When was the last time you checked the pulse of consumerism?
Because it's beating faster than ever!
Every day, our network of spotters notify us about the most compelling new consumer-facing innovations they encounter.
And whilst we use these to identify specific trends, there's also one overriding meta-trend that we're continually struck by: on an absolutely global scale, the quality and quantity of innovation is relentless, fuelled by – and at the same time fuelling – consumers' insatiable NEWISM.
The takeaway: launching your own, equally brilliant innovations* will be the only way to survive in an ever more competitive, ever more global business arena.
* By innovation we mean anything that will get consumers spending, and preferably the kind of spending that involves your products, services and experiences.
So this month, let's simply celebrate a handful of the most bang on-trend innovations we've seen in 2014.
Dive into this selection of global inspiration. Because while these might not all necessarily be 'big' disruptive threats to your business, they WILL offer you plenty to think about during your next planning session!
Take each example, even (especially!) those from different industries and markets, and question if and how it could suggest exciting new potential opportunities for YOU. Because if you don't respond to the changes in consumer expectations and behaviors that the examples below are establishing, someone else will ;)
McDonald's & Coca-Cola
BFF Timeout app encourages Filipinos to focus on each other, rather than on their phones
Consumers everywhere find it difficult to resist the lure of their phones and the stream of potentially-exciting-but-probably-just-cat-photo notifications.
In May 2014, McDonald's and Coca-Cola partnered in the Philippines to launch BFF Timeout, an app that rewards users for not using their phones. Once individuals in a group have all opened the app, the timeout begins and points are earned for every moment the phones are left alone. As soon as anyone uses their phone, the timeout ends. Users' scores are ranked on a public leaderboard, and prizes include trips to Japan and Singapore.
So, what are you doing to cater to consumers' changing mobile attitudes?
Accident damage appraisal via video link
The ways in which mobile technologies are changing consumer expectations continue to develop, and customer service is no exception.
March 2014 saw Esurance unveil a new app function that speeds up the post-accident process for customers. Customers can open a video chat with an Esurance appraiser, and have the damage assessed via their cellphone camera in real-time, avoiding the need for an in-person vehicle inspection.
How will you use the technology that your customers already have to improve their experience?
Clean Romania initiative removes racist graffiti
When it comes to brands contributing to social progress, consumer expectations continue to rise.
In Romania, Unilever's Cif brand of cleaning products met these expectations head on with its Clean Romania initiative that ran from February to May 2014. Users could submit a photo of racist graffiti using an app, and the brand would send a cleaning team to the location and remove the offending graffiti. The brand also posted 'before' and 'after' photos online, demonstrating to potentially-skeptical consumers that the initiative was more than just a marketing stunt.
Transparency and proactivity worth emulating?
Pop-up store exchanges promotional merchandise for donated blood
We've written at length about the opportunities for DEMANDING BRANDS.
To promote the launch of The Walking Dead Season 4 in April 2014, Fox Portugal teamed up with the national blood bank institute to open a special pop-up store in Lisbon. In return for donating blood, shoppers were given points that could be exchanged for exclusive branded merchandise from the TV show, such as pin buttons, cellphone cases and t-shirts.
Time for a brainstorming session to consider what YOU could demand from consumers?
Thermostat adjusts temperature according to aggregated data from building occupants
Big trends continue to develop and evolve relentlessly, and crowdsourcing is no exception. Witness the host of new products and services that aim to increase overall happiness by taking into account collective preferences.
CrowdComfort is just one of these: a crowdsourced thermostat that adjusts a building’s temperature according to aggregated information from occupants. Via a companion app, users rate their comfort level using a five-point scale and CrowdComfort analyzes the data to suggest the optimum temperature for each floor. CrowdComfort was initially trialled by General Electric and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and made available to pre-order in February 2014.
How can you let your customers improve their collective experience themselves?
Emoji app adds color to mobile messaging and celebrates African culture
That global mobile penetration continues to increase won't surprise anyone, with total mobile subscriptions now approaching 7 billion (International Telecommunication Union, May 2014). The only surprise is that so little of the mobile experience is reflective of its fastest growing audiences.
One small sign that this is changing: in March 2014 Mauritius-based app company Oju Africa launched a set of African emojis for Android users. Available to use with apps including WhatsApp and Twitter, the range of 56 emojis is designed to represent and celebrate African culture.
For anyone in mobile (or indeed any other industry experiencing global growth): do your products and services really represent your (new) customer base? If not, then can you find opportunities in addressing that gap?
In-flight mentoring program enables aspiring entrepreneurs to connect with established professionals
The ongoing global employment crisis and the desire to achieve personal freedom mean more people than ever aspire to be their own boss, and successful entrepreneurs are the new rock stars.
In March 2014, Delta launched Innovation Class: an ongoing mentoring program that enables budding entrepreneurs to connect with established industry professionals. The airline invited a number of leaders in the fields of art, business and technology to travel to select events around the globe, and offered people the opportunity to sit next to them. Mentees could apply for the free seat using their LinkedIn profile. A different mentor hosted each Innovation Class; the inaugural event (to the TED conference) was with Eric Migicovsky, creator of the Pebble Smartwatch.
How could you help people improve themselves, and have unique stories to tell at the same time?
Sol de Janeiro
Suncare brand uses tattooists to raise skin cancer awareness in Brazil
Brand utility, brand purpose, marketing that isn't marketing...all trends that continue to provide endless and rich opportunities for brands that put customer needs before their own.
Learn from Sol de Janeiro, who in May 2014 launched a campaign to raise awareness of skin cancer. The Brazilian suncare brand trained over 450 tattooists, equipping them with the skills to be able to interpret skin lesions and the basic signs of skin cancer. Tattooists can then explain these symptoms and the importance of sun protection to their customers, and advise them to speak to a dermatologist for a full diagnosis.
Time to start thinking about how to creatively, seamlessly and conveniently reach your customers?
City of Madrid
Smart parking meters charge energy inefficient vehicles extra
Watching how new technologies are applied to cater to deep-rooted human behaviors will forever remain a great source of inspiration. And 'smart' technologies that bring previously unconnected objects online have been behind many of 2014's most exciting tech innovations.
One intriguing example? April 2014 saw the City of Madrid announce the introduction of smart parking meters charging energy efficient cars less than regular vehicles. Pricing is based on the size of the vehicle’s engine and the year of the car, and owners of electric cars can park for free. Parking prices also depend on how busy certain locations are, with empty streets costing less than popular areas.
What new ways you could make your pricing 'smart', relevant and still also encourage desirable outcomes (either shared or personal)?
Treeson Spring Water
Eco-focused spring water brand makes its recyclable bottles free to mail back to manufacturer and more
Where to start with this example? To anyone playing 'trend bingo', this will give you a full house: crowd-funded, beautiful design, GUILT-FREE if not aspiring to have a net positive environmental impact, accompanying GPS-enabled app...all this in a bottle of water ;)
Treeson Spring Water achieved its Kickstarter funding target in March 2014. The brand’s water bottles are made of 100% toxin-free plant-based materials, meaning that they’re completely sustainable and biodegradable. Each bottle comes with a reply mailing label so that it can be placed into any USPS mail box once it has been emptied. Once received, all bottles are sustainably recycled. And for every bottle of Treeson water sold, the brand plants one tree, with a mobile app allowing consumers to track where their tree has been planted.
Care to match that? ;)
African mobile money service arrives in Europe
The epic global shifts in innovation flows continue apace, with previously-remarkable 'signs of the times' becoming ever more frequent if not already totally unsurprising.
Witness Vodafone's launch of its Kenyan mobile money service M-Pesa in Romania in March 2014. Designed for consumers who prefer cash to card transactions, M-Pesa allows users to pay for goods or bills, make deposits and withdraw cash from authorized agents. Users can transfer up to RON 30,000 (EUR 6,715) per day through the service’s SMS-based system. M-Pesa debuted in Kenya in 2007 and has since then expanded into markets such as Afghanistan, South Africa and India; Romania is the first European country to offer the service.
So, are you looking in the right places for your next competitor? Because remember, it's as likely to come from Nairobi, Manila or Bogotá, as from New York, London, San Francisco or Paris.
Malaysian insurer rewards young drivers for slowing down with free music from local artists
All consumers face gaps between what they want to do (or on some level are aware of the need to do) and what they actually do. After all, we're only human ;) Which is why smart brands are busy creatively applying new technologies to perhaps the oldest commercial incentive: discounts and deals.
One brilliant example: Etiqa MotorTakaful launched a campaign in April 2014 to encourage young drivers to slow down. The Malaysian car insurance brand’s Safe Tracks mobile app uses a cellphone’s GPS and accelerator to detect the vehicle’s speed and the local speed limit. By adhering to the speed limit, drivers can collect Safe Mileage points, enabling them to unlock free music, including exclusive tracks from local indie musicians.
And while even this example could be improved, perhaps by offering drivers more exciting and status-boosting gig tickets instead, the underlying approach is a compelling (and easily replicable) one.
Service enables consumers to purchase potential food waste from businesses
Giving consumers more for less, by targeting inefficiencies in our current systems will continue to be a winning strategy for those looking for the 'next big thing'.
Launched during May 2014, PareUp is a mobile app designed to reduce the USD 165 billion in food waste that occurs in the US every year. The service enables restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores to offer consumers food which they’re going to throw away – at a discounted price. Participating merchants can send an alert to users via the app, who can then pick up the food that would otherwise have been wasted.
What orthodoxies can you overturn to create win-win situations?