McDonald's AmEx

Technology has greatly improved loyalty programs over the years, making it easier for brands to issue rewards points and for consumers to manage and use them. The next step is to truly turn loyalty into currency by making it just as easy to pay with points. For instance, when booking online, members of Virgin America’s Elevate frequent flyer program can click to see the cost of flights in dollars or Elevate points. And starting this week in New York and Chicago, American Express cardholders will be able to pay with points at McDonald’s restaurants. The process is simple and fast, forgoing codes or prior registration: The payment screen displays the option for diners who use an AmEx card, along with number of points required, and the cardholder presses a “yes” button to proceed. The program will roll out across the U.S. in the next few months.

Going forward, digital wallets will let brands easily integrate points with payments, allowing consumers to carry loyalty points and spend them as desired. AmEx is experimenting here too by integrating with Uber: Those who register an AmEx card can pay with points when using the app to order a cab. In the “fast-emerging future,” theorize professors Edward Castronova and Joshua A.T. Fairfield in a New York Times column, “virtual assets of all sorts—traditional currencies, but also bitcoin, airline miles, cellphone minutes—are interchangeable.” As they explain, “It’s all bits anyway.” In tandem with the emergence of multiple new ways to pay, the concept of what a currency can be is rapidly evolving.

Image credit: McDonald’s

Data point_10.13.14

Shopping is increasingly an omnichannel experience, with online and offline as complementary and connected components. Amazon’s announcement of plans for a physical store, in Manhattan, taps into a trend we outlined last year, the Living, Breathing Website, in which e-commerce brands expand into physical spaces, offering huge (online) inventories via relatively small stores. That’s because while e-commerce sales will reach $1.5 trillion globally this year, according to eMarketer, physical stores will remain key to the shopper journey.

A recent 12-country study from WPP shopper-marketing agency Geometry Global finds that two-thirds of Internet users visit brick-and-mortar stores to inform their purchases. As this chart shows, of those who do so, the most common reason is simply to see the product in real life; a minority of shoppers mention in-store assistance and customer service. Meanwhile, Geometry found that six out of 10 use mobile devices in store for research (comparing prices, looking for product information) or to photograph a product. This behavior is most common in fast-growing emerging markets, with China (94 percent) and India (87 percent) topping the list, and least common in the U.S. (35 percent) and U.K. (31 percent).

“The path to purchase is complex, as people gather information and opinions repeatedly and fluidly in both digital and physical retail spaces,” Geometry notes. Clearly, an omnichannel strategy is no longer optional as consumers across markets demand speed, convenience, consistency and transparency.

Read our roundups in magazine form on Flipboard, via the iOS and Android app or online; click here to find our magazine collection.

-Adweek sifts through recent studies to outline ways that brands can “get Millennials to like you.”

-In Interbrand’s latest Best Global Brands list, tech companies dominate the field, via The New York Times.

-A new Pew study compares optimism and pessimism across economically advanced, emerging and developing nations, along with other differences and similarities.

-McKinsey outlines key trends shaping China’s economy and offers a guide for doing business there.

-The New York Times reports that average American families make less than they did 15 years ago, dubbing the trend “the great wage slowdown of the 21st century.”

-New York takes a broad look at drones, detailing projects and experiments, and considering the pros and cons of a drone-filled future.

-Pew canvassed experts to explore how super-fast gigabit connections will influence Internet activities and applications in the future.

-Adweek asks digital executives to predict 2015 mobile trends.

-Digital marketers are data-mining consumers’ social media photos on behalf of big brands, reports The Wall Street Journal.

-Semiautonomous vehicles will radically reshape the nature of driving, proclaims The New York Times.

-The Los Angeles Times takes a look at the rise of food delivery startups catering to time-pressed consumers.

Continue reading “Weekly Roundup: The ‘gay divide,’ Best Global Brands and the future of food” »

StitchSilicon Valley’s laser focus on ideas geared to young consumers has been a hot topic since a New Yorker essay last year (“the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand”) and a New York Times Magazine piece (“Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem”) last March. But as VentureBeat points out in reporting on an “Uber for the elderly,” many Millennial-oriented ideas can easily be tailored to older demographics. And considering how rapidly the globe is aging, startups and established businesses alike would do well to focus on Boomers and well beyond.

Lift Hero, the ridesharing service for elderly passengers, requires drivers to be certified as emergency medical technicians and has them escort customers from door to door. Customers can book over the phone as well as via an app. Meanwhile, Stitch is a service that tailors a very youth-oriented idea to an older audience—it’s been termed a “not quite Tinder for senior citizens.” The app helps “mature adults” find companionship, from dates to activity partners. Lift Hero participated in 2-year-old incubator program Aging 2.0, which is part of Generator Ventures, a new seed-stage firm focused on tech that serves the needs of the elderly. Watch for more innovative ideas that extend hot startup concepts to the needs of elderly populations.

Image credit: Stitch

Stephanie CoontzStephanie Coontz, a professor at The Evergreen State College in Washington state and director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families, has written widely on marriage and family life. A recent New York Times column, for instance, explored “the new instability” in family life due to rising socioeconomic inequality coupled with greater gender equality. In researching our recent report Meet the New Family, we talked to Coontz about some of the ways families around the globe are changing and what’s driving these shifts. 

As more people forego marriage and long-term partnerships in some cases, do you see a rise in finding familial fulfillment through friends?

One of the things I think is important to understand about that is a lot of people are not eschewing romantic relationships, but people move in and out of romantic partners. You have a significant uptake in “living apart together.” A lot of the increase in solo living is because of the delay in the age of marriage and then later, divorce. But most people transition through several of these family archetypes. They’re not just set in stone.

What do you mean by “living apart together”?

About 7 percent of California couples are in this. It’s frequent enough in the Nordic countries that they have this phrase for it. It means that these people are in a committed relationship but do not live in the same house. They may take turns staying at each other’s house, but it’s different than just dating. It’s a very committed relationship, but they don’t feel like living together.

Because you’ve had the breakdown of this lockstep idea that people have to transition into marriage by a certain age, people have become much more free to follow their individual idiosyncrasies. And there are people, especially ones with a certain amount of capital or economic affluence, who can afford to live in separate houses and prefer to have their separate space and yet consider themselves committed couples. I don’t think this is going to become a majority trend, but it’s an interesting little niche that has developed and probably will continue to develop at a modest pace.

How do Millennials feel about pursuing different family models?

Along with this increased freedom to follow your own path is the increasing socioeconomic inequality that is occurring, not just in the United States but across many countries in the developed world. The decline of marriage among educated individuals is actually much less extreme than among low-income individuals and much more connected to choice and idiosyncrasies.

It is the culmination of women’s increased options, the increased tolerance for non-family relationships,—but also men’s declining ability to actually offer themselves as a stable partner who can contribute, who will hold down a job and will have rising real wages like they did in the ’50s and ’60s. The culmination is not purely choice. There’s a big element of necessity in the decline of marriage among less educated and low-income people.

Continue reading “Q&A with Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies, The Evergreen State College” »

Data point_10.06.14

The global snack business reached some $374 billion globally in March 2014, according to research by Nielsen, with sales growing more than two times faster in developing regions than in developed markets. Consumer preferences naturally vary by region, as shown in the chart. North America is predominantly a savory-snack market, while Europe, Latin America and the Middle East/Africa are largely sweet. Asia Pacific consumers tend to buy mostly refrigerated snacks and are least prone to pick salty snacks.

When consumers were asked to choose a specific snack above all others from 47 options, fresh fruit came in first with 18 percent, followed by chocolate at 15 percent—though as Nielsen notes, consumers often say and do different things. Nielsen also reports that in its 60-country survey, 45 percent of respondents rated “all natural” as a very important quality in snacks, while 31 percent cited protein content.

“How we snack as a society is changing,” Nielsen’s James Russo told USA Today. “Snacks are increasingly meal replacements.” Among other things, this shift has given rise to popular snack subscription services like the European hit Graze and natural-snacks company NatureBox in the U.S. “If I’m a big food company,” noted Russo, “I have to think about how to make, market or repurpose products to a consumer who wants to eat on the go, and is using snacks as meals.”

Read our roundups in magazine form on Flipboard, via the iOS and Android app or online; click here to find our magazine collection.

-Based on Advertising Week discussions, Mashable outlines five big trends in advertising right now.

-Adweek’s mobile-focused series, aligned with Advertising Week, includes a look whether mobile can rule the ad world.

-An Economist special report on the effects of the digital revolution (“the third great wave”) includes a look at the “sweeping change” felt in labor markets around the globe and the idea that “development through industrialization is on its way out.”

-The New York Times predicts “a new era at the cash register” with Apple Pay set to launch soon and eBay spinning off PayPal to better compete.

-CNBC outlines how media and entertainment is becoming more “immersive, interactive and customized.”

-As more people use their phones to record seemingly everything, a countertrend—determination to better live in the moment—is building, observes The New York Times.

-More people are turning to social clubs to find the face-to-face interaction that social media is lacking, writes The New York Times.

-McKinsey examines why more than 60 percent of the world’s population remains offline and how to address this imbalance.

-The Atlantic argues that our relationship to ownership will undergo a “wild transformation” with the Internet of Things.

-Fast Company‘s Co.Create takes a look at how a future of virtual assistants—in the guise of wearables—will disrupt marketing.

Continue reading “Weekly Roundup: Digital humans, social clubs and 3D food printing” »

Kit YarrowWhile researching our latest report, Meet the New Family, we asked consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow for her perspective on how changing family structures are affecting consumers, from today’s young parents to the growing population of solo dwellers. Yarrow, author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy, also discussed how people are finding and forming meaningful connections and some of the new rules in place for marketers.

How is family changing, and what does this mean for consumers’ psychology?

There are fewer societal expectations of what a family should be, and that has a positive implication in that people can select a structure that makes the most sense for them. This is where you see single parenting, same-sex parenting, more collective friends parenting, more involvement from grandparents and so forth.

There is a struggle people have with that shift as well. On the one hand it gives people a lot of freedom, but on the other hand, that freedom arouses a great deal of anxiety, and there’s more responsibility. When you are reinventing the book on parenting, the result is more psychological work, and there’s a lot more anxiety associated with it.

Could there be an area in your life more anxiety-provoking than whether or not you’re a good parent? Your responsibility to your kids is huge, and so when you are doing things differently, you’re constantly having to evaluate how it’s working, using other people’s feedback to test out how they’re doing it. Some of the ways I see parents dealing with that is through social comparison on social media. But when you have problems and real concerns, you know, social media is just not as helpful as real people to talk to. One of the ways this anxiety plays out in the marketplace is through more social research and a closer examination of the products they’ll choose to help them parent. Brand values are more important than ever.

We found that more people than ever are choosing to live solo. Why is this?

People marry later and live longer, so there is more kid-free time in life today. Once kids are out of the equation, people do connect in different ways. People look for a sense of belonging and family in their communities. A lot of that is happening in online communities or facilitated through online communities, but also through shared hobbies, pets and interests. And there are simply more and more ways for people to connect like that.

Continue reading “Q&A with Kit Yarrow, professor of psychology and marketing, Golden Gate University” »


We included Insects as Protein as a trend to watch in our 2012 food trends report, and today crickets and other bugs are starting to pop up on ingredient listings in the packaged food aisle. While it may seem unlikely that mainstream shoppers will be open to such snacks—at least in Western regions—these insects are packed with as much protein as soy, and consumers have been clamoring for protein (notes Food Business News, “Protein-rich foods have come to the center of product development, menu and merchandising discussions in the food industry”). Another selling point is the environmental benefit, since insects require far fewer natural resources to raise than livestock and poultry and produce little waste.

Several companies are making protein bars from cricket flour. Chapul bars, which come in three flavors, are available in 200 U.S. retail locations. Earlier this year the company was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank. Exo bars are produced by a Brooklyn-based startup that has raised $1.2 million in funding, and Bitty Foods uses cricket flour to make cookies. On a savory note, Six Foods is a startup producing Chirp Chips—tortilla chips made with cricket flour—that are due out later this year. BugMuscle plans to produce a protein powder for the weightlifting set. Finally, U.K.-based Grub simply sells freeze-dried crickets, grasshoppers and worms in their whole form.

While getting a critical mass of people to overcome the “ick” factor will be a challenge, the reasons to eat insects are compelling, as The Economist outlines in a recent video. With Millennials particularly adventurous when it comes to food and the protein trend still on the upswing, these products have a decent chance of gaining traction.

Image credit: Chapul

Data point_09.29.14

With close to a quarter of the world’s population forecast to be using smartphones this year, the mobile device is becoming a hub for an array of everyday activity, from shopping to video viewing to gaming. Mobile analytics company Flurry calls gaming “the lingua franca of mobile,” noting that mobile gaming has become a global pastime, with Android gamers engaging in the activity for an average of 37 minutes a day. (American gamers spend the most time—almost 52 minutes a day on average—followed by Germans and Russians.)

Flurry reports that arcade/action and casual games dominate, although regions differ in interesting ways. As this graphic shows, Germans and Italians stand out for their love of brain and puzzle games, with Flurry noting that word games are particularly popular in Italy. By contrast, around three-quarters of gaming sessions in South Korea involve arcade and action games, with most people playing within the Kakao messaging app. And Brazilians focus on fantasy football (aka soccer) games.

We’ll see more and more companies lean into the global mobile games market, which one study has estimated will double in size between 2013 and 2016, reaching almost $24 billion in another two years. Chinese Internet giant Tencent, for instance, is reportedly building its business on mobile gaming. As mobile consumers spend more time with games, brands will increasingly look to mobile games as the next advertising medium, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported.


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Things to Watch

  • Xiaomi zooms ahead
    October 30, 2014 | 4:44 pm

    Xiaomi, which we included on our 100 Things to Watch in 2014 list, is now the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, according to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. The young company has seen triple-digit year-over-year growth in smartphone shipments, per IDC, surging ahead of both LG and Lenovo. Often described as the “Apple of China,” Xiaomi released its first phone just three years ago; its latest, Mi4, is an iPhone clone that runs on a modified version of Android.

    The company is expanding beyond China into India and Singapore, and planning to enter a slew of other growth markets, including Russia, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico. For more on whether Chinese brands can succeed on the world stage, see our report Remaking “Made in China.”Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Xiaomi


  • Money & messaging apps
    October 23, 2014 | 11:13 am


    Given the primary function of mobile messaging apps and their technical capabilities, money transfer and payments are an alluring proposition, as outlined in our new report on payments and currency. Snapchat filed two trademarks in July that indicate a potential move into peer-to-peer payments. The recently announced Line Pay will let Line users make purchases through their Line accounts, send funds to each other, and split costs using a “Dutch Pay” feature. Line Pay will launch in Japan and, as Tech in Asia reports, serve as “an entrance to new industries” thanks to integration with the new Line Taxi service and Line Wow, for food delivery. In South Korea, KakaoTalk launched the PayPal-like Kakao Pay in September, and a remittance service, Bank Wallet Kakao, is in the works. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Line

  • The #TimsDark Experiment
    October 14, 2014 | 3:46 pm

    To entice customers into tasting its new dark roast, Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons, with the help of JWT Canada, created a surprise immersive experience. A store in Quebec was wrapped in material that blocked all light from the outdoors. Patrons entered warily and, once inside, heard a staff member (who was wearing night vision goggles) guiding them through the dark. At the counter, customers were handed a cup of the dark roast—the brand’s first new blend in 50 years—with the darkness heightening their sense of taste. When the lights came on, the patrons saw they were on camera.

    The #TimsDark Experiment has garnered YouTube views and some press attention, and shows how creatively imagined immersive experiences—one of our 10 Trends for 2014—can encourage consumers to engage with a brand.

  • Bitcoin bank Circle
    October 7, 2014 | 4:40 pm


    In late September, the startup Circle launched a web app that effectively functions as a bitcoin bank. Using a debit card or bank account, users transfer funds to Circle, which converts the money to bitcoin at no fee. Circle also insures this money at no cost. The company aims to make bitcoin more accessible via consumer-friendly design and is aiming to take on traditional banks and companies like PayPal, as The Guardian reports. Next up: Android and iOS Circle apps.

    Circle co-founder Jeremy Allaire gave a keynote at the Inside Bitcoins conference in April, citing the need for a “killer app” to bring bitcoin into the mainstream. Now Circle seems to be taking the lead, and others are sure to follow. —Nick Ayala

    Image credit: Circle

  • High-tech tasting
    October 2, 2014 | 6:00 pm


    Thailand got a lot of buzz this week with an innovative idea: a taste-tester robot, or electronic tongue, that’s programmed to distinguish authentic Thai dishes from wanna-be’s. Artificial tongues aren’t new but have been evolving. Most recently, Danish researchers developed a nanosensor that mimics “what happens in your mouth when you drink wine,” enabling winemakers to control astringency very early on. In Spain, researchers created a beer-tasting robot that can distinguish between varieties of brew.

    Meanwhile, advanced technology can also create recipes: IBM has touted how Watson, its “cognitive computing system,” can analyze the components of ingredients to come up with novel ideas for dishes; find a few of them here. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Aarhus Universitet

  • Marriage gets marginalized
    September 25, 2014 | 5:00 pm

    One of our 10 Trends for 2012 was Marriage Optional: More people around the world are living together or remaining solo instead of marrying. Pew reports this week that 1 in 5 Americans age 25 and up have never married, a fundamental shift since 1960, when only about 1 in 10 could say the same. Millennials are especially ambivalent: Two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed by Pew agree that “society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children” vs. 53 percent of the next generation up (age 30 to 49).

    Europe is seeing a similar move away from marriage, driven by “austerity, generational crisis and apathy towards the institution,” notes The Guardian. It says weddings are at historical lows in some nations; last year Italy recorded the fewest since World War I. For a look at how changing marriage patterns are affecting families, see our report Meet the New Family. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: JD Hancock


  • Room-sharing service Breather
    September 16, 2014 | 3:30 pm


    Described as the “Zipcar for rooms,” Breather is an app that enables access to “beautiful, practical spaces” that can be rented anywhere from 30 minutes to a whole day. While sharing-economy players like LiquidSpace and PivotDesk offer work and meeting spaces, Breather positions its rooms as homey spots that can serve a range of purposes (though not, the founder assures, seedy ones). Rooms include the basics—a desk, a couch, Wi-Fi—as well as some fun touches like a candy jar. Lockitron technology lets users unlock doors with their mobile phones. Breather is available in New York, Montreal and San Francisco, and recently raised $6.5 million in venture capital, citing plans to “own every major market in America.” —Hallie Steiner

    Image credit: Breather

  • Barco Escape’s immersive screens
    September 11, 2014 | 4:15 pm

    Maze Runner

    Escape is a triple-screen system from Barco that “allows you to truly be in the movies, not just at the movies”—in line with the rise of immersive experiences, one of our 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond. Audiences at five U.S. locations and one Belgian cinema will get their first taste of the concept with next week’s release of The Maze Runner, about a group of teens trapped in a massive maze, which will feature about five minutes of immersive footage at key moments. ScreenX is among the other multi-screen, multi-projection cinema experiences we’ve highlighted. —Aaron Baar

    Image credit: Maze Runner

  • “Smart” personal safety
    September 2, 2014 | 6:01 pm


    Earlier this year we wrote about the Guardian Angel, a pendant that alerts emergency contacts whenever wearers feel unsafe, created by JWT Singapore. Smart technology is addressing personal safety in other ways too. The Defender is a smart pepper spray that works in tandem with a mobile app, taking a picture of an attacker while contacting authorities. It’s in the final week of an Indiegogo campaign that has well exceeded its goal. Similarly, First Sign has crowdfunded a smart hairclip that detects physical assault, records the evidence and sends for help.

    Meanwhile, college campuses are embracing a more basic form of this tech, encouraging students to download apps like Rave Guardian and Circle of 6, which enable a chosen network to monitor a student’s GPS location during a night out. In a different vein, students at North Carolina State University made headlines last week for their Undercover Nail Polish, which changes color in the presence of “date rape drugs.” —Allison Kruk

    Image credit: The Defender

  • Nestlé’s animal-welfare standards
    August 28, 2014 | 10:00 am


    We wrote about rising concerns over treatment of the animals that people eat back in 2012 as brands including Burger King, McDonald’s and Hellmann’s pledged to institute more humane practices. We also included Humane Food among our Things to Watch for 2013. The trend recently picked up more steam with Nestlé’s announcement of animal welfare standards for its suppliers worldwide, following an investigation by the group Mercy for Animals.

    “The move is one of the broadest-reaching commitments to improving the quality of life for animals in the food system,” notes The New York Times, “and it is likely to have an impact on other companies that either share the same suppliers or compete with Nestlé.” Observed the influential blogger Food Babe: “People want to know where their food comes from, and in order to survive the next decade, the food industry will have to change.” —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Nestlé

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