First published in MAY 2009 | By now, virtually everyone has chimed in on how innovation is the only way out of the recession. So instead of adding more theory, let’s have a look at actual B2C innovations from recession-defying entrepreneurs and brands around the world.
Good times or bad times, it’s actually somewhat up to you
Yes, we all agree that innovation is the only way out of the current mess that both mature and not-so-mature consumer societies find themselves in. We’re talking basically anything that will get consumers spending again, and preferably the kind of spending that involves sustainable goods, services and experiences. Since everyone from Seth Godin to the Harvard Business Review is providing you with excellent, inspiring insights and theory on innovation as a mindset, a process, a way of life, we'd like to contribute to the conversation with examples of actual innovations. As we see it:
INNOVATION JUBILATION | There will never be a shortage of smart new ventures, brands, goods and services that deliver on consumers’ wants and needs. And if those wants and needs currently revolve around practicality, efficiency and responsibility, and less about traditional luxury, splurging and upgrading, then that’s what brands should deliver on. Which seems doable, judging from the dozens of recent innovations we’ve rounded up for this briefing, courtesy of our sister-site Springwise.
The link between INNOVATION JUBILATION and trends? As focused as we are on emerging consumer trends, we never tire of pointing out that trends are only good for one thing: inspiring you to innovate, to come up with new goods, services and experiences for (or even better, with) your customers.
Innovation: not just labs, not always earnest, not necessarily expensive
Three more thoughts on innovation:
- Innovation is not necessarily about people in white coats puttering about in R&D labs. In an experience economy (which we’re still in, recession or not), marketing innovation is equally important, and often trumps technical innovation.
- Furthermore, as consumers’ wants are sometimes frilly, new products and services can be, too. Really, innovation doesn’t have to be so earnest all the time! Have fun with it, too!
- Thirdly, doing or starting something new doesn't have to cost the world. Many of the innovations featured in this briefing thrive on nimbleness and creativity, not huge budgets.
Springwise New Business Ideas is trendwatching.com’s sister site. Do not miss out!
OK, enough preaching, let’s get to practicing: check out these 50+ innovations*, arranged by trends and industries, and all sourced from trendwatching.com’s sister site Springwise, which finds and publishes the best innovations from around the world, with the help of 8,000+ Springspotters. Seriously, if you don't yet subscribe to its weekly newsletter, you're missing out!
*You may have already seen some of these (hey, we actually hope you have—if all of the below is new to you, you’ve let your business intelligence slide...), but we’ve also added some new trend monikers to add context.
The trend towards control-craving consumers who actually enjoy doing the work that brands used to do for them (online check-in, anyone?) is not new, but the innovations that it continues to spawn certainly are:
- Vending machines | U*tique is an upscale vending machine that dispenses select luxury and personal care products handpicked by specialists with backgrounds in global beauty, trend-hunting and innovation. More »
- Bars | Amsterdam’s Minibar gives patrons access to a personal minibar and lets them serve themselves. Designed by Dutch design firm Concrete, Minibar offers consumers a way to avoid long lines at the bar without having to spring for pricey bottle service. More »
- Publishing | An initiative from Lexus, Time and American Express Publishing, called mine, allows consumers to create their own personalized magazines by choosing editorial content from Time, Sports Illustrated, Food & Wine, Real Simple, Money, InStyle, Golf, and Travel + Leisure. More »
Hot on the heels of last month’s briefing on consumers becoming SELLSUMERS, here are some additional clever new ventures that help ordinary consumers make money instead of spending it:
- Advertising | British Everyday Models invites consumers to rent out aspects of their daily life to advertisers: whether it's their clothes, car, house or online profile. The idea of individuals renting out their own foreheads or tee-shirts as billboards is not new, but the founders of Everyday Models (British student James Brookner and photographer Matt Garcia) are the first to create a business model around brokering other people’s possessions as ad space. More »
- Promotion | Hollrr encourages fans of specific products for spreading the word to their friends via email, Facebook and Twitter, and rewards them with deposits into Amazon Flexible Payment Accounts. The Seattle-based website, which is still in beta, has found an innovative way to help small companies launch new products by turning customers into sales(wo)men. More »
- Marketplace for jobs | California-based ShortTask finds qualified workers for companies in need of help with tasks that are too small to justify hiring an employee: think finding articles, or commenting on Amazon.com. More »
- Junk removal by students | Washington, D.C.-based College Hunks Hauling Junk hires the friendliest and most trustworthy junk haulers at local colleges and universities, and recycles more than 60 percent of the junk they collect. Businesses that are inherently no sexier than this one can learn from College Hunks and their sister business, College Foxes Hauling Boxes, how to brand their service as fun, personable and responsible. More »
- Advertising | Ohio-based DOmedia links up media buyers and sellers to place advertisements everywhere from college student notebooks and phone kiosks to golf carts and restrooms. More »
- Hotels | Dutch hospitality group La Bergère is decorating a new hotel in Maastricht—dubbed, for now, Hotel X—with furniture and knick-knacks that it's buying from ordinary consumers, asking them to scour their spare rooms and attics for unique chairs, ceramics, board games and even plants. More »
OK, so in January we inundated you with GENERATION G (that's G for Generosity, not for Greed) examples, but there is always room for one more:
- Charity & advertising | San Francisco-based Replyforall is a site that raises money for charities by adding a cause’s information to a user’s e-mail signature. The signature shows information about the cause, along with a mention of one of Replyforall's participating financial sponsors. Replyforall distributes sponsors' payments amongst the causes that users have selected. More »
An integral part of GENERATION G, the BRAND BUTLER trend will inspire creative brand professionals to come up with innovative campaigns for many years to come. As we suggested before: "Instead of stalking potential and existing customers with traditional advertising, why not assist them in smart, generous, relevant ways, making the most of your products and whatever it is your brand stands for?”
- Airports / Food & beverage | Heineken has teamed up with design agency UXUS to create a 'democratic airport lounge' at Hong Kong's International Airport. The Heineken Lounge treats travelers to luxuries and perks typically reserved for first and business class passengers, like private conversation nooks, custom-white leather sofas, striking light fixtures and a variety of beer served on tap. More »
- Automotive & parking | In the greater New York area, Central Parking System and other parking companies offer half-price parking for Smart fortwo owners. The service, which is a partnership with Smart USA, is based on the notion that drivers shouldn't have to pay full price if their car only takes up half a parking spot. More »
Where will you find the most fertile grounds for innovation? Just follow consumers, and observe what excites them. Nine out of ten times, you’ll end up in the online world. So while many featured innovations in this briefing have an online component, here’s a batch of copy-worthy ideas that are geared even more to enhancing consumers’ online lives, as well as improving intersections with the real world (see our OFF = ON briefing for more on the latter). And no, it doesn’t hurt that many of these innovations are more about creative thinking than having to spend millions upfront.
- Mail | BlueMailCentral lets users send paper mail directly from their computers. After creating a document in Word, Outlook or any other application, customers click 'print' to send their file to one of BlueMailCentral's printing partners, which prints the document and delivers it to its destination. More »
- Also check out California-based Zumbox, which has created an online mailbox for every residence and business street address in the US, allowing any US citizen to send and receive all-digital mail for free. More »
- Notifications | Telegram Stop lets customers compose classic-looking paper telegrams online—complete with the traditional “stop” in place of periods—and delivers them to any country. More »
- Security | San Francisco-based startup Legacy Locker entrusts the details of customers’ online accounts, from Gmail and Facebook to eBay and PayPal, to assigned beneficiaries in the event of the customer’s death or disability. More »
- Food & beverage | Hot croissants or cookies? Baker Tweet is a technology that alerts customers via Twitter any time a fresh batch of baked goods emerges from a participating bakery’s oven. The service is still in prototype form at the Albion Cafe in London, but it could be easily be duplicated to provide potential customers everywhere with up-to-the-minute information about all kinds of products. More »
- Restaurants | Kogi Korean BBQ sells their signature tacos primarily through two trucks in the Los Angeles area. In order to know where to find them, customers follow Kogi on Twitter, and it's not unusual to find hundreds of the company’s 19,000+ Twitter friends lined up and socializing while awaiting their turn at the Kogi truck. More »
As if our loooooooong briefing on green innovations this February (ECO-BOUNTY) wasn't enough, here is yet another batch of examples from entrepreneurs preparing for the coming eco/green/ET bonanza:
- Transport | Wi-Drive is a green, weekday bus service that offers high-end transportation for San Francisco commuters. By emulating the comfort of a limousine with amenities like leatherette seats, wifi, LCD screens and iPod ports, Wi-Drive is giving green commuter transportation a luxury spin likely to be emulated in cities around the world. More »
- Bicycles / Being spaces | Cycle2City, the first full-service facility for bicycle commuters in Australia, provides cyclists with a place to store and repair their bikes, take a shower and change into business attire. As the number of cycling commuters grows around the world, so will the need for other services that ease the transition from four wheels to two. More »
- Bicycles / Rentals | Bike-sharing programs are cropping up all over Asia, from YouBike rentals in Taipei that are free for the first 30 minutes, to similar programs launched in Taiwan, Changwon, Korea and Hangzhou. More »
- Supermarkets / Delivery | British supermarket chain Waitrose is launching a series of new green initiatives including eco-minded handcarts and bicycles for grocery delivery to local consumers. More »
If there’s one trend that has taken longer to become mass than we expected, it’s TWINSUMERS. But we’re sticking with our prediction that one day, everything of interest to consumers will be evaluated based on experiences and opinions of fellow consumers with similar lifestyles (yup, their ‘twins’, consumption-wise). A recent TWINSUMER manifestation worth checking out:
- Q & A | Led in part by Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake, Hunch is an online decision-making tool that gets to know a user through his or her answers to seemingly random questions. Based on those answers, Hunch aligns users with other people that are like them—their twinsumers—and can offer personalized answers to complex questions like: "Should I go to medical school?" More »
These cash-strapped times are perfectly suited to entrepreneurs with a soft spot for group buying and ‘intention economy’ concepts. For some of our earlier thoughts and examples, reread our CROWD CLOUT briefing. Recent spottings include the following:
- Finance | When Dutch consumers register with Spaarbod, the service automatically compares interest rates from various banks and gets the banks to bid on a saver's funds. More »
- Parenting / Retail | CrowdSprout lets groups of parents interested in purchasing the same item (think high chairs or cradles or diaper bags) band together to get a better price by bidding, and committing to making the purchase only if enough other buyers join. Whether it's to buy a stroller or a soccer team, crowd clout is becoming a force for vendors to contend with. More »
Yes, maps are the new interface. And as discussed in our January briefing covering (along with other trends) MAPMANIA, this may well be the year in which all things ‘contextual’, ‘app’, ‘local’, ‘urban’, 'tags', 'lidar', ‘smartphone’, ‘convenience’, 'Cell ID', ‘spontaneity’, ‘infolust’ and ‘GPS’ finally come together in one orgasmic celebration of map-based tracking, finding, knowing and connecting. The following innovations certainly help:
- Travel / Music | Amplified Journeys is a site from UK-based sound system manufacturer Harman Kardon that gives users driving directions and matching playlists of location-inspired music based on preferred artists or musical genres. More »
- Finance | ING Wegwijzer, an application built for the T-Mobile G1 (Google) phone, allows users to locate the nearest ATM simply by pointing their phone's camera in any direction, with nearby ATMs showing up on the display. More »
- Restaurants | Patrons at Wagaboo restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona can now reserve specific table online. What sector is next to succumb to consumers’ relentless search for the Best of the Best? More »
HYPER-LOCAL is another innovation favorite: truly local services, fueled (paradoxically) by the advent of borderless technology. Closely linked to the drivers behind MAPMANIA and (STILL) MADE HERE, this trend will continue to create opportunities for smart entrepreneurs:
- Publishing | The Local is a community of news and information websites from The New York Times, catering to the residents of five areas in New York and New Jersey: Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange. Combining both professional and citizen journalism, and targeting stories toward specific communities, The Local could be one of the new models that struggling newspapers are desperately looking for. More »
- Publishing | The Printed Blog is an independent outlet that aggregates user-generated, online content, and publishes it in print to create a fully tactile newspaper that functions like a web feed, but can still be spread out across the breakfast table or enjoyed on the train. More »
- Hotels / Restaurants | Loews Hotels' Adopt-a-Farmer promotes local farming while providing its guests with food made from locally-sourced, seasonal, organic and sustainable ingredients. More »
- Housing | Neighbo is an online platform in the UK that brings together neighbors, tenants and landlords to help improve both practical issues and social connections, using widgets, calendars and forums. More »
- Ecommerce / Delivery | Enabling customers of participating retailers to receive their packages wherever it's convenient, PickupZone is a network of neighborhood pickup points, from convenience stores to dry cleaners. The company is currently active throughout the Boston area, but aims to expand farther afield in the near future. More »
- MyGofer is a warehouse-style concept where Illinois shoppers can browse products online and then drive to a local Sears store for curbside pickup. Which combines the convenience and selection of an online store with the immediacy of a bricks and mortar retailer. More »
While we understand that most of you must be suffering from an overdose of crowdsourcing examples, it is one of those trends that not only keeps growing, but also effortlessly absorbs other emerging ‘themes’. For one, check out how the current recession makes it more rewarding for SELLSUMERS to participate in any kind of co-creation project, or how the below 'crowd' initiative cleverly incorporates GENERATION G and ECO-BOUNTY:
- Automotive | Netherlands-based c,mm,n is an initiative that aims to create a model for sustainable cars, starting with a community-designed prototype. The car's blueprints are publicly available under an open source license, so its design can be used and modified by others as long as any derived works are shared with the public. More »
We (just like other trend firms, no doubt) are being deluged with requests for ‘recession trends’. Now, as we've stated before, we feel the short-term effects of this recession are pretty straightforward: many consumers have less to spend. And others might not be feeling the pain yet, but are worried enough to curb their spending. Which means that purchases become pragmatic, with consumers cutting down on the non-essential, with the exception of a few comforting indulgences, often with a nostalgic, good-old-times twist .
Long term, there's definitely a chance of a HAPPY ENDING as (some) consumers will find out that many non-essential expenditures are just that: non-essential.
Anyway, we aim to please, so here are some worthy innovations making the most of 'less', or the most of 'longing'.
- Mobile telephony | New Jersey-based Rentobile provides a wide selection of the latest cell phones for rent on a monthly basis so that consumers can try out various devices without being limited by a long term contract. A Netflix for phones, indeed. More »
- Finance | Borro is an online pawnbroker that provides short term loans to customers who cannot borrow from banks, or who have maxed out their other options. Offering them cash for jewelry, gold and memorabilia, the site brings an ancient system into the 21st century. More »
- FMCG | Häagen-Dazs Five is an all-natural ice cream made from only five ingredients—skim milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks and one of a few natural flavors like mint, ginger and coffee. What makes the product stand out is its simplicity; in uncertain times, bringing back the classics can appeal to consumers’ nostalgia. More »
- Finance | Through online-only applications, British startup Wonga offers tiny, month-long instant loans of GBP 50 to GBP 200, and encourages prompt repayment by rewarding responsible borrowers with good ratings and increased flexibility on future transactions. More »
- Housing | Wanna Start a Commune helps its members to harness the power of shared resources (read: saving money by living together), with tools like a downloadable starter pamphlet, and potluck and workshop planning information. Three pilot projects are already underway in the Los Angeles area. More »
From gloomy times to horn of plenty? ;-)
To beat you over the head with it one more time: yes, the economy sucks, and no, cutting costs will not lead to a race to the top, but a race to the bottom. Which means you’ll have to innovate, by anticipating emerging trends. All this briefing has tried to do is provide you with examples of brands already practicing what the gurus are preaching.
The both scary and jubilant part? Wherever you live, whatever it is you do, you have absolutely no excuse to be unaware of innovations originating in Australia, in the Netherlands, in the US, in Argentina, in Singapore, in South Africa ... It’s all out there, reported on 24/7 by sources dedicated to trends and new business ideas.
So, get into gear and good luck! And once you've joined the jubilation, be sure to let us or Springwise know about your innovative new products and services :-)