Q: So DeeDee, you are renowned as a youth-culture expert and trend researcher. How and when did it all start?
A: When I was younger I started consulting with a number of companies selling trends. I realized that these companies and brands didnʼt have a lot of accurate information about what was happening in youth culture. At the time, there was a huge need gap for information like this. Thatʼs how the light bulb initially went off for me. After consulting on my own for a while I joined Lambesis, where I developed the L Report. This publication captured what young people were doing all over the world. I tapped into my own network and started to grow a community of leading edge youth correspondents. From there I went on to co-found Look-Look and eventually joined Sterling Brands as the President of Innovation in 2010.
Q: I see that you co-founded Look-Look, and then created the-Collaboratory. In a nutshell what does the-Collaboratory do?
A: I created the-Collaboratory after I left Look-Look, which was a one-of-a-kind research, marketing and trend consulting company specializing in youth culture that I co-founded in 1999. My partner and I wanted to do things differently. We wanted to harness the insights and creativity of young people. Thatʼs why we developed Team Look-Look—an online, global community of 14- to 40-year-olds who reported on their own culture. When I left Look-Look, I mined Team Look-Look for those members who wanted to have a more meaningful, two-way relationship with brands. Today, the-Collaboratory is an online global database of consumers who are all vetted for their creativity, ability to articulate, unique backgrounds and interests, and passion for brands.
In short, the-Collaboratory unlocks the world of the consumer. In addition to the-Collaboratory, I also created the-Collaboratory-Pro, which is an elite group of experts on a wide range of topics who can provide insight beyond that of even the most creative consumers. Within the-Collaboratory-Pro, weʼve got people from all walks of life—authors, curators, futurists, fine artists and architects, to name a few. These people are all best in class. Imagine your ideal dinner party guest list, with some of the leading minds in todayʼs culture. Some of the people on your list are most likely in the-Collaboratory-Pro.
We tap into all of our members for research and innovation projects—everything from traditional studies to co-creation projects where we share concepts with them and ask for feedback, builds, and new ideas. The great thing is that we have such a wide range of individuals and we know our members so well, that we can really custom-tailor our respondent pool or expert list based on each specific engagement for maximum impact.
Q: How has the implementation of the-Collaboratory impacted the work of Sterling Brands?
A: The-Collaboratory is a key element of how we approach innovation at Sterling. We believe in innovating in the context of the culture. We look at each innovation challenge as it exists within todayʼs society and all of the things going on in the world that are impacting the specific opportunity—the brandʼs truths and business objectives, macro trends, category trends, marketplace dynamics, consumer expectations and needs, etc. We use the-Collaboratory to co-create with consumers and develop new products, services, and experiences that truly resonate with a given audience. It provides a constant feedback loop for our own work as well as for the work of our clients, and this direct link to consumers is truly priceless.
Q: Can you give me an example of how the-Collaboratory helps in any given project?
A: We use the-Collaboratory in so many different ways. Itʼs an online global community but our interaction with our members goes well beyond the digital space. Weʼve gone into their homes all around the world to conduct ethnographic research and do co-creation in-home. Weʼve brought them to workshops with clients to help personify and bring to life consumer segmentations in a realistic and inspiring manner. Weʼve harnessed their insights and creativity in blog-type studies where we ask them to evaluate and build on new product ideas. The list goes on and on. Weʼre constantly looking for new ways to collaborate with our members, and that is what makes this format so interesting. Our members enjoy the process as much as we do and bring a level of enthusiasm and an energy to every project on which we engage them. Itʼs an incredibly dynamic and exciting way to approach insight and innovation.
Q: So here you are, President of Innovation at Sterling Brands. And recently you celebrated your one-year anniversary there. Tell me, what have you achieved in that time?
A: This has been an action packed year. Weʼve grown our business and group and have partnered with some really fantastic brands to tackle their innovation challenges. Weʼve created a well-oiled machine with the other groups within Sterling—Design and Strategy—to help provide our clients with custom-tailored, end-to-end solutions, that go beyond one-off innovation projects. Overall itʼs been a really successful year and I think the possibilities for our group and its role at Sterling are endless.
Q: From what I understand Sterling Brands does three things: brand strategy, brand design and brand innovation. Explain to me the importance of brand innovation.
A: At Sterling, weʼve structured our business so that weʼre taking a holistic view of branding and providing solutions that are strategic, inspired, and unexpected across all of these disciplines. In looking at todayʼs consumer marketplace, the landscape is constantly changing. Technology has heightened all of our expectations. We want things faster, better, smarter, etc. We expect brands to constantly not only meet our needs, but also surpass them, and anticipate them before we even realize we want something.
Innovation is an important tool for keeping consumers engaged with a brand in this type of environment. The best brands today are the ones that are constantly evolving. They know who they are, but more importantly, they know who their consumers are, and they are creating solutions, products, and services that keep these individuals coming back for more. That is the true importance of innovation. It gives brands the power to not just stay one step ahead of the game, but to define the game.
Q: From the moment a client comes to you requiring your services do you have a typical process in place? If so what is it?
A: Yes we do. The first step is always to assess the clientʼs point of view, the level of the clientʼs understanding of global trends, and the extent to which they involve consumers in their process. Once weʼve done that, we can begin to design a specific custom-tailored solution, which at Sterling we call “Bespoke Innovation.” No two projects are alike. We could be developing an urban safari for a client one day and building an installation to bring global macro trends to life for another client the next. Thatʼs what I love about my job and how weʼve structured Innovation at Sterling.
Q: Are there any exciting plans for Sterling Brands moving forward that you can tell me about?
A: This is an incredibly exciting time for the Innovation Group at Sterling. Weʼre growing at lightening speed and doing really great work for our client partners. At this point, itʼs all about continuing to establish ourselves in the world of innovation. In the next year, youʼll see our team continue to grow and our capabilities continue to expand. Weʼre also working on a killer trends product which weʼll be offering to clients on an annual basis. Look out for that towards the end of the year.
Featuring the sneak peek of the-Collaboratory!
Image courtesy of Sterling Brands
NEW HomePage of the-collaboratory will be coming soon and this is what it will look like!
Image courtesy of Sterling Brands
NEW Member Profile Dashboard of the-collaboratory will be coming soon and this is what it will look like!