Jeremy Gutsche – Unlocking The Cool Interview


Jeremy GutschePopular is not cool. Cool is the next big thing and in a world of increased competition, intensified customer demands and globalization, understanding how to be creative and then build up a culture of innovation is more important than ever before. One of the ways companies do that is to use ‘Trend Hunters’ or ‘Trend Spotters’, people who research ‘what’s cool?’. One of the pioneers of the field is Jeremy Gutsche, a Canadian innovation expert, author, “one of North America’s most requested keynote speakers” and chief trend hunter at trendhunter.com which has been described by The Independent as “the world’s biggest online cool hunting magazine”.

At the Marketing Symposium organized by Revelations, Jeremy was in Pakistan to talk about ‘Unlocking Cool: How to inspire innovation potential and infect products with Cool’.  Jeremy’s Culture of Innovation framework exposes the audience to ground-breaking ideas related to perspective, customer obsession, tolerance for failure and creativity. Aurora caught up with him to talk about the next big thing.

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself and do explain what do you mean by Trend Hunting?

I guess the best background for me is just to say that I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart and I never knew what my business idea was going to be. Everywhere that I worked I was trying to get that inspiration. So eventually when I started trend hunter, I wanted it to be a place where people could come when they wanted to get their ideas and I’d get ideas from all over the world and hopefully I’d find my own. As TrendHunter took off I never needed to pick. The interesting thing is that still guides us. We have the world’s largest trend spotting network with 50,000 contributors signed up around the globe from where we publish ideas each day and with 40 million views a month we gather data to understand what clusters and what groups are interesting.

Q. Why should marketers care about Trend Hunting and what’s Cool?

Cool is unique, cool is cutting edge and Cool is viral. Micro-trends and innovations surround us so how do we make sense of all the noise? Trend Hunting thus is basically the search for inspiration. Looking for something new, a pattern that could inspire your next big idea. It’s not about the rise of big trends that everyone knows about like ECO or FEMALE PURCHASING POWER since everyone knows about those including your competitors. We’re looking at micro-trends, those unique niches of opportunities. When you see these opportunities you can take advantage of them and if you don’t your competitor or a new startup might and overturn you.

Q. For most businesses your ideas are quite scary. You advocate constant change, relentless questioning and an anti-bureaucracy. How do you create a culture like that in a traditionally steeped organization?

There are two parts to that that are important. One is the idea that you need to constantly change. Second, you have to realize is that the world never returns to normal. If you look at marketing, you can see things like social media changing the landscape.

I like to say that ‘Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast’. Thus in terms of how you get a traditional organization and get them to change, an interesting way to get an organization to get more innovative is to create a ‘Gambling Fund’. The idea is that it’s tough to try to persuade everybody to do things a new way but the real thing that stops people from being creative is because you get caught up in a routine. With a gambling fund you are allocating a specific amount of money and time trying something new. BBC’s ‘The Office’ was their most successful program and that came out of that fund.

Q. You talk a lot about destroying value to unleash new creativity and innovation. Yet cannibalization in business is hard. Is there a middle way for managers where they can balance both shareholder demands yet ensure that they live for tomorrow.

In innovation there are best practices and having someone kill your idea is important. There is a need for people to challenge the idea and there needs to be a push in all directions. Situational Framing Dictates The Outcome Of Your Creative Process. What is it that you’re trying to do?

It’s so easy to get caught up in your profit center that you stop adding fuel to your innovative new ideas. When push comes to shove or when you need a little extra money, companies cut off their innovative arms. For the long term, one of the most important questions is how do you re-invent ourselves and that always comes from destroying that which you’ve created.

Failure is part of the experimentation process.  In order to win, you need to constantly be gauging customer needs, tracking evolving trends and testing new ideas. Google is an example of this. They’re constantly testing new portfolios.

Q. You have come up with “The Exploiting Chaos Framework.” Give us a brief description of each of the four tactics and how they work in the framework. Do you think these tactics can be employed by Asian cultures which are more passive in nature?

The framework has four parts. Creating a ‘culture of innovation’ – Deeply Understanding Your Customer and Willing to Try New Things. The next part is ‘trend spotting’ – you identify opportunities from your customer, competitors or other industries. The third part is adaptive innovation – constantly adjust your strategy to ensure that you’re on top of a changing world and the forth idea is ‘infectious marketing’ – to create a meaningful change it’s about finding a way to break through the noise and create word of mouth. What this framework is about is that in periods of change these are the elements that help companies adapt and win.

There’s a difference between how people remember you and having people feel how they see you as part of their team. You can either make an emotional connection or you can go deeper and making a cultural connection. The difference is that with a cultural connection I see you as being part of my team. I don’t see you telling me what to do, I see you as part of my team.  Because we’re on the same team I want you to win and you want me to win. In any industry when you make a cultural connection, people are willing to refer you. That someone else says your product or message is the best.

Q. I love the quote you often use, “Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast”. Do tell us more about what that means and how does culturally steeped nations can create the Culture of Revolution you often talk about. Are we doomed to passivity?

No matter how cool your PowerPoint deck is, if the organization is not willing to adapt and embrace change than it’s not going to happen. At the end of the day, what will make your company succeed or fail is the culture you’ve created. This means both the culture within your organization’s teams AND the cultural connection you’ve made with your customers. Within your team, you will always be more successful if your team feels connected to your cause, empowered to try new things, and able to test and fail. With your customers, you will always be more successful if you can create a cultural connection that makes people feel like your product is made just for them. Too often companies speak “to” their customer, but companies that create an authentic cultural connection make the customer feel like they are part of the same team… They talk “with” their customer.

Q. For a message to go viral, you recommend that marketers should Relentlessly Obsess About Your Story. What does that mean?

People talk about it in a given way. You can control that message by having a story idea that is simple, direct and super-charged. The idea is that if you can only remember 7 words or less – slogan or in every part of my company – you might want to think what those words are. You need to best describe what you do. By constantly figuring out what are the exact words that best define what your company is about you can get a disproportionately better impact and each word really really matters.

You need your story needs to be simple. I’ll give you the words that you can tell us. The second is you need to be direct. You convey your value proposition and why I must choose you. Super-Charged – messages, slogans, titles that makes me want to tell someone else.

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