If you look at the top 10 Gross Domestic Product companies from 10–20 years ago, they’re basically the same: Coca-Cola, Kodak, Blockbuster, GE, and Walmart. These are the brands that have graced our TV screens, infiltrated our ad space, and served as an integral part of consumerism.
In the last five to 10 years, however, the nature of how these top contenders remain competitive has changed. Now, it’s not about longevity, it’s about being newer, faster, and more innovative than everyone else. It’s about how quickly things move and staying 10 steps ahead. We are now in uncharted territory. Companies that have built their business models based on technology and innovation have rapidly replaced big box retailers and family names.
Because the list has changed, so has life.
Don’t believe me?
Think about the way you shop. Think about the way you watch a movie. The way you drive. The way you work. The way you get from place to place. The way your children view products, the world, you.
It’s all different. And it matters.
When I was growing up, if you wanted something, you went out and bought it. You had to wait for your parents to get in the car and physically take you to the store. You had an allowance. You could purchase one toy (maybe not). And then you went home and played with it until it fell apart and you had to wait for a new one. “Things” weren’t quite as disposable or low-risk as they are today. Goods weren’t available with the click of a button, which made the decision to buy more important. Returns weren’t as easy. Quality still mattered. Today, our children see, buy, and discard with alarming frequency. (As do we.) Shopping has become an afterthought because it’s instant. There is no buyer’s remorse — not really. You can buy what you want, when you want, however you want. What does this teach our kids about how we view products? How we decide to purchase products? How we impatiently wait on products? Most of what we now own is disposable.
The idea of having a stranger in your home still sounds a little strange, but to many, their largest real estate investments — their homes — can have a real-time return. Enter: AirBnb. Certainly not the first nor the last to bring us into the space of shared economies, but it’s a palpable example of the shift in perspective and how the opportunity to make money is literally right at your doorstep.
Transportation has changed. The model T was the sensation of the 20th Century. We can talk for days about how rubber on the road changed the American economy for the better. Globalization. Quality of Life. Etc. The next best thing? Debatable, but for me, it points right to Tesla. A company driven by innovation. From maps (hello, Waze) that now use crowdsourced information to ease our commutes, to self-driving cars, to shirking taxis for Ubers, which means that your car can actually provide another source of viable income — we are automating transportation in incredible ways that are moving us toward a different way of life on and off the road.
Perhaps the strongest example of company branding, Apple is a nod to how one single company can dominate multiple markets and create an entire lifestyle around it. We can all think of friends, colleagues, or family members who either have all things Apple, or always have the latest device, or both. The biggest change is the camera-phone. We no longer lug cameras around (unless you’re a photographer) to store memories. You don’t wait to have film developed. We have literally shifted how we snap and store memories. Apple keeps coming up with the best, which forces competitor companies like Samsung and LTE to level up. Gone are the days of us flipping through old dusty photo albums. Instead, we store our entire digital lives on electronic devices.
And yet, these companies are just stepping stones to get to another place, where, in 10 years, these heavy hitters might be obsolete too. (Even Apple.) Very few companies today have the staying power of our once most beloved brands. How do we get back there? And do we want to?
If you’re an entrepreneur today, how do you make sure you’re not a gimmick? That you’re not one of countless ideas that comes in hot and then fades just as quickly?
Don’t be a trend. Be a company that makes a difference to its people, its customers, and future generations who won’t even know — unless you explain it — what a map, a vhs video, a photo album, or maybe, what a big box retailer is.
While our lives continuously change, some things shouldn’t. You have to look backwards to look forward. Remember the good stuff. Resurrect it. Honor what worked and make it better.
Your livelihood might just depend on it.
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