Is That You R2?

When I was in third grade, my teacher asked each of us to build our own robot and present it to the class for a school project. Building a robot was an exciting project for all of us. Inspired by “Lampy” from The Brave Little Toaster, I made mine out of an old desk lamp, utilizing the base for its feet, the arm for its body, and the light bulb socket for its nose. I remember feeling so proud of my refurbished lamp-bot. At the time, at least to me, the idea of a real household robot was still one of fantasy; one for the movies and TV shows, and one for children like me to build in day school. I do remember thinking, however, how cool it would be if I could actually own a robot like R2-D2 or C3PO and wondering what the world would be like if everyone owned a robot like that. Yea right, right? Well, little did I know that as I sat building my little toy robot in the third grade, Dr. Cynthia Breazeal was working on hers too… in a lab at MIT.

About 15 years ago, Dr. Breazeal set out to create just that: a robot, a technology that “can support a far more personally meaningful human experience.” That technology is JIBO, which claims to be the first social robot for the family. JIBO is the first robot intended to stay in your home and actually serve a role for you and your family through a variety of interactive engagements.

From only one vantage point, JIBO’s innovative swivel design and facial, voice, and motion recognition allows it to engage with multiple people at once. JIBO will even learn the names of the people in the room and will start to address people by their name. JIBO is small and white (or black) with an LCD screen that projects an emotionally expressive face. Basically, it reminds me of a standing version of “Eve” from Wall-E.

Here are some of the things JIBO will be able to do:

- You can tell JIBO to become the cameraman for your event, and JIBO will document the evening, taking pictures on command, allowing you to stay a part of the action and actually be in the pictures.

- Instead of an e-reader, JIBO is an engaging storyteller, performing the story with you as its audience.

- During a video call, JIBO can address an entire group and will even turn towards whoever is speaking, allowing the entire group to interact with the video call instead of passing around a flat “talking head” on your phone.

- Instead of a preschool application or game, JIBO becomes an interactive teacher and personalized learning companion, actually teaching you and engaging you or your children about a particular subject, answering questions and rendering extrapolations.

- JIBO greets you by name when you arrive home, can turn on the lights for you, and even let you know who called or that someone knocked on the door in your absence.

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The Fitness Fashion Evolution

I’ve started to notice something lately – more and more sports brands are embracing the era of fitness fashion, especially for women. In fact, “active sports” is the quickest booming fitness category on the market.

The term “enclothed cognition” describes the idea that aspects of your clothing can actually have a psychological effect on you. Not only does throwing on a new workout outfit you recently purchased get you excited to hit the gym, but you also may actually perform better at the gym. So hey, I’ll do anything to increase my motivation to wake up at 5:30am and work out.

The other element to this is the gym-to-lifestyle trend. Four years ago, my friends teased me for not only spending so much money on workout clothes, but also for wearing my workout clothes out and about outside of the gym. Five years later, these same friends can be found rushing to the store to buy the trendiest pair of leggings, whether they work out or not. Workout clothes have become more stylish, but more importantly, more widely accepted and even desired as everyday wear.

An article on FASHIONISTA, a fashion news site, recently addressed this trend, “which we’ve seen as a fast growing theme on the runways for the past few seasons,” says Sheila Aimette, VP of North American Content at trend forecasting firm WGSN. “With more consumers adopting this trend, it’s natural for many labels to create product that speaks to what consumers want and are wearing.”

Lululemon used to be one of the only options for “fashionable fitness wear.” In the past couple years, other sports brands have picked up on the popularity of this trend, and have begun to market to it more effectively.

Many of these brands’ websites are featuring women’s clothing to address the “sport-as-style” look, and you can find more and more photos of people lounging, in addition to the high-impact photos. And it’s not just the usual players that are taking part (Nike, Under Armour, Reebok). The competition keeps coming (Well + Good’s 11 Hot New Fitness Brands, May 2013).

Social media certainly hasn’t hurt the evolution of this trend. Fitness-focused accounts have been the rising stars of the Instagram world.

@UnderArmourWomen may only have 103k followers, but Gisele Bundchen has 3 million, and she’s representing the company well.

Personally, I love this trend, and I’m happy more and more brands are embracing what Lululemon knew years ago. It’s also a lot more comfortable than wearing a crop top and heels.

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The Power of Partnership

Although companies and organizations in the same industry are usually considered competitors, it’s no secret that they are partnering with each other more than ever to accomplish a mutual goal. Business partnerships have been increasing dramatically over the last few decades. Whether the goal is to increase sales, to raise awareness of an organization or cause, or to make an impact in the community, companies and organizations are realizing the power of partnership. Because the truth is, we’re all in this together, right?

PetSmart Charities, Inc. is one of these organizations that discovered the power of partnership.

PetSmart Charities is a non-profit animal welfare organization founded in 1994. It is the largest funder of animal welfare efforts in North America providing more than $165 million in grants and programs benefiting animal welfare organizations and has saved the lives of more than 5 million pets through its in-store pet adoption partnership with PetSmart and local adoption partners. In Jacksonville, PetSmart’s local adoption partner is First Coast No More Homeless Pets, Inc.

This year in July, the two organizations came together as a team to accomplish their mutual goal – to save the lives of homeless pets.

The organizations hosted Jacksonville’s Mega Pet Adoption Event at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds. In this tremendous collaboration effort, the partners helped shelters and rescue groups present pets from Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties. At the start of the three-day event, the massive 50,000 square foot exhibition hall was jam-packed with thousands of pets anxiously awaiting their forever home.

“A record-breaking 1,165 pets were adopted,” said Michael Faulk, general manager for the Gate Parkway PetSmart in Jacksonville. “And for the very first time,” he exclaimed, “every single dog was adopted!”

The power of partnership is real, y’all. And organizations like these realize the power they have to make a difference in the community when they work together. This is just one example of how partnerships can produce impressive results. What could your organization accomplish in your community through partnerships?

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Risky (Rebranding) Business

Ever experienced a mid-life crisis? Apparently, our favorite brands go through them, too.

Essentially, a brand is what people associate with a company. Not only is it about their name, logo, or tagline (though they are all important), it involves the company’s identity; its message, its goals, and its culture.

There are many significant reasons why a company would re-brand, and all of them involve risk. It’s often difficult to change the public’s opinion on a brand. But by using the right techniques, companies can completely reinvent themselves and emerge successfully on the other side of the process.

Because my time as an intern with Brunet-Garcia is coming to an end, here are some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned about branding, both from the work done by the BG team and from what I’ve observed during large retail companies’ rebranding ventures.

Lesson 1: Outdated brands need to be updated for today’s audiences.

Companies going through a “mid-life crisis” need to turn a new leaf in order to be relatable to 21st century audiences, who are usually savvy with a love for the aesthetic but shorter attention spans.

A great example of this important lesson is the rebranding project that BG did for St. Johns River State College here in Jacksonville. Upon receiving greater prominence after becoming a state college, the college needed to appeal to today’s students looking for an affordable degree close to home but one that would also allow them to compete in the job market after college.

The BG team was able to emphasize the educational attributes that make St. Johns River State College unique with a new brand platform including a new logo, school mascot, positioning statement and more.

Lesson 2: Put new twists on what you’re already known for.

People appreciate reliability and respond well when something can be re-imagined.  Companies feeling exceptionally lucky will sometimes capitalize on past blunders or old misconceptions by putting a clever spin on them. This technique has been known to pay off with younger audiences and often resonates on social media avenues.

For example, Slim Jim recently incorporated an outdated but memorable tagline into a goofy new commercial. The spot targets the 18-25 age bracket and will launch on social media, but companion clips for TV will also be nostalgic for older audiences. It’s my guess that Slim Jim will continue to reuse the tagline in a similar fashion in the future.

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