room44 innovates

Companies are recognising that consumers are attracted to brands who do more than just tell them how great they are. Brands with a purpose rate more highly in the EQ stakes (for more about EQ/Emotional Quotient read my blog here).

Your brand marks you out

The legacy of a brand’s actions can get in the way of its being convincing to consumers today. ‘We will be carbon neutral by 2030’ or ‘committed to reducing unnecessary plastic by 2025’ are platitudinous examples of brands blindly following the crowd.

More and more, manufacturers and service providers must realise that setting a distant target for performance improvement is not good enough. Here are a few examples of why.

Plastic Waste

Brands make all manner of declarations to persuade consumers they are doing their bit to reduce plastics in the environment.

In 2018, Coca Cola pledged to recycle a used bottle or can for each one they sell by 2030. Every year Coca Cola turns more than three million tonnes of plastic into bottles and sells over 100 billion single use plastic bottles.

Surfers Against Sewage, an environmental action charity, collects waste products washed up on the beaches around the UK and records the brands it finds. They’ve been doing this for over a decade. Coca Cola was, and remains, the single most present brand of plastic rubbish around our coastline.

Consumers will eventually see the disquieting connection, as they’re kicking a Coke bottle down the beach, between the company’s commitment to recycling plastic and their continued production of more and more.

Other, newer drinks brands are already positioned to offer alternatives.

Eating habits

The UK government says that it expects to see a 50% reduction in human consumption of beef and lamb by 2050. ‘Plant-based’ and vegan foods are now available in every supermarket. There was a joke that went, ‘how do you know when there’s a vegan at the table? They’ll tell you.’ It’s not a joke anymore.

To a business making meat products, the timeline above leaves a comfortable distance until they need to worry about revenue contraction. But, between now and 2050, the same company will see a new CEO at least three times, and a change in CMO 10-15 times.

If consumers are making changes to their eating habits now, what should the company do? If it’s a good idea in 2050, it’s a good idea to consider it now.


McKinsey tells us that 60% of all clothing finds its way into landfills or incinerators within a year of being made. Within a year. Staggering. At the same time, production of clothing is up by 100% since 2014 and consumers are each buying 60% more clothing.

The Ellen McArthur Foundation tells us that 20% of global industrial water pollution comes from dyeing and treating textiles, and in 2015, carbon emissions from textile manufacture were measured at 1.2 billion tonnes.

To anyone with an interest in change, these figures are extraordinary.

Most high-street consumers aren’t that bothered and clothing brands are very happy taking their money now, despite what the brand’s future environmental intentions may be. Brands such as Know The Origin and Vildnis however, are emerging as sustainable, affordable fashion businesses and starting to get consumers’ attention.

If it’s a good idea for 2050, it’s a good idea for now.

Businesses who genuinely want to make a difference, grow a point of differentiation, and help consumers to do the right thing are emerging every day.

While established brands use bland, time-based statements of intent to persuade consumers their hearts are in the right place, challenger brands are making more immediate declarations and winning market share. This is how change-making companies with an interest in growth must also behave.

Why is Design Thinking useful?

The methodology of Design Thinking puts consumers at the front and centre of product design decisions. The purpose of innovation is to offer them new and better alternatives than are available today. The purpose of room44 is to help business to survive and thrive into the future.

You probably know that your company will have changed by 2025/2030/2050. It’s likely that you’re putting off the work that should be done to work out what it will change into.

As I said at the top of this article, if it’s a good idea for 2050, it’s a good idea for now.

If we can be helpful to you, let’s talk. Here’s my diary.

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.

Clayton Christensen is the father of disruptive innovation and design thinking. He’s so central to the concept that you can listen to a summarised version of his works on your daily commute, thanks to Audible. Truly the modern-day mark of a guru.

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen says that successful companies are formed of resources, processes and values. The human resources take material resources and convert them, through processes, to products that meet the company’s business model or cost structure. So long as the values are properly ingrained across the organisation, the processes will be consistently developed to their maximum efficiency – i.e. to continue making the same things as profitably as possible.

If you introduce a disruptively innovative idea to this system, where the profit margin is below the established minimum, the processes are unlikely to be altered to accommodate its development. Regardless of whether there is a clear market demand for ‘new’, and despite the fact that it might be the company’s long-term salvation, the idea won’t fly. Anyone thinking Kodak, Blockbuster..?

Sodastream recently called out Coca-Cola for producing 100 billion single-use plastic bottles every year. Count them – 100 billion. And that’s just one company.

Asking the 1970s consumer if single-use plastic was a good idea would have got you a very different answer from today. Back then, plastic pollution wasn’t omnipresent and the concept of peak oil production was unthinkable.

Today’s consumers are much more aware. You can’t go anywhere on the planet without tripping over discarded plastic and the Pacific Gyre is a real thing. But will companies like Coca-Cola change?

This month’s issue of the UK’s Packaging News features a piece by the Chairman of National Flexible Ltd, a UK-based plastics distribution company. Titled Plastic packs need a friend – the retailers, it insists, “Anyone with any common sense knows the only problem with plastic waste. It’s the morons who throw it away.” Here’s the mindset that makes innovation difficult for design thinkers with emerging alternatives to single-use plastics.

Repeatability drives efficiency. The process drives the value of ‘this is what we do, let’s keep doing it.’ Let’s not. Let’s begin to be different.

Innovation justified. It’s what we do.

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