Commentary

The Re-Invention Economy

As the first quarter of the new decade draws to a close, signs of economic recovery are showing their faces in measured financial stability, slowly emerging confidence, and a global thirst for rampant and re-defining change.

What the Obama Administration may lack in the way of tangible progress, the business landscape has made up for in the way of re-invented principles and mantras that are delivering next-generation success and bringing us a step closer to a newly defined world.

A push for real and meaningful innovation permeates the business environment. Leading brands embrace innovation as a tangible driver of business performance as opposed to a meaningless moniker-and inculcate true innovation and entrepreneurialism into their cultures, employees and overall enterprises.

Innovation in the Re-Invention Economy shows its evolved self in every aspect of organizational drive and is industry agnostic in its rapid manifestation.

Disruptive innovations and trickle-up ideas populate the landscape -- as leading brands seek to accommodate economic pressures and consumer demand for new ideas -- by re-inventing existing concepts to make them even better. Think of the iPad that Apple CEO Steve Jobs openly claims "will walk on the shoulders of the Kindle" or the proliferation of net books which were originally created to offer computer connectivity to lower income consumers in the emerging world and Acer's sudden rise to dominance in the space. Think too of the new glory achieved by Hyundai for similar reasons -- taking a targeted low-market car to the masses.

Industry across categories also undergoes massive transformation by embracing innovation to create a new generation of manufacturing, ushering in a modern day Industrial Revolution. The capabilities provided by the power of technology and the Web alter the old realities of what it takes to effectively produce goods and manage the supply chain. As such, a new crop of small upstarts in manufacturing emerge, forever changing the global business playing field as the do it yourself (DIY) craze catalyzed by the advent of the Internet migrates from the consumer world to the business-to business arena.

As innovation online and off increasingly moves from moniker to mantra and is called upon to drive business performance, so too do both sustainability and creativity.

As the newly re-invented world unfolds, change is being driven by organizations that are embracing sustainability as a performance driver and a cultural cornerstone -- as opposed to a nice-to-have moniker that impresses key constituencies but does little to actualize world change or improved business results.

Creativity also continues to move from the ground floor to the executive suite as cross-collaborative, out-of-the-box innovation defines success in the new world order. Unlikely partners and pairings that advocate change and activate new business offerings are no longer unusual but are rather everyday occurrences driving success.

Whether it is Royal Caribbean partnering with Cisco to ensure that a wireless world accompanies at-sea adventure or Jimmy Choo infusing a higher-class appeal with a co-designed shoe for the college staple Uggs, cross collaborative partnerships and innovations breed creativity and catalyze much of the new world re-invention and pushes brands from sluggishly complacent to cunningly competitive.

A shift from total quality management -- a given in today's market -- to total experience management -- the new "extra" in business -- also pervades. Businesses from commercial banks to fashion boutiques innovate from the inside-out to construct a seamless brand experience that goes from the beginning of the supply chain and initiation point of re-invention to the end point of either eliciting indecision or commanding connection.

Whether it is demonstrating sustainability from ingredient sourcing to at-home users or providing innovative delights that engage the consumer at every point of brand interaction, brands fight to not only make quality products that people want (a given) but persevere to win consumer loyalty by providing unmatched brand engagement, interaction and experience (the new "extra").

From Citi re-architecting its ATM interaction to include a multitude of features designed to delight the consumer to Giorgio Armani creating an elite eatery for its customers and potential patrons to enjoy that exudes the brand's elegance and European style, the world's re-invention becomes largely hinged on re-defining the traditional supply chain-and extending it beyond point of sale through to point of engagement.

As successful brand performance continues to be predicated on the ability to move at the speed of culture, inculcation of brands directly into the worlds where their consumers live, work and play drives the measure of success in today's re-invented world -- making communication toward consumer connectivity a paramount driver of both business performance and long-term growth potential.

As change brews, brands will adapt in many ways. Some will seek to truly innovate, to grow and thrive and ensure future success. But as history has proven, others will choose not to truly change in the ways that matter and will fail to drive much needed re-invention; they will instead grow in size and presumed stature by taking advantage of current market conditions and preying upon the weak, much like the banks did in the decade preceding the 2008 economic near-collapse. A new evil industry to watch is the tech sector. Think of the emerging one-stop-shop giants: Cisco, IBM and Google. Their looming threat, though, is not money; it is a more modern currency: technological connectivity.

Brands must not only engage with their consumers and customers to innovate -- and drive financial performance -- they must collaborate and unite to prevent against the impending future disaster the unabated hubris of others will likely bring. A new era of "ethical crowdsourcing" is on the horizon as was witnessed when the government and private sector banned around the Toyota crisis, prompting an agile and responsible response by the company.

The media community will too face the challenge of how to respond to this call to action -- again pitting the values of a newly energized traditional media community against the power of a rapidly splintering new media world. An environment where the media's role in protecting democracy and ensuring the preservation of society against the ills of greed, immorality and untruth is questioned and weighted against the ability to turn a profit.

However, it may be in a new media model where we find our saving grace. Laid-off traditional media journalists are banning together to create a new version of the fourth estate, ushering in a new Chapter of potential media uber-advocates and a new legion of DIY manufactured news sites.

Think of former BusinessWeek Executive Editor John Byrne's C-Change Media, a digital media company bringing together talented journalists "to take advantage of the sea change that is roiling the traditional media business." Traditional media brands continue to fight for life amidst these changes but finally begin to embrace the undeniable need for vibrant complementary online properties, particularly as the advent of the iPad holds the promise of a cultural shift in how society reads, works and plays and proffers an industry resurrection similar to that of the music business.

As these changes ensue, the constitution of media continues to skew online -- particularly as online video thrives and promises to be as rampant as TV if not stronger within the next five years.

Communication innovation -- moved from the end of the supply chain to the initiation process of reinvention -- increasingly plays out online. Online video thrives and promises to be as dominant, if not more, than television. The evidence is around us -- even at this year's former advertising holy grail, the Super Bowl, with its lackluster display of made-for-TV ads.

Much change awaits in the weeks and months ahead. How astute brands recognize and respond to these changes will predicate much of how the future will unfold and whether the re-invention economy becomes synonymous with idle rhetoric or true restoration.

Changes to look out for in the quarter ahead include:

  • A permeation of new and meaningful innovation across the business landscape as innovation goes from perception shaper to performance driver
  • Innovations driven largely from disruptive approaches to old ideas and trickle-up concepts pulled from emerging markets
  • New approaches to marketing and communications that drive true engagement as opposed to mere activation
  • Total experience management throughout the entire supply chain as a key differentiator of success that extends the supply chain from point of sale to point of engagement
  • Collaboration across industry that drives out-of-the box ideas and catalyzes the creativity required for true re-invention
  • The internet continuing to democratize the world, making empowered consumers stronger while too ushering in a new era of empowered DIY entrepreneurs
  • Small businesses truly competing and posing threats to the industry stalwarts, initiating real change and a new world order and competitive landscape
  • The media landscape embracing entrepreneurialism, catalyzing a slew of new media titles and further fragmenting the new media world while too ushering in a new era of media uber advocates -- less powerful in individual stature but more voluminous
  • The iPad's promise of new life for traditional media outlets and instigation of a cultural shift in the future of media and how we read, work and play
  • Industrialization threatened by the tech sector, harkening a new bubble lurking on the horizon
  • Next-generation leadership forcing brands to redefine sustainability to include the preservation of our world -- not just the environment -- ushering in a new era of corporate citizenry and possible consumer connection
  • Ethical crowd sourcing informing more corporate decisions
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