Contact Us  |  Logout

Posts by Abby Carlen

Local investors get bullish on their cities

Posted on  5 August 13  by 


by Mandy Levenberg


I spend a lot of time talking with CEB Iconoculture clients about consumers increasingly seeing themselves as investors — they no longer need to own stock in order to feel like stakeholders. They’re holding companies to their promises, relying on each other to vet products and claims. Consumers are the new owners, the new founders.

This evolved definition of stakeholder is cutting across categories, and it’s a driving shift behind the local movement. Recently, we’ve seen a few cities rethink the meaning of “founding fathers,” shifting to a “founding citizens” mindset. Setting the stage for the first city-based exchange-traded fund, the Nashville Area ETF is a new fund trading on the New York Stock Exchange that enables investors to put money in companies that call Nashville home. Short film We Make Seattle is part of a community-driven PR campaign to raise Seattle’s profile to where it belongs: a city for entrepreneurs, creatives and makers of all kinds. Paying the same kind of respect to its cities are films and initiatives like Tech Town Portland, Built in Los Angeles and Made in NY.

The consumer next door cannot be ignored. CEB Iconoculture’s trend analysis Proof Points details the phenomenon: Consumers, citizens and community members are seeking to engage with one another and with companies who share their values, and to express those shared values openly. We see an energized population that wants to support things they can relate to and movements they can feel a part of. Even if the only action they take is to consume, people want to do it knowing that they are investing nearby.

photo credit: CEB Iconoculture images

So you want to build an engaging app…

Posted on  27 August 13  by 


by Rachel Rosmarin


Some apps just don’t work. And we don’t mean that they’re buggy or full of error messages. Rather, they don’t meet the design standards that consumers have come to expect now that a full 90% of multiple-device owners do efficiency-oriented things like switch throughout the day among their smartphone, tablet and laptop as they try to accomplish a single task.

Sticking points in an app experience — too many clicks to log in, for instance, or a lack of connection between a phone app and its browser-based equivalent — are a major turnoff. Turn-ons include any app attributes that promote speed and spontaneity. About 60% of consumers say that they want an app to give them an activity within two seconds of launching. Talk about instant gratification!

Any brand that wants to increase mobile engagement with consumers needs to eliminate these mobile faux pas (dubbed “friction” in our research), and strive for features that help consumers seamlessly bridge the gap between their physical and digital lives (we call this “flow”). According to our research, that means surfacing useful data from a user’s behavior, pulling in clues from hardware sensors (including GPS, camera, audio, etc.) and creating relationships between digital services.

What do apps with a high flow factor look like? They know what TV show you’re watching right now. They prompt you to poll your friends as you try on looks in the dressing room. As you drop off clothes at a new dry cleaner after work, they suggest a well-reviewed Thai place across the street for dinner. They show you where online you can get a discount on that pricey armchair you saw while window-shopping. They send you a text when your cousin posts a baby photo to Instagram.

Suffice it to say, not many apps yet exist that tap into this level of flow and make use of all the different components and social networks that our phones include. But they’re coming. And the brands that get there first will greet mobile-minded consumers with that famous, oft-attributed-to-Apple marketing tenet: “surprise and delight.”

photo credit: CEB Iconoculture images

A new gender agenda

Posted on  20 September 13  by 


by Gwyneth Holland


To market to one gender, existing wisdom suggests, brands should target the things that differentiate men and women — interest in technology or childcare, or the importance of humour or indulgence. It keeps things clear and avoids gender contamination. So far, so clear, so effective. But what if classic gender targeting is losing its power?

As we explored earlier this year at our annual client event, Iconosphere, there’s a disconnect in the US between onscreen images of men and women and how they want to be portrayed. When we turned our gaze to gendered marketing in Europe, we found that clichéd gender ideas still prevail: kids’ products that come only in pink or blue; dumb dads in sitcoms; a woman’s wrist handcuffed to a cleaning product; a man who can’t look after his kids or master his own hygiene. These images are now raising the ire of consumers, as their ideas of gender balance move ahead of marketers’ perceptions.

The reality is, more women are becoming breadwinners, men are getting more involved in childcare, and both genders — staying single longer — are confident in all kinds of purchasing and lifestyle decisions, regardless of traditional gender roles. Not only is there more crossover in men’s and women’s roles, but there’s substantial crossover in their values, too. As our research found, men and women in Europe have more values in common than ones that separate them, and of the handful of differentiating values (out of the 93 we track every year), none are the most important values to men and women. As consumers across Europe continue to move towards equality, those marketers who are still sticking to the old clichés will get left behind.

photo credit: Ed Yourdon,

Tech time-out

Posted on  25 September 13  by 


by Nissa Hanna

Don’t be surprised if the next dinner party you attend kicks off with a request that’s more commonly associated with the dimming of theater lights: “Please turn off your mobile phone.” Or, if your leery host is less convinced of revelers’ ability to abstain from the screen, the phone might be confiscated altogether. How will you settle disputes about Tony Danza’s TV cameos, or how many pounds are in a stone? Fêters could find themselves producing more post-party follow-up emails (“See! I told you he played Erica Kane’s wedding planner!”)


The phone-ostracizing phenomenon is starting to influence the etiquette of some social gatherings, but consumers are testing their disconnecting comfort levels in the privacy of their homes. Concerned and wistful dwellers are beginning to push back on constant connectivity and dependency by establishing device-free areas and intervals. We’re finding that these tech time-outs come in many forms. Some families are totally disconnecting their homes or vacation retreats by banning digital gadgets — or, for the very committed, anything with an electronic screen. Others are designating specific rooms (the bedroom is a popular spot) or spaces (like a reading nook) as sans-tech sanctuaries. And some are initiating phone- and computer-free periods, which can stretch from after work until the kids’ bedtime or span a full Sunday.

So are these just tech teetotalers who are trying to cut the cord? Not quite. We see this shifting behavior as a natural response to technology’s rapid advance into consumer’s lives. It’s less about powering down and more about finding equilibrium between screen time and face time. Some consumers are creating that balance by setting parameters — because when the screen calls, it can be hard not to answer.

photo credit: Abigail Elder,

The right media for the moment

Posted on  26 September 13  by 


by Rachel Rosmarin

Reluctant gym-goers know the feeling: Priming your iPod with a perfect playlist can really pump you up. A workout approached with dread can turn euphoric with the administering of a few power jams.


But our many moods are more complex than just “get me through this last treadmill mile.” And sometimes we don’t know what music will best complement our subtlest states, root us out of a funk, or even go well with the scenery of a road trip.

Our most familiar digital tools (Pandora and Netflix come to mind) are great at making recommendations based on what we’ve said we liked in the past (our digital behavior patterns), but they fall short of gauging us in the now. Consumers crave mood-based media recommendations, and plenty of tech companies have begun to deliver, harnessing a mix of tech algorithms and human-powered curation to bring real-life context into the suggestion equation.

And by shaking up the recommendations that any given consumer receives, these tools are quite likely to surprise and delight viewers and listeners with new favorites they’d never have otherwise discovered.

But just wait until wearable tech enters the picture. Instead of relying on consumers to update their apps with their current moods and activities, gadgets will use GPS and biosensors to take an educated guess.

photo credit:


Scores of fun at Finovate and Money2020

Posted on  30 September 13  by 


by Derek Stubbs and Kara McGuire

It’s not about the “gee-whiz factor.” As money and spending strategists, clients call on us to tell them what’s new in banking, insurance, wealth management and payments. The conversations often center on technology — how to develop the latest and greatest tool to wow consumers. Sure, tech is table stakes in most categories these days, financial services included. But tech for tech’s sake, to supply that gee-whiz factor, is not a consumer desire.

The jam-packed Hammerstein Ballroom at FinovateFall 2013 in New York City.

The jam-packed Hammerstein Ballroom at FinovateFall 2013 in New York City.

As we attended the tech-focused, four-times-a-year global financial innovation conference Finovate in NYC, we perused 69 exhibiting companies to keep you and us informed on where the financial industry is and might be headed, and where consumers may find the solution to their next problem. (If you want to see them yourself, you can watch all 69 presenting companies give their seven-minute-long presentations by visiting the Finovate website).

We saw plenty to keep us busy, baffled and intrigued, and expect the same when we attend the Money2020 conference in Las Vegas for the second year in a row.

To whet your appetite, we thought we’d share with you some of what we saw in New York, and which themes we will be looking for when we arrive in Vegas.

Key themes at Finovate
• Scores, scores, scores and more scores!
• Small business support — for both the entrepreneur and for the banks that serve them
• Demystification, simplification and fun for everyone

Scores are the new black
We saw a lot of algorithms this year. In the world of personal finance, there was FlexScore, which bills itself as the first ever financial scoring mechanism with a “free, easy-to-use” Web interface. The next iteration of Dashboard Universe, which we wrote about in 2007, benchmarks the user against others, using attributes such as lifestage and financial goals. The algorithm isn’t there just to benchmark consumers, though; it also serves as a crucial tool in helping them decide what to do.

Consumers aren’t the only ones meant to benefit from such scores. Insaaf Mohideen and Ahmad Ibrahim, the brains behind Unleash, have created the “U Score,” a sort of “FICO for small business health.” BizEquity, another of the small-business applications we saw, aims to democratize “the most important piece of information for every small business in America”: What is that business worth?

Taking the world of algorithms and scoring back to the consumer, we were also intrigued by Float Money and Think Finance’s Elastic. Float provides interest- and fee-free lines of credit to consumers, which it can do because it earns its money through advertising and marketing revenue. Elastic, meanwhile, is truly cutting-edge, offering a low-cost alternative to payday lending through employer benefits administrators. Like Float, Think Finance’s Elastic reports to credit agencies, helping liquidity-strapped consumers build or repair their credit score, all the while improving worker productivity, given that financial difficulty is a key cause of worker distraction.

Fun is the new fun
Yes, there were plenty of scores and algorithms and high tech wizardry, but, as we’ve been telling you, the whiz bang is not the point. The point is utility. And when it comes to utility in consumer finance, the biggest barrier is to actually even trying to use it. That’s where fun comes in.

We were happy to see one of our longtime favorites, Motif Investing, kick off the first day of the conference. For the uninitiated, Motif is an online broker that doesn’t want its customers to buy individual stocks. Instead, the company wants you to buy buckets of stocks organized by themes, or motifs. Cofounder and CEO Hardeep Walia told us that fun is one of the aspects that they have prioritized in their laddering, presentation and sharing of information. “The killer app,” Mr. Walia told us, “is the social link.” Motif was voted Best in Show. Another scoring algorithm, TipRanks, takes guesswork out of who is and is not worth listening to when it comes to stock advice … in real time. Exceedingly easy to use and to set up, the TipRanks app sits on your browser’s toolbar and can quickly give you an easy-to-read score, compare success rates on similar stock calls from other advisors and even suggest other places to look. A natural companion to Motif Investing, TipRanks wasn’t the only group touting fun, ease of use and simplicity. Yodlee introduced Tandem, a highly usable, very smart product that helps take the complexity out of finances that are shared among spouses, family members and friends. (We loved watching VP of applications Katy Gibson’s presentation about her complex personal shared-finance relationships.)

If you’re still hungry for the cutting edge, why not fly out to Vegas and join us at Money2020? During the inaugural Money2020 payments conference last year, there was a lot of industry navel-gazing and focus on nifty apps. What was missing? Time spent thinking about what consumers need and want, and how the industry can evolve to meet consumers where they are. People don’t always want another app for that. They crave opportunities for connection — online and offline. They want personalization and serendipity. They seek help — through product design that focuses on the positive, not the punitive. They like fun. Yes, fun is the new fun.

More than 1,500 companies are attending Money2020, which has five separate conference tracks delivering content over four days. This year, one of those tracks focuses on the “empowered consumer.” We hope this means the consumer won’t be marginalized this year. Without the consumer perspective, there’s sizable risk that the latest iteration of the mobile wallet won’t be any more compelling than the physical ones we carry around in our back pocket or purse. After all, it’s not that hard to use plastic to pay; what else will that mobile wallet do for us?

We’ll also be on the lookout for:
• Signs that we’re anywhere closer to mobile payment ubiquity. We’ll let you know if we see representatives from Google, PayPal and the Merchant Customer Exchange hugging it out.
• Conference sessions that don’t sound like a sales pitch by startups seeking venture capital.
• Conference sessions that do more than just use the word “consumer,” and truly focus on consumer needs, wants and desires.
• Loyalty program tools that will make the value of such programs crystal clear and the benefits automatic.
• Tools for financial planning that reflect the realities of real people and their complicated lives.


photo credit: CEB Iconoculture images