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Same Brand, Different Business Model

Business model innovation is steadily becoming more of a familiar term in the combined world of brand marketing and sustainability. Whilst we can recognise some brilliant incremental innovations that get us a little closer to sustainable lifestyles, we also have to acknowledge that the cumulative impact of multiple incremental innovations is never going to be enough to meet the global challenges we face — climate change, food and energy security, to name but a few.

Finding, trialling and transitioning to a new business model is inevitably a disruptive process often in unchartered territory, or what Mark W. Johnson refers to as “white space.” For innovative companies and brands this space is seen as untapped potential innovation; for the rest, it’s seen as the thing they can explore next year, or once they’ve ceased treading water. The problem with the latter is the pace with which global challenges such as climate change are altering value chain resilience, resource costs and, increasingly, customer attitudes. There’s a window of opportunity in this so-called white space, and not many established brands are leaping in to seize it. Will the Airbnbs, ZipCars and Methods continue to lead the way, or are we at the dawn of a mass shift in business model innovation from our well-known incumbent brands?

Last year we took a long look at six well-known brands, to work out how they would need to evolve to remain relevant and desirable in 2030. You can see the full business model concepts here, but in this post I wanted to share some of the mocked-up adverts we envisaged for each brand. The moral of the story turned out to be far less radical than we might have imagined. Despite the future concepts depicting profoundly different business models for each brand, the look, feel and communication from the brand did not require any significant evolution. Reflecting on this makes me wonder how much the customer or consumer needs to be involved in the transition; to put it another way, are brands hiding behind the false notion of ‘lack of consumer demand or acceptance’ of new business models, as a reason to stick to what they know best? 

Primark - brand futures

To use Primark as an example, the above poster didn’t demand a huge leap in imagination — only the content has switched. Here, they are advertising a monthly subscription fee, rather than a product price. Same brand, same experience of wearing clothing and accessories you love  different behind-the-scenes business model. Of course, for the proposed subscription model to work, Primark customers and Argos customers alike will need to adopt a new consumption pattern, but would it really be so different for them? Or is the big difference what goes on behind the scenes, in the newly created remanufacturing industry and the high-tech, highly personalised digital capability of the brand experience?

Easyjet - brand futures

For easyJet we created hi-comfort, jet-speed rail travel  customers would still experience the easyJet way, the seamless booking capability (but even better) and the no-frills price structure (in 2030 it’s linked to the EU smart grid and adapted accordingly). Again, a significant leap for the brand’s business model, but for the customer they are still buying into an experience and a service they trust and are familiar with. And we had fun playing around with how their current ad campaigns would communicate the benefits of train travel.

You’ll notice that in 2030 none of the brands have become tree-hugging versions of their former selves. Considering ‘sustainable business models’ should not lead to a raft of eco-brands. Life would be inordinately dull should that happen.

However, one of the most important roles brands can play in generating better, healthier and less resource-intense lifestyles is to hold customers' hands as they transition to and adopt new ways of consuming, of lending and borrowing, and ultimately of meeting their needs. None of the above should have to be a less enjoyable, productive or accessible experience on the contrary, sustainable business model innovation is an opportunity to redefine all aspects of customer experience and the winning ones will create models that are not only sustainable but laden with far superior customer benefits.

We use the methodology behind our brand futures concepts to help brands think through this kind of innovation  looking far ahead to understand what the brand might be like in a very different future and back casting to generate a strong innovation pipeline. Get in touch to find out more  we’d love to hear from you.


Fiona leads Dragon Rouge's work on sustainability embedding it across strategy, design and innovation.

Her work helps our clients to generate long-term value from brand-led, sustainable innovation - integrating sustainability from start to finish, throughout projects, to ensure the outputs are… [Read more about Fiona Bennie]


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