What’s the difference between a headline and a trend? We all get a bit dazzled by hype. We tend to believe the headlines when the reality of a situation can be very different.
Trends are important when planning product and service development. Trends tell us what we may face as competition, as well as what the solutions our customers will be seeking might be.
Trends tell us how to anticipate how markets could evolve, be exploited and how we can influence them by delivering value.
Trends aren’t always easy to unpick, though. Here’s a current example: Amazon is the big news today. We see Amazon in every headline and we are told that the company will continue to be part of our lives, even if we can’t imagine how drones and no high street stores will change our world.
Anyone that follows Amazon knows that ‘fun’ is a big part of the corporate ethos and is probably a factor in its success. Who has begun to think that Jeff Bezos and fun go hand in hand? When Jeff goes, will the fun go too?
What we aren’t told is that Amazon is still, roughly, a fifth the size of Walmart. Amazon is growing at @50% year on year. Walmart is growing more slowly: about 2% year on year but from a much larger base. If the current rates of growth persist, Amazon won’t catch Walmart in size for almost half a decade.
Do we think Walmart isn’t already reacting to Amazon? That the largest grocery retailer in the world isn’t working on a strategy to ring-fence its business?
Another trend we read about is the experience economy: consumers spending money in places that offer a real and immersive brand experience (a bit like Walmart delivers). Amazon is a supplier of stuff we want, efficiently and without any real experience attached. In fact, almost none at all. Click and forget.
Once we get over the thrill of drones dropping off pizza and beer, we may want to go and see what’s new on the shelf. Maybe Walmart will develop a new reason for us to visit stores while delivering our groceries via their own drones. Maybe retail isn’t dead after all.
The future of the high street could actually be looking more interesting. Perhaps, when all the commodity chains have stripped their cost base so far that drone delivery and a website is all they have left, we’ll see an uprising of local, artisan, craft and quality makers. Maybe the rise of electric vehicles and taxation on mineral based fuels won’t be matched by the predicted range of batteries we’re told we should believe… or maybe batteries just won’t charge as quickly as we’re told they will so short shopping trips become attratctive again.
Perhaps quality producers of food, clothes, furniture, bespoke services… all the things we love to buy, but struggle to find among the coffee chains and estate agents, will start to look good to more people.
We could see a return to local specialisms based on produce available in an area. Maybe all those community experiments that have been tried over the years (see Transition Towns) will have their day. Maybe it’ll become easier for small producers to reach a shopping audience without the absolute need for e-commerce. Perhaps the trend towards taxing sugar in soft drinks will extend into processed foods and will persuade more people to eat better and shop more locally; shopping local begins to look good for another reason. Maybe shopping more critically will mean we need less plastic packaging.
Maybe we’ll all benefit from a hybrid of efficient delivery of staple items, and the experience of shopping and meeting people too.
I could go on. Trends are important, and it takes an enquiring mind to see past the headline and to where the unmet need is. Maybe we could have a chat about that.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.
Innovation is more than the MVP. It’s all about where you plan to go, not where you start out.
In the maker and entrepreneurial world right now, there is pressure to ship. If you aren’t shipping, you aren’t creating an audience or a customer base.
The minimal viable product (MVP) is the target. Get it out, so it can be working for you – delivering revenue or feedback from customers telling you how it needs to improve.
Yes, the MVP works as a basic version of what might come, but there is a risk. Without a strong brand and a trusted reputation, a bad MVP could do more harm than good.
If you’re a new company with a new idea, an MVP could really get you noticed. On the other hand, it might appear to sit outside of reason.
Product development theory requires makers to establish the context for their innovation product: to prepare the market. As part of this, it is useful to declare the trajectory your product will follow: we’re launching our new product that does this thing today, and next month we’ll add function X to make it even better.
You may not convert all your customers until version 2 is bought by the New Adopters, but some won’t be able to resist the urge to be first to buy: think of the lines in Apple Stores when the iPhone 8 was launched. Do you think the same buyers won’t reappear later this week for the release of iPhone X?
There have been some notable failures by the big brands recently, but they won’t stop the development of better versions in response to feedback. Here are a couple of examples (drop us a line if you want to see more):
1. Google Glass – all those bugs, and comments about looking like a nerd, will evaporate when Google Glass’s functionality has created a need beyond checking Facebook or taking a video.
We know that Alphabet’s X division is quietly developing Glass Enterprise Edition, and the signs are that Glass will be a far better product when the time is ready for consumer release.
2. Oh, how we love to bitch about Apple and love them at the same time. To supplement my Macbook, iPad, Airpods and my iPhone, I so [need] an Apple Watch Cellular Series 3.
But if I buy it in the US, there isn’t a way of connecting with my UK (EU) roaming service. Why? Well, maybe it has something to do with the need to pay EE £5 a month to use it independently.
This won’t turn me against Apple, but I do wonder why they seem intent on making life harder: new connectors, no connectors and now this. We know user accessibility will improve as networks get signed up, but to have an MVP this far into a product’s lifecycle surely hands straight the ball to Android.
3. Back to Google, this time in collaboration with Levi’s. Their brilliant concept of a Levi Trucker Jacket code-named Jacquard had all the cyclists in the room44 office buzzing. We couldn’t wait to shell out for it, until we realised we can only buy it in the US.
So that’s where I went, had the demo, fell in love again and then…unfortunately for the Innovators and Early Adopters, it ain’t quite what it’s cracked up to be.
First off, the smartphone functionality comes down to a cuff that can respond to five gestures – effectively rendering it a hands-free answering device, plus music start/stop. But only in the US. If you buy in the US to use it in the UK, the app ‘may not’ download to a UK phone, limiting the already narrow range of functionality. And on reflection, we decided that cycling with headphones is actually pretty stupid. There are enough cycle-related deaths, without adding to them taking a phone call in traffic by reaching across to swipe your cuff.
Finally – and here’s the clincher – as much as we crave the idea of wearing technology, in its current iteration the Jacquard jacket will only tolerate ten washes. This is a denim, non-waterproof, non-sweat-resistant commuter jacket.
Sexy, yes. Desirable, absolutely. Less than great MVP, totally.
These are all great products in development. Jeff Bezos said, “I’ve made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon” and Google and Apple will likely make millions of dollars from these ‘failures’ too. But the discerning Innovator may decide to wait for things to get easier and better value for money.
After all, we do have options.
At room44 we’ve some things to celebrate: a brand new website this week, new projects that we’ll deliver in Q4, and the fact that Jeff Bezos has unknowingly validated one of our core messages: research your potential, pick a point in the future and work back to design your roadmap.
Deciding on a strategic target provides your team with direction and silent guidance. Declaring what you want your company to be in X years helps them make decisions that will get you there. You don’t have to watch them. By being definite in what you believe, they’ll naturally fall in to the right groove.
Why do we think Jeff would agree? On 30th August 2017, the New York Times published this article on the plans for Amazon and Microsoft to collaborate on the development of #Alexa and #Cortana. It contained this quote:
“It is standard at Amazon to create such news releases for internal consumption as part of what Mr Bezos calls the company’s ‘working backward process.’ Through that exercise, Amazon’s teams depict in writing how a new product or service will look to its customers before engineers write a line of code.”
In a happy coincidence, a couple of weeks ago Fast Company Magazine launched its Get Creative programme #fcgetcreative. When you subscribe, the programme sends you a daily creative challenge for two weeks. Day 10 is contributed by #Robert Wong, the Co-Founder and Vice President of Google Creative Labs. Here’s what it says:
“Has anyone ever asked you what you want to be when you ‘grow up?’ What did you say? Today’s challenge from renowned graphic designer Robert Wong might help you answer that question in surprising ways…
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE?
First, imagine your most successful self-actualized future self in 20 years and write it down. Once there, imagine what you would have had to achieve 10 years prior and write that down. Then, go back five years. Then 2.5 years—until you get to one year from today. Experiencing an epiphany? Most people do!”
The concept of jumping forward and understanding the intermediary steps to get to a future goal isn’t a new idea. But it does work, and the habit forms the basis for strategy. How to decide what the endpoint should be? Well, for that insight you’ll have to call us.
Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.