Thoughts and strategy games to prepare for what is to come. About halfway through 2021, at Lapidarius we set out to do some predictive research to help people prepare for what lies ahead. For each wild prediction, we invented a strategy game for you and your team to play in order to solve for the prediction, for as someone once wrote: we are born for games, and every child knows play is nobler than work. The games are below. I will summarize the predictions, here, to give you a feeling for what we heard and what you might do to act on it.
There was a good deal of nostalgia in the group—the pain of remembrance of the time before. This was to be expected. More impressive was the energy for change, for moving beyond the now and into the next. Time has a way of taming wild predictions, and that is certainly happening to those made here; perhaps they weren’t wild enough? Whatever the case, here they are.
“For some, what will not change is the misplaced optimism that things will go back to normal. There will be a lasting desire, perhaps an emerging nostalgia, for going back in time to what was supposedly better. This is an illusion, of course. And those that indulge in nostalgia will not change the world for the better. Others will.”
The dark side of this is more fear, despair, depression. The light side is more self-awareness, simplification, a return to family and nature. The play for you to make with your brand: show empathy to your consumer. Make them know that you know how they feel and why.
“Consumers are making decisions based on feelings, what is right for me. A new sense of self that is stronger than before. I think there has been a shift in value systems. There’s a new sense of self that is stronger than before…”
If you are struggling with this, try playing a strategy game we made up.
Say It Out Loud As a team or as individuals, write down the one thing you would have your company say to all its employees and customers that would demonstrate empathy. Consider making that your next paid campaign.
Institutional trust (including brands) is in freefall. The dark side of this is a further polarization of discourse and an automatic hostility to your brand. The light side is that once you know who your true tribe is, you can simply speak to them and forget about the rest. The play for your brand: go full tilt in what you uniquely are.
“Everyone is a bit more skeptical. I think people will become more brand loyal than they were in the past. Loyalty is starting to simplify.”
Here’s a game to play if you can do some ad hoc customer segmentation:
Find Your Tribe Segment your following into 5 groups. Assign a score to each, 1-5, of their value to your brand—that’s Score A. Now assign a score to each, 1-5, of the cost of keeping them in your brand—that’s Score B. Now subtract B from A for each group.
-5 to -1 Stop catering to these folk 0 to 2 Find a better way to service them 3 to 5 That’s your tribe—blow them away!
A paradox: consumers making greener, more CSR-informed brand choices—as long as they arrive that day on a truck (whatever the impacts or costs or harms of that arrangement might be). The play for your brand: you have to now best your competition both in performance terms and impact terms.
“For younger consumers they expect brands to be more than a product or service, to meet their emotional, social political needs.”
Every brand struggles with impact, just like everyone struggles with diet, managing their time, dealing with adversity. Why? Because it is hard and it is not core to the operation of making money.
Golden Rule for CSR: The “Three I” Rule I is for Impact—actual impact on people. I is for Integrated—where your CSR program is actually integrated with your brand experience. Not bolted onto it. See Warby Parker one for one, as an example. I is for Inspiring—when your social impact inspires people it will cause them to share it, and story it, and generally make you famous.
Impact Your Impact Compare your brand with its two fiercest competitors in terms of:
Now write down what you would have to do to beat the competition in all measures. Take your time.
This is not to say go short LVMH or Kering. It is to point out that there are limits to logo-driven status play and that we seem to have reached peak logo. Perhaps not. The play for your brand: find the core, universal meaning in your brand, and market that.
If you accept that, even partly, you owe it to your brand to play for meaning. Because meaning is all that’s left if what you sell is open to imitation.
Find Meaning Prepare a eulogy for your brand that answers this question: Why should anyone mourn our brand? The answer will probably consist of what your brand meant or means or could mean in the future. Focus on that meaning.
Dark side: things get even worse for historically underserved populations. Light side: wellness expands even faster than before. The play for your brand: assume that all consumer discretionary choices are converging into wellness, and equalize the pleasure and self-care attributes of your brand and service offering.
So what, you are asking, on Earth is wellness? Simple: it’s where pleasurable and (actually) good for you overlap. And all consumer brands will be judged by that measure. Some consumer choices will survive being only good for you, or only pleasurable. Such is life on Earth. But most will be both.
Balance Good with Good for You Write down why your brand is both pleasurable for consumers to use and good for them, too. Now think up ways to equalize the two things: pleasure and well-being.
“The Gen Z recruits in our office don’t want to risk anything—they are constantly asking me if it’s okay if they ‘just take notes’ during a client meeting. I’m like, ‘This isn’t college. You must add value.’”
This has proven true in 2021, never mind 2022. Dark side is you have no labor. Light side is your people are happier. The play for your brand—perhaps it’s your HR folks’ play, really—decide why anyone would bother working for you if they didn’t have to.
If you struggle with retaining your workforce (and if you have one, you will) here is a game to play to try to isolate the intangible worth of a job at your company.
The “Why Bother” Exercise Write down why someone who just won the lottery should still work for your company, maybe even show up live and in person. The answer is worth forwarding to HR.
“What will never change is the importance of experiences to people. Retail offers peak experiences—even if those peaks don’t compete with a ski trip or Disney. Blend that with self-care and wellness and individualization of experience and you have a recipe to kill at retail.”
For sure the most contentious prediction. Dark side is that plenty more retail to be reborn must first die. Light side: emerging retail experience concepts are compellingly good. Play for your brand or chain: imagine you had to make as much money in retail as you do online—and vice versa—and structure that model.
The most direct and easiest way to assess your channel mix is to pretend you had to equalize them.
Here’s a game to play:
Channel Change List all your sales channels by percentage of revenues. Now imagine you had to do equal business via your own e-commerce, Amazon, wholesale bricks, and your own retail stores, and still make money. What would need to change?
If your core values are bad, you will be judged. If they are good, you may gain much. Play for brands—do some inside research and some voice-of-customer research to figure out whether people perceive what you stand for the same way.
Most big corporations have one value: meet earnings. But if you are in a select company for whom values matter, better yet, matter a lot and are core to what you sell, try this game:
Value Valuator Ask 20 of your employees to name the top 3 values your brand stands for. Now ask 20 customers to name the top 3 most important values to them of your brand or the category. Discuss the differences.
People want the impossible from you. Assume that. COVID shocked us out of our routines, and the adjustments are revealing about what we can and cannot do. Play for your brand: presume another major crisis is on the way and build the business plan to take advantage of crisis.
How would you plan for another crisis if you didn’t know what it was going to be? Aren’t crises grave precisely because they cannot be foreseen? Perhaps. And if so, try this exercise:
Continual Crisis Mode Presume that for the next 5 years, there will be another, new COVID-magnitude crisis each of those years. Now write the business plan in 100 words. Discuss.
Another prediction that turns out to be mild, not wild. Imagine you need to take a 20% price increase next quarter across all points of distribution. What would you need to do to justify that to your buyer, your consumer, and anyone else who relies on you?
You have to take price unless you have full control of your value chain. Assume a price increase is in the cards, soon. Assume it’s your job if you don’t solve for it. It’s that bad.
Now play this game and play to win:
Occam’s (Premium) Razor Describe the version of your brand’s product or service that you could charge TWICE as much for but that would cost you HALF of what it now costs you to offer. Discuss.
Lapidarius is a boutique strategy consultancy in NYC helping brands grow and change.
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