I don’t know what happened last winter but there seem to have been a lot of clever people stuck in their kitchens wanting something to do, because come spring we saw a host of new kitchen tech.
This is not the first example, the first home computer (the Honeywell 316) was designed for the kitchen and I often use this as an example of bad tech over purpose. It was pretty clever for its time but was basically an electric cook book strapped to a chopping board. It was huge, cost $10,000 and required a two week programming course. It sold, roughly, no units.
Forty six years on and we have finally got the concept that good tech is about making lives easier not about being clever for the sake of it (ish) and there seems to be some potential in these new innovations.
By looking at them we can perhaps use the kitchen as a microcosm of the challenges we face in the wider world; As tech increasingly learns to be more intelligent, connected and like us, its ability to serve us will become increasingly seamless and opaque – fundamentally challenging the interruptive or even native model.
The kitchen is especially interesting as it the heart of the home, a consumer bastion, the space where of all places surely our old marketing and retail approaches remain sacrosanct and where we can’t bypass the challenge with a convenient ‘dual screen solution’.
If what these innovations are teaching us is how media will eat itself – how then do our brands stay on the menu?
What do you need to be successful in the kitchen… you need food there in the first place (cue the usual consumer journey stuff); you need creativity and inspiration (cue content solution); you need instruction (cue app based utility) and of course a pair of hands (that’s you).
What if all of these could be delivered by tech? What if your kitchen could take out the entire chore and leave you purely with the joy of mixing and eating – in other words doing what Aunt Jemima did to making pancakes in 1899 (automating it through a commercially sold pre-mix) to the rest of your culinary needs?
Let’s start with Countertop (retailing at $199.95) by Orange Chef. This kind of tech essentially makes your entire kitchen intelligent – an internet of everything kitchen based. It can sync with all your existing cookware and gadgets as well as fitness trackers and iOS apps. It uses NFC and load sensors to measure ingredients. It can sync with your lifestyle and your taste preferences, it will give you a recipe suggestion based on what you like at a time it knows you will like or need it, and then guide you through it – it’s like your mum and home economics teacher rolled in to one.
Now if I needed to stick to a diet for example (I do) or to follow a training regime (I do) I would love this but for me, on its own it won’t make my life easier. As much as I’m a busy working housewife (yep they come in male too) and this kind of solution should appeal, mostly I can’t be bothered to do what I should and I just cook up what I feel like or happen to have. When it’s really bad I can get take away or when I am in the mood for cooking, it’s the chaos and effort I enjoy. I could use it to help create nutritious and varied meals for my children but somehow feel that’s something I should be doing, but then I’m in the 40+ demographic so probably written off as a tech adopter anyway.
For a lazy average Joe like me then perhaps Robochef could be the answer? Unveiled in Hanover last week by its developer Dr Oleynik (no, not a Russian Pizza brand) it is a pair of human sized, robotic hands that suspend from the ceiling and can do anything from mixing, cooking and even washing up (The first commercial model will be available 2017 and retail at about $15,000).
The hands incidentally are made by British firm Shadow Robot, purveyor of fine hands to the likes of NASA, so this isn’t W Heath Robinson stuff (no cats on bellows needed). The hands actually replicate the real hand actions of a top human chef – so it’s probably ‘handier’ around the kitchen than you. Indeed not only will you be able to ask it to create a particular dish for you but theoretically also in the style of your favourite chef.
Then there’s IBM’s Chef Watson’s Cookbook – the world’s first AI created recipe book. It’s a cognitive supercomputer that demonstrates amazing creativity and originality with its recipes despite having never tasted a morsel in its life (I just said life didn’t I). Who needs a chef.
Again for me, I would seriously need to upgrade my kitchen and oven before investing in this – it does have a kind of star wars appeal and practically speaking you can see that as a ‘busy working parent’ literally having an extra pair of hands about the place is something I ask for almost daily. When I finally do have time to think about eating it’s often spent having fridge stare – re-opening the fridge door several times never seems to make food I fancy appear, so having a machine know what I like and rustle something up would be great.
All of this is fine but as consumer I still have control – I still need to get food in the first place. Tech like the Dash Button from Amazon could change all that.
Essentially it circumvents the consumer journey by enabling you to re-order at the very point of needing the product. My prediction? What it is will pass much like the minidisc – none want a house littered with hundreds of buttons, people will start to feel out of control from household budgets and frankly people still like different things and discounts. It’s not hugely making a convenience benefit for me either. To my mind if I were to do this I would build the ability to re-order straight off pack and allow brands to leverage this with different retailers, but that’s just me.
But perhaps there’s a bigger aspect here. If we increasingly trust our food, meals and preparation to intelligent machines – and I have no doubt we will, we’ve trusted ingredients and preparation to a host of ready prepared food brands and retailers over the past decades after all – then surely they are the consumer. My kitchen robot will know what ingredients it needs for dinner tonight and will be able to interface with a retailer directly, even unload the shopping (Dr Oleynik – something to teach my robot hands to do please).
What then? Do we either apply our skills to target the machine consumer over the human one? Branding and decision making will be about creating experiences and preferences, educating palettes and inspiring adventures that we feel like X or want to try Y.
Just as tech has to focus less on what it can do rather than why it needs to do it, so too with brands and comms. We’ll need to focus on preference over sales. The distinctive high awareness brand won’t translate to sales if it fails to build meaningful appeal –forcing this kind of brand and price decision making is something many of us could do without, frankly mostly it’s a hassle – right? I want a brand that makes my mouth water or creates an experience I want to relive time and time again. Comms will not be about being clever but about being human.
Intelligent kitchens will not just be great at forcing our hand to change but in teaching us a few new recipes for success too – so get your aprons on and lets mix things up a bit!
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