Last month, Fast Company announced its 2017 50 Most Innovative Companies. While the top innovators – including Amazon, Google, Uber and Apple – may not shock you, there are plenty of lessons enterprise innovators can glean from the companies on the list. Here are three of the most impactful practices that top innovators are pursuing.
Grow Without Building
Despite not building any new large-format stores since 2013, The Home Depot posted its 7th consecutive year of more than 17% annual growth. More than nearly any other retailer, The Home Depot has focused on building consumer-focused technology to pull people into existing stores and streamline the customer experience. From building an app that locates specific items to an augmented reality experience to show how a new sink or door will look in your home, the company has realized that smart, targeted customer experiences will serve as their key drivers for growth. While other retailers are losing ground, The Home Depot has created new avenues to open new markets and provide deeper value for existing customers.
Do The Last Experiment First
Innovators, much like scientists, build their experiments to answer all the questions that surround a problem. While that delivers a ton of valuable information, it may not be the best way to uncover the insights necessary to actually moving an innovation project over the finish line to market-ready product. Fast Company recognized Whole Foods for its innovative Beyond Burger, a plant-based “burger” that starts pink, bleeds beet juice and tastes remarkably close to a beef burger. The company adopted a “last experiment first” mentality to move past industry research and to launch a test kitchen to gather real insights from customers. The model requires innovators and stakeholders to find early alignment around a goal and try the experiments most likely to achieve the desired result.
This sort of testing can be a challenge for innovators, who often think they need to have all the answers surrounding a problem. Goal-oriented experimentation requires the flexibility to accept an answer that proves your question and move on to solving the next challenge. This approach will be highly rewarding when you get satisfactory answers and frustrating when you don’t – but innovators need to adapt to failing and learning quickly.
Goal-oriented experimentation requires the flexibility to accept an answer that proves your question and move on to solving the next challenge.
Mergers and acquisitions pose one of the greatest customer challenges for corporations and for their innovation staff. With some much financial and marketing juggling surrounding an M&A strategy, customers of newly enveloped brands often get lost in the mix – or just asked to hold on tight for 6-12 months while the parent company figures it out. It can be difficult for innovators to look down the road to create programs that solve the challenges that arise from acquisitions.
When Marriott acquired the Starwood Hotels & Resorts last year to become the largest hotel group in the world, it placed a premium on customer loyalty and experience as the key driver for growth and revenue. Beyond allowing new and existing customers to immediately use loyalty points across every Marriott Group property, the company created an app to streamline loyalty and will eventually include artificial intelligence and bots to create custom guest experiences based on past interactions and preferences.
Much like the general public, innovators often equate impactful innovation with the big-budget moonshot projects pushed by companies like Google and Facebook. Yet at the end of the day, innovation is all about solving problems facing the business and delivering new value to customers. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to innovation, innovators can learn a lot from the companies quietly pursuing smart new ventures.