may think that "beehiving" relates to buzzing insects,
that "fingerprinting" is something police do to criminals
and that "merit badges" are earned by industrious Girl
Scouts and Boy Scouts. Students in Lee Bush's fall-semester Communications
Research class learned that these terms are also used to describe
consumer "macrotrends," and they are just a few of the
behaviors being identified, tracked and analyzed by Iconoculture,
a leading consumer-trend research and advisory services firm.
stepped into the academic world to partner with students in a university
course for the first time this semester, thanks to a connection
made by Bush. "We've been considering ways to take our database
of consumer trends into college campuses," said Kirk Olson,
senior consumer analyst for Iconoculture. "When Professor Bush
contacted us, we were thrilled to partner with Elon to see how our
research could augment the traditional methods being taught in college
worked as a senior vice president in the Chicago offices of Ketchum
and Ogilvy, two of the world's leading public relations firms. "As
mass media becomes more and more fragmented, and the consumer becomes
more difficult to reach via traditional techniques, well-known consumer-brand
companies like Coke, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble are turning
to ethnographic research to help them get closer to their consumer,"
she said. "Many large advertising and public relations firms
subscribe to Iconoculture's database of trend research to better
understand the underlying values that are driving consumer behavior
So what is
"beehiving?" Iconoculture identifies it as "the growth
of tight-knit, alternative communities, countering the fragmentation
we feel in other areas of social and national life." Examples
of this trend include the cyberspace link-up Meetup.com; the popularity
of the over-50 women's groups known as "Red Hat" societies;
and lesser-known trends such as the Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls,
Maine - a celebration of a soda drink that popped up 120 years ago;
and the growing "Racers for Christ" group that can be
seen at motorsports events throughout the South.
group at Iconoculture identified 40 emerging cultural trends several
years ago in a book titled, "The Future Ain't What it Used
to Be." They track these trends through a field network of
hundreds of cultural reporters and writers as well as consumer analysts
assigned to identify current and emerging trends across 14 lifestyle
categories and seven demographics. The database went live in early
2003, when the research firm launched its Web site for Iconoculture
subscribers. Each day, subscribers receive updated articles on the
latest trends to be identified, along with ideas for how the trends
can be applied to the clients' particular businesses. In addition,
Iconoculture analysts utilize the data to work with clients on hundreds
of research, marketing and advertising projects each year.
Bush's class were given access to this database to help them identify
trends and develop solutions in the process of completing an ongoing
research assignment. Students were divided into groups at the beginning
of the semester. Each group was given a hypothetical client situation.
One group researched the potential for a well-known mass merchandiser
to open a cool, new "store-within-a-store" targeted to
Millennials (young people ages 13-26). Another group researched
a strategy for marketing a tissue brand to the Latino population,
and another identified commonalities in three different age segments
of the Mature market that could then be turned into content for
an AARP television program.
exploratory research techniques, the students gathered information
about their client situation, identified the target audience, researched
the market and client competitors and then quantified the information
by designing a survey. Next, to dig deeper into the values of their
target audience, students acted as Iconoculture reporters and conducted
observational research on consumers in their target audience.
while home on fall break, the members of the mass-merchandising
team visited retail stores across the country to observe store layouts
and the different clothing lines available. They also paid close
attention to Millennial shoppers to determine if they shopped with
friends or parents, if they lingered in the clothing section and
how they interacted with store employees. In addition, each person
in the group tagged along with one Millennial for a day to gather
more information on their attitudes, likes and dislikes, etc. They
hung out in malls, attended Millennial sporting events, noted what
Millennials were reading, wearing, eating, watching and how they
interacted with their friends.
break, each group was assigned to work with an Iconoculture analyst
to help them navigate the database and make sense of what they had
observed in their research. Each group identified trends, macrotrends
and underlying consumer values that fit with their target audience.
The analyst then helped them brainstorm ways to apply those values
to the client situation.
The team marketing
the tissue brand for the Latino market found a renewed awareness
for Latino beauty. At the same time, the team found that because
Latinos have an aversion to wasting thing, they often use handkerchiefs
instead of tissues. They developed an idea for a durable, reusable
tissue for removing make-up. They then built in ideas for sponsoring
"Mi Belleza," a campaign involving a televised Latino
beauty pageant and giveaways for free Latina make-up samples.
advantage of using Iconoculture data is in being able to turn the
data into actionable business opportunities," Bush said. "By
the end of the semester, I think the students found that research
is only useful if you can apply it to the situation at hand. By
working with Iconoculture, they were exposed to the same cutting-edge
techniques that large-brand companies are using to understand their
to integrate consumer-trend data into future Communications Research
classes, and she is working with Iconoculture to help make that
possible. "This has been a great learning experience for us,"
Olson said. "It gave us a glimpse into how we can help universities
use our data to augment their traditional research techniques, and
prepare students for the use of observational research in their
professional communication careers."
Just in case
you were wondering, "merit badge" identifies a shift in
values from collecting "things" to collecting "experiences,"
- or the recasting of social status from what one has to what one
does. And "fingerprinting" is a brand's ability to take
the "mass" out of the mass market by making a product
part of a consumer's unique identity - if you ever find yourself
buying customized shower gel, you'll know you've been "fingerprinted."