Posts Tagged ‘trend’


Marketing is Judo, Not Karate

Monday, May 4th, 2015

For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some general thoughts that I’d like to convey to marketers – let’s call this section ‘Just Thoughts,’ and thanks for indulging me.

-Austin McGhie


Unless you have unlimited resources, lots of time and a penchant for failure, do not fight your marketplace. Figuratively speaking, marketers should always try to avoid using “karate”- that is, fighting force with force. Instead, they should use “judo”- finding the momentum that already exists in the marketplace and using it to their advantage.

How do you practice marketing judo? Fit what you want the customer to think and feel into what the customer already thinks and feels. Anything is better than trying to “convince” a customer to change his or her mind.

Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

-For years, Kellogg’s spent its marketing dollars on core brands like Corn Flakes. But when the high-fiber craze erupted, money was shifted into All Bran and Raisin Bran. Business went through the roof.

-A few years back, Toyota saw high gas prices in our future. Prius effectively “owns” the hybrid idea because Toyota shifted with the broader “green” shift in customer attitudes just as that wave hit. Meanwhile, many competitors were still trying to push gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks.

Remember that radical new concepts may stimulate the marketer’s imagination, but if they don’t track for the consumer, they won’t track for the business.

For example, TiVo wasted a huge amount of money and time trying to convince us that we wanted some form of media revolution. All we wanted was a simple-to-use digital recorder.

Of course, if judo marketing was easy, everyone would be doing it. In fact, this technique requires that you really know your prospects, what they think and feel, and how they are reacting to the waves flowing through the marketplace. It requires that you know what those waves are and, most important, how to translate them into ideas that can drive your business forward. This takes a real commitment to market research- but research in the field, because it’s hard to spot shifts in the zeitgeist by hanging out at corporate headquarters.

Know your marketplace, know your audience, and know where the momentum lies. Then make your move… before somebody else does.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling strategy


Introducing On the Future

Thursday, December 4th, 2014


While you may read about a lot of trends as 2014 winds down, we’re happy to introduce On the Future, our first forecast of product and brand trends for 2015 and beyond. As you’ll see, our report is quite different. It goes beyond the coming year to see what brands and products will be up to several years from now. We deliver this in what we call Sterling Futurecasts. Each futurecast in an actual illustration depicting a product, service or item we believe will be brought to life thanks to the convergence of many aspects of our current reality.

Using a cross-section of cultural anthropology, market research, trends observation and forecasting, and industrial and experiential design, some of the Sterling Futurecasts include:

Urban Defense

The over-population of urban environments and the creation of more mega-cities will drive the creation of health and wellness products that help consumers navigate and fight environmental challenges. Sample products include pockets embedded with a silver-based antimicrobial nanotextile that sanitizes your hands on contact.


Wearables that track the steps you take or the food you eat are already falling behind the true potential for the convergence between health and technology. Future products will allow for up-to-the-minute reports on your blood composition in order to recommend changes to your diet and exercise regimen.

Frugeois (pronounced Froo-ZHwa)

Millennials and the generation that follows have each experienced the recent economic recession in their own way, and each has learned that conspicuous consumption and careless spending never ends well. For them, being frugal and finding new ways to reuse and repurpose what they already have is paramount.

We invite you to download the report and let us know what you think the future holds.


Helping Bayer Innovate for the Future

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Many senior executives recognize innovation as a strategic priority, but often focus just on opportunities in the short-term.  At Sterling Brands, we believe in managing innovation risk and reward across a portfolio of initiatives to create near-term revenue streams while cultivating longer-term breakthroughs.

Bayer Consumer Care and Sterling Innovation recently partnered to understand the relevance of big consumer trends and how they might shape the future of Bayer’s business, industry, and consumers — not just tomorrow, but over the next decade and beyond. We set out to identify new opportunities and areas where Bayer might make bold, innovative plays and create pathways to position the company for the future within these trendspaces.

How we did it

Our approach was to start big and wide, charting and prioritizing a canvas of relevant consumer trends that might give us a peek into Bayer’s future; then narrowing-in on the most promising innovation opportunities. One macro consumer trend that we focused on was dubbed Metromorphosis, which describes the social and structural transformations occurring in tomorrow’s megacities.

First, we engaged across the globe with members of the-Collaboratory, Sterling’s proprietary community of nearly 50,000 consumers, to better understand what Metromorphosis meant and to immerse ourselves in the lives of people who are actually living the trend. Because there was no way to screen explicitly for “Metromorphosis” consumers without introducing respondent bias, we established a set of trend “markers” — essentially, a fingerprint that identified people who were experiencing the trend and who had a deeper emotional connection & level of engagement with their city.

What we found

the-Collaboratory members provided a rich tapestry of stories and examples of how people experience the urban environment. We then coupled them with our trend analysis to reveal several interesting, interrelated themes:

URBAN WELLNESS the desire to feel physically, mentally, and emotionally balanced within the urban environment

PURE LIVING consumer aspirations of living in a city free from pollution, trash, and environmental effluents and contaminants

INTELLIGENT CITY using information and connectivity to drive more harmonious city living

Next, we identified key consumer challenges within each theme, as well as chains of evidence that speak to how people are attempting to address and solve for those challenges — thus demonstrating a market need.  Together, they served as our springboard to action and innovation.

Transforming our findings into a multitude of new ideas again involved consumers as co-creators as part of a three-step process.  We tapped into the-Collaboratory and received a groundswell of ideas, sketches, photos, and product renderings — some incremental, some revolutionary. We work-shopped the ideas with Bayer, expanding, pivoting, refining, and blowing out these ideas even further.  Finally, we screened and funneled the most promising ideas down based on a set of well-defined criteria.

Though the details are proprietary, the leading future-facing concepts that met all of our screening criteria and garnered the most interest from Bayer represent relevant, unique and breakthrough ways to leverage and take action on big, global consumer trends — and ultimately innovate their business.


Sterling Strategy teams with Google in a new study: The New Multi-Screen World

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012


“Today 90% of our media consumption occurs in front of a screen. As consumers balance their time between smartphones, tablets, PCs and Televisions, they are learning to use these devices together to achieve their goals.”
We’re proud to announce some great coverage of  the new study released by Google on consumer’s Multi-Screen usage, featuring some big insights from Sterling’s Strategy Team.
Read about the study at TechCrunch or, and download inforgraphics and the full report from the Think With Google site, today!multiscreens

“Today 90% of our media consumption occurs in front of a screen. As consumers balance their time between smartphones, tablets, PCs and Televisions, they are learning to use these devices together to achieve their goals.”

We’re proud to announce some great coverage of  the new study released by Google on consumers’ Multi-Screen usage, featuring some big insights from Sterling’s Strategy team.


Read about the study at TechCrunch or, and download inforgraphics and the full report from the Think With Google site, today!


A Different Way to View Innovation

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

So often when we think about innovation, we instantly jump to the notion that everything needs to be high tech. Consumers today are looking for rich content and experiences that take their interactions with brands to the next level. Life is no longer about 3D. Now, we’re talking about 5D. At the same time, one growing trend we’ve seen more of lately, is a return to humble materials, a resurgence of real-life experiences, a focus on physicality, and a “back to basics” movement of sorts.

We often work with our clients to think about the impact that technology and the notion of “5D” has on their worlds and their consumers. But it can be just as interesting to look through the lens of the low tech in creating really impactful experiences for audiences. Here are a few examples of ultra-rich “low tech” experiences, recently dug up by Kalyn Ryan, who keeps me honest when it comes to being hip and in the know, here in the Innovation group:

  • Plus One Berlin – A new service where guests can book a stand-alone room in Berlin’s Kreuzkölln neighborhood, but also can connect with a local resident for advice and personalized experiences. When you book your room, you choose from 28 locals who you can hang out with while in Berlin for a non-touristy view of the city. Forget spending hours on websites and mobile apps trying to plan your trip—instead, talk directly to a person who knows the city inside and out for a completely unique experience.


(Image from

  • Pop-up Libraries Take Manhattan – This is a fun, new phenomenon that has hit Manhattan, compliments of architect John Locke. Locke took note of all of the unused payphones around the city and started turning them into pop-up libraries complete with shelves of books for New Yorkers to read. It definitely makes an interesting statement about the speed with which technology takes over our world and how quickly a medium can become obsolete. I guess it was too expensive to line those shelves with E-Readers?


(Image from

  • FabCafe – I love Shibuya in Tokyo and here’s just another reason why. FabCafe is a new cafĂ© that is keeping its patrons occupied while they wait for their food by letting them use a laser-cutting machine. It’s so completely random but also pretty genius, and really takes the notion of the “coffee shop as the third space” to the next level. Walk in for a coffee. Walk out with a full stomach and a 3-D object you’ve made yourself. Definitely an experience that a consumer will remember, and one that is very targeted towards a specific type of person.

fabcafe(Images from

All of these examples have some very strong commonalities. They create powerful experiences for those involved. They are completely unexpected and cause people to view their worlds differently. By all senses of the word, I’d describe all of these examples as very innovative, and yet they don’t rely on technology (for the most part!).  As innovators, I think we can borrow from these examples as we think about what truly creates breakthrough change. I think technology is a huge piece of innovation and progress, but I also think there is a time and a place to remove it from the equation. For this is when we sometimes stretch our thinking, and our experiences, the most, and can really change the game.

Amy Meyer, Sterling Inovation


CHOBANI – A Superb Example of Branding at Its Best

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011


For those of us close to the food and grocery business, there was little evidence in 2006 in the yogurt category of the massive disruption that was about to take place:

-the sector was growing consistently in line with other mature food categories

-the big players such as General Mills and Dannon were busy innovating at the edges, especially around healthier options and products targeted to kids

-store brands were still a distant threat in the category

Meanwhile, in New York and a few other urban areas, the Greek yogurt phenomenon was being trail-blazed by Fage (pronounced “fah-yeh”) but apart from a small fanatical fanbase, very few people took any notice. It just didn’t seem that important.

Fast forward to 2011 where the greek yogurt sector now represents about 25%…yes 25% of total yogurt sales in a category valued at $6.8 billion annually.

So what happened?

Well the Fage brand continues to be a major player in the category and sales continue to expand rapidly. And while all the big players were definitely caught off guard, they are now all busy launching and enjoying the rewards of new Greek-style products. But the real news surrounds the game-changing brand called Chobani which has built a $250 million business annually in less than four years and which now dominates the Greek yogurt sector.

So how did a brand that didn’t even exist 5 years ago leave both the authentic Greek innovator (Fage) and the mainstream American brands (Yoplait and Dannon) in the dust? The answer makes for interesting reading and is a wonderful example of brand-building at its best.

Like many innovations, Chobani’s success stems from a confluence of events:

-it took an entrepreneur (Hamdi Ulukaya, a descendant of a long line of dairy farmers in Turkey,), with no knowledge of the yogurt business to see the marketplace opportunity

-this coincided with a noticeable change in consumer behavior at breakfast with more and more yogurt being eaten at the expense of cereal

-in turn, this was further fueled by the need for a healthier breakfast option– And Greek yogurt with its winning combination of simple, pure flavors with high protein together with low fat easily won this battle against the incumbent brands with their sweetener, coloring and preservative-filled traditional yogurts

-Chobani’s product is high quality and provides real evidence that good-for-you products do not need to taste disgusting- in fact it tastes superb

-add to the brand a wide range of flavors, simple and optimistic packaging and some new kids products and you begin to understand why the brand has such extraordinary momentum

-from a communications point of view, word of mouth- not just digital but also family-to-family helped spread the word as the Chobani distribution in turn moved from regional to national.

A few further thoughts about this remarkable brand story. From my perspective, what Chobani managed to achieve was to simultaneously “American-ize” and “mainstream” the Greek yogurt category – in the process it left behind both the major established yogurt brands as well as the original authentic Greek brand. In itself, this is an unbelievable feat. Furthermore, it achieved this with consumer prices significantly higher than historical norms and all this was done in less than four years while we were all struggling with the toughest recession in living memory.

To me, Chobani is a wonderful example of where the combination of catalytic product and clear positioning in the marketplace is the killer app for brand success. Congratulations to all those Chobani-ans who have made this possible and for giving millions of us a daily yogurt moment to savor.

Simon Williams


Cultural Pulse: Throwbacks, Back For Good

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011


A few months ago we released the latest version of our trends report, Cultural Pulse. As part of the top 8 trends we identified, one in particular highlighted an on-going and snow-balling trend we called Retrofix.

Simply defined, the Retrofix trend includes consumer gravitation toward things from our past that are familiar and make us feel grounded- Just like Pepsi’s Throwback, which we’ve now learned has been rolled out permanently. (more…)


The Gifts You Give Yourself

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

In a recent Mintel presentation on Consumer Trends for 2010, there was an emphasis placed on the concept of Balance, and specifically our need to find balance between the low-end necessities we purchase and those few indulgences we still allow ourselves despite the recession- because we’re only human after all.




Sterling Buzz..

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Recently, Sterling Brands marketing buffs and all around Branding and Design aficionados- Rochelle Fainstein and Anna Roseberry- were published  in the online magazine: Shelf Impact!

“…RRP’s implications for brands in terms of consumer loyalty are huge. Consumers will come to admire brands that follow the RRP suit, regarding them as good for the environment and good for their wallets.

Brands that think inside the big box will be scooped up more exclusively by retailers, thus pushing individual-pack competitors off the shelves, or at least to the side. Free-standing packaging that often comes in display-ready form makes it a no-brainer for retailers to place RRP products on aisle end-caps, increasing a brand’s visibility.”

>>Follow this link to read the full article, a romantic and forward-looking take on Retail Ready Packaging.