The Competitive Ten-Year Challenge: Keep Up, Or Go Down

21 May 2020 09:51

Woman researching historical behavior of competitors

If you’ve been on social media since the beginning of the new year, you’ve likely seen iterations of the 10-year challenge. For those who missed it, it’s a recent trend for users to share photos that span a decade to demonstrate how their appearance may have changed. For those in their twenties, it’s a chance to brag about a #glowup—a play on the phrase “grow up,” where a once-awkward pre-teen now “glows” with beauty and confidence. For others, it’s an opportunity to light-heartedly poke fun at decades-expired hairstyles or fashions.

Beyond the entertainment value, there are lessons to be learned from the challenge (and we’re not talking about the conspiracy theory that it’s a secretive attempt by social networks to fine-tune facial recognition algorithms). From an organizational perspective, taking a step back to analyze how things have changed over a decade—both internally and among competitors—can be a valuable. While social networks and search engines are going to favor the here and now, using deeper research tools to take a broad look at movement over decades can help to identify how organizations respond to changing consumer habits and shifts in markets.

To illustrate this point, we’ve used Nexis ® to do our own version of the “10-year challenge” on outside organizations and ourselves. What we found may surprise you.

From Relative Newcomer, to All-Out Notoriety

The ten-year challenge originated on Facebook, so it’s fitting that no company has done more in the past decade to alter the corporate landscape. From marketing to messaging, customer service to employee engagement, Facebook has been a catalyst of changes to the very nature of how consumers and corporations interact with one another. And while Facebook has enacted massive change on others, they’ve seen quite a bit of it themselves. Now about 15 years old, the social media brand’s formative years look a lot different than the tech giant we see today.

competitive intelligence

competitive intelligence

In the past decade, Facebook (2009, up, and today, below) has changed visually, marking the shift from a widescreen desktop-first platform, to the vertical, mobile-optimized display of today

In 2009, Myspace was still considered a Facebook competitor by some tech industry publications. Companies were just beginning to beta launch integrations with the Facebook platform, and the sharing of data between advertisers and Facebook was in its infancy. Illustrating just how much times have changed, a 2009 SEC filing for Blockbuster, Inc. (talk about a flashback) discloses ongoing litigation brought against the “Be Kind, Please Rewind” company for allegedly sharing video rental data with the social network.

Financially, Facebook has gone from Series D venture capital funding round in May 2009, to being a key player in publicly traded stock in 2019. At the end of 2018, Facebook reported $41.11 billion in total cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities in exhibit 99 SEC filings. Pretty impressive given that a decade ago analysts were deeply divided on the then-private company’s valuation—with reports anywhere between $3.7 billion to $15 million.

The lesson: the new kid on the block today can easily be the big man on campus tomorrow.

Legacy Doesn’t Provide Immunity from Radical Change

Royal Dutch Shell, or just “Shell” as the gas giant is more widely known, is the largest company in Europe, according to the Fortune Global 500. And it takes just one look at a side-by-side comparison of its website to see how drastically things have shifted for them in the past decade.

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social media

Today (below), Shell has a long legacy of being seen as an oil and gas magnate, although it’s making clear strides toward being seen as a next-gen energy provider of the future. A decade ago (above), Shell’s homepage was less future-focused, and powered by a Flash interface now blacklisted by many devices and browsers.

In 2009, the idea of a widespread, affordable and commercially successful electric vehicle—a clear disruptor to oil and gas giants—was just gaining viability. In fact, the prototype for Tesla’s first sedan was launched in March of that year. At this time, the Deep Horizon Oil Spill that would lead to tightened public scrutiny of all oil and gas companies hadn’t yet happened, and the financial uncertainty caused by Brexit was still years away.

Ten years later, the impact of these events is clearly visibly in Shell’s current positioning. The company’s website underlines a hyper-focus on an expanded portfolio of next-generation energy resources. And while in 2009 Shell was receiving criticism for its decision to withdraw support from the UK’s then-flagship offshore wind power project, today it’s making headlines for merging smart and renewable energy companies into its portfolio of subsidiaries.

If researching the history of companies in this sector tells us one thing, it’s that change is constant—and failing to adapt leads to falling behind the competition and, for some, outright bankruptcy.


While we’re looking at change, we can’t deny the impact the past decade has had on ourselves. The way Nexis® research tools operates, and how it looks, is radically different from 2009.

competitive longitudinal research

industry trends

As consumer research habits and expectations have changed, Nexis® has kept pace. Once wholly powered by Boolean logic and an interface built for research experts (2009, above), today’s Nexis® (below) begins to integrate natural-language search and intuitive filters.

For our part, we’re keeping up to help consumers keep track of information in innovative ways. A decade ago, machine learning was a term only heard in the most technical of circles. Today it’s relatively common, and an especially powerful tool behind our most innovative products.

Learn more about how to take a deep dive into your research.

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