August 4, 2020

The Trend Friends Issue

“Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.” —C.S. Lewis
In this issue, we continue our fascination with the pandemic-induced acceleration of trends. From fast-growing traction in the passion economy to spikes in awareness of systemic racism to the rate of homeownership in the US—things are hopping.

And these trends are not loners, wiggling along on some linear upward trajectory; trends are merging to create bursts of innovation. Unexpected Venn diagram combinations are on the rise as innovators scramble to solve emerging problems. Fast-casual restaurants + subscriptions? Social justice + ecommerce? Locavore-ism + the baking craze? Who would’ve thought? We have detailed some unanticipated trend bedfellows below.

(The big underlying question: can we innovate our way out of an economic crisis? Fingers crossed, everyone.)

Caffeine Jitters

What was a tortoise-slow trend of restaurants increasing online presence in 2019 is now a scared-rabbit sprint to build deep digital customer relationships. Fast-casual restaurant chain Panera, for example, is going hard on subscription.

Subscription has been on a roll for years, with mostly positive results, but it’s enjoying a new round of innovation as vulnerable businesses like restos seek survival tactics. Extending a prior successful experiment for an $8.99 all-you-can-drink monthly coffee subscription, Panera is waiving the monthly fee for the summer and even longer if you sign up five friends. Hello, customer database growth!

Panera’s strategy has the hallmarks of a winner. So many businesses need to develop new models to survive. The savvy ones are managing risk by testing the new model first and running with it only once it has been validated. And even if the paid subscription performance was so-so, points to Panera for leveraging the concept into an affordable email acquisition vehicle.

The Curation Cure

Big brands have been chasing values-focused consumers for years (thanks, Millennials!). The national conversation about systemic racism has sharpened brands’ focus, with companies like Nike (“For Once, Don’t Do It”) trying hard to read the room. For the most part, though, mega-brands have struggled to reconcile conflicting agendas, and a lot of their values-based marketing is weakened by lack of authenticity.

Speed up that trend and you have—opportunity, if not for the mega-brands then for truly authentic entrepreneurs. Having trouble tracking all of those marvelous lists of BIPOC-owned businesses that were circulating the last few months? A handful of startup beauty e-tailers has a solution for you: they’ll curate Black-owned ethical beauty brands to make it easy for you. (Our pick: Geenie, which just launched with an array of Zoom-friendly lipstick.)

It’s not just beauty, of course. There’s the Black-Founded Snack Box from The Goods Mart. And HellaBlack, a marketplace for Black-owned businesses, is raising a Kickstarter. Thrilling is a well-organized new platform for vintage, featuring offerings from BIPOC- and women-owned stores across the US.

Commodities No More

You would think that the baking craze amplified by the pandemic would have meant big bucks for mega-brands like Gold Medal and Pillsbury. And it did. But the growth awards, according to Tim Wu in the New York Times, should go to smaller flour brands like King Arthur and Maine Grains, who focus on quality, community, storytelling, and doing right by their employees—all the elements of strong branding these days. Their sales soared, partly because of increased volume, but also because they are able to capture greater value through higher prices by differentiating themselves from commodity-style brands.

Digital channels mean that brands can have a dialogue with customers. Small brands can take advantage of their smallness by starting conversations that feel—indeed are—personal. Is an anti-commodification strategy right for your brand?

Help Wanted: Innovators

According to McKinsey & Co., 95% of executives believe that the crisis associated with COVID-19 will “fundamentally change the way they do business over the next 5 years.” The kicker? Only 21% believe their companies have the resources and expertise to figure out how to turn that change into growth. Yikes.

Innovation, in other words, is critical, but most companies—or at least the 200 or so that McKinsey recently surveyed—are not equipped for the challenge.

How we’re helping: Spark is helping nascent startups, big established brands, and companies in between in three ways:
1.) validating demand
2.) finding first or new customers
3.) repositioning existing offerings for all-digital customer acquisition
Our secret sauce—using the data power of ad platforms for market research and marketing—is just right for fast moves. And boy, are there ever a lot of fast moves right now. We are always happy to riff with you for an hour or so—just email us at hello@sparkno9.com.

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