Winning in the Market Matrix … Amazon disrupts fashion, Alphabet disrupts travel, Apple disrupts healthcare … as boundaries blur, markets evolve into multi-dimensional, liquid spaces
February 21, 2023
Keanu Reeves described his 1999 movie “The Matrix” as a wake-up call to the speed of our changing world. Two decades later we can see many of the movie’s themes in our everyday lives – the primacy of the individual, disregard for the old system, anti-corporate backlash, the blur of fake and reality.
Today’s markets are a matrix of possibilities, where we could say that almost nothing has changed in those last 20 years, or everything has. The lens by which you see your market shapes everything else about what you do, your strategy and innovation, and how you work, your organisation and people. Time for leaders to wake up.
We used to think of markets as defined spaces – industry sectors – with clear boundaries and categorisation, industry standards and predictable competition. And then markets started to blur and fragment.
Amazon disrupts fashion, Alphabet disrupts travel, Apple disrupts healthcare, Tesla disrupts energy, Alibaba disrupts finance, Snap disrupts movies.
Sectors like telecoms and technology, communication and media, data and information, entertainment and gaming, converge into each other. Or pharmaceuticals and healthcare, wellness and food, fashion and sport, become a boundaryless continuum.
You can define your business any way you want. What kind of company are you? What market are you in? Anyone can frame their market “space” in this new market matrix.
The blur of boundaries has evolved in multi-dimensions
- The blur of digital and physical: Fortnite’s online games become a physical stadium event, Nike’s flagship stores are navigated and enhanced by smartphones, L’Oréal’s magic mirror customises your cosmetics and delivers to your home.
- The blur of products and services: Harley Davidson’s holidays embrace bike hire plus flights and hotels, Adobe’s software is delivered “as a service”, Disneyland experiences can be planned and continued online at home.
- The blur of categories and sectors: Grab is a delivery company with a data and finance core, CVS is a pharmacy that reframed as a health and wellness store, athleisure wear is sporting apparel made stylish for everyday fashion.
- The blur of industry and functional roles: IBM was the computer manufacturer who became trusted advisor, Amazon is a retailer but also a leading brand of own-label products and services, Casper the mattress sold direct to consumers.
- The blur of business and consumer: Glossier is a cosmetics brand but equally a community of people who share and co-create, Avon is a brand of consumer sellers, Rapha calls its stores Cycle Clubs, meeting places as well as retail stores.
Taking advantage of non-linear value chains, and brands that have evolved beyond descriptors of products, manufacturers can think like retailers, creating direct to consumer (DTC) channels, with more trust and style than a commoditising intermediary. Think of Apple or Allbirds, Dollar Shave Club or Warby Parker.
Equally retailers like Carrefour and Target realised that private label products don’t have to be inferior to the products of consumer brands like Heinz and P&G. Indeed, many are made by the same manufacturers. Retailers have many advantages, with more opportunities to engage consumers more intimately, to add adjacent services such as advice, and understand consumers personally. Target could be a stronger brand than P&G.
What are the major challenges for the markets of today, new business models, sustainable impacts, and rapidly changing aspirations of stakeholders?
- Automotive: Facing its most profound change in 100 years, with autonomous vehicles, electrification and other fuels, new models of ownership and connected ecosystems. Add to this, AI and smart road infrastructure, connectivity and entertainment. Issues like safety will still matter, Volvo for example, is installing new sensors to detect poor driving, intoxication or excess speed, and take action.
- Beauty: Personalisation and environmentally friendly products are key to the future of skin and colour products, with new science creating sophisticated functionality. Influencers like Michelle Phan rather than advertising shapes attitudes, whilst the subscription models of Birchbox and direct to consumer models of Beauty Pie have transformed the traditional purchase experience from instore to bathroom.
- Energy: Decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation are the key challenges for every power generator or distributor. As oil and gas, mining and fracking, give way to solar and wind, there is also a shift to city and home management, from local generation to automated control. Lanzatech turning waste into clean energy, Fluence a huge battery business from Siemens, and Watty are typical disruptors.
- Fashion: New materials, new business models and new technologies are transforming fashion. From Agua Bendita’s beautiful bikinis made out of scraps to Bolt Thread’s synthetic spider silk, Unspun’s custom-made jeans using a 20 second Fit3D bodyscan to ThredUP’s resale platform, environmental impact has become the biggest issues in an industry which is one of the biggest polluters.
- Finance: Digital entrants and emerging technologies are transforming banking, from DBS transforming to become “invisible” inside other services, to Atom and Number26 seeking speed and simplicity. Lemonade has embraced AI to transform the business model of insurance, while AXA explores new applications of blockchain, and cryptocurrencies evolve.
- Food and drink: Wellness and sustainability have topped the agendas of major businesses like Danone, Nestle and Unilever, whilst animal and dairy-based categories have been challenged by plant-based alternatives such as Impossible and Beyond Meat. New channels and business models have been driven by a huge rise in snacking and on-the-go markets, plus home delivery and meal kits.
- Healthcare: From positive health to personalised pharma, people are seeking to engage with healthcare in new ways. Combine 23andMe genetic profiling with PatientsLikeMe’s peer to peer advice, Babylon’s AI-enabled diagnostics and wearable health trackers, Minute Clinic’s simple consultations and Zipline’s drone deliveries, Organova’s 3D printed organs, gene editing and personalised medicines.
- Media: Playing games to streaming television, virtual reality and instant messaging, have transformed how we immerse ourselves in content. New business models, in particular subscription, enable access across platforms, as we now shift to content that is even more user-generated and interactive. Platforms like Twitch and Spotify will become more important in curating content and building community.
- Retail: In a sector dominated by Amazon, innovators like Shopify have helped direct brands to sell and deliver faster. Glossier has shown the power of community and pop-up stores, whilst Etsy has allowed artisans to reach the world, Alibaba embraces gamification to engage consumers more deeply, whilst intelligent delivery businesses like Meituan Dianping know consumers most personally.
- Technology: AI and cloud will embed tech ever further into our lives, enabling more intelligent and individual choices and behaviours. In telecoms the shift to 5G will enable realtime engagement like never before, video-based content will accelerate with particular application to education and work, whilst our primary user interfaces will continue to shift to voice, eye tracking, and ultimately the brain.
- Travel: AI will drive transportation to become automated, intelligent and efficient, health and environmental issues will continue to challenge airlines, hospitality and vacations. The shift to cleaner fuels and responsible tourism will be accelerated through innovations like those of Selina’s nomadic places to live, Lilium’s electric flying cars, and Ctrip in the huge Asian travel market.
What business are you really in?
Within the next decade, automotive companies will no longer sell cars, instead facilitating mobility on-demand, ride sharing and logistics services. They could also converge with other service providers such as scooters and trains, planes and hotels, energy and telecoms. Within the next decade we will subscribe to smart homes, which will manage our utilities, organise our shopping, stream our entertainment.
Who will provide these services? Tesla has long defined itself as an energy company, rather than an auto manufacturer. With “accelerate to renewable energy” as its defined purpose, it has a diversified business in batteries, energy systems and transportation. Indeed, it combines sales of cars with Powerwall charging systems, and even its solar roof tiles, creating an all-in-one subscription model that transforms value perceptions.
And there will be completely new markets too. Here are just a few examples of areas that are expected to be worth at least $100 billion by 2025: autonomous vehicles, IOT software and sensors, tissue engineering, smart grid technology and renewable energy.
The best way to “frame” your market space is around customers, and what you enable them to do. Like we defined purpose, define your market around why you exist, rather than just what you do, or how you do it. The “why” framing gives you a much richer space to play in, a broad range of market opportunities which by definition are desired, and more valuable to your customers.
Framing your market space is also a source of competitive advantage. By framing it differently from your competitors, you define your business and the value you offer in a more inspiring way. A new frame sets you alongside different alternatives, with different value perceptions and market models.
Consider other stakeholders too. Ask your employees, would they prefer to work in a telecom or tech company, a drug or wellness company? Similarly form alternatively framed markets will be seen with different risks and rewards, directly affecting your market value.
© Peter Fisk. Excerpt from his book “Business Recoded: Have the courage to create a better future” published by Wiley.
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