Shari Swan, Streative Branding’s Founder and CEO on placing the consumer at the heart of a company’s DNA
With over 20 years of branded strategy, product innovation and insight research experience, Shari Swan specializes in transforming insight to action. Shari founded Streative Branding in Amsterdam in 2003 and has developed a proprietary co-creation platform of global information investigators, strategists, designers and industry experts-otherwise known as ‘Moles’, ‘Mavens’, ‘Makers’ and ‘Mavericks’. Streative’s teams of collaborators mine and unpack insights, develop strategic opportunities and concept future innovations for some of the world’s most successful brands; Skype, Unilever, McDonalds, Philips, Estee Lauder, Telefonica/O2, Nike and more. Aside from whispering in to the ears of global senior executives, Shari and her partner own and operate an award winning, boutique manor house in France; Manoir du Moulin.
1. This is your first time speaking at Cable Congress but you have worked with the cable/telco industry for many years (UPC, Zon, Telefonica and O2 are some of your clients). What have your interactions with the industry taught you about consumers, trends and business models in the digital age?
No matter the industry, it’s important to recognise that we’re living in a world where consumers are increasingly taking control of how, where and when they consume media. I’ve just returned from the Media Insights and Engagement Conference in the US and an executive from Warner Brothers shared a telling consumer insight from their research: ‘I used to be a beggar, now I’m a chooser’. Alternative forms of content, screens and viewing behaviours are challenging the subscription model business as we know it today.
One of the greatest challenges for the cable industry is the changing face of entertainment and the many new formats it can take. Entertainment is no longer a family of four sitting in front of the TV watching a movie in the evening. Entertainment should be considered anything that occupies a user’s time, on any screen – think apps, games, short and long format videos, social networks, chatting, text and more. A great example is the fact that Candy Crush has been downloaded over 1 billion times. These new forms of entertainment are eroding television viewing time and as the pool of entertainment competition grows daily it’s becoming increasingly important for the cable industry to become a more innovative industry.
The power of mobile continues to be an underestimated opportunity for most organisations. There are roughly 7 billion people on earth of which 5.1 billion own a mobile phone. The smartphone is the fastest growing technology to ever hit the market, yet many companies struggle to create a compelling mobile strategy that is keeping pace with the device’s capabilities and user demands.
In order to operate in today’s constantly changing entertainment and digital landscape, organisations need to rapidly innovate their solutions, products and services and think digital. We now have the capability to measure just about anything, but we need to be cautious about all that data we’re collecting. The companies who can work creatively with their data are the ones who will win the game.
2. Can you tell us more about your Creative Value Network and how you approach your work?
The digital revolution of the last decade has unleashed a creative talent pool of people in an unprecedented way. In the UK alone, 1 in 20 workers are freelancers while in America one-third of the workforce is now freelance and these numbers continue to grow. A new creative ‘maker’ model has been developing around us and this open-source, co-created entrepreneurialism is a systematic change in the way business is being done. This digital entrepreneurial movement has been called the third industrial revolution because of the volume of work, products, services and design this sector is delivering to the market. Breaking the hobbyist movement stereotype, todays makers are some of the top experts, designers, concepters, directors and content providers out there. Eleven years ago, Streative started tracking this movement and recognised at the time that there was great opportunity to collaborate with these digital natives. We believe that working with Creative Value Networks is not a phase but rather a phenomenon and a foreshadowing of how business will be done in the future. We’ve established a methodology for recruiting and curating these talented individuals to create great collaborative deliverables for Streative clients.
3. Why Mole, Maven, Maker and Maverick, and how does this framework work in practice?
We started out with a pilot project for Nike in Amsterdam in 2004. At the time, we were looking for the best way to get closer to consumer behaviour amongst a particular target group. This led us to recruit a team of local influencers who in the end were able to dig deep and unpack consumer sentiment at a remarkably profound and inspiring level. This first project then grew into a global business over the next 10 years whereby 75 companies have co-created with our teams of Moles, Mavens, Makers and Mavericks. Streative’s Creative Value Network has an insatiable appetite for information, are wired, networked and in tune with technology, retail, media, entertainment, local happenings and global brands. They are our private investigators; our Moles. As Streative’s portfolio of clients and services grew, so too did our group of collaborators and we expanded our global network to include Mavens (‘Ace Authorities’ and strategy experts) , Makers (‘Master Crafters’ and world class design, concept and content talent) and Mavericks (‘Captains of Industry’ and innovation leaders). Our teams are recruited by project, demographic, location, topic and most importantly by client brief.
4. You’re talking about ‘better beginnings’ in your keynote. What does this mean?
I believe there is great opportunity in placing the consumer at the heart of the DNA of a company. While most corporations have this written in their corporate values or business objectives, I think it can be a struggle to make this a reality. We are in the business of culture first and foremost, we are not in the business of sales and this is an important distinction for the management of all companies to address. My session will talk about why and how we can get closer to consumers. It will also talk about the need to distinguish between data and insight in order to capitalise on true market opportunities and game changing products and services for the cable industry.
5. What do you like about cable and its relationship with the consumer?
Television and TV content are not going away. Cable has been one of the first and only mediums to hold a firm position in people’s lives and there is no question consumers are very loyal to cable and all it offers.
Cable is perfectly positioned to lead the entertainment industry of the future, but it is going to require risks, change, partnerships and a rebuilding of the process as we know it today. As an industry cable has an immense opportunity as its services are, in fact, in people’s homes. Cable operators very often have technicians entering customers’ homes – imagine the brands who would love this direct client interaction! Cable’s access to consumers is an untapped opportunity for the industry, but of course this customer interaction needs to be managed carefully to avoid negative experiences.
6. Cable thrives on being always ‘on’, always connected. How do you take offline ‘street level’ insights and apply them to this online, hyper-connected business?
If you speak to any of our Moles they’re pretty much connected via one medium or another 24 hours a day and it’s of little interest to them who is providing that service. Their expectations, however, are that that service is reliable, affordable and delivers on its promises. Street level insights are simply addressing behaviours about one topic or another and the seamless integration of this online and offline experience as consumers go about their daily lives. As service providers our job is to enable consumers lives and make their lives easier, better or more entertaining…being always ‘on’ is merely the status quo today for the industry and its users.
7. What are your biggest predictions for the evolution of the consumer and how important brands will be in the next 5-10 years?
Many of the biggest predictions are already well known and documented and rest right before our very eyes. The challenge comes in how we process and address these evolutions and of course, the time it takes us to do this.
Our lives will become more digitalised as technology continues to progress. Choice will be the greatest advantage for consumers and the greatest challenge for corporations.
Entertainment as we know it today will no longer exist as consumers continue to occupy their time with new and innovative apps, games, social tech and content that are consumed across a multitude of screen styles – both large format and small. Products like driverless cars, Google Glass, Smart Watches, Smart Homes and Smart Clothing will continue to gain momentum, further integrating our online and offline activities and representing an opportunity for new formats for content and collaboration.
Furthermore, the Next Big Thing is Small. Keep your eye on micro companies you’ve never heard of that are trending upwards with dramatic sweeps. And track the young up and coming entrepreneurial talents which are reconstructing the product and services industries as we know them today. This will help you to identify current consumer consumption trends and the players who are enabling or creating those trends. Strive for nimble, agile and efficient processes and organisations which can adopt and implement change quickly. The success of future companies will be dictated by how quickly they can adapt to real-time consumer behaviour, insights and industry trends and then transform their content, marketing and services to address these real-time needs. Above all, take some risks, try something different or at the very least collaborate with those who are doing just that. The future is filled with inspiration and opportunity for both consumers and corporations.