Business

Analog Tricks For a Digital World

It's never dull when younger minds and old ideas show up to work.

If you meet a business contact while traveling and wanted to speak to them later, would you ask for a business card or get them to text you their contact details? This scenario crossed my mind as a new-hire class convened at my office this summer. It dawned on me that my colleagues who are age 25 or younger have likely had an iPhone since they were old enough to drive.

They’re the most connected people in the workforce, which is also more mobile and connected than ever. The mobile phone market penetration rate in the U.S. is now a staggering 117 percent and is expected to climb to 134 percent by 2020. That means many customers have multiple connected devices, and the number per person is going up.

But there also is a broad cultural interest in using analog media and older technology. Some are jumping at the chance to do something that doesn’t involve a smartphone screen. Ilford Photo’s 2015 survey asked thousands of people in more than 70 countries about their photographic film use. The UK film lab found that 30 percent of the respondents were younger than 35. Sixty percent of that group had been using film for less than five years. Music is having an analog resurgence, too. Last year, consumers bought $416 million in vinyl LPs, the highest figure since 1988.

The old way of doing things is new to younger people, says Steven Curall, the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Southern Methodist University. “Young people are so capable of learning different technologies that the return on their investment in learning a different technology is more modest.”

The technology story behind a lot of what we use and consume is about how to balance and blend the old and new. Not all companies are adding more digital connectivity and features; some industries and products are going in the other direction.

Smartwatches

Smartwatches are the ultimate unnecessary convenience. You can respond to messages and appointments without having to dig through your pockets, sport coat, or purse. They act as a smartphone surrogate, a fitness tracker, and much more. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, there were 167 wearable devices on display, and 70 of those devices were smartwatches. Technology research firm IDC says there will be nearly 43 million smartwatches shipped this year, and by 2020, that figure is expected to rise to around 111.3 million. Smartwatch prices can range from around $300 for the Samsung Gear S2 to more than $10,000 for the 18-karat gold cased Apple Watch Edition, without a massive difference in features.

I love my Apple Watch, but eventually new software will choke it out, forcing me to buy a newer one. A mechanical watch might outlast every trend and can be repaired and serviced in Fort Worth. Cartier’s Ronde Croisière is just that, and costs $4,650. In the meantime, how much technology to add to a watch is a very touchy thing. Analysts say the future of the smartwatch category is located somewhere between an all-in-one tech wonder and a luxury timepiece costing more than a used Toyota. Richardson-based Fossil is charging into that void with Fossil Q wearables, which include traditional-looking watches and bracelets that have fitness-tracking technology. The idea is radical, but the reviews are tepid. “The Q Dreamer is another attempt at fashion meets tech, but offers more style than substance,” writes Lauren Goode in The Verge.

Clothes On-Demand

Clothing subscription and curation services are in. Bombfell, Five Four Club, Stitch Fix, TrunkClub, Lewk, Tog+Porter, Elizabeth & Clarke, Gwynnie Bee—the list goes on and on—all have an angle on how to save you a trip to the mall. One womenswear curation service, Revive Clothing Depot, specializes in sourcing and sending gently used clothing, catered to the style profile of its subscribers.

“There’s a lot of venture capital out there chasing new ideas.”

Mike Culwell, Culwell & Son

The technology behind the scenes is a combination of customer relationship management and big data analytics. Each time you select a preference or view an item, you give the subscription service more information about which buying persona you most closely resemble. When they’re right, you’ll feel like they know you, even if you’ve never actually met.

An offline way to dress for work would be to get a custom suit at Culwell & Son. They don’t have an iPhone app. They have one location, run by the same family since 1920. “Everyone’s experimenting,” Mike Culwell, president of Culwell & Son, says. “There’s a lot of venture capital out there chasing new ideas.” When the idea is wrong, the clothes come back, the customers don’t. “Returns are the Achilles heel of the online apparel business,” he says.

Somewhere in between the old boys club experience and an online-only clothing club is a mix of differentiation, customization, and automation that makes customer data useful in a way that lets the business scale. A lot of people are trying to find a tech-inspired experience that’s more fulfilling than having a bag of T-shirts dropped on your lawn by an Amazon drone.

Two and a half years ago, Ravi and Jen Ratan founded Double R, an online store designed to sell custom-fit clothing to women. The website teaches shoppers the basic measurements needed to build a custom shirt. After about four months in business, the Ratans opened a Dallas store. “Customers will come in for a measurement, but they’ll shop later online,” says Jen Ratan. Similarly, menswear brand Bonobos has a Dallas shop where men try on the its off-the-rack sizes. Once you find a fit, repeat online orders are a breeze.

Kicking Glass

Business meetings are yet another tug of war. PowerPoint slides are boring.

Take the tech away, add a better writing surface, and you’ll come close to what meetings are like at Clarus Glassboards, a Fort Worth company where the average employee age is 28, according to Bryce Stuckenschneider, vice president of marketing. Clarus’ products replace standard dry-erase boards, table tops, break room walls, writing spaces on desks, and so on, with clear or colored glass. “Too many screens in a meeting room can create a siloed world, especially for millennials,” Stuckenschneider says. “Our products bring people together and allow them to focus on the task at hand.” Rescuing good ideas from bad presentations is catching on in the tech world. Apple, Google, Twitter, and Samsung are all Clarus customers.

Cards on the Table

I’m right back where I started, straddling the fence between giving up business cards or having another 500 printed. Startup companies, past and present, like CardFlick, About.me, CardCloud, Card.ly, and Haystack all have thrown money into making the paper business card extinct.

But a paper card might carry a small advantage. It sits on the desk and almost forces recipients to either reconnect or recycle. Matt Ramsey, who splits his time between Dave the Printer Inc. and Compass Point Marketing LLC, says that paper can have a magic all its own. “We live in a world where having the information is not the problem,” Ramsey says. “Recalling the information is really the key.”

Old school or tech-enhanced? There’s no right answer. “This is the dilemma for all of us,” says Curall at SMU. “We have to ask: are these new technologies more of a distraction than a high-value added change?” 

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