Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The paradox of immediate innovation

We noticed in our conversations with many attendees at FEI in Boston and since in our meetings with US brands that one of the strongest sentiments is an emphasis on the need for immediate results, despite the recognised need for innovation. These two seem to be mutually incompatible.

Surely innovation can only come from a proper and extensive investment in generating insights, with a properly constructed programme of ideation with product or service prototyping to establish which ideas will actually work?

We heard how Eli Lilly work on multibillion dollar new drug investment programmes over at least seven years and that Campbells’ spent years researching how the brand could transform itself to appeal to a new younger audience.

How does this sit with the intense pressures of greater short-termism borne of five years of continuing economic uncertainty?

This is something that most western markets have been facing, however many predicted upturns and positive indicators are unearthed by the soothsayers of economic forecasting – we have lost our faith and are now even more wedded to the treadmill of quarterly results, if not weekly trading figures, as so many retailers are. We need to maximise the value of our investment in innovation just as consumers need to maximise the return on the dollars in their purses.

So, how can firms innovate whilst keeping their eye on the short term? Surely that is a recipe for disaster?

As in so many things right now, it is the digital space that is proving to be the answer, particularly the smart mobile devices that are spreading like wildfire through the populations of the East and West and almost everywhere in between. And anyone can get into the App game – big players, small players, established brands or new.

Arguably it has been easiest for the young businesses and fleet-of-foot to capitalise immediately on the new technology, but now big brands are beginning to realise that this is a playground for them too and a plethora of new services, extensions and engagement devices are multiplying.

Some recent examples include: Fujitsu launching a smartphone app designed to help women monitor the condition of their skin - called “Hada Memori”. To use the app, individuals simply hold a card featuring a 15 millimetre hole to their face and then take a photo. Subsequently, the app records and analyses data about the user’s skin - allowing them to track areas such as skin tone, blemishes and pore size.

In the US, Triad Energy introduced its Triad Wall - a wall display which shows the real-time energy usage not only of the owner’s household but also that of others in the local vicinity to promote social norms constraining excessive use. Branches of department store Nordstrom have been equipped with iPod

Touches in an effort to reduce check-out waiting times. Marriott International is using social networking website Twitter as an online concierge-style service - responding in real-time to complaints or queries posted by guests.  By offering responses in real-time, it hopes to offer instant assistance to those who have been frustrated by their experience of the company as well as demonstrate the premium it places on customer service.

And this expanding territory doesn’t have to be insight free, inhabited purely by the geeks and hipsters who were leading the wave. We are finding that the ‘fast’ trends which Future Foundation works to identify at the rate of two per month, combined with the latest global examples of where these have been recognised and put to work as a the basis for a new commercial offer, can be a powerful basis for sparking ideas and generating immediately testable prototypes in workshops with clients.

Also we noticed that many software vendors are selling community management systems designed to create and manage innovation panels and agencies have theirs lined up for instant use  – the smartly-named Collaboratory by Sterlying Brands, for example, providing qualified and usable feedback on ideas from anywhere in the world.

Fast innovation is going global and requires a more immediate and rapid response set of tools. We don’t think it is going to replace the longer established approaches and programmes that exist or the need for deep insights on which to build category-busting ideas and market creating products, but it is a necessary approach in choppy waters.

About the Author

Melanie Howard | Chair, Future Foundation



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