Welcome to the second in our three-post series on what companies find when they look to culture for inspiration. In our first post, we looked at how brands find cues in culture to drive relevance for customers in unexpected yet authentic ways. Here, we explore something a little more unexpected: how companies are paying attention to what’s going on in the world and letting it inspire relevant business innovation. We’ll highlight companies that exemplify this thinking and show how it has led them to uncover new business paradigms.
Uncovering new paradigms
TOMS and AVA (the apartment brand we featured in our previous post) didn’t just look to culture to deepen audience relevance. TOMS forged new business platforms like their Marketplace (now called Social Enterprise, a hub for small businesses with a core social mission) and TOMS tribe (a network for individuals who want to create positive change). And AVA extended their sense of “community” by coordinating local partnerships to help the neighborhoods that they build in thrive.
A major advantage of opening up to culture in a broad way is that it enables brands to stay responsive. Take Netflix. The unstoppable cord-cutter has undergone three major evolutions in their short lifespan as they have kept pace with culture. Recognizing consumers’ increasing desire for control, they have continued to define new business models for their industry — most recently by creating and distributing new programming guided by how people actually live. Rather than adhering to the typical network/cable TV construct, they redefined where, when and how we watch TV.
And an example making headlines right now is Airbnb’s latest reinvention to create community centers. It was inspired by seeing hosts put up spaces for rent and then convincing friends and neighbors in their community to provide services to their guests, like taking them on area tours. Combining this fresh sense of community with a growing cultural desire for hyper-local experiences and connectivity, Airbnb was able to look at their business model from a new angle. Samara, Airbnb’s design and innovation studio, came up with the idea of building community centers around the world where people can offer access to services rather than space. It’s a foray into a new way for people to experience, connect with and affect the world.
Of course, anything’s easier to accomplish with an excess of means. But the way companies innovate like this is less about money and reach than it is about perspective and ingenuity. This sort of business innovation requires a mindset of possibility, where nothing is sacred and everything can be rethought. It also requires a real willingness to interrupt short-term progress in favor of long-term impact.