Neil Bennett, Strategy Director, London
‘Fitter, happier, more productive’ were the lyrics from one of the finest tracks on Radiohead’s brilliant OK Computer. As well as being a dead cert for any 90’s alternative playlist, today these lyrics are an unspoken, yet very ‘achievable’ mantra for just about anyone with a smartphone.
Why? Well, in recent years mankind has embraced a journey of self-improvement. If the Noughties were all about experience and discovery, the Teenies are all about wisdom and personal progress. A few years ago Charlie Sheen might have called it ‘Winning’ – we’d rather call it ‘The Age of Competitive-Self’.
It’s been bubbling away since 2006 when regular people began turning to their smartphones to help them scrape ten seconds off their best 10k. With Nike and Apple sparking a tipping point for the growth of the trend, in just a few years it developed far beyond the running community. Today the thirst for self-improvement is supplemented with products and services for just about every aspect of our lives.
Our very own founder Matt Dyke recently enthused about learning chords to the latest Arctic Monkeys album using Garage Band on his iPad whilst riding the bus home from work.
Smartphone innovation has been the principle driving force. Today our devices are loaded with multiple connected sensors, and are plugged into myriad apps, tools, and services that help us become fitter, happier, more productive. Of course personal progress existed before the humble smartphone. But previously the feedback loop was arbitrary, latent, un-connected, and not very rich.
Take learning a new language. In the old world it involved courses, teachers, textbooks, audiobooks and a trip to a foreign climate. And once complete, at best you’d get a certificate (supposing you passed).
But in the new world all you need is an app like Duolingo. A free mobile app, it allows you to learn a whole host of different languages. As you learn you score points, providing immediate feedback. And the advanced ‘scientifically-proven’ interactive interface makes it impossible to forget what you’ve learnt. Who needs a course or a teacher?
By learning on Dualingo you also make a positive contribution to the world, as Duolingo asks you to translate parts of the web as you learn. That’s how they provide the app for free. With translation tasks being matched against your level of learning, users are tasked with translating Wikipedia pages to Spanish. To put the benefit of everyone’s collective contribution into perspective, the Duolingo team claim if 1m people use their app to learn, the entire Wikipedia site could be translated from English to Spanish in just 80 hours. That’s far more rewarding than any certificate.
But innovative mobile technology is not the only driver behind the Competitive- Self trend. Today there is a social pressure to be constantly bettering oneself. And, due to the hyper-connected world we’re living in, this self-improvement is broadcast for all to see. Admit it – we’re all guilty of trying to make our lives sound interesting on Facebook every so often; our online personas are clamouring for something to boast about.
This has caused a shift from work/life balance to work/life blurring. More and more people are adopting Google’s prized 70-20-10 working process for their own lives, spending 70% of their waking hours dedicated to work; 20% to projects with friends, family, or neighbours; and 10% to their own personal endeavours – whether that’s writing a book, starting a new business or, like Matt Dyke, learning the guitar.
And should you need any further encouragement for self-improvement, you just need to look towards wider popular culture for inspiration. Social channels are awash with social mantras – from ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ to the relentless ‘YOLO’ culture. Brands are also on board. O2 tells you to ‘Be More Dog’, Levi’s – ‘Go Forth’.
This shift in lifestyle has fuelled the growth of cramming and enhanced downtime. It sees us using mobile devices to squeeze every available second out of the day – turn that tedious train journey into personal development time and add to your ten or twenty per cent. Study a new language on your iPhone, organise your work calendar, chart the day’s calorie count – the options are virtually endless.
So what about the future of the Competitive Self trend? Well it presents a huge opportunity for brands and businesses to innovate by providing tools, apps, and products that better integrate with the fabric of our lives. As this happens, we’re going to see them become more invisible.
The most advanced of these innovations are in ‘wearable technology’. Nike were first to the table here again with their FuelBand – a band you wear on your wrist which charts your calories, steps and movement, turning these into Nike Fuel points which can be tracked day-by-day via a mobile app. Since the FuelBand’s launch in early 2012, activity-tracking devices have been eagerly developed and enhanced by both Nike and their competitors (the FuelBand SE was released just a few short months ago, as was the Fitbit Force).
Then there’s Jawbone UP24, a wristband that allows you to “Know yourself. Live better”. It tracks how you sleep, move and eat – then helps you use that information to feel your best. Like the FuelBand, it is linked to your phone and delivers daily insights on how you can improve your lifestyle.
AF gadget gal Kate Sigrist says: “The app allows you to see your activity by day, as a lifeline, and in trends as the month goes by, which makes it very easy to see if I’m slipping – and because everything is shared with friends, it makes me force myself to make up any shortfall.” But it in fact goes beyond that. By using an open API, Jawbone has ensured their users can connect devices to a host of other competitive apps, creating a digital eco-system which spurs them on to walk that little bit further, or eat that little bit healthier.
Google Glass will further revolutionise the wearable tech market. American tennis pro Bethanie Mattek-Sands may have failed to realise her ambition of wearing Google Glasses on court at last summer’s Wimbledon, but she regularly trains with the device, later analysing the footage with her coach. It’s still early days, but we expect heads-up displays to continue to develop, giving real time feedback on your personal performance upon command. Oakley have already cracked this with their Airwave 1.5 ski goggles, which include an in-built display telling you how fast you’re going, how far you’ve skied, how high you’ve jumped and much more besides.
Now the challenge for brands is to find an area where they can provide similar benefits to consumers, fuelling the competitiveness within all of us. No doubt we’ll thank them for it.