Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

Reflections on CES 2016: Finding Signals in the Noise

January 21, 2016

Intel_CES_2016

Whether it’s your first time going or whether it’s just another year at CES, the event never ceases to feel overwhelming. Over half a dozen hotels are involved, the actual ‘trade show’ is filled with so many booths that it is split into multiple venues covering over 2.5 million square feet, and for a full week there is basically non-stop keynote and conference content.

There is a lot of noise at CES, and pulling out different signals within it can sometimes be difficult. Press coverage is rampant – and inevitably a bit snarky at times – and you can get top takeaways from dozens of different outlets. For example:

  • AdAge highlighted things that got buzz
  • Phys.org focused on listing new tech
  • The New York Times explored how experiential even a deal making room can be, and
  • Znet highlighted the weirdest and worst gadgets

It was just my second year at CES and so I’m not expert on a historical perspective of the event, but a few themes clearly emerged from my experience.

Rebranding the event itself

For a time, the latest TV advances seemed to dominate the buzz, both good and bad, at the Consumer Electronic Show. Over the past several years, though, as the world became more interconnected and technical components became cheaper and cheaper, the tone and breadth of the event changed significantly.

Recognizing these changes, in 2015 the producing organizing rebranded itself as the Consumer Technology Association (from Consumer Electronics Association) and dropped the full name of the trade show to just CES. As CTA President Gary Shapiro noted, “Our name change is an evolution. Just as the tech sector itself has evolved and now crosses multiple industry sectors, we’ve broadened our membership to include new technologies and intersecting industries – software, app development, crowdsourcing technology, robotics, content creation, and the personalized health care and services sectors.”

In this case, the name changes follow an already established shift in the mission of the organization and the set-up of its flagship event, so it didn’t draw much attention or create any real impact. Still, it does formalize the fact that CES is now highlighting how technology will drive broad social and business changes, rather than just showing off the latest update to a gadget in your home.

Autonomous vehicles

The auto industry has become a large part of CES over the past few years. Gary Shapiro even joined in at the Volkswagen Keynote that I attended on January 5. Most of the focus was on electric vehicles, physical displays and interconnectivity. CEO Herbert Diess opined, “The car will be the most important device on the Internet.”

What didn’t get nearly as much attention via the microphones was the future of the automated/self-driving car. This was unfortunate, as one moment on the showroom floor showed me that this is what people are most fascinated by when thinking about the future of transportation.

The benefit of attending CES in person is that you can see people’s reaction to the tech in front of them. When walking the automotive area, the Nvidia booth immediately stuck out as an anomaly. Isn’t Nvidia a graphics card company? And why is this booth swarming with people? What’s going on?

Nvidia_CES_2016It turns out that Nvidia has become a strong player in the automotive area by developing Nvidia Drive to create automated systems to “enable cars to see, think, and learn.” Employees at the booth were surrounded by folks interested in understanding the technical set-up for gathering information on the road as well as the neural networks and machine learning that are being develop to create automated driving experiences.

While looking at futuristic car designs draws one’s eye, people’s minds are sharply attuned to how their car may help them drive in the future.

Partnerships rule

Just introducing the new cool gadget isn’t going to cut it anymore. Every keynote and press conference wasn’t complete without other companies, entertainers, or politicians gracing the stage to talk about projects and partnerships that would shape the future of society.

Panasonic_Denver_Smart_City_CES_2016At the Panasonic press conference, I got to see the mayor of Denver, Michael Hancock, take the stage with Panasonic N.A. Chairman and CEO Joe Taylor to talk about their smart city initiative. Ford announced its efforts with Amazon to integrate the Echo system into future smart vehicles. Google appeared on stage at the LG press conference to highlight their partnership to develop more secure smart things. And Samsung had Microsoft’s Bryan Roper demonstrate natural language queries on Windows 10 that will drive their smart devices.

Finally, there was no bigger experience than Intel’s keynote. From knowns like A.R. Rahman, Oakley, X Games, and Lady Gaga, to smaller start-ups like Daqri, there was a constant steam of people demonstrating what can be made possible by Intel’s latest line of chips.

While competition still abounds in the tech sector, the future growth of smart things, augmented/virtual reality, drones, and robots, will be contingent on various kinds of shared systems. The potential of interconnectivity for both commercial growth and societal benefits will only come about if the devices and systems that hold promise in this area can find ways to work together via partnerships, APIs, and universal standards.

Some closing observances

Samsung Gear has been available, but with Oculus Rift taking pre-orders at CES, virtual reality fully put its stake in the marketplace this year. I’ve tried the headset a few times and within minutes gotten “VR sickness.” I await future reports on the return rate of these devices.

There are car manufacturers a plenty now at CES, but sadly they have no idea how to staff the show floor. Turn left or right at any other booth and you can find a staff person to talk to – sometimes even at a leadership level – but from Volvo to Ford to Toyota, it was nearly impossible to find anyone to talk to about their latest efforts.

The smallest things can create the biggest emotional reaction. Panasonic showed off its transparent TV screen in a natural looking living room setting and people crowded around to watch it with expressions of joy and wonder plastered across their face.

And finally, no Las Vegas experience would be complete without an Elvis moment….

Elvis_CES_2016

BY MATTHEW QUINT

The Intuitive Future of Wearable Tech

August 3, 2015

Imagine not just watching a football game, but also feeling the impact athletes feel as they tackle each other. Sound far off? It’s not. The Alert Shirt, a combined effort of FOXTEL and We:eX, is “a fan jersey that uses wearable technology to take the experience into the physical world, allowing fans to feel what the players feel live as it happens during the game.”

Gartner forecasts that wearable devices will deliver $15.8 billion in worldwide revenue by 2020. Such devices have quickly become ingrained in our day-to-day lexicon, and wearable technologies are now transcending smart watches and fitness devices. While many manufacturers are focused on analyzing and delivering personal data as the value exchange for consumers, other companies are taking it a step further with a more experiential and intimate approach.

We:eX (Wearable Experiments), founded by fashion innovator and creator of the Alert Shirt, Billie Whitehouse, seeks to uphold the human experience and how it can work in concert with technology. “Too often have I seen another big, chunky watch. I call that the arm party.” She opted to produce products with a more personal, less obtrusive approach. Her first was Fundawear for Durex Australia, intimate apparel “that transfers touch for long distance couples….” The campaign won a Silver Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

When looking at the intersection of fashion and technology, Whitehouse saw a gap in the wearables landscape. “Statistics show we’re starting to forget to use touch as a form of communication in our daily lives because we’re so dependent on technology.” Whitehouse and her team design items to tap into the feeling of touch to create an emotional bridge between the digital and the physical space.

At Columbia Business School’s BRITE ’15 conference, Whitehouse elaborated on her wearables mission—to merge fashion and technology with a functional design aesthetic to elevate quality of life. Her products are compelling and entertaining with a practical twist, not only easing pain-points, but making life… well, fun.

A self-described “body architect,” Whitehouse explained that she dives into “the nooks and crannies, the softness and the movement of the body and how we integrate technology into that space.”

The 20-something entrepreneur has fashion and innovation in her DNA. Her mother founded the Whitehouse Institute of Design in New South Wales, Australia, which hosts Project Runway Australia. Together, they designed a curriculum notable for incorporating new innovations. In taking a deep look at the future of fashion early on, Whitehouse explained, “I was having the right conversations at the right time… and [looked at] how we use fabrics and fibers and technologies to invigorate fashion, to give it intelligence, to make sure everything you put on your back has a purpose.”

One of her newer creations is “Navigate,” a location-enabled jacket that does exactly as the name implies—helps people to navigate through the streets of cities like New York, Sydney and most recently Paris. As Whitehouse explains, “Wearable technology must be intuitive and seamless within our daily lives, enhancing our life experience while connecting us to other people and the world at large. Our new product is a major first step in the right direction.”

Watch Billie Whitehouse, keynote speaker at BRITE ’15.

BY ALLIE ABODEELY

Enhancing Consumer Performance in Idea Generation

April 28, 2014

Toubia_IdeaGenerationIt can be argued that there is a science to ideation and innovation; it’s not “strictly” about creative inspiration and throwing caution to the wind. More and more, companies in a variety of industries are looking to consumers for fresh ideas (i.e. My Starbucks Idea).

Columbia Business School’s Olivier Toubia and Marshall School of Business’ Lan Luo found that for effective consumer ideation, the research process cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Their study, Fostering Consumer Performance in Idea Generation, offers research to help marketers and research and development teams to extract “better quality ideas from consumers and to identify their needs to inform new product and service development.”

Toubia and Luo write, “As firms… increasingly seek out consumers’ ideas in various domains, they will encounter individuals with different levels of domain-specific knowledge.” They segmented such individuals as low-knowledge and high-knowledge with regards to a particular area of interest. But with consumer segments at different ends of the knowledge spectrum come challenges in extracting insights. “The performance of low-knowledge consumers is likely to be hindered by their lack of relevant knowledge in the problem domain…,” note Toubia and Luo. “[High-knowledge] consumers often do not perform in accordance with their full potential (due to factors such as shallow processing and inattention).”

Despite the discrepancy in depth of knowledge, each segment provides valuable insights on said domain. The study examines the interplay and outlines a process for creating customized ways to mitigate such obstacles, so companies may experience enhanced consumer performance in idea generation. Further, their research explores ways to apply this customized task system to open innovation platforms conducted online, a practice many brands currently use.

Download Fostering Consumer Performance in Idea Generation to learn more about taking a strategic approach to consumer ideation.

BY ALLIE ABODEELY

Combining the Seemingly Incompatible: The MAC Case Competition

April 4, 2014

Combining the seemingly incompatible is an inspirational way to ideate.

On March 28, 2014 the Center on Global Brand Leadership, in collaboration with the Marketing Association of Columbia (MAC), hosted the 2nd annual MAC Case Competition. Twenty-eight MBA students from Columbia Business School were tasked with developing a hypothetical game-changing business strategy by conceptualizing a unique way to incorporate one of today’s hottest digital trends with a major brand, one that is seemingly incompatible with the trend itself.

Jawbone

More and more articles of clothing and accessories, items we wear on a daily basis, are produced with the ability to gather personal data, and connect us and the collected data to the digital world. With this “wearables” trend, brands are now challenged to create more robust brand experiences.

Students had three hours to develop a positioning for Unilever or one of its brands by integrating the wearables trend and new consumer expectations for information access and interconnectivity.

To judge the competition, the Center on Global Brand Leadership invited Marissa Freeman, VP of Global Advertising at HP and founder of Bee Raw, and Fabian Pfortmüller, Co-founder of Holstee and Founder of Sandbox. Both are experts at understanding trends and using them to create innovative strategies for their businesses. The winning team, Hasbleidy Castaneda ‘15, Nate Champion ‘15, Melissa Gavin ‘15, and Emmy Vallandingham ‘15, developed The Water Band, an extension of Unilever’s Save Water, Save the World initiative.

The Water Band would be a wristband with the goal of reducing shower time. The team explained that it’s great for environmentally-conscious individuals. “Shortening a shower by 2 minutes can result in 4600 gallons of water saved per year,” shared the students. When wearing Water Band, the consumer would be alerted when their shower is running long.

They developed this idea to align with Unilever’s sustainability platform to provide value to its consumers, and to promote a sense of community and mutual responsibility amongst its stakeholders

Two teams tied for second place with The Bobby-Bit, a bobby pin that captures environmental data for a customizable action plan–using Unilever brands– for taking care of skin and hair based on environmental triggers; and Dove For Me, a system that uses wearables to capture environmental and physical data from individuals (e.g. activity, climate, location, vitamin deficiencies, hydration, etc.) to enhance and personalize Dove skin and hair care products at home.

MAC-Winners-2014

The Case Competition experience was rewarding for the judges and the students alike, Marissa Freeman commented “I was astounded by the level of strategic insight, the thoroughness of the foundational data and the professional manner in which the cases were presented.  It would have been impressive if they had 4 days to do it, let alone 4 hours.  In my mind, they were all winners.”

While Sheera Hopkins ’14, from MAC, explained that participating in “The Case Competition was a great experience where I had the opportunity to put into practice many of the ideas and frameworks I had learned my first year at CBS. Even though it was only a one-day exercise, it helped prepare me for my summer internship.”

The Center on Global Brand Leadership looks forward to hosting the 3rd annual Case Competition in the spring of 2015 at Columbia Business School.

BY GABRIELA TORRES PATIÑO

Warby Parker: Oversharing as a Business Strategy

April 2, 2014

Neil Blumenthal and his business partners – David Gilboa, Andrew Hunt, and Jeffrey Raider – believed the eyewear industry wasn’t responding to customer needs and found an innovative solution to meet those needs. Blumenthal, who recently spoke at the BRITE ’14 conference, explained, “[We] didn’t like the process of buying glasses. . . [or] that glasses cost as much as an iPhone.” As a result, they founded Warby Parker, a company with “a lofty objective: to create boutique-quality, classically crafted eyewear at a revolutionary price point.”

Warby Parker effectively disrupted the eyewear industry in two ways: First, by using a direct, e-commerce model -cutting out the middle man- and by building a new brand –thus not having to pay licensing fees-, they significantly lowered the price of stylish eyewear; their frames, with premium lenses included, start at $95, that’s 25% of the market price. And second, by creating their “home try-on program,” sending customers, free of charge, a test package of frames they select to try on at home before they commit to buy. As a spin-off benefit, the home try-on experience is a shared customer experience, inherently accessible to family, friends, and even co-workers. The program, then, turned in to a marketing tool itself.

Blumenthal described Warby Parker as a lifestyle brand that offers value and service with a social mission at its core. With every pair of glasses purchased, Warby Parker gives a pair of glasses to someone in need. “Even at $95, there are still about a billion people in the planet that don’t have access to glasses and we think that that’s just crazy,” he said. At the end of each month, the Warby Parker team tally up the number of glasses sold and makes a financial contribution to Vision Spring; an organization that uses glasses to create jobs, making a more sustainable impact. In terms of their own business, Blumenthal believes that having a social mission helps increase customer loyalty and referrals, but does not drive the decision of making the first purchase.

According to Blumenthal, what has helped build strong relationships with customers and ultimately increase sales is a culture of transparency. “The more vulnerable we are, the more that we put ourselves out there, the deeper those relationships and the more valuable they become from an economic standpoint,” he added. In just four years, Warby Parker has sold over 500,000 frames and has grown from an apartment-based startup in Philadelphia, to a 350-employee business with a flagship store in SoHo.

“The public and your customers [are] participating more and near dictating what your brand is…you need to give people the tools to have it the way you want them to have it,” Blumenthal explained. Warby Parker focuses on creating experiences that are meant to spark conversations both online and offline. “It’s all about customer experience and constant innovation.”

When asked about a seemingly counter-intuitive expansion into the realm of brick-and-mortar stores – Warby Parker now has stores in New York, LA, and Boston, and has showrooms within boutiques in five additional states- Blumenthal explained, “[The] medium doesn’t matter. It’s the experience that matters and we need to design those experiences [holistically] from the moment they hear about the brand.”

Sharing is a fundamental element of the Warby Parker strategy – internally with staff and externally with consumers. As the majority of Warby Parker employees are millennials who want instant feedback on their performance, the leadership team has instituted monthly informal reviews and quarterly 360° reviews.

Moreover, as Ross Crooks explains in Forbes, “Business is becoming increasingly personal…; we crave more personal connection in a web-based world.” Customers want to relate to the people behind the brands they support, they want to know “that employees are people they might hang out with.” The Warby Parker team constantly keeps their fans abreast of “what [Warby Parker is] doing, how and why”, which, Blumenthal says “pays in spades.” According to a recent Mintel study, millennials are more likely to overshare than their Baby Boomer parents.

Warby Parker’s annual report is a perfect example of how the company creatively engages stakeholders. The uniWarby Parker 2013 Annual Reportque feeling of its annual report has proved to be a successful marketing tool, leading to the highest sales days and traffic after releasing it each year and gaining free publicity for the brand; with fans sharing the report in social media, and getting mentions in press outlets such as Forbes, AdAge, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and Business Insider. This year’s infographic annual report is laid out as an illustrated calendar with an update for each day of the year, is described by Business Insider as “a shareable page of organized chaos inspired by internet culture.” One tidbit of transparency it shares in this year’s report is the fact that half the inventory of their new collection was delivered to the wrong address.

In today’s world, Blumenthal said, “brands are able to rise faster than ever before, but they’re also able to collapse faster than ever before.” Warby Parker has found that the best way to maintain momentum is by strengthening its connections with its customers through the sharing of relevant, personal, and entertaining content and the creation of experiences, regardless of the platform.

Watch Neil Blumenthal’s BRITE ’14 talk to learn more about how Warby Parker incorporates innovation into customer experience.

BY GABRIELA TORRES PATIÑO, EDITED BY ALLIE ABODEELY

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