Year for businesses to show they care

Year for businesses to show they care
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First Published: Tue, Dec 16 2008. 09 19 PM IST

New shift: Next year, expect pockets of consumers to switch to lower consumption models with surprising ease and to look for different and less costly sources of happiness and thus, ultimately, status
New shift: Next year, expect pockets of consumers to switch to lower consumption models with surprising ease and to look for different and less costly sources of happiness and thus, ultimately, status
Updated: Tue, Dec 16 2008. 09 19 PM IST
Savings are the new green.
No, there will be no eco-fatigue in 2009 mainly because it’s hard to ignore or dismiss the mind-boggling fortunes (and the accompanying power shifts and reduction in pollution) which are in store for those who figure out how to get the world off its addiction to oil and coal. Which means a steady stream of eco subtrends. Here’s one more to start the new year with fresh, green brainstorming inspiration:
ECONCIERGE
New shift: Next year, expect pockets of consumers to switch to lower consumption models with surprising ease and to look for different and less costly sources of happiness and thus, ultimately, status.
Econcierges are firms and services dedicated to helping households go green in any possible way. And while any advice that reduces a household’s (harmful) consumption is beneficial enough, the fact that such advice leads to savings makes this a very 2009 development. In the next 12 months, count on cash-strapped consumers to embrace sustainability with a vengeance, but first and foremost, for monetary reasons. Next? How about helping consumers make money by being green, by for example, letting them generate and sell excess power to the grid? Anyway, some examples:
• For £199 (Rs14,527), inspectors from London-based Green Homes Concierge, or GHC, will come to a customer’s home, toting heat-detecting cameras and other devices to help them evaluate energy leaks, wall insulation and appliances. Afterwards, inspectors recommend ways by which homeowners can reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and hopefully, save some money in the process.
Significantly, GHC’s services don’t end there. For a full year, the firm will act as a helpful concierge. Should customers wish to make the inspection’s recommended improvements, GHC will help them locate contractors and suppliers able to do the work or tell them where to buy low-energy light bulbs and other environment-friendly items.
Sure, in the US and elsewhere, energy companies have long encouraged homeowners to reduce utility bills by offering counselling and rebates on fuel-efficient appliances. But sorting through the paperwork to qualify for rebates and tax breaks can be a major chore for homeowners. While start-ups modelled on GHC’s services might not benefit from the municipal subsidies available in London, the companies’ real income could come from commissions earned through contractor referrals as well as project management fees.
• Eco:Drive is a new Fiat-branded widget which aims to improve driving efficiency by up to 15%. This means a smaller carbon footprint at the same time as saving on fuel.
The widget can be transferred onto a USB stick and plugged into Fiat’s Blue&Me technology (which features a USB port on the car’s dashboard). The software then evaluates driving and gives marks out of 100. Tutorials subsequently encourage drivers to improve their driving, their score and, ultimately, reduce their carbon emissions.
• 3TIER sells detailed reports to new energy entrepreneurs and consumers who are serious about generating their own power. Those reports show just how much wind or sunshine an area is likely to receive based on years of meteorological data plus plenty of other important “have-to-knows”. The company advertises its reports via a free interactive map. Preliminary information from the map helps entrepreneurs determine whether a windmill or solar panel installation at a chosen location would make good financial sense. For now, 3TIER’s data is limited to locations in the US. But the company has plans to expand to other nations, a move it hopes to help finance with country-based sponsorships.
• FreeGreen offers free, downloadable green house plans. FreeGreen’s team of engineers and designers works with industry-leading product manufacturers to create home designs that incorporate different combinations of products, materials and vendors. It also provides 3D images, energy simulations and extensive descriptions to help consumers find the right fit for their lifestyles. Consumers who download FreeGreen’s plans get not just the very detailed plan, but also an energy report specific to the town or city they select. FreeGreen’s team can also modify or customize any of its plans. The company relies on paid placement from product manufacturers but it takes pains to be transparent about the products it displays.
MAPMANIA
Will 2009 be the year in which all things contextual, app, local, urban, tags, lidar, smartphone, convenience, cell ID, spontaneity, infolust and GPS come together in one orgasmic celebration of map-based tracking, finding, knowing and connecting? Embraced by eager consumer masses who will flock to anything from friend-finders to lowest-gas-price-locators? Aided by services that already know which street users are on? Judging from increased levels of mapmania, we’re nearing that destination.
As the Googles, Nokias (which expect half their handsets to be GPS-enabled by 2010-12), MapQuests, Navteqs, Openstreetmap.orgs, Apples and TomToms of this world continue to build the necessary infrastructure, devices and apps, any consumer-focused brand would be stupid not to be partnering or experimenting with map-based services. Why? Geography is about everything that is (literally) close to consumers and it’s a universally familiar method of organizing, finding and tracking relevant information on objects, events and people. And now that superior geographical information is accessible on the go, from in-car navigation to iPhones, the sky is the limit.
Where to start? First, see what’s new on Google Maps (they keep adding functionalities, so really explore for a few hours), Yahoo’s FireEagle and Nokia Maps. Then dive into the maps-meet-social networking by visiting (and trying out) services such as Loopt, BrightKite and Plazes. Traditional brands will love the partnership opportunities with widget platform Where and friends-meet-reviews-meets-location platform Whrrl.
Then check out the numerous smaller—yet very B2C (business to consumer)—sites and mapplets. A few recent and totally random mapmania examples as featured on our sister site Springwise: BreadCrumbz, SeeYourHotel, Ushahidi and Eatbite/NYC.
Mapmania is one of those the-time-is-now trends: the dust is settling, uptake is inching towards mass and creativity still often trumps big budgets when it comes to popular consumer applications (all hail the App Store, Android Market and the upcoming BlackBerry Storefront). Add to that the still early shift from flat maps to digital 3D representations of the real world (think augmented reality or more hands-on—Google Android’s Enkin) and an ongoing push to tag anything and everything and it’s safe to say that you’re not too late to make the most of Mapmania.
HAPPY ENDING
The umbrella brand for 2009? Happy ending!
• 2009 will be an excellent year for those businesses keen on showing consumers that they really care... for now: offering respect and relevance (Nichetributes), listening to real-time needs and wants (Feedback 3.0), helping people save money while being green (Econcierge): All of this will not be forgotten by consumers who are currently feeling the heat.
• At the same time, this is a great moment to innovate: Shrinking budgets and diminishing revenues from existing offerings normally bring out the best and most creative in business professionals.
• But the most important side effect of more austere times is probably that consumers start questioning what truly makes them happy, which more often than not steers them towards the realization that happiness ain’t (just) about traditional consumption. Expect pockets of consumers to switch to lower consumption models with surprising ease and to look for different and less costly sources of happiness and thus, ultimately, status. Any way you can help them with that will be a guaranteed winner.
Last but not the least, to apply these six trends, ask if they have the potential to:
• Influence or shape your company’s vision.
• Inspire you to come up with a new business concept, a new venture, a new brand.
• Add a new product, service or experience for a certain customer segment.
• Speak the language of consumers already living a trend.
feedback@livemint.com
The full text of the end-of-year trend briefing can be read at www.trendwatching.com
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First Published: Tue, Dec 16 2008. 09 19 PM IST