Kevin Ryan's: Culture Matters

Safety, Security and Immunity
Pizza Pizza, the Canadian pizza chain (not to be confused with the similar sounding Little Caesars sound bite) has introduced a Tamper Proof Pizza Box for their delivery.  The company is advertising the new box as part of their “Safe and Reliable Delivery” program which also includes deep sanitation procedures, hands-free cooking and contactless delivery.

Robotics companies have seen a sharp increase in orders and usage in retail and healthcare environments. Brain Corp, a company that makes software that runs autonomous cleaning and retail management, told Forbes last week that they are seeing increased business as stores look for ways to clean and manage inventories while keeping customers safe. The Mayo Clinic has also added robots to their cleaning staff in the last few weeks, with R2D2-like bots that sweep crevices with UV light to kill hidden germs.  

SimpleHuman, makers of touchless trashcans and touchless soap dispensers, told Forbes last week that they’ve seen a huge surge in business in the last few weeks. The company credits not only their ‘force field’ technology, that opens lids and dispenses soap with just a wave of the hand, but also the nano-silver coatings on their products which kill 99% of germs on contact.

Sales of vitamins, minerals and immunity supporting supplements are up “300 to 400%” according to interviews done by the New Hope Network.  Supplement makers such as NOW and Maypro Ventures say that the demand has been “unprecedented” and doesn’t appear to be tapering off.

So What? Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under both Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, is famous for popularizing the phrase “unknown unknowns” during a 2002 press briefing. Rumsfeld was referring to a 2X2 matrix used in some military circles.
While slightly perplexing on a first read-through, over the years I’ve found this matrix extremely helpful in explaining everything from innovation tactics to go-to-market strategies. However, it’s equally useful in helping us understand what’s happening right now with consumers and COVID-19:
Up until a few months ago, in terms of disease and illness, the modern consumer only knew three of these quadrants. They knew, and were comfortable with (even if they did not like), ‘known knowns,’ things like the common cold or the flu. They also recognized the existence of ‘known unknowns,’ diseases that happened to other people far away in place and time—things like Ebola or bubonic plague—that they don’t quite understand but knew were out there. They even had a sense of the harder to understand ‘unknown knowns,’ grasping the importance of cleaning their hands even if the exact mechanism of ‘why’ had to roused via PSAs from a long-forgotten childhood hygiene lesson.  
However, it’s the fourth quadrant, the ‘unknown unknowns’ that scared Rumsfeld and is what is beginning to cause fear in consumers. If a virus no layperson had ever heard of can spring rapidly into existence in a matter of months and wreak havoc across the globe, what else is out there? Beyond sci-fi zombie movies, the idea seemed like fiction or at best historical, until it wasn’t.  
Now that that quadrant has been illuminated for consumers, I believe that it will become an all-consuming focus. Not only in terms of novel viruses, but safety, security and immunity in general. In fact, I see this fear of black swan events upending and altering the very fabric of industries—food, retail, tourism, entertainment, etc.—for years to come.
That means that food safety, long a category ante, might become a differentiating benefit in the industry (will we see a brand that is the Volvo of food?). It also means consumers will be on the offensive, guarding themselves from a danger that they fear exists but do not yet have a name for. It  will mean a major upswing in, the formally niche category of, immunity products; perhaps being the ‘in’ that gut health was waiting for, a general prophylactic for overall body wellness. I also see a general increase in interest in cleanliness and sanitation. Perhaps this is what moves robots and AI deeper into the public (and private) sphere—technological protective agents constantly watching our backs, waiting for the ‘unknown unknown’ shoe to drop.  
What Do We Talk About Right Now? 
Bobo’s, the Colorado maker of bars, bites and toaster pastries, is launching a new snack bar called the “Healthcare Hero” bar. The bars will only be available through the Bobo’s website in packs of 6 ($19.99). With every sale, Bobo’s will donate twenty Bobo’s Bites to hospitals and medical teams in cities that have been heavily hit by the novel coronavirus.

Milwaukee-based Angelic Bakehouse, a T.Marzetti company, has launched their “Loaf You” initiative. With every purchase of a loaf of bread, Angelic Bakehouse donates bread to Feeding America organizations across Wisconsin.    

Lowes Home Improvement Stores has started a new campaign encouraging consumers to build and display signs in their yards thanking those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. On their website, Lowes has tips and recommendations for how to #BuildThanks and repurpose materials in your home to create the signs.  

So What? Navigating marketing and advertising campaigns in the time of COVID-19 is difficult. When the seriousness of the pandemic first became clear, the first thing that had to happen was that brands had to pull ads that seemed tone-deaf and strangely anti-message—in fact a recent survey found that nearly half of companies said they paused a current campaign and 1/3 canceled one in prelaunch (e.g. KFC quickly shuttered a new campaign called “Finger Lickin’ Good” that had TV spots of people happily licking their hands!). What has followed has been mostly silence, with many brands deciding to say nothing for fear of looking like they are exploiting the issue (one good example of a brand being self-aware is Coca-Cola— in a smart move they temporarily turned their social media accounts over to outside charitable organizations like American Red Cross, Feeding America, Boys & Girls Club, and Salvation Army). However, as the pandemic has continued and brands have realized this isn’t going away anytime soon, we’ve seen strategies form.
As the above campaigns from Bobo’s, Angelic Bakehouse, and Lowe’s attest (or Chipotle’s 100,000 burrito giveaway to medical staff or Costco’s new policy to let first responders cut into line), the safest way forward is to be on the side of first responders, medical staff and feeding those less fortunate. Brands need to think long-term and create initiatives that build on the strengths of their core positionings. If the initiative fits snugly with what the brand already stands for, post-pandemic consumers will remember and reward it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that brands can’t come out and market themselves right now. It just needs to be done tactfully. In fact, the next wave of advertisements and marketing campaigns will likely be those that build on the sentiments that are in the air right now that also resonate with the brand—a sense of community, family, closeness, nostalgia and compassion.
Share Share
Tweet Tweet
Forward Forward
Lessons in Innovation and Ingenuity
Buried beneath the depressing headlines and shocking statistics, in the last few weeks we’ve been witness to amazing stories of innovation. As people scramble to deal with challenges, often understaffed, under-provisioned and faster than normally possible, ingenious solutions have been cobbled together. I thought that it would be interesting to look at a few of these and unpack the lessons in each:

Seeing Problems from New POVs
Last week, researchers in San Francisco announced that they were looking for signs of COVID-19 in an unusual place: the cities sewer systems. Getting back to normal (i.e. out of lockdown) will only happen when we either have a) a vaccine; b) widespread tests; or c) herd immunity to the virus. Seeing that (a) is a 1 year+ away and (b) is slow in coming, researchers are looking to the sewers to answers about (c). Evidence has shown that people shed the virus in their feces, even when they are asymptomatic, and that eventual makes its way to wastewater treatment plants. Tests in the Netherlands have shown that it might be possible to determine what percentage of a population have (or have had) the virus just by testing at sewage plants. 

Data scientists from Microsoft, Harvard Medical School, Public Health England and University College London discussed last week that they have been using Google search data and machine learning to learn more about the spread of COVID-19. By studying the popularity of searches for key symptoms (e.g. “dry cough,” “fever,” and “headache”) as well as less well known symptoms (“can’t taste anything,” or “pink eye”) the researchers are learning where and when the virus first popped up around the globe.   

So What? In 2009, two brothers in Colorado decided that their seemly disparate professions had a profitable symmetry. One brother was a former financial analysist and the other had worked for a satellite imagery company. In 2009, the two brothers started a small company called RS Metrics. Their sole deliverable: predicting the profitability of companies for Wall Street investors armed with nothing more than satellite images.
There is an old story that Walmart founder Sam Walton used to monitor the profitability of his stores by counting cars in the parking lot.  RS Metrics took that idea and ran with it. Using up-to-the minute satellite photos of grocery store and restaurant parking lots around the world, RS Metrics found they could predict yet-to-be-announced sales numbers by counting cars. Today, the company peeks at everything from railway cars pulling iron ore into factories to trees sitting outside of lumber mills to give investors a heads up.
Finding a novel data source, or just a new way to look at data, often leads to an advantage. It always struck me as strange that so much of the CPG industry subscribes to the same research (Mintel, EuroMonitor, Nielsen, IRI, etc). While these sources are powerful in their own right, they’re ubiquity means that we’re all looking at the problem through the same keyhole. When I’m consulting with client teams, I try to change up the data sources they see, or at least have them look at it in new ways. Nothing as dramatic as satellite imagery, but I’m found that showing a beverage company data on when (and how) Millennial consumers interact with their phones gives them a different POV on possible whitespace apertures in a consumers’ day; apertures that might correspond to an untapped moment when consumers might want a drink.
Get out of the rut of where you get your data and how you look at it. A new discovery might just be a matter of changing up your vantage point.   
The Value of Partnerships
Australian airline Qantas announced a few weeks ago that they were in talks with Woolworths, an Australian grocery chain, to get their 20,000 furloughed employees temporary positions at the supermarket. Pre-COVID-19, Qantas and Woolworths had an existing relationship where Woolworth shoppers could redeem their loyalty points for miles with the airline.  
Texas grocer H-E-B has started a pilot program selling meals from five local Texas restaurants. H-E-B stated that these relationships with restaurants and chefs predated the crisis and while it helps the restaurants stay afloat, it also makes their company competitive in a time when customers are craving the BBQ or the Korean beef that they are usually got from their favorite haunts.

So What? A few years ago, a friend of mine asked if I would mentor their daughter who was getting her MBA. In one of our first conversations I asked what companies she admired. She named a few big ones (e.g. Apple, Tesla, etc.) but a few on her list were startups that had broken out locally to make it nationally. At the end of conversation, I encouraged her to reach out to the founder of one of the startups she mentioned. She was pessimistic that they would respond, but I told her to give it a try.
 The next time we met she was very excited to share with me that not only had she been able to talk with the founder but she had managed to have lunch with her. “How did you know that the founder would speak to me?” she asked. “Because successful entrepreneurs know that much of their success has to do with building relationships, so they rarely say no to any conversation…they never know where it might lead.” 
Too often in business we forge relationships with people in our team or in our building, but we don’t work too hard at doing the same in tangential or even non-compete businesses. If you see people doing it at all, it’s for the purpose of ‘networking’ for their next job leap. However, in my experience, its these tangential relationships that pay off in unexpected ways. From random conversations about your respective fields that ends up sparking new thinking to synergies in times of crisis (like the examples above), forming wide (instead of narrow) professional relationships can be key to being good at innovation.
Seeing that we are all locked down right now, and aren’t rushing from meeting to meeting, this would be a good time to reach out to one of those LinkedIn connections from another industry that you’ve never actually spoken to and set up a Zoom call.  Forge the connection now, you never know where it could go in the future.
The Lighter Side
While shopping with correct PPE is now encouraged (if not required) in many locations, that hasn’t stopped some supermarket customers from using their creativity when masks are hard to find: 
Here is a woman that wore her kid's Buzz Light Year helmet (even though her husband didn't think she'd go through with it): 
A man in Australia wore a diving helmet to go shop for potatoes.
Not to be outdone, a Costco shopper in Britain was spotted wearing this more modern snorkel.
Beyond the aquatic,  there has also been a rash of sightings of dinosaurs in produce and cereal aisles. In fact, Business Insider has a whole article about the popularity of T-Rex costumes at grocery stores (that is a sentence I never thought I’d write).  
Be safe and stay creative everyone!
From Innovation to Ideation
Malachite can serve as guide, coach and inspiration in your company's journey toward a profitable pipeline. From consumer interaction, to whitepapers, ideations and prototyping, Malachite can help. Visit  for more info or email
Subscribe to Culture Matters
Search the Archives of Culture Matters
Copyright © 2020, Malachite Strategy and Research. All rights reserved.

Our email address is:

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.