The Big Board system

concentric circles filled.idrawThe proposition

The Big Board is a system designed to identify, monitor, analyze and explain cultural phenomenon in order to track and predict changes in consumer taste and preference.

The problem

Consumer taste changes often and radically. Economic actors find themselves in an increasingly inscrutable world, preyed upon by “black swans,” (i.e., changes so dramatic they are difficult to anticipate). Managers complain that their “response time” is shorter. They are caught in a ceaseless, frustrating game of catchup. Few organizations have a system for keeping watch on cultural change. Existing practice is bedeviled by amnesia and avoidance. As change grows more rapid and more discontinuous, this approach grows more intolerable. A new system is called for.

The method

The Big Board uses an anthropological perspective and a cultural lens. This enables us to see the significance of many data streams, the significance of which is now obscure.

Thus, for instance, the Big Board allows us to see that the rise of Bitters sales in the 1980s 1280px-Angostura_aromatic_bitters_dDand 1990s is an indicator of a new approach to spirits, mixed drinks, bars, and the culture of spirits of consumption. This is the so-called Mixology trend.

Without an anthropological perspective and a cultural lens, Bitters sales was just one more data stream in a vast basin of data streams. With the Big Board, the significance of these data is clear, giving early warning to firms like Diageo and Pernod Ricard that a fundamental shift in consumer taste and privilege is underway.

4 steps

1. listen for spikes or drops (aka anomalies, aka perturbations) in the SKU sales data, eliminating the “false positives” created by retail sales, seasonal variations, etc.
2. apply anthropological lens to evaluate “true positives” & see cultural significance
3. send in an ethnographer to find a deeper qualitative understanding
4. build visualization showing many “trends,” predicting motion, speed and outcome

A few places the Big Board could have created value.

  • CPG recently witnessed the collapse in orange juice sales as consumers decided that this once standard part of the American breakfast contained too much sugar. Between 2002 and 2017, the Nielsen-measured retail U.S. orange juice market declined by 50 percent. How early could we have spotted the trend against sugar?
  • CPG players have witnessed sudden migrations taking consumer away from the big brand they once prized to brands that are little, local, and artisanal. In the case of technology, Gillette (P&G) lost US market share, falling from 70% in 2010 to 54% in 2016 (Euromonitor). The Big Board can “see” a trend like this and give early warning.

The American corporation sometimes misses the cultural and social trend.

  • The world of spirits was slow to see the mixology
  • The Democrats slow to see the rise of a disruptive Republican contender.
  • Fast food was slow to see the rise of fast casual and anti-fast food sentiment.
  • Detroit and new attitudes to automobiles amongst Millennials.
  • Home construction industry was slow to see the great room trend.

What would it be worth for:

  • the M&A and investment communities to see trends that will create or diminish  consumer demand more accurately?
  • Hollywood to predict changes in story-telling conventions and audience expectation?
  • real estate investors to predict “walk to town” trend?
  • pet food industry to predict the rise of organic pet food?