Earlier this month, we introduced our 2021 Business Trends report based on in-depth conversations with top CSOs in our Outthinker Strategy Network. We will be expanding on one of these trends every week with the intention of supporting your organization’s strategy for the next year and beyond. This is our third installment.

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While it would be impossible to ignore the unprecedented disruption caused by Covid-19, more often than not, lockdowns over the past year have served to accelerate preexisting trends. Amazon packages continue to rain down on our doorsteps weekly, if not daily, as online shopping has surged (49% of consumers around the world now shop more online than they did before the pandemic).

Having experienced the convenience of one-click shopping, intuitive interfaces, and quick low-cost shipping, few consumers will want to return … to standing in grocery store lines, hunting for parking spots, lugging shopping bags.

The instant gratification economy is here to stay, and it’s cutting the time from desire to delivery in ways that will impact much more than how we purchase clothing or groceries for the week.

Technology enables proximity to meet customer demands in time and space 

Focus too myopically on the pandemic and you risk missing the bigger, broader trend: what Rob Wolcott has termed proximity — the growing dynamic of technology driving the production and provision of services ever nearer to the moment of customer demand in time and space. Scott Galloway refers to the “Great Dispersion,” the movement of the supplier of value closer to the end user, skipping over traditional distribution channels.

We have been closely following the trend (Mastercard, NPR), and its implications are evident across industries through 2021 and beyond. Proximity — enabled by artificial intelligence, 3D printing, virtual reality, edge computing, the Internet of Things, and 5G connectivity — allows a wider range of products and services to be customized and delivered when and where consumers need them. Value is being created ever closer to the point of demand and ever closer to the moment it is demanded.

Proximity crosses products, services and creative sectors 

At Outthinker, we are preparing to launch our newly revamped website and enjoying the fascinating developments of the “no code” or “low-code” movement. Software programs like Gutenberg and Elementor exemplify proximity by allowing creative ideas to move to fruition quickly and efficiently, even for individuals with little to no coding experience.

In the past year, WarnerMedia announced the release of its 2021 movies for streaming on HBOMax as they will be simultaneously released in theaters, moving more entertainment options into the hands of consumers in their homes. In New York City, construction company SQ4D is designing and 3D-printing an entire 1,400-square-foot home in eight days. Why manufacture bricks and nails in far-away factories when you can create them on demand at the construction site?

With the rise of analytics, access to data, and real-time decision making, consumers can enjoy the benefits of getting exactly what they want without having to wait and often at a lower cost. Avitarin is developing avatars (think physical robots that feed you sights and sounds) that enable anyone to experience skydiving, deep sea exploration, and even outer space from the comfort of their homes. Companies develop enhanced business model agility from predicting customer needs and postponing production until actual demand arises.

Proximity presents opportunities & challenges 

Galloway discusses how the dispersion of education from campuses to remote learning, real estate from commercial offices to residential properties, and healthcare from hospitals to telehealth via computers and smartphones will ultimately alter the way we live and interact in society.

Proximity brings with it many positive changes: radical convenience, sustainability through just-in-time inventory, the democratization of access to services (education, medical treatment, banking) and a power shift back to consumers. Moving away from centralized spaces allows us to cut back of wasteful commuting and pollution in large cities.

But there is a “dark side” to proximity. By moving production away from large factories, reduced efficiencies may not be more environmentally friendly. Galloway warns of our segregation into our own separate bubbles when we are removed from communal spaces like offices and stores where we are reminded of our commonalities and shared humanity.

How to take advantage of proximity in your industry 

You can take advantage of the insight that proximity is ever decreasing by imagining “P=0,” the moment at which supply and demand are perfectly matched in time and space — the state in which a desire is instantly met the moment it arises.

Are you in the food business? What would it look like when the moment someone thinks “I want some Italian food that is delicious yet low calorie,” the food is instantaneously chosen based on their past preferences, formulated, created, and served in their kitchen?

Are you in the automotive sector? Imagine someone driving down a highway. Their car hits a pothole and is damaged, sensors diagnose the damage, repair instructions are immediately beamed down, and software in the car activates the repair — all before the driver even notices the bump.

Such far-flung scenarios may seem like distant dreams, but ask yourself if one year ago you imagined you’d say “Alexa, buy milk” and have a gallon at your doorstep the same day. The future belongs to those willing to envision the impossible and solve the problems that stand in the way of turning it into reality. Consider these three starting points:

  1. Push physical value closer
  2. Deliver digital value faster
  3. Enhance emotional value

Push physical value closer 

How can you push more of the value creation closer to demand? Coca-Cola’s “Freestyle” machine mixes its flavored syrup right there in the movie theater, when you press the dispenser, rather than in a bottling plant hundreds of miles away. This allows it to offer 165 different flavors — caffeine-free diet cherry vanilla cola anyone? — and deliver it faster and more efficiently.

Medical products startup On Demand Pharmaceuticals, a spinoff from US Department of Defense-funded research at MIT, led by Dr. Geoffrey Ling, provides a system the size of a home refrigerator — and on the way to desktop size — that can already produce 14 different drug classes on demand.

What are the barriers standing in the way of immediate delivery of physical value and what can you do next to remove one?

Deliver digital value faster 

What elements of the value proposition that you offer could you deliver virtually rather than physically? Domino’s Pizza has outperformed Google in the stock market thanks to the simple insight that people value experiencing their pizza being made. By offering a tracker on their app that provides such immediate gratification, Domino’s is able to start delivering value 30 minutes before its competitors finally show up at your doorstep.

Tesla offers car repair via software download overnight rather than asking you to travel to a repair shop. Peloton brings the gym class to you, where you are, when you want it.

What elements of the value your customers appreciate could you separate from their current physical vessel and deliver virtually instead?  

Enhance emotional value 

While electrons (digital value) travel faster than atoms (physical value), emotions can be instantaneous. Certain brands are able to create emotional value even before they deliver any functional benefits. Two of the companies mentioned above – Tesla and Peloton – do this well.

As soon as you order your car or bike, you feel immediately a sense of belonging to the tribe. You are now a Tesla owner. Or, as the Peloton trainers say, “YOU are now Peloton.”

How can you attach emotional value to your brand so that people immediately feel it when they choose you? 

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