Paul Spirou and Russell Hales: On challenger thinking


6 ways to become the next challenger brand

Being a challenger brand with bold ideas and a clear mission isn’t just for up-and-coming, garage operations run by passionate mavericks. Paul Spirou and Russell Hales from creative agency, Ape, use challenger thinking to create brands and programmes for food and drink companies, from established players to maturing start ups.

This challenger thinking unearths a brand’s purpose, providing a structure and context to communications with customers. It is a reason for people to choose a brand over another. For established brands, it can be used to test the water away from core audiences, opening up new potential markets with new products.

But Ape say it’s not easy for companies to adopt this unconventional mindset and identify what really drives their whole business or a particular product. It requires both a commitment to a single, meaningful cause and the ambition and vision to push your category forwards.

So where do brands need to start when adopting challenger thinking? Ape offer their top six tips to the Mindlab Academy.

  1. Ask “why?” like a petulant child until you get to the very heart of it. Identify: why are we here? What made our founder so excited that they started this business? What is our ambition? Why would people choose us? Is it down to our products, our ingredients or components, how we approach sustainability, customer service, quality, local employment, employee engagement, supply chain…or something else? And why does that ambition even matter?
  2. Look outside your category. See what others companies are doing in other sectors to push their industry forward. What can be learnt from them? What can you adopt? Look at confectionery challenger, Tony’s Chocolonely. It has a clear mission: “100% slave free chocolate. Not just our chocolate but all chocolate worldwide”. Who even knew that there was a slave trade involved in chocolate, let alone built a business around it? If choosing between a bar that does this and a similar chocolate bar with no mission, the choice is simple. Oatley, BrewDog and Dorset Cereals are all well worth studying for inspiration.
  3. Be real. Your focus has to make sense, be truly deliverable and entirely authentic. If it’s not, people will sniff it out. Fast.
  4. Don’t aim to be like the number one brand in your market. By mirroring what has gone before, you end up promoting the market leader, amplifying all their good work. You have to try to go in your own direction. At times it might criss-cross with theirs but it should always be yours.
  5. Get the right people involved. Being a challenger can mean real, sometimes uncomfortable, change. It has to be driven by a key decision maker. You can’t force it up the chain. It’s a big commitment everyone has to make.
  6. Keep on going. Becoming a challenger is the opposite of an easy win. The answer exists but it can take time and tears to hit on the idea that genuinely resonates. But it’s well worth the struggle, providing both short-term and ongoing growth.

PS-ApeRH-ApePaul Spirou is Managing Director and Russell Hales is Creative Director at Ape, a specialist food and drink creative design agency using challenger thinking to create successful, sustainable brands and programmes. 


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Anil Seth: On consciousness


Are you hallucinating right now?

Anil SethIn Dr. Anil Seth’s TED Talk on consciousness, the renowned scientist questions the very nature of your existence. Your brain, he reveals, hallucinates your reality.

The way things seem is just your mind’s best guess at what is going on – a best guess influenced both by evolution and by your own personal history. These factors are deeply embedded in the functioning of the visual system to shape your perception.

Is that as unsettling a thought as it seems to be? To find out, we caught up with Anil, a professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex.

What do you think we can do with the knowledge that what we see isn’t the only way to see it?

If we understand that our experiences of the world around us, and of ourselves within it, are kinds of ‘controlled hallucinations’, it opens up a little bit of flexibility in how we respond to situations. We can realise that what we’re thinking – what we’re perceiving – might not actually be the way things are.

There is a quote from Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. I think that goes too far but I do think there’s value for people in understanding how emotions and emotional states play into our perception of the world and underpin our judgements and decisions. And emotions themselves are also perceptions – but of the self rather than of the world.

How can people understand their – and others’ – biases? Is it possible?

Having scientific knowledge of how the brain works doesn’t mean it’s easy to change how we experience and do things. Even though I know something about how the visual system works, I don’t experience things differently when I open my eyes.

There are some areas where knowing about our brain’s assumptions can have a great impact. Decision-making is one of those areas where we have started to understand the various cognitive biases that affect, for instance, how people estimate the value of something, decide between two options or estimate things in the far future compared to now.

How often do people jump to assumptions?

Constantly! But often it’s not a bad thing and we don’t always need to escape it. In fact, we need assumptions and biases in order to react at all. If you’re making a choice, instead of thinking of the pros and cons, don’t ignore your gut feelings. These are based on a host of signals and experiences you could never write into a comprehensive list. Your gut feelings could be much more accurate than you realise.

How much should we be thinking about this? What proportion of our reality would you say is affected by our brain’s assumptions?

It goes very deep and that’s exactly what we’re researching – how pervasive is this process? But I do think it can be over-interpreted: don’t worry, not everything we perceive is arbitrary and I’m not saying there’s no ‘real world’ out there.

Anil Seth is a professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex. Read about his work on his website, or watch his acclaimed TED Talk which has been watched by more than 5 million people so far.

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Derek Johnston: On purpose-driven design


Ethical lipstick on the face of a gorilla 

Why purpose-driven design can’t be faked

Most award ceremonies feature a people’s choice award where members of the public vote for their favourite to win. But as we know, if you want to understand the real drivers of consumer behaviour, you need to go beyond what people say.

So, this year’s FAB awards used behavioural science to identify how people genuinely responded to this year’s best packaging.

The idea was Derek Johnston’s, co-founder of design agency Family (and friends). He’s chaired and judged many international design awards and wasn’t surprised when Smirnoff’s Choose Love limited edition bottles won.

“They were a hit with consumers not because they were well-designed,” he told the Mindlab Academy, “but because purpose-driven products increasingly resonate with customers. These bottles have incredible appeal because they connect the brand with something emotive. The best packaging is no longer about beautiful design and standing out on the shelf, but also meaning and purpose.”

Smirnoff-Choose-Love3-1440x1080Why do you think this is?

“There are two reasons. Partly it’s because younger generations want more purpose in their lives and clarity about what brands stand for. They want companies to do good and be good, and brands are responding.

“At the same time, for the bigger corporations, there is more pressure from shareholders who want to be investing in only the most sustainable businesses.

“As a result, there’s been a real groundswell of companies changing how they operate to do things in better ways. For instance, companies like Cafédirect are doing everything it takes to become certified B Corp, or ensuring they’re entirely fairtrade. Coca-Cola has created biodegradable packaging, while many are reducing the amount of plastics they use.

“And this is trickling down into branding, as companies change the way that they represent themselves to reflect their new and improved approach.

“I don’t think that many companies have cracked it yet in terms of convincing people to spend more to buy something that has been sourced ethically and has a strong supply chain – but we are at that tipping-point. Companies like Pukka Herbs are doing a good job of balancing doing the right thing with standing out and ensuring people will pay a slightly higher price.”  

How difficult is it for big businesses to be purpose-driven?

“I think Unilever has done an incredible job despite its colossal size, changing whole swathes of the business – such as dramatically improving its supply chains.

“The supermarket Iceland has really adapted to being purpose-driven, and without any posturing. It’s not a new, small company that can be greener than green, whiter than white. But it has created a purpose in its own unique way.

“So it is possible, but it’s not easy.”

And how can businesses go about it?

“My main advice to companies looking to become more purpose-driven in their packaging is that you can’t graft it back on. You can’t fake it or buy it in. What I mean by that is, it has to be authentic. You can’t put lipstick on the face of a gorilla.

“In the Smirnoff example for instance, Diageo has a long history of creating and sponsoring events and celebrations for diverse communities. It has a genuine claim to being part of this story, which is why consumers are comfortable with the brand association.

“Another approach to consider is the one that Hellman’s mayonnaise has taken – rebranding and going back to more traditional roots. For long-established brands, digging back into their history is a clear way to claim their space and define their purpose.”

2Derek Main_AJ_02.1-01Before co-founding Family (and friends) in 2009, Derek Johnston was a board-level creative director at Landor Associates and creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi Design. With more than 30 years experience in the design business, he is in charge of brand strategy development for companies including Cafédirect, Seed and Bean, Graze, and Allinsons.


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A REAL People’s Choice Awards


A REAL People’s Choice Award at the FABs

A new category was added at this week’s International Food and Beverage Creative and Effectiveness Awards. And it was decided by a public vote with a difference.

This award is inspired by Derek Johnson at Family (and friends), who wants to harness everyday people and uncover which pack design they intuitively love.

FAB Awards teamed up with Mindlab and Link Consumer to develop a bespoke process which now gives us the first ever FAB Choice Award.

A representative (and therefore diverse) base of 1,000 people from the UK took part in an online study. This was not just a simple survey, but a test designed by psychologists with the intent of uncovering what the public actually feel (not think) about the designs. These individuals became “lay-judges” for the 21 Silver or Gold FAB design winners.

Ahead of the online study, qual research uncovered four factors which matter the most: being Striking, Imaginative, Irresistible and Groundbreaking. Our respondents took part in a series of intuitive tasks specifically designed to get right to the heart of how a design can evoke these attributes. We didn’t allow respondents to ponder the ‘Irresistibility’ of a design – they had to feel it instantly! To add richness of understanding we also asked them ‘why’ they loved their preferred design. Then with a light dose of mathematical wizardry, we determined the winners.

The first People’s Choice Award went to Design Bridge for Smirnoff’s Choose Love limited edition bottles which were available during Pride 2017, showing that the best packaging is not just about beautiful design, but also meaning and purpose.

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists and here’s to another year of packaging innovation.

Click here for more on how we uncover what people actually feel. 



Brendan Dawes: On designing with impact


Let the gorilla live: Ten tips on designing with impact

Ahead of the launch of his third book, acclaimed designer Brendan Dawes gave the Mindlab Academy a rundown of what he’s learnt throughout his career about how to create market-leading designs.

1. Let the gorilla live

Don’t sit in a room and overthink every detail because it will kill your idea. Often great thinking doesn’t make absolute sense. How do you explain a gorilla playing a drum kit? Trust.

2. Speak to a rose gardener

Look beyond your own industry for inspiration. I’d rather go and speak to someone who cultivates flowers than spend time exploring someone else’s data visualisation.

3. Embrace that everything’s been done

There are always new ways of doing things. If you’re working on an idea and it turns out someone else has already done it, that’s fine because it won’t have your unique take on it.

When you’re being inspired, it’s about letting your memories become fuzzy and distorted so you don’t end up making a copy. Let other ideas and inspiration you’ve collected intertwine with it. That’s when ideas become yours.

4. Don’t worry – everything starts ugly

Part of the process at the start of a design is to create something to start a conversation. It won’t be perfect – don’t expect it be. Don’t be precious. Start in black and white so you can’t get hung up on colours.

5. Accept the gap

What you want and what you end up with won’t be the same. Every day, close that gap until you get to a point that it works.

6. Channel Michael Jackson

Yes, Michael Jackson and Prince were gifted but they worked for it. Michael Jackson studied every form of dance. He was relentless. Prince spent 16-hours a day in the studio and learnt to play every musical instrument he could get his hands on. That is the commonality – hard work, every day.

7. Leave the door open for others

Share your process and work. You might not think what you’ve done is interesting. But it’s not insignificant to others.

8. Look in your rubbish bin

The ideas you discard can often include nuggets people will connect with. You may have written them off at the time but go back to them.

Have a culture that allows mistakes to happen and become beautiful. By being transparent about your process, you can hit on ideas nobody was expecting.

9. Find time to be bored

We’re constantly doing things but sit in silence and see what happens.

10. Add punctuation

Wrappings are what we connect with. If a box is too easy to open, you don’t take the time to appreciate it. It’s a comma when you want it to be a semicolon. If you create a box with a ribbon that takes a few seconds to open, there’s a reveal. It creates a moment. It feels like theatre. It adds luxury.

It’s about rhythm and timings and transitions. And it’s the same in packaging or an interface. On a website which calculates recommendations based on your input, if it spits out the results too quickly, people think it’s fake. Add in a moment of thinking time. It doesn’t make sense from a machine point of view – but that’s because we’re human.

With clients including Airbnb, Google and MailChimp, Brendan Dawes’ designs have won awards from Fast Company, Information is Beautiful and D&AD. As an artist, his work is featured in MoMA’s permanent collection.

This is the latest interview in the Mindlab Academy, a series of interviews with experts on challenges and opportunities in market research. Catch up on other articles on lies and failure here.

The aim of the Mindlab Academy is to reveal insights to help you create actionable market research. As part of this, each month we speak to industry leaders on their views and tips. Don’t miss out:

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Richard Chataway on: Science in communications


Here comes the science bit: 7 secret ingredients in the best communications 

“Creativity is obviously at the heart of every truly great piece of marketing and that will always will be the case,” states Richard Chataway, one of the UK’s most experienced practitioners in applied behavioural science. “But we are at a tipping point,” he adds, “A great idea is now only one element of a successful campaign.”

“Today, we have an abundance of customer data and digital tools that open up a whole world of possibilities for marketers. Campaigns can be tested, adapted and improved over time. They don’t need to rely on outdated assumptions and personas, instead harnessing the power of personalised and personality marketing. And the very best marketing, triggers action using scientific insights into human behaviour.”

If anyone knows how to create a successful call to action using science, it is Richard. He has led communications strategy for the UK and Australian governments, was the Head of Ogilvy Change and has advised companies from IKEA to ITV, ING, Unilever, Sainsbury’s and Starbucks.

Richard believes that the more scientific the approach you take to marketing, the more likely you are to achieve success because often what you need to know is counterintuitive.

In this article, Richard outlines seven tips for marketers on how to ensure they are finding scientific insights and making the most of digital and AI developments.

Tip 1. Stand on the shoulders of giants

“There is an assumption in communications and marketing that research for every campaign should reinvent the wheel but that’s not necessary and not actually possible. There’s a famous quote from Isaac Newton which goes, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,’ and this is true of marketing. There have been decades, centuries even, of scientific research into human behaviour. Marketers can take that existing knowledge and research and start applying those to their work.”

Tip 2. Experiment

“Marketing today is less about having one big idea and putting all your eggs in one basket, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. It’s about recognising that actually there are a number of routes that might work and the only way to know is through testing, iterating and refining over time.

“That’s not how most marketing and communications works quite yet because in business, we don’t want to admit that we don’t categorically know. There’s a great book by the Freakonomics team called Think Like a Freak. One of its key arguments is that we should be comfortable saying ‘I don’t know’. That’s trained out of us throughout the education system, but it is the essence of a scientific approach.”

Tip 3. Think like a government

“Some of the more commercial organisations miss out on the rigor that governments insist on in their communications. Governments have to focus on changing behaviour rather than simply affecting attitudes or raising awareness, because otherwise it would be wasteful. When you need to recruit people to the armed forces or get people to respond to their tax returns, there are clear calls to action. You won’t get your project signed off if you aren’t clear on how you will trigger action or if you didn’t have the evidence to back it up. There is much more scrutiny and if you mess up, questions are asked in parliament. Nobody wants that!”

Tip 4. Test out the context

“People’s behaviour depends very much on the context. As an example, we developed scripts to be used by two businesses in their call centres to understand why people were cancelling subscriptions and try to retain their custom. One set of scripts was for a newspaper and the other was for a piece of IT software. We found they required a completely different approach to each other.

“With people calling up to cancel a newspaper subscription, we reflected social norms – ensuring that the customers knew that other people like them were subscribing and the benefits. This worked because a newspaper is about your worldview. It reflects your priorities in life. Not so for the software company because these were business customers and they are all seeking seeking competitive advantage – they want to be different to everyone else.”

Tip 5. Find your price point

“Before jumping into creative mode, spend time unpacking your thinking. Think about what assumptions you are making that you have no evidence for. What are you assuming about the way people are buying that product? How do people assess value?

“A good example of this is the principle of price anchoring. We all know, for instance, that people tend to buy the second cheapest wine on the menu. Rolls-Royce looked into this principle and found that their cars were seen as expensive at car shows, but not so if they exhibited at boat shows – where products can be worth half a million pounds. That’s an insight you only get by looking at subconscious influences of behaviour.  

“Another example is that there is a bias to items to the left. So we recommended that a charity changed the order of suggested donations on its website from £5 £10 £50 to £50 £10 £5 and it generated an extra £850,000 in a year.”

Tip 6. Choose the right channel

“Most marketers will use the channel they think that their audience is most likely to be consuming. But actually this isn’t always what they are most influenced by.

“Look at advertising on the main TV channels, for example. TV still holds great influence as a channel because subconsciously people think that if a business can afford to advertise there then it is legitimate, and reputable.”

Tip 7. Move from personas to personality

“It is only relatively recently that we’ve been able to target people on an individual level and the technology in this area is developing quickly. Through the evolution of social media and big data, there are now sophisticated ways of assessing personality, beyond traditional techniques like Myers-Briggs.

“This is really powerful. Personality is a much better predictor of behaviour than demographics – we all know people in the same demographic as us who behave in a completely different way.

“Hilton Hotels tested out the theory by developing two versions of an online ad. One focused on the bar and social activities, the other on the spa facilities and pampering. The first ad was targeted at people that they had identified as being more social. The second at more solitary people. The ads performed three times better than the control group.

“How do you fuse this understanding of personality with marketing and the latest advances in machine learning and AI? And how do you do it ethically? This is the next frontier in behavioural science.”

Richard Chataway Headshot BW-2Richard Chataway is the founder of Communication Science Group, which audits, optimises and scientifically evaluates communication to customers, clients and staff using behavioural and marketing science.

This is the latest interview in the Mindlab Academy, a series of interviews with experts on challenges and opportunities in market research. Catch up on other articles on lies and failure here.

The aim of the Mindlab Academy is to reveal insights to help you create actionable market research. As part of this, each month we speak to industry leaders on their views and tips. Don’t miss out:

Alex Gordon: On Semiotics

mindlab-blog-bannersThe Semiotics of Desire

“What is happening in this house?” asks Dr. Alex Gordon, CEO of semiotics agency, Sign Salad.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 09.30.47

“A party?” I respond hopefully. “Brilliant, what you did there was a semiotic analysis,” he compliments me. “We don’t think of it that way. If we’re walking past this sight, we don’t turn to our partner and say ‘Hold on, I’m going to deconstruct the cultural context of that symbolic messaging.’ We just do it. By responding quickly, you demonstrated that we do it instinctively, irresistibly, instantaneously and unconsciously. Everyone in the world is a semiotician. We’re constantly interpreting symbolic messaging wherever we are. We cannot resist it.”

Alex has spent the last two decades decoding signs and symbols, first as a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London and more recently for the UK government and brands like Mars and Pernod Ricard. When it comes to understanding how semiotic insights can impact a brand, he’s the person to talk to. He starts off our discussion for the Mindlab Academy by explaining there are two levels of meaning to every message.

“Brands that aren’t in control of this,” he believes, “can create confusion and disconnect themselves from consumers. The first level is the ‘denotative’ meaning. If you see a rose cognitively you recognise it as a flower. At the second level, you also recognise its ‘connotative’ meaning as a symbol of love. In other words, if I went home on Valentine’s Day and gave my wife seven white chrysanthemums she’d say, ‘Thank you very much, you complete idiot’ because I would have recognised the denotative value of a rose as a flower but failed to understand the connotative reference of a rose as a symbol of love.”

“Actually, the same process takes place in every branded communication. Brands either put a single message on their packaging, advert or so on which relates to the broader cultural context in which it’s situated. Or they might use contradictory messaging which leaves consumers scratching their heads to interpret in – either intentionally or not.”Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 09.59.47

“Brands are increasingly aware they are dealing with cultural artefacts. For good reason, there was deep concern about using semiotics for some time. People thought it was the subjective opinions of individuals and didn’t come from data or consumers. But the dependence on listening to consumers alone hasn’t always worked. Today, brands know you need a level of insight beyond what customers say. Semiotics is something that everyone is engaged in constantly. It’s knowing that which gives you control over it.”

One of the most prevalent examples of where semiotics has deeply impacted marketing is in triggering desire for a brand and its products, which we went on to explore a little further.

The Apple

“Let’s go back to the very beginning of storytelling and the drama of Adam and Eve,” suggests Alex. “God told them not to eat the apple representing knowledge. They did, and so they were expelled from Eden. The critical idea here is that the desire to eat the apple was both irresistible and repellent because they felt guilt over doing it. The beginnings of desire were about being compelled to have something, and also knowing that need is somehow indulgent and wrong.”

The Reclining Nude

“The apple is embedded right at the heart of Western culture. It is a signifier and symbol of temptation, of compulsion and repulsion,” explains Alex. “Whenever we see an apple in any context, we don’t just see the fruit. We see it as a symbol of desire from the Adam and Eve narrative. It becomes a shortcut to understanding the purpose, meaning and value of a brand or product and we do it without even knowing it. When we look at the DKNY Red Delicious perfume advert we might not knowingly be thinking about Eve. But we are subconsciously.”


“The branded world has absorbed these principles and appropriated the reclining nude for its own purposes. In our minds, when technology or a car is shown in this position, it is a signifier of desirability and of pleasure and attraction. It’s disturbing of course because, semiotically, desire is dependant on troubling tropes of sexuality.”

These values are embedded and we don’t even think about it when we’re reading magazines or watching TV. “Brands increasingly need to understand how to exploit the use of these cultural symbols and visual cues, to ensure they have control of their messaging and engage consumers in a culturally relevant conversation,” concludes Alex.

Dr. Alex Gordon is the founder and CEO of Sign Salad, a leading semiotics and cultural insight agency which helps blue-chip companies such as Unilever, GSK and Chanel to understand unconscious influences on consumer behaviour and attitudes. Over the last ten years, the agency has advised extensively on global innovation, positioning, visual identity, packaging and communications projects.

This is the latest interview in the Mindlab Academy, a series of interviews with experts on challenges and opportunities in market research. Catch up on other articles on lies and failure here.

The aim of the Mindlab Academy is to reveal insights to help you create actionable market research. As part of this, each month we speak to industry leaders on their views and tips. Don’t miss out: sign up here to receive upcoming Mindlab Academy interviews first.

Mike Herd: On innovation


Innovation Special

Why “I will listen” should be your new mantra

Mike Herd Sussex InnovationTwenty-one years since the Sussex Innovation Centre opened and ten years since Mindlab made the hub its home, what has happened to innovation? We spoke to the person who would know – Mike Herd, the Executive Director who set up the centre and has driven its success. In this time, some people’s expectations have become unrealistic according to Mike. He told us that there are two drivers for this.

1. Speed  

”It has become much faster to innovate. It is interesting now that when people talk about ‘tech’, it’s not a shortening of ‘technology’. People just mean apps and mobile, both of which are relatively quick to create. Yes, innovating in other sectors has sped up but it still takes quite a long time to develop electronics, drug discovery, biotech and so on. There have been lots of accelerators set up where if you can’t create a new product in twelve weeks then you’re dismissed. To write an app in that time is achievable but to deliver a drug is a lot trickier!”

2. Profitability

“Most of the highly successful innovations in the past ten years within the tech area have not had any product. They are skimming the profits off someone else, like Uber or Just Eat, for instance. Just Eat doesn’t cook any food but it’s taking a big bite out of the orders – a very good business model because it can be hugely profitable. The issue in other industries is that then becomes the expectation of investors. You can no longer say: ‘It’s going to take half a million pounds to get to a prototype and then we’ll make a 20% gross profit, maybe 5% profit.’ People look at that compared to an internet venture and it’s no longer an attractive investment.”

1An impressive 85% of businesses that come to the innovation centre succeed and 15-20% of those scale significantly. How do you know when someone comes to you with a good idea?

“The principle I apply is: I will listen. Generally, I can’t make a judgement based on one conversation so I start from the perspective that I’ll believe your idea will do what you can say it can do. Then let’s see if there is a market for it. Then I ask: do you have the ambition to do it?

“The two aspects of market and ambition rule most people out. If they meet all three criteria, then we will find out quite quickly whether the idea can actually work.

“What I try to do is build up the ambition of the idea – how big could this be? If it’s big, then it’s worth trying to conquer the hurdles.”

What innovation trends do you think will take off over the next few years? 

“Firstly, I’m seeing a real explosion in “Psytech” companies – those that apply psychology to technology or technology to psychology. This rise is because companies are looking for the subtleties of how you differentiate yourself in an increasingly complex marketplace and how you create something that works at a local level. It’s also due to an increasing interest in wellness. People are accepting stress and mental health as an issue which five years ago nobody would touch.

“Electronic sensors are also becoming huge. In each area, a sensor might have twenty different applications, so how can you use it and how can you use the data it captures? With the Internet of Things, we’re asking how you can make someone’s life easier but then how do you affect it as a group?

“When it comes to all this data, there is so much of it that you have to find a way of dealing with it. AI is going to continue to be a key area because if you can create things which teach themselves, then the more data the better. It’s no longer overwhelming.

“Finally, there is a lot of envy from bigger business looking at smaller businesses and thinking, ‘I wish I could be a bit more like that’. So trying to find that interesting interface of how to introduce smaller companies to bigger companies and how to make that work – that’s where I’m seeing a lot of interest.”

Watch our very own Duncan Smith talks about his experiences at the hub over the last ten years. 

This is the latest interview in the Mindlab Academy, a series of interviews with experts on challenges and opportunities in market research. Catch up on other articles on desire, lies and failure here.  

The aim of the Mindlab Academy is to reveal insights to help you create actionable market research. As part of this, each month we speak to industry leaders on their views and tips. Don’t miss out: sign up here to receive upcoming Mindlab Academy interviews first.



Mindlab’s Museum of Failed Products

Museum of Failed Products

Every year, millions of products flood the market trying to be the next big thing.

But not everything can be the new iPod or Phish Food.

In fact, at least three-quarters of new products end up failing – despite extensive market research, mammoth marketing and tightly crossed fingers.

We’ve looked at twelve products and rebrands that didn’t work to see what can be learnt from them today.

Which product failed because the technology wasn’t opened up for others to use? And which company found out that sex doesn’t always sell? Click on each of the products for more information.

In the case of many of these failed products, people working at the companies probably experienced groupthink, where the desire for harmony within a group leads to poor decision making, for example through being overly-optimistic and not expressing doubts.

It is likely that many of these companies suffered from the planning fallacy – they took on a high-risk project, giving confidence to the best-case scenario without fully considering the worst-case scenario.

Of course, failure isn’t always a bad thing and it can lead to great success. Read more on how to fail well in our article with Barney Whiter from The School of Life. 



EU Referendum Summary

EU Ref Blog Summary

EU Referendum – Summary


In the aftermath of the EU referendum much ink has been spilled in an attempt to explain the outcome and why people voted as they did.

In the month leading up to the referendum we conducted a study, in collaboration with the Guardian, that explored the subconscious ‘feelings’ that drove voters’ decision making. By feelings, we mean the information that has been embedded into the subconscious over time that subsequently informs our decision-making.

So what did the data show and how does it relate to the actual result?

Based on the research we conducted in February 2016, before the campaign got into full swing we, like other research companies were surprised by the final outcome suggesting a small majority in favour of the Remain campaign, and I will suggest some of the reasons for this error in a moment. But let me start by looking at what we got right.

  • Among those most in favour of Brexit (for further details see Blog 2) 74% prioritised immigration above all other issues (See blog 3 for further details)
  • At the other end of the scale, our data clearly suggested that feelings about the EU were most positive in Scotland (Remain 61%), London (Remain 95%), and Northern Ireland (Remain 99%)  (See blog 2 for more detail)
  • Our data also clearly showed a significant increase in ‘Leave’ voters according to age with half (49%) of 18 – 24 year olds feeling strongly we should remain in the EU compared with around a quarter (24%) of those aged between 50 and 60. (See blog 2 for more details)

Last but not least, our findings indicated that the feelings of those who were still undecided at the time of testing (Feb 16) were aligned closer to those who were in either of the two ‘out’ groups (Weak
out and Strong out).

We found that a latent mistrust of the EU lurked in many people’s subconscious, but at the time of testing was of insufficient power to override conscious doubts about the future outside of the EU. This might have tipped the balance towards voting leave at the last minute. When decision making becomes overly complex people tend to rely  on their ‘gut’ feelings.


Basing our prediction on the data collected in February, we expected that Britain would remain in the EU. Clearly, implicit attitudes change during campaigning and more so than we predicted.

As explained in Blog 1, we can only ever accurately estimate outcomes over which we have no control. It is possible to make increasingly precise weather forecasts, since their publication exerts absolutely no effect on the outcome. The same cannot, of course, be said about public opinion polls whose widespread dissemination can and does significantly influence voter intentions.

A second possible reason is that people who wanted out were more strongly motivated to actually go out and vote. Data shows that only around a third of younger voters actually did so on the day and, of course, no one knows how non-voters would have voted.

Since the methods we employed have never before been used to capture people’s implicit attitudes and motivation towards complex and abstract concepts like EU membership, we probably need even finer tuned tools to do so.

All in all, however, we believe the detailed results are a powerful demonstration of both the accuracy and the potential of this radically new approach to market research.

Written by Insa-Annett Tiaden & Dr David Lewis-Hodgson