Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

To launch its 3G network last fall, Vodafone Australia commandeered two big red buses and morphed them into mobile concept stores, packed with 3G phones and other gadgets. Adding a dash of sympvertising, the Vodafone buses provided a free commuter shuttle service in Sydney and Melbourne, with Vodafone’s promotional teams demonstrating 3G services to passengers en route. As pointed out by Vodafone Australia’s Brand and Communications department: “People are out and about when they’re using our devices and this campaign is all about how the omnipresence of mobile can alleviate boredom and re-invent ‘dead time’ as something more fun and interesting. We also want illustrate the power of mobile broadband and show how it can create more flexible and effective opportunities for businesspeople on the move.” Letting consumers try out new products in a relevant setting—that’s exactly what our sister site trendwatching.com would call tryvertising. Time to hop on the experiential advertising bus. Or… Start the world’s first tryvertising agency. Now there’s a business opportunity! Following Brazilian waxes and Indian eyebrow threading, Japanese ear cleaning could well be the next hit in salon treatments. In Tokyo, shops are popping up that specialize in cleaning people’s ears. Using an ear-pick equipped with a tiny camera, professional ear cleaners can show clients exactly how much wax is being removed. The Mimi Kurin salon, shown above, opened in December 2005, and charges JPY 500 (EUR 3.50 / USD 4.25) for a quick five-minute clean, with the deluxe twenty-minute service going for JPY 2,000. Seventy percent of Mimi Kurin’s customers are men, and the service has been so successful that a second store will open in Yokohama later this month. Not only could this concept be copied to cities across the world (after all, everyone needs a little ear pampering sometime), it would also be a great add-on service for hair salons or day spas. And how about combining ear cleaning with hearing tests? Recent research into “iPod ear” advises testing hearing regularly, to be able to spot damage as soon as possible. Sounds like a smart new business idea. Navigation systems, mp3 enabled hifi sets, speed camera sensors… As straightforward as installation may seem when a customer buys the gadget, as hard as it gets when the wires are out of the box, and said customer is folded in two under the dashboard, trying to connect B6 to R12. Fitting stations for car accessories usually require customers to buy the products from their store, often at higher than highstreet prices. wecanfit.co.uk is different. Customers buy the accessories where they like, and wecanfit.co.uk takes care of installation. In their own words, “Our aim is to fit what you already own.” Booking an installation online is simple: using drop-down menus, the customer selects what they need to have installed, prices are automatically displayed, the customer fills in their details, and an appointment is scheduled. The post-purchase service model works well for a wide variety of products, from assembling Ikea furniture or changing the colors (see Ikea slipcovers), to installing anti-virus software. Offer time-starved consumers convenience, and let them have it their way! If you don’t, your competitors will 😉 In Kenya, Procter & Gamble has just launched a two-year programme that will supply over 600,000 underprivileged girls with sanitary towels to ensure they remain in class during menstruation. A large number of girls in rural Kenya skip school during their monthly period, because their families are too poor to buy sanitary towels. It’s estimated that this causes an average girl to miss more than a month of school each year. Working with Nakumatt, a Kenyan supermarket chain, and The Girl Child Network, P&G is matching the number of sanitary towels donated by Nakumatt shoppers to help girls stay in school throughout the month. And yes, of course this is a clever way to introduce consumers to one’s brand, and of course companies like P&G are in it for the profits, but that’s what businesses do. Hey, as long as all involved win! What is your brand doing to help out those who need it most? Last year, we reported on Yokozuna in Hamburg, EMERGE*nyc in New York, and the Residents Apparel Gallery in San Francisco. All three companies focus on providing retail space to fledgling artists or minipreneurs. This week, we spotted a similar showcase boutique in Singapore. inQbox, which stands for incubation in a box, is an uncluttered store in a Singapore mall that is stacked with well-lit, attractive shelving units. It rents out ‘boxes’ to small businesses and artists, providing them with retail and gallery space, and taking care of the daily hassle of retail. Prices for a box start at SGD 80 (EUR 40/USD 50) per month, depending on size and location within the store. Vendors are selected carefully, and the store is popular with shoppers for its unique array of wares. And lots of shoppers means valuable mini-real estate, so there’s often a long waiting list for boxes. As inQbox puts it, they aim to “encourage creativity and entrepreneurship by providing individuals with a low cost and low risk platform to develop and incubate their talents further than just a hobby, home business or side interest. This allows you to continue with your busy life, be it taking care of your children, traveling or working in a corporate firm.” They’ve hit the nail on the head with this one: as more consumers turn into (part-time) entrepreneurs, plenty of opportunities are emerging for other smart and empathetic entrepreneurs willing to facilitate manufacturing, enterprising, venturing, selling, auctioning, trading, and marketing. What can you do to make a minipreneur’s life easier, and their business better? Ministry of Sound, the biggest brand in clubland, is launching a new chain of bars this Friday, 31 March 2006. The first Minibar is in Harrogate, Yorkshire, and there are plans to open another thirty in major towns across the United Kingdom. Since November of last year, relaxed licensing laws have made it possible for liquor-pouring establishments in the UK to stay open as long as they like. Now, Ministry of Sound has created a bar that’s comfortable and diverse enough for patrons to actually want to stick around all night. After all, how many other bars feature hot tub seating? Inspired by private member’s clubs and bars in upscale hotels, the Minibar will feature various zones with different ambiances, allowing customers to change the mood of their evening by moving from zone to zone. Starting off in the lounge, moving to the cocktail or shot bar, then relaxing in the hot tub before hitting the dancefloor. A child of its time, Minibar also includes video and diary rooms, outfitted with webcams for recording libation-fuelled midnight confessions. (Yikes!) Combining elements of fun with accessible glamour, Minibar seems to be adding a touch of massclusivity to the nightlife business. Just when you thought the ringtone craze had reached its peak, a new ringtone provider springs up and grabs your entrepreneurial attention. Although it also offers popular―some would say hackneyed―classics like Für Elise, Booseytones‘ main attraction is its wide range of less overworked ringtones. Being the world’s largest publisher of classical music, Boosey & Hawkes can draw from an immense catalogue of music by such distinguished 20th century composers as Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Britten, Adams, Reich and Prokofieff. Previous centuries are represented by a host of venerable composers, from Handel to Tchaikovsky. After replacing Nokia’s Gran Vals with a truetone version of Adam’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine, dedicated followers of classical music will also be pleased to swap standard cellphone wallpapers with a photograph of a pensive Prokofieff, or an engraving of Mozart’s dapper silhouette. The opportunity? Ringtones seem to be one of those ‘new’ ideas that even after many years continue to inspire marketers to innovate. In Booseytones’case, the ka-ching may come from tens of millions of boomers who are as addicted to their cell phones as the next teen, but have been completely overlooked by ringtone providers. (Naturally, boomers aren’t the only ones interested in classical music. Booseytones will also be a welcome relief to younger consumers who’d like a change from 50 Cent and Gwen Stefani.) Expect this market to be even bigger when the next wave of senior citizens hits the market; they will not only cherish their cell phones, and have a slightly more mature taste, they’ll also view downloading ringtones as an integrated part of buying music. It never hurts to take a close look at how your current and loyal customers evolve as they age and become more experienced: grow your business by growing with them. Whether ignorant or just plain lazy, plenty of consumers and businesses don’t make the effort to recycle electronics. Which is why Green Citizen‘s drop-off center and pick-up service are great concepts – they make it convenient for people to recycle unused electronic equipment. In their own words: “we want to make recycling electronics so easy that you’ll make it a part of your everyday routine.” Which is very necessary, considering that a computer or tv monitor contains an average of 6 pounds of lead, which seeps into the ecosystem if the montior is dumped and crushed in a landfill. Green Citizen’s drop-off center is an attractive, well branded, retail-style store, usefully located behind Fry’s Electronics in Palo Alto, California, and the pick-up service arranges for collection of items from business and homes around the city. Further sweetening the deal, residential customers’ pick-up receipts feature discounts from environmentally committed businesses in the area. Green Citizen only works with accountable demanufacturing and processing partners, to ensure that every piece of equipment is properly disposed of. Unfortunately, this isn’t standard practice in the recycling business. Just like the eco-friendly home cleaners and hybrid taxis we recently featured, Green Citizen’s appeal lies in making a green service available without sacrificing convenience, style or competitive prices. Repeat after us: make it easy and fun for your customers to be green! Back in 2004, trendwatching.com wrote about IndiOne, a pilot for no-frills chic hotels in India. Now, the IndiOne in Bangalore has been renamed Ginger, and an ambitious roll-out for the new brand has been unveiled. While India’s economic growth has fuelled the arrival of a number of low-cost airlines, and domestic travel has been increasing at double digit rates, the country’s hotel industry hasn’t been keeping up. Most Indian hotels are either too expensive for domestic travelers, or lack the amenities that modern travelers have come to expect. Rooms at Indian Hotels Company‘s Ginger hotels, however, are priced at Rs 1,000 (EUR 18.70 / USD 22.50), well below mid-range hotels. The no-frills part means that guests wheel in their own luggage and use self-service check in. A touch of chic is added through fresh design, and spaces that allow guests to work comfortably, with ‘Smart Basics’ features like hotel-wide wireless internet access and 100% power back-up. After Bangalore and an opening in Haridwar (a northern Indian pilgrimage city) last week, IHC plans to open a Ginger hotel every six weeks until the end of 2006, speeding up to 15-20 a year over the next three to five years. The budget hotels will be located in IT parks, near transportation hubs and in the vicinity of pilgrimage areas. Each hotel is expected to recover its costs in four to six years. If you’re in the hospitality industry: this field is still surprisingly wide open. Hundreds of millions of first-time, budget travelers from BRIC nations will crowd the world’s tourist and business for years to come, eager to snap up good-value hotel rooms. Equally lucrative: the tens of millions of seasoned travelers from mature, design conscious consumer societies now traveling almost monthly, alternating between low cost trips and luxury outings. Time to buy up a few old hotels (or office buildings), and redo them no-frills chic style? Time to partner with the Gingers and Yotels of this world and not only supply them with what you have to offer, but let their happening brands rub off on yours? (And, if you’re a non-Indian business, gain a foothold in the world’s fourth biggest and most exciting economy?) Outside India, and across industries, learn from companies as diverse as Target, JetBlue and Zara on how to deliver both chic and low cost goods services to spoiled consumers, beating both your mass class and cheap heaps competitors on the hygienia scale. Truly the kind of stuff that should get entrepreneurial minds going. Brought to t-shirt aficionados by the makers of Threadless, the website that lets its members choose which customer-designed t-shirts should be printed, OMG Clothing turns the model upside down. Instead of submitting ready-to-go illustrations, members submit slogans such as ‘Squirrels Are Nature’s Ninjas’. The website’s other members then rate the slogans (either ‘OMG…. that’s stupid’ or ‘I’d wear this’), and the winning slogans are translated into t-shirt designs by OMG’s pick of graphic artists. So far, over 105,440 slogans have been submitted. Of course, the customer-made, customer-voted model works best for commodity-like products that can be easily manufactured in new runs at little extra cost. So, get creative and find your own alternative for t-shirts. Slogans for bumper stickers? Patterns for ties? No, wait, Naked & Angry already does those… How about customer-designed patterns for headscarves, for the Muslim market? Whatever you do, embrace the fact that your most valued customer is also willing to be your Chief Creative Officer. And don’t forget to reward them accordingly! OMG slogan winners receive USD 100 cash and a USD 100 gift certificate for coming up with the idea.