Four Successful Products That Are Old In Concept And New In Execution

“Out with the old and in with the new” – well, sort of. Recycling is not just reserved for plastics and glass. We also see it in business, in strategy, and in many cases, Hollywood. Businesses will spinoff, re-invent, copy, or even slightly change what’s existed before in some shape or form.

Despite the introduction of new technologies, emerging markets, and a demanding consumer base, new innovative business ideas are often reiterations of a previous idea that may or may not have worked. In some cases their success in the market is a question of timing. In others, it’s a question of policy. With all successful business ideas, the objective is simply a question of profit.

Today, developing a new business idea that drives huge profits might be more about taking an existing concept and simply making it better. Perhaps that’s been the strategy all along. However, we know for certain today, with the benefit of technology and access to global markets, that taking an existing business idea and making alterations (if necessary) can lead to promising results. The rapid change in politics, industry, and society seems to be driving business leaders to bypass excessive time spent on R&D and instead launch iterations of proven past successes, or even re-inventions of failures.

If we think of recent successes, such as the iPhone, or the over-sized iPhone also known as iPad, we have evidence that they were simply versions 1.2 of the original (i.e: iPod, Palm, or Blackberry). At the current rate of change in the world and in the business world, business leaders are likely left with less time to invest in something new, forcing them to adapt versus create. The end result can be a rejuvenation of a product or service positioned in a different light, and with different features – otherwise known as version 1.2.

Here are four old businesses that are becoming new again – with a twist.

4 Legal Cannabis

No policy will break such tremendous ground as the legalization of marijuana. The legalization of a once banned substance like marijuana is expected to have social, commercial, and financial impact on various sectors in America. Today, marijuana is legal in 17 states. That number is expected to double in the next 5 years. Tobacco giant Phillip Morris has already reportedly jumped at the opportunity to distribute a marijuana brand throughout Colorado and Washington in the coming year. The brand, potentially named “M,” might even make an appearance at the 2015 Super Bowl.

The history of marijuana dates at least as far back as 3000 BCE. Although it had not been commercialized until the 17th century, cannabis had still been widely used by shamans and cult leaders. In addition to ritual use, marijuana would eventually be widely used as a pharmaceutical drug. In 1619, King James I demanded that colonists grow plants specifically for export.

Prior to its criminalization in the early 20th century, cannabis had been widely distributed in various forms for multiple drugs. By 1919, growing, selling, and possessing marijuana was deemed illegal in the US. It would remain prohibited by law for nearly 100 years before being legalized. Its re-introduction back into the market will give business leaders a chance at version 1.2. It’s an opportunity to rebrand and turn taboo into mainstream.

3 American Whiskeys

For many years, companies such as Bacardi Rum and Absolut Vodka dominated the mainstream market in alcohol sales and marketing. Creative advertisements and distinct design and flavoring let Bacardi and Absolut distinguish themselves from others and also make rum and vodka popular, “cool,” drinks. Their reign would last throughout the 90s.

By the 21 century, other vodka companies, such as Grey Goose and Kettle One, would establish themselves as mainstays in the market. All the while, whiskey, specifically American whiskey, would take a back seat - until recently.

Today, American whiskey companies are experiencing annual growth of 14-15% - including in American markets. US spirit marketers attribute timing, clever marketing campaigns, and uniquely flavored brands as key contributors to their recent success.  The re-launch of American whiskey and uniquely flavored whiskeys from main American producers such as Jack Daniels have helped boost sales both domestically and internationally.

2 Highly-Entertaining Documentaries

Documentary films were first introduced at the start of the 20th century. They were generally short in length – some as short as a minute. Originally, documentaries were video footage of actual events, such as science experiments or even factory workers. Eventually, the notion of capturing live film with artistic flavor would gain popularity – specifically in travel. Filmmakers would travel to capture exotic views. These scenics would eventually become very popular. Inevitably, filmmakers began documenting natives in the countries they visited, capturing on film their way of life and culture.

Popularity for documentary films would then begin to spread across the globe. Many independent filmmakers and film boards would work exclusively with documentaries due to their lower cost. Despite their popularity in both distribution and production, documentary films would not tap into mainstream until the beginning of the 21 century.

In 2002, controversial director Michael Moore would make headlines with his candid documentary titled “Bowling for Columbine” – an examination of America’s widespread gun ownership. Two years later, Moore would make headlines again with his release of Farenheit 911 – a closer look into the Bush's administration ploy to attack Iraq following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Documentary films like Moore’s would begin to pop-up more frequently, both online and on the big screen. 85 of the top 100 documentaries on RottenTomatoes.com’s were made after the year 2000. New distribution channels such as Netflix and other on-demand services would help the revitalization of documentary films. Today, advanced camera equipment and creative influences have made documentary films a mainstream art.

1 Online Education

Today, the competition in education is tighter than it has ever been. However, the competition is not just reserved for the graduate students. Today, institutions are in a competitive race to win over student registrations. More and more universities are offering online courses to meet market demand. Traditionally, education was delivered in a classroom with a single instructor and about two dozen students.

By the start of the new millennium, leading universities were already introducing online modules for electives or non-core courses. The feedback was initially very positive, but universities were still hesitant on delivering and testing without supervision. On the other end, private institutions that operated with limited regulation were able to offer students more online courses.

Within a decade, pressure from the private sector forced universities to offer core programs online. The way students learned was changing. Winning registrations required more than just prestige, it now needed innovation and a complete re-design on how lessons were delivered. Different models and deliveries are still to come in online education and sites like KhanAcademy.org are rejuvenating an already changing landscape.

More in Economy