Act Your Shoe Size, Not Your Age: Valuegraphics, TrendWatching, and the Future of Play

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Written for the TrendWatching.com report on The State of Play


Activities that we call PLAY have a lot of credence when considered in the context of childhood development. No one can argue how important play is to kids: countless academic studies and millennia of human experience prove that play is absolutely essential to to developing minds. It helps children figure out what the world is all about, how to navigate relationships, and how to use imagination and creativity. All very essential stuff.

So why would the essentialness of play lessen just because we hit some arbitrary age when we are deemed to be an adult? Why can’t we turn that childhood scolding from our mothers to “act your age not your shoe size” on its head? Sorry Mom, but sometimes I’d rather act my shoe size, and, to quote John Lennon, it seems I’m not the only one.

More and more companies are realizing that play is vital to humans of every age. There are the obvious examples like the multi-billion-dollar digital gaming industry, and the crossword puzzles in the New York Times that make my brain ache. We begin meetings and workshops with ice-breakers, which are really just institutionally-groomed forms of play. And let’s not forget those seemingly-addictive phone-based games that bing and chirp and buzz, played by every single person sitting beside me on every single flight I’ve been on in the last five years.

My favourite example of play impacting the grown-up world has to do with the awesome human potential that play can unleash. I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:

“Foldit is an online puzzle video game about protein folding. It is part of an experimental research project developed by the University of Washington, Center for Game Science, in collaboration with the UW Department of Biochemistry. The objective of Foldit is to fold the structures of selected proteins as perfectly as possible, using tools provided in the game.  

In 2011, Foldit players helped decipher the crystal structure of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV) retroviral protease, a monkey virus which causes human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), a scientific problem that had been unsolved for 15 years. While the puzzle was available for three weeks, players produced an accurate 3D model of the enzyme in only ten days.”

It’s encouraging and heartening to see play being taken seriously as a tool to unlock the best version of ourselves, regardless of our age. Especially at this moment in human history when the proliferation of choice and the globalization of our lives means a kind of mass-flattening of experience.  We are hungry for ways to be creative, to express ourselves, to discover the world by discovering ourselves.

Play is big. And only getting bigger.

My strategic alliance partners at TrendWatching have been observing this trend for quite some time, and when we started talking about the idea of Play, the connection between this trend and the Valuegraphics Database became crystal clear.

For those of you reading this who aren’t familiar with Valuegraphics, you can poke around and learn more here at the www.valuegraphics.com website, or, if you really want to go deep and be a card-carrying member of the post-demographic Valuegraphics tribe, you can register to buy the book here.

For the purposes of this article about the State of Play however, all you really need to know is that Valuegraphics is the largest database, built from 75,000 surveys about 380 variables, that detects what a target audience values; what they want, need and expect. We use this data to help companies understand how to talk to their target audiences in the most powerful way possible. It works astonishingly well because what we value determines what we do, so knowing the values of your whole target audience means you can influence them to do what you’d like them to do. Oh, and if you took a stats course at some point you’ll appreciate knowing the level of confidence in this study is 95% with a +/- 3.5% margin of error. That makes it more rigorous than you’d need for aPH.D. at any Ivy League University. Bulletproof.

End of commercial, let’s get back to TrendWatching and The Future of Play.

Across all of our data in the Valuegraphics Database the most powerful Valuegraphics Archetype of all is called The Adventure Club. This archetype makes up 11% of the population of the United States and Canada, which means there are roughly 40 million of these folks living amongst us.

What’s remarkable about the members of this cohort is that they agree with each other 89% of the time on 40 core human values (values like trust, responsibility, family, authority, etc.) and an additional 340 questions we asked about all aspects of life: from sports team loyalty, to how you feel about contemporary art and spaghetti bolognese. If you are counting, that’s 89% agreement on 380 variables about what it means to be alive, upright and human in the year 2018 on the planet earth.

The Adventure Club Archetype and the Valuegraphics of Play

These 40 million people live to play, and play to live. They are people you know – your friends and family and coworkers – who always want to try the newest restaurant, vacation destination, fitness class, food trend, or fashion quirk. Life is a huge playing field and they want to try it all.

They have little tolerance for repetition, they switch out friends and partners and homes and cities as rapidly as some of the less playful amongst us switch between Netflix specials or podcast episodes.

In my book, We Are All the Same Age Now, I provide a ten-question quiz for your customers (or your staff, or your friends, or whatever other group you might care to profile) and figure out which of the top ten Valuegraphics Archetypes are most prevalent with that audience. If you find that The Adventure Club is your most motivating archetype, there’s a whole chapter devoted to who they are and what they care about, so you can target your messages and build your products and services to motivate more of them more often. And motivate them you will. Remember, these folks are 89% aligned on their values, wants, needs and expectations: it means every dollar you spend talking to this group and activating those characteristics will be 89% effective, instead of targeting a demographic cohort like, let’s say millennials, who only agree on those same 380 variables-about-life 15% of the time. Millennials disagree with each other so much that spending money targeting them as an audience is next to impossible, and, some might say, negligent.

The chapter on the Adventure Club Valuegraphic Archetype starts with a bit of fiction: a story I wrote about a character named Josh, who is the poster-boy for The Adventure Club. Have a read through that, and the rest of the chapter, below.

And if Play is something you are interested in learning more about, between TrendWatching + Valuegraphics, we can give you all the information you need to make sense of this growing trend and apply it in very practical terms to your specific product, service or brand. The Adventure Club is a very low-hanging piece of fruit on the tree of humanity, and we all have some love of play left in us from childhood, when it was a natural part of us. The only difference with the people in this archetype is that they managed to keep a larger part of that childlike quality beyond childhood, and it has become a driving force in how they walk through the daily rituals of adult life.


THE ADVENTURE CLUB ARCHETYPE

Excerpt from the book We Are All the Same Age Now


Meet Josh

It was early Tuesday morning and already Josh wasn’t having a great day. He’d bought his plane ticket and emailed the registration forms for his seventh Yoga Bro four-day intensive in Arizona, which was only a month away. But he was short on his monthly budget as a result and would need to make it up from somewhere.

He would have to cut his expenses. But how? The phone bill wasn’t even a consideration, so he would have to skip a Visa payment or cut back on food. He chose food.

He would eat at his girlfriend’s place most of the time, he decided. Otherwise, he’d relive his childhood and eat ramen noodles. That’s what his mom used to make when she was between gigs, which seemed to be most of the time.

A self-imposed food challenge would be good practice for the mandatory Yoga Bro fasting, he thought. The intense food restrictions over those four days in the desert were one of the toughest parts of the experience. “Be more with less.” That was the Yoga Bro core philosophy. He’d considered having the line inked on his calf, but so far, he hadn’t been brave enough. Instead, he bought a dog tag with the letters stamped on the surface. He wore it on a chain under his shirt to the office every day. It reminded him of what was really important.

Despite his excitement about his upcoming Yoga Bro adventure, his day was spiraling downward. His new-ish girlfriend, Daphne, had laid down the law while chewing aloe vera paste and quinoa flatbread in the kitchen. “I think I’ve been very patient,” she said, “but come on. Every night you and your Yoga Bros are either at the gym, high on something, or you’re dancing like idiots in a nightclub. And now four solid days of this in the desert? I really don’t see space for me in your life.”

Josh had always disliked how Daphne talked while chewing her food. He listened to her ultimatum and watched tiny quinoa crumbs bounce across the white kitchen counter.

He knew in his heart how this movie would play out. He’d seen this film before. He’d come back from the desert, back to his job at the most-boring-logistics-company-in-the-world, and he’d break up with Daphne to avoid being dumped. There was only one thing left to do.

He grabbed her head tenderly with both hands, planted a big kiss on her forehead, and said, “I’m late for work.” He grabbed his gym bag and walked out the front door.

Adventure Club Archetype Overview

Who doesn’t love a good adventure? As it turns out, when you ask people directly, only 11 percent of the population would say they do. This makes the adventurous among us more of a rarity than one might expect.

The alternate name for this archetype is The Restless, because they are always looking for what could be new, better, and more exciting. The Adventure Club members would rather not eat in the same restaurant twice and would be unlikely to go to the same place on a vacation more than once either.

They’ll be curious about everything and will adopt and discard new ideas and trends easily.

From big decisions to small ones, they are driven by a desire to try new things, to learn more, meet more people, have more experiences, see more things, and grow.

They are also heavily influenced by belonging. They like to be part of something bigger than themselves. They are prime candidates for sports teams, fraternities/sororities, clubs, and the like. They probably travel in groups. They avoid being alone.

Adventure Club Core Values

Use these as guiding principles to design products, services, brands and messages for this audience. Of the 40 core values in the Valuegraphics Database, these are the three filters or lenses through which this audience views every decision they make 24/7/365.

1.     Personal Growth

2.     Experiences

3.     Belonging

Certainties

These are the things we know about this audience without any doubt. Remember, this is based on a random stratified statistical representation of 75,000 surveys across the USA and Canada, with a 95% level of confidence and a 3.5% margin of error. That’s enough to make a statistician fall off her chair.

  • They have lived in as many as ten different places and as many as three different countries.

  • Their possessions are far less important than their experiences.

  • They would like to be financially secure but are not willing to make sacrifices to get there.

  • They are more likely than average to be single.

  • They tend to be uninterested in politics.

Likelihoods

These are characteristics we are fairly certain are true, but maybe not for every single person in the archetype every single moment of every single day. Still, this is safe territory for brainstorming around products, services, brands and messaging for this group of people.

  • They are foodies and enjoy new food experiences.

  • They regularly spend time at a gym or in fitness classes.

  • They are more likely than average to have used recreational drugs.

  • They will spend at least three nights per week out being social.

  • As many as half have never voted.

  • Approximately half come from a low-income background.

  • They are unlikely to think of themselves as religious, but they enjoy visiting places with religious significance.

  • They are unlikely to be concerned about their quality of life.

In Their Own Words

Real quotes from real adventure club survey respondents:

  • “I strive to be a better me every day, and that makes me a better me every day.”

  • “We are shaped by who we spend time with.”

  • “I enjoy pushing my limits and seeing where they really are.”

  • “I don’t assume my current way of living is the way I should be living.”

  • “Do what you've always done, and you'll get what you've always got? No thanks!”

  • “Every barrier is another chance to grow.”

Hall of Fame

These are people and brands that epitomize the Adventure Club perspective on life:

  • Indiana Jones

  • Richard Branson

  • Tough Mudder

  • Anthony Bourdain

  • Patagonia

  • Amelia Earhart

  • Bear Grylls

  • Christopher Columbus

  • Jeep

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After 30 years working with some of the largest brands in the world, David Allison is the Principal Advisor at DAVID ALLISON INC, a boutique global advisory helping clients in multiple sectors use Valuegraphics Profiling to better activate audiences. He’s a frequent keynote speaker, represented by the National Speakers Bureau and the Global Speakers Agency, and every keynote presentation is based on customized data from the Valuegraphics Database specifically extrapolated for the audience he is addressing.  His fourth book, We Are All The Same Age Now proves that values-based audience profiling improves organizational effectiveness as much as eight times over the demographic profiling models in widespread use everywhere today. You can reach him through www.valuegraphics.com  and follow him on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.