What happens when you treat consumers like cattle?

Believe it or not but they seem to like it! It looks like shoppers enjoy getting ‘managed’ and ‘processed’ into waiting lines!

Personally I avoid ‘Christmas Shopping’ as much as I can. I don’t consider myself to be overly spiritual in the traditional sense but I would really welcome Christmas as a non-commercial celebration of peace on earth with the people you love, without all the stupid presents.

But I get it – our world order needs mass consumption. But this is not really what I wanted to talk about here.

Rather, I felt compelled to shine a light on how we hack into the human belongingness instinct to trigger consumption. We are going to take a peek at what I believe to be a more sinister technique from the marketing playbook of demand generation.

Someone famous – I just can’t remember who – once said something like: “Provide humans with the freedom to be as original as they want to be and all they will do is copy each other

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Any retailer, restaurant or night club owner understands that customers lining up out in the cold is as good as it gets for business. This is obviously nothing new.

But what I am increasingly seeing is that these queues are ‘engineered’. When you sneak in early to avoid the credit card wielding masses, you will see the goons with uniforms and their velvet ropes eagerly anticipating another day of imposed authority. They set up before the crowds arrive. They build these lines on purpose!

The days before Christmas were always busy on the Brussels high street, but I always kind of took pride in the fact that we weren’t the kind of people that would line up in the cold and rain… until now.

I first saw this dirty little trick of queue building in Paris earlier this year. The typical setup is where a guy in a uniform handles a red velvet rope to authorise people in and out of a shop. And just as our famous anonymous friend pointed out, the innocent bypassing consumer sees all those people standing in line and simply can’t resist going  into ‘monkey see monkey do’ mode.

What’s new about the Brussels approach is that they have now added fences to process the crowd more efficiently. I guess it also must have something to do with limiting the possibilities of people stepping out of line in the event that they suddenly develop a mind of their own.

But all in all, from what I can see, people actually seem to enjoy being treated like cattle for the pleasure shopping…

I’m very curious about what’s to come next. This is a space to watch…

Happy Christmas shopping :-/


The Sirens of Brussels

Brussels is difficult to define. Anyone who’s been here for some time will tell you that the identity of Brussels is all about not having one.

People seem to prefer to keep Brussels at a safe distance. It’s a bit like having a holiday affair – you roll with it but you know that someday you are going to step into the belly of a plane that will take you back home. Most people here are just passing through, nobody really admits to making long-term plans that involve Brussels.

Brussels both is and isn’t the capital of Belgium. Officially it is, but to most Belgians is just a place where you go and clock office hours. As soon as the factory whistles blow the Belgians scurry off in their company cars to their lives out in the pseudo country.  Brussels and Belgium seem to be different places. If this country was a fruit basket, Brussels would be the something of a large misplaced vegetable.

Brussels is like an airport. Everyone is in transit here.

Brussels doesn’t sound the way it looks either. If you weren’t able to see, you would  think you were in a rampant crime-zone because at any given time during the day or night you will always hear a cacophony of police sirens racing up and down Brussels’ leafy avenues.

The hypochondriac attitude of the Brussels police force remains one of the major mysteries unsolved. Then again, all it takes is a visit by a prominent statesman or the celebration of a political summit to make you realise that there is a part of being an international capital that Brussels never quite understood. Whoever runs Brussels loves to make things complicated. I am still trying to understand what the point is of choking up a political capital every time it receives a state visit. Shouldn’t accommodating VIPs be a core competence of a political capital?

Two very simple alternative solutions come to mind:

1. Why not hold political summits out in the countryside? If security is a real concern, then rent a fortress or build an underground bunker facility to host the summit. Alternatively it could happen in the middle of the ocean or on board of a submarine for that matter.

2. Use technology. Now that humans have achieved global connectivity, why do leaders still insist on showing up in person? It’s obvious that these people don’t really like each other that much, so they might as well do all their pleasantries through a secure audiovisual communication channel.

How complicated can it be?

One final thought before I sign of for today: If leaders need so much protection, do they really deserve the role? Back in the day, in a far more violent world, leaders used to ride into battle alongside their troops…

Creating value in the social era with Nilofer Merchant

I had the opportunity to speak with Nilofer Merchant at the Fund Forum International in Monaco.

20130714-094305.jpgNilofer is the kind of person the investment management industry needs to pay attention to because the sector’s ‘left-brained’ culture is distancing it from the everyday customer.

Nilofer’s ideas about how businesses can trive in a super-connected world were recently published as her latest book, ’11 rules for creating value in the #SocialEra’ which is all about letting your customers take an active role in the development of your business so you can create more value by offering the products and services that truly matter.

Take a few minutes to watch our short interview at the event. We speak about keeping up with consumers who are now faster and smarter than the companies that serve them. We also discuss ways to approach untapped markets, how the role of leadership is changing and why curiosity and the art of listening have become key strategic capabilities.

Visit Nilofer’s website

What do you think?

Amazing Technology for the Developing World with Julius Akinyemi

Believe it or not but what I am holding up in my hands in this picture is a mobile network base station! Not too long ago, this kind of technology would be a building with a fence around it.

I had the opportunity to speak with Julius Akinyemi, who attended the Fund Forum International. He came to the event with this base station tucked under his arm. Julius is the initiator of Unleashing the Wealth of Nations project and the Resident Entrepreneur at MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Akinyemi, a native of Nigeria, is exploring the commercialization of technology innovation to empower people in developing nations, so that they may invent new opportunities for themselves and their societies in a networked “always-on/always connected” information economy, with an entrepreneurial spirit.

A very fascinating individual and someone to follow because he is up to amazing and transformative things. Watch the video for more.