“…and what I found out was the makeup industry, uh, makes a whole lot of money on a whole lot of bullshit.”
Woah. I’m not sure I would go that far.
Harvard Business School graduate Grace Choi sounded her war cry during a presentation where she launched her startup, Mink, a retail-ready concept for printable makeup. The presentation on TechCrunch went viral online initiating discussion over the innovative and groundbreaking concept that aims to disrupt the distribution and pricing structure of the modern cosmetic industry.
New technologies like 3D printing and its derivatives promise to be the game-changers, replacing veteran products with panacean alternatives that are highly efficient, energy-saving, waste-managing, socially responsible or economically sustainable. This is great. I love it. But I think the approach taken by Ms. Choi and others to confront an established industry with direct and unabashed competition and an overly-confident subversive attitude is capricious, immature and misguided.
I believe her brilliant invention could start a war against her, slowing its development and market penetration and denying the cosmetic industry a technological innovation for a niche demographic. Large, established brands like Sephora, a competitor, could seek legislative action citing potential health risks or foul play to condemn the distribution of the technology; or they could develop a concept that directly competes with Mink, easily running it out of business before it gets off the ground. Sephora is a Titan in the cosmetic industry with the influence and resources to maintain its position on top.
What does this have to do with hotels and restaurants?
Under similar circumstances in the hospitality industry, large hotel companies have waged war on AirBnB, the online apartment-sharing service that disrupted traditional pricing and distribution systems, claiming the company has evaded millions in taxes. Neighbors who don’t want strangers in houses near them and housing authorities that claim AirBnB limits affordable housing possibilities have also joined the fight. Especially in New York City most of the highest performing users are allegedly operating unlawfully, which demonstrates the battle and losses between a brilliant new concept weakened because premature roll-out didn’t consider the possibility to collaborate with industry leaders first.
Imagine for a moment if Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, or Hyatt developed a concept like AirBnB? This would open the gate to lucrative and intriguing brand-extension possibilities. Distribution through their hotel websites and even the opportunity to earn loyalty points for travelers would really change the game for hospitality leaders like Starwood, whose portfolio from Aloft to Westin could tap into a new standard for service and experience authenticity. Data shows that AirBnB hasn’t had the negative effects on occupancy rates that hoteliers claim; the real issue the hotels have is that AirBnB thought of the concept first.
Not conviced? Consider BMWs new short-term rental concept rolled-out in San Francisco. Car rental and car-sharing has made headlines as much as AirBnB. But before Uber and other car-sharing services Zipcar made a name for itself as the members-only short-term car rental company. Realizing an opportunity to join the car sharing business, BMW created a concept that doesn’t directly compete with Zipcar but expands and diversifies the market to introduce a different product for short-term car renters. The strategy increases the number of drivers behind BMW steering wheels as well as embraces dynamism in the automobile industry’s traditional systems.
Branding is critically important for any company whether it’s a market leader or a new, genius concept seeking to shake things up. Branding is the single-most direct and effective way to communicate who a company is and what it offers. So to attack branding as a useless gimmick used to sell a product for a premium is misinformed gibberish. Ms. Choi has a fabulous opportunity in front of her; she has a game-changing idea, a solid product, confidence in herself, and a lot of people who will be willing to invest. I have no doubt Mink could be the next best thing, just like AirBnB and BMW car-sharing. But she should learn to play nice and listen to her elders. Because when she calls war they will call bullshit.