Unframing the End of the World

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The outlook for humanity isn’t good.

A new research paper suggests that the entire species could be extinct by 2050.

In thirty years from now, a few huddled survivors could be reading Fearlessly Frank’s blog from a stone tablet, or lines scratched crudely into scorched earth with a stick, lit only by the flickering flame from a homemade torch.

Obviously, this would be a disaster for your company. Or…would it?

Bear with us. The interesting thing about economic downturns, Brexits, apocalypses (maybe) and generally any adverse circumstances that hit the market and the wider world is that often, a number of businesses are able to turn the misfortune into a fortune.

Sometimes it’s obvious. In the wake of a natural disaster like a hurricane, debris removal specialists tend to clean up in more ways than one. Survival companies — those who usually sell bottled water and dew-point calculators for the purposes of extreme hiking and such — are well-placed to capitalise on the small hardcore of people who are currently actively prepping for nuclear apocalypse and have been since, well, maybe November 2016, to pick a purely coincidental date with no political significance whatsoever.

And there has recently been brisk money in converting abandoned silos into fortified bunkers to protect the super-wealthy from disaster.

But — assuming that there’s anyone left after 2050 — any business can, and will be obliged to, alter their business as usual to adapt to the new circumstances. Nearly any adverse scenario can be turned into a golden opportunity for a business with a good, creative idea.

Take The Big Yellow Storage Company, for example. Right now, this company essentially buys large-scale units as cheaply as possible, usually on industrial farms on the outskirts of towns and cities, and charges customers to securely store their belongings. Now imagine the year is 2051, and civilisation as we know it lies in smoking ruins. Such a company would be extremely well-placed to turn itself into an indispensable service-provider.

For one thing, all that secure space could double up as secure lodgings — so, if climate apocalypse looks anything like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, customers can pay to sleep somewhere relatively save from roving gangs of marauders.

Then there’s the question of material goods. In a doomsday scenario, money may lose a degree of value; but medical supplies, food, firestarting equipment and sharpened sticks (for carving messages into the dirt, or fending off hungry animals) become nearly invaluable, since the capitalist system that currently makes these amenities plentiful and replaceable will be destroyed. Customers would pay large amounts for a safe place to stash their scavenged belongings.

In fact, the company could expand its business model from large, remote facilities to provide dead-drops around the country; assuming that our lifestyles will be increasingly nomadic after supply-chain breakdown and increasing crime turns towns and cities from mutually-protective strongholds to violent and impoverished danger-zones, foragers can essentially benefit from secure, small and regular outposts for the stashing of bandages, bottled water and ammunition.

It may be a bleak future – and, indeed, a fanciful one – but the purpose of Fearlessly Frank’s Unframing tool is neither to correctly predict the future, nor recommend that companies monopolise on disaster by profiting from human misery. It’s simply to help companies slip out of comfortable mindsets – and, above all, the assumption that things will always remain the same, allowing business as usual to continue uninterrupted.

We probably can’t give you an accurate roadmap for getting rich after a global catastrophe, any more than we can predict how and when it will happen; but we can say with some certainty that large-scale change will happen to your business, whether it’s in the form of total earthly armageddon, a religious rapture or a market fluctuation caused by an unseen disruptor.

Change happens, big and small, and the strongest businesses are those who know how to adapt. Nimbleness and agility are some of the most important – and, yet, neglected – qualities that exist in business, with companies usually preferring the security of routine to the potential of innovation.

Whether it’s a market catastrophe that can reward a fleet-footed brand, a market boom with hidden consequences, a sudden technological breakthrough, or any other shockwave that hits the market, it’s not enough to be able to withstand change – it must be actively seized, mitigated, or taken advantage of by companies with the creativity and courage to do so.

That is the mindset we try to instill in the businesses we work with – because in a world where everyone is in the dark, sometimes the best tool you can have is a homemade torch.

Unframing Space…

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Space is only 62 miles away.

That is where the Karman Line lies, the official boundary between the atmosphere and space.


Last week a group of undergraduate students launched a rocket past the Karman Line for the first time.


It was a significant achievement from an engineering perspective. But it was also significant in terms of what it means for the future of space travel.


For a long time, space exploration was the preserve of government agencies like NASA, who alone had the necessary funding to launch interstellar projects.


But Elon Musk’s SpaceX, despite many challenges and setbacks, has been attracting attention for undertaking space missions privately. Amazon, too, is getting in on the space action.


But the students’ launch suggests that even huge companies aren’t the only ones who get to launch rockets past the Karman Line. The technology is now within the grasp of dedicated individuals too. Sure, a group of undergraduates is unlikely to singlehandedly colonise Mars or crack consumer space travel, but they have proven that it is possible for individuals to utilise rocket science and explore new frontiers.


Technology, creativity and determination are always the engines for shifts and changes in the marketplace. If students are able to master the science behind space launches, what will it lead to?


It was a generation of young students who mastered most of the technology behind the Internet. Who created Facebook and pushed social media to where it is now. This was one of the biggest cultural and consumer shifts we’ve ever seen.


If the next generation becomes the one which learns and owns the science of amateur space travel, we could be looking at a very exciting future.


Imagine, for example, how our lives might change if it was possible for a dedicated, scalable small business – on the level of the Silicon Valley unicorns that have shaped and changed our daily lives and habits today – to own and disrupt space itself.


What would a day in the life of an average office worker look like in a world where space was an accessible, free-for-all environment?


This week we’re investigating this question as part of our three-part Unframing blog series, in which we take a look at the potential future of a different industry in order to unlock the insights and lessons that they hold. Unframing involves sketching out unlikely – but possible – speculations about where technological and cultural shifts may be about to carry us under the right circumstances, in order to help your business think differently about the challenges you face and the opportunities that may become available. So, with that in mind…

 

9am
Meet Luke Skywalker, a conveniently-named creative in an advertising agency in East London. After his morning coffee, Luke is given a brief for Lune-R, a travel company that is offering luxury two-week cruises just above the Karman Line, with a weekend break on the moon. As foretold by the Arctic Monkeys and Futurama, the moon is now a tourist destination featuring a casino and theme park, and can be visited for a few thousand pounds per person.

11am
Luke builds a creative presentation using stock footage captured by Challengr, a company that uses drones and robots to photograph deep space and planetary surfaces. Stock footage of space is now frequently used to advertise companies like Lune-R, as well as smaller firms like X-Space, who offer zero-gravity extreme sports in space and cater largely to stag dos, the Waldorf Hotel, which has opened a boutique eatery for gourmet pastes on the ISS and earned the first Michelin Star in space, and Perspective, a private therapy firm that helps clients achieve peace through medically-induced space asthenia; the therapeutic possibilities of total human insignificance has proved popular among neurotic, work-obsessed millenialls. The stock imagery Luke uses is free, as all photography is paid for by subscriptions to Apollo, an online learning tool that allows students and amateurs to analyse cosmic geography in order to collectively advance our knowledge of the solar system.

1pm
Luke travels home on the District Line in time for a delivery from Amazon Moon. These almost instant deliveries can be scheduled with total precision, as enormous amounts of stock are simply held in orbit, ready to be literally dropped from the sky using laser-guided technology. Drone delivery is no longer a necessary consumer prospect.

3pm
Back in the office, Luke eats a hearty Pret lunch and bundles the empty sandwich wrappers into a zip-lock bag and leaves it in the Solar Furnace tray by the bins. At the end of every day the Disposall company collects the Solar Refuse from eco-friendly businesses all over London and fires it directly into the sun, where it can be cleanly disposed of by the fire as powerful and hot as a billion atom bombs. Every landfill on earth is currently being depleted to help restore the planet to its original greenness; even nuclear waste can be disposed of this way, meaning fossil fuel consumption has fallen to approximately 4%, helping to avoid a climate crisis.

4pm
Luke returns home. The booming market in lunar drones has had the welcome secondary benefit of popularising helper drones to automate a number of daily processes on earth. Those who were previously forced to work long hours in retail or environmental roles now build bots, and the efficiency this affords companies means a 4pm daily finish is standard among most businesses, with more time for leisure.

7pm
Luke, who is enjoying an unseasonably warm summer’s evening in Victoria Park, notices a light shining in the sky. Dutifully, he puts on his AR glasses. He knows that companies now use satellites to communicate with whole continents at once; when a signal is displayed from the upper atmosphere, those with AR glasses can automatically access exclusive deals by scanning the sky. The concept of traditional shopping, in fact, is nearly dead; companies monitor global fluctuations in currencies to offer products at the lowest possible price, then advertise them for short windows of time using satellite beacons. Nearly all shopping is done spontaneously, saving consumers money, while acres of space previously used for shops and malls now host indoor gardens and biodomes, helping keep the planet green.

11pm
As Luke prepared for bed, he opens his laptop and watches a blank, dark screen. Nothing happens until he is brushing his teeth, at which point a bright light is seen. Luke opens an input box and records a set of coordinates, the time, and the words, ‘bright incandescent flash.’ Luke, like many others of his generation, often spends an hour before bed streaming from mobile telescopes on the very fringes of space, reporting any flashes of activity. Companies now crowdsource space exploration, turning volunteers into astral cartographers. All they have to do is watch the screen and report back and they will earn money to spend anywhere on earth – or redeemed in Lunar Park vouchers.

This future may still be a long way off, but the value of Unframing is not to predict the future – its to explore the types of possibilities that will disrupt your business, and which may arrive sooner in more everyday forms as a result of breakthroughs in tech, culture, thinking, or behaviour. Breakthroughs in space travel – indeed, in any industry – create spiderwebs of new opportunities and challengers, new rivals and sources of income, new industries and market gaps that will be grasped and seized by quick-thinking entrepreneurs and diligent students alike. The trick is to be on the right side of these opportunities as and when they arrive, whether they involve space theme parks or more mundane things. But either way, there’s only one way to make sure your business is always the disruptor, never the disrupted – keep watching the skies.

Return to our Fearlessly Brexit series – 2020 and the European elections

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With the European elections over and an uncertain future looming for the UK, perhaps it’s time we revisited our recent Brexit series. Theresa May has tearfully announced she will be stepping down from her post as Prime Minister, leaving the job open for the candidate who will, in all probability, lead the country through the Brexit process.

This means the Conservative Party needs to select its new leader for the unenviable task of delivering Brexit. Obviously we know how the selection process works in a democracy – but what kind of outcome would be best for the country as a whole? This week, we’re imagining what FF’s 2020 process might be able to teach the government in terms of appealing to its core demographic, and how imagining a “perfect customer” — or in this case, a “perfect voter” — might look. Whoever ends up being the next PM, they’ll have to appeal specifically to this ideal voter in order to avoid a political deadlock — so what might they look like?

As we head towards a mysterious-looking future, there are a number of demands that will need to be answered. For the Conservatives, many of whom are Remainers, the “perfect voter” that they’ll need to appeal to won’t be one of the growing number of hard-line Brexiteers who, this week, voted (in protest or otherwise) for the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage’s hastily-assembled hardline anti-EU platform. As we’ve learned already, one of the biggest issues facing the current government is navigating the broad spectrum of views within its own party; just as the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, has long been a critic of the EU, May herself (among many others, including potential PR Boris Johnson) have been staunchly pro-Europe. The voters they’ll need to target in the coming months will likely need to be the many left-leaning voters who are less than keen on Brexit but also don’t support a second referendum, as well as the traditional Conservative voters who support a softer version of Brexit. Appealing to hard Brexiteers would be a risky strategy for a party that’s far from united on the subject.

In short, the angry, right-leaning Brexiteer is not what the new leader’s Perfect Voter will look like – so the Jacob Rees-Mogg fringes of the party may not be the best choice of candidate for the party.

But, with growing support for a second referendum on the left — leading to an upswing in Liberal Democrat votes from leftists who don’t trust Labour to fully support a reversal of Article 50 — the government will also need to hold fast against potential challenges from other parties, given that the current crisis could lead to a general election being called at any time. Their “perfect voter” is unlikely to be the hardline Remain crowd any more than the no-deal Brexit contingent, as – despite the number of party members who are dreading having to deliver a potentially catastrophic hard Brexit – this would simply alienate too many of their existing core voters, many of whom are already at risk of being poached by Farage.

So that means no kombucha-drinking lefties or metropolitan liberals, either.

The country is in crisis, with anger and frustration boiling up over the current political deadlock; a sense of democratic will being ignored is fostering resentment and rebellion among the right, while the left seethes at the perceived unfairness of the original vote.

The only thing that can help the Tories in this situation is – just like any business – the ability to isolate and appeal strongly to a section of the audience in a way that will give them a firm base and a mandate to lead without triggering an election. In this age of PR politics, the idea of being all things to all people is a popular one, but whichever party ends up in power must accept that there is no way to navigate Brexit without making some enemies along the way. The trick will be in making sure they keep the ones that will matter most, now and in the future — not just the voters who will support their current Brexit platform and then abandon them the second things are done, which is a very real and valid risk given the unpopularity of nearly any given outcome for Brexit.

Businesses will easily recognise this as the basis of “audience segmentation” – you can’t make everyone like you, so you choose a specific target audience who will love you.

In this age of softly-softly soundbite politics, have the two main parties forgotten this principle? It works in politics just as it does in business – in fact, businesses need to identify their own “perfect voter” in order to survive, which of course is what 20-20 is all about.

That’s why the question needs to be asked. Imagine that Brexit ends up grinding the nation to a halt — who will be the government’s bread and butter in the coming months and years?

It probably won’t be hard Brexiteers or opportunistic Remainers — it will be those who believe most strongly in the Conservatives’ core values. The “perfect voter” might just be the younger Conservatives who support the party because they believe in traditional social values, a small state and the rule of law. In this instance, the Conservatives’ only hope is to elect a leader who matches these values and can use Brexit as a means to delivering them.

 

A 20-20 view on coconut water: is Vita Coco okay?

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What does Vita Coco’s perfect customer look like?

According to a recent campaign, it looks like the most unlikely Vita Coco customer of all: the customer who hates coconut water.

One of the brand’s biggest challenges so far has been overcoming the fact that coconut water, which sounds delicious, is actually pretty disgusting – and many agree.

Especially social media users, who take to Twitter to blast coconut water as, in the words of one outspoken poster, “f**cking disgusting.”

Vita Coco’s response has been to develop a product which actually appears to taste like coconuts, and then to roll it out with a campaign claiming the new Pressed water is “impossible to hate.” Then they began reaching out to social media users, such as the aforementioned disgusted tweeter, to give them a gentle ribbing in service of their new, improved product.

If you want to read about the chain of surreal events which led to Vita Coco temporarily changing their brand Twitter avatar to a jar of (apparently real) human urine, you can do so here – the story opens a whole new can of worms about brand behaviour in the social media age. But here’s a quick digest: a social media user, to whom Vita Coco offered to send a free sample of their new product, tweeted in response that “he would rather drink your social media person’s…” well, you can fill in the blanks.

Vita Coco responded with a picture of in a bathroom stall holding a jar of ominous liquid, with the caption, “address?”, in what might be the most spontaneous piece of social marketing since the Super Bowl Oreo ad. A laugh was had by some, and the heady days of brand japiary — the golden age of Burma Shave and Mars, when brands seemed like real humans and not faceless pillars of corporate responsibility — were brought to mind, albeit filtered through the very modern lens of the online overshare.

But we’re here to talk about Fearlessly Frank’s 20-20 business tool, and how the Vita Coco strategy is an interesting one from our perspective. So, for now, we will refrain from commenting on the jar of urine.

Instead, let’s focus on Vita Coco’s proactive approach to courting new customers. Right now, the brand is huge – but an obstacle to growth is the fact that people who dislike coconut water REALLY dislike it, and probably won’t ever change their minds.

At the heart of their new campaign, Vita Coco have recognised that their “perfect” customer for the future is not the flag-waving coconut water aficionado but the casual hater. They want to convert the nay-sayers and win new fans and customers, and are taking some pretty bold steps (I reiterate: jar of human urine) to make it happen.

This is a lesson to all brands. The perfect customer for your business might not be who you think it is. It’s easy to rest on your laurels when figuring out who you’re going to sell to. But in order to innovate, challenge, grow and disrupt, sometimes you need to look beyond the obvious candidates for your brand and figure out how to appeal to them.

That’s what our 20-20 tool is all about – we take an intensive strategic look into your business, the marketplace, and your offering and synthesise this into an in-depth analysis of how your customer base is changing and what it might look like in five years time.

You don’t need to be proactive in the way that Vita Coco are currently being – for many businesses, it’s fine to rely on your existing customer base. But in this agile marketplace, that base is always changing, always open to challenge. In order to identify new opportunities, you might need to look into new ways to meet the needs of an ever-changing audience – a more clear-sighted view of who actually needs your products and services.
Is coconut water consumption always going to stay level, or, like many trendy FMCG products, will it begin to lose popularity and require reinvention?

If we were to apply our 20 20 process to Vita Coco, we would possibly discover that the coconut water customer of 2019 – the health-conscious, clean-eating, athletic demographic – likely has a shelf life. The same is true of almost any demographic in any industry – advances in tech, behaviour and the fast-moving pace of modern life ensure that much. Vita Coco have, it seems, realised the perfect Vita Coco customer is not a marathon-runner with a penchant for poke and activated charcoal, but a thirsty morning commuter who doesn’t want an E-numbered soft drink in a can; the shared work-place caterer looking for an exciting alternative to sparkling water; the lady-who-lunches who usually drinks Redbush tea, but prefers cooler beverages in the summer months. Among many others.

At Fearlessly Frank, we applaud the sentiment and the strategy, if not necessarily the specifics, of Vita Coco’s stunt. Our tools help to uncover the real truth at the heart of your brand – or, more specifically, the thing that might eventually be your truth in five years’ time, when the current fads are cooling off and the human impulses at the heart of all popular products are all that remain.

Of course, just because Vita Coco have recognised the need to innovate doesn’t mean that they’re doing it with the rigour that the 20-20 tool promises – what Vita Coco have done, intentionally or not, is identify their perfect customer as the type of person who enjoys seeing businesses threatening to send people jars of urine in the post. Maybe that is their perfect customer. Without applying our 20-20 process, we just don’t know.

But one thing is clear, and this is pretty key: there was a jar of urine in their corporate Twitter’s profile picture, for a whole day. A jar of urine.

…is Vita Coco okay?

How to give your business 20-20 vision…

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CEO of US spectacle retailer Warby Parker, Neil Blumenthal, is quoted as saying: “The key to an ideal workplace, in one word, is this: self-awareness.”

At Fearlessly Frank, we think that’s two words. Either way, Blumenthal might be onto something. Because we also believe that self-awareness is the key, not just to an ideal workplace, but to a successful business.

We’re not talking about the self-awareness of individual employees here — whether someone at your office heats up mackerel salad in the microwave or refuses to hold the elevator doors probably won’t affect your listing on the stock exchange. But a business, just like an individual person, has a vision of itself — and the way a company sees itself is vital to its success. A company needs to know not just what it does, but why it does it, where it’s going, where it’s failing, what its place in the market is. In other words, it needs to take a long, hard look at itself from time to time.

Of course, all businesses try to do this. But not all businesses get it right. That’s partly because most trend reports and analyses designed to help achieve self-awareness focus on the now, or the very long-term – so the tools available for business self-awareness often don’t give a focussed view. Without being able to place your business within a five-to-ten year context, how can you be truly self-aware?

That was the germ of thinking behind Fearlessly Frank’s 20-20 tool. A tool to help you see your business more clearly.

What might that involve? Over the course of two weeks we analyse trends in order to create a model of what your company’s ‘perfect customer’ might look like in five to ten years time  – a sort of flipside to our Ultimate Nemesis tool. We then create the ideal proposition for that customer, and top it off with a round-table with a group of successful entrepreneurs who have thrived through innovation, to help add depth to your offering.

In fact, Warby Parker is a perfect example – $1.7 billion American prescription glasses business. What might the perfect Warby Parker customer look like in 2025?

Well, remember Google Glass? The wearable revolution never quite took off with Google Glass, partly due to the initial cost-of-entry, but also because of technical limitations and because the design was considered aesthetically unappealing. However, AR and VR technologies are still growing, especially in retail. Lacoste’s LCST Lacoste AR app allows customers to virtually try on shoes, while home goods retailer Magnolia Market partnered with Shopify a little while back to create an app that places virtual 3D products directly into a customer’s home. These technologies are likely to become commonplace over the next few years, given the enormous benefits they provide. VR, as it stands, is only just finding its feet.

A brand like Warby Parker has the opportunity, then, to do a similar partnership with a tech company like Apple, Microsoft or Google to co-create a range of AR glasses that fuse style with functionality — perhaps the aim will be to create an all-purpose AR pair of consumer glasses, or perhaps the lenses could be interchangeable for different functions — one set for watching movies with access to imdb trivia in realtime, another waterproof set for surfing complete with weather reports, another for shopping which allows users to inspects 3d renders of each item. Perhaps, as Warby Parker is known for its prescription lenses, the glasses could be used to test eyesight and inform the wearer when the visit an optometrist, and include eye exercises to help keep users focussed.

Or perhaps, as a retailer, Warby Parker wouldn’t even need to co-create the technology — by simply being market-leaders in selling and promoting AR glasses, retailers would have a comfortable platform to develop and market new products, while placing Warby Parker as a leading, modern company that keeps one foot in their traditional space while dipping a toe into the tech space. Physical pop-ups in the real world, digital campaigns celebrating AR glasses brands, partnership with small tech innovators, and of course the ability to inspect each model in 3D and try it on at the point of purchase.

It could even launch an innovative Netflix-style subscription model that allows users to “rent” pairs of expensive AR glasses on a monthly basis, through its online platform.

What this comes down to is ultimately an analysis of what an average customer might look like in five or ten years time — and, as tech continues to grow, what their needs might be. Most modern consumers are forward-thinking, tech-savvy customers – so how would Warby Parker appeal to their core needs by enhancing their everyday experiences, while also maintaining their reputation for affordable and stylish lenses and frames?

It might even be that a market analysis shows that the average customer in 2025 suffers from chronic eye-strain from the sheer number of screens we’re exposed to. This places WP in a perfect position to launch a set of eye-friendly AR lenses that allow customers to get a break from the LCD glare by interacting with AR interfaces instead.

The 20-20 process is designed to provide a lithograph of what the future might look like for a customer like Warby Parker – and, as it differs from business to business, might not include product at all. The important thing is that companies are able to understand their core offering and how it relates to their market – as well as how to move it forward. Without a deep analysis of their business, it’s impossible to say whether tech is even a concern for Warby Parker – perhaps their customer base skews older, and tends to prefer traditional retail; perhaps their average customer is extremely young, and is bored of being surrounded by screens. Either way, it comes down to constant, immersive self-awareness. And if nothing else, we can at least agree – Fearlessly Frank and Warby Parker alike – on the importance of 20-20 vision.

 

What’s eating Apple? We take a look at the tech giant’s Ultimate Nemesis…

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Welcome to the final week of Fearlessly Frank’s Ultimate Nemesis series. This series is about understanding how an unforeseen challenger can disrupt even an established business model, and so we’ve chosen to go out this week not with a whimper, but with an apocalyptic bang.

And what better way to listen to an apocalyptic bang than in the modern fashion: through a pair of Apple AirPods, the tech giant’s controversial but iconic wireless headphones that are now standard attire for many urbanites? These instantly recognisable white plastic appendages are now the choice du jour for beaming our podcasts and Spotify playlists into our ears, but du jour is an accurate description here – Apple have been criticised in the past for their short product cycles and accused of manufactured obsolescence, a fact that becomes more worrying when you read reports – such as this one from designlife-cycle.com – that Apple are still falling short in terms of the biodegradability of their materials.

Now, this is not to single out Apple – as we’ve explored before on this blog, we often don’t think of the massive amounts of logistics and resources that go into creating our favourite tech products, which we then quickly throw away as soon as next generation’s flashier iteration hits the shelves. Not only are four widely-used mobile materials – tungsten, tantalum, gold and tin – classed as “conflict materials,” whose sourcing is linked to violence and atrocities in countries from which they are mined and sourced – but there is also an environmental and ethical impact stemming from how we dispose of old tech, with much of it ending up in (often illegal) “e-disposal” sites in countries such as Vietnam and Ghana. As of March this year, Apple were the second-biggest manufacturer using conflict materials, and we collectively need an improved infrastructure for disposing of obsolete tech – and perhaps a new approach to how quick we are to upgrade perfectly-usable pieces of technology.

Apple aren’t doing anything here that they haven’t always done – in fact, the yearly product cycle has been a trend-setting part of their business model for years, and they have been – to put it mildly – quite successful in it. Therein lies the challenge. We live in an age where consumer priorities can spring up and spread as quickly as a wildfire, and nowhere is that more obvious than with environmental consciousness.

“Ethical consumption” has, in recent years, affected the food industry hugely, allowing scores of new challengers to emerge with greener offerings. Some companies, like Ben and Jerry’s, have taken this in their stride and turned it into a huge opportunity, where others – with less sustainable practises at the heart of their models – are finding themselves struggling. As headlines continue to emerge about extinction threats to swathes of species, and pressure from protest groups like Extinction Rebellion growing, will it be long before the tech industry also has to face its reckoning from the public? We’ve already seen movement in the tech-for-good space and predicted a growing market for b-corps – and with scrutiny over Silicon Valley getting stronger by the minute, this could be where even a huge company like Apple finds itself vulnerable to challengers. Let’s imagine a tech company – we’ll call the Grapefruit — that was able to fuse Apple’s innovative sense of style and design with openly sustainable new tech practices. With consumer values changing year on year towards ecological responsibility, the stage is pretty much set for a tech challenger to emerge that turns climate anxiety into a selling-point.

What if, for example, Grapefruit was to commit to not using conflict materials, for a start? We’ve seen from the vegan food revolution that a large number of people are happy to boycott products they like on ethical grounds, so our iPhone addictions might not be enough to stave off challenges from more sustainable offerings. But what if Grapefruit was also able to invest in chemical and agri-tech solutions for issues like tech biodegradability? What if Grapefruit built products designed to last longer than a year, with frequent software updates giving the consumer a sense of innovation without the hardware itself changing? Or, what if they were to preserve the annual-upgrade model, but pioneer the world’s first fully-biodegradable laptops, phones, and earbuds? By using more environmentally-friendly materials, a company like Grapefruit could make Apple feel less like a forward-thinking, modern tech brand and more like a brand stuck in an obsolete era of disposable luxury and indulgence. Companies like Symphony Environmental Technologies are already claiming to be world-leaders in oxo-biodegradable and anti-microbial plastics, so it might not be a fanciful future but an imminent reality.

Obviously, none of us are likely to be walking around with AirPods made of mulch and clay anytime soon – but the extent of the material problems of mass-scale tech consumption is not going to reduce on its own, and our awareness – and willingness to vote with our wallets – will grow, not shrink. As tech increasingly defines our lifestyles, we are becoming increasingly aware of its wider impact and how it intersects with our political worries – and, as companies like Apple may eventually learn, consumer attitudes and habits can turn on a dime.

That’s why Apple’s Ultimate Nemesis is likely to be one which understands and explores these concerns in a way that Apple will likely refuse – or be unable – to do. Make no mistake – AirPod plastic may last for decades, but if Apple are too large, too slow-moving and too complacent to respond to modern consumer concerns, then their market dominance might not.

 

 

 

Ultimate Nemesis: Facebook edition. Who will claim Zuckerberg’s throne?

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Sometimes the brands that are the first to go when a new type of challenger or technology (normally the two go hand in hand) enters the arena are the ones you least expect – the most seemingly stable and ubiquitous businesses of all. But as the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall – and this is often no less true in business than anywhere else.

Did anyone predict that a British mainstay like Woolworths would succumb to an economic downturn? Logically, we’d expect smaller shops to be the first to fall victim from the Amazombification of the high street, but in reality, plenty of major players came crashing down too – and if you take a walk along any high street in the country, you can still see the wreckage – the proliferation of sprayed shutters and pawn shops – that Bezos’ behemoth hath wrought on the world of consumer goods.

With that in mind, this week we ask, what would happen if a new challenger were to take on one of the Big Four themselves – Facebook?

Facebook is just as ubiquitous – in fact, far more – than any of Britain’s big high street shops, even if you won’t see its branding on your Saturday stroll through town. When it comes to the digital space, Facebook is the sheriff of social media, at once omnipresent, scary, corrupt, but undeniably useful (as long as you’re on its good side). And it is precisely this monopoly that makes it susceptible to the sidewinder, the mosquito, of a smaller, nimbler business.

Of course, many have tried already – but they haven’t been mosquitos. They’ve been Mastodon, who were extinct before they even started, and Peach, to name but two unsuccessful debutantes. They failed because they offered too little to challenge Facebook’s monopoly – they simply offered similar services with tiny tweaks. The foundations of Facebook went unchallenged, and what allows any challenger to succeed is by being truly new – by being what the giant, by definition, struggles to become.

We are now seeing some new challengers, like Vero, begin to make steady inroads into the social space. Vero is a new ad-free, algorithm-free platform that had an explosive moment in 2018, and is taking on the likes of Facebook and Instagram. It won’t be an easy journey, as these sites’ very nature has allowed them to claw their way into the very loam of social media – particularly Facebook. But the fact that Vero is still standing where many have been swatted away is testament to the fact that there is a new consumer need that is becoming more and more apparent.

It has to do with data privacy. We can almost divide the world into a pre and post-Cambridge Analytics world; people now are increasingly cautious when it comes to online security. This growing awareness is a snowball, not a nuclear bomb; and it will keep growing and growing, until Facebook is forced to address it even more directly that it has already had to do.

Which leaves new social brands free to offer radical new solutions to the problems of the social media orthodoxy. It won’t succeed by tiny tweaks but by radical rebellion – like, for instance, offering a subscription-based ad free experience, chronological posts instead of constricting algorithms – and, for the sake of painting Zuckerberg’s Ultimate Nemesis, let’s say the ability for users to delete their data instantly, own and even monetise their content, communicate transparently with moderators over trolling and online abuse, and far greater online freedom and ownership. By removing the broken ad model that plagues social and the wider internet, Facebook’s Ultimate Nemesis will remove the consumer problems that Facebook is too big, too complacent, too established, and too rigid to address now.

What makes the Ultimate Nemesis so fearsome to a business like FB is this it is completely unpredictable. New technologies and business models can be charted and forecast, but what can’t be itinerated is the shifts in thinking that accompany them. Just as Amazon morphed both the way we mentally relate to shopping, reading and music, and to the geographical landscape of the high street itself, so Facebook’s Ultimate Nemesis will be the platform that finally allows users to break out of the feedback loop of the platforms they grew up with and embrace a new way of communicating online.

It can only be a matter of time before new models begin to take hold – and unless Facebook takes drastic action to remodel itself (which any business CAN do, even if most are too rigid and reluctant to try), then it may find itself under serious threat of going the way of the high street, thanks to a bold new offering that makes it feel cumbersome and obsolete. Oh, and one more thing that Facebook’s Ultimate Nemesis will give its users, right from the start? A dislike button.