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An iconoclast is someone who destroys religious symbols. The classical example of iconoclasm is a guy named Konon, who you may or may not know as Leo III the Isaurian - further proof that names were more interesting 1200 years ago.

Today we use the term a little more loosely. It’s common to associate the term with business figures who up-end markets; Steve Jobs comes to mind. (Steve I the Appleonian?)

To Gregory Berns, Distinguished Chair of Neuroeconomics at Emory University (a fine institution that made the mistake of granting me a wholly undeserved degree) and author of Iconoclast: a Neuroscientist Reveals how to Think Differently, an iconoclast is “a person who does something that others say can’t be done.”

Setting aside the needless redefinition of the word iconoclast (what’s wrong with innovator?), Berns’ book provides excellent, and well-researched, information on how, and why, people generate iconoclastic (innovative!) ideas. 

In the process, the book also provides some insight, from the perspective of neuroscience, on how to market those ideas.

Summarizing the results of several research studies, Berns shows that dopamine – sometimes thought of as the ‘pleasure chemical’ of the brain – is highly associated with the desire to seek out new experiences.  Individuals with highly active dopamine systems are more likely pursue novel experiences and – here’s the kicker – young people have more active dopamine systems. The bottom line: market new ideas to the under-thirty crowd, they’re more receptive.

But what does this mean if you have to market to people who, like me, wouldn’t survive very long in the world of Logan’s Run? (This is tech blog, if you don’t get that reference you’re in the wrong place. Turn off your com-put-er, call a friend and start making fun of geeks).

Still with us? Good.

If you’re target demographic are grey-hairs, Berns points out that wrapping new ideas in the ‘cloak of familiarity’ can drive a “new idea to be adopted by a large percentage of an older population.” In other words, don’t position a new idea as ‘revolutionary’ to a 50-year old C-suite executive; demonstrate how it fits neatly into the world he or she already understand.

There’s much more to the book and, despite the misuse of the word iconoclast, it’s worth reading. There’s also a fabulous section that details which illegal narcotics to take in order to stimulate iconoclastic thinking. Buy the book for neuroscience, read it for the psychotropics.

It must be research season. The latest report to hit the streets down under is the annual Grey’s Eye on Australia report, conducted by Sweeney Research. Whilst some of this makes for interesting reading, I think it also states the obvious. Not surprisingly, it focuses on consumer attitudes about the recession and how people are feeling. 

Reassuringly, despite the gloom, almost two-thirds of Aussies are “extremely” or “very” satisfied with life, despite rising unemployment and a greater focus on personal finances. Perhaps the Rudd Government’s decision in February to hand out wads of cash to a large proportion of the Australian population had something to do with that!

Grey director of planning, Simon Rich, said in the company’s press release:  “For most Australians, life is still OK. Interest rates are low, the cost of petrol is declining and unemployment has not yet reached crisis levels. So, we’re positive about today but concerned about what the future may hold and as a result we’re cutting back expenses and holding off on big ticket purchases.”

I don’t know what is happening in other parts of the world; do you all share Simon’s views?

In an effort to save cash, the purchase of luxury items is waning and consumers have returned to home brand goods. This report showed only 9% of consumers do not purchase house brands, and 41% are buying more than they did 12 months ago. Call me a snob, but home brands still lack quality and with three children to feed, there is in my opinion less waste in sticking with what you know, rather than downgrading to products you may not have tried before.

The changing role of women and how they have adapted to the financial downturn is also highlighted in the report, with Grey managing director Jane Emery saying that it shows women are still the backbone of the Australian household. The report says most major household decisions are undertaken solely by women, with 59% in charge of household expenses and 74% take charge of supermarket shopping – compared to 34% of men. Come on fellas, clearly we should be pulling our weight more!!

Other key findings (and my comments):

– 41% Australians feel they live in prosperous times – down from 70% in 2008 (no surprise);

– Unemployment and job security (29%) is seen as the number one issue facing Australians over the next five years (no surprise);

– 28% people know someone who has lost their job as the result of the global financial crisis (no surprise);

– 86% Australians are actively trying to reduce debt (no surprise and don’t we do this anyway recession or not?);

– Only 16% of women feel job opportunities are consistent for both sexes, compared to 49% of men (that is a concern);

– 39% consumers are prepared to pay more for eco-friendly products or services , which is down from 49% last year (so, does this mean we don’t care about the environment, or has the recession led many of us to abandon the priority of being green to save money?).

– 51% rate as the number one concern drought and water issues, which is a major issue in Australia.

– Most respondents (76%) think most companies are still not environmentally conscious and 83% agree companies should tell people what they are doing about the environment.

– Only 31% of consumers are ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ concerned about the effect of the environment on them personally or their household, compared to 37% in 2008 and 49% in 2007.

Finally, on Internet used (and my comments):

– Browsing the internet is Australians’ number one source of ‘unwinding’ (64%); – Contrary to belief, even 68% of Baby Boomers rate surfing the internet as their primary tactic for unwinding (are we that boring?);

– 74% of respondents subscribe to e-newsletters (boring…!);

– Only 45% of Australians have watched an advertisement online in the past two months (that did surprise me);

– or in an email someone sent to them (49%) – gotta be too much spam;

– 90% of respondents search for information on products or services online before buying (no surprise)

Overall, no real surprises, but some interesting differences. What do think? Are Australian consumers just an optimistic bunch, or is the recession hurting more in other markets? Clearly, the sun and surf may help keep us happy, but I suspect if Gray was to conduct this research again, today, many would not be so positive, with the bottom of the recession forecast to hit in October.

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