Prior to assuming the role as Director of Global Brand Innovation for The Gap Brands, Kyle traveled the globe facilitating teams to solve problems, crafting solutions, and maintaining relevancy to consumers. In this candid conversation, Kyle shares one of his many experiences with consumers in their homes and offices, where he looks for clues that lead to break throughs in brand innovation. This is the second in a series of excerpts from my interview with Kyle Hermans. Read part one here.
Brand innovation since the Internet
Q What's the future of brands and what the differentiator between how things were and the changes the Internet has created?
Because of the Internet and how fast one can tap into a global audience, the power has been taken back from the really big brands. There is lot of money and marketing power that’s being handed back to the individual sitting at home. If a start up can figure it how to communicate and get a good business model going, they can have the same impact as a very huge brand.
Today, the customer needs to feel like they have had some part in the creation of the products they are going to use. This is a vastly different way to the way things were made before. Before it was “Make me something. Oh, this is great, I’m going to use this thing.”
Although there’s been incredible advertising and marketing, people are being sold things that they don’t really need. And things were being made that are maybe not that relevant. People have become savvy to that, and the customer wants to have their voice in the thing that they buy.
Q How are brands adapting?
I say to any client out there building a product or a brand, “The customer wants to have their voice in the building of this product with you.” It’s really interesting to see how that actually lands on the brand, and on their internal staff. Some will take it on for the way it’s literally meant, which is, “Wow, we better go and find out what they need. We better go and ask them how they might do it.
“What would they need, what wouldn’t they need, what could be things that we could show them that might really push their buttons?”
Other people may decide this really means “We just have to give them more interesting things, we just have to sell it even harder. We just have to tell them what it is that they want.”
Q Have you worked with brand who embraced the first reponse and who then connect with consumers?
Yes. That’s what I’m hired to do when it comes to brand innovation. The business models and the work I have been doing for the last seven, eight years is exactly the first piece. I don’t think that we were always very aware that that’s what we were going out to do. We were going out to do innovation, we were going out to build great products. We were going out to help brands to maintain a competitive advantage. At the heart of it, we started to dive and immerse into the markets and the customers. And into their homes and spending time with them, and really seeing how they embrace their lives. And what were the things that they kept around them and what does the brand learn from you,
Survey Monkey is not a source of brand innovation
Q Have you spent time in the homes of consumers?
Thousands of homes. I’ve been to, India, China, to Russia. I’ve eaten with families in their favorite restaurants. They’ve taken me into their closets, their bedrooms, their refrigerators, their special places where they keep their family memorabilia. They’ve taken me into their bathrooms, into their offices, into their spaces of work. I’ve spent thousands of hours of, all around the world. When I talk about immersion, that’s what I’m talking about. If you want to have a real conversation, you don’t just put a questionnaire online and say, “fill this in.” You’ve actually got to go in, because when we get to breakthroughs, they come from the conflict of what customers are saying. I’ll give you an example.
Telling the consumer what they want is, in my experience, is a dying approach.— Kyle Hermans
Q We all love a good story.
I was out in Northern England, and I was doing a project for a food company. They were trying to create a new meal occasion. And what they mean by meal occasion is, breakfast is an occasion, lunch is an occasion, and dinner is an occasion. But there could be other meal occasions for example when someone is exhausted and low. If you’re feeling in exhausted and low, and you don’t feel like cooking, what can you do?
Q You order in.
Okay, now that’s a meal occasion. So, based on what mood you were in, that triggers you to say look, I’m going to do this instead. And then there is a delivery service, there’s a menu service catering to your tastes and your diet. At one point, that wasn’t there, and then somebody found the occasion, the need, and created the solution.
The men in British society are the ones that go out and earn the bucks, and women run the day to day. Women run the operations, and are ones that usually feel the most exhausted and the most anxiety. They raise kids and manage kids and run the house. And they’ll sometimes do part time work as well.
We went and ate with the family, a mother and a father, and their four kids, and we said, “Okay, we’ll take you out to your favorite restaurant tonight, and we’ll sort of sit and have a chat.” So we went and ate with them and we just asked questions about their lives. The mom and the kids came out, but the father hadn’t come home from work yet.
“Tell me about your lives, tell me what you do, tell me, hey, look, what are your favorite family values.”— Kyle Hermans
At dinner the wife said, “You know, we go and do our church services on Sundays and do a lot in the community,” and it just, and so she’s telling me all of these things and the kids were quiet a very well behaved and great family. Afterwards, we went into the house, and the house was very neat and orderly. It all seemed to be a well-balanced family. The father came home, opened the door and said, “Wow, what happened here? What’s the special occasion He says, “I’ve never seen the house looking so great.” She says” “Well, you know, I just tidied up a little.
Q I cleaned up because Kyle was coming.
Well, yeah, the marketing firm came around to hang out with them, so they dress up, and all this kind of stuff. Now, okay, first flag, first flag, that’s not a normal behavior, right? We’ve got to tap into that, so what’s their normal behavior? Because everything can be a story.
Reward for Mom Becomes a New Meal Occasion
Q So what was underneath the words and the clean house?
What’s behind the clean house? — When the wife went off and was preparing a cup of tea, I said to the husband, “So she’s said a bit about her day- to-day and I heard you like to go to do the church services and you’re helping the community.”
He goes, “We don’t go to the church. What community? Hey, we go watch the football games.” And he said, “No, some days it’s my day to do this and that and the next thing.” Because obviously, you know, it could be perceived as a high pressure situation, and that there’s strangers coming, and they wanted to make an impression. They wanted to make an impression. She wanted to make an impression that the household was running, she was on top of it.
But when we talked to the dad, he was saying he worked really hard, but the kids give her a hard time And the real opportunity was to give her some sense of relief. So give her some reward that she actually knows that she’s doing a great job. When we asked a little about the evening she said, “You know, I was really looking forward to this.”
One, because she was being treated to a meal, but the other was that she’s very proud of her family, and so she got in to make an extra special effort to step out. There was going to be some new people coming in to their world, even if it’s just temporarily. As we questioned those conflicts and those moments, we realized that the occasion of reward was a good one to embrace. Moms do a really hard job, and at certain points, Dad could step in and really do something good, and the family could step in and do something really good for Mom.
So one of the options that they created here was this all inclusive sort of the same meal with, your cutlery and crockery with your take away. You’ve got really nice dishes that you could, if you can finish all of your food, you have some really strong containers to leave in the fridge.
You even have an extra little dessert thrown in just for Mom. All these little things which are now just a given in most take aways, back then, you know, just some several years ago, were cutting edge. That that was answering a particular need. We would not have found that at all; there’s no waywe would have found that opportunity just by asking online questionnaires and simple questionnaires.
We had to sit in their homes, we had to go in and talk to them. We had to go and see the conflict happening right in front of us and question it. So a big part of this is these immersions that we do. In Part III, Kyle will take us on another adventure in a different country of the world.