Blast from the Past

Samir Mardolker uncovers certain aspects of life that have been made extinct and suggests ways to rejuvenate them in order to give businesses a competitive edge with reflection and resourcefulness

We are progressing and making things better, faster, cheaper, digitised and ‘replacing’ the old ways. But as we do this, we should reminisce the past and look for inspiration that may help us identify niche growth opportunities. Such inspiration can come from identifying ‘aspects of life’ that technology has made extinct. It can also come from products/services which have been digitised but miss out on old features that were indeed very useful.
You could argue that this is nothing new but human-centered innovation. The newness actually comes from the fact that we only have a small window to identify ‘aspects of life’ and, products/services from the past and learn from them before everyone forgets what they were like!
Aspect of life that technology is making extinct: For instance, moments of ‘reflection’ that was so naturally occurring in the past because there were fewer distractions and lots of ‘time’ on our hands. You may recall how often you looked out of the bus window and mindlessly stared at the horizon. However, today, technology keeps us glued to our phones and always ‘on’ taking away these moments of reflection unless we make a deliberate attempt to cut away (e.g. mindfulness sessions).
Another example is ‘resourcefulness’. We were far more resourceful earlier (aka jugaadi) because we had no choice being resource constrained. We had to devise our own solutions to basic life challenges (e.g. infrastructure, access to information, communication etc), unlike the current young generation who have everything on a platter for the most part.
Uncovering these aspects of life and finding ways to rejuvenate them in today’s brand experiences could give businesses a distinct competitive advantage.

How rejuvenating aspects of life can enhance brand experiences: Here are two examples to make my point that unique experiences can be delivered by rejuvenating aspects of life that technology is making extinct.
Reflection: Colgate is a strong brand in the oral hygiene category. But it has failed to connect with life in the manner Coca-Cola has. An aspect like reflection is an integral part of the Colgate experience. Imagine the last time you brushed your teeth. If it was in the morning, you probably briefly reflected on what your day would be like and if it was in the night, you may have reflected on the day’s events and the plans for the next day as well. What if Colgate launches a brand campaign that encouraged consumers to reflect in life to take on the challenges of the day? It is a stretch to connect with its consumers beyond oral hygiene truly making the brand a part of your life just as Coca-Cola is.
Resourcefulness: Google provides the most relevant solutions via its search capabilities. But what if it just shares milestones and leaves the rest to the consumer to ‘figure out’ encouraging us to be resourceful. I bet parents might like to use such a Google platform that helps their kids in the learning journey but encourages them to work as well versus directly providing answers.
In summary, incorporating reflection and resourcefulness in brand experiences can help provide a niche for the brand and a competitive advantage.

How do I identify all such aspects of life? Ask your grandpa! Because the current generation will have no clue of what life was like without technology. Another option is to look at old products. Let’s take telegraph as an example. This service, over 100 years old, has slowly been discontinued in many markets across the world ( In many markets, consumers would use this service to send ‘urgent’ messages as regular postal services were slow and phone penetration was very low. Such matters of urgency typically meant announcing a death or other matters of such significance e.g. birth, aspects requiring urgent attention/action etc. Today, when we can pride ourselves in having the best communications networks and have free services to connect with anyone in the world over video (let alone just text), I feel we lack a service dedicated to communicating urgent messages. Now imagine a feature of Whatsapp which is dedicated for most urgent messages. Imagine you have credits to send only 2-3 such messages in a year so you know users will use the service for what is really deemed urgent. Receivers get a special notification when such an urgent message arrives and will therefore take immediate notice.

End note: There are many things from the past that can be very relevant for us in future to shape digital experiences. In fact, brands that do this, stand a chance to provide a niche and differentiated experience that in some instances may evoke nostalgia as an added lever for growth.

The writer is Managing Director (Asia) of Clear M&C Saatchi, Singapore. Email:

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