Alan Kirkland, CEO and Viveka Weiley, Head of New Things, CHOICE
Alan: There are two parts: investment and freedom. On the investment front, we are putting seven percent of our operating budget this year into Viv’s New Things team. This investment has been over five percent consistently for the last three years. The other thing that makes it work is it is absolutely free from the existing business model. There is no requirement to deliver core revenue, there is no requirement to service the existing business’s needs. It is purely about experimentation in finding better ways to meet consumer needs.
Alan: This is a time when big institutions are asking ‘how do we regain trust’ and ‘why have we lost trust?’ You don't get trust overnight. We have built it up over 68 years of standing up for consumers and taking a really deliberate pro-consumer stance, whether we’re campaigning or building products and services.
But we continually reinforce this because newer, younger consumers don't come with a knowledge of the CHOICE brand. We’ve got to convey that sense you can trust CHOICE from the very first moment they find us through a Google search.
Alan: The way the organisation has embraced innovation. We brought in this New Things team and there could have been strong organisational resistance to that as people are busy trying to deliver their day-to-day results. But in fact the New Things team has been welcomed and given time, support and knowledge, so they’ve been able to leverage that when launching new products and services.
Alan: Our advocacy role is our brand. From the very beginning in 1959/1960, we were set up to change the world, to transform markets, not just to provide information to help consumers. It means that when we build a new product or service, we are not just thinking ‘how do we productise this consumer need’ or ‘how do we monetise the product?’; we are thinking ‘how do we build a product that will actually put consumers in a much better position?’
'From the very beginning in 1959/1960, we were set up to change the world, to transform markets, not just to provide information to help consumers.'
Viv: Like everything at CHOICE, CluckAR starts with a real consumer problem. [Product labelling for] free range eggs is kind of a disaster. We’ve been campaigning on this issue, we have fantastic information about it, but we needed a new way to get the story across and to help people with the problem. So we built an augmented reality (AR) free range egg detector that is available on all of the app stores. It has been a massive hit for us and it’s really helping to change this market.
Viv: The role of the New Things department is to come up with new ways to deal with consumer problems, new approaches to our existing mission. CHOICE had a lot of data about free range eggs and when we published a report about it, it was surprisingly popular. People were downloading this information but they really couldn't access it where they needed it. The obvious solution was an augmented reality app that could be used in-store.
Viv: The first big challenge is to know whether it is the right tool for the job. If we had been looking for something to do with this technology, we wouldn’t have got anywhere. Timing is everything as well. Phones are now ubiquitous, they are capable of augmented reality and it’s the right design solution for the job.
Alan: But there were some real risks going with AR for this solution. There weren't many AR apps in the market at the time, so we took a big gamble that consumers would actually be able to work out how to point their smartphone at an egg carton in a shop to see chickens projected on top of it to tell them whether they were free range eggs or not. The gamble worked, but it may not have. Fun is part of it too. Our advocacy role and purpose driven nature has instilled this unique tone of voice and style into the app that actually makes it fun to use.
Viv: That lightness of touch was definitely part of the design intent of the app. One of our values is to be lighthearted, to bring rigour and humour to a problem. So CluckAR is full of terrible egg puns, it's got dancing chickens [graphics], so people love to use it in the shops and that has helped it to spread.
Alan: There were side benefits we worked out along the way, semi accidently. We realised through people using CluckAR which egg brands weren’t in our database, so we built in a feature that allowed them to take a photo and send it straight through to us. We quickly discovered we had built a crowd-sourced app - people were helping us to fill the gaps, rather than being angry about its failings.
Viv: Ninety percent of the content in the app is crowd-sourced now. When we realised that it was really working for people and they wanted to contribute, we added more crowd-sourcing features in version two. Now people can share the location where they find good eggs, so we have this amazing free range egg map that nobody else has.
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