How Impossible Burger’s ‘Tesla strategy’ also shows you how to spot the trends of tomorrow.

Crispy on the outside. Lip-smacking saltiness. A little pink inside. A hint of the usual juiciness. The Impossible Burger ticks all the boxes. Which is a pretty big deal, given that this isn’t your usual burger. That patty described above? It’s entirely plant-based.

The company has a pretty ambitious aim: to help solve (or at least massively reduce) the environmental and ethical issues related to eating meat, by creating a healthy, humane, low-impact alternative that tastes as good as the ‘real thing’.

In a recent appearance on the The Ezra Klein Show, Klein and Patrick Brown (Impossible’s founder & CEO) discussed how the company was following the ‘Tesla strategy’ to launching its product: starting small; not asking customers to compromise on quality; downplaying the company’s environmental mission; preparing to compete in the mass-market on all the usual metrics (i.e. by being just as tasty).

The Tesla strategy is an effective playbook for those launching products that shatter industry conventions. But it’s also more than that: it’s a powerful way to spot the trends that will define your customers’ future expectations.

Trends and the Expectation Gap

Startups such as Impossible Burger and Tesla often kickstart and accelerate new trends by setting customer expectations about what is possible.

Impossible Burger shows that a tasty burger doesn’t have to be environmentally destructive. Tesla shows that buying a sports car doesn’t have to leave you feeling guilty about its impact.

The next time a customer eats a ‘normal’ beef burger they can’t help but feel an underlying tension: “why does this burger have such a large environment impact? I know there’s a burger out there that doesn’t!”

This is the Expectation Gap. What happens next is other brands adapt and also take steps to resolve this tension. New products come into the market that don’t leave customers with such a sense of unfulfilled expectation.

But it’s more interesting than that. Expectation Gaps aren’t simply limited to adjacent products within a category. Perhaps you’re thinking it already:

If Impossible Burger and Tesla can create high-performance, guilt-free versions of fast food and fast cars, why can’t other products and experiences that have a negative impact be similarly guilt-free?

Switched-on innovators will be thinking the same thing. And the brands, products and experiences they create will reduce or eliminate consumer guilt around endless indulgences, from sushi to smartphones (of course, this trend wasn’t started by Impossible Burger! We featured Tesla wayyyyy back in our 2013 Trend Briefing on GUILT-FREE CONSUMPTION). And the more startups that successfully achieve this holy grail, the more obvious and painful the tension will be for customers still using legacy products that fall on the wrong side of this Expectation Gap.

Which is why our entire approach to spotting consumer trends is grounded in the counterintuitive truth described above. In summary: to anticipate what people will want next, stop looking at customers and start to look at businesses.

Look around. Look at the pioneering brands, startups or novel innovations that are setting customer expectations around what is possible, desirable or simply ‘normal’ and use these — and the insights you can draw from them — to anticipate what your customers will want next.

Look for Expectation Gaps. Resolve them!

Easy, right? ;)

Side note:

The Impossible Burger is a perfect innovation to show an Expectation Gap in action. In presentations, we’ve long used the image below to illustrate the how the Expectation Gap manifests itself to customers (from a McDonald’s Canada campaign addressing why the burgers you get served don’t look like the ones in the ads).

This post was inspired because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to Momofuku Nishi and try the Impossible Burger for myself while on a recent trip to check in with our New York team.

For the record, my Impossible Burger didn’t score too badly compared to the promo pictures. It genuinely was a little ‘bloody’.

However, this was my second burger (in the same sitting!), as the first one was a bit overcooked.

If you get a chance to try the Impossible Burger, I’d highly recommend it. If you didn’t know it wasn’t meat and weren’t thinking too hard about it, I don’t think you’d realise. But do make sure to ask for it rare (why not: you can’t get ill from it being undercooked!).


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