Archive for the ‘Berenice Ring’ Category

The Trend: “Alone Together.” The Trigger? Web 2.0

By Berenice Ring, Professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas

There are now 2.1 billion Internet users on planet Earth—30 percent of the world’s population! And to access the Internet, we now have countless models of cell phones, laptops, tablets, and every other wonder technology has provided us with. We can no longer live without them!

Visiting friends recently, I witnessed an interesting scene in their living room. The father, an advertising professional, worked on his iMac. The mother, an interior decorator, chose fabrics on her iPad. The daughter, multitasking on a PC, searched the Internet to do her homework and listened to music on iTunes while still logged on to Facebook. And the son played video games. All of them, no doubt, had their cell phones on. A commonplace scene, no? The question is, were they actually together in the living room?

This is the latest trend emerging all over—”alone together”—driven by advances in technology and by Web 2.0.

Trends are behaviors that define change patterns that have been building for some years and are expected to last for another many years. Is this particular trend good or bad for society? As with everything else in life, there are several sides to the issue.

MIT professor and ethnography specialist Sherry Turke published a book earlier this year entitled Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Turk argues that, instinctively, we humans still need physical proximity, noticing the lack of satisfaction and increased alienation among users she studied.

With the recent explosion of technology and social networks, we might gather that human relationships are thriving as never before! However, what Turke suggests is that we are ascribing human attributes to objects and treating each other as things. She reveals the paradoxical picture of today’s human disconnect, caused by the expansion of virtual connections on cell phones and computers.

We are indeed alone in the room, alienated from our family and everyone in our milieu. And yet, when my family took car trips before the emergence of all this Internet paraphernalia, my daughter often announced that she was going to turn on her “isolation kit” (i.e., iPod) for the duration. So I ask, didn’t our Generation Y children already isolate themselves from the family in their rooms long before all these tools appeared?

And if, on one hand, we are alone in our living room, on the other, we are more united than ever with our friends through Facebook and Orkut, to people with common hobbies and tastes through communities in which we choose to take part, and to other professionals in our industry via LinkedIn and Twitter. Moreover, technology enables us to establish joint creative connections with other individuals through wikis, like the one that resulted in the fabulous phenomenon Wikipedia. The strength of like-minded masses even elected the American president! Using a reverse approach, Foursquare was created, already boasting 10 million users, bringing people together in the physical world—in bars and restaurants, for instance—with a digital “check-in” tool that enables us to inform people we know of our whereabouts.

It is worth keeping in mind that there is also a fraternization side to this story. A viral message received by a father, for example, may become a subject of conversation with his son, and vice-versa. There is surely still much to talk about regarding the consequences of this trend for both the family and society.

And what about corporations? Companies that keep an eye on trends are always ready to draw insights from them. Those that manage to deploy these trends constructively will be better equipped to see the direction where we are going and to build potential future scenarios more accurately. Their strategies to deal with the present will have a much greater chance of success! Not only that; by arriving ahead of others in the marketplace, they gain significant competitive advantage over their competitors.

There is no doubt that great business opportunities are waiting for us—in the physical, digital, and mobile worlds.

How about you? Have you begun thinking about your digital strategy?

How Social Networks Help Us Choose

By Berenice Ring, Professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas

Have you noticed how many decisions we need to make nowadays and the amount of details involved in each one? Surely life was much easier in the early 20th century, when consumer staples were sold in bulk and housewives had their goods chosen for them by the shopkeeper, whom they relied on and trusted.

If you wanted to buy a car in 1915, the choice was quite simple. The only automaker was Ford—who had introduced the assembly line—and the options boiled down to one model, the Model T. In 1987, Brazilian consumers could choose automobiles from six makers: Ford, Volkswagen, Fiat, GM, Gurgel, and Toyota. By 2008, 36 car manufacturers offered their vehicles, exponentially increasing our options.

A 1991 supermarket offered 15,000 items; today, in the same store, we find almost 50,000—including 100 types of yogurt and 200 models of mobile phones!

However, abundance of choices does not necessarily mean better decisions. As psychologist and professor Barry Schwartz points out in his wonderful book, The Paradox of Choice, the huge amount of options adds excessive strain to the decision-making process, causing exhaustion and discouragement. Furthermore, making one choice means relinquishing all other options, so that your preferred alternative seems less appealing and even elicits a sense of loss.

Until recently, people counteracted this frustration by consulting other people they trusted. But today, our world has become an ocean of information. For instance, if you’re planning a honeymoon trip to New York City, sites like TripAdvisor will provide complete information on virtually every hotel in the city. For example, if you decide to spend your hard-earned money on a wedding night at The Pierre, the famous hotel featured in several movies, you can read online comments by the site’s user community, ranging from “Great hotel!” to “Disappointing.” It is a huge benefit to get recommendations not only from your travel agent but from people who have stayed there recently. And upon your return, if you invite friends over for dinner, you can visit Epicurious on Facebook to find recipes, or you can search Twitter using the hashtag #recipes to find plentiful tips from users.

Some brands have grasped this new trend and offer their customers a dedicated section for comments and criticism, such as My Kmart and MySears Community. Other sites were specifically founded upon this trend, such as byMK and Polyvore, which allow users to express themselves.

The penetration of social networks today is amazing. A recent survey shows that 90% of respondents know at least one—and on average, four—social network websites. Facebook is the best example, of course, with more than 500 million users and countless communities. And if you want to find customer reviews of New York restaurants, the American site Yelp lists 12,000-plus establishments—not to mention more than 7,000 stores—along with user reviews of dentists, architects, and even surgeons.

As a Nielsen study confirms, “Recommendations by personal acquaintances and opinions posted by consumers online are the most trusted forms of advertising globally.” The study of 25,000 Internet consumers in 50 countries shows that nine in ten people trust recommendations of people they know, and seven in ten trust online recommendations from strangers.

In this scenario, a good social media strategy can do wonders for a brand in terms engaging its audiences. Can the brand help consumers make better choices or play the role of an early 20th century “shopkeeper” whom its customers trust and rely on? Are brands making the best of this tremendous opportunity?

Creating Luxury Tribes with Communication and Social Networks

By Berenice Ring, Professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas

Aston Martin has a dealership at São Paulo’s trendy Avenida Europa. Lamborghini has one as well. Office space in that avenue does not come cheap, and the rent per square foot is almost nonsensical. Yet these stores are neither small nor modest.

Since October 2009, 17 Lamborghinis have been sold in Brazil for an average price of R$1.6 million (± US$950,000). Surely, to sell 17 units of a vehicle aimed at such a select audience, none of these brands would need to invest in a showroom. They could easily locate their prospective clients and contact them directly.

Why then does Lamborghini keep this amazing store and engage in social media to interact with its fans? And why is it always present at exhibitions like the São Paulo Auto Show, where visitors come in all sizes and shapes except that of buyers of their cars? Why does it invest in communication?

To win a special place in the minds and hearts of their audiences, luxury brands must be admired by their customers and potential buyers. But they also must be desired and have their value acknowledged by those who cannot buy their products—the brand fans who visit the store at night and covet the car through the store window, who create communities on Facebook and post comments on Twitter, and who form long queues at the Auto Show to see the brand’s latest model. These fans help to establish the throne from where brands such as Lamborghini will reign for the few. This is the principle of exclusivity.

Through communication and social networks, luxury brands like Lamborghini disseminate their dream and their magic—and create aspirations. They enable the “sense of belonging,” brokering relationships between people who would never meet otherwise and making it possible for them to feel connected.

This dynamic engenders very clear perceptions. Buying a Lamborghini gives the owner much more than the thrill of accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds. The machine comes bundled with a whole set of meanings. Prestige is the first item in the package. The buyer becomes part of an extremely select tribe, recognized not only by their peers but also by those will never be part of it.

A taste for speed, sporty style, and bold design is ingrained in the imagination of the brand’s ambassadors, whether they are owners who take their machines for a ride on weekends or fans who collect photos on the walls of their homes. Lamborghini’s brand manager understands that well. Aston Martin’s does, too. And so do most well-managed luxury brands.