day diet. On the other hand, when people talk in the context of “alternative meats”, they are referencing a single moment in time when they feel the need to replace a traditional solution with an alternative one. Perhaps it is to accommodate a vegetarian guest in the house, or to simply reduce one's meat consumption from time to time, but the mindset is one that is short-lived. Which also means that the requirements that go along with it are less stringent. For example, in the context of “alternative meats”, consumers expect less in terms of matching the nutritional qualities and density of traditional proteins. They are also less concerned about how these alternative products are made or how much sugar they contain and tend to focus their time and energy on the issue of taste and experience rather than nutritional density and value. All this of course changes when we enter the culture of “plant protein” where the conversation is significantly more nuanced around the specific micro- and macro-nutrients that traditional and alternative meats need to deliver to ensure a balanced and healthy diet and lifestyle. So if you looked at the growth numbers around the industry-defined category of Fresh Alternative Meats and thought you needed to expand or accelerate your plant protein strategy, I'd urge you to think again. Take a step back and ask if you are making any blatant assumptions about what these category names really mean to the consumer. Ask whether the way the industry defines alternative meats is the same as the way people define it. Because when you do, you'll discover that you need to be very specific in how you interpret market performance data. Growth in substitutes represents a different culture and a different opportunity than plant protein does. Industry measurements may not make this distinction, but you have to...because your consumers do. Unfortunately, these types of assumptions of meaning are commonplace in corporative innovation and marketing and it results in the launch of products and brands that end up hurting an entire category or culture. In fact, Mintel has just released a study claiming that the food industry's obsession with plant-protein claims is actually making the category lose its credibility in the eyes of the consumer. It only takes a few minutes for us to ask such questions through an anthropological lens. For example, we can see that "plant protein" as a culture is stagnating and volatile, while "alternative meat" as a culture is growing...and now we know why that might be the case. This is why you need to keep the anthropologists around. They will help you ask not what people are saying and doing but rather what they mean. Meaning invariably opens up doors we didn't even know existed, and perhaps most importantly, gets us out of an industry-led mindset to begin to speak the consumer's language.
Why are performance nutrition bar sales dropping?
How studying meaning can reveal the “why” behind market shifts and protect you from making hasty decisions. As many CPG teams will tell you, COVID-19 caused sales slumps for a number of food categories. And one of the biggest drops was performance nutrition bars.
Why? Articles like this suggest that the dip in sales was linked to consumers not needing a “grab-and-go” solution during a stay-at-home period. The article goes on to say that, according to Nielsen statistics, sales of performance nutrition bars were down 17% in the first seven months of lockdowns. But, is the drop in sales simply due to a short-term change in behavior? Or is there a deeper, more meaningful cultural shift transforming consumer expectations? After all, while restrictions have started to lift and consumers are starting to head back out into the world, personal nutrition bar sales have continued to dip, dropping another 19% in the last 28 weeks. To better understand the “why” behind this shift in the market, we turned to our MotivBase Trends platform to study the changing meanings that are shaping the culture of performance nutrition bars.
The difference two years can make. We began by looking back at the culture of performance and nutrition bars from two years ago (or pre-pandemic). Immediately, we can see that the culture was relatively nascent, but growing. Nutrition bars in the context of performance were relevant to the 24.2 million Americans, but the role nutrition bars could play in helping one maintain energy levels and prevent loss of muscle mass was pushing this culture closer to the mainstream. Also, nutrition bars were linked to topics like gym performance, heavy workouts, and achieving what the consumer calls “an airbrushed look”. In essence, nutrition bars were associated most dominantly with improving both physical fitness, and attractiveness. When we leveraged our AI Anthropology engine to analyze the long form text used by consumers as they engaged with topics linked to performance and nutrition bars, the dominant motivation was the desire to “Unlock the full potential of the body” and the most dominant attitude was to prove “My health is completely in my control”. In essence, performance Nutrition Bars were benefiting from an association with being attractive. They also served as a reward or treat after you sacrificed in the gym or during your workout. But then, the pandemic hit. Fast Forward to 2020 When we examine the exact same culture one year later, we can see a pretty drastic change. First, the culture grew, and was relevant to a larger portion of the population (61.4 Million Consumers). But the culture became volatile. As a reminder, 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. To better understand why the culture became volatile, we can look to see if any new motivations have emerged. Immediately, we can see that the role of social connection has infiltrated the culture. Given the threat of Covid-19, people became less concerned about physical prowess and performance, and more concerned with the feeling like they were nurturing human relationships. We can also see this in the topics consumers associated with the culture. The linkage to gyms was replaced with more individualistic types of exercise. But, perhaps more importantly, consumers more readily linked nutrition bars to indulgent, hedonistic food options. Nutrition bars were no longer a “treat” after a workout. They were competing with other, more indulgent snacks because the role of exercise was disrupted. Performance Nutrition Bars in the Present When we examine this culture in the present, we can see that the topics consumers are associating with performance nutrition are still volatile, and the size of the culture has decreased compared to a year ago. By examining the topic universe, we can see a return to concerns around the body and the role of exercise. But there is one key difference that surfaces. Consumers are more educated on the “problems of sugar”. This association with sugar was not dominant in 2019 or in 2020. Yet in 2021, the problem of sugar surfaces as one of the key associations being made by consumers as they engage in the culture of performance and nutrition bars. And this association is impacting the motivations and attitudes that dominate the culture. If we look at the two most dominant motivations, we can see that it is being led by consumers that are dedicated to gathering evidence to validate their decisions when it comes to food. They are also looking to advocate on behalf of what they believe to improve the world around them. But they are also suspicious of big food companies for promoting products that actually contain unhealthy ingredients like sugar. In layman’s terms, it seems like while the pandemic made more people ask if nutrition bars were right for them, it also led to more people educating themselves on whether a nutrition bar was truly nutritious, or full of sugars that were negating the so-called benefit of the bar. What does this mean for the future? With this understanding of the changes in meaning that have reshaped Performance Nutrition Bars, we can now leverage the Motivbase & Nielsen IQ Combined Service, to better understand where the market is headed. Essentially, any culture that is identified can then be matched to the NielsenIQ sales data, to identify categories and product groups that are most relevant to consumers. This can tell us if there are solutions that are currently winning in a culture (sales are increasing) or if there is a decrease in sales, this indicates a potential gap in the market. As you will see, the category of performance nutrition bars is decreasing (as was called out in the article above. But interestingly enough there is a group of healthy nutrition bars that are bucking the overall category trend. While there is still a decrease in overall sales, the Top Gainers are growing by 33%. An examination of the “Top Gainers” reveals brands that are positioned to use natural sugars or limited amounts of sugar. Simple Mills, Boobie Bars and Fit Crunch all look to reinforce the limited amount of sugar in their bars, and Love Good Fats is positioned as Diabetes Friendly. This similar trend can be seen in the New Coming products, like Alani Fit Snacks and Hungry Buddha bars. Conclusion: Covid-19 didn’t just hurt Performance Nutrition Bars by impacting grab-and-go occasions. Covid-19 made consumers: Re-evaluate the importance of perfecting their physical appearance Reprioritize how they treat themselves Reconsider how healthy a performance nutrition bar really is (especially in the context of healthy amounts of sugar). Focusing entirely on sales data fails to reveal the bigger picture of what is happening in consumer culture. As we’ve seen in previous articles, 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. This is why adding an anthropological lens to your business is so important.
Looking Back on the Business of the Super League Through an Anthro-Lens
Could thinking about meaning have kept England's most-moneyed football clubs from going offside? When 12 of Europe’s top football (or soccer!) teams banded together and announced on April 18th that they would form a breakaway Super League to loosen UEFA’s death grip on top tier inter-league competitions, they didn’t expect the reaction: the 130 million soccer fans in Europe’s big five markets (Spain, England, France, Italy, Germany) unanimously decried it as the death of football. In England, where the so-called “Big Six”– that is, the wealthiest clubs in England’s top league: Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Tottenham – signed on, the response was most febrile. Outside of Elland Road (Leeds Utd), Stamford Bridge, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and Emirates Stadium fans protested. At Old Trafford, they even managed to breach the stadium and force a postponement of a match. Owners were bewildered by the strong and at times violent response of their fans. The question then becomes, if the top brass at England ’s most-moneyed clubs had considered what their fans were saying, had understood the context, and had cared to consider meaning in football’s cultural environment, could they have been better prepared for this reaction? A look at MotivBase’s system says yes. Our engine gathered and examined over a million structural connections from the language of fans prior to the announcement of the Super League. The results are not that surprising: fans outright discussed how a super league would ruin football, contravening the spirit of the sport and putting profits over the beauty of the game. These weren’t just words, but together represent a universe of language that can reveal the meaning behind the fans’ reactions – you know, the people who pay the gate fees, buy merchandise, and generally drive profit for clubs by increasing their marketability. By studying the structure of their language, we see that it was not a rejection of England’s richest clubs making more money that rankled fans, but that a super league would not be a proper competition. In other words, winning not buying success is what should give teams the opportunity to make their mark in Europe. This seems like a subtle difference and daresay even an obvious one, but the owners and their brain trusts missed it. Had they not, maybe they could have built an alternative to UEFA’s Champions League more palatable to fans, one that wouldn’t have collapsed only 48 hours after being announced. European Football Competitions at a Glance The landscape of European football can be confusing. Almost every country has their top-tier domestic league and below that extends a football pyramid, from which teams can be promoted or worse, demoted. Each country has their own football association that governs the sport and the leagues domestically. Now, there are also intercontinental competitions between teams from Europe’s various domestic leagues, and these are overseen by UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations. Every year, teams from all of Europe’s top domestic leagues can win the right to play in one of UEFA’s competitions, the most prestigious being the Champions League. They do so by finishing at the top or near the top of their domestic tables, depending on the league. While sporting glory is up for grabs, so too is a lot of money: in the 2019/2020 Champions League, for example, all teams were set to get a piece of about 2.5 Billion USD, which came from broadcasting rights, commercial rights, and gate sales. For many fans, the beauty of this structure is that to secure their piece of the pie, domestic clubs can never take a night off, each match is of importance. In leagues where there is increasing parity on the pitch, like England’s Premier League, a team near the bottom can beat one of the league’s top clubs on any given night (for example, Aston Villa crushing the defending league champions Liverpool 7-2). This is exciting stuff for fans, but not for the top clubs, where revenue is king. Enter the Super League. The brainchild of Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez, it offered the biggest clubs and brands easy money: nearly 500 million US dollars per year for each team with no qualification necessary. This was a closed shop, and for England’s Big Six, who have an eye-watering combined value of over 20 Billon USD, it was just too tempting to pass up. But this league, where the rich would get richer, provoked the ire of England’s football fans. Rather than just chalking this up to jealousy over the financial might of the few, we asked why; the answer: proper competition The Meaning of Proper Competition Long before the announcement to form the Super League, leading voices in the UK were worried about the state of football there; they witnessed the financial disparities affecting the game, which favor the big clubs, and called for regulations. For the fans, the sentiment was the same: the financial gap between the Big Six, their big-money owners - especially the American contingent of the Glazers, Fenway Sports Group, and Stan Kroenke -, and the rest was problematic. Of the 20 teams that form England’s top flight competition, these clubs consumed nearly 60% of the revenue, and their financial muscle has translated on the pitch. No club outside of these six, except Leicester in 2016, has finished in the top 4 spots (qualifying for UEFA’s Champions League) in the last decade. Nevertheless, the Premier League still offered tough competition. Take the most recent season, finished after the Super League debacle: Arsenal failed to qualify for a European competition for the first time in 25 years. Instead, West Ham United grabbed a coveted spot in UEFA’s second tier competition (the Europa League) in only its second time finishing in the top 6 spots in those same 25 years! It was this possibility, a team like West Ham ousting Arsenal from a top spot, that got fans’ blood pumping. For them, it was what the Premier League was all about. So when the Super League was only still a whisper, fans were already asking: what was it going to do to the quality of the game? To them, it would turn meaningful games into drab affairs where the results didn’t matter and the big clubs might rest their best players, saving them for the games that tied to the largest financial returns. The idea of a league that offered the Big Six automatic qualification which didn’t rely on sporting merit, well this was anathema. To keep the integrity of the game, these fans talked about the need for a proper competition, not one that would squeeze out smaller clubs, lining the pockets of the richest clubs even when they didn’t win a thing. After applying an anthro-lens to evaluate the meanings associated with the culture of fairness among the UK’s football fans, an obvious fact emerged: even before April 18th fans strongly believed that a super league not grounded on the principles of fair competition would destroy their game. By mapping and quantifying these meanings, we could even make a few predictions: we saw that this belief was relevant to 25.2M consumers in the UK and growing. More than this, there was established consensus among fans that a super league was about buying success and would undermine any notion of fair competition. And while meaning in a culture can change and be re-shaped, once those meanings become established there is little to be done outside of ensuring compliance with consumer needs. Organizations need to build solutions that respond to and address the cultural requirements laid out by the consumer. So, joining a super league when your fans are vehemently opposed? Well, that’s just bad business. Had the top brass of England’s biggest clubs considered taking an anthropological approach to studying their fan base, they would’ve potentially saved themselves from a PR embarrassment and certainly from losing millions of pounds.
Mood Management & Snacking
Uncovering Innovation Opportunities using the MotivBase & NielsenIQ Combined Service Tired of trend tools that give you a top 10 list but no consumer context around what you really need to do? The MotivBase & NielsenIQ Combined Service doesn’t just tell you IF something is trending. It decodes WHY something is trending, delivers a more accurate prediction of its growth and validates the market potential of a trend by matching consumer insights with NielsenIQ sales data. To showcase this, let’s look at the culture of mood management, but point our attention to the role snacks are playing in the mind of the consumer. Why Meaning Matters: At its core, MotivBase is an AI Anthropologist that can decode the implicit meanings behind the topics, trends, ideas, and categories that matter to your business. In layman’s terms, when you run a search on our platform, you are asking us to help you understand the meanings that are associated with it by consumers. Your search is asking MotivBase to create a MACROCULTURE that you wish to explore. By analyzing millions of people, tens of millions of conversations, and billions of connections, our AI examines the broader context of discussions around your search. Take a look at this MACROCULTURE focused on mood management and snacks. As we can see, the most dominant meanings associated with this MACROCULTURE are things like meal planning, eating smaller meals and increasing snack consumption, and finding habits, foods and routines that help you control your cravings or deal with urges in a healthy and productive way. These are MICROCULTURES that are shaping the overall MACROCULTURE of Mood Management and Snacks. In addition to identifying the dominant associations consumers are making, we can also leverage the platform to look at the past 4 years of engagement to identify if these MACROCULTURES and MICROCULTURES are growing (or increasing in relevance in the mind of consumers) to prioritize innovation opportunities. For example if we look at the MACROCULTURE itself, we can see that it is currently relevant to 76.8M people and is expected to grow by 13.2% in 12-24 months. This MACROCULTURE also is just about to mature and land in what we call the Zone of Innovation. This tells us that the AI is seeing increased amounts of agreement and consensus on what mood management means and the role snacking plays in it. This suggests that it is the perfect time to innovate and serve up new solutions. But we can also size MICROCULTURES. Let’s examine the MICROCULTURE of Planning Meals This culture is currently relevant to 70.2M people and is expected to grow by 12.9% in 12-24 months. And once again, we are seeing it mature and enter into the ZONE OF INNOVATION. Now compare that to the culture of Controlling or Curbing Craving. Not only does it sit in early consensus, where consumers are still figuring out how this relates to mood management and snacking, it is only predicted to grow by 7%, and that is estimated to take upwards of 5 years. So.... If you want to make inroads with consumers when it comes to mood management, your snacking solutions need to complement or work in conjunction with meal planning. By studying the associations and meanings consumers are revealing for us, we can see they desire snacks that help them portion control and allow them to be more mindful of their consumption. They may talk about cravings. But the true goal is to snack smart, nourish themselves to avoid mood swings and make it to the planned meals that they have strategized to feed themselves. It is a subtle difference, but you are not crushing the craving. You're providing the perfect solution to fit into the consumers routine and food strategy, that keeps them on target and adhering to their food plan. Are there a lot of mentions about craving control? Yes. Does controlling cravings get mentioned more than meal planning? Yes. Which is precisely why we focus on meanings rather than mentions. When we ask what these mentions mean, we discover that the connection between meal planning and mood management is significantly stronger and more mature than the connection between mood management and curbing cravings. Which basically means that snacks that are proactively planned versus reactively consumed will be more relevant to people that are looking to better control their mood, but controlling their food consumption. Now, what products are currently solving this problem? CULTURAL DATA MEETS SALES DATA: By adding NielsenIQ data to our MotivBase Platform we are now able to match what trends really mean to existing products and their marketplace performance. In the past, our clients would have to manually find products that they think fit into the culture of mood management. Now, they can rely on our Anthropology Engine to do so for them. When we run a search for a topic in MotivBase Trends, our AI Anthropologist analyzes the meanings most associated with Mood Management, and then surfaces products that most match those meanings. In essence, the machine is identifying products that fit a macroculture because of the way they are marketed, categorized, make certain claims, or hold certain characteristics. Here are some immediate observations we can make by examining the data from NielsenIQ. Overall, even the top selling products in this macroculture are all losing sales YOY. This is contrary to the macroculture itself, which is growing in the next 24 months. Apparently, the existing solutions in the market are not sufficiently solving the problem that is most relevant to consumers in the context of Mood Management. We’ve identified a gap in the marketplace. So, what is primed to fill this gap? Well, there are only three categories growing - dessert bars, baking cups and brownies. But, in each of these categories, the focus was on claims and characteristics that focused on naturally and lightly sweetened products with real, healthful ingredients. This tells us that consumers are focused on desserts and sweets that can satisfy them through the day or after a meal. They consider such solutions to be uplifting, but want to ensure these products do not contain any ingredients that can have a negative impact on their mood. Furthermore, because the focus is more so on meal planning than on curbing craving, it teaches us that these categories are of interest to consumers as long as they can fit into their planning routine. This isn’t about impulse buying or eating but rather about planning sweets that can uplift the mood and still feel good because it’s made with better-for-me ingredients. MotivBase = Cultural Trend NielsenIQ = Sales Data With a MotivBase license, you get the world’s only AI Anthropology engine capable of decoding and quantifying the meanings behind emerging cultural trends. And with the NielsenIQ integration, you get an easy and efficient way to match what a trend really means to existing products and their marketplace performance. It’s everything an insight or innovation team needs to build robust business cases for your organization.