Newsfeeds and social media are signalling disruption in every corner of our lives in this decade. Learn how to avoid being reactive to every shift in customer behaviour, and how to anticipate what to do next.
1. Start with what you know.
Every person in your business has had a different experience of your customers than you have. Think how many of your colleagues have come from a company where things are done differently, and customers are treated differently.
Ask them to tell you about it.
Your staff represents an invaluable source of insight. They all buy products in consumer markets every day. They know which websites work the best, and they know what their markets are doing. Your colleagues are expert in one thing above all else – themselves – so ask them about their experiences. If there’s a subject we all like to talk about, it’s ourselves.
Take time to talk to your employees and you’ll be surprised at what you will learn about their view of your market: who is launching a new variant; who is leaving a competitor; who is having trouble with their supply chain; who is likely to merge with somebody else…
Do it regularly, and one-to-one. You don’t have to set up a meeting, but you should commit time to this every week. Doing it less often releases you from the obligation of learning what you need to know. Make it a priority in your schedule.
If you need help to moderate conversations like this, book a call here.
2. Innovations don’t appear from nowhere. You can already see them happening.
Insight nugget: the things that will disrupt you in five years’ time have started to emerge already – and you can see them, if you look.
There isn’t a company in existence who can suddenly produce a ground-breaking product. It doesn’t happen.
When the iPhone was launched in 2008, it didn’t immediately have the consumer-shifting effect we attribute to it. It took three years for the App Store to appear, and developers saw that as an opportunity.
Over time, Android apps appeared and now we have cross-platform apps for Android and Apple iOS. Suppliers like Adobe and Microsoft sell you software on cloud-based platforms so the apps are managed differently through subscription.
This is an example of how a market has evolved quite slowly, offering signals all along its development path. The same is true for your market. If you make components for petrol-engines, get ready for a change: EVs don’t need them. If you think you’re safe because your parts are used in boats, planes or tractors – think again.
So…be pro-active in how you review the macro influences that are forcing change in your market. A little bit of looking over your shoulder to remember how you got where you are is time well spent. Then go and talk to your colleagues – it’s surprising what they know too.
If you need help to formulate a plan or to gather this kind of insight, get in touch.
3. If you need help, get it.
Inviting an external service into your business has the potential to be disruptive and expensive. It can be…but it doesn’t have to be.
Enduring relationships with long-standing clients are great for both parties, because we learn each other’s needs. The beauty of this approach is that efficiency gets built into the process.
What we always do at room44 is to stay naïve about your market. A specialist in your market won’t offer you a different view. What we do is to see your business through a new lens and open up vistas of opportunity.
Get in touch and test us. If we can’t show you an opportunity that hasn’t occurred to you before, we’ll stay friends and walk away. If we can, at zero cost for the first conversation, there’s an opportunity to build a relationship.
As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.
The way ideation works depends on how it is directed.
Creativity is best achieved with nurture and new insight.
During a room44 ideation session there is a moment when somebody in the room will realise that the ideas on the wall can be started immediately. The “…and we can do that now” moment is how we judge the success of the process.
Seeing where ideas overlap, developing embryonic ideas and providing the right stimulus for ideas to emerge is our skill.
Future-thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.
If you’re planning a strategy project, get in touch.
During project research, we stumble across thousands of facts that can’t be used for that project but are still interesting – maybe we’ll be able to use them one day. Below are just ten examples. Some are fun, some are serious. All of them useful in the right context.
If you know all of these already (and somebody will), please make a comment. You’ll be instantly invited to join our pub quiz team.
1. Australia is on the move
Since the last GPS calibration in 1994, Australia has moved around 7cm closer to Singapore every year: that’s 1.75 metres so far.
The next calibration is happening in 2020, so it’ll all be OK again soon, but this helps understand why Lidar scanners and other mobility sensors have found a market in some unexpected places.
In Australia, there’s a harbour called Port Hedland. The ships that collect hundreds of thousands of tonnes of iron ore are vast. At certain times, the draft clearance between the ship and the seabed is no more than 25cm, making navigation accuracy critical. In this context, 7cm is a lot and 1.75 metres is huge.
2. Your great, great, great, great-grandchild is in the next booth
Without getting hung up on the future of the ‘booth’ in the workplace, is this really possible? Well, there are now five generations in the workplace for the first time in history. Today, Alpha Gens (people born since 2012) are about 7 years old. In another 10 – 15 years they’ll be entering work. So yes, feasibly, with life-expectancy rising, it is possible to imagine a time when six generations will be working side by side.
To qualify this, it’s also thought the person who will live to 150 years has already been born. Great news for Aubrey De Grey and the SENS Foundation.
3. The Wild West wasn’t so wild after all
Life in a new continent may have been wild and scary, and we know that lawlessness was a big challenge for early settlers in the USA. But movie studios have a habit of not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. In my early film-watching years, I was regularly shown gangs robbing banks. In fact, if you believed the TV, this was going on every week.
In fact, between 1850 and 1900 there were eight recorded bank robberies in the US.
Compare this to published FBI data showing that there were 2,451 US bank raids in 2016 alone. It’s getting wilder out there.
4. Where has all the sand gone?
Right now, the world is running out of sand suitable for construction. Massive home and urban building programmes across the world have decimated supplies of this humble raw material with serious environmental effect. The manufacture of cement and concrete is a huge user of water and the material isn’t easily re-usable. As a result, we’re seeing development of wood-based alternatives: engineered wood, recycled wood, wooden load-bearing structural elements. All these are recyclable and all of them can be regrown after harvesting.
It’s calculated that Canada can regrow the wood used to build a ten-storey building in just ten minutes.
5. The apostrophe dies
The Apostrophe Protection Society has hung up its quill. For eighteen years, the APS has been trying to maintain standards by campaigning for the correct use of the apostrophe. Famous supporters, including Lynne Truss and Simon Griffin have championed the cause in print.
This is a sad indictment of the low standards we set ourselves when we write. Websites are harbours for poor SPaG and the APS founder says “…fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language. We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”
That said, apostrophes don’t make it easy on themselves. The word ‘influenza’ was originally abbreviated to ‘flu. No-one knows why the ‘in’ is more important than the ‘enza’.
6. Tumbleweed migration
Another feature of my movie-watching career has been desolate landscapes punctuated and accented by strategic tumbleweed moments. I don’t mean the embarrassing silence during a project pitch, but actual tumbleweed in movies.
This may have been the original Fake News. It seems tumbleweed is indigenous to Ukraine and was an early accidental import to US [agri]culture. Tumbleweed is actually the dried carcass of Russian Thistles and crossed the ‘pond’ with flax imports in the 1870s.
7. Water Stress
When we run projects and workshops that help teams create future-proofing strategies, there is a temptation to introduce concepts that are almost too huge to comprehend, and convert them into useable ideas. We have to be sensitive to the audience and strike a balance between what is really going on in the macro-environment and what is needed by a business to stay relevant to its customers.
Water is one of these subjects. In the world today, water migration is a real phenomenon. People are displacing themselves because they cannot survive on available drinking water. Similarly, whole cities (e.g. Cape Town) have faced complete drought and more are forecast.
In our part of the world we are lucky enough to have potable supplies, but even these are threatened. In some US states, suspicion about polluted water supplies from leaking chemical plants has caused local government to close public drinking fountains. The Guardian ‘Today in focus’ podcast explores this man-made exacerbation of a general threat to the supply of our most basic resource.
We may not worry about water while we have it, but things do change. A signal of water stress is how you consume. If you buy water in a single-use plastic bottle, there’s a chance you trust that supplier over what comes out of your tap. Something to think about.
8. Cars will kill the Mars Bar
Research an issue from the right angle and adjacent opportunities become apparent.
Cars are gradually being electrified. There are @8,500 filling stations in the UK and @123,000 across the US. Just two market examples.
All of these outlets sell confectionery that you buy on impulse when you fill up the car/truck/van… Take away the footfall from gas stations and the ‘impulse’ to buy chocolate goes away as well.
We haven’t been asked to come up with a strategy to overcome this yet and suspect the issue sits beyond the strategic view of brands like Mars. There’s probably a board game idea in this too.
9. When was DNA discovered?
The so called ‘molecule of life’ is thought to have been discovered in the 1950s when, in fact, this discovery was built on work from the 1800s. If you watch CSI, you’ll know just how important DNA is and how we are all unique.
We’ve been tracking the development of DNA exploitation for a decade and believe that its application to diet, nutrition and medical predisposition has just seen a seminal moment. It’s too long a story for a paragraph here, but watch this space…
10. Crocodiles do smile
And finally, if you’re short of somewhere to spend the holidays, consider a trip to Africa.
Issue #14 of The Happy Reader tells us that there’s a town in northern Ghana called Bolgatanga that boasts the ‘friendliest crocodiles in Ghana and perhaps the world’. We want to believe this, even if we don’t know how you test for a friendly crocodile and feel the old Peter Pan song may contain a more sensible sentiment:
“Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can’t get friendly with a crocodile
Don’t be taken in by his welcome grin
He’s imagining how well you’d fit within his skin…”
Thank you for reading this and see you next year.
When a business gets to a certain size, the next step is, usually, to grow it. This is a critical point in a company’s lifecycle when the real question is ‘do we grow or do we scale?’
Founders go through this pain when they find themselves struggling to keep up with demand and paperwork.
The cycle is usually
- Start a business with a purpose – to meet a need
- Get busy
- Employ help
- Manage the help
- Realise you are managing and not doing what you started out to do yourself
Problem: scaling is not the same as growing
There is a point in every business’s lifecycle when ambition overrides purpose:
- Why did you start doing this? Because we saw a need in other people’s lives.
- How can you grow your client base? Go digital.
- Why are you going digital? To reach more people.
See the shift? Purpose has been pushed aside and scaling back to profit has become the incentive.
Take a training company, for example. Training of any sort is delivered best by someone who has experienced a process, seen the transformation for themselves, learnt how to be brilliant at delivering the method and who inspires trust, enthusiasm and purpose. And changes the way you work for the better.
A training company, however, is only able to reach as many people as they can stand in front of. So, they bring in more trainers who are also brilliant and do a great job.
Next step is that overheads grow and the training company needs more work, so they invest in a portal. They go digital.
The digital version of their training product is interactive, responsive, easy to access, can be delivered while you’re in the bath and doesn’t encroach on your life too much.
This is scaling. The only thing this grows is the training company’s top line. It certainly isn’t going to turn the brilliance the training company once delivered into ‘change’ in your daily life.
Scaling ≠ growing
The digital system may be the best there can be today but the brilliance has gone from the process. Digital may deliver a process efficiently but sometimes it genuinely gets in the way of delivering what a client needs.
Digital isn’t clever enough, yet, to listen to the room, turn the problems that get discussed into nuanced case studies and help a specific client to improve their business.
It may do this in time. It doesn’t do it now.
The answer, we believe, is to stay true to ourselves and only work with clients face-to-face or one-to-one.
The programmes room44 delivers are only available from a core team or by email with the same people.
The objective we aim at is to create a sense of purpose in you and provide you with the tools you need to change your company’s prospects.
We strive to create an environment in which change can occur and we prepare you to be the nucleator.
Our website says “Product innovation strategies for revenue and growth. It doesn’t say ’strategies to help you scale and distance yourself from your client need’.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.
Here’s one way we do it. Click to download the 10, 20-30 programme outline, new for 2020.
As you sit down to write your 2020 budget plan, ask yourself this question: how different will this plan make us look by this time next year?
It’s likely, in many cases, that the answer is, ‘it won’t.’
This is something we can help to change. Here’s why and here’s how.
Today’s marketplace is dominated by brands looking for a cause to align themselves with: a purpose to adopt and work into their brand messaging to show they are sufficiently aware of environmental, societal and technological forces to know where their own values intersect. In most cases, this is nothing more than marketing.
- the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.
The most trusted brands today are those focused on their central beliefs and who present their message most efficiently. This is not something an established brand is going to do successfully in a single budget cycle, but if your brand is to have any chance of growing, it is something to consider.
Don’t confuse growth with doing business as usual.
Planning a 2020 budget without making any changes to what you do only maintains the status quo and, while it may work for a year or two, it won’t work for ever. A well-deigned marketing plan will make it possible to sell more than last year, until the marketing stops working. As we all know, marketing always stops working, and a new plan is always needed.
For evidence of this, look at the size of your marketing budget versus your ‘innovation’ budget. See what I mean?
Having a core purpose to your business is more than, for example, changing from virgin plastic to post-consumer waste in your supply chain, or removing some packaging from a product, or working up a VR social media advert.
Having a core purpose is what new positionings are based on. Without a purpose, you will not be seen as actively engaged in the issues that matter to newly influential consumers: Gens Y, Z and Alpha. Without an embedded and ingrained purpose, you are actually sliding out of relevance, whether you know it yet or not.
Taking a stance inside a business, that doesn’t speak to the norm of what it does today, is hard for anyone. The route of least resistance is to keep your head down and get on with what you are paid to do. If you are doing work that no-one is noticing, you’re running with the crowd and there used to be nothing wrong with that. But we believe that, today, it’s not a sustainable position for anyone to adopt. Workforces need to be mobilised as innovators.
To be the agent of change in your company, you must be the nucleator; the grit in the shell; the person that stands out for suggesting ideas that immediately attract resistance.
You don’t have to be difficult or contrary or deliberately confrontational. But you do need to push against something to know that your idea has made a bump in the road and that, now it’s out there, it has a chance of forcing a change from within.
We’re not suggesting revolution
…only that you take it upon yourself to create an atmosphere within which change can occur.
Being controversial is hard. Happily, today may be the absolute best time to be controversial, because this is where disruption starts. And if you’ve read anything about business in the last five years, disruption is the word of the day, every day.
George Soros is controversial. His money supports activities that some people would prefer not to happen. He isn’t always popular but, anyone that has ever read reports about his ventures, knows what he stands for (George Soros interview at The Guardian).
Ben and Jerry’s is an ice cream brand with purpose beyond their product. As long ago as 2009 their Marriage Equality policy was written into their core values and reflects in product marketing.
Patagonia has only ever said what it says. Its uncompromising stance on environmental impact has never changed. This is a core value instilled by Yvon Chouinard when the business was founded and remains firm.
When you realise that these core purposes are so long held and so deeply embedded, it’s easier to understand why they attract such a lot of support from their social media communities. People who know that some brands represent more than making money, making ice cream or making T-shirts reward them with consumer trust.
When you sit down to write your 2020 budget, please have a think on what the right thing to do next year is:
noun: purpose; plural noun: purposes
- the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.
- a person’s sense of resolve or determination.
Our answer to starting this process is called 10, 20-30 and you can download the outline here.