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Sophie Maxwell: Scaling Up Vs Scaling Down

The next challenge for brands is to meet human and consumer needs on both a global and local scale.

Sophie Maxwell, Pearlfisher
Sophie Maxwell, Pearlfisher on August 18, 2013.

Scaling up with mass-market innovation versus scaling down to meet specific and more localized human needs; which is more important? The truth is, we need both, but how we address and balance this need is now a key issue for consumer brands. Brands still need to succeed with the mass market but – as we are all now more accountable for the planet and for each other – consumers also expect brands to set and address a moral, social, political and ethical agenda.

Many, of course, already do, using brand and packaging design as campaign vehicles to address these issues and reinforce a bigger picture brand stance and messaging. And, in many respects this type of communication has become commonplace. Sustainability, for example, is high on everyone’s agenda, in every industry and is now almost an obligatory factor in NPD and innovation. It’s great to see sustainability being phenomenally scaled up, and ironically in Unilever’s case with a scaled down and ‘half size’ compressed format. This type of innovation is not just revolutionizing whole categories but setting a new benchmark for brand behavior.

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And an innovative idea does have the power to be world changing. But it’s no use if it cannot be scaled. As with Unilever, we need big ideas scaled well – and scaled appropriately. But the next challenge for our brands is to meet human and consumer need on both a global and more local scale. It is not just about maximizing and marketing ‘glocal’ business and products, but about finding new ways to scale down to meet specific needs with the creation of ever more tailored and local brand initiatives.

Simon Woodroffe, founder of Yo! Sushi and a well-known innovator is hitting the headlines with his attempt to revolutionize restaurant service with a flying remote-controlled iTray. Gaining far less media attention but no less insightful is his new Yo! Home concept, a perfect example of this new opportunity for scaling down.

Yo! Home expands the living space you are given: transforming a basic 800 square foot space with 12 expertly designed moving parts and doors to provide you with 3-4 times that much room. Talking to him recently about the whole topic of innovation and approach, Simon said, “Doing it less and doing it slowly has always been my style, and it’s worked for me.”

It is this mindful mindset that brands now need to start adopting; that is not just about a newer version of something or a campaign masking as innovation but about truly developing a new consciousness and purity of purpose.

While we are seeing the trend for scaled down innovation gain more traction with a daily stream of products trying to cater to our ever-increasing lifestyle needs – from a mini espresso machine that brews coffee on the road to a walk-by app that enables users to connect with local fashion boutiques based on social interests – it is increasingly finding solutions for issues of space, social responsibility or sustainability where consumers now want to see truly new, unique and scaled innovation.

One brand perfectly executing this scaling of innovation are the goliaths of sport Nike. Continuing to dominate the market for running shoes and accessories worldwide, they have not stopped there. Their excellence in sports engineering is maximized by their efforts in the development of running prosthetics – the Nike Sole is specifically designed for amputee athletes. Brands now need to follow Nike’s lead and look at how they can make change happen on all levels.

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While we expect to see a stream of ever more diverse and creative on and offline initiatives and experiences emerge, what will be most interesting is whether – inspired by examples of excellence like Nike – we can truly realize a new future through brand design, as it is design that has the real potential to bring innovative thinking to life and make a difference to our present – and future – human need.

Sophie Maxwell is Insight Director at Pearlfisher

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