20 years in innovation - what’s next?

Someone once asked me what the most difficult task I’d accomplished was – having twins, running the NYC marathon, or founding a company 20 years ago. You could probably guess.

Back in 2000, major global clients didn’t even have internet at their desks – ‘you can’t mail me here, send it to my yahoo email and I’ll get it at home’. Looking back, I am convinced we were ahead of our time with some of our ideas. It took time to establish credibility and win adoption of our techniques. It was a slow build - but now I feel we are poised to lead in the innovation sector.

After 20 years, it’s easy to look backwards, not so easy to look forward. It’s a continuous journey with an even bumpier road now. However, one thing I do know is our vision hasn’t changed: to create a fun and intuitive way to engage consumers, to understand them as people first – who they are, how they live and what motivates them. That’s inherent in our techniques and methodologies, and now core to all of our work. Plus, along the way, we’ve tried to build a passionate culture of work anywhere, anytime to engage and empower employees to grow. And we’ve been lucky enough to win awards for our culture, such as Crain’s Best Places to Work in NYC, three years in a row.

So, while I can’t possibly predict the next 20 years, I do know there are some major sea-changes taking place. Let me describe my top 5 and I would love to hear whether you agree or what you think are the next challenges ahead.

1.      Technology is transforming to experience/human

It used to be ‘cool’ to have the latest technology – it was the white space in innovation, now it’s assumed and cost of entry. But how you deploy it, how you leverage the intersection of digital and insights, is transforming our sector – technology needs to surface the emotions and allow consumers to express themselves.

2.      Fast (and sometimes including cheap) has become agile

People think agile is the same as fast and low budget. But agile is not about cost. If you Google the definition of agile it means bringing your consumer into the development cycle earlier – and to rapidly iterate and optimize – being selective in choosing the best and accepting failure to improve. That’s how Google does it, and today many companies are trying to aspire to a similar process. It’s also how innovation and insights will transform businesses and help them stay close to consumers.

3.      The stage gate process is pretty much dead, replaced by Iterate & Evolve

The new mantra of clients is Test+Learn. Research has evolved to a Test+Learn process, with sometimes the learn translating to ‘kill.’ Adoption of technology to support and accelerate this approach is where global clients are focusing now. Innovation and insights processes need to have this end goal.

4.      And importantly the What of innovation and research is being replaced with an obsession with the Why

Because of behavioural economics, understanding emotional drivers at a deeper level is what marketers are now obsessed with – be it FMCG or with patients & HCPs.

5.      Anywhere, anytime is accelerating at an unexpected pace

At buzzback, this has been the hallmark of our culture since day one – reflected in one of our core values: Flexibility. Logistically, this means enabling our team to work anywhere, any time. Now it’s the norm, in qual research, and in business in general, virtual connecting today has to suffice. But going forward, it will suffice, and we’ll find new ways of working and connecting.

The pandemic has, of course, been unexpected and came on hard and fast, accelerating several trends from e-commerce (growing 50-60% for many clients), to telehealth, (also growing exponentially), to office team huddles, to personally connecting. We Zoom, Skype, Hangout, and meet in completely new ways. Even my parents in their 80s are Zooming with family.

It used to be I could count on change being the constant, and that’s still true. I’m excited by the next 20 years but I think a faster acceleration of change is the only thing I can truly predict.

What do you think of my top five? Are there bigger changes I have missed? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.

Topic(s): buzzback , future

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