Innovation leaders, fasten your seatbelts: we’re taking off.
Historically, periods of economic and cultural trauma have been followed by remarkable exuberance. In my hometown of Chicago, the great fire of 1871 sparked historic innovation out of the literal ashes. The pandemic of 1918 gave way to “The Roaring Twenties.” In the late 1970s and late 2000s, gloom became booms.
We’re building back from relative strength. Many of the hallmarks of last year’s shock were unnatural—think, Charmin mania. Today, retailers are pining for new ideas again. For innovation professionals, great news.
Another cause for optimism: lots of dough out there.
As we worked from home in our pajamas last year, $300 Billion in venture capital was deployed around the world, topping 2019 and almost matching the historic high of 2018.
More new businesses were formed last year than ever before.
Get ready for the LL Cool J roll. “Don’t call it a comeback,” he blustered in Mama Said Knock You Out. “I’ve been here for years.”
So, where to focus? In the post-pandemic consumer world, many trends with headwinds before March 2020 will return. If you had been working on healthier more natural consumables or anything eco-friendly, for example, keep doing it!
The pandemic has also given a boost to some relatively new dynamics. Here are three, and some ways you can win.
Signs of the times. Why? Read on.
Published by respective brands.
1. Explosion of “Phygital.”
One of our first reflexes when the you-know-what hit the fan a year ago was: ecommerce! While reports of the demise of bricks-and-mortar have been exaggerated, we are seeing some notable new evolutions. One example is an acronym that doesn’t sound very nice, but the business sure is: BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store).
Also notable: Pepsi’s Snacks.com is reportedly crushing it; the spectacular growth of enterprise value in delivery services GoPuff, BevMo, and Drizly, all unicorns now; and the rise of livestream experiences, like Popshop.
Ashley Hartman of the prestigious consumer capital fund Bluestein Ventures stressed that “today, companies must have a 3600 approach to connect with their customer, enabling them to get what they want, when and how they want it.”
One sector experiencing a radical uptick in activity: concentrates. The eco angle is nice, but also consider that small light objects are much easier to ship than bottled heavy goop.
Like toothpaste tablets. “Ours come in plastic-free packaging made from lightweight tin. The packaging can be refilled and repurposed, and it’s readily recyclable,” said Craig Dubitsky, founder of hello products and Colgate-Palmolive’s Chief Innovation Strategist.
Opportunity: think about how you can hardwire new ideas for ecomm right out of the gates, in every conceivable way.
2. Radical Transparency.
In the aftermath of September 11th, the editor of Vanity Fair declared the “end to the age of irony,” and possibly humor itself (he was wrong, thank goodness). Here is a similarly bold prediction, and hopefully this one is right: the pandemic bids “bye bye” to baloney. Simply put, consumers are demanding transparency from their brands. Honesty will reign.
We have enough uncertainty to worry about. We don’t need more of it from the brands we buy. The rise of ecommerce (see 1) has enabled people to be much more studious about origin stories, founders, and product sourcing. Brands have taken note. Nike.com, for example, has introduced a “How This Was Made” tab on almost all of its product pages.
Successful entrepreneur and venture capitalist Jaime Schmidt pointed out that many brands had supply chain issues during the pandemic, and the ones who were open about it “are the ones who are thriving today.”
Dubitsky is taking openness a step further. On a mission to make “personal care more personal,” he provides substantial access to his process—and even himself. (He’s available via a Skype button on the company’s website. Really. Give it a whirl here).
I love that the new beverage brand Ruby offers both a short version and a long version of its founding story. If I had to guess, the long one gets more engagement. Expect more of this sort of tack.
Opportunity: spill the beans about your product, team, process, supply chain, all of it. (And if there is nothing you want to say: big problem.)
3. The Escape Economy.
The annus horribilis that was 2020 was marked by more than just a terrible bug, and the direct chaos that ensued. We also had enormous social unrest, a spike in natural disasters, and a political climate that I’ll just call, uh, “stressful.”
As a culture, we have been through the mother of all wringers. And the brand world’s response of “We’re in this together” set to sad piano music, while well-intentioned, only deepened the sense of dread.
Today, people are pining for brands to bring us a spoonful of joy, a bit of wonder, a dash of levity, a dollop of warmth. Even some downright fortuitous camp.
Pepsico’s recent collaboration with Peeps is a great example of using creativity and innovation to eke out a smile in people (“Peepsi,” anyone?). I love the groovy new design of Jet-Puffed marshmallows. The HBO over-the-top new remake of Godzilla vs. Kong was was never intended to challenge Kramer vs. Kramer for most emotionally-wrenching plot. Awesome.
The original. Wonderfully not serious. (Unless you’re Kong, I guess…)
LMPC via Getty Images
Schmidt remarked that brands today can access our humanity in many ways, not just through tear-jerkers. I agree.
Speaking of movies. In the classic Stripes, Sgt. Hulka had this to say to a foundering private who was taking the circumstances—and himself— way too seriously: “Lighten up, Francis.” CMOs and innovation leaders, take heed!
Opportunity: How might we have some fun again, and help people escape the lingering heaviness of the “real” world? If only for a moment.
In times of transition, many fortunes are lost. But even more are won. Think through the opportunities above, and you’ll be primed to win when things begin to soar.