If you’re reading this then you have helped get us here – so we wanted to say a big thank you! It’s a special thing to reach double digits as a business – and we’re very proud to have made it.
As with all aspects of life the last ten years have been an interesting journey for River and there never seemed to be a dull moment. From launching at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 to being on the verge of Brexit now, the only thing that has been certain over the last ten years is that things change!
But we’ve been fortunate enough to adapt to that change and that’s thanks to the wonderful colleagues, clients and business partners we worked with over the years. With your help we’ve travelled far and wide, from New York to Nigeria, Poland to Pakistan, Denmark to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Always delivering insights, always marvelling at the breadth and depth of people’s imaginations.
It’s been a pleasure working with you all and we hope we’re all still together at 20!
As far as we know this is the first time blockchain technology has been promoted to the mass market via TV (in the UK at least) but it is certainly a sign of things to come. A blockchain in its most basic form is the platform that brings cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ether into play.
River recently undertook a research study looking at consumers with wide ranging and self-directed investment portfolios and asked them about their understanding of, and in interest in, cryptocurrencies. The results were surprising and highlight some of the issues with the market as it currently stands.
Lots of heat, not much light
Firstly, the idea of cryptocurrency is very exciting for investors. There is genuine belief that this represents a credible long-term investment option and will become an important part of their portfolios. Whilst there a lot of noise in the financial press about the massive swings in Bitcoin, there is a wider sense that cryptocurrency is establishing itself as a credible tradable commodity that has very good long-term growth potential. In a market that is always looking for new ways to invest, cryptocurrency is seen as a great growth opportunity
HODL: Not for the faint hearted
But the key factor putting off many investors at present is the volatility of market and the potential for short term loss that will take a while to recover. The message you’ll hear on all cryptocurrency forums when asked what to do with their investments is HODL – a slang term that effectively means hold on – don’t lose your nerve. Many investors jumped on to the attractive upswing in Bitcoin but are now facing a bear market for most cryptocurrencies. The idea of getting rich quick has fast become HODL – not the investment strategy many were looking for! The scariest thing for many investors is that there is no long term normative data to benchmark how long or how low currencies will fall for – it’s a new market and investors are learning as they go.
Where do I begin?
For many this is the key barrier. Most ordinary investors don’t know the difference between a blockchain and an ICO. The terminology is a new language – both in terms of finance and technology. But currency exchanges are now emerging that allow investors the opportunity to buy different cryptocurrencies as easy as regular currencies – you simply need a digital wallet and the conviction to invest. You may even have seen a Bitcoin ATM near you!
So despite the perceived complexity and the volatility, blockchains and their cryptocurrencies are generating more interest and forming a larger part of our discussions with investors than ever before. It’s an emerging, exciting market that many want to be involved in – but indecision over what currency and to some degree what wallet and what exchange is still a factor. Many however expect the market to consolidate and simplify as it becomes more established – the perception is that it won’t be long before your IFA is recommending some cryptocurrency holdings!
An exciting role for someone who is looking to develop their strategic and client consulting skills. You’ll be a key part of our dynamic team, working across sectors and clients on a wide variety of challenges across the globe.
I haven’t entirely decided how to take Satin Island. It’s either a clever and highly nuanced satire of the knowledge and consultancy sectors at their most beard-stroking and hubristic. Or it’s a rather abstract, beard-strokingly impressionistic musing on ‘the patterns that surround us’ and the connectedness of, well, everything. Either way, it’s an impressively imagined rendering of our sector’s voice and culture – and it’s hugely original.
I’m inclined to see it as an elegant satire of the sector. Frankly, there’s not nearly enough satirising of our sector.
Here’s our almost nameless narrator, ‘U’ (you? Kafka’s drifting ‘K’?), an ethnographer-anthropologist working on an undefined project of global importance at a global company, headed by a talismanic surname, ‘Peyman’ (Sir Martin perhaps?) – a man who’s a sage to ministers and statesmen. ‘U’ is paid to think about things on what appears to be a rather vanity, ‘look clever’ footing (having once written a noted work on night club culture). That will already ring a bell curve with our peers.
‘U’ opines on a kaleidoscope of ‘things’: parachute-tampering deaths; the slow movement of oil in oil spillages; the cargo cult in Vanuatu. He suffers a form of writer’s block, seeking to write a heavily anticipated ‘Great Report’, while not knowing its subject or purpose (anyone in our sector who’s read this novel is certain to use ‘The Great Report’ label for their next piece of work). He has an artist’s eye and his reflections on the connections between forms of movement are often a delight (Lagos traffic and buffering; tumours and oil spills; jellyfish and parachutes). They reminded me of looping projector installations in contemporary art galleries. (Tom McCarthy has mentioned a phase in the gestation of the novel where he found himself enthralled by repeat footage of oil spills).
The novel does a fine job of rendering some of those all too common pretensions of the consultancy world, and the desperate efforts many of us make to be seen to be doing anything but ‘selling stuff to people’. A culture that co-opts the language of the art world, the design world, the world of people-who-actually-make-stuff world. Whence such job titles as ‘Cultural Storyteller’, ‘Ethno-Curator’ and ‘Behavioural Engineer’. (‘No, you’re not getting retitled ‘Financial Storyteller’, mate. You’re staying ‘Payroll’’). It even resembles a consultancy report, with its short, numbered sections (1.1., 1.2…) and foyer coffee-table friendly squarer form.
It also captures the way idle thinking can quickly turn into orthodoxy (remember ‘Brand Love’?) – in the way the industry is currently mudwrestling with ‘storytelling’. We learn that Peyman has started using one of U’s passing constructs at a very high level. ‘U’ is later asked by Peyman’s assistant ‘to bring up whatever you’ve got’ to a rare meeting – even though ‘U’ hasn’t actually written anything. That alone seems to do the trick. It all feels like one glorious suit of Emperor’s New Clothes, though ‘U’ is no ‘Lucky Jim’ chancer – he’s terribly earnest.
Throughout, ‘U’ is an enchanted observer of ‘things’, but a pretty dreadful empathiser with and observer of people – something one sometimes hears said about a sector that’s supposed to be about understanding ‘real people’. His tone is wonderfully clinical, elevated and removed. His lover tells him a shocking story about how she was seized by the police during an anti-globalisation protest, and was forced to act out a bizarre, semi-sexual ballet for an unknown senior official. ‘U’ doesn’t really pursue this – it’s not that interesting to him. Likewise, a colleague has a terminal illness, which cues some thoughtful musing on the idea of attaining a kind of immortality by phasing text messages to send beyond the grave (but not much sympathy).
Oh, we do see flashes of our hero fantasising about edifice-tearing and sabotage, but at each point normal service resumes. He’s a brilliant, cold fish. I have a London-based consultant friend of a friend about whom we sometimes affectionately say ‘He finds Wallpaper magazine a bit provincial’ and ‘He can read Monocle with a straight face’. He can talk in depth about Sao Paulo pichaçao, but can’t name a single character from Coronation Street, past or present. (Of course, it wouldn’t be him if he could). That’s ‘U’. If you work in the knowledge and consultancy sector, he’s eerily familiar.
So, think: ‘Monocle – the Novel’. I really enjoyed it. It is probably the great novel of ‘our’ sector for this century. Ironically though, for a novel that channels marketing and consultancy so well, I can’t see it shifting many units or taking the Booker Prize, despite making the longlist this month and also – fittingly –being available in a traditionally bound luxury edition for no less than £185. Tom McCarthy is a literary innovator and his previous two novels are equally smart and tricksy, but he’s no crowd-pleaser.
If only he’d called it ‘The Girl with the Satin Island’. Or ‘The Strange Young Ethnographer Who Thought of Oil Spills and Dreamed of Staten Island’. I’m seeing a cover with an enigmatic silhouette on it, walking into the distance; a Richard and Judy endorsement in the bottom right corner. Come on, consultants. Let’s workshop this.
At River we don’t believe that you can package ‘innovation’. The approach you take depends on your product category, target audience and organisational culture – as well as the geographic markets you’re operating in. But there are some ground rules you should follow that our experience and expertise allows us to map out in or infographic. This River Map is simply an aide memoire to ensure you’re involving the right people at the right time in the right way. It places consumer needs at the heart of the journey, building on experiences, opportunities and pain points and benchmarking this against the commercial reality of the client organisation. By taking this journey, we innovate and our clients receive achievable new product and service streams.
Click on the image below to view the full infographic.
At River Research we’re all about ‘immersion’, in and out of the office. Once a year, the whole team go out and do something – yes – ‘funtastic’. This July we decided to go fearless and take our summer day out to Alton Towers.
Alton Towers is of course famous for its ‘blockbuster’ rollercoaster rides – and has been famous for the wrong reasons recently. Some of us – including me – aren’t the first fans of rollercoasters and rarely very brave in general. (One of us was having nightmares about teacups weeks before the trip, so found solace in the gardens of the original park. He knows who he is. He studied the branding and communication architecture of the rides and, apparently, the more abstract the name of the ride, the more terrifying it is. ‘Only the brave’, as we say).
After some hesitation of my own, I found the courage to meet Rita – an easy rollercoaster, as the theme park describes it. Rita actually reaches speeds of 100 km per hour in just 2.5 seconds, which nobody told me when I was queuing up. I must confess that after wrestling with the urge to give up, I enjoyed this vastly more than I expected. I will definitely go back to you, Rita. Or alternatively, hide in the gardens.
We also got wet. The sun came out and we all went for a splash on the rapids – and as champions of ‘diving in’, this ride was, frankly, borderline mandatory. The river rapids send rushing waters surging under you, sending you into a spin and forcing you to navigate through crashing waterfalls.
Not feeling quite wet enough, we moved on to bath time – ‘but not as you know it’. Once you’re in the bathtub, you fall through waterfalls, get a tepid power shower and brace yourself for the big submerge.
But don’t worry – if you pay £2, you can dry yourself off in a big drier machine designed up to 2 people at time.
Our day out finished with a delicious dinner at the Blacksmith’s Arms (an old tithe barn), a short distance from Alton Towers – more rustic and cosy than we’d expected. All told, an exhilarating, exhausting day and a fine ‘crowd pleaser’. I would do it all again. Who says immersion can’t be fun?
‘Skyfaring’ is a memoir and meditation on air travel and flight published earlier this year, written by working pilot, former consultant and New York Times contributor, Mark Vanhoenacker.
It instantly caught my attention as a title for obvious work reasons (I bought it with my company birthday voucher, no less!). We spend an awful lot of time on planes in our line of work and few won’t have found themselves straying into metaphysical ruminations on flying on the way back from a piece of research (gin helps, too).
Flight is, once one puts aside the mundaneness and routine, still remarkable, mind-boggling and – from what we see from high up – often stunningly beautiful (give or take that approach to Heathrow). The experience and the very idea of waking up in Moscow and going to bed in Chicago can still inspire child-like awe. I still feel this, so when I read that a pilot had written about it from his underreported angle, I wanted to know exactly what he made of it all.
The book is a strong proposition and Vanhoenacker has a gift for the metaphysical and the lyrical which will inevitably stand out among what I imagine is a straight-talking, overwhelmingly Alpha Male peer group (globally, only 3% of commercial pilots are women). I have pilots down as officer-like and ‘good in a crisis’ (code for ‘rarely does small talk’). They’re one profession where an upper class accent can still sound, oh, timelessly reassuring and plain right. Mark Vanhoenacker isn’t like that: he loves flying and he loves to talk about the spectacle and the wonder.
Alas, the book didn’t quite, er, take off for me. There are reams of wonderment and awe; the quiet beauty of the earth ever peeking through the cockpit window. But it felt light on many aspects I wanted to hear about. It reminded me of well-preserved copies of the National Geographic. Volcanoes and spectacle in brilliant double-page colour; not much about people. It’s dislocated and a little ‘removed’, almost. There’s something of the lone warrior about that pilot.
I entirely buy into (and now use) the writer’s notion of what he describes as ‘place lag’. This is the disorientating cousin of jet lag that makes us feel thrown by being picked up and placed in another part of the world, leaving the events of the morning seeming like they happened many months ago. I also totally felt the author’s awe in the miracle of flight. I used to be someone who hated flying and now feels unbelievably privileged to have lived in an age where Moscow is a bit of a drag and San Francisco can feel like a trip to Brighton. I don’t get scared anymore. We were at Alton Towers a few weeks ago and teenagers were fearlessly raising their arms on the rides (I learned that this means that they’re so brave they don’t need to hold on). I still feel like doing that on landing sometimes.
There are also plenty of enjoyable nuggets on how pilots and aviation map the planet – thinking not of countries but of nodes and corridors. There’s particular fun to be had in the names of the territories and ‘waypoints’ they use to navigate. Leaving Australia, you may pass through three ‘waypoints’ named WALTZ, INGMA and TILDA. The ‘dirty meat’ trend is being flexed around Kansas with waypoints called BARBQ, SPICY, SMOKE, RIBBS and BRISKT. (Disappointingly, there are no waypoints over England named DREADFL, OVER, BOILD and VEG).
But a book like this could have been more. I wanted to know about the weight of human responsibility a pilot bears. About the effect of 9/11 and air disasters on how pilots feel. The human cargo. A little more heart.
Then again, perhaps the whole point about pilots is that they do need to be that little bit… distant and clinical. It’s probably an advantage to all of us on board (including the nervous insomniac in 23C, sandwiched between the teething infant twins and the septuagenarian pilgrim). That pilot is in control. He loves his job. He’s so confident about his human cargo, he’s not even contemplating us. Sit back and rest easy, noble researcher-consultant. And write up your notes.
River has just got back from a whirlwind tour of South, Central and Sub Saharan Africa. We’ve talked Food, TV, Drinks and Technology. It’s been fun, exhausting, eye-opening and inspiring. A lot of trips follow the dull route of “hotel, cab, meetings and repeat”. But not Africa – Africa always has the ability to surprise you. If you get the chance we highly recommend you go….
Here’s some of our favourite moments.
I spent an extortionate amount of money updating my Yellow Fever and Typhoid vaccinations prior to travelling, only to then leave my medical card in my other passport (yes I have two!). When I arrived at Lagos Airport there were signs everywhere “no entry without vaccination card”. When I informed the helpful person at the health screening booth that I didn’t have my card he very nicely showed me to his office, where after a brief discussion and a small donation to a charity of his choice, I was fast tracked right through the immigration queue and waved on my way. So helpful of him! Ironically, this donation was substantially lower than what I paid for my vaccinations in London!
Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough time for a much needed hair cut
But Nigeria is a great place to do research. It’s populous, growing economically, and consumers know what they want. Research may not go like clockwork, but when it starts, consumers are all too ready to help deconstruct and reconstruct whatever you put in from of them. Don’t get put off by stories of low internet connectivity either, we’ve done plenty of online communities with consumers in Nigeria as well – where’s there’s a will there’s always a way.
Angola gave us the true pleasure of traveling to Cacuaco, just outside of Lluanda, through shanty towns and country roads, where we saw the famous Big Ship Graveyard – a shoreline of tankers and super tankers either shipwrecked or abandoned and left to rust away with time. My client and I strolled down the white sandy beach (strewn with litter) observing the fallen majesty of discarded and disembowelled sea faring monsters. It’s a sight I’ll never forget.
Back in research world we were interviewing TV viewers – females in the 20-40 category. Each entered the room more glamourous than the next – all too happy to tell us their stories and show us their public faces (and handbags). Angolan women really do glamour very well!
The Democratic Republic of Congo
We arrived in Kinshasa and went straight to the hotel only to find a very large military presence and an array of government dignitaries aligned in the entrance ready and waiting to salute us. As impressed as I was with our Operations’ team ‘concierge service’ I felt this was a bit over the top. It was only later I found out we were five minutes ahead of the arrival of the President who came to the hotel most days to go for a jog. Our route to the fieldwork a little later was obstructed by the tank placed in the carpark, but nothing gets in the way of River undertaking fieldwork! Well, actually the local police did a little later when the local clients were ‘detained’ for taking photo’s of the Congo River. However, a small donation to a local charity later and the schedule was restored to normal service.
The Congo River as seen from Kinshasa. Take photos very quickly!
The DRC is full of charm and character, a French speaking enclave that embodies the African spirit of optimism and resourcefulness. We were warmly greeted whereever we went, and look forward to going back.
What do you do after four days of intense fieldwork in Jo’burg? – Take the client on safari to the Rustenburg game park of course and on the way back stop at a brewery in Soweto for beer, a lot of local banter, and some highly drunken table tennis.
No Tigers, but plenty of Lions…
As hoped, but still surprising, was the spirit of progress inherent in SA consumers. Whilst looking to the West for inspiration, National pride was paramount and a sense of a positive outlook for the future of the country created a warm backdrop for any discussion.
A week of fieldwork in Dar was blighted with thunderous rainstorms which unfortunately had the disastrous consequences of bringing the roads and phone networks to a standstill. Despite our first group starting an impressive 3 hours late, the relaxed and generous attitudes of our Tanzanian respondents was inspiring, with most wanting to stay longer to chat than the scheduled two hours as they were enjoying the discussion so much. Luckily, the clouds finally broke after the final group and River was able to enjoy a quick celebratory beer by the pool.
Ghana is, as the stats will tell you, one of Africa’s most promising economic growth stories. River was there this year on a project researching technology and telecoms and was once again impressed by the embrace of technology and the accomplished juggling of phones and networks by everyday consumers. “I’ve got more Sim cards than you’ve had hot dinners”, we were told in Accra. Which is true – especially as a vegetarian traveller (in much of Africa). Telecoms advertising is everywhere. WhatsApp has long been a primary means of contact for everyday business – something only recently being seen in a place like the UK. Why not use it more? It’s how most of us are messaging.
Now, we often get a particular sense of accomplishment ‘on location’ when we learn (or steal) a new local phrase or word that inescapably spells out the national context. Word one for Ghana is ‘Dumsor’ (meaning ‘off-on’) , the rather playful sounding term used to describe the all-too-regular national problem of power cuts (not ‘playful sounding’ if you’re trying to run a hairdressing business or a garage, as I learn). The other is ‘Drop that Yam’ – the sparky strapline for a mobile network campaign that has entered the vernacular (and you won’t get more African for a veggie than a yam, right?). It originally referred to getting rid of your bulky mobile handset, but can now refer to ditching unreliable partners and ineffective politicians. ‘Drop that Yam’. Perhaps we should start using it for unsuccessful product concepts or ad executions. It’s refreshingly blunt, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Here’s the ad.
So what we learned:
River drinks a lot of beer!
Relax – things will happen – just in a different order and slightly different time to what you may be expecting
Avoid elections – You really don’t want to be trying to get across town on polling day!
Always look for policemen before taking photographs
Be prepared to laugh – our partners are people too!
Bring your own HD video cameras – and a sound mic!
‘Everyone’ is online (Or at least Gens X and Y – thanks to the networks and Facebook zero rating data for Facebook). So social media is a key marketing activity
Cultures are changing. Women in particular are demanding a more equal place in society, and attitudes are progressing
Fashion and beauty really motivate female consumers. Marketing which provides a cultural window and stimulate ideas is highly effective
Western products still symbolise status and are aspired to greatly
But reality prevails – limited supply of goods and services, infrastructure issues, and informal bureaucracy can impact on things getting done properly. Brace yourself for what will be a unique experience.